Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Christianity Today: "What Can Christians Learn From the Surge in Mormon Youth Missionaries?"


I found the article, "What Can Christians Learn From the Surge in Mormon Youth Missionaries?", posted yesterday in the OPINION" section of Christianity Today (LINK), to be both interesting, and provocative. Note the following:
 
Mormonism pushes its kids harder and takes them farther than even the most ardent Protestant youth ministry. Can you imagine a youth group that challenged each of its teenagers to meet at 6 a.m. every day of the school year to learn about Christianity? That's exactly what Mormons do with their high-school students. We get excited if our teens gather around a pole at 7:15 a.m. to pray once a year.
 
When typical Christians graduate from high school, they grab their books and go off to a college dorm. When typical Mormons graduate from high school, they grab a bike pump and go on mission.
 
Those high expectations pay off. Young Mormons know what they believe and why they believe it. They've hammered out their theology on evangelical doorsteps. Their hearts and minds have been steeled and sealed into Mormon orthodoxy through their intense commitment.
 
Maybe that's why Mormons give more and work harder than their Christian peers. Maybe that's why the religion is expanding while a majority of former Christian youth-group attendees are fleeing the church.
 
My own personal experience growing up as a 4th generation Jehovah's Witness shares some similarities with the above. In my 'door-to-door' (i.e. missionary work) encounters (hundreds of hours), not once was my beliefs cogently/seriously challenged by ANYONE I met, let alone someone in their teens or early twenties. So, it comes as no surprise to me that Evangelical Christians are left 'scratching their heads' over such phenomenon.
 
 
Grace and peace,
 
David

11 comments:

Nick said...

That news story is ridiculous. It couldn't have been written by someone who knew the real situation, and so the article came off as pro-Mormon propaganda.

I've met very few Mormons who know much about theology. Their "education" doesn't equip them with substantive theology or apologetics, and that's because if it did the whole system would come down.

Most of their "drive" is pushed by their parents to perform so that they'll look good in front of other Mormons. They fold like a house of cards when a reasonably educated Catholic or Protestant challenges them. Even the JWs receive more of a theological and apologetics foundation in their training.

I've talked with these young guys before and they don't know anything but just to regurgitate some "testimony," and this is backed up by the fact they're given the title "elder" when they're only 18 years old.

I think it's very dangerous and misleading for the article to suggest Mormons are pumping out thousands and thousands of well trained 18 year theologians who are zealous to convert the world. That just isn't true. Being an American religion, Mormonism ultimately tracks with the culture, and is actually a religion in decline as America becomes less and less the America of Joseph Smith.

David Waltz said...

Hi Nick,

Yesterday, you posted:

==That news story is ridiculous. It couldn't have been written by someone who knew the real situation, and so the article came off as pro-Mormon propaganda.==

Me: Three different authors contributed to the piece; the author of the section I quoted in the opening post was, "Greg Stier", who, "is founder and president of Dare 2 Share Ministries and author of Firing Jesus." [Link to Dare 2 Share Ministries]

==I've met very few Mormons who know much about theology. Their "education" doesn't equip them with substantive theology or apologetics, and that's because if it did the whole system would come down.==

Me: I started my own serious study into Mormonism in 1987. Since then, I have easily met with at least a half-dozen missionaries in each of those subsequent years, which means I dialogued with a minimum of 150+ missionaries. Though most did not have a good knowledge of non-Mormon theology, most were quite knowledgeable of their own system, especially when compared with the youth most Christian denominations.

==Most of their "drive" is pushed by their parents to perform so that they'll look good in front of other Mormons. They fold like a house of cards when a reasonably educated Catholic or Protestant challenges them.==

Me: "Apples and oranges"; you need to compare equals with equals.

==Even the JWs receive more of a theological and apologetics foundation in their training.==

Me: Since I was raised a 4th generation JW, I would say the 'average' JW youth who is going 'door-to-door', and about the same age as the average Mormon missionary (18-21), is pretty much on the same level.

==I think it's very dangerous and misleading for the article to suggest Mormons are pumping out thousands and thousands of well trained 18 year theologians who are zealous to convert the world. That just isn't true. Being an American religion, Mormonism ultimately tracks with the culture, and is actually a religion in decline as America becomes less and less the America of Joseph Smith.==

Me: Personally, I think there is a big difference between, "Young Mormons know what they believe and why they believe it" (and have, "hammered out their theology on evangelical doorsteps"), and a "well trained 18 year [old]" theologian—which is an oxymoron—it takes years for one to become a "well trained" theologian...

As for "a religion in decline", their conversion numbers seem to suggest otherwise.


Grace and peace,

David

Nick said...

David,

You said:
"Though most did not have a good knowledge of non-Mormon theology, most were quite knowledgeable of their own system, especially when compared with the youth most Christian denominations."

That's fine, but wouldn't you agree that this really isn't saying much? That this isn't really anything to boast (or be worried) about?

I've talked to a good number of Mormons, and they regularly fall back on their "testimony" as their main defense. Anything beyond a surface level investigation is unwelcome by them.

I take their "conversion" numbers as akin to cooking the books done by the large corporations. The "growth" isn't what it comes off as, and few if any of their converts had any reasonable theological acumen.

Rory said...

Nick,

While the Catholic faith is dying from lack of vocations, and dioceses advertise for candidates for their seminaries on TV, Mormon young people go door to door for two years. Whatever you may think of their theology and whatever unsatisfactory motives you attribute the phenomenon to, it seems impressive to me.

Hey Dave,

I'm flying to SoCal for a couple of days. Going to a Dodgers game and seeing Vince and Kayla's new house. I'll be in touch after.

Rory

TOm said...

Hello David and Nick (and Rory),
Thank you for pointing to this article. I see in the 2nd and 3rd section they list a big factor in the swelling of missionary ranks. In the missionary field today are many folks who could not go on a mission until they were 19yo and an increasing number of folks who were given the chance to go at 18yo. This is a reason for the swelling of missionaries. I have briefly contemplated if this move was done for the years 2013 and 2014 when there will be an especially high number of missionaries or for the years 2015 and on when I expect there will be more missionaries than before the change, but a more steady state number.

If Nick read through the article I would expect much of his thoughts were captured within the second authors section. I am happy to report that I have not found LDS that defend the statement, “we must earn our salvation.” I am also happy to note that there is substantial progress towards a better understanding of 2 Nephi 25:23. The number one most listened to talk of all-time on BYU Speeches recently became “His Grace is Sufficient” by Brad Wilcox. LDS increasingly recognize that Grace is the gift that our Evangelical brothers and sisters tell us it is while hopefully not falling into the trap of “cheap grace.”

I have had opportunity to tell a few Evangelical Christians that if there were two Christians, one a LDS and one an EV, and they held the these two views:
1. Christ died for me so I am forgiven and do not need to change anything about my life or behavior.
2. I must do all I can to become like Christ so that he rewards me by paying the price for my sins so I can be perfected by His grace.
Both of these Christians are wrong. It is more likely that the LDS holds view #2 and the EV holds view #1 then vice versa, but they are both wrong.

Something else. I am not sure if the percentage of LDS who embrace #2 is higher than the percentage of LDS who think EV theology embraces #1, but these groups of LDS do not properly understand LDS or EV thought IMO.

I am among the LDS who would never say #1. I can acknowledge that LDS like Robert Millet and Brad Wilcox have influenced me. I can acknowledge that I have heard other LDS that spoke in ways that could pull me the other direction. And I can acknowledge that my interaction with the Biblical teaching I encountered through Catholic and Evangelical theologians has also influenced me. I mention this for a couple of reasons. First, it is true. I do not believe it impossible for some LDS to miss the importance of the fact that Grace is a free gift not earned and not only available after we clear a certain minimum threshold. My own understanding of this has been enhanced from sources most LDS do not engage (Millet, Wilcox, and non-LDS theologians). Second, NICK I think your dismissal of what LDS youth achieve such that you claim Christianity today should not have offered an article such as this; is likely to hinder your ability to learn from what LDS do right. This is your choice, but if more and more LDS embrace truth from where EV and Catholics have truth, and EVs and Catholics turn up their nose at anything LDS; this will be good for the CoJCoLDS and not good for Catholics and EVs.
cont ..

TOm said...

I do think there is a substantial difference in the degree to which the average LDS youth is invested in his faith life than the degree to which the average EV or Catholic youth is invested in theirs. I think David alluded to the fact that LDS and JW ask much of their youth and this “asking” likely has something to do with the above observation. A LDS youth that has already given much and sees their parents giving much is more likely to continue to give much. Certainly some or all of this would happen if the CoJCoLDS was untrue and/or if the members of the CoJCoLDS are/are not taught they must earn salvation. So maybe the fact that LDS youth give more is evidence of a theology that is more works based than God’s theology. And maybe if this works imbalance is corrected (as I suggest it is being corrected), the trend will continue for the same reason it exists within the JWs; thus not being an apologetic for the truth claims of the CoJCoLDS. But, it seems to me pooh-poohing the existence of this within LDS culture is a good way to ensure that the positive that it is will not be replicated in non LDS Christianity.

Rory,
I wrote most of the above before you weighed in just hadn’t finished. Thank you for your comments.
I think in the last 2-3 weeks I have heard on Catholic Answers two times (I know one time) where a Catholic priest who teaches at a seminary has claimed that the decreasing vocation trend shows signs of turning / has turned. He assigns the turn to a return from the wishy-washy way many choose to embrace Vatican II.
I also just finished Faith and Certitude by Thomas Dubay. This was written in 1998 and he briefly laments some of the wishy-washy beliefs of 1-2 Catholic priests he dialogued with, but I think Dubay’s popularity inside and outside the clergy (now and before he died) is another positive sign for the health of the Catholic Chruch.
I do think Dubay’s book would be good for many Catholics and I think I will recommend it to some LDS if I get a good opportunity. I have not read Newman’s Grammar of Assent, but Dubay has me interested now.

And..
David, I have just started Dr. Stephen R. Holmes’ book. I am not sure I will have much of value to share, but it is interesting.

Charity, TOm

David Waltz said...

Hi Rory,

Dodgers ??? I am an AL fan, so it would be the Angels for me [grin].

Have and fun and safe trip; say hi to Vince for me.


God bless,

David

David Waltz said...

Hi Tom,

What a pleasant surprise !!! It is so good to see you dropping by and commenting (I was hoping that you would see this thread, and participate.)

I am sure you will enjoy and greatly appreciate Dr. Holmes' book; he does such a good job in delineating the development of the doctrine of the Trinity, and this, in a concise and lucid manner.

Looks like I am going to have to check out Thomas Dubay's, Faith and Certitude. Heading over to Google Books right after I post this comment. (Thanks for the heads-up.)


Grace and peace,

David

Rory said...

I went to California and didn't notice this until a thread over at MD&DB reminded me of it.

http://www.mormondialogue.org/topic/61035-what-can-christians-learn-from-the-mormon-missionary-surge/

I have a book that Dave doesn't have! I don't think I ever finished Faith and Certitude. Maybe I should go back to it.

Fr. Dubay writes on a variety of subjects. My favorite is called Fire Within. In that book he argues very forcefully using the Gospels and the writings of the two Carmelites, Sts John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila, that infused prayer is normal to those who don't place any obstacles. Sts. John and Teresa's writing styles were different but both authentically mystical and in some ways seeming to be advanced beyond us "ordinary souls". The value of the book I think, lies in the fact that he convincingly shows that these two mystics aren't saying anything that isn't taught by Christ. Very good.

It is very similar to the classic two volume work by Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, who includes St. Thomas' writings in his Three Ages of the Interior Life while arriving at the same conclusions. God calls all of us to advanced prayer.

David Waltz said...

Hi Rory,

Would you recommend Faith and Certitude ???

BTW, I have the other books you mentioned [grin].


God bless,

David

Rory said...

Dave, hey.

I only started it. And I only know that because there is one higlight one an early page. It certainly seems promising. To distinguish between faith and certitude would seem to require an examination of different kinds of knowledge. St. Paul says we "see through a glass dimly", speaking of faith. Faith would be superior in the object of knowledge, inferior in the understanding. I doubt that "certainty" as we ordinarily understand it, is compatible with faith-based knowledge, but I wouldn't mind learning otherwise.

Rory