Recently a bit of a political tussle has been occurring over the Mormonism of a few of the Republican candidates and whether their religion is a cult or not. Regardless of how you choose your politicians, whether a Mormon should be the President or not is not as important of a question as to whether the teachings of Mormonism should be classified within the bounds of the Christian gospel.
The President of Fuller Seminary, Dr. Richard Mouw, commenting on the 2012 election brouhaha in an recent article on CNN, does not believe that Mormonism is a cult, yet is not quite ready to say that it is within the bounds of historical orthodox Christianity. He mentions a sermon on the cross of Christ from Jeffrey Holland, an LDS leader of the highest caliber, and states, “Several of my students remarked that if they had not known that he was a Mormon leader they would have guessed that he was an evangelical preacher.” This is all probably very true, and, my concern, is that it reveals not so much a problem with Mormonism but a deeper, gaping problem with evangelicalism.
Being Jesus-centered and cross-centered without being Trinity-centered distorts the Godhead and the how the three-in-one Father, Son, and Holy Spirit saves sinners.
Holland, in an interview with PBS, clearly defines one of the chief differences between Mormons and Christians:
“One is our view of the godhead. We believe that God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son and the Holy Ghost are three separate, distinct individuals. We believe they are united in every other conceivable way: in purpose, in majesty, in duty, in love, in glory, in mercy, in communication, in whatever, … except personal being. They are separate. …
Therefore even if Holland supposedly nailed the death of Jesus for sinners in his sermon, the “Jesus” who died for sins is the “Jesus” who is one of two other separate and distinct Gods. This is a polytheistic crucified “Jesus”, which is far from the strict monotheism of the biblical witness. In other words, this is not the Jesus of the gospel.
The witness of the Old Testament emphatically asserts the reality of one God, and the New Testament witness explicitly ascribes worship to Jesus, his Father, and the Spirit while remaining intensely monothesitic. You are either left with a contradiction or you are left with the saving God who is three-in-one; as the Westminster Confession puts it: “In the unity of the Godhead there be three Persons of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.”
Reducing the gospel to Jesus died on the cross for my sins without a mention of the Triune God is a serious problem. The revival of interest in the centrality of Jesus–being Christ-centered–is utterly necessary (especially with the rise of Islam) but don’t raise Jesus high in a way that ignores proclaiming the whole Triune God who saves sinners. Being Jesus-centered and cross-centered without being Trinity-centered distorts the Godhead and the how the three-in-one Father, Son, and Holy Spirit saves sinners. Fred Sanders, in The Deep Things of God, elaborates,
A message about nothing but the cross is not emphatic. It is reductionistic. The rest of the matrix matters: the death of Jesus is salvation partly because of the life he lived before it, and certainly because of the new life he lived after it, and above all because of the eternal background in which he is the eternal Son of the eternal Father.
He continues by showing how the denial of the Trinity is a denial of the gospel itself:
…the doctrine of the Trinity inherently belongs to the gospel itself…
Trinity and gospel are not just bundled together so that you can’t have one without the other. They are internally configured toward each other…the gospel is Trinitarian, and the Trinity is the gospel. Christian salvation comes from the Trinity, happens through the Trinity, and brings us home to the Trinity.