In reading through the essays that appear in these pages, it
struck me that this issue is the most “personal” in tone of all the fine
discussions that have been featured thus far in this journal. There are stories
here of first impressions about very real people, and reports about what
happened when folks shared meals and spent some time visiting historic places
together. Most important, there are testimonies here of trusting personal relationships
that have been formed.
Sigmund Freud discussed the fact that people are often
harsher toward those whose views are close, but not identical to their own than
they are toward those whose perspectives can only be seen from a great
distance. He called this “the narcissism of minor differences.”
There is nothing “minor,” of course, about the beliefs that
actually separate Mormonism and Evangelicalism. But for all of that, there is
much similarity. The historian Jan Shipps has rightly observed that the
relationship of LDS teaching to historic Christianity is much like that of
Christianity to Judaism: a mixture of continuity and significant discontinuity.
Those continuities and discontinuities are not covered in
these pages in any detail. Rather, the focus is on what is necessary as
preparation for that kind of prolonged mutual investigation. And the primary
ingredients in that regard are good will and trust.
There are many important historical factors that have made
productive dialogue between Evangelicals and Mormons extremely difficult. We
have refused genuinely to listen to each other, not asking the kinds of
questions of each that are designed to make sure we have it right. We have
often resorted to what is in fact a serious violation of the rules of healthy
dialogue: we have on each side compared our best teachings with the other
group’s worst—comparing our own carefully formulated reflective theological
statements with the other side’s “folk” teachings.
These essays signal an important development in
American—yes, even global—religion. Mormons and Evangelicals are talking
together. And we have been doing so in conversations that have been lasting for
days and spreading over more than a decade. All of us who have been involved in
this ongoing dialogue are convinced that God is pleased with what we are doing
together. I believe that the testimonies in these pages clearly support that
Richard J. Mouw served as Fuller Seminary’s fourth president (1993–2003), after having been provost and senior vice president. He now serves as Professor of Faith and Public Life in the School of Theology at Fuller.