Am I a Christian?

Review of Craig L. Blomberg. “Is Mormonism Christian?” In The New Mormon Challenge, 315–32.

Am I a Christian?

Reviewed by Kent P. Jackson

In the summer of 1968 when I was a young man, I made the decision to commit myself
to Jesus Christ. After struggling for several years to find myself and not living
the kind of life I knew I should live, I finally surrendered my will to that of
the Lord and put my future into his hands. I changed friends, discarded old behavior
and beliefs, and set my life on a new course that has guided me to the present
time. That new course has led me to much happiness—a happiness I had never
felt before and was unaware that I was missing. It is a joy in God through Jesus
Christ, “by whom [I] now received the atonement” (Romans 5:11).

Although at the time I knew very little about scriptural language and absolutely
nothing about theological definitions, I believed then and still believe today
that I was spiritually reborn. I experienced the sensation of having the heavy
weight of my previous life lifted from my shoulders. I felt lighter, safer, and
happier. I felt a “joy and peace in believing” that was brought into
my life by “the God of hope” (Romans 15:13). Above all else, I felt
more free. Indeed, the immediate and lasting sensation was one of liberation.
I had been freed from the things that had bound me. I had been liberated from
falsehood, confusion, and doubt. And thus having been “made free from sin,”
I was both able and determined to become a servant of God and to do his will for
the rest of my life (Romans 6:18, 22; see 1 Corinthians 7:22). Paul describes
well the process by which my old self became dead and my regenerated self walks
“in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). I felt changes take place in my
life by which I was “quickened” and “forgiven” (Colossians
2:13), and my interests and desires became increasingly set “on things above,
not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:2).

I was spiritually reborn, according to these descriptions and definitions in the
Bible. I experienced “a change of heart” (Alma 5:26) “through
faith on his [Christ’s] name,” and I was “born of him”
(Mosiah 5:7). So why, then, do I ask, “Am I a Christian?”

Latter-day Saint Christians

In his chapter in The New Mormon Challenge, “Is Mormonism Christian?”
(pp. 315–32, 483–89), my friend Craig L. Blomberg concludes with regret
that I cannot be a Christian because I exercise my faith within the Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and sincerely believe all its teachings (p.
330).1 Blomberg’s regret is real. In the most courteous and thoughtful chapter
in The New Mormon Challenge, he analyzes the Latter-day Saint claim to Christianity
from a variety of angles. He concludes that neither we as a church nor we as individuals
can be Christians while holding to our uniquely Latter-day Saint beliefs.2 I have
observed elsewhere that one person’s definition of a Christian may well
differ legitimately from another’s.3 I agree, for example, that as a Latter-day
Saint I am not part of the historic Orthodox-Catholic-Protestant tradition of
Christianity that has descended from antiquity. But are there no other definitions
of a Christian that include me? Blomberg rejects as too simplistic the definition
proposed by Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks: “What made a person
a Christian in the first century, and what makes a person a Christian today, is,
simply, a commitment to Jesus Christ.”4 He views this definition as insufficient
because one can profess a commitment to Christ while falling short in other matters
(citing Galatians 1:8-9 and Matthew 7:23). Blomberg’s own definitions
are more specific: What makes a person a Christian, he writes, is whether that
person “is genuinely regenerate.” The question to be asked, he argues,
is “Is such a person saved?” (p. 328, emphasis in original). Indeed,
“Christian means ‘converted'” (p. 328). To be a Christian,
“one must personally accept Jesus as Lord and Savior and allow him to transform
every area of one’s life” (pp. 328–29). “Anyone can become
a Christian by sincerely trusting in the Jesus of the New Testament as personal
Lord (God and Master) and Savior and by demonstrating the sincerity of that commitment
by some perceivable measure of lifelong, biblical belief and behavior” (p.
329, emphasis in original).

I agree with Blomberg’s straightforward and evenhanded definitions. They
make good sense. And I believe that most other thoughtful evangelicals would use
similar words to describe what it means to be a real Christian. Significantly,
but not surprisingly, those definitions are also consistent with the teachings
of the Book of Mormon (see, for example, Mosiah 4:1–5:15; Alma 5:2–62;

But Blomberg’s definitions create a serious problem: they make me a Christian
too. They make me a Christian because my own life is governed by the very processes
that he cites as evidence for one’s Christianity. I am a personal witness
of the redemptive power of Jesus Christ. I have been regenerated, I have been
saved,5 and I have been converted. I have personally accepted Jesus as my Lord
and Savior, and I have allowed him to transform every area of my life. I trust
in Jesus as my personal Lord, God, Master, and Savior and have attempted to demonstrate
the sincerity of my commitment since the time of my conversion by living according
to Jesus’ will. And there are many others like me. I am not the only Latter-day
Saint who has “felt to sing the song of [Christ’s] redeeming love”
(Alma 5:26). Most of my Latter-day Saint friends and neighbors have been similarly
changed by the same power. And there are millions more, in every corner of the
earth, and each can testify as I have of the converting power of the atonement
of Jesus. The problem for Blomberg’s definitions is that they include faithful,
believing Latter-day Saints. Although we may not describe the transforming process
in the same words used by evangelicals, we know it nonetheless because we have
witnessed it in our lives and have seen it in the lives of others.

I believe sincerely that many of my evangelical Christian friends, and countless
others like them, have been reborn spiritually also.6 The fact that their “hearts
are changed through faith on his name” (Mosiah 5:7) is clear in their honest
efforts to show the example and teachings of Jesus in their lives. They reflect
the character of their Savior, just as faithful Latter-day Saints do. Although
I believe that the fulness of Christ’s gospel is found in the Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I do not doubt for a moment that the transforming
power of Christ is at work in many good people whose beliefs are different from
mine. Thus I do not hesitate to call a good person like Craig Blomberg a Christian.

So why, then, am I not a Christian? In order to say I am not a Christian, the
authors of The New Mormon Challenge and every pastor or publisher who seeks to
find fault with Mormonism must do one of the following two things: they must insist
that salvation does not really come through Jesus after all, or they must insist
that my own religious experience is not real. If I have been transformed through
Jesus and live a life centered in his gospel but am nonetheless not saved because
I believe the teachings of Mormonism, then salvation is not in Jesus but in correct
thinking. Is this salvation by catechism, rather than salvation in Christ?7 The
other option to exclude me is equally unacceptable. They must discount my religious
experience and assert that my relationship with Jesus is not real. But I won’t
let them do that. I can testify of the redeeming power of the atonement because
I am a witness of it in my own life and in the lives of people I love. I cannot
deny the life-changing power of Jesus Christ. Do those who seek to disprove Mormonism
really want me to deny that witness? I ask the authors of The New Mormon Challenge
and others like them: Do you really want me to deny that witness? If not, then
please take it seriously.

An Invitation

I say the following to every honest believer in Jesus Christ: I believe that the
Holy Spirit has placed within your soul a true witness of Jesus. Can you believe
the same about me? For me and for other Latter-day Saints it is not a doctrinal
problem to believe that your relationship with Jesus is real and that he is at
work in your life. We accept that and are pleased to call you our Christian brother
or sister. And we believe that you will go to heaven. But for you it is a serious
problem if my relationship with Jesus is real and if he is at work in my life.
That is why people like the authors of The New Mormon Challenge resist the idea
as vigorously as they can. There is very much at stake for you, and they know
it. Here is why. If you believe that my spiritual rebirth is real and that the
Holy Spirit has placed a witness of Jesus Christ in my soul—and I testify
that I have that witness—then you need to be aware of some other things
as well. The same spiritual processes and experiences that have brought about
my spiritual rebirth have also brought about my conversion to the truthfulness
of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The same Holy Spirit that
has instilled in my heart a sure testimony of Jesus has likewise instilled in
my heart a sure testimony that Joseph Smith was his prophet. The same workings
that have changed my soul and regenerated me from a fallen man to a disciple of
Jesus Christ have also converted me to the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon
and the other Latter-day Saint scriptures.

Am I a Christian? Of course I am. Like you, I believe in Jesus as described in
the New Testament and in the fact that there is “no other name given nor
any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only
in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent” (Mosiah 3:17). As
yours has, my life has been changed through his saving power. But I believe more
than this because I also believe the tremendous things that God has done in modern
times. I believe that in 1820 the Lord called a new prophet, Joseph Smith, through
whom he restored to the earth the fulness of the Christian gospel. This fulness
of Christianity includes Jesus’ restored church—a community of people
who have come to Christ in the manner described in the New Testament and who endeavor
to do his will. The fulness of Christianity also includes the restoration of both
the authority and the inspiration of living apostles. Thus the Lord’s church
in our day has the same relationship to Jesus that the ancient church had under
the ministry of men like Peter, James, and John. And thus the channel of revelation
found among ancient apostles is open again among modern apostles. The restored
fulness of Christianity also includes the restoration of the Book of Mormon, an
ancient record that, like the Bible, contains the word of God. It is a second
witness of Jesus Christ that teaches in plainness the truths of his gospel and
bears a clear and consistent testimony of him. Other books of scripture have been
revealed as well. Is this not good news? Should not all Christians everywhere
receive these blessings with eagerness and joy?

Blomberg quotes the invitation of Gordon B. Hinckley, president of the Church
of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: “Bring all the good you have with
you and let us see if we can’t add to it” (p. 489 n. 68).8 Another
modern apostle tells why we bring our message to you, and he invites you to join
us in receiving it: “Through missionaries and members, the message of the
restored gospel is going to all the world. To non-Christians, we witness of Christ
and share the truths and ordinances of His restored gospel. To Christians we do
the same. Even if a Christian has been ‘saved’ . . . , we teach that
there remains more to be learned and more to be experienced. . . . We invite all
to hear this message, and we invite all who receive the confirming witness of
the Spirit to heed it.”9


  1. Craig L. Blomberg is a respected New Testament scholar and the author of several
    important works, including Interpreting the Parables (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity,
    1990) and The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel (Downers Grove, Ill.:
    InterVarsity, 2002). His commitment as a defender of the Jesus of the Gospels
    and of the historicity of the New Testament is evident in these and other books
    and in his published articles. He showed great courage to coauthor with Stephen
    E. Robinson How Wide the Divide? A Mormon and an Evangelical in Conversation (Downers
    Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1997), for which he has paid a heavy price within his
    own faith community. I admire both his work as a scholar and him as a good person.
  2. This conclusion is not unique to Blomberg. See also Carl Mosser, “And
    the Saints Go Marching On,” in The New Mormon Challenge, 66 and 412–13
    n. 25. The common theme of this book is that Latter-day Saints believe X, but
    Christians believe Y.
  3. Kent P. Jackson, “Are Mormons Christians? Presbyterians, Mormons, and
    the Question of Religious Definitions,” Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative
    and Emergent Religions
    4/1 (October 2000): 52–65.
  4. Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks, Offenders for a Word: How Anti-Mormons
    Play Word Games to Attack the Latter-day Saints
    (Provo, Utah: Aspen Books, 1992),
  5. Latter-day Saints typically reserve the language of being saved for the last
    judgment and do not make claim to salvation in this life. At the same time, however,
    such language is used with respect to being rescued in this life from sin and
    evil. See Dallin H. Oaks, “Have You Been Saved?” Ensign, May 1998,
  6. In the most complete sense, being born again includes receiving baptism and
    the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, ordinances that represent
    and fully activate the spiritual processes (see especially Romans 6:3–4).
  7. Stephen Robinson suggested the idea in How Wide the Divide? (see pp. 164–65).
    It seems to me that if proper, orthodox doctrinal thinking is the key to salvation,
    rather than a life transformed by and centered in Jesus Christ, then this would
    also exclude from salvation many other Christians, including evangelicals, who—however
    Christ-centered, faithful, and repentant they may be—hold mistaken ideas
    or otherwise do not know the proper protocol or vocabulary for being saved. In
    this there seems to be a fatal defect in evangelical theology. And it is a defect
    that favors the educated elites—the clergy and the academics—over
    Christ-loving, Bible-believing farmers and factory workers. See Blomberg in How
    Wide the Divide?
    (p. 186, first four lines).
  8. Gordon B. Hinckley, “Larry King Live” Christmas 1999 television
  9. Oaks, “Have You Been Saved?” 57.