I get requests to talk to people outside of Mormonism. I’m excited to introduce a non-evangelical, run of the mill Lutheran pastor, Reverend Willie Grills from Arkansas on the show. We’ll talk about Lutheranism, Mormonism, how protestants don’t just pick on Mormons but fight amongst themselves, and Willie will even ask me some questions about Mormonism. Let’s hope I answer correctly! Check out our conversation…
Why is a Lutheran Pastor Interested in Mormons?
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I’m excited to introduce Reverend Willie Grills. Willie is a long-time subscriber of Gospel Tangents. Why is he interested in Mormonism? Check out our conversation….
GT 00:47 Well, welcome to Gospel Tangents. I’m excited to have a non-evangelical on the show for the first time, I think. We’ve got a Lutheran pastor. Could you go ahead and tell us who you are?
Willie 01:00 I’m Pastor Willie Grills. I’m a member of the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, a conservative, confessional Lutheran denomination, pastor in Avila, Arkansas, just outside of Little Rock. Just what Missouri Synod means, I’m sure we’ll get to in this interview. But I’m a little bit different from some of the other guys you’ve had on. You mentioned, not Evangelical, but I think, 400 years ago, if you’re using that definition of evangelical, that might work. But it’s a loaded term in the 20 th and 21 st centuries.
GT 01:39 Yeah, so one of the things that’s amazing to me, I don’t usually point out when people are subscribers, but Willie, you’ve been a subscriber for a long time to Gospel Tangents. I’m just fascinated why a Lutheran pastor would be interested in Mormon history, can you tell us why that is?
Willie 01:57 Well, yeah, that’s an excellent question. Mormonism, if I can use that term.
Willie: It’s a safe space, right?
GT 02:05 We’re non-correlated here. So it’s good. (Chuckling)
Willie 02:09 One of the things that I really enjoy studying and focusing on is 19 th century religion in America. Mormonism is integral to that part of American history. It comes out of a very interesting time, as far as the revivalism of the time. You’re getting into the Second Great Awakening. Mormonism is a force that we have to learn about, and that we have to understand, not only as Americans anymore, but as far as global Christianity is concerned. A lot of the apologetics around it, have kind of mixed effectiveness, we can say, on both sides. So, I think that understanding it, as an historian is as important as it is interesting. Then, theologically, too, the development of it. Both are very interesting, and of course, very important. When the missionaries come and knock on your door, what are you expecting here? Are you going to present a caricature of those guys? Or are we going to be able to talk to them in a fair and honest way? Plus, again, the history for me is just extremely, extremely interesting, and important.
GT 03:23 Well, that’s great, like I said, I’m always interested and plus, I do have requests that say, “We need some more outsiders,” to kind of get a perspective on Mormonism. So, I appreciate…
Willie 03:33 Gentiles.
GT 03:33 Gentiles, there you go. (Chuckling) So, it’s nice to get it. You actually have a podcast. Why don’t you give us a little spiel on your podcast?
Willie 03:46 Sure. The podcast is, A Word Fitly Spoken. It is a podcast that focuses on a Lutheran perspective of history and theology and cultural engagement. It is very Lutheran. So there is some inside baseball, but I think there’s a lot there that people could profit from. Certainly, there’s a lot there that people are going to disagree with. So, yeah, awordfitlyspoken.org. It’s available on all the podcast apps. There is another Word Fitly Spoken out there. That’s not us, and they couldn’t be more different if we tried. You’ll know which one’s ours when you find it.
GT 04:24 I’ve always been curious. This is one of the questions I haven’t asked you. A Word Fitly Spoken. Why is it fitly spoken? What does that mean, exactly? Is that like a Lutheran thing?
Willie 04:33 Well, no, that’s from the Bible, a word fitly spoken. So, it’s from the proverb. So, a word fitly spoken I–now of course, when you put me on the spot, it’s Proverbs 25. But here we go. A” word fitly spoken is like apples of gold and pitchers of silver. As an earring of gold, an ornament of fine gold, so as a wiser reprover upon an obedient ear.” It’s about speaking good things to one another and wise things to one another.
GT: It was interesting, you told me about your podcast, and you have actually done, is it three or four episodes on Joseph Smith? I can’t remember.
Willie 05:11 Two on Joseph. Yeah.
GT 05:13 Two on Joseph and one on the Succession crisis. That’s what it was.
Willie 05:17 Yeah.
GT 05:17 Tell us about the reception that your group had?
Willie 05:22 Well, it was in the early days, so the audience wasn’t quite as big. There are typical people that like what we do. One of the things, especially on historical episodes, I absolutely insist on is fairness and being as objective as we can be. We’re not going to agree on everything, but at least trying to be fair to the record. I think some people would have liked us to have been more pointed, which is an odd thing for me to hear, because I am someone who can, at times, be a little bit too quick with the sword. There were some people that thought that we should have gone, full, “Joseph was American Muhammad,” or something like that. That really is not the purpose of what those episodes were.
GT 06:04 I can still hear, like, if a Mormon audience was listening, every once in a while you’d hear these things, “Well, the purported prophet…” or little jabs there.
Willie 06:14 I’m sure that for a Mormon audience, it would not have been close enough to hagiography for them.
GT 06:19 (Chuckling) But I would say it was very fair. I was excited to find out that–I was listening along. Oh, actually, we have Daniel Stone above my head here, I can’t forget where he is, right there. And that you had talked about Alice Cooper. I texted you and said, “Did you get that from my podcast?”
And you said, “Yes.” That was a lot of fun. So yeah, I thought you were very fair. It’s funny. In my conversation with Dr. Christopher Thomas, he’s a Pentecostal theologian, and we talked about the missionaries. Chris said, “
And the missionaries don’t know nothing.”
And I was like, “When I was a missionary, I didn’t know nothing, either.” But, yeah, I think you actually have a very good grasp of, especially Joseph Smith History. So, well done. I’ll give you a big compliment there.
Willie 07:19 Thank you. I appreciate it.
GT 07:23 So, you talked a little bit about the Missouri Synod, is that how you say it? I always thought it was Synod (Sigh-nod), but it’s Synod [Sin-od]?
Willie 07:30 Yes, Synod, yeah.
GT 07:32 So, tell us a little bit more. One of the things I’d like to do with this is get a little bit more acquainted. Mormons, especially me, like we just lump all Protestants together. I still don’t really understand the difference between evangelical and non-evangelical or just a regular run of the mill Protestant.
Willie 07:53 Protestant is a big word, right. It’s a broad term. So, a synod, again, broadly speaking, is akin to a diocese, so a geographic territory for a church. Now, for us, and in Lutheranism, at least in some of the groups like the Missouri Synod–synod also refers to the church body as a whole. So, our denomination is the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod. Because of our geographic location, we came to be called Missouri Synod, but we have churches all across the United States. Historically, we had churches outside of the United States, although the desire was for them to form their own church body. So, we eventually did grant them independence and then fellowship. So, for us, the Synod refers to the whole denomination, but for something like, a denomination like the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, it might refer to a geographic diocese. So, yeah, that’s the short and very riveting answer.
Willie 08:00 So, there are kind of different, what’s the word? [There are] different groups of Lutherans. Right? Because you’re not an Evangelical Lutheran? An Evangelical Lutheran would be an evangelical, right? Or is that not correct.
Willie 09:16 Okay, no, se this is where it gets tricky. So my congregation, for example, the full name is like, well, I won’t give you the full legal name because we don’t have enough time. But it’s like Zion, it could be like Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, or I was at St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church. So, in Europe, and originally, the term evangelical, essentially, referred to those who held a Protestant doctrine, if that makes sense. So, those who would believe in justification by faith, for example, by the time the 20 th century rolls around, which, our churches are going to predate that. Evangelical, then comes to mean really more of an emphasis on say, a born-again experience. So, we would say we are evangelical, insofar as we embrace the evangel, that is to say, the gospel, but not evangelical, insofar as we stress, absolutely, a born-again, experience. Does that make sense?
GT 10:11 Yeah. So when I think…
Willie 10:14 It’s confusing.
GT 10:15 Yeah. When I think of evangelicals like Steve Pynakker and Christopher Thomas, I’m thinking of more–and I don’t mean this in a derogatory sense, but like the Holy Rollers. Like you’re doing a lot of clapping, a lot of singing, a lot of drums and rock band kind of music, very lively services.
Willie 10:38 Yeah, I think for all intents and purposes, the term evangelical has come to mean that, for many people.
GT 10:44 OK
Willie 10:45 The definition has moved. Yeah, we are more traditionally Protestant and probably, at the same time, more Catholic than a lot of Protestants. Most of our churches are liturgical. We have a very formal form of worship. A lot of our churches will tend to have historic church vestments, so that a reformed Protestant, someone with more of a Calvinistic influence would see us as very, very Catholic. A Roman Catholic would look at our theology and see us as very, very Protestant. So, we can’t please anybody. So, we just do our own thing over here, I guess.
GT 11:23 So you would have more Mormon-like services? I shouldn’t say boring, but you’re not going to be clapping.
Willie 11:36 I don’t consider it boring, but some people may.
GT 11:37 You don’t get to clap and say Hallelujah, praise Jesus during services, right?
Willie 11:43 No, no, it is very reverent. But I do feel the need to say that, a lot of people are going after that experiential sort of religion. And you can have that in some of our services. But we want to highlight in our services that whether you feel it or not, that the divine service, which is what we call, worship, or our Sunday services, rather, so divine service liturgy is, it is God coming to you. Then, you’re, of course, speaking back to God. But those objective things that belong to you, as a Christian, are yours, whether you have that exuberant mountaintop experience that Sunday or not. When the forgiveness of sins is announced, that it’s yours, whether you’re feeling it that day or not, right? The gospel preached to you is yours, whether you really felt like coming to church that morning or not, but you came anyway. So, we’re very hesitant to let emotion facilitative everything. I think that might be the best way I can describe it. And not that that’s what the–I’m not trying to say that that’s what the others are doing. But we’re sort of careful about that. You can have emotions. You’re allowed to do that. In the Lutheran church, you can, but we are, we tend to be, whether that’s cultural or not, probably a little bit of it is, rather stoic.
GT 13:06 Yeah, stoic is kind of how LDS services are, too. I will say, Episcopal services can be that way, Catholic services can be that way.
Willie 13:15 Correct.
GT 13:16 In some ways, I think Mormons would be more at home in a Lutheran service, like you have, or a Catholic service, because it’s more familiar to us than. “Hey, Praise Jesus. Amen,” you know, that kind of a thing.
Willie 13:32 Sure, yeah.
GT 13:33 But there’s certainly lots of different ways to worship. Well, I think I told you, back in the 90s, before I got married, I dated a Lutheran girl. I would, actually, probably call her a girlfriend. She used to invite me to Lutheran services. Actually, I didn’t go to church with her, but there was a Wednesday Bible study that I used to go to all the time. I got to be really good friends with the pastor there. They had a video, I wish I could remember the name of it, on Martin Luther. It really reminded me of Joseph Smith’s First Vision. It was the same kind of filming. It looked the same. I was just like, “Wow, this is just like Joseph Smith.” So, you probably would call that a heretical thing that I just said. (Chuckling) But for those of us who aren’t familiar with Martin Luther, and not Martin Luther King, but Martin Luther, the original Martin Luther, because he was born on Halloween, right?
Willie 14:45 No, no, no. Okay, but you remember your dates well, so you’re ahead of the curve. He was not born on Halloween. On October 31, 1517, he nails the 95 theses…
GT 14:58 Oh…
Willie 14:58 …to the Wittenberg church door, thus kickstarting the Protestant Reformation.
GT 15:03 Because, my girlfriend, they didn’t celebrate Halloween, they called it the Marty Party, because it was Martin Luther.
Willie 15:09 Oh, well, I’m sorry. I’m sorry they called it such a cringe name. Okay. So, here’s what we have. We follow a lot of the historic church feast days. So, October 31, though, is All Hallows Eve. So, All Saints Day is November 1. But we also celebrate Reformation Day on October 31, or we move it to the nearest Sunday. So, you’ve got Reformation Day. We’ve never called it the Marty party. I’d probably have to hide my face or something, if we did. But, Reformation Day, yeah. The color, curiously, on Reformation Day is red. So, we have liturgical colors that change throughout the year, depending upon the feast day. The red can either be the red of Pentecost, the gospel coming down, whatever, the gospel going out or red for the blood of the martyrs. Because we do recognize that people were martyred for being Protestant. But, yeah, so it just, because of October 31, 1517, that is the day that we celebrate the Reformation. Then the next day would be All Saints Day where we celebrate all of the faithful who have died. Then, of course, we do believe that they are alive with God, worshiping with us, even now.
GT 15:16 When I think of All Saints Day, obviously, that’s kind of a Catholic holiday. Would you say your worship services are very Catholic?
Willie 16:42 Okay, so I believe that, when I say yes, some Lutherans listening to this are going to go, “No.” Then, if I say no, some Lutherans are going to go, “No,” because to be fair, we do have, on one end of the spectrum, some happy-clappy looking Lutheran services, and then some very, very Catholic looking ones. But, even, I think our middle of the road services are going to look much more Catholic to the typical Protestant or the typical Evangelical. We do follow a historic liturgy. So, yeah, I would say that we stand in the Catholic tradition of worship.
GT 17:23 I know, the Catholics still are–this is where my multilingual religious [knowledge] is going get me in trouble. But, do they call it canonizing saints?
Willie 17:37 Yes.
GT 17:38 That’s what I thought, okay, so I got that right. So, you wouldn’t follow the newer saints. It would be the older saints before 1517?
Willie 17:47 Yes, but we don’t believe in a canonization process. So, we would take the name saint in a number of different ways. We believe that all true Christians are saints. And we believe that all of the faithful departed are saints. Yet, we also recognize, so we don’t have a problem, for example, referring to St. Augustine as St. Augustine. We even have days where we would remember, particularly biblical saints, but also extra people outside of the Bible, people throughout church history. And yes, we’ve even added our own. So C.F.W. Walther, who was sort of our de facto founder in the United States, we have a day commemorating him on our calendars, things like that. But we don’t have a canonization process or anything like that. We believe that all Christians and all faithful departed are rightly called saints.
GT 18:38 Okay.
Willie 18:40 Because they’re made holy by God, I guess. I should give you the theological justification there, and the Bible uses it that way, too.
Story of Martin Luther/Grace vs Works
GT 18:47 Okay. So, I know, LDS, we refer to ourselves as a Latter-day Saints. Would you refer to your congregants as saints as well? Or is that just special people like St. Augustine or St. Clement, or people like that?
Willie 19:00 As a theological concept, we don’t call each other saint. We would just refer to each other as Christians. Lutheran, even that name Lutheran, that’s a tricky one, too, because that’s a name that gets applied to us. We actually kind of wanted to just–there’s evidence that we wanted to be called evangelicals in the 1500s. But we would also accept the term Catholic, if we use it in the right sense, as in the universal church, what the church always believes. But Lutheran just kind of got thrown at us as a pejorative.
GT 19:10 Like Mormon, right?
Willie 19:34 Correct, exactly like that.
GT 19:38 Alright, so can you tell us a little bit more about Luther, I think most Mormons, I’m going to still use the term, out of care. Most Mormons, most Latter-day Saints, we know about Luther’s 95 theses, but that’s probably about it, other than, he didn’t like the Catholics. Some people might know that Luther didn’t actually start the Lutheran Church. He was kind of a Snuffer, a Denver Snuffer in that way, like, “Hey, I’m not starting a church.”
Willie 20:09 Yeah, let me give you the Cliff Notes version here. I think that’s important. I do think that even the LDS recognize the importance of the Protestant Reformation, at least today. I mean, I know that all of our creeds are an abomination, but they still, they’re kind of friendly toward us now. So, Luther is a man with a very troubled conscience. He is a monk. He joins the monastery after a near-lightning strike. He makes a vow, saying that he’ll become a monk. He’s always a very tortured soul, wondering about assurance of salvation, will he ever be good enough? So, even as a monk, he is confessing more than he has to. He is even more acetic than he needs to be. They send Luther to Rome. He doesn’t like the corruption that he sees there. He comes back. He’s a professor. He’s a doctor at the University of Wittenberg. He has a doctorate in theology and begins to seriously study the Scriptures.
Willie 21:07 So, I think your Joseph Smith moment that you’re referring to, in this documentary that you watched on Luther, is probably this experience, where he’s reading the Book of Romans. It finally clicks in his head, that the just will live by faith. This really is the linchpin of his theology, that everything that we have from God is gift, that it is received by faith, and that, yes, we can talk about good works and things a little bit down the road, but that everything we receive is grace upon grace. So, his conscience is able to be unburdened once that clicks for him. So, it is a bit of a shining moment for him. It’s an epiphany for him. No angels appear. Although later, Luther, by some preachers will be referred to as the angel of Revelation, but we won’t get into that.
GT 21:55 (Chuckling)
Willie 21:56 So, that is it. Then, he begins, he’s writing tracts. He’s writing things that are getting him into trouble, and that’s eventually going to lead to his excommunication from the Catholic Church. But there are all kinds of other things that are tied up in this. So, you’re dealing with the Holy Roman Empire. You’re dealing with a Germany that is not united. You have all of these different princes and fiefdoms. So, they’re able to choose their own religion. He comes about at just the right time, to where a movement like this can spread. The printing press is there. So, his writings are being disseminated sort of far and wide. What he is preaching is really clicking with the peasant, with the layman, with certain princes, but it’s not really clicking with the Pope, and with certain bishops, and that gets him into trouble.
GT 22:51 So, is he kind of a Denver Snuffer of his day with the Catholic Church?
Willie 23:04 See, the context is so different, because Luther is not a visionary, and later, he is really going to write a very strong polemic against those who are claiming divine revelation. So, he wants to be very clear that what he is teaching is in accord with Scripture and in accord with, even, the church fathers. So, he wants to be very careful that we’re not teaching anything novel, that there’s not a disconnect, that what has happened is corruption has entered into the church to where you can buy an indulgence, and that erases your sin. Now, that’s a very sort of reductionistic way of explaining this, but that is how a lot of people understood this. So, the 95 theses, sort of the first blast here, have a lot to do with the sale of indulgences. Can I buy something, or can I perform a certain action and receive a certain bit of alleviation for my time in purgatory? Or can I do that, for the souls in purgatory, for those who have died? These are the sorts of things that Luther is reacting against. So, he doesn’t like the abuses that he sees. But he’s like a Denver Snuffer in this way that he doesn’t intend to separate from the church, but they make that decision for him.
GT 24:15 Right. Yeah. Yeah, I can see some similarities there. But, yeah, Denver is definitely much more of a visionary than Luther, it sounds like.
Willie 24:24 Yeah, and you know, it’s interesting when I see these guys, you know, your history is interesting, because, when you have the Great Apostasy, you’re not really looking at the rest of church history. But, yet, you still have great debates just on what amounts to about 20 years in the 19 th century. I find that very interesting. Was Joseph a polygamist or not? And that’s one of Snuffer’s big things. Who is the rightful successor? Down to this day, you have competing visionaries.
GT 24:59 Well, and can you talk a little bit more about it, because Luther, I know he made a big deal about he didn’t really want to start a church, and I don’t believe one started in his lifetime. Is that correct? It was after he died.
Willie 25:12 Yeah, if you think about the church, and this is, again, Cliff’s Notes version, you have a united church until 1054, with the Great Schism.
GT 25:23 Right, the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholic, you’re talking about.
Willie 25:28 Correct, and that’s over the, largely over the primacy of the Pope. Then, you get to the Protestant Reformation. Then there is the Lutheran branch of the Reformation, but at the same time, you have the Calvinists that are going to come up and all the other iterations that come up, relatively quickly. But Luther was not intending to start anything called a Lutheran church. He wanted to reform the church. It’s not a restoration. It is a reform, or you could call it a rediscovery of certain truths. But Luther would have been happy to live under the Pope, if the Pope would have not insisted that he was the Vicar of Christ, would not have insisted that he, alone, had the keys over purgatory, for example, things like that. Purgatory is a doctrine that we do not hold to, for example. But we still believe, for instance, in the doctrine of the keys, the office of the keys, the binding and loosing of sins, things like that. We believe in confession. We believe that when the called and ordained pastors absolve sins, they are forgiven, which would separate us from most other Protestants, for example. So, we are very much still in the Catholic stream, in regard to a lot of things. But we are not Roman Catholic. So, if you ask certain Lutherans, and there is some truth to this, they would say no, by excommunicating, Luther, essentially, by affirming what happens at the Council of Trent, the Catholics have excommunicated themselves from the universal church. So it kind of depends on who you ask.
GT 27:08 That kind of sounds like what Denver says.
Willie 27:13 Exactly. What did I say before, nothing new under the sun?
GT 27:19 So wow, that’s interesting. Of course, this is one of those arguments that I feel like I have to address that kind of drives me crazy, is the whole grace versus works. But I would love to have you comment on, I believe it’s in 2 nd Nephi in the Book of Mormon where it says, “We are saved by grace, after all we can do.”
Willie 27:48 After all that we can do. Yeah.
GT 27:50 And so you would probably still find that pretty heretical, right?
Willie 27:54 Yeah, and I will say, for the audience’s sake, and especially watching this on video, we had originally tried to record this in my office where I have all of my books. I ran off and don’t have my quad with me, because I wanted to have it for this.
GT 28:09 Oh, bummer.
Willie 28:10 Bummer, but I’ve got enough, maybe I know enough up here. If I say that I know enough of the Book of Mormon in my head, my listeners will get very nervous. So, yeah. I think that–I’ve looked into this quite a bit really, with how the Mormons understand that and I get a bunch of different answers. So, Bob Millet, or Mallette, or however I’m supposed to say it.
GT 28:35 Yeah, Millet. [Mill-it]
GT 28:37 He gives a little bit of a different answer than like a Brad Wilcox or somebody like that. I do think the trend in Mormonism is leaning more toward the grace side. But we would believe that everything is grace. You’ll see me pulling up some stuff digitally, because I don’t have my books in front of me, and I wanted to kind of talk to your audience a little bit. So, the Small Catechism is kind of our basic teaching document. You might have it right there. Yeah.
GT 29:11 Now, by the way, and I should say, you were kind enough to send me this, as well as this Bible, English Standard Version. You can’t see it very well, but that’s what it is. And, oh, my Book of Mormon here. So, you’re a great listener.
Willie 29:32 Thanks so much.
GT 29:35 So, anyway, go ahead, Luther’s catechism.
Willie 29:37 Right, well, I’m still waiting on a restock of Gospel Tangents coffee mugs.
GT 29:41 (Chuckling) I’ll have to get you one.
Willie 29:45 So, for example, in the Small Catechism, we talk about the third article of the Apostles Creed, which is, “I believe in the Holy Spirit of the Holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, resurrection of the body and life everlasting.” Then in our explanation, “I believe that I cannot, by my own reason or strength, believe in Jesus Christ, my lord or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me the one true faith, in the same way he calls, gathers and lightens and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it in Jesus Christ in the one true faith,” so on and so forth.
Willie 30:19 So that we believe that from first to last, it is grace upon grace, that God has to call us first, and God does the work in our hearts to justify us. We do believe that people can reject that, of course, that people will have true saving faith and then fall away. So, all of your Calvinist listeners have now anathematized me, after that.
GT 30:43 (Chuckling)
Willie 30:43 So, with that Nephi verse, we would take issue with, “After all that we can do,” because we don’t believe that, first a priori, that we can do anything. We believe that man is dead in trespasses and sins, and so that the Holy Spirit must first work on him before that before man can believe in Him. And God does that in different ways.
GT 31:05 Yeah, and I’m not here to debate that, but I want to get…
Willie 31:07 No, no, that’s fine.
GT 31:09 Because there’s the one scripture in James that I believe Luther said, and you probably, and I wish I could have it off top of my head. Luther said the Book of James was uninspired. Do you know what I’m referring to?
Willie 31:23 He refers to it as an epistle of straw. But I must say, and this is the caveat we always have to get. We are called Lutheran. But we don’t subscribe to everything Luther said, His works are not canonized, only the Bible is canonized for us, the Protestant canon. But a lot of his writings, as a pastor in the Missouri Synod, I do have to subscribe to without error. So, to be fair, but that doesn’t include everything he wrote. And everything I said is true for all of our congregations and pastors. But that, in James is, “Faith without works is dead,” is probably what you’re thinking of.
GT 32:01 That’s what I was thinking of.
Willie 32:03 Yeah, and, of course, James does also say that a man is justified not by faith alone. James does say that. So, a bit of a sticky wicket for us, right? That’s kind of the gotcha that people usually use for us. But we would typically explain it in two ways. The first, the most common way is that oh, James is talking about external righteousness. That’s what most Protestants would say. But there’s also the fact that if you have true faith, good works are naturally produced. Luther is reacting to a time where people are really seeing salvation is purely transactional. Have I done enough? Did I pay enough? Have I gone to enough masses, or this or that? So, there is a bit of a problem, even today, where if you’re looking for your assurance of faith in like, “Am I bearing enough fruit?” You’re going to despair pretty easily, I think. But we would wholeheartedly agree that true, saving faith produces works and so that if you say you have faith, but you are living a completely wicked lifestyle, and I don’t mean like, oh, you’re smoking cigarettes and saying cuss words, but you’re completely denying Christ with your life, that the person will be on very shaky ground spiritually. I fully admit that people can go from one extreme or another on this. And I know that this is one that Mormons bring out a lot, too, that man is justified, not by faith alone. But again, James is speaking to people who say they have faith, but their lives do not demonstrate that in any way. That would be a problem for us, too.
GT 33:49 I mean, kind of my personal theology, I’ll say it that way, is the whole grace/works argument is just kind of two sides of the same coin.
Willie 34:03 Yeah.
GT 34:05 I mean, I would probably subscribe to yes–correct me if I’m wrong. The Lutheran frame of mind is that because of grace, you’re going to have good works. Maybe the LDS frame of mind is, “I have good works, which shows I have faith. To me we’re really, it’s a kind of a chicken or the egg. You know, which came first, the chicken or the egg? I mean, to me we’re basically–it’s a stupid argument. Like we’re arguing the same thing. It’s just semantics.
Willie 34:42 Yeah, I mean, to be fair, I think you all, too, have a very, I would say a stricter system of accountability in the LDS Church, a stricter system of accountability.
GT 34:59 Oh, yes.
Willie 35:00 While it is true that our church is historically, especially in America, I mean even well into the 1900s would post all of the giving records of the members publicly on the church bulletin board.
GT 35:12 Oh.
Willie 35:14 We don’t we don’t do that anymore. We don’t really check tithing records.
GT 35:18 That sounds very Catholic. (Chuckling)
Willie 35:19 (Chuckling) So, yeah, we are a bit more relaxed in that these days. I think for a lot of Christians, sometimes they look at us as a little bit impious, because a lot of our people will drink alcohol, for example, smoking cigars, tobacco, that thing’s common. So, people associate piety only with abstaining from those things. And I’m not talking about Mormons. I mean, if a Baptist saw that, they would be possibly scandalized, too. But I believe that there’s a problem using those things to excess, don’t get me wrong. But I think sometimes we forget that the true fruits of the Spirit are things like charity, love, kindness, patience, those sorts of things.
GT 36:10 Well, and I remember my girlfriend’s Lutheran pastor would invite me out for beer and I’d be like, “I’ll come along, but I’m not going to drink.”
Willie 36:21 Did he know you were Mormon?
GT 36:23 Absolutely.
Willie 36:25 He was testing you. He wanted to show you how much he relied on grace. It was like a reverse meat sacrificed to idols thing for him.
GT 36:40 Yeah, that was fun. But yeah, it’s definitely, you know, from an LDS point of view was like, wow, a pastor drinks beer? Wow. That’s weird. So now, you mentioned something that I think many, many LDS really struggle with, and that’s Calvinism. And I think we’ve talked about Arminianism. Can you first define what those two terms mean?
Willie 37:11 Sure.
GT 37:11 And are Lutherans Calvinist or Arminian?
Willie 37:18 Well, the Arminians say we’re Calvinists, and the Calvinists say, we’re Arminian.
GT 37:22 Oh, that’s interesting.
Willie 37:23 We say you’re your own thing. Leave us alone. Now, this is an interesting one for me, because I was not a Christian. I was not raised in the faith. The family I had who were Christians belonged to Holiness churches, so I can speak Chris Thomas’ language, too.
GT 37:42 Oh, nice.
Willie 37:43 But, when I am converted, I really cut my theological teeth, actually, in a Calvinist church. But I, eventually, became Lutheran. I’m a Lutheran pastor now and all of that. A Calvinist is what we would call reformed. When you see reformed theology, this is what they’re going to say. The hallmark of that is the five points of Calvinism. So, they believe that man is totally depraved, so he is extremely sinful, will not make a positive spiritual move on his own. They believe in unconditional election to salvation, and the ordination of damnation. They believe that the atonement of Christ is limited only to those chosen to salvation. They believe in irresistible grace, that all of those who are called by the gospel will accept it and will never fall away. And that would be the last point, the perseverance of the saints, that they would not fall away. Arminians reverse all of those points.
GT 37:44 Let me just back up there for a second. So, a Calvinist is once saved, always saved?
Willie 38:02 In a way, yeah. Some of them would object to that. But I mean, in the way they say it is like, if you have true faith, you will ultimately be saved because God has chosen you to be saved.
GT 39:01 So, if a person falls away, they never had true faith?
Willie 39:05 Yeah, that’s essentially what they would say.
GT 39:08 Okay.
Willie 39:10 Arminians are pretty much the opposite of that. I mean, they would kind of believe in that first point, but they believe that everyone is born depraved, but God gives everyone enough grace that they could choose to respond or not respond. But they don’t believe in election. They believe that the Atonement is universal. They believe that grace is resistible, and the perseverance of the saints is not true.
Willie 39:36 Lutherans, and I’m speaking for my branch of Lutheranism, what we would call confessional Lutheranism that holds to a very strict subscription to a book of 10 documents called the Book of Concord. So, we hold them because we believe they are clear exposition of Scripture. Okay, there’s my necessary boilerplate. So, we do believe that man is born sinful and cannot respond to God by nature, that God must work in him. We do believe that God elects people to salvation, but not to damnation. [We believe] that the gospel is freely offered to everyone, that some people will come to saving faith and will lose it. They will turn away from it, so, they will not persevere. We 100% believe that Jesus Christ’s atonement covers everyone. Christ is God, and has died for all, and that his blood covers everyone. The election debate is a really long controversy in Lutheranism. So, I won’t bore you with those details. Because the debate boils down to, well, does God elect them just of his free choice, or does he look down through the corridors of time and see if they would have faith or not, and then choose them? So that’s the theological debate there.
Willie 40:57 I realize that Mormons agree with, basically, none of those points except maybe the atonement and the falling away.
GT 41:03 (Chuckling) So, just to put this kind of in a nutshell, and maybe this is oversimplifying it, but hopefully it helps to clarify. So, the Calvinists are ‘Once saved, always saved,’ and the Arminians are, ‘You can fall away, even after you’re saved.’ Is that a fair statement?
Willie 41:26 Yes, that’s correct. Yeah.
GT 41:28 Okay.
Willie 41:29 We would believe that someone could have true faith, and then lose that faith.
GT 41:34 So, then, Lutherans are Arminian or Calvinist?
Willie 41:42 We are neither.
GT 41:42 Neither. So you’re like Mormons, then.
Willie 41:46 Well, that’s the soundbite, right? That’s what gets pulled out of this episode for my heresy trial.
GT 41:51 (Chuckling)
Willie 41:53 Yeah, we would consider as neither. We would have problems with each and so that’s just part of the soteriology. Sacramentally, we’re quite different from both groups in the main, because we believe that God works through means, which they both would agree that God works, say, through preaching, and we would, too. But we also believe in other means of grace, like baptism, the Lord’s Supper, confession and absolution. We believe that God works through these things as well. A lot of them would disagree. We believe that baptism regenerates, for example. We believe that the Lord’s Supper forgives sins.
GT 42:33 Oh, because Mormons say that baptism washes away your sins, but you’re saying it’s the communion?
Willie 42:40 Well, I think, no, no, no. Okay. So, well, yes, but hold on. We are saying that both do that. So, that baptism washes away sins, and I said regenerates, but we’re saying the same thing. We look at baptism as a new birth. I think I’m correct in that. Right?
GT 42:57 Yes.
Willie 42:58 Yeah. So baptism does that. Yet, I don’t know about you, but I do sin every day.
GT 43:06 Not me, I’m perfect. (Tongue in cheek.)
Willie 43:08 Right, well, Word of Wisdom, right?
GT 43:10 (Chuckling)
Willie 43:10 You’re keeping it. By the way, we’ve gone almost 40 minutes and I’ve not mentioned Postum or fry sauce yet, but I hope we can get to that. [Those are] two of my favorite things. Where was I? Oh, okay. Yes. So, the Lord’s Supper Jesus says, “Take. Eat. This is my body. This is my blood given to you for the remission of sins.” So we believe that the Lord’s Supper is also for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of faith, that God is continually forgiving our sins through the means that he is established, and the Holy Spirit is working through that, continually strengthening our faith. We believe that we need that food just as much as we need the food we eat for the body.
Do Atonement Theories Lead to Violence?
GT 43:54 Okay. Another thing that I wanted to talk to you about was atonement theory. I’ve got an interview with Paul Toscano. He’s definitely not a mainstream LDS belief on atonement theories. But there are five theories that I looked at on the great, expert website Wikipedia. (Chuckling)
Willie 44:25 Yeah.
GT 44:25 I just wanted to run these by you and see where Lutheranism fits in. I think I know the answer. So, there’s five basic ones: moral influence, ransom, satisfaction, penal substitution and governmental. First of all, are you familiar with those five different types of atonement theories?
Willie 44:46 I’m familiar with most of them. Yeah, moral influence, ransom, Christus victor, satisfaction theory, governmental. The governmental theory is basically more of a Methodist thing, I think. Yeah, I’m familiar with most of them.
GT 45:01 Okay. Can you give us a very brief [explanation?] What is moral influence? What does that mean as far as atonement theory?
Willie 45:09 Yeah, moral influence is going to be that Jesus Christ came about in order to bring about a positive change in humanity. So, the moral change comes about through his teachings. He’s doing this to be a good example to us. I mean, yes, of course, Jesus is an example. But I think that really is an injustice to the atonement, to say that it’s just an example. That it’s just a very vivid example of taking up your cross.
Willie 45:38 I will say that, while there is one theory that sort of dominates most of Protestant theology, I think as a Lutheran, there are aspects of most of these that we can embrace. So, yeah, so we’ve got moral influence theory. Ransom theory would be another one. That’s a very early one. It’s the idea that Christ comes to die as a ransom for the sins of the world. So, the question is, it’s a ransom Sacrifice. But the debate is, is the ransom paid to the devil? Or is the ransom paid to God the Father? You can kind of see a more traditional penal view of the Atonement coming out of that. Satisfaction needs to be made. A payment needs to be made. So who is the payment made to? Is that God or the devil? That would be the debate. So, the idea is, so Adam and Eve fall. In their fall, they turn humanity over to the devil. So, we have to give the devil something as a ransom. That will be problematic for me. But I think if you’re paying the ransom, which does have an Old Testament precedent to God, then it makes more sense. I guess I’m just uncomfortable with paying anything to the devil.
GT 46:58 Me too.
Willie 46:59 Right? Okay, so Christus Victor, some would say the Christus–and I don’t know, if I’m going off the same list as you, I’m just kind of going through here.
GT 46:59 Yeah, I think so.
Willie 47:06 Some would say that Christus Victor would be a very popular one throughout the history of the church. That is, essentially, that Christ dies to defeat the powers of sin, death and the devil, and to free mankind from bondage. Every Christian kind of has to agree with this, to one degree or another. In his death, he has conquered the devil. The devil is very much defeated now, and that will be made clear very soon. He has opened wide the gates of heaven and knocked down the gates of hell and of the dead. We believe that in the apostles creed, that Christ descended into hell, that Christ descends into hell, into the abode of the dead, to declare victory over the demons and to inaugurate the kingdom of salvation. So, that’s very much part of the Christus Victor theory.
Willie 48:09 The satisfaction theory and the penal substitutionary theory, I’ll kind of take together. But the penal substitutionary one is basically the one where Christ is punished for the sins of the world, and justice had to be made, that the law of God had to be perfectly fulfilled. Christ does that on our behalf. In doing so, then, through his means, he is able to exchange his righteousness for our unrighteousness. So Christ takes upon our unrighteousness and atones for it, and in exchange gives us his righteousness.
Willie 48:45 The issue people have with the satisfaction theory, or the penal substitutionary theory, is they don’t like the idea of Jesus being punished for sins that are not his own, or for God punishing him. I realize that that’s a difficult thing for people to understand. I’m sympathetic with that. I understand why people would see that as bad. But we also understand that Christ willingly does this, that this is a gracious act, and then in that atonement theory, justice must be made, and righteousness must be fulfilled. I mean, Christ even himself says he must fulfill all righteousness, and so we need that. So, that is why Christ does it, and he does it willingly. But I think the issue people have is that the Father is punishing him. That’s just kind of how they see it. Yeah. I mean, is that your objection?
GT 49:36 That’s my [objection.] You already knew I had an objection on that one. But, yes, that’s true. Okay. We’ll finish the summary, and then we’ll dive into more details there.
Willie 49:49 So you have the governmental theory, which is similar to the penal substitutionary theory. Really, I’m trying to really think about how it really differs here. I think it’s mostly because Christ only dies for the church in a judicial way. It’s something a little bit strange here. So, that’s my very insufficient summary of the governmental theory. There’s a scapegoat theory, which is very similar to ransom theory and penal substitutionary atonement.
GT 50:22 Right.
Willie 50:22 The sins are laid upon the scapegoat. So, the sins are laid upon Christ, and Christ takes them. The scapegoat, that’s also very interesting because of who the scapegoat goes out to, but we won’t get into that.
GT 50:36 All right, so thank you. That’s a very nice summary. So as far as how the Lutheran Church looks at it, what do you lean towards?
Willie 50:51 I think that in most of our preaching, undoubtably penal substitutionary atonement dominates, however, Christus Victor is very powerful, too. If you go and listen to my sermons, you’ll see both of those, but I would probably argue that Christus Victor, that defeat of sin, death, and the devil is really what is highlighted. I do believe that’s what the world needs to hear more nowadays. Because if I go and tell someone that you need to have your sins forgiven, and Christ has to suffer for it, we’re dealing with people who have no concept of what sin even means. We have to do a very basic thing. Okay, so what’s the big deal? I sin. Well, sin as an enemy. Sin is something that destroys you. The devil is an enemy, that is seeking only what is worse for you. The world, which is in bondage to sin–to explain those things, and then show how Christ breaks those chains, I think is very important. I think it’s very powerful. I mean, it’s biblical. So, we need to preach that, that Christ has trampled all of his enemies, and that Christ has come to free you from those things. Not just free you from vices, again, but to free you from that which kills you, that which is sin, that frees you from the curse, that he has destroyed that. So, both of those two would come to dominate, but you’ll find some from a lot of the different theories pulled in. But those two would be the two dominant themes.
GT 52:19 I guess my issue, because I think in a lot of ways, LDS are very similar, would have similar beliefs with what you just said, kind of Christus Victor and penal substitution. The scripture does spring to my mind, “Can mercy, rob justice?” There’s a big theological case in the Book of Mormon about that, which really seems to be kind of penal substitution. Every time I ask a theologian like you, or Chris Thomas, or Paul Toscano, they kind of shy away from what is what is atonement theology in the Book of Mormon? Maybe this is just my obsession with it. But I don’t like penal substitution. I don’t like it.
Willie 53:08 Well, I mean, if you receive the benefits of it, you’d like it.
GT 53:11 Yeah. But I guess my issue is, why does God have to punish Jesus for my sin? What did Jesus do?
Willie 53:28 What does any sacrificial lamb in the Old Testament? What is it a turtle dove? What do they do?
GT 53:33 I think it’s barbaric. It’s awful. I hate it. I think it’s Stone Age thinking.
Willie 53:39 Yeah, but I would caution with that thinking because it was instituted by God. Now, you might disagree with that.
GT 53:47 Well see, I would argue with that I don’t think mankind understands God very well. Man probably misinterpreted what God really wanted. That would be my thing and that God let it go.
Willie 54:03 Yeah, no. Yeah, but see that would be the presupposition there. But I would presuppose that the scriptures say what they mean, and that they’re that they’re accurate, and inerrant. I don’t mean to say, I’m not trying to put words in your mouth, or anything like that. But I mean, the scriptures present this as God setting up this system. We also believe that all of the Old Testament system is a type of Christ. So that Christ does appear in the Old Testament in these theophanies, but everything points and testifies to Christ. So, the whole temple system for us is pointing toward that great and final sacrifice of Christ. It is meant to point us toward that. I think that part of the severity of the sacrifices is meant to show us just how serious sin is. The wages of sin is death and so that as we stray further from God, this is meant to show us just what that means. If we can look at it as God is teaching us and you can say teaching us through the lens of culture if you want. But if God is actually teaching us through that, and is ultimately going to bring about good, then there is a purpose behind it. It’s kind of like anything that’s difficult, or what we would see as barbaric, God doesn’t permit it, and certainly doesn’t establish it without a much higher purpose.
GT 55:28 I mean, I just look at the whole Old Testament.
Willie 55:35 Yeah.
GT 55:36 I hate to say this, because it sounds blasphemous, but sometimes God’s a jerk. You know?
Willie 55:43 Yeah, I wouldn’t say he’s a jerk, sometimes God is rather stern to put it lightly.
GT 55:50 But wipe out the whole village, you know, the walls come tumbling down. Everybody died, kill all the cattle, everything.
Willie 55:58 When God makes a…
GT 55:59 That’s not a God of love.
Willie 56:01 But that same God saw his people through the wilderness and that same god and showed mercy to many, to many. That same God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, has now brought about the salvation of the entire world. So, for all of that, it ultimately ends in mercy.
GT 56:20 That same God flew a couple of planes into the World Trade Center, though, right?
Willie 56:25 No, two pilots did it.
GT 56:26 You can take it that way, and people do. That’s my issue. That God’s a jerk. You know, I don’t want to worship that God who–or if we take it in a Mormon context. You know, God came to the Lafferty brothers and said, “Hey, you’ve got to kill Brenda Lafferty and her daughter, or the baby.” I don’t know if it was a boy or a girl.
GT 56:27 Yeah, that God, I don’t like that guy. He’s a jerk. I would rather go to hell, if that’s what God required of me.
Willie 56:58 But here’s the thing. Just because someone says that, I mean, because we’re dealing with two different things now. So the scripture which attributes things directly to God, to suppose revelation, where people are doing it in the name of God–and that’s the rub. Who has who has the right voice? By what standard? And that’s where the rub is. Well, neither you or I believe that God told the Lafferty brothers to kill that woman and her baby,
GT 57:21 Right.
Willie 57:22 I don’t think so.
GT 57:23 And I don’t think he told those Muslims to fly into the World Trade Center.
Willie 57:26 Of course not. No.
GT 57:26 But I question whether God said, “Yeah, walk around Jericho seven times and kill everybody there.”
Willie 57:34 Right.
GT 57:34 I questioned that God. I know that’s the biblical interpretation and the standard traditional thing, I understand that. But to me, that is just the same bad projection as the Muslims who flew into the World Trade Center.
Willie 57:52 But God does predict a lot of this, that people would say this. His answer is basically, is essentially, “I’m God, and don’t question me.” But at the same time–but it’s not satisfactory, right?
GT 58:05 No, it’s not at all. Because here’s the thing. Joseph Smith can say, “I believe God told me to practice polygamy,” and I’m pretty sure you would say, “I don’t think that was a true revelation of God.” And I have a big question about that.
Willie 58:20 We’ll see. Yeah, and that’s the tricky thing for you, because I can sit here and say that I believe that the scriptures are inspired and inerrant, I believe pretty much all the traditional things about–I believe it happened, and I believe that God told people to do this. I’m going to wrestle with those difficulties when dealing with people, “how could God allow this?” from a bit of a different angle now, than someone who believes in continuing revelation. Because you’re dealing with it in a live way, I’m looking back at the historical record, and you’re, you have to deal with it in? I mean, you would have an issue with polygamy, but you would also believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet, correct?
GT 59:00 Yeah, but I can name a lot of bad things, a lot of biblical prophets did that were awful. Abraham, number one.
Willie 59:06 Right.
GT 59:06 I’ve got lots of problems with Abraham.
Willie 59:09 Right. But that’s the apologetic there. I think that the real issue, if we want to talk about prophecy would be, do these prophecies come to pass, more than the moral character? Because if we’re looking at people’s moral character, the Bible outside of Jesus Christ, nobody comes out clean.
GT 59:24 Right.
Willie 59:24 I mean, you are going to struggle with these in a different way, like Mountain Meadows, well, that’s kind of a different one, because there’s debate on that. Right?
GT 59:35 Yeah.
Willie 59:36 There’s really no debate among the LDS that, among official LDS, that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy.
GT 59:43 Oh, that he practiced it, absolutely.
Willie 59:45 And then you have to wrestle with that. Right? Because it’s in revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants.
GT 59:54 Yes, but I mean, I can still look at the Bible–if I put my Bill Maher hat on and say, Well look, the Bible regulates slavery.
Willie 1:00:02 Right.
GT 1:00:02 And Lot slept with his daughter and Noah got drunk and, what’s his name? The guy who got swallowed by a shark.
Willie 1:00:14 Jonah.
GT 1:00:14 Jonah, or I guess it was a big fish, I shouldn’t say shark. But, you know, Jonah was a racist. Abraham threw his polygamous wife and kid out to die in the desert.
Willie 1:00:32 But God, God provides for them in the desert. Don’t forget. God provides for them.
GT 1:00:37 But what kind of a Christian–and I know he’s not Christian–but what kind of a Christian is Abraham to mistreat somebody so badly? And Jacob steals the birthright from Esau. I mean, there’s so much dysfunction.
Willie 1:00:56 Yeah, and that’s in the Bible.
GT 1:00:58 That I’m saying, “Hey, Joseph, Smith’s not that different.”
Willie 1:01:01 But that’s good news for you and me, because if so great of sinners like them can be redeemed, and if God can bring about the Savior of the world through their lineage… I mean, this is what God works with. God is working through sinful people, and it’s very ugly, and history is ugly. And God is working beautiful things, even through the ugliness. That’s what we have to look through. I mean, we can choose to look around the world today, and I think the racist stuff, and the slavery stuff is a bit conditioned, too, by the time in which we live. I mean, Paul himself says all cretins are liars. But if I said all people from Ohio, are liars, I would probably get in some mild trouble for that, right, for all people.
GT 1:01:44 (Chuckling)
Willie 1:01:45 The language, I’m a bit careful with sort of language policing on stuff, because there’s a lot of loaded terms there. But the ancient world speaks much more harshly than we do. The 16 th century people speak a lot more harshly than we do. Even look at the way that you’ve seen Christians in the 19 th century dialogue. It’s a lot more pointed than it would be today. So, we’ve done a bit of a cultural softening as far as our discourse but go back through all of these dark things in the scriptures, and you do find God working in and through them. That, to me, is something we have to see that God is– God is not working through perfect people. God is working to bring about the salvation of the world through a sinful mass. And he works good out of it. And that’s a beautiful thing.
GT 1:02:34 Well, I like that thought. It’s just, I feel like, when talking with Protestants in particular, they can look at Joseph Smith’s polygamy as this horrible thing and the Danites as this horrible thing. I’m like, have you read the Bible?
Willie 1:02:53 Yeah, the Danites.
GT 1:02:53 Have you really read the Bible?
Willie 1:02:57 You know, the Nauvoo Legion, the Danites, those things are a little bit tricky for me, because, I choose to read that record. The Danites are different. We can talk about those separately. But, Joseph Smith, the early Mormons are portrayed as some kind of conquering military force, but a lot of that is built up in reaction to persecution. If we’re being fair, and I think I’ve talked about this in the episodes, regardless of where you fall, theologically, they were treated rather violently, by some people. So we don’t want to condone that.
Willie 1:03:32 I was trying to find some sort of some Lutheran 19 th century responses to Mormonism, and I could really find very little. But I did find some in some German records. Basically, the discussion was, this comes from CFW Walther, again, could the state in America ever regulate religion? He says, “Generally, no, but in certain circumstances,” and he says, “The Mormons, for example. The Missouri government was right to route them out for their thievery,” or maybe he said the Illinois government. So, he basically understood them as thieves, and so because they’re thieves, what happened to them was justified.
Willie 1:04:08 I don’t know. Do we have proof that Mormons were going into villages and stealing? Were we putting gypsy stereotypes on them? Was that a reference to the Kirtland Safety Society? I don’t know. But you can justify a lot of violence against people by turning them into an enemy like that. So a lot of the militia stuff is, is formed in response, to self-defense, which is something that I could understand. If we were under siege like that, and our churches had some kind of security, is that the worst thing in the world? I could be naive in viewing it that way. But I’ll plant my flag on that position for now, I guess.
GT 1:04:52 Well, and it’s interesting. I’m curious if this is something you can speak to, especially because Luther obviously grew up in Germany. So, it’s interesting that you’re finding a lot of this German stuff. I think a lot of times we kind of forget that. But could you talk about how did Lutherans interact with Catholics in Germany, especially, so that they became kind of the dominant religion of Germany? There was some persecution there for a while, at least.
Willie 1:05:27 So again, at the time of the Reformation, Germany is not unified. It’s a series of kingdoms. So, eventually, the princes are able to determine the religion. This does lead in Europe to the what’s called the 30 Years War where millions of people die through violent conflict. I’m sorry, can you ask the question again, just to make sure I get it?
GT 1:05:49 Just how Lutherans interacted with the Catholic Church in Germany.
Willie 1:05:54 Okay.
GT 1:05:55 Or what we now call Germany.
Willie 1:05:57 It’s rather violent, frankly, because you do have the political. Church and state are not separated.
GT 1:06:00 Is there a parallel with Mormons in 1840, 1838 Mormon War in Missouri, with what happened in the 30 Years War?
Willie 1:06:08 If there’s a parallel, it’s just that there’s war, because it is the official armies that are fighting, when the Lutherans and the Catholics are going at it, except for when we teamed up to go after the Anabaptists together. So let me give you an example, then, of difficult Lutheran history that Lutherans even struggle with. This is tied directly to Luther. Fairly early, or at a certain point in the Reformation, we deal with visionaries and things like that. But the peasants start to take Luther’s writings and see that as a justification to rise up against their masters. And so, it leads to a very violent rebellion. So, peasants are going around revolting, rioting. It’s very violent. Luther writes letters calling for the suppression of these riots. So, he says, basically, send knights and soldiers to come in and destroy them.
Willie 1:06:08 Tens of thousands of peasants are killed as a result of his advice. That is something that certain Lutheran historians and maybe a lot of Lutherans today that know the history, struggle with, that Luther called for a violent suppression to that rebellion. You’re talking about a scale in Europe, that is beyond what really happens in in America. I don’t think America has ever seen a religious war. I mean, Hawn’s Mill, how many people are killed there?
GT 1:07:07 Eighteen, I believe.
Willie 1:07:11 Yeah, 18, and then the Utah wars. Now, that’s not to say that those lives didn’t matter or anything, but the European scale is huge. But that is in large part due to it being a political as well as a religious war. They’re fighting for control of territory. There is no separation of church and state, at that point.
GT 1:07:56 Yeah, and to finish your thought on Mountain Meadows, 100 people give or take a dozen or so [were killed.]
Willie 1:08:03 I mean, have you have you come down on one side or the other on that?
GT 1:08:08 On who did it?
Willie 1:08:09 Oh, yeah, on Mountain Meadows.
GT 1:08:11 Oh, Mormons. I think there’s no question. I mean, it’s terrible. Having said that, I remember at the time–was it was at with Barbara? I think it was Barbara Jones Brown that I mentioned that it was the worst massacre in US history [until 9/11], which was not correct. It was the worst massacre of white people. The Indians had the Bear River Massacre that was more than double that. It was like 250 people died. The Mormons had an indirect role with that, and that’s terrible. But honestly, there have been so many Indian massacres, that the white people just don’t count, because they’re Indians. Manifest Destiny! God’s on our side. We’re here to take over. And the Book of Mormon has problems with that.
Willie 1:09:04 Violence did go both ways on that end. I mean, conquering the frontier was not without difficulty.
GT 1:09:11 The more I learn about the Indians, I mean, they were they were pretty badly mistreated.
Willie 1:09:18 Yeah. But, I mean, if you look at–I think that’s one, too, if we’re being objective. You look at it, tribe by tribe, I mean, violence is being committed. I mean, there’s violence, people are killing each other…
GT 1:09:28 Right.
Willie 1:09:29 …is what’s happening. That’s what I’m trying to say there. The conquering of nations, whether it’s America or anything, is always going to result in bloodshed. I’m not making a value judgment there. That’s just the world we live in. That’s the fall. That’s the ugly world that we were talking about, that we live in.
Willie 1:09:47 Yeah.
GT 1:09:49 Yeah. But the idea was going back to the difficult Lutheran history. So, Luther said some things that got people killed? Can we say it that way?
Willie 1:10:00 Yeah, he calls for it and it happens. But he does believe that in their rebellion, that it is just that they would be put down. Luther would probably not have been a fan of the American Revolution or the American Civil War. He sees it as sin, to go up against–I want to say, masters. I’m using that in its historical sense. So, we believe that the commandment to honor thy father and thy mother applies not only to your parents, but to other authorities, insofar as you’re not called to violate the law of God. He sees rebellion as violating God’s law, which is kind of curious, given that he’s the father of the Protestant Reformation. But he would, again, say, though, that the Pope is causing him to disobey the scriptures, to disobey the clear commands of Christ, to deny true gospel. So, in that case, it’s okay to disobey. I mean, everybody agrees to that to one degree or another.
GT 1:11:08 Yeah.
Willie 1:11:09 That there’s a time where you can say no.
GT 1:11:11 Right. Cool.
Trinity & Atonement
GT 1:11:12 I’m trying to or what else we need to talk about? Do you have any questions for me? We haven’t talked about the Word of Wisdom. I think that’s your thing. Right?
Willie 1:11:24 Yeah. Well, I’ve got one question and then we will talk about Word of Wisdom. So, it was all the way back in atonement, I didn’t get to ask it.
GT 1:11:29 Okay.
Willie 1:11:30 This is something that’s always confused me. Now, when I read theology, you know, I like a good systematic. So, I’ll still pull up Mormon Doctrine, to try to figure it out, even though it’s outdated. I feel like sometimes, maybe, when the LDS theologians today, I feel like they maybe soften or, kind of fudge a little bit on clear statements. So, the Atonement has always been interesting. So, if you look at a lot of anti-Mormon tracts, they’ll say that Mormons only believe the atonement happened in Gethsemane. But that doesn’t seem to be the case when I hear like, say, back to Bruce McConkie. You look at Bruce McConkie’s, what I’ll call the final testimony. He says, “I testify that Christ atoned at Gethsemane and Golgotha.” So, all the theories aside, where do you believe that the atonement happened? How does Gethsemane figure into that, I guess, is my question? Because we don’t believe that it really happened at Gethsemane.
GT 1:12:29 When you’re talking about the atonement, as far as the price that he paid for our sins, is that what you’re saying?
Willie 1:12:35 Yeah, it’s typically pictured as Christ’s Atonement either happens or begins at Golgotha. Excuse me, at Gethsemane. Of course, it happened at Golgotha. Or am I butting into folk Mormonism here?
GT 1:12:47 This is where I just want to reject all the penal substitution and the ransom theory altogether, because to me, it’s so barbaric and awful. I would much rather talk about moral influence or Christus Victor. To me, those are much more appealing. Because I just feel like the LDS Church is very tied to penal substitution and I don’t like it. So, to answer your question, what’s the official thing? Not what’s my thing?
Willie 1:13:29 Yeah, the official thing that, not the Bennett-ite position.
GT 1:13:33 I’m much more of a Christus Victor and a moral influencer, view of atonement. I like it way better. So, I hate this question. I’ll just say. But yeah, from the “official,” I kind of I hate to say this, because I disagree with Bruce R. McConkie a lot, but I kind of think he might be right on that one. It’s kind of a combination of on the cross and in the garden. To me, this is so barbaric. Once again, this is why I don’t like penal substitution. Jesus bled from every pore as he’s praying in the garden. That’s horrible. What kind of a God would do that? “Jesus, here, let me make you bleed from every pore, because you got to pay for everybody’s sins.” I just don’t like it.
Willie 1:14:23 Well, and then see, there’s an ontological difference here with the way we view God, too. Because we’re Trinitarian, we believe in one God, united, three persons, same divine essence. You’re dealing with two different beings of flesh and bone and so I think that that colors that a little bit, too. There’s a potential, perhaps, in Mormon theology for disagreement between the Father and the Son, not that that’s ever, that you officially teach that, but at least it’s theoretically possible. But we believe that God is one, and [in your theology] the Father and the son are not one. [They are] maybe one in purpose. I understand that, but not one in essence or being.
GT 1:15:10 Well–go ahead.
Willie 1:15:11 No, no, go ahead.
GT 1:15:12 So, my whole thing is–and I’d love to get into kind of a Trinity thing because I think–I love the Godhead because to me, it’s so much more understandable than the Trinity. I think you and I have talked about that Lutheran satire website, which is, I think, is awesome that talks about the Trinity.
Willie 1:15:36 That guy is, he is part of our denomination, by the way.
GT 1:15:39 Yeah, so those, that’s hilarious. “Come on, Patrick.”
Willie 1:15:42 Hey, let me tell you, you can take jokes well. That’s a good thing.
GT 1:15:46 I’m going to have to see if I can get permission to show that, because I think it’s hilarious. Do you know who? We’ll talk after. I’ll see if you can get me some permission to use that because I think it’s so hilarious.
Willie 1:15:59 I don’t think you’ll have a problem using that.
GT 1:16:02 Oh, really? That’d be cool.
Willie 1:16:03 Yeah, I’m sure Hans will be fine with that.
GT 1:16:11 Let me ask you this, because I think Chris Thomas said this. And I would suspect Lutherans are the same as Pentecostals in this respect. Don’t most your average, run-of-the-mill Lutherans think of the Trinity as dualism?
Willie 1:16:29 Okay, you’re going to have to define what you mean by dualism.
GT 1:16:31 Oh, excuse me, modalism.
Willie 1:16:33 Modalism.
GT 1:16:33 Yes. I meant modalism.
Willie 1:16:34 Okay. I’m going to say no, Lutherans don’t think of it as Modalism. We’re very big on catechesis. What happens is people are sloppy with their language. I think a lot of people, because of that, when they when they try to explain the Trinity, come across as modalist. That’s what he’s saying. I mean, you have, what appears to me, as Modalism in the Book of Mormon, by the way.
GT 1:17:00 Paul Toscano would agree with you. I haven’t published that yet. But it’ll probably be published before you see this. You’ll have to check out my Paul Toscano.
Willie 1:17:06 The theological development of Mormonism hasn’t happened at the time. To me, a lot of what’s coming out of the Book of Mormon, it feels much more closer to a traditional Christian position than what develops–certainly by King Follett, right?
Willie 1:17:20 By the King Follett discourse, things are out there. No, some people are very sloppy in their formulation of the Trinity. The Trinity is a mystery, and it’s not a tight, logical thing like what people want to make it into. Dr. Millett does say, “It’s hard to unite around a mystery.” That’s one of his defenses of Mormon theology versus a traditional Christian, traditional Trinitarian theology.
Willie 1:17:51 I’m like, “Well, that’s not really an argument, though.” I think that that God, yes, he is above us. We are not the same as him, yet he does take on human flesh. God does become man. He suffers so that he can understand us. So, there is a relatability there. God understands us much more than we can really understand him. But I’m getting out in the weeds here. Yeah, so I’ll give you an example. Sometimes people try to teach–so Modalism, for those that don’t know, is the idea that God is sort of sometimes the Father. He’ll manifest as the son. He’ll manifest as the Holy Ghost. He operates in modes. And we don’t believe that. So some people will say, “Oh, the Trinity is like steam, water and ice.
GT 1:18:32 Right. That’s total modalism.
Willie 1:18:33 That’s not the Trinity.
GT 1:18:33 That’s modalism. That’s total modalism.
Willie 1:18:34 An egg would fail too, because that that ends up being, I don’t know, sort of tritheism, I guess. That might be closer to your position. I mean, you would accept a tritheism, right?
GT 1:18:39 I’m not sure what you mean by tritheism.
Willie 1:18:52 That there are more okay, well, in this case…
GT 1:18:54 God’s embryo, is that what you’re saying?
Willie 1:18:57 No, no. Well, one point we believe he was. Because in the womb of the Virgin Mary, there is God the Son. Right? So, He is present there. But see, okay, this is Trinitarian theology. I keep getting keep going off on tangents here but fitting for the name of the show.
GT 1:19:17 Exactly.
Willie 1:19:18 So, yeah. But you would believe that the Father and the Son are two separate gods.
GT 1:19:24 Two separate beings, yes.
Willie 1:19:26 Two separate beings, and the Holy Ghost, as well.
GT 1:19:27 We don’t want to be too polytheistic here. I know there was the whole– I had a big conversation with Paul Toscano about homoousias versus homoiousias.
Willie 1:19:39 Yes. Okay. So Toscano he’s keeping up with the classic debate.
GT 1:19:43 He actually didn’t know what the difference was. I had to explain it. I was surprised. Tell us the difference between homoousias and homoiousias.
Willie 1:19:51 Okay.
GT 1:19:55 Because that was a big debate in the early Christian church, right?
Willie 1:19:58 Yes. So homoousias versus homoiousias is the difference between–it’s literally one iota. Right?
GT 1:20:08 Exactly.
Willie 1:20:09 So, okay, how do I explain this for people who have never…
GT 1:20:15 Who don’t understand the trinity.
Willie 1:20:16 So, it’s the question of, is God of the same substance or of a similar substance? So the Nicene affirmation is homoousias, that God isn’t the same substance. Homoiousias is that the Father and the Son would be of a like substance. Does that makes sense?
GT 1:20:37 So the idea is homoousias, God and Jesus, this is why I hate the Trinity, are the same. They’re the same substance. Right? And homoiousias is God and Jesus are similar, but they’re different. Is that right? Is that what the debate was?
Willie 1:20:56 Yeah. So are they identical?
GT 1:20:59 Yeah.
Willie 1:21:01 So, we say in the Nicene Creed, that they are of the same substance, not of a like substance. So that, for example, we would say that the God of the Old Testament is Jesus. Now, you would say that too, but in a different way. You would say that Jehovah is Jesus. Right?
GT 1:21:19 The God of the Old Testament.
Willie 1:21:20 Right, we would say that too, but in a different way, because we believe there’s one God. So that, the pillar and the cloud in the Old Testament, that’s Christ, that’s the same God. So that they are the same substance. We believe that he is begotten, not made, a being that was substance, with the Father by whom all things were made. So that he is, the Son is eternally begotten of the Father, but he is not a creative being. So, whereas, in Mormon theology, Jesus would be a created being. Right?
GT 1:21:21 You’re going to have to watch my Paul Toscano interview, because he takes big issue with the whole ladder theology. He says, that’s all wrong. But he’s a heretic anyway. So, I guess it doesn’t matter what he says. (Chuckling)
Willie 1:22:19 That’s right.
GT 1:22:23 But, I mean, it’s interesting. He has a very interesting take on that. In fact, he’s way more Adam/God than I anticipated.
Willie 1:22:31 Well, yeah, this is just kind of blowing my mind here, because he’s arguing like, he’s over here on a pseudo Trinitarian track, sort of pulling more towards traditional Christianity, but then he would go to Adam/God. So, what is going on with that? It’ll be a fun interview.
GT 1:22:46 You’ll have to watch that one for sure. It was very interesting.
Word of Wisdom/Religious Fights
GT 1:22:49 So, all right. What else? We didn’t go back to the Word of Wisdom. Didn’t you want to talk about that?
Willie 1:22:56 Oh, yes, the Word of Wisdom, yeah. I’m sort of an accidental and a poor follower of it, not because I believe it’s revelation, but it is a principle with a promise. Then it became a commandment. So, let’s talk about it. So, the Word of wisdom for you all, is an interesting one for me, because it seems to me is it starts out as good health advice, and then it quickly becomes a commandment for the LDS, for Latter-day Saints. I had asked you, anecdotally, how it’s observed in your country. I mean, you are in Mormon country. You said that there was a bit of a generational gap.
GT 1:23:31 Well, and that’s kind of what Jana Riess’s book, I don’t know where that is. I mean, typically, here’s your kind of your little, there’s a great article by BYU Studies,  I have to find the name of it, that argued that, in Joseph Smith’s day, if they kind of wanted to throw the book at somebody, they’d say, “Hey, you’re not following the Word of Wisdom.” The idea is kind of like the same way we do today. The argument is that even in Joseph Smith’s day, they kind of followed, even though it was, what’s the word? It was not by commandment, it was kind of a suggestion. It wasn’t till Brigham Young said, “Okay, we’ve had 30 years. Now it’s commandment.” You’ve had your time. We’re going to follow this. But even he…
Willie 1:24:25 There’s still some tobacco chewing going on in his day. It’s interesting, because if you believe the story where Joseph gets up and speaks about it, and then immediately lights up a cigarette and rides his horse through or lights up a cigar and rides his horse through town. Are you familiar with this? I can’t remember what. It was a former apostle or someone at the time, and don’t quote me. It might not have been an apostle who gives this account and says something like, “Joseph really tested the people’s patience with that,” or something. I’m paraphrasing, but I’ll think of it after the interview is over.
GT 1:24:56 Well, I’ve heard that he had a bar in Nauvoo. I know that he drank wine the night before he died.
Willie 1:25:04 But wine consumption’s not, I’m sorry, I’ve run into it. I mean, it does seem that wine consumption and beer consumption, that prohibition comes later.
GT 1:25:14 Right.
Willie 1:25:14 In the interpretation of the Word of Wisdom. I mean, of course, the great debate is over what hot drinks mean. But it’s interesting to me, because it ends up being for a while, okay, just no caffeine. But then, Hey, Pepsi is fine, because the president drank it.  So, those sorts of things. So, what is the big franchise out in Utah, Swig?
GT 1:25:37 Yeah, Swig.
Willie 1:25:38 Basically, it does designer sodas. To me, that’s an interesting thing, because I would imagine that some Mormons could argue that, while it’s not a direct violation of the Word of Wisdom, it is sort of in the spirit violating it. I don’t know. Am I’m being a legalist? Am I being a legalist Mormon? (Chuckling)
GT 1:25:54 Oh, there’s lots of legalist Mormons out there, trust me. So yeah, as I understand the history of the Word of Wisdom, there’s a lot of weird, different things. Kind of the commandment/suggestion kind of comes and goes, as well. But it wasn’t until the early 1900s, where they made the temple recommended requirement. I know that there was a there’s a picture of the Salt Lake Temple in the Celestial room with spittoons in it. (Chuckling) So even in the Utah period, they were they were using tobacco.
Willie 1:26:29 We have no prohibitions against tobacco, alcohol, like I mentioned. I mean, even at seminary, every Friday, there’s beer and cigars and things like that. But you have to be careful, especially where I am. I’m in Baptist country. I choose nowadays to largely abstain from a lot of these things, for various reasons. One, it’s just better for you. But we have accounts of our churches in the 19 th century, having two different communion chalices, one for the tobacco chewers and one for those who didn’t.
GT 1:26:35 Because you guys still use a single cup, right?
Willie 1:27:05 We do. Most of our churches would offer both individual cups and the common cup. My church offers both. I would say that my congregation is probably about 50/50. About half use the common cup and half use the individual cups.
GT 1:27:17 Even with COVID?
Willie 1:27:19 Even with COVID, we didn’t take the cup away.
GT 1:27:23 See, we dumped the single cup during the 1918 pandemic, with the flu. We use individual cups now.
Willie 1:27:31 Yeah, we’re keeping on. We do use, curiously, we use the individual communion hosts, but you wouldn’t do that.
GT 1:27:40 Yeah, we talked about that. That’s probably something that I think a lot of Mormons don’t know. I heard a conversation, I think it was my current ward. I didn’t know this. There’s somebody who was gluten intolerant, and so they didn’t want to have bread. So, they were getting these little, like, rice crackers, things and they would just put them on the tray. Then, there was a discussion and said, “No, we can’t do that, or if we do that, we have to break it because Jesus broke the bread.” So, we can still use like rice cakes or whatever, but we have to break it. Then, sometimes they’ll put it a little bit away from the bread, so that so people who are gluten intolerant can have that.
Willie 1:28:25 The big historical reason that we use the individual communion wafers is to avoid crumbs, because we do believe that it is the true Body of Jesus Christ and his true blood in the wine.
GT 1:28:36 So, this is like transubstantiation?
Willie 1:28:39 A little bit, but we would formally reject transubstantiation because we believe it brings too much rationality into it. It’s trying to bring a philosophical explanation into what is a mystery. But we do believe that it is Christ’s true Body and Blood in the bread and wine. So that you’re truly receiving His body and His blood for the remission of sins. But the breaking of the bread is an interesting one. So, Calvinist churches begin to compete with us in the European kingdoms. And then eventually the leaders were like, “No, you’re going to have to be one church,” and this long debate.
Willie 1:29:18 Well, the Calvinists said, “It’s not the real Lord’s supper unless you break it.” They said that it doesn’t count as a valid Lord’s supper unless you break it and the Lutherans not liking the Calvinists said, “Well, we’ll show you. We’re not going to break it.”
Willie 1:29:32 So a lot of our churches to this day don’t break it because we don’t like the Calvinist’s position on the Lord’s Supper. So, that is the debate known as the Fractio Panis, the breaking of the bread.
GT 1:29:44 Oh, wow.
Willie 1:29:46 That’s another reason why, a few of our churches to this day use white wine. I think the real reason is because red wine stains the white linens more easily, but there’s also the Calvinists said, “Well, it needs to look like blood,” or the Zwinglians, whoever said, “It needs to look like blood.”
Willie 1:30:08 We said, “Hey, no, it’s not a symbol. It’s real blood. We’ll show you.” So, a lot of practices develop, just as a jab at someone, which I can appreciate.
GT 1:30:14 Oh, that’s funny. So, I think that’s one thing, that, Mormons are so persecuted that we just think everybody hates us. But we don’t understand that Protestants fight with each other just as much as they do Mormons.
Willie 1:30:35 Well. So I’ll give you an example. We’re here in Arkansas. We’re Lutheran. We have worshi, where I wear weird clothing, and, very formal. So we’re very different from what a lot of these Baptist churches will do. So, here are people and members of, you know, telling me stories and things like, “Well, they’re accusing us of, ‘Those Lutherans, they worship the devil in there,” and things like that. Or, they’ll say, our Small Catechism, “Well, that’s just like the Book of Mormon,” which we would vehemently disagree with. But they sort of see it as the same, because we do things rather differently. So yeah, Protestants will to varying degrees will demonize other Protestants. I mean, like we’ve talked about in private conversations, there are other Lutheran synods, for example, that won’t even pray with people that they’re not in what we would call altar and pulpit fellowship with. So that even other Lutherans, they wouldn’t even like do a table prayer with or something like that.
GT 1:31:32 So, it’s funny, you mentioned that. I remember you told me, because you’ve recently moved from Illinois to Arkansas. Right?
Willie 1:31:41 Correct. Yeah.
GT 1:31:44 You had said two things that I thought were really funny and strange. Well, one, every Mormon missionary in the South will relate to this, that you have never been dammed so much in your life as when you moved to Arkansas. (Chuckling)
Willie 1:32:02 Right. Yeah, this speaks for a lot of areas that are dominated by certain denominations. Yeah, I mean, we’re close to a metro area, in Arkansas, but nevertheless, even if they assume I’m a Catholic, that’s no bueno. But it’s also true, where I grew up in Eastern Kentucky and Appalachia, nobody knows what a Lutheran is. That sounds strange to them, our worship is very different.
GT 1:32:34 You just told me you grew up in Kentucky.
Willie 1:32:37 Right.
GT 1:32:38 That is not a Kentucky accent you’re speaking with.
Willie 1:32:41 No, no, it’s not. But I can bring it back, but we’d need subtitles for your [audience.]
GT 1:32:46 (Chuckling)
Willie 1:32:50 So, yeah, I grew up in almost West Virginia, very much the Appalachian experience. But it was the same thing. I told this story before. Of course, Dona Gear, my grandmother, I could remember her. My great Uncle Augustus, he moves to Ohio, that’s strike one. He opens a bar, that’s strike two. He marries a Catholic. That’s it. No more. We can’t handle that one. So, the denominational prejudices are different, depending on where you are. But yeah, down here, you’ll occasionally meet somebody, who’s accusing us of all manner of things. “Oh, you must be a cult. Do you worship Luther? Do you worship Martin Luther King? Is that what this is about?”
GT 1:33:37 See, that’s so weird to me.
Willie 1:33:41 A lot of people, to be fair, a lot of people do know who we are. The congregation has been here a long time. But you still bump into people who don’t understand and don’t know.
GT 1:33:55 You even told me that you were confused with being a Mormon, I was like, that doesn’t make any sense to me.
Willie 1:34:00 Well, yeah. They don’t really confuse us so much as like, “Hey, you are Mormon,” but they say, “Are you like the Mormons, because church says Lutheran on that. What does that mean?” So, usually–but once we explain it, they’re like, “Okay, you’re just like us, but I’m still going to a condemn you for infant baptism,“ or whatever else. Which the Book of Mormon does, too. So, see the Baptists and the Book of Mormon can come after us.
GT 1:34:24 (Chuckling) So, you know, that’s a great segue. I wanted to ask you, because Steve Pynakker had mentioned this one time that he said, actually he said it a few times, that there’s nothing–Christians should not be afraid of a Book of Mormon because it’s a very Christian book. Do you agree with that statement? What are your thoughts on the Book of Mormon?
Willie 1:34:46 So the audience can know a little bit, Steve Pynakker says that it’s a great book? Is that what he said?
GT 1:34:52 No, he didn’t say it was a great book. He just said that Christians shouldn’t be afraid of it because there’s not any strange theology in it.
Willie 1:35:02 Yeah, and I think that this was the interview you did with him at Mormon Book Reviews, so check it out.
GT 1:35:07 Right.
Willie 1:35:08 Yeah, it is, to me, the Book of Mormon seems to reflect a lot of the Christianity that is developing at the time. I believe Alexander Campbell also said this, who probably writes one of the first, if not the first review of it. It’s a negative review, a comprehensive one saying that its problem is it answers too many of the theological questions of the time. I do think that the Book of Mormon very much speaks to that. And back to that infant baptism thing and other things. It’s interesting the picture of worship you get through the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon is, as far as a story, is much more familiar to traditional Christianity than what develops. Now, I hate to keep mentioning the King Follett discourse, but especially after everything becomes fully orbed, after Nauvoo. Right? But I mean, even the developments you’d have in Kirtland with temple work and things like that, you don’t really see that in the Book of Mormon. Would would you say that’s fair?
GT 1:36:17 Yeah, I mean, a lot of times we talked about the–we have to be careful because they use the word endowment in Kirtland and Nauvoo, but it doesn’t exactly mean the same thing.
GT: In Kirtland, the endowment is what we would now call a washing anointing. I think a lot of Christians would be familiar with, you know, washing the feet, and that sort of thing. And it’s not exactly the same, but it’s along those same kinds of ideas.
Willie 1:36:44 I mean, it’s, so a lot of what people consider sort of the hallmark Mormon doctrines are found in later revelations.
GT 1:36:53 Right.
Willie 1:36:54 Even things like, okay, so the vision of Alvin comes much later, right? That’s not a Book of Mormon principle.
GT 1:37:05 It was right after Kirtland, actually, I believe.
Willie 1:37:06 Yeah. So it’s close to the Book of Mormon. That’s what begins to develop your doctrine of salvation beyond the grave? If I can, I don’t know what you would technically call it.
GT 1:37:20 Baptism for the dead.
Willie 1:37:21 Well, baptism for the dead, yeah, but this idea that there’s a whole salvation economy, that happens in the spirit world or can happen in the spirit world. So, that happens at Kirtland. Now, are they doing baptisms for the dead in Kirtland?
GT 1:37:38 No. In fact, the temple has already been built. I believe, if my memory is right. I’d have to go back and watch my Dr. Richard Bennett, my name twin interview, because he’s kind of an expert on that. I want to say, because there’s no font in Kirtland. But I want to say that’s when the first vision or the vision of Alvin that you’re referring to happened, and then it got further developed in Nauvoo. Nauvoo is really where baptism for the dead kind of was solidified. But I believe the first–I shouldn’t keep saying first vision. The original vision about Alvin was in Kirtland.
Willie 1:38:19 Okay. Yeah. So it becomes fully orbed there. I believe the RLDS said that early on, they approved of baptism for the dead, but never practiced it or something like that, I think is…
GT 1:38:33 Yeah, they included it in their original D&C [Doctrine & Covenants.] But they, yeah, I don’t know if they never practiced it. But yeah, then they’ve actually de-canonized that revelation.
Willie 1:38:47 That’s an interesting thing, which, of course, you’ve got hours and hours on the RLDS or I should say more properly, the Community of Christ. But [that’s] very interesting, the really radical departure that both the LDS and RLDS have taken. Even though they get along better now, they seem to be further apart, doctrinally, than ever.
GT 1:39:06 (Chuckling) I agree with that. You know, that brings up another point, because I think the same sort of issues happen within the Lutheran church. Don’t you have some that are more progressive and some that are more fundamentalist, for lack of a better term.
Willie 1:39:24 Oh, yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I mean, certainly, some people would consider the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod fundamentalist. A lot of our guys don’t like that term. But I mean, we believe in biblical inerrancy, creation, virgin birth, all the miracles. So, we pretty much hit that, all the marks there, as far as believing, the miracles of the Bible and things like that. There are groups that will be further to the right than us that I mentioned, that are very strict on prayer fellowship.
Willie 1:39:55 We have, probably, like most denominations, relaxed in some ways over time. For example, it’s not been that long ago that we considered all insurance to be sinful in the 19 th century.
GT 1:40:06 Oh, really?
Willie 1:40:07 Yeah. So that was considered sinful. We would have frowned on theater, dancing, things like that. Now, none of that is frowned upon at all. I mean, you’re going to have theater programs in our schools and dance classes and things like that. But that’s more of a–those kinds of things applied broadly to all traditional denominations at that time, except Mormons. They were always big into dancing.
GT 1:40:28 Yeah.
Willie 1:40:29 I mean, that is one interesting thing. But then you would have the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which comes about in the late 80s, which is a merger of several smaller denominations, which turns into one gargantuan denomination. They would take a much more liberal or progressive viewpoint of everything, for lack of a better term. So, they probably don’t have the quite the Lutheran distinctives that we do, simply because they are a broader–I mean, they have they have a broader acceptance of different viewpoints and things like that.
GT 1:41:01 Would they accept gay marriage and that sort of thing?
Willie 1:41:03 Oh, yeah, 100%. I mean, they’ve been at the forefront of that: gay bishops, transgender bishops. So, not just rank and file clergy, but even bishops, in their denominations would be permitted to…
GT 1:41:16 But the Missouri Synod would be against that.
Willie 1:41:19 Correct. We do not approve of homosexual relationships, things like that. Yeah, we would be much more in favor of traditional marriage and traditional views of the family.
GT 1:41:35 So, this is where that term evangelical gets really kind of fuzzy.
Willie 1:41:40 Exactly, yeah.
GT 1:41:41 Because you’re Evangelical– I’m trying to paint here a little bit. Because the whole evangelical term is really fuzzy to me anyway. But my impression of evangelical Christianity would be against gay marriage, against female ordination.
Willie 1:42:03 Correct.
GT 1:42:03 Whereas the Evangelical Lutheran Church is the opposite of that.
Willie 1:42:08 Yeah, correct. Right. But again, you’re going back to this sort of older understanding of evangelical, which would refer to how one is justified before God.
GT 1:42:19 Now, would they be similar in as far as music, as far as like rock music in church?
Willie 1:42:25 You would have all manner. You would have very traditional worship, and then very contemporary worship, very high liturgical worship, and then very low church.
GT 1:42:35 Within Evangelical Lutheran,
Willie 1:42:38 Correct? Yeah.
GT 1:42:39 Oh, wow. So they’re kind of all over the place. They’re not correlated like Mormons are?
Willie 1:42:43 Right? I mean, and, you could, depending on what district of ours you visited, I suppose you would find a great latitude as well, as far as worship goes. There has been an effort to recover some of the more traditional elements in the last say, 40 years within our Synod.
GT 1:43:06 Let’s talk a little bit more about biblical literalism or whatever. So, how old’s the Earth? I’ll just start out with that kind of question.
Willie 1:43:21 You’re asking, okay, so I’m not going to put an exact year on it. But if you’re going to press me, I’m going to say that the Earth isn’t old.
GT 1:43:31 So you’re a young earth guy.
Willie 1:43:34 I am a…
GT 1:43:35 Not millions of years old.
Willie 1:43:37 I would not, not millions. Yeah, I would tend toward, God made a mature earth.
GT 1:43:43 Thousands of years old.
Willie 1:43:45 Yeah, but again, this is also kind of what has historically been passed down to us as well.
GT 1:43:54 I assume there would be, so the Evangelical Lutheran Church, would they be more open to like, evolution and all sorts of things, than Missouri [Synod]?
Willie 1:44:02 Yes, they would. Yes, and I think that in a lot of Missouri circles, not necessarily with pastors, but in Missouri Synod circles, you’re going to find people who affirm evolution, although we officially deny evolution. We would not officially put a date on the earth, though. But I would, I think most of your conservative leaning people in our synod would lean toward a young earth, but I can’t speak for everyone. Again, just because we might have an official position doesn’t mean that there aren’t pastors who are teaching against that, or certainly people in the pews who would resist.
GT 1:44:40 Okay.
Willie 1:44:41 But that’s true everywhere.
GT 1:44:43 Yeah, biblical scholarship, like the documentary hypothesis, you’re never going to hear that in an LDS church meeting. You’ve got to go to Gospel Tangents for that kind of conversation.
Willie 1:44:52 I think even documentary hypothesis has largely fallen out of favor, even in the broad–I mean, even if you’re not accepting the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, I don’t think documentary hypothesis looms as large as it did. Now, our synod did undergo a period of conflict in the 60s and 70s that resulted in a walkout at our seminary in St. Louis, where the professors, for example, were denying the historicity of the Bible, traditional views about authorship, traditional views about the miracles. So, the faculty of the seminary at that time would have leaned more toward a higher critical view of things. The synod largely resisted that. Our synod president, who is the highest ecclesiastical officer that we have, he fought against that. The local congregations really rallied against that. The way our form of government works is a little bit complicated to the outsider, but really, because of lay involvement, the more traditional leaning side of the debate ended up winning the day. Really, that has colored our synod since then. But there was a chance for us going the other way, at one point.
GT 1:46:08 So you would say that Moses wrote all five books of Moses?
Willie 1:46:14 Well, I mean, for the most part. Luther even kind of talks about this, too. You get a debate on this all the way back to Jerome. I mean, I’m fine with saying Joshua penned the parts after Moses died.
GT 1:46:26 Yeah. Okay. Because that’s the biggest problem, right?
Willie 1:46:29 Yeah, and I think that if you look at it in a very reductionist way, the case for Mosaic authorship is not as silly as it seems at first. Because we can admit that you could have had some things added on, especially by Joshua or whoever. Because there is a piece after Moses dies. But, in general, I would accept what Jesus said, “Moses wrote this.”
GT 1:46:50 I’m thinking back to my Colby Townsend [interview,] because one of his big issues was, and this kind of relates to the Book of Mormon. I don’t want to misquote him, and I might have this off a little bit. But there’s the story in the Book of Mormon where Laman and Lemuel and Nephi go back to get the plates, the Torah, basically, the five books of Moses. I’m pretty sure, according to modern scholarship, that the Book of Deuteronomy, specifically, did not exist in 600 BC as the Book of Mormon claims. So, there are some that would say, “Well, there were no plates to get.”
Willie 1:47:43 Well, so. Okay, so I think you’re going to, it’s almost like you’re trying to ninja me into defending Moses and in turn defending the truth of the Book of Mormon?
GT 1:47:54 No, not necessarily, but I do want to relate it to Mormonism.
Willie 1:48:00 Yeah. Well, okay. So, it depends on what part you’re talking about, too, and like, when does Moses actually write it down? I think that that’s where the scholarly debate is, because some would say that it’s an oral [tradition.] If you take the documentary hypothesis, it becomes an oral history that is interpolated through different people, then finally codified. But, depending on where you date Moses, you could certainly have it overlapping with the story in the Book of Mormon. This is an interesting, it’s an interesting position you put me in. I kind of enjoy it.
GT 1:48:35 (Chuckling) I kind of did that was Sandra Tanner. It was kind of fun, too.
Willie 1:48:45 Because there’s Torah, which means law. But law can mean, there’s a really broad use of the term law. Right? When you say the law, are you talking about the stone tablets, with the Ten Commandments written on them? Are you talking about the whole of Torah, things like that? So how are you using this? So, that’s an interesting one to talk about. But that’s just a fact. I mean, nobody’s going to disagree that law is used differently in both Old and New Testaments.
GT 1:49:15 Yeah. No, I guess my issue is, and how it relates to the Book of Mormon is, and this isn’t really the doc… Well, it kind of is the documentary hypothesis. I’ve got to go back and listen to that Colby interview again. It’s a lot of information there. But the idea is that Deuteronomy specifically was really different than the other four books, and that it was written well after 600 BC.
Willie 1:49:44 Because it’s more complex. It’s more spelled out. It’s written. It even has a different tenor than Leviticus. That’s an assumption. I don’t think that that proves anything. That’s a linguistic scholar looking at it and saying, “Well, this seems different.” It’s similar in the New Testament to who wrote Hebrews? I don’t know if the Mormon Church has a position on this or not. But the traditional Christians have debated over the authorship of the Book of Hebrews. Traditionally, we’ve said it’s Paul, but even what would look like a fundamentalist denomination to you, there is great debate over– probably most would say that Paul didn’t write Hebrews, because it sounds so different. I happen to think he did write it, but that’s neither here nor there. So, it’s a very similar thing you have when you look at the text.
Willie 1:50:39 But you have to understand that the Bible is written in a very different way from what we do. We tend to think of, like, “Okay, is Moses, literally, sitting down and writing it?” When Paul is writing letters, he is not sitting down in every case and writing it. You have an example where he says, “I, Paul, write in my own hand,” the end of an epistle. But he’s talking to someone. The audiences are different. The situations are different. So, documents are going to look different depending upon when they’re written. That’s perfectly natural. An email that you write to someone is going to look different, than to one you might write to another individual. I mean, look, our conversations on camera and off camera are going to sound a bit different, too. So, it’s the same thing for the written word.
GT 1:51:25 Yeah, and so, let’s go to the New Testament. I remember because this was one of the questions I asked Sandra Tanner, and I just flat out said, “Well, Matthew didn’t write Matthew. Mark didn’t write Mark. Luke didn’t write Luke.”
And she’s like, “Yes, they did.”
I was like, Really?”
Willie 1:51:41 I would agree with Sandra on that. I don’t really know what kind of church she goes to. But you do see kind of the unity of Protestantism and Christianity here, because we are going to disagree doctrinally, but they will unite pretty strongly around certain things, like this authorship.
GT 1:51:58 Okay, so you think Matthew wrote Matthew?
Willie 1:52:00 Yeah, I know he did.
GT 1:52:03 You know he did. Oh, wow. That was pretty strong.
Willie 1:52:05 I’m confident that he did. I’ll put it that way.
GT 1:52:07 (Chuckling)
Willie 1:52:09 I believe in the traditional authorship, all the way down to, John wrote Revelation. You’ll bump into Lutheran professors who will say like, “Well, I believe a John wrote it.” But I believe it’s John, the Beloved, who wrote it, and the epistles.
GT 1:52:28 From what I understand, so would you agree that Mark was probably the first gospel written?
Willie 1:52:37 I can sympathize with that. Historically, Matthew was viewed as the first, that’s why he’s first in the Bible. That’s the ancient position.
GT 1:52:48 Okay.
Willie 1:52:50 I mean, again, with Mark in priority, what you end up with is the case is essentially, well, it’s shorter and more simple. So, therefore, the theology didn’t have the time to develop. It looks older because of that. That’s why they want to put John later, because it is markedly different from the other gospels.
GT 1:53:09 Well, and the other issue of Mark, specifically, is supposedly the earliest texts don’t have a resurrection, just it’s an empty tomb.
Willie 1:53:16 Well, yeah, the longer ending. Yeah, and there is great debate over the longer ending of Mark. That gets complicated. I think that we need to–so for us, this is where, so a lot of Protestants today, or even fundamentalists, I think this is sort of the great error is, they really don’t look at church history deeply, other than when their movement came in. For me, one of the most important things and one of the most telling things regarding manuscript differences is what did the church use? You’re looking at church fathers. You’re looking at liturgically, which texts are used? Why were certain texts preserved in the church? You can look at it in a pessimistic way or an optimistic way. The pessimistic way, says, “Well, the prevailing theological party took the text that they wanted, to prove their position, and made sure that those were what were used and read within the churches.”
Willie 1:54:12 You can also take the optimistic view that says that those who are nearer, in proximity, to the time of the apostles, to the time of Christ, might have actually had a better insight into this than we did. [You can say] that the church, the Holy Spirit working inner actually said, “No, this is this is correct.” So, I think apostolic usage of a text is important. To me, that actually gives a little bit of more credence to the longer ending of Mark. We actually have that in our confessional documents, portions from that longer ending, when it talks about baptism for example, and what it does, and what neglecting baptism does. You can prove those doctrines from other parts of scripture, too. I mean, for all the all the crowing about manuscript differences, really, if you take out these disputed pieces, you can still prove a lot of historic Christianity without them. But that doesn’t mean we should take them out.
GT 1:55:10 So would you agree or disagree that Mark was used as a source for Matthew and Luke?
Willie 1:55:22 I don’t think that that necessarily does any disservice to the texts. Because you have that with Peter and Jude, right? They’re very similar. Even Jude quotes Enoch, right? So, depending on which one you think’s written first, either Peter or Jude. I think that, yeah you could certainly hold to that position and it’d be perfectly fine. I don’t think that that’s anything really dangerous. I mean, the next question is probably going to be about the Q source, right?
GT 1:55:58 I was going to go there. But that wasn’t my next question. But we can go there. That’s fine.
Willie 1:56:02 The problem with Q is it just doesn’t exist. It’s a theory. These two gospels are very similar, so they had to borrow from something.
GT 1:56:11 Thomas. I’ve heard Thomas was Q.
Willie 1:56:14 No, I think that–what the extant stuff from Thomas is so much later and so different, I don’t think you could–if there is a Q, I don’t think that you can make that into it.
GT 1:56:24 Okay.
Willie 1:56:28 But, again, okay, let’s say that they are borrowing from an old one, or they’re compiling this. Let’s say Luke is compiling it from oral tradition handed down. I don’t think that that changes the integrity of the story, if that makes sense.
GT 1:56:45 Well, yeah, it’s just from what I understand, the reason why people think Mark was first, number one, it was the shortest and didn’t have the resurrection. Matthew and Luke kind of corrected Mark, in that sense. But another reason why Mark was first, is the Greek is older and there’s a lot of grammar errors. Matthew’s is better Greek and that kind of thing.
Willie 1:57:12 Sure, but that can be a difference in author. That can be a difference in scribe. That will be like, looking at Shakespeare, and assuming that he came after Twitter, because of what you see them writing on there or attempting to write. So, the simpler, I mean, that to me is just not a convincing argument. Again, I understand where they’re coming from, because they believe in a development of a narrative. They believe that in a Christianity being constructed. Now, to be fair, there are a lot of sincerely professing Christians who hold to these hypotheses, too, who believe in the miracle. So, I shouldn’t say that the people who hold to these views are not Christians. I’m not saying that at all, by any stretch of the imagination. But to me, a lot of the arguments, it’s like, they’re looking for a problem, and trying to solve it. So we go from, let’s look at, like how the church changes right in, at the time of the Reformation.
Willie 1:58:18 Depending upon how you look at Martin Luther, he’s either the last medieval scholastic, or he’s the first humanist. But humanism really continues on and we’re talking about artistic humanism, not the later secular idea behind it. So, they begin to read the Bible in a more critical way. I mean that term neutrally. That’s when you start to get examination of different manuscript traditions. It all really comes out of that. Then, by the time you get to the 18 th century, you’re really beginning to see this. Then, of course, in the 19 th century, the field really explodes. So, you end up with the entire textual critical field. So, it’s this idea that somewhere along the way, the text must have become corrupted. We need to get back to a pure source. For some people, that’s very important, because that will actually affirm their faith. But for other people, they’re really looking for a way to undo the faith. It’s interesting that sometimes they arrive at the same conclusions or use the same methodologies.
GT 1:59:24 Well, so going back to the Gospels, and I’m thinking back to my college days when I was in LDS Institute. I mean, because it’s not like the kind of thing that we’re going to talk about in Sunday School class, like when was Mark written? When was Matthew written? But my memory is, it seems like most, and I don’t want to call LDS Institute teachers scholars, but most of the LDS Institute teachers would follow the traditional scholarship and say, “Well, Matthew was probably written around 110 AD. I think Mark 70 or 80, if I remember right. They do seem to kind of follow that. Would you think that the gospels were written closer to the time that Jesus was alive?
Willie 2:00:10 Yes, I believe they were written in the lifetime of their authors. I really do. I think that, I mean, it’s kind of interesting from a Mormon perspective, because I would believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, depending on how you want to define that. Again, I don’t want to say…
GT 2:00:29 We believe that as far as it’s translated correctly.
Willie 2:00:31 As far as it is translated correctly. Yeah. Well, it’s kind of like with our confession. To go back to, however long ago that was. I was talking about how we affirm our doctrinal standards in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, because they are in agreement with God’s word. The other alternative that other synods and other groups would adopt is, we affirm the standards insofar as they agree with scripture. But here’s the thing. I can agree with any book insofar as it agrees with scripture. I can agree with the phonebook, the Book of Mormon, the Koran, right? What does that mean?
GT 2:01:04 (Chuckling)
Willie 2:01:05 Anyway, but I digress. Yeah, insofar as it’s translated correctly, which is curious to me, because the LDS, they hung on to the King James.
GT 2:01:14 I know, it drives me crazy.
Willie 2:01:17 Well, I got you an ESV, right?
GT 2:01:19 I know, you did. I appreciate that.
Willie 2:01:21 But I’ve got a I’ve got a New King James here, which is a different translation. I have great respect for something like the New American Standard Bible as well. But I do have a tremendous love and respect for the King James Version, too. But it is interesting that the LDS, for whatever reason has held on to that, and not the Joseph Smith translation. But you can also make a case that the Joseph Smith translation doesn’t really exist.
GT 2:01:47 Well, the Community of Christ has it, so we can’t we can’t take it.
Willie 2:01:50 Right. I mean, but aren’t there a few different versions, I mean, isn’t it–it’s not really a full translation. They’ve sort of compiled sources to make it. Right? Or am I mistaken there?
GT 2:02:07 I mean, we’ve got some new scholarship on that right now. I don’t know if you saw my Thomas Wayment interview.
Willie 2:02:12 I did.
GT 2:02:13 [I did that] interview a few years ago.
Willie 2:02:15 He’s with the Claremont, right?
GT 2:02:18 No, he’s at BYU.
Willie 2:02:20 He’s at BYU, okay.
GT 2:02:21 And then Haley–I think her name is Lemmon. They kind of worked together. I mean, the traditional story is Joseph opened up his Bible. He had some revelations. These scriptures were wrong, and so he would write in his Bible.
Willie 2:02:42 But it looks like he has, what commentaries available to him?
GT 2:02:45 Well, and that’s what Thomas is saying, is that he relied on Adam Clarke, for most of the little changes, the little one or two word [changes.] Now, there are some revelatory passages, especially in Genesis, where Joseph Smith adds a vision of Joseph from the Old Testament and adds 30, 40 verses or whatever. So, that’s different than the Adam Clarke stuff. But the little one- or two-word changes, that probably did come from Adam Clarke. I don’t know how our leaders feel about that. But you Thomas Wayment’s position is, “Well, if we just updated our King James Bible, we wouldn’t need most of the Joseph Smith Translation, because it’s just fixing the English, basically.” I know Denver Snuffer, and he’s tried to compile kind of a new Joseph Smith translation, but he’s even taking it farther.
Willie 2:03:07 I think that’s really what I’m getting at there. That would be a competing version.
GT 2:03:16 Oh, okay. Yeah. So, Denver’s taken Joseph Smith’s speeches where he said, “Well, in the Bible, it says this, but really,” and then he’ll expand on it. Then, Denver puts that in his new–I mean, that’s the Denver Joseph Smith translation.
Willie 2:03:50 Here’s the thing, it’s hard having the gift of revelation to me. It seems exhausting.
GT 2:04:13 (Chuckling)
Willie 2:04:16 We’ve just got a, pretty much a closed canon. So, all of our debates aside, we don’t really have to worry about somebody getting out. We have to worry about a new interpretation, but not necessarily new revelation.
GT 2:04:29 Yeah. Let’s talk a little bit about the apocrypha. I know Martin Luther took out several books.
Willie 2:04:37 Okay. All right. So, we probably didn’t do justice to this when we talked about James. Luther does not take them out. They are still printed in the Luther Bible. But they are not placed on the same level as the canonical Scriptures. But they still make an appearance in liturgies, and they’re still printed in most Lutheran Bibles up until the modern era, like, the 20 th century. There has been something of a of a revival in the apocrypha. Now, it’s not going to be read regularly in the churches or anything. But our publishing house, Concordia Publishing House, a few years ago published the Apocrypha with Lutheran notes and things like that. So, we don’t put them on the same level. But we also, in our confessions, don’t have a list of canonical books like you have in, say, the Westminster Confession of the Presbyterians or something. Our confessions come earlier than that. So, you don’t even have, in ecumenical council, a list of what are the scriptural books and what are not, until the Council of Trent, which is in reaction to the Protestant Reformation. We wouldn’t accept that, because it’s a later Roman Catholic council. So, the key is–
GT 2:05:53 That’s approximately what year, the Council of Trent?
Willie 2:05:55 The Council of Trent is 15–, your people can see me just Googling it. So it runs like until 1560 something, 1563. I think it’s in 1545 it starts. So, it takes a while to get.
GT 2:06:09 It wasn’t the 1960s or anything.
Willie 2:06:11 No, that’s Vatican II. That’s Vatican II. So, that’s the one that really changes things. But, yeah, Trent is where you get the first list of books.
GT 2:06:22 Okay, so that would include like Ruth, or not Ruth, Esther.
Willie 2:06:27 No, no, Esther would not be. [It would be] Tobit, Maccabees, you know, the books like that.
GT 2:06:36 Okay, so yeah, so those are the Catholic Bible, but not really in Protestant Bibles.
Willie 2:06:40 Correct.
GT 2:06:41 Anymore.
Willie 2:06:41 Again, historically, it was a part of Lutheran Bibles. I mean, it’s sort of is part of the King James Bible, too. Don’t forget that. But they’re just not placed the same level. But there has been a revival.
GT 2:06:57 Because we don’t even include Maccabees or Tobit.
Willie 2:07:00 Most modern printings of the King James won’t do that. You have to really seek one out. But then you get even the extra books beyond that, like Enoch, and things which your boy, Hugh Nibley, really, really got into. So, there’s a whole other pseudepigraphic section as well. There are all kinds of extra books, if you really want to get into it. They are useful for instruction. They are important books. I think we need to make that clear, that they give us a better historical understanding of the context of the biblical people, and certain periods, so they should be read and studied.
GT 2:07:40 Okay. we’ve chatted about this on Facebook, but I’d also like to get your opinions on the Jesus Seminar. What do you think of them?
Willie 2:07:51 It is academics and theology done via democracy. So, what can go wrong? (Chuckling) So they, essentially, vote on did Jesus say this or not? They presuppose that nothing supernatural is happening. So, obviously, [those are] big, red flags for me. But I know that that’s your thing. I know you were watching a lot of History Channel in the 90’s.
GT 2:08:16 I love Jesus Seminar. I think they’re way cool. But, I’m heretical, probably. (Chuckling) That’s where I get all my good scholarship. You’ve got the multiple Isaiahs, your documentary hypothesis, authorship of the various Pauline letters and that sort of thing.
Willie 2:08:35 Yeah, but I can trade you all of that and give you a living and historic Jesus. So, you know, it’s a good deal.
GT 2:08:43 It just defined Jesus a little differently. But yeah. Well, cool. I don’t think we ever finished your Word of Wisdom thing.
Willie 2:08:53 Sure yeah. We were talking about the generational differences, and I went off and I accidentally slandered the good people at Swig.
Willie 2:09:02 I mean, I guess here’s my thing. There are two, and I know you disagree on this vehemently. But I think that Postum one of the greatest things ever. Their web store is closed. It’s really hard to get right now. So, if anybody could say a prayer for Postum, please do it. So, now at home, so I told myself that I’m just going to drink coffee at the office, and it turns out spending way too much time in the office. But I have this thing called Pero in the kitchen right now and it’s just not the same.
GT 2:09:02 (Chuckling)
Willie 2:09:35 Isn’t that, it tastes just as bad as Postum. No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t have the full body of Postum. I mean, the other thing that you…
GT 2:09:46 My dad’s a convert. He used to like Postum. I think it’s awful.
Willie 2:09:48 Well, the other thing you guys have a lock on in your region that I can’t get here, is Arctic Circle fry sauce, which does not violate the word of wisdom. It’s prohibitively expensive on Amazon and I’m just, I’m also asking for Arctic Circle to please expand out here. I can blend in very well in your neck of the woods. I could go incognito. I can Lutheranize you all clandestinely and you wouldn’t know until it was too late.
GT 2:10:14 It’s not just Arctic Circle that has it. I think every restaurant has it. I know–
Willie 2:10:18 Oh, yeah, they do. But I believe that Arctic Circle really takes the crown. I’ve tried Hires, which is pretty good. There’s Hires out there, I think.
GT 2:10:27 Have you been to Crown Burger?
Willie 2:10:30 I have not, no, would you…
GT 2:10:31 They’ve got really good fry sauce there and great burgers, too.
Willie 2:10:37 There you go. Whenever I make it out to the holy land there, I’ll be sure to find it.
GT 2:10:42 There you go. Well, as far as Word of Wisdom, the story is, and I get this from Greg Prince is, when Joseph Smith said hot drinks, he meant hot drinks. Greg says the idea was there was a moderation movement, and they didn’t have refrigeration back then. If they had, then they would have said, avoid cold drinks, too, because the idea was you don’t want anything too hot, too cold. So, at the time, in Joseph Smith’s day, the only hot drinks were coffee and tea. So, it was pretty clear those were what should be avoided. Now, various leaders have said, “Well, chocolate has caffeine in it, should we…
Willie 2:11:33 It came to mean, somehow it came to mean caffeine and I think that that’s a reasonable interpretation of that, right? “Oh, it wasn’t the temperature we were worried about.” But then, there’s no prohibition now on colas.
GT 2:11:44 At BYU.
Willie 2:11:44 So what do you do? Yeah, you can get coke at BYU now. Is nothing sacred?
Willie 2:11:52 But, I’ve also, I went to a college that didn’t–they certainly didn’t prohibit coffee, but they were teetotalers as far as alcohol went, and as far as tobacco was concerned. So, I went to a campus that was very similar. Honestly, some of those people would have been a lot better without soda. It is interesting. Maybe he has a point there. Maybe the moderation movement was part of that. I do know, for example, that other groups that develop a bit later in the 19 th century, certain Holiness movements and others, they considered putting ice in drinks sinful.
GT 2:12:28 Oh, wow.
Willie 2:12:28 Because it was considered a worldly luxury, that you had to manufacture ice. So they also condemned neckties, too. So, your missionaries are in trouble with those groups. But I don’t know anybody holds to that now.
GT 2:12:31 You notice I don’t wear ties very often.
Willie 2:12:42 Right? Well, that’s the only reason I wear the collar all the time, so don’t have to tie a tie.
Willie 2:12:45 Now, you’ll find me in street clothes pretty regularly. But the 19 th century was an interesting time for health movements and things like that. I mean, look at the history of Corn Flakes and Kellogg, and Seventh Day Adventists, and things like that. So, that would not surprise me if his theory didn’t hold a lot of water. But, again, you’re dealing with revelation now. So, in your context, if you have a prophet who comes and says this is the interpretation, to what degree are you duty bound to obey that? Now, there’s debate on that, right?
GT 2:13:22 Definitely. Yeah, it depends on whether you’re liberal or conservative.
Willie 2:13:28 What would Brigham Young do? What would Brigham Young drink?
GT 2:13:31 Anymore, the conservatives are starting to have a problem. I don’t want to turn too political. But, President Nelson’s a surgeon. He’s been in medical school. He said, get a vaccine. Of course, that’s not a politically conservative position. So, we’ve got some conservative members probably for the first time in their lives saying, “I don’t care what President Nelson says about a vaccine,” or masks. “I’m not going to wear them.” So, for the liberals, it’s been kind of nice to say, “See you don’t you don’t follow the prophet all the time, either.”
Willie 2:14:04 Okay. So, for instance, Roman Catholics are not bound by every word the Pope says. But when he speaks ex cathedra, their conscience is now bound. To me, that will be one of the difficulties of LDS theology, or really any Mormon theology, as most of them have prophets. What can bind my conscience? Can my conscience be bound by something outside of Scripture? That will be a tricky one for us. Now, I know that one of the objections to us would be, “Well, you hold the Nicene Creed, and you bind people’s consciences to that.” Yeah, that’s true. But again, it’s because of the exposition of scripture there. And then that’s an interesting question I think that every Mormon has to answer. To what degree can my conscience be bound by a prophet? What would you say to something like that?
GT 2:15:00 That’s a good question. I mean, we all have our own personal revelation, at least we claim that. So, everybody’s supposed to pray and, hopefully, get the same answer. You know, we want to be one. But, I mean, if you go back and look at scripture, I want to go back to Job. He was kind of racist. I know some of our past prophets have been racist especially with the priesthood ban, proclaimed that this was God’s will. Now, we’re like, ahh, we don’t… The brethren try really hard not to throw any of the previous leaders under the bus. But we’ve got the Gospel Topics essay that says, “Yes, some of our leaders = followed the teachings of the day.” I know that essay specifically tries to say that, “Well it was God’s will. But maybe not.” It doesn’t really come to come down to it. Because they don’t want to throw, I mean, it’s pretty easy to throw Brigham Young under the bus on that, and all the succeeding prophets. So that’s something that Church just has to wrestle with.
GT 2:16:23 Sometimes, looking at it from a historical lens, you know, these are issues that a lot of and I don’t even know how Lutherans have dealt with issues of race. But a lot of these things apply to LGBT issues, as well.
Willie 2:16:44 If you judge any 19 th century person by the standards of the day, you’re going to call them racist. I’m not going to do that to them. But we had a black seminary for a long time, until we didn’t. Then everything’s integrated. We, relatively early on in our history, made inroads, founding black congregations in the south. To even say black congregation, it seems like a strange thing, because we’ll have historically black congregations, but then that wouldn’t really be that diverse, would it? Is that really the idea?
GT 2:17:19 Yeah.
Willie 2:17:20 So nobody ever asked that question. I know, we got to be careful talking about that, YouTube algorithms and everything. But our issues with that would have been common to–I mean, you look back, we’re going to be predominantly white, because we come from German and Scandinavian people predominantly. But that doesn’t mean that we haven’t had outreach to those groups and haven’t always given them full admission as far as membership goes, or they could serve as pastors and things like that.
GT 2:17:52 Well, if you could speak a little bit more to this. I know within the Baptist Church, the Southern Baptist Convention split from the Baptist Church, mainly over race issues. I’m trying to remember. I think the issue was whether you could be a good slaveholder and be a good church member, if I remember right. The Southern Baptists said, “Yes,” and the Northern Baptists said, “No, you shouldn’t own slaves.”
Willie 2:18:22 Yeah, and you see that.
GT 2:18:23 But there’s been segregated. I mean, Martin Luther King said that the most segregated day is Sunday, because you look at the black churches and the white churches. The LDS, from our perspective, I mean, there’s been the thing, that, well, we’ve never had black wards and white wards. We’ve always been integrated. But we haven’t gone out of our way to do missionary work among blacks. So, anyway.
Willie 2:18:40 Have they really, I mean, I don’t know. I mean, did they not knock-on certain neighborhoods’ doors? I mean, I’m obviously not qualified to speak to that, of course.
GT 2:19:03 Well, yeah. Matt Harris has done a lot of work on that, and, especially, in Brazil, the missionaries were instructed, “Okay, go look in the pictures on the wall. If you see black people, don’t teach them, because they can’t get priesthood.” Because, especially in Brazil, they intermarry a lot.
Willie 2:19:22 Right, yeah.
GT 2:19:24 Brazil was such a problem. But even in places like Minnesota, Matt tells a story about a black family that wanted to join the church. I think they actually did and made all the white people uncomfortable. So, they were like, “Can you just not come to church?” I mean, it’s terrible. It’s terrible. So, we have a lot of racial recognition to do.
Willie 2:19:50 That’s what happened in a lot of denominations, too.
GT 2:19:53 Exactly.
Willie 2:19:55 But, you’ll find weird things. My first call out of seminary, there were two white people in the congregation, me, and my piano player.
Willie 2:20:04 So, but [it was a] Spanish mission. So, you’ll find exceptions and things like that. But people are going to argue that racism is still a big problem in American Christianity and I’m just very careful about demonizing anyone over that, throwing that word out. It makes me makes me uncomfortable to demonize someone on those standards.
GT 2:20:31 Well, I know lately, we’ve been talking a lot about Christian nationalism. Would you say that’s a problem in Lutheran Church?
Willie 2:20:41 Um, well, it depends on if you think nationalism is a problem or not. I mean, you all are building Zion. So, I don’t think that Mormons, by nature, have a problem with a Christianized nation per se. So I guess…
GT 2:20:56 Unless we’re the minority getting beat up.
Willie 2:20:58 (Chuckling) Right. I mean, historically, nations have had a national religion. So, I think that this is something that is complicated by the fact that we’re secular Americans, two centuries moved away from the Constitution. I think it’s hard for us to wrap our minds around that. When people hear Christian nationalism, I don’t know if they’re thinking like white nationalism, like we’re going to have neo-Nazi government. Yeah. Okay, that would be an issue. But I also don’t think that there’s a big movement asking for that among Lutherans at all, or anything like that. I mean, there’s probably no serious movement among major denominations, with that, if that’s what you mean by Christian nationalism.
GT 2:21:41 Yeah, it just seems like, as far as Christian nationalism, the way I understand it is it’s kind of embedded a little bit with white supremacy, and “We want to make this a Christian nation. We want to outlaw abortion. We want to make our laws very Christian.” As a Mormon, I will say, with a history of being persecuted by the majority Christians around us, it makes me very nervous to essentially create kind of an evangelical Christian nation because the Evangelicals don’t want the Catholics in charge. They don’t want the Mormons in charge. They don’t want the Muslims in charge, for sure, or the Jews or anybody else. It’s like, you have to be an evangelical Christian. I think that is a problem in a pluralistic society.
Willie 2:22:36 Well, yeah, I mean, I think that’s the point that I’m trying to make here is that it’s hard for us to fathom that because we do have, like you say, a pluralistic society. I mean, borderline syncretic society. But, again, this is something that is post- the United States. If we go back three centuries, this would have been natural. There would have been Anglican countries and Lutheran countries and Presbyterian nations. We wouldn’t have thought anything about that. But because of our form of government, because of what’s happened to the Western world, that kind of thinking is unthinkable, curiously, even in countries that still have state churches. So, we’re all a product of our time, Rick. What will they demonize us for on Mormon podcast 20 years from now?
GT 2:23:31 We’ll find out, I guess.
Willie Grills Rick!
GT 2:23:32 Alright. Well, I think I’ve run out of questions. Do you have any for me? Do want to finish up with anything?
Willie 2:23:40 Let’s see. I think we beat the dead horse of the Word of Wisdom pretty well. And all we talked about was hot drinks. Nobody ever talks about eating meat sparingly. They brush that under, they sort of brush that away.
GT 2:23:52 That’s true.
Willie 2:23:54 No, I don’t think I have–did we hit all the topics?
GT 2:23:57 The generational thing. I think we forgot about that. Because Jana, in Jana Riess’s research, she said that some of the, I don’t know what you call them, Gen Z, the current teenagers, I’ll say it that way. [They] say they’re living the Word of Wisdom, but they’ll drink coffee or tea, and they don’t see that as a problem. But people of my generation would say, “Oh, you’re not following the word of wisdom.” So, I think there is a little bit of difference coming up with the rising generation on Word of Wisdom, there.
Willie 2:24:33 Well, who knows? Do you think the LDS is taking a rightward shift? Or do you think the Ex-Mormons and certain, if I can use your words, are going to win the day. Because that’s sort of what I see as an outsider, as a Gentile looking in. The traditional Mormons are really, especially younger ones, there are there are some that are really standing firm with the historic positions of Mormonism, which I think’s interesting. There are those who are really just trying to pull Mormonism into just kind of generic progressive Christianity. Then there’s guys like Mu, Mal, whatever, who actually believes…
GT 2:25:19 Richard Mouw.
Willie 2:25:20 Yeah, that Mormonism is orbiting are much closer to traditional Christianity. I’m not sure I know which direction anything is going to go. I’m not a prophet, so…
GT 2:25:32 Well, I don’t know. It seems like they take a step left, and then they take a step right. It’s kind of meandering back and forth. I don’t know what it’s going to do.
Willie 2:25:41 I mean, but you’re an interesting case here. Because you’re dealing with many different perspectives from within Mormonism, or from without. You have people like me, and Steve Pynakker on and Chris Thomas, things like that. Yet, you would say that, with all the history that you’ve seen, with all the controversy that you’ve seen, that you still have a testimony for Joseph Smith and for the Book of Mormon?
GT 2:26:08 Yeah.
Willie 2:26:09 I mean, you’re going to have to give a verbal answer, because in case they’re listening to the audio.
GT 2:26:15 The funny thing about it is that there’s the saying, “The Catholics say, the Pope is infallible, but nobody believes it. And the Mormons say prophets are fallible, but nobody believes it.” (Chuckling)
Willie 2:26:31 Yeah, and I wasn’t saying this, as like, to grill you or anything. But it’s interesting that you can dig deep into these things, have all these questions, but you still would affirm the truth of it. Where some people are going to see the same thing you do, and then their whole life becomes tearing it down.
GT 2:26:51 Yeah. Like I said, and I’m a little different, because I look at the Bible, and those prophets are all messed up. So, from my perspective, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young are no less imperfect than Abraham, or Jacob, or Job, or any of those people. I mean, God uses imperfect people, sometimes really imperfect people. I mean, I guess the message is, he uses me too. I’m clearly imperfect. So, I mean, I don’t know. It seems like whenever people say, “Well, do you believe in Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, because they’re racist and polygamists and blah, blah, blah.” I’m like, so was Jacob and Abraham and Moses.
Willie 2:27:42 I think, really, I think from those who are outside, the biggest thing we see, more than the moral issue is the changing nature of revelation. I think that’s what concerns us. But it’s interesting to hear you say that polygamy troubles you when it would be divine revelation. Well, I guess it could still trouble you, but you would still agree that it was divine?
GT 2:28:04 Well, Abraham troubles me. Like I said, the way he treated Hagar is disgusting to me. Even Moses had multiple wives and David and Solomon. All those stories bother me. We just had a lesson in Sunday School on how Jacob stole the birthright from Esau.
Willie 2:28:32 You don’t think you he gave him a good deal? (Chuckling)
GT 2:28:37 I’m sitting there saying, come on.
Willie 2:28:39 But we’ve got to read that full story. I mean, you’re on Jacob. I love Esau, I hated the birthright, all these things. But I mean, look at how beautiful that story ends, though.
GT 2:28:48 It’s not just that, but he dressed up like Esau, like, he purposely was deceptive here. The Sunday School teacher was like, “But that was God’s will.”
And I’m like, “Are you sure that was God’s will? Or was that Jacob’s will? Because it sounds like Jacob’s will, but I don’t know that Jacob and God were on the same page there.”
Willie 2:29:10 But before, “Jacob I love,” he says, “Esau have I hated.” I mean, that is what the scripture says. So before either one was even born, Paul makes clear, so full of revelation in the New Testament.
GT 2:29:24 See, I think a lot of revelation is very self-serving. I mean, that was one of the big complaints about Joseph Smith was some of his revelations are very self-serving. And I would say that with Jacob. I would say that with Abraham.
Willie 2:29:39 It comes across like that. I mean, if you read what Joseph is writing and some of the things, he does come across that way. I would agree with that.
GT 2:29:49 I don’t even think that’s a mistranslation, what happened between Jacob and Esau. So, I don’t chalk that up to a mistranslation. Joseph certainly didn’t correct it. So, if we’re going to take that story at face value, I’ve got big problems with Jacob stealing the birthright. I mean, he was deceptive. It was. I don’t know.
Willie 2:30:17 Interesting. I love seeing you wrestle with these texts, at least you feel something about it. At least you’re struggling.
GT 2:30:24 It bothers me.
Willie 2:30:25 This is the thing that worries me and I see this with the ex-Mormon crowd, but I also see a lot of similar things with people who are leaving Christianity, which is they begin to have questions, and they completely jettison everything.
GT 2:30:38 I know.
Willie 2:30:39 And of course, I’m a pastor. So, of course, that’s going to trouble me. Because they’re taught that you can’t question or you can’t have a struggle with doubt, and things like that. That really is part of the Christian experience, part of the Christian life, and that God is guiding us through those, too. You can ask questions that you can dig deep into this. I believe, firmly, that that the more you dig into history, the more you find the real Christ. I’m not worried when people dig into this. Now, I want them to have good teachers, that’s not what I’m saying. But to say that every time you have doubt that you just throw everything away.
GT 2:31:26 See, but let me ask you this, because these are the kinds of conversations–I’m not exaggerating when I say I can’t have these conversations at church. The Sunday School teacher will be like, “Whoa, what are you doing? You’re calling out Jacob.” Even, I mean, it’s fine. I can talk to you. I can talk to Chris Thomas. It’s kind of a one-time thing. But if you had somebody like me, in your Sunday school class that was like, “Jacob was wrong. Abraham was wrong.” Wouldn’t that drive you crazy? Could you handle somebody like me in your class saying, “I’ve got a problem with Abraham. I’ve got a problem with Jacob.”
Willie 2:32:08 You should visit and see my Sunday school class, you would not feel out of place, I promise.
GT 2:32:12 Really?
Willie 2:32:14 Yeah. All I do is, “Okay, Rick, we’ll get to you another time.” (Chuckling) No, but…
GT 2:32:21 But that’s what happens.
Willie 2:32:23 Yeah, but, but pedagogically, how am I supposed to teach you if I don’t know the questions that you have? So, to shy away from questions doesn’t help me help you grow or learn. Yeah, I mean, some people ask questions. You might get a little annoyed. I hope none of my congregation is listening, or any of my previous congregations. But no, I don’t get annoyed by questions. I never get annoyed by questions. There are no stupid questions. Sometimes you’ll be asked difficult questions and that’s fine. And we wrestle with those. There are difficult things. We’re going through the Book of Acts right now, for example, in our Sunday Bible class. There are 50 people in there. There’s a lot of different questions. The Book of Acts shows you a church that is not without conflict. The church is not without messy situations, and sometimes, seemingly contradictory things happening. That’s why I believe firmly in preaching or teaching through a text, because I can’t skip over verses that way. I’ve got to deal with them as they come. So, when we come to difficult things, we talk about it and we take all questions that come and we talk through those. And we need that. We need that open atmosphere.
GT 2:33:41 Yeah, I mean, this is why [I have a podcast.] Because you can’t talk about this kind of stuff in the LDS Church. Maybe your church is different. That would be great.
Willie 2:33:54 I’m one man. I know that there will be certain teachers who don’t like any questions at all, and they’ll handle it a different way. But me, personally, Pastor Grills speaking, I guess. I’ll put my pastor hat on. That is how I teach a class. I need those questions because I need to know where my people are, and how to teach them and how to help them. Really, if they make me wrestle with difficult things, it helps me, too.
GT 2:34:24 Well, yeah, and I think there are some people like me–I love the wrestle. I don’t want to throw Christianity out with the bathwater.
Willie 2:34:38 And that’s what’s really…
GT 2:34:39 But some people are like, Abraham was a jerk. I’m out of here.
Willie 2:34:43 That’s the thing. So, you see someone leave the LDS Church, they’re listening to whatever sources and they’re not jettisoning Mormon particulars. They are completely closed off to God, in any sense, after that. So never mind, you know, do I want to see them come to Nicene, to Trinitarian Christianity? Of course, I do. But they are rejecting the whole idea of God, of traditional morality as revealed in the scriptures, which we would largely agree upon, as far as how God makes us, and the family, and things like that. They are throwing everything away. Uh oh, I said throw everything away, and now I know that that deals with actually a controversy the Mormons are having right now that I won’t mention, because we’re late in the podcast. But what I mean by that is they’re jettisoning every faithful belief. That, to me, is very troubling, because I see the same thing in traditional Christian circles.
GT 2:35:43 Well, and I think there’s two different issues. One of the things, the ex-Mormon crowd is very vocal. One of the things I loved about Jana Riess’s book, , was she talked about why people leave. And while the ex-Mormon crowd–and it seems like that’s who you’re talking about, right now. They are the vocal ones. “I don’t like church history. I don’t like polygamy.” The Next Mormons
Willie 2:36:11 Well, I’m saying that they sound to me, very similar to those who are leaving traditional Christianity. It’s just they have a pit stop and their pit stop is contradictory accounts of the First Vision. Their pit stop is polygamy, but they end up arriving at the same positions as the people who leave traditional Christianity. They begin to deny any concept of the Divine or the supernatural, things like that.
GT 2:36:37 But one of the things that Jana’s research says is that some Mormons are– the majority of Mormons who leave, and that’s what I want to focus on. And I know this really ticks off the ex-Mormons because they’re like, “No, I left over church history.” I’m sure that you did. I’m not disputing that. But I’m saying the majority of Mormons who leave, leave because, “Hey, I married a Lutheran. I married a Baptist, and I’m just going to church with them, just to keep peace.”
Willie 2:37:05 I mean, look, we have the same issue.
GT 2:37:07 Yeah, and so I think, especially among the ex-Mormon crowd, the vocal ex-Mormon crowd, that is underappreciated that, “Oh, I’m just going to go join Episcopalians or whatever.” So, that’s actually a much larger segment of ex-Mormons.
Willie 2:37:25 You would say, then, that the vocal ones are just happen to be louder. They don’t actually represent.
GT 2:37:30 Well, no, I think they’re growing, but they are a minority. I just want to keep that in mind. But I think we have this infusion of religion and politics. The whole abortion debate has come up. And then not just that, but you’ve got LGBT issues, gay marriage. So, this kind of relates back to the Christian nationalism. You’ve got this group of people that want to make this a Christian nation, and they will quote people like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, who actually didn’t like [traditional religion.] I mean, Jefferson wrote his own Bible, right? The Jefferson Bible
Willie 2:38:13 Edited it.
GT 2:38:14 And so they weren’t traditional Christians in any sense. They wanted to keep it more of a pluralistic [society] and not have a religion in charge. But there’s a segment of vocal evangelicals that are like, “No, we’re going to take over the government. We’re going to anoint Donald Trump to be our King Cyrus to get abortion banned,” basically. That’s really ticking off a lot of people that are leaving religion, because religion and politics are combining together and they’re, like, “I don’t like this.”
Willie 2:38:50 Point taken, but the problem happens on the left side of the paradigm, too. I mean, there are leftist Christians who believe that it’s a holy thing to lobby for pro-choice causes and that would be also mingling theology and politics, too.
GT 2:38:06 I know, but it’s different because you don’t have–you’ve got your Jesse Jackson and your, I guess he would be on the left. It seems like you have a lot more even, you know, who’s the Catholic guy? [Rick] Santorum is very anti-abortion. I mean, Joe Biden’s a Catholic, too. I guess he’s a left one and Rick Santorum was on the right. But it seems like the Republican Party, specifically, has been hijacked by the evangelicals and I do not see the same thing on the Democratic Party side.
Willie 2:39:43 Well, okay. Yeah, I see what you’re saying now, but there are definitely very vocal Democrat leaning clergy who are lobbying from a theological perspective, saying that this is what God would want. They’re bringing God into it, too. That would obviously present an issue, as well. Yeah, the evangelicals are more closely tied, and a more visible religious presence with the Republicans. I think that there’s no doubt. But I do think that you’re actually seeing, among young traditional Christians, a shift away from that, but not a shift toward the left, but a form of traditional conservatism that is different from the neoconservative viewpoint of the Bush era or something like that. So, you are seeing a greater concern, a very different economic view, among young, right-leaning Christians, one that is not content to allow corporations to exploit people the way they’ve been doing. So, you’re actually going to find it much more difficult to pin down political spectrum among younger Christians. I think that’s going to surprise a lot of people. They’re going to be anti-choice. They’re going to be pro-life, but you’re also going to find economically, governmentally, a rather different view. I really do see that emerging as well. I think that’s part of the generation gap that you’re seeing.
GT 2:41:12 Well, and I think that’s a reason why people are leaving religion is because they don’t like religion being tied up with politics.
Willie 2:41:20 Or I think we can say they don’t like the type of religion that is being tied to politics, because everybody loves when their side is winning. It doesn’t matter who you are.
GT 2:41:31 Yeah, that’s true.
Willie 2:41:32 Yeah, and so that’s kind of all I’m trying to say with that is, it depends on who has the power, right.
GT 2:41:39 Well, it just seems like the Christian coalition from the Reagan era, they tried to be kind of big tent. They tried to include Mormons. But it seems like it’s kind of fractured a little bit and then, like, we don’t really like the Mormons.
Willie 2:41:53 Yeah. Didn’t Falwell well try to– he didn’t want it and then he saw how much–you guys have a lot of money. So, we’ll bring you in.
GT 2:42:01 (Chuckling) But, I mean, I probably shouldn’t mix too much religion and politics here. But, like, Robert Jeffries, that guy drives me crazy.
Willie 2:42:11 Yeah, I know you’re not a Robert Jeffries fan. I do think that, yeah, it’s a little problematic when you see a billboard with verses about Jesus applied to Trump or any politician. It makes me a little nervous. And the same thing with Obama, when they would paint him up in icons or put halos on him. That makes me uncomfortable. Regardless of party, Christ is Christ. He is my Savior. And so that we need to be careful with that.
GT 2:42:41 All right, well, is there anything else we need to talk about?
Willie 2:42:43 I hit my webcam before I go. Well, no, I’ve had a lot of fun. I think this is probably a very different Gospel Tangents episode.
GT 2:42:53 Yeah, definitely. Definitely, that’s for sure. So, all right. Well, Pastor Willie Grills, oh, you know, I do have one more thing.
Willie 2:43:04 Okay. Good, but I don’t want to do it on the politics thing. It’s my least favorite thing to talk about.
GT 2:43:09 Usually I start the conversation, I say, where did you go to school and give us your background. I never asked you that. So, we’ll finish on that.
Willie 2:43:17 Yeah, I, cashed in enough box tops and got a mail-in [diploma.]
GT 2:43:21 (Chuckling)
Willie 2:43:21 No, so sparing of my work history and everything, I did my undergraduate work at Kentucky Christian University, which is a Christian church, Church of Christ, a Campbellite school, if I can use an insulting term. [I got my] Bachelor’s in humanities and Greek. I did my Master of Divinity at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. So that is one of our two seminaries.
GT 2:43:51 Oh, so that’s a Lutheran School, I guess?
Willie 2:43:53 Right. Yeah, it belongs to the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod.
GT 2:43:56 Okay, so is that a master’s degree or PhD?
Willie 2:43:59 It’s a master’s. You have a Master of Divinity.
GT 2:44:02 Okay, Masters in Divinity.
GT 2:44:04 How did you lose your Kentucky accent?
Willie 2:44:06 I spent 10 years in radio, and so that beats it out of you. I still have a vestigial accent. I have to preserve some of it, and maybe being in Arkansas, I’ll get the twang back a little thicker. But yeah, I would blame radio for why people can’t understand me back home.
GT 2:44:26 Because you just recently moved to Arkansas from Illinois.
Willie 2:44:30 Illinois. Yeah, Illinois, which is, you know, that stained land, according to your hymn, right? They changed it, the good neighbor policy. Am I right? They change Praise to the Man. They should have kept it in there. “Long shall his blood, which was shed by assassins, stain Illinois, while the earth lauds his fame,” I believe were the original lyrics.
GT 2:44:56 That sounds right to me, too. So, you left. Tell us a little bit more. So, you went to Concordia to get your Master’s in Divinity. I know you spent some time in South America, so tell us all about that.
Willie 2:45:12 Yeah, our seminary program works this way. It’s typically four years. The third year is what we call a vicarage. That is where you would you are not ordained, yet. You’re a vicar. You are assigned to a church. You don’t know where you’re going. So, they have a service, and then they call out your assignment. So, I was initially assigned to Lima, Peru, but also did some vicarage time in Iowa, as well. Then you come back for a year. So, you’ve got your vicarage year or two. Typically, if they send you overseas, they want to get you for two. Then, they send you back. You’re in classes, again, for a year. Then comes call night, where you receive your first call to a congregation or wherever you’re going. Again, you typically don’t know where you’re going. So, my first call was to a Spanish mission in western Iowa, reaching out to the Spanish speakers there. And then from there to Illinois.
GT 2:46:12 Do you speak Spanish? I guess you do now.
Willie 2:46:14 Yeah.
GT 2:46:15 Did you know that before you went to Peru?
Willie 2:46:18 Not as good as I did later. But my wife is Panamanian, so I’ve got a live-in translator. So that certainly helps. She’s American, too.
GT 2:46:31 Okay, so you’re in Iowa, and then I know you ended up in Illinois, and now Arkansas. So tell us about that journey a little bit.
Willie 2:46:43 Well, so our polity is a little bit different. We don’t have bishops in the traditional sense. So, we can’t be told where to go, except for that first in seminary. You’d better take that first call or you’re in trouble. But after that, the congregation always calls. So a congregation will go to the district. So we’re divided into districts, and then synod. So that’s how we’re [divided:] congregation, circuit, district, synod. They will apply for a candidate from a seminary, but it’s still the congregation, we believe has to issue the call to a person, so to a pastor. So, once you’re out of seminary, though, any congregation can call you. Sometimes you’ll interview, sometimes you won’t. But that’s where we go. So, we’ve got our congregations which call pastors. At the district level, we have district presidents who are the pastors who oversee us in a given district. Then kind of at the head of the synod, you have the synod president. So, you LDS guys will like those titles. That’s a peculiarity that happened to us, because of kind of how we ended up in America. We lost our bishop when we got here, which is a long and scandalous story. The question was, can you be Lutheran without a bishop? We decided, sure, yeah, you can. Then it’s the congregation that has a right to call a pastor.
GT 2:48:07 Okay, so how did you get from Iowa to Illinois, Arkansas.
Willie 2:48:12 Congregations kept calling me, and that’s a very difficult thing for every pastor that I’ve ever talked to is, now it’s on us. Do we accept the call or not? It’s a little bit more of a tricky process, because a district president will recommend a list of names to a congregation that they can then call from, or they can add names, whatever. So, through a series of processes, your name might end up on a list of the church, and then they will decide to call you and then the call comes to you. You have to decide if you’re going to stay where you’re at or go. [It’s] an extremely difficult decision to make. I wish I had a good answer I could give you the podcasts of why I took my calls, but I am where I am.
GT 2:48:59 Okay. So yeah, that’s just interesting. So, the congregation in Arkansas really, there was a list of names and they prayed and picked you. You didn’t know them, and they didn’t know you.
GT 2:49:13 They’ll typically, nowadays, you’ll usually interview. In the old days, and even to this day, in some congregations, an interview is verboten. And some pastors will not do an interview. They believe it interferes with the Holy Spirit calling someone, so they don’t want any kind of thing in between. They will receive a file from us that our district President keeps, with information that we have written about our doctrinal positions and other notes that they write about us. So, they have files on us. The congregations will see those, then they’ll choose to interview, possibly, and then call based upon that.
GT 2:49:49 But so when you’re on Mormon podcast, is that a bad check mark, you’re going to get?
Willie 2:49:53 Well, it depends. Maybe I get that call to you know, Sandy, or something, but I don’t know.
GT 2:50:00 (Chuckling)
Willie 2:50:00 We do have a very good church there, if you want to check it out.
GT 2:50:02 Yeah, there’s several Lutheran churches here in Utah, I’m familiar with.
Willie 2:50:09 You’ve just got to pick the right one, yeah. And I have a friend that got called to the Salt Lake area. I think we were in the same class. I won’t mention his name for fear of doxing or something.
GT 2:50:22 Well, cool. All right. Well, Pastor Willie Grills, I appreciate you being here on Gospel Tangents. We’ve spent almost three hours, I think.
Willie 2:50:31 Yeah, my pleasure. Well, you know, at first when we start talking about this, I’m like, “Is there anything that I can bring that Steve Pynakker can’t?” But we all [have] different perspectives, right?
GT 2:50:43 Oh, yeah, definitely.
Willie 2:50:44 It’s been fun. I’ve really enjoyed it and I thank you for your time.
GT 2:50:48 Well, and I hope we can model this. On my mission, I used to be like, “You’re wrong.” And I hope that we can model this that yeah, we can have differences, very big differences, but still, we can get along.
Willie 2:51:01 Well, I hope nobody can come away from this discussion thinking that we’re embracing quite the same theology or perspectives.
GT 2:51:11 Yeah, me too. That would be bad. So, all right. Well, thanks again. I really appreciate it.
Willie 2:51:16 Thank you.
Check out our other interviews with Dr. Christopher Thomas, a Pentecostal Scholar.
Pentecostal Theologian Reviews Book of Mormon
Dr. Christopher Thomas teaches at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary in Cleveland, TN and has written “A Pentecostal Reads the Book of Mormon.”
Comparing Mormons & Pentecostals (C. Thomas)
Pentecostals in Book of Mormon (C. Thomas)
Troubling Stories in Scripture (C. Thomas)
Protestant Theology in Book of Mormon? (C. Thomas)
Tongue-Speech in Book of Mormon (C. Thomas)
Pentecostal View of Book of Mormon Theology (C. Thomas)
Is Book of Mormon a Pacifist Book? (C. Thomas)
Pentecostal Theologian Gives Book of Mormon the Bible Treatment (C. Thomas)
Paul Toscano – Author of The Serpent & the Dove
Paul Toscano says Book of Mormon isn’t trinitarian.
Atonement Theories in Book of Mormon (Paul Toscano)
Paul Critiques LDS Apostles (Paul Toscano)
Paul’s Thoughts on Polygamy/Adam-God Theory (Paul Toscano)
Christ’s Role-Reversal (Paul Toscano)
Why Book of Mormon Isn’t Trinitarian (Paul Toscano)
Paul Toscano Explains Scripture Symbolism (Paul Toscano)
Terryl Givens – Author of The Stretching the Heavens
Terryl Givens is biographer of Eugene England biography, “Stretching the Heavens.”
Crossing the Brethren’s Line (Terryl Givens)
Explaining Atonement Theories (Terryl Givens)
Is it ok to ask Hard Questions in LDS Church? (Terryl Givens)
England at BYU, Dialogue (Terryl Givens)
Turning Down, Accepting Eugene England (Terryl Givens)
 It was Journal of Mormon History (not BYU Studies) by Paul Hoskinsson. See https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=&httpsredir=1&article=1068&context=mormonhistory
 Willie is referring to my interview with Greg Prince who said President McKay preferred Pepsi over Coke. See https://gospeltangents.com/2017/12/06/naturalistic-explanation-word-wisdom/
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