by Lynn Ridenhour
Paul and Silas unintentionally gave a very concise understanding of
Christianity when they responded to the jailer’s request, “...And they
said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved...” (Acts
Condensed in this simple proclamation is the essence of what it means “...to
be saved.” Or to be a Christian.
Sometimes the best way to say what a person is saying is to say what he’s
not saying. Paul is not saying—you will become a Christian if you “...believe
in Jesus...” He is not saying—you will become a Christian if you “...embrace
the Christ within...” And neither is Paul saying—you will become a
Christian if you “...receive the Lord in your heart...” That’s what he’s
not saying. Then what is he saying?...
You say, Ridenhour, you’re playing word games with us. No I’m not. I’m
saying, “real” Christianity embraces not only the existential, not just
the historical, not merely the universal-—but all three. Christianity is not
just Jesus, the historical; it’s not only Christ, the existential; it’s
not simply our Lord, the universal. Paul said we must believe on “...the
Lord Jesus Christ”-- not one of the three, not two of the three, but three
of the three--to experience biblical Christianity. We embrace the historical,
the existential, and the universal as good Christians.
The historical Jesus, for instance, and the existential Christ are not at
odds. They cannot be. Not according to Paul. I believe, however, I have just
pinpointed the central problem for twentieth century’s restoration theology—its
own epistemological basis. I believe, too often we’ve tried to separate the
existential Christ within from the historical Christ without. And have
attempted to weigh the importance of the one over the other. Which raises the
issue--from what fountainhead does restoration theology get her information to
espouse her doctrine and to test her hypothesis?
Does the restoration possess a principium theologiae that authenticates its
subject matter for preaching the gospel according to Joseph Smith?
I’m convinced it does.
It’s called—the doctrine of supernaturalism. Or restoration’s theism.
I’m aware, the presence of miracles sometimes offends the existential and
naturalistic mood of our day. To the “existentialist” Christian,
theological propositions are merely ideas from within the rim of human genius.
“Truth” becomes useful for its potential existential kick-value and as a
possible clue to our own self-understanding.
The Bible and Book of Mormon does not contain “timeless divine truths”
but a purely human testimony to the response evoked by Jesus Christ in prayer
and teaching. Scripture is true only to the degree in which it re-evokes an
Too often modern theology capitalizes on the blur created by “modern
biblical criticism” around the Four-in-One and attempts to salvage operation
amidst the wreckage. The result, however, I believe, is the rescue of nothing
specifically Christian. Instead, the loss of restoration’s supernaturalism
only leads us to a new “sacerdotalism” (the church is the matrix of the
“tradition”), a new clericalism (the expert applies his existential gnosis
to Scripture for us), and a new age mystical agnosticism (a faith tailored to
survive even if the Book of Mormon is not quite relevant for twentieth century
man, and even if God is not quite historically “there”).
I say, the God of Joseph Smith is bigger than all this.