Evangelical Questions: Another Gospel
by Jennifer Roach, MDiv, LMHC
Welcome back to Come Follow Me with FAIR: Faithful Answers to New Testament Questions. My name is Jennifer Roach and today we’re going to talk about the phrase, “another gospel”. As you know we’re going through the Come Follow Me readings and addressing common questions that Evangelicals ask about our faith as we go along. Our purpose here is not to fuel debate but to help you understand where your Evangelical friends and family are coming from so that you can have better conversations with them, and perhaps even be able to offer them a bit of our faith in a way they can understand.
A couple of reminders for you. This last weekend FAIR hosted an online only conference called Defending the Book of Mormon. Those talks will be released on the FAIR Youtube channel in the upcoming weeks. Brent Schmidt’s talk about grace is still exploding in my head. And Stephen Smoot’s talk – not on the Book of Abraham where he is an expert – but on the difference between translation and revelation was also fantastic. And yes, you see me a bit in there too – I didn’t present anything, but got to introduce speakers and ask questions. Which, really meant I got to have all the fun of a conference without the pain of writing a paper to present. You also get to see Zach Wright and Sarah Allen doing the same thing. And…oh goodness….at one point we end up with more time than we’d planned for. A couple speakers were efficient with their time and we needed to fill some space. So you get to hear me interview Sarah – she’s the author of that 70-part response to the CES letter – and we had a great chat. Though I think it was something like, “Hey, you girls are interesting, and we’ve got some time to fill – can you just go talk and we’ll film you?” In other words, you can probably fast-forward through that section. But it was fun. Last bit of news….at FAIR we do have some fun projects cooking up for next year. Not ready to let details out yet, but lets just say that I will be busy. More to come later.
Okay, we’re going to talk about that phrase, “another gospel” and our jumping off point is Gal 1:8:
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!
And this verse comes up a lot for Evangelicals when thinking about what our church teaches. So I want to dive in here and try to understand why they say that – and then take a look at how Evangelicals actually define, “the gospel” and see how much agreement there actually is between the two groups.
What IS the gospel, according to Evangelicals?
So, “the gospel” literally means, “the good news” and no one is disputing that. Both Evangelicals and Latter-day Saints are on the same page here. But we do differ in some areas.
I think I could come up with a pretty good answer on my own, but I wanted to see what is currently being taught in their own words so I surveyed some of the most popular sites for Evangelicals and here is the criteria they’re talking about…
The gospel is…”Imputed righteousness. What do we receive because we are counted righteous in Christ? The answer is fellowship with Jesus. (This will) remove obstacles to the only lasting, all-satisfying source of joy: Jesus Christ.”
Latter-day Saint friends I suppose some of you are thinking, “Umm, what’s wrong with that?” We’ll unpack.
Let’s start with the first one which talks about “imputed righteousness.” And here is your can of worms. What is “imputed righteousness.” It is, “Imputed righteousness is the righteousness of Jesus credited to the Christian, enabling the Christian to be justified.” This is a term that comes from Martin Luther and was a corrective to some of the Catholic practices at the time including buying indulgences with money. An “indulgence” kind of sounds like it is a free-pass to do some elicit activity without getting in trouble, but what it really means is that the person’s “sentence” in purgatory will be reduced by a certain number of years. Luther was right to fight against this practice. He’s trying to say that people don’t need to spend money to get a softer sentence in purgatory – Jesus pays the price. And I know, in theory, when you put it that way, we don’t disagree. But the idea is part of a bigger package of ideas that include believing that God is angry at all of his children and will absolutely torture them for eternity unless during their lifetime they profess faith in Christ. Luther’s phrase here, imputed righteousness, solves one problem (indulgences) but opened up another – and 500 years later, Protestants are still grappling with what it means to accept salvation that they can’t earn. This doctrine is called Sola Fide, “By faith alone” Lately – meaning the last 120 years – its turned more into “Jesus did it all – so you don’t have to do anything.” But it hasn’t always been this way.
If we go back even further to Augustine – who isn’t always trying very hard to keep the apostasy at bay – but he gets it right here. He uses the term, “Infused righteousness” which for him means, “God bestows justifying righteousness upon the sinner in such a way that it becomes part of his or her person.” The implication here is that after one receives this righteousness it becomes part of them and they go on to strive to live a life of holiness. But you can see how Luther’s change – which made sense at the time when you compare it to the practices of the Catholic church – has been used to claim that Jesus’ righteousness does everything for us and we don’t have to do anything. Here it is expressed by one Evangelical pastor, “Your salvation is a free gift. You can not do anything to earn it. You can’t even ask for it because asking would be you doing part of the work. If God is going to save you, he’s going to save you. It has nothing to do with you. It is God’s work. You are the object of that work. But that’s all you are.” Augustine was closer to the truth on this one than Luther – and I’m not really a fan of Augustine. But he’s right here.
John Wesley, founder of the Methodists, tries to offer a correction here to the change Luther made by coining the term, “imparted righteousness” as a way to say that salvation is through Christ alone, but it must, “empower the process of sanctification,” which Wesley also called Christian perfection. By “perfection” here he means something similar to what we mean when we say that we will become “like God.” And it’s no wonder that Joseph Smith said that the Methodists are closer to truth than some other groups.
So, what is the gospel to Evangelicals? They would all affirm that its good news. That it comes through Christ alone. But they radically disagree on what comes next. Do we have to do anything after receiving salvation or not? The room is deeply divided on this. Why did I tell you all this?
Why do Evangelicals think we have “another gospel”?
I think you can see at this point that the versions of the gospel offered by Luther and Wesley (2 men who still influence Evangelicals to a great degree) are radically different, or at least have been taken in radically different directions. And yet, these 2 versions of the gospel do not trip the Evangelical worry about “a different gospel.” But they couldn’t be more different. They in fact opposite. The only thing they have in common is that Jesus Christ paid for salvation. In one version of the gospel you, the individual, are not required to do anything at all – and if you try you are insulting God by saying that Jesus is not enough. And in the other, Christ paves the way for salvation, but you, the individual, must change and grow in holiness as time goes on in order to reach perfection. It’s weird right. Totally different views. But Evangelicals will sometimes easily say that we Latter-day Saints have a “different gospel.” If you ask for specifics you’re more likely to get quotes from past leaders that are not part of the standard works and that are taken out of context. Or perhaps were not even recorded correctly in the first place – see the last FAIR conference and the talk by LaJean Carruth for an incredibly detailed account of how and why this is true.
Why else do they think this? Because, frankly, anti-mormon propaganda has been effective. That was true in Joseph Smith’s day. There is a book – if you don’t know about this book you should – written by 3 BYU professors and came out this year called, “Marrianne Meets the Mormons.” And it’s about the church in France in the first part of the 20th century. During this time there are less than 500 members of the church in all of France. Statistically, they’re not a significant group in that culture by any means. But, the amount of literature, art, and music that uses “Mormons” as the bad guys is huge. There’s 42 Million people in France at this time – 500 of them are members of the church – but anytime a movie or book needs a bad guy, he’s very likely to be a Mormon. It’s very similar to the same stereotyping that we see today – turn on any number of television shows from the last year and you already know this.
So, what do we do with this? Within the Evangelical community, you can have 2 radically different versions of what the gospel is and no one cares. But when you want to talk about the gospel how Latter-day Saints do, which includes a belief in the saving power of Jesus Christ, and agree with both Augustine and Wesley that sanctification matters after salvation – all of a sudden that’s just too different.
You have a number of options here. You can fight with them, though I dont recommend it. You can simply bear your testimony knowing that they can’t really refute what you believe, and that’s a good move. But on this chanel we’re really focused on how you talk about these things with the people you love – friends and family – and sometimes bearing your testimony can feel like you’re shutting down the conversation, not opening it up. At least when it’s with people you’re close to. Our leaders – Prophets, Apostles, your local leaders – have given us plenty of spiritual advice on how to manage these situations. I won’t repeat all of that you – you know it already and should listen to them. But I will offer you a piece of psychological advice.
People love to feel understood. I love it. You love it. One quote says, “Being heard feels so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.” So try to hear them before you try to get them to hear you. What does the gospel mean to them? Does admitting that there are different versions of the gospel even among Protestants make them feel anxious? Why? What’s that about for them? And similar questions will help them teach you about what they need in order to have this conversation. Maybe that’s just therapist psychobable. But if you want them to understand why you see the gospel the way you do – you’re probably going to have to put in the work and understand why they’re resistant to it. If they’re throwing a bunch of complaints that sound like they got them off some website, they probably did. Try to help them identify what their actual concerns are. And listen to them to understand them. That is the most effective way to get them to listen to you, at least from a psychological perspective.
All right, next week we’re to do what is essentially part 2 of this week’s episode and talk about how Paul sees “works” in the book of Ephesians. See you then.
More Come, Follow Me resources here.
Jennifer Roach earned a Master of Divinity from The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology, and a Master of Counseling from Argosy University. Before her conversion to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints she was an ordained minister in the Anglican church. Her own experience of sexual abuse from a pastor during her teen years led her to care deeply about issues of abuse in faith communities.