I had a once-in-a-lifetime experience last night. For the first time in over a hundred years1, an evangelical preacher was invited to speak in the Salt Lake Tabernacle. I had the great privilege of witnessing it with my own eyes thanks to the youth pastor at our church who happened to have a few extra tickets.
Relations have not been pretty between Evangelicals and Latter-day Saints down through the years, but a landmark book written in 1997 changed things somewhat. For the first time, an Evangelical, Craig L. Blomberg, and a Mormon, Stephen E. Robinson, collaborated on a book titled How Wide the Divide?. They candidly expressed the basic theological concepts from their respective faith communities, and agreed to disagree agreeably. More importantly, they made an honest effort to understand one another and defend their own positions without using ad hominem arguments and propped-up straw men. They did not cover the subject with any depth or finality, but rather intended their book to be a starting point for interfaith dialogue.
Since then, both groups have taken significant steps toward friendship. It has not been easy, and no one is pretending that there aren’t major theological differences that simply cannot be resolved. However, it has been shown possible for the two groups to co-exist peacefully, assuming we will put forth the necessary effort to understand one another’s positions and love as Christ would.
1 Peter 3:15 sums it up perfectly:
But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.
The historic proceedings last night in the Tabernacle were yet more evidence that good things are happening between these two communities. About two years ago, Dr. Ravi Zacharias was invited to Salt Lake City by Standing Together Ministries, a group of approximately 100 Evangelical churches here in the valley. When it came time to choose a venue, they approached the LDS church about using the Tabernacle. President Hinckley reportedly decided that it “sounded like a good idea.”
And so I found myself in a room with 7,000 Evangelicals and Latter-day Saints gathered to hear one of the greatest Evangelical preachers of our time in perhaps the most significant LDS historical location (excepting the Salt Lake temple, of course). What an event!
I would speak more about the proceedings last night, but I think the following articles sum it up better than I could.
- “Evangelical preaches at Salt Lake Tabernacle”, Deseret News
- “Evangelical, LDS find bit of common ground”, Salt Lake Tribune
- “Defending absolute truth”, Daily Utah Chronicle
I may speak more about this later when I have more time.