Glenn Beck is getting mixed theological reviews from evangelicals. Some of them have expressed pleasant surprise at how “Christian” he has been sounding. Richard Land went so far as to say, according to the Washington Post, that Beck in his recent speech at the Washington rally “sounded like Billy Graham.” But one of Land’s fellow Southern Baptist theologians, Russell Moore, warns us not to be deceived by Beck’s rhetoric. As a Mormon, says Moore, Beck represents a religious perspective that is “contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ”; Mormons “offer another Lord Jesus than the One offered in the Scriptures.”
I’m not going to get into Glenn Beck’s specific “culture wars” views, but I am interested in what all of this means for the present state of evangelical-Mormon relations. Glenn Beck is certainly benefiting from the ways in which many evangelicals have come to see Mormonism as an ally in some significant public disputes. On issues of abortion, same-sex marriages, and the like, the two groups have much in common—and in an environment where those holding to more traditional values on sexuality issues are increasingly feeling under attack, it is understandable that there would be some reaching out from both sides.
Nor should we be surprised that a Mormon can sound like Billy Graham in discussing spiritual matters. Mormonism sprang forth from the soil of 19th century revivalism, keeping many of the basic revivalist overtones. Furthermore, in recent years the LDS church has been giving more emphasis to themes that some of its own leaders are calling “redemptive Mormonism.” Recently in a class at Fuller, I showed a YouTube clip from an address by Elder Jeffrey Holland (he is one of “the Twelve” in Salt Lake City) on Christ’s suffering as a substitute for sinful humanity on the Cross of Calvary. Several of my evangelical students remarked that if I had not told them Elder Holland was a Mormon they would have taken him to be a classic evangelical.
This is not to let Mormonism off the theological hook. There is much to worry about from a classical orthodox perspective regarding many Mormon teachings. But there are also some encouraging signs—not the least being a willingness on the part of Mormon scholars to engage in serious dialogue with evangelicals about crucial theological topics. As one of them has put it in our dialogues, Mormonism has not had serious theological contact with historic Christianity for about a century and a half—“We’re not even sure we are using the right terminology in talking to our evangelical counterparts,” he said. “We need a safe place to test out how best to say what we really believe in proper theological terms.”
This is an important time for the dialogue to continue, even to expand. An uncritical acceptance of Mormonism on the basis of “sounding like Billy Graham” is not a good thing. But neither is a refusal to engage in serious give-and-take theological discussion. We need to be sure about where we actually disagree.
I am no Glenn Beck enthusiast. I certainly am not ready to give him a free pass theologically—or politically or spiritually! But the confusions about his relation to evangelicalism may be a good opportunity to take the next step in serious theological dialogue about matters of eternal importance.