Following Jesus: The Latter-day Saints Tradition

For the penultimate installment in our year-long conversation about how different Christians follow Jesus, we heard from the distinguished Latter-day Saints scholar Robert Millet, an ideal conversation partner by any standard. Retired now after over three decades as a professor, department chair, and dean at Brigham Young University, Millet has facilitated numerous conversations between Mormons and other Christians, dialogues that have inspired several of his books, including Claiming Christ (Baker, 2007) and Talking Doctrine (InterVarsity Press, 2015).

So I wasn’t surprised that Millet was able to identify points of commonality between Latter-day Saint piety and that of other Christians. But like other conversation partners, I was taken a bit aback that he didn’t say more about distinctively Mormon beliefs and practices.

June’s Tradition: “Walking in His Steps: How Latter-day Saints Seek to Follow Jesus

“I begin with what Latter-day Saints are probably charged to do most often by Church leaders—to search the scriptures daily as individuals and as a family, to speak of them and teach them to one another. There is a power inherent in scripture, a power unlike anything else we may read or study. Lew Wallace’s Ben Hur makes for fascinating reading (and a pretty fair movie, as well), but it cannot stir the soul like Isaiah 53 or the 23rd Psalm. Reading Lloyd C. Douglas’s The Robe is a sweet experience, but its influence and impact are nowhere near what one can encounter in the Gospel of John. God has placed his seal of approval on scripture, and as Paul taught, it is Spirit-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16)….

“Christianity entails more than prayer, fasting, and searching the scriptures—more than an individual effort to live the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As vital as personal devotion and individual effort are, Christianity is fully lived out only in community. God designed, for example, that the various offices of the Church of Jesus Christ had been put in place ‘for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man [or woman], unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’ (Ephesians 4:12-13). In short, the Church is given to assist and empower us toward that spiritual maturity that is the perfection of which the scriptures speak.”

My Response: “A ‘Kindler, Gentler Form of Christianity’… with Real Differences

“Most any Pietist could hear herself described in Millet’s essay about ‘a praying people’ (and a singing people!) who ‘seek to follow Jesus by serving and loving others as he did.’ At the same time, our bent towards individualism can find correction in a tradition that insists that ‘Christianity is fully lived out only in community,’ through a church that ‘is given to assist and empower us toward that spiritual maturity that is the perfection of which the scriptures speak.’ And would that each branch of this conversation join Millet’s in helping to meet the clearly ‘great need for a kinder, gentler form of Christianity, the kind that Jesus Christ displayed so beautifully’!…

“But precisely because I share [Rich] Mouw’s desire for ‘our Mormon friends to help us better understand their answers,’ I wish Millet had done more this month to help us understand [what Mouw called] the ‘real differences… between us.’

I particularly wish for that as a Pietist. Because I’ve made so much of my own tradition’s emphasis on the Bible, not just as an object of devotional study but ‘an altar where we meet the living God,’ I’d love to understand better how Latter-day Saints distinctively ‘search the scriptures daily.’ Does it make any difference, for example, if one’s canon includes texts beyond the Old and New Testaments? And if there are ‘teachings… received from prophets of God’ who lived in the 19th or 20th centuries — or live in the 21st, how does one’s searching in scripture relate to a belief in continuing revelation?”

Additional Responses

“[The Latter-day Saints] share the love of Christ so tangibly with one another that it makes deep impressions on those looking in from the outside…. This communal pursuit of virtue looks very different from the pursuits of the world, and for young people trying to find a path in life, moving in this direction must feel like stepping off of shifting sand onto solid rock…

“All of this, however, does not confront an elephant in the room. There is much that the Catholic Church has deemed heretical about what the Latter Day Saints believe. I am likewise sure there is much about my tradition which the Latter Day Saints must condemn…. while Dr. Millett uses the word Sacrament, our traditions don’t see eye to eye on what happens on the altar on Sundays.  Still, it is interesting to me that we are on the same page as regards the frequency of this practice.”

– Christina Wassell, “Looking in on the Latter Day Saints” (The Catholic Tradition)

“I note Millet has not mentioned the stereotypical takes on his tradition; I’d expect that’s intentional. Why focus on what may be misinterpretations when given the opportunity to write not so much a defense as a proactive statement of the visionary principles that guide the Latter-day Saints of today? Still, it would be informative to learn more of how Millet might address critiques of his or other Mormon branches. It would also be valuable to learn how Millet, who as highlighted below affirms Scripture, views Church of Jesus Christ specifics. For example, what is the role of the Book of Mormon, which I’d imagine few other traditions are prepared fully to embrace?”

– Michael King, “Pondering Across Two Traditions Both Shadowed and Hallowed” (The Anabaptist Tradition)

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