Thursday, September 16, 2010

Evangelical Syncretism

I am a happy subscriber to World Magazine. I like the work they do. For those unfamiliar with World, it is a bi-monthly news journal from a conservative evangelical (largely Reformed) perspective. It is edited by Marvin Olasky for whom I have a lot of respect.

But I must confess my dismay at
Andree Seu's article on Glenn Beck, Christianity, and Mormonism. I enjoy reading Seu. She is normally insightful and often funny. But in her latest article she seems to get very near syncretism. If you are unfamiliar with the term, syncretism, it is the attempt to reconcile competing truth claims. Usually it refers to the attempt to reconcile religions which are hopelessly contradictory.

Describing her experience of listening to Glenn Beck Seu writes:

It was obvious to me that he was a new creation in Christ. I know he’s Mormon and all that. I also remember reading a book by Professor Harvey Conn decades ago that said that you have to be very careful when judging a person’s salvation—some people with lousy theology have their hearts right with God, and some people with impeccable theology are cold toward God.

Glenn Beck isn’t cold toward God. He is red hot. He is “a brand plucked from the fire” (Zechariah 3:2). He knows what pit he was in—and he knows exactly who took him out of it. If I were his station manager I would be biting my fingernails every day, because the man just doesn’t hold back about Jesus, and I can say without hesitation that I have not heard the essentials of the gospel more clearly and boldly in any church than on his program.

I have heard all the criticisms, and I can find sympathy for them—about the Mormonism, about the dangers of religious syncretism, etc. But regarding the Mormon thing, I think we should regard Beck as an Apollos and pray for a Priscilla and Aquila in his life, to steer him better (Acts 18). I just don’t see how anyone can listen to the man for a solid week and not be as blessed as I am by his courage, his utter lack of fear of man, and his sharp and personal testimony of Christ’s transforming power.

"I know he's a Mormon and all that." Well, there is quite a lot in the "all that."

"Glenn Beck isn't cold toward God. He is red hot." Well, no duh. He's a Mormon. Of course "he is red hot." I have not met many Mormons who are not serious about their faith. Heck, their young men are required to spend at least two years on the mission field. If you're measuring faith by "hotness" then Mormons may well beat the average evangelical.

Seu is right in citing Conn: we need to be very careful about making judgments concerning another's salvation. However, that caution can easily become an excuse to ignore what Scripture clearly teaches about salvation. The sincerity of our faith is meaningless if it is invested in the wrong object. There were a lot of very sincere Baal worshiping, baby sacrificing pagans in the first few centuries B.C. Their theology was "lousy" and that makes all the difference. I would be curious to ask Seu how "lousy" she thinks our theology can be before it is clear that who we believe in is not the God who is there.

I am in favor of praying that Beck finds a Pricilla and Aquilla. Absolutely! But we can only assume that the Jesus in which Beck believes is the Jesus of Mormonism. The Jesus of Mormonism is not a Jesus who can save for He is not the Jesus who bore away our sins on the cross. Therefore we do Glenn Beck no favors in assuming he is born again because he says "Jesus saves." Every Mormon you will ever meet is happy to say that Jesus saves. But their Jesus is not the only begotten of the Father. He is not the second person of the Godhead. He is not God incarnate. What is more, for the Mormon God is simply one among many gods who has populated earth through sexual union with his celestial wives. Mormonism is as far away from biblical Christianity as is Hinduism. It is more dangerous however because Mormons operate from the same dictionary as Christians.

Now this all brings up the issue of evangelicalism in general. Evangelicals are largely knee jerk egalitarians. So long as someone "loves Jesus" it does not really matter what they believe.

Check out Justin Taylor's excellent post on this issue.


Ryan H. said...

Even if Beck wasn't a Mormon, I would still regard him with great skepticism. He strikes me as a charlatan and a manipulator, a man who is less motivated by his ideals than he is by his hunger for prominence on the national stage.

That evangelicals are willing to embrace him troubles me. That they are willing to make excuses for his Mormonism and view him as some kind of brother in Christ is even more unsettling.

Jared said...

As another WTS alum, I can't fathom how Seu ended up writing something like that. Conn had his problems, but even her quote is a misappropriation of what Conn said. It's disappointing on so many levels.

David said...

I'm not sure God separates us based on church attendance. In fact, I'm certain he does not. While it is true bad theology makes for potential hazardous destiny, what Glenn really believes about the Saviour, what he's really done about trusting him for eternal life is not entirely clear. Let's not forget he gives a very good gospel message, better than some prominent well-respected no doubt about it saved evangelicals. Let's not also forget there are practicing Catholics who are saved by grace, yet we know their erroneous doctrine of faith-plus-works is not the Gospel. Let's not also forget the ministry of the Holy Spirit, who is probably not so impressed with our textbook articles of faith requirements. While we argue about his beliefs, he's working to put out the national fire surrounding our homes and families. IMHO, he is shaming OUR churches which proudly fly the flag in the parking lot, but forget America once inside; which preach Christ for every area of life except civic duties. When the true church isn't the conscience of the state, others step in; others who might not look entirely Christian, but certainly look American. I won't join him for LDS worship, but I'll support him for protecting our Constitution, something else the church apparently abhors.