Krista Tippett Interviews Robert Millett on Mormonism for “Speaking of Faith”

John Dehlinfaith, LDS, mormon, Mormons, religion, theology 12 Comments

I love Krista Tippett’s “Speaking of Faith”, and I love Mormonism — which makes this a must-listen. I hope it’s good. What did you think?

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Krista's Journal: January 24, 2008
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Inside Mormon Faith
Americans have been hearing about Mormonism in the context of the presidential campaign. But we’re learning about this faith of 13 million people indirectly, by way of rhetoric and defense. In this program, we avoid well-trodden, controversial ground and seek an understanding of some doctrinal and spiritual basics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Robert Millet, a leading scholar of the church and a lifelong practitioner, describes a developing young religion with distinct mystical and practical interpretations of the nature of God, family, and eternity.

Krista Tippett, host of Speaking of Faith

A Young and Growing Religion
This program is something of a departure. We rarely do a program “about” an entire religious tradition, and I don’t usually ask religious authorities to focus on doctrines. I’m always wary of sweeping generalization about what all adherents of a faith believe. But at this moment in time, I really wanted some foundational knowledge of Mormon theology and spirituality in order to put the little I’m learning by way of cultural and political debates in context: What does Mormon theology teach at its orthodox core about the nature of God and Jesus? What are the spiritual underpinnings of the Mormon way of community and family? How does a devout Mormon scholar honor Joseph Smith as a prophet and make sense of the controversies about his teachings?

I pose these questions and others to Robert Millet, a lifelong practitioner who has raised six children in this faith. He’s been a professor of ancient scripture and of religious understanding at Brigham Young University for a quarter-century. Long before the recent Evangelical/Mormon debates, Millet was involved in ongoing dialogues with Evangelical leaders and others seeking understanding if not unanimity.

I am surprised, as I listen to him speak about what his theology teaches and how he lives with it, by the very distinct and particular take this Church has even on texts and doctrines that it shares with the larger Christian church and with Judaism. Among his mid-19th century “latter day” revelations, Joseph Smith discerned, for example, that God is a corporeal being who was once a man. Jesus, in LDS theology, is the Jahweh or Jehovah of the Hebrew Bible; he chose to come to earth as Jesus of Nazareth. With great warmth, Robert Millet also describes the “pre-mortal existence” through which his Church teaches that all human beings pass, and its complex understanding of the reality of angels. At risk of generalizing, I’ll let you listen to his more detailed explanations of these articles of faith and others.

Perhaps the most mind-opening and fascinating insight that I take away is how young this religion really is. Joseph Smith proclaimed that the Christian canon, while sacred, was no longer closed. He presented his revelations and further texts less than 200 years ago, during an age of vast religious ferment in American life. And it is plain from conversation with Robert Millet that this frontier faith continues to formulate its truths, at times revising and expanding on core understandings. “We’re in the religion-making business” and only now “halfway to Nicaea,” he says — referring to the fourth-century council at which the New Testament canon was finally formalized and many core Christian doctrines clarified, authoritatively, for the first time.

Whatever Mitt Romney’s fate in this presidential election, however one defines a Christian, and whatever judgment science or culture may pass on Joseph Smith’s revelations, the Church of Latter-Day Saints is a global force to be taken seriously. From 1.7 million members in 1960, the Church now claims 13 million members, more than half of them outside the U.S. An estimated 65 percent of its members are first-generation converts. I am glad to have some more concrete sense of the teachings and spiritual culture that galvanize them. And I look forward to interviewing Mormons with other perspectives and experiences along the ongoing journey of Speaking of Faith.

The Mormon Faith

Krista Recommends Reading:
The Mormon Faith: A New Look at Christianity
A Different Jesus?: The Christ of the Latter-day Saints
by Robert Millet

For two introductory primers on the Mormon faith, these books by my guest helped me better understand this young, burgeoning religion.

Comments 12

  1. Thanks for posting this. Interesting discussion, although Tippet calls us repeatedly ‘the church of latter-day saints’. She never mentions Jesus at all! Interesting.

  2. Hi Carlos and all others reading this post. I would like to apologize for not correctly identifying the proper name as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the final paragraph of Krista’s journal. We were absolutely aware of the proper name (as you can see in the opening program description), but I failed to correct this before publication. I’m the online editor; the mistake is mine.

    John, thanks for bringing the program to your readers’ attention, and thanks for listening. All the best. tg

  3. How courteous of Trent Gilliss to go out of his way to post an apology here on Mormon Matters for the understandable mix-up on the Church name (it is quite a mouthful, after all). What a class act!

    It is such a relief and so refreshing to finally have someone as respected and capable as Krista Tippet taking Mormons seriously. And I love that someone finally chose to address our basics, rather than beating the dead horses at the fringes. That has been getting sooooo old.

    Three cheers for Speaking of Faith!

  4. Speaking of Faith Apologetics
    Robert Millet and the Religion Making Business
    reveals the niggly bits of what faith can do in the absence of thought.

    Robert Millet makes the distinction between Mormons and Christians in a flourish of apologetics.
    “We’re in the religion-making business, as you intimated earlier, only for a short time, I mean, compared to the Christian church, which has been at this for a couple of millennia.”
    Robert Millet states to the Mormon Enemy, Evangelicals, that Mormons have decided to become Christian only in the last 20 or 30 years.
    “We’re in the religion-making business, and this takes time. It takes centuries. And, and trying to explain the faith and articulate the faith, that doesn’t come over night. We’ve really only been about that for 20 or 30 years.”


  5. GOK, Sorry to put this so bluntly, but that’s about as egregious an example of twisting a quote so badly out of its original meaning in order to make a claim the author never intended as I have seen in a very, very long time – and I have read lots of egregious examples recently.

    I appreciate honest attempts at understanding; I do not respect this type of hyperbolic exaggeration – even if it done sincerely. It’s just too easy to see how twisted it is.

  6. Btw, just to clarify, #9 refers to the quote, but it refers even more to the link. I can’t think of a charitable way to describe it. I would classify it as religious sci-fi, but that would be an insult to both religion and sci-fi.

    For those who read my post here, you will understand how rarely I react like this. I really am amazed occasionally at the glimpses I get into the natural man.

  7. Ray – I wouldn’t worry about being blunt (having just looked at his(?) link). At least an insult to sci-fi, for sure, lol. Actually, I think it’s meant as “art”. His website: “a cultural research think tank located in Eugene, Oregon” … “his work is characterized as, ‘an artist whose work remains on the testy edge of art and ideas.'”

    So there you go. Neither Sci-Fi, nor religion, but “art”. Perhaps an artist would appreciate a more artistic response, rather than our usual hum-drum logic/rational thought. No offense to artists though. Keep it up GOK!

  8. A wee bit more on Millet Apologetics
    Mormons have a long history of persecution and it’s no wonder ––
    not unique when parochial mysticism is foisted into the light of day.

    Robert Millet wants it both ways, he apologizes for Mormon loopiness as Mormons are juvenile and only came to Christianity lately. Mormons, having claimed the “True Faith,” after having stolen tenants and doctrine from everywhere, from Egyptology to Frontier Magic and the Torah, including science fiction, now Mormons claim they need several hundred more years to sort out the kinks. I guess Millet’s apology would be that ‘this Religion Making stuff is far tricker than we imagined, we just need to muck about a bit more and we’ll be as main-stream as you wish, we are only in it for the money. Gosh it’s the religion making Business and Mormon Branding just wants its Market Share.’
    I will close with a quote a fello Mormon on Millet

    Dickensian Tunes
    Millet Bangs on the Mormon Organ
    Delight Enlighten Convert

    Had Robert Millet lived 150 years ago, he might have become a character in a Charles Dickens novel.
    Millet assumes that Mormonism is good for everyone. Therefore he is confident that there is no obligation for full disclosure.
    Unfortunately, I know from first hand experience that many converts do suffer needlessly when they relate to Mormon truth claims literally. The fact is the more you believe the missionary discussions, the more likely you are going to make irrational decisions.
    In some cases that turns out for the better. Most converts melt away. And then there are some that are trying so hard to be good Mormons that the converts get hurt.
    If Millet were selling used cars or insurance then he would go to jail. Since he is in religion, he considers his lack of candor virtuous.
    Millet has no idea how dangerous his behavior is because he willfully ignores the consequences of his actions. In reality, he is just another salesman with an unhealthy dose of self-righteousness. When people believe him, folks will get hurt.

    Comment by Hellmut — March 23, 2007 # 40

    Thanks, GOK

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