Wednesday, May 22, 2013

An Evangelical View of the LDS Missionary Surge

Matthew 7: 20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

Latter-day Saints and Evangelicals are brothers and sisters in the Christian faith.  There are differences in our theologies that are real.  We call these differences additional light and truth; Evangelicals call them misinterpretations of the gospel.  Let us not exaggerate the differences.  I believe that individuals would be happier, families stronger and the nation more prosperous if all professing to be followers of Christ followed with more faith.

In a mostly flattering article (“What Can Christians Learn From the Surge in Mormon Youth Missionaries?”) written in three parts by Greg Stier, John Divito and Kara Powell about Latter-day Saint youth and their response to President Monson’s announcement lowering that age of missionary service.  The article note the high level of commitment of LDS youth compared to Evangelical youth.  Greg Stier writes

Mormons expect a lot from their teenagers: They ordain their young men into the ministry at age 12, expect their young people to attend seminary every day of high school, and ask them to serve in the field upwards of two years. Needless to say, we don't…

Those high expectations pay off. Young Mormons know what they believe and why they believe it. They've hammered out their theology on evangelical doorsteps. Their hearts and minds have been steeled and sealed into Mormon orthodoxy [to Christ] through their intense commitment.

Maybe that's why Mormons give more and work harder than their Christian peers. Maybe that's why the religion is expanding while a majority of former Christian youth-group attendees are fleeing the church.

The strikethrough of “into Mormon orthodoxy” and addition of [to Christ] are mine.  Any honest LDS observer also should acknowledge that young adults fleeing church is not a problem unique to Evangelical churches. 

I have lived in Waco, Texas for more than fifteen years.  My teenage sons are faithful Latter-day Saints and most of their friends are faithful Evangelicals.  Both sons have attended meetings of their Evangelical friends.  I have closely observed both groups and can emphatically state that Evangelical youth are wholesome, talented and generous with their time and willing to help those in need.  There is no inherent difference between our youth. 

If our youth have the same innate goodness, why are LDS youth outperforming their Evangelical peers?  All three authors in one way or another point to LDS doctrinal emphasis on salvation by works, a doctrinal interpretation that Jana Riess of Flunking Sainthood (and to the point, aren’t we all and isn’t that why we need the grace of God?) politely observes

All three of the experts fault Mormonism for a works-based theology…

And they’re right, up to a point. On the works-grace continuum, most Mormons stand closer to the “works” end of the spectrum than most evangelicals do. But an eloquent (and polite!) LDS commenter to the CT post notes that the theology inherent in the Book of Mormon’s “by grace we are saved, after all we can do” mantra (2 Nephi 25:23) is indeed compatible with a theology grace:

My only advice is to stick to explaining your own beliefs.  Your youth need to know why they are Evangelical rather than why they are not LDS.  As Stier, Divito and Powell write, LDS youth are committed to their faith.  I believe that it is due to the additional truth and light of our gospel; without elaboration, I know that you don’t.  Our youth produce good fruit.  I hope that you are successful in your search for methods of increasing the faith and commitment of your youth.  If you succeed, there will be more Latter-day Saints as well as Evangelicals.  They will live more fulfilled lives, their families will be stronger and the United States will be a spiritually more prosperous country. 

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