Sects In The City: Mormonism and the Philosophical Perils of Being a Missionary Faith -- By: Francis J. Beckwith

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 09:2 (Summer 2005)
Article: Sects In The City: Mormonism and the Philosophical Perils of Being a Missionary Faith
Author: Francis J. Beckwith


Sects In The City:
Mormonism and the Philosophical Perils
of Being a Missionary Faith

Francis J. Beckwith

Francis J. Beckwith is Associate Director of the J. M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies, and Associate Professor of Church-State Studies at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. He is a graduate of Fordham University (Ph.D.) and the Washington University School of Law, St. Louis (M.J.S.) and has written numerous books and articles. Dr. Beckwith is coeditor (with Carl Moseer and Paul Owen) of The New Mormon Challenge (Zondervan, 2002), and his most recent book (with William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland) is To Everyone Answer: A Case for the Christian Worldview (InterVarsity, 2004).

One afternoon while listening to Christian radio at the age of thirteen (the year was 1974), I heard a well-known Protestant Christian evangelist issue a fiery judgment against the Roman Catholic Church. I do not remember the exact words, but he spit out, with extraordinarily heightened condescension, that “the Catholic Church dogmatically affirms that it is the only one true church,” which was immediately followed by the audience’s laughter mixed with gasps. I remember that message vividly, because it provoked one of my earliest recollections of philosophical reflection, however primitive that brief moment of adolescent insight may have been.1

What troubled me about the preacher’s words was their apparent inconsistency with what he was trying to accomplish as a preacher, namely, to convert people to the understanding of Christianity (Protestant evangelicalism) that he believed was true. You may ask, “What’s wrong with that?” Well, nothing really, since there is nothing in principle wrong with believing one is correct about a particular issue or belief and trying to convince others that they ought to embrace your point of view. In fact, the purpose of this essay is to convince you that my point of view is correct. But this clarification does not bode well for the preacher, for then he would be in precisely the same position as the Roman Catholic he condemns. After all, the preacher is claiming that his understanding of Christianity is correct, which is what the Catholic believes about his own understanding. But maybe the preacher is just talking about ecclesiastical structures rather than dogmatic theology. Perhaps the preacher is saying that no one ecclesiastic structure within Christianity carries with it a unique authority in relation to God, the interpretation of His Word, and the carrying out of ordinances and/or sacraments (whatever the case may be). But that would only locate the disagreement at a particular point at which these theological systems disagree—ecclesiology—rather than somewhere e...

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