Podcast S1E9 - Rich Mouw

In this episode, I talk with past president of Fuller Seminary and leading public theologian, Richard Mouw. He’s been deeply involved in dialogue with people and groups who do not fully agree with Christianity (at least our brand of it), and we talk at some length about this. The crux of this for me is grappling with the tension between coming to such dialogue with an open mind about what we can learn from the other, and being committed to our own understanding of faith.

What do you make of Rich’s answers? How do you navigate this tension?

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The discussion starts with an explanation of Dr. Richard Mouw’s motivation to find what we have in common with those we disagree with. He describes a series of counter cult lectures by a Walter Martin, the fourth of which was about the L.D.S. (nicknamed by others mormons) and some L.D.S. members came to the meeting and Richard came to the conclusion that the speaker’s focus was all on sarcasm and condemnation with no effort to understand. He was also influenced at this point in his life by a book on how we can believe both in evolution and that the Bible is the word of God.

He tells how he later became involved in dialogue with the Mormon community and found both real disagreements and other issues like grace & faith where they had more agreement than they thought they would, at least somewhere within the spectrum of L.D.S. beliefs.

Having been born in Salt Lake City and growing up there with best friends who are L.D.S., dialogue and personal reactions to the teachings of the L.D.S. and the diversity of their thinking and beliefs was definitely a part of my life. Here were some of my reactions…

  1. I saw two different kinds of mormons, those who acted like their church was the whole world and those who could relate to people outside their church. It has since made think of comparing churches to a tree where all the life is in the outer most part in contact with the world but most of it on the inside is dead wood.
  2. When I read the Book of Mormon the character of Jesus as portrayed there seemed very different to me as compared to the one I saw in the New Testament – one who was more about authority and lording it over people than about love and helping people.
  3. I have since met many ex-mormons who had very negative experiences particularly with regards to the status and treatment of women in the church.

This should make it clear that this church was definitely not for me, which is not to say that I could not see good things about their church and its members. On the other hand, it would remain a big example of various things in religion that I would never approve of.

The discussion with Richard Mouw then went to his book “Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World.” The principle point seems to have been that civility with those you disagree with is not just a means to and end while you wait for some vindication after death or in the last days where you could say “Ha ha, we were right and we won.” It was more about the fact that would have to live together with God for eternity and thus we need to work on civility to do so better.

Richard mentions Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins.” And though Richard disagrees with the universalist conclusion, he did see some value in the book. It is a book I looked at closely myself and I was highly critical of, despite the fact that I really liked most of Bell’s sermons before that.

Richard talks about a book which said something very interesting about Genesis 1, that the point of this account of creation was that light, sun, moon, plants, animals, and such are not gods but things created by God. It is not something I had heard before so I found that very interesting. Richard goes on to say that whatever the details, his take away from Genesis 2-3 is that there was a historical fall due to one man just as there was an historical savior – a conviction that we have in common. I don’t think however that calling this a rebellion is very accurate or helpful.

The discussion then turns to the Lausanne covenant, the agreement of a meeting attended by 2700 evangelicals from 150 countries met in Switzerland. In response I took a look at the statement of this covenant myself. Most of it was ok and I was particularly happy with one thing: the affirmation that Christians should be concerned with justice and oppression in the world. But there were some things I was not so enthusiastic about.

  1. I am opposed to the idea that God seeks out glory and praise. This was not the character of Jesus – so it is not the character of God. This is not to say that we should not give glory and praise to God, which is something Jesus did. But I think the reason is precisely because we should not be seeking out glory and praise for ourselves any more than Jesus did. Soli Deo Gloria!
  2. I am opposed to the idea that all are called to evangelize. People are very different with very different gifts and callings and I think measuring everyone with one measuring stick is just wrong. And yet I have learned that contact with the world outside the church is very important for spiritual life – that dead wood filled tree metaphor again.
  3. I am opposed to the treatment of names such as Jesus, God, or Yahweh as some kind of password into to heaven. So the talk of names puts me on my guard. I very much agree with C.S. Lewis implication in Narnia that it is the character of God not the name that matters.
  4. I am opposed to excessive emphasis upon the language of battle metaphors in the Bible as having some very negative implications and consequences.
  5. I am not enthusiastic about prophecies of the return of Christ or the destruction of the earth. I see these doing more harm than good.

What was the name of the book that he was given in high school? (@jstump)

You’re probably thinking of the Bernard Ramm book Mouw mentioned about 6:30 in; called “A Christian View of Science and Scripture”.

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