President of Fuller Seminary declares Mormonism is not a cult


By Mark Ellis

Richard J. Mouw

In several high-profile opinion pieces, the head of Fuller Theological Seminary has declared that Mormonism is not a cult, and therefore Christians should not withhold their support for presidential candidate Mitt Romney due to his religious beliefs.

“Most scholars who study religious movements have long abandoned the use of the “cult” label with reference to Mormonism. With about 14 million adherents around the world, the church has moved into the religious mainstream,” he noted in a Los Angeles Times Op-ed piece that appeared November 20th.

For the past 12 years Mouw has co-chaired a “behind-closed-doors” dialogue between a dozen evangelical leaders and scholars and an equal number of Mormon leaders. These face-to-face meetings – and the relationships that have ensued – have altered Mouw’s perspective on the LDS Church.

“Based on these conversations and my own careful study, I do not believe Mormonism is a cult. However, I am not convinced that Mormon theology deserves to be classified as Christian in the historic sense of that word,” he noted.

Mouw maintains he still harbors serious disagreements with Mormons about basic issues of faith that have eternal consequences, including the nature of God, the Trinity, and the afterlife. “But I have also learned that in some matters we are not quite as far apart as I once thought,” he wrote.

“I know cults,” he insists. “I have studied them and taught about them for a long time,” he noted on a CNN Belief blog in October.

In several categories, Mormons do not display the classic identifying marks of a cult, he believes. “Brigham Young University is a world-class educational institution, with professors who’ve earned doctorates from some of the best universities in the world. Several of the top leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have PhDs from Ivy League schools,” he wrote on CNN’s blog.

Mouw noted a congenial quality to his dialogue with Mormons, that they lack the “us-versus-them” mentality of most cults. He states that cults do not engage in self-examining conversations such as the ones he and his evangelical colleagues have conducted.

“These folks talk admiringly of the evangelical Billy Graham and the Catholic Mother Teresa and they enjoy reading the evangelical C.S. Lewis and Father Henri Nouwen, a Catholic. That is not the kind of thing you run into in anti-Christian cults.”

The classification of Mormons as Christians is a “complicated question” for Mouw. “While I am not prepared to reclassify Mormonism as possessing undeniably Christian theology, I do accept many of my Mormon friends as genuine followers of the Jesus whom I worship as the divine Savior.”

In his Los AngelesTimes piece, Mouw warned Christians against bearing false witness against their neighbors. “That truth-telling obligation applies to our Mormon neighbors as well,” he wrote.

Mouw has apparently been stung by some angry responses engendered by his position. “I am getting two kinds of angry responses,” he noted November 24th on his personal blog. “Some folks insist that I simply do not understand Mormonism,” he  wrote. Some have urged him to read books or videos by Walter Martin, Ed Decker, and Dave Hunt.

“Actually, I am very familiar with all of that,” he responded. “It was precisely my dissatisfaction with the basic approach in that kind of thing that motivated me actually to start talking to Mormons themselves.”

Mouw stirred debate in November 2004, when he appeared at a historic gathering at the Mormon Tabernacle, and apologized to Mormons for the way they have been characterized by Evangelicals. At that appearance he said, “I am now convinced that we evangelicals have often seriously misrepresented the beliefs and practices of the Mormon community. Indeed, let me state it bluntly to the LDS folks here this evening: we have sinned against you. The God of the Scriptures makes it clear that it is a terrible thing to bear false witness against our neighbors, and we have been guilty of that sort of transgression in things we have said about you.”

Earlier this year on his personal blog, Mouw also defended the theology of Rob Bell, as presented in his book “Love Wins.”

“Why don’t folks who criticize Rob Bell for wanting to let too many people in (heaven) also go after people like that who want to keep too many people out? Why are we rougher on salvific generosity than on salvific stinginess?” he wrote.

“In a book I wrote several years ago defending the basics of a Calvinist perspective, I told about an elderly rabbi friend who struck me as a very godly person. He would often write to tell me that he was praying for me and my family. When he died, I said, I held out the hope that when he saw Jesus he would acknowledge that it was Him all along, and that Jesus would welcome him into the heavenly realm.”

“A straightforward question: Did Mother Teresa go to hell? My guess is that she was a little confused about justification by faith alone. If you think that means she went to hell, I have only one response: shame on you.”


  1. The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) has theology based on the New Testament. Other denominations generally base their theology on Fourth Century Creeds. Mormon’s view on the Trinity, Salvation, deification, baptism, and lay clergy comport more closely to Early Christianity than do the denominations which base their views on Fourth Century Creeds. And Mormon teenagers “top the charts” on Christian characteristics according to a UNC Chapel Hill study:

    Mormons have the best understanding of Christianity of any Christian denomination, according to a 2010 Pew poll.

    11 of the signers of the Declaration of Indepencence were non-Trinitarian Christians (including five presidents). Those who would insist on their Trinitarian definition of Jesus Christ and salvation by grace alone for candidates for public office are doing our Republic an injustice

  2. Hmmm…. Let’s see… God is an exalted man, God has a physical body, there is a goddess mother in heaven, there are many gods, we all may become gods, the Trinity consists of three separate gods, salvation is through works we do, Christ was born as a result of sexual relations between God the Father and Mary, only the LDS church has the true gospel, you may progress to become a god IF you marry in the Temple and are sealed to multiple wives, Jesus and Lucifer are spirit brothers, it is necessary to believe in the prophet Joseph Smith to achieve complete salvation, etc… sure sounds like Christianity to me? Who are we kidding?

    • Hmmm. Ok. If these succinct points truly are held beliefs of Mormons, then spot on, well spoken! I shall have to investigate. Thank you for a great starting point, and Praise be to God, for He is worthy to be praised!

      • Ok. In continuance of my previous comment, yes. I’ve checked it out and it seems that Mormons do believe those things. Those thing are in direct contrast to what we are taught in the Bible, therefore those things must be false. Since those things are false, by definition they are false teaching. Since false teaching cannot be of God, there is–ultimately–only one other source for it. I’ll leave that part unspoken. Suffice it to say, I believe that Mormonism–however noteworthy or seemingly righteous the individuals practicing it may be–is an insidious, dangerous, damning cult to be avoided at all costs. No more worthy a theology than atheism. End of story, and case settled. Unless others wish to continue to flounder around in the dark; it would be unfortunate though, because God’s light has been right before us the whole time, and doesn’t need to be changed….as if Jesus’ disciples, etc., and all others who followed had it wrong for 2000 years until the Mormon’s came along. Impossible and downright prideful. And who is the father is pride–who would also love to mimic God’s truth, leaving just enough believability to deceive the masses? It cannot be more obvious folks. He knows the time is short–been knowing it in fact. And Mormon’s aren’t the only approximations who think that they-and-finally-they have the truth. Be careful folks. Sometimes he comes not as a roaring lion, but as an innocuous, friendly, smiling knock on the door. Do not let him in.

  3. I realize this is an old discussion so please excuse me. However, as a Mormon I have to call out this Mike character. I find it funny that in 34 minutes Mike hadn’t before heard of those points he responded to –points mingled with half-doctrines- and suddenly he knew that Mormonism is a “damning cult to be avoided at all costs.” However, please share what religion you are? I could essentially copy and paste what you have said right back to you about whatever religion you may be. You are correct in the dangers of false doctrines and being deceived. You say Mormon doctrine is in direct contrast with the Bible but provide no examples. Let me take one example that was mentioned. The Godhead of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are individuals instead of a Trinity 3-in-1 God. Please provide scripture that states they are all one, keeping in mind the scripture of Jesus being baptized, Holy Ghost descends as a dove, and the Father voice from above. One thing that always makes me wonder is how many pray to the Father in the name of the Son, as they should, but use language such as ‘Thank you God for your Son’ or ‘For sending your Son’, etc…and Jesus himself spoke to His Father while He was upon the cross, Garden of Gethsemane, etc… Please rectify this and provide scripture examples for clearly eliminating the truth that they are separate individuals and one Godhead in purpose, deed, and unity. It has always been curious to me, that if it was clear who God is, why did a group of men feel it necessary to define God and Christianity in the Nicene Creed?? Don’t pretend that the Trinity is a doctrine from the Bible instead of the manmade creed it is. And it’s a scary notion, because if church leaders just a relatively short time after Christ weren’t sure who God/Christ were, then what else did they not know? What other truths were forgotten or changed? Where did the apostles go and why become popes and cardinals instead? All great questions that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints answers.

    • Jared,
      First off let me say that I was born and raised Mormon. My parents were very active and my father served a mission and, in addition to holding many other positions, was a bishop for several years. He is very well informed on LDS teachings and did a very good job of teaching us his beliefs. My parents are very good people and are still to this day very faithful Mormons.

      My comments will be based both on my understanding of Mormon doctrine but also the understanding of the Bible and Mormon church history that I have gained in my own personal studies.

      Mormons are taught that the Bible is only true as far as it it correctly translated, but that is not all we as are taught about the Bible. We are taught that many plain and precious truths have been removed and that because of this it was necessary for the true gospel to be restored. This includes additions of many unbiblical teachings that were claimed to have been received through Joseph Smith and other modern day ‘prophets’.

      You are correct that Mike didn’t give any scriptural evidence for the Trinitarian godhead. Not all Christians believe in the trinity. The trinity is something that is debated in mainstream Christianity. I think it’s probably true that the majority of Christians do believe that Jesus was deity before He came here. I also believe that He was, based on John chapter 1. It is also true that it has been a Mormon teaching that Jesus created this earth, and the Bible unquestionably teaches that He did in John 1. Not only did He create this earth but He in fact created everything. That would include us and the angels. How did He do this if He was just like us, simply our spiritual brother along with our other spiritual brother, Satan? Yes it is in fact a Mormon teaching that Satan is our brother. The Bible teaches that Satan is the fallen angel Lucifer, not our brother.

      All of the other things that were pointed out by Dan are also Mormon teachings. Maybe Mike did form an opinion about these things in only 34 minutes but it really doesn’t take very long to find a website pointing out these Mormon teachings. If someone has a basic understanding of what the Bible teaches it is very easy to see that these are unbiblical teachings and that they should be cautious.

      Unless, of course, you have been taught these things your whole life. While also being taught that the Bible has been so corrupted by men, under the influence of Satan, that it cannot really be trusted and that we need to depend on modern day prophets to tell us what parts of the Bible are true and how to interpret certain Bible verses (completely out of context!) to support those revelations from the prophets. Even though we supposedly really can’t trust the Bible. Unless it supports the other more true and accurate information in the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants, despite the fact that these two supposedly infallible, uncorrupted works contradict each other many times.

      Obviously, you and other Mormons are not going to like what I have to say about these things. We are supposed to believe our leaders without questioning. Or wait, wasn’t I also taught that knowledge was one of the young women values? So, is that knowledge supposed to only include those things approved by Mormon leaders or would it be okay if it also included the truth?

      The truth about the life and teachings of Joseph Smith , Brigham Young and others. The truth that Joseph Smith had at least 40 wives behind Emma’s back, including 11 other men’s wives. How about his different, and changing accounts of the first vision, or the fact that he used a seer stone from a neighbors farm to “interpret” the Book of Mormon. The truth about the many changes to the Book of Mormon including important doctrinal changes. Not just grammar corrections, like I was taught (lied to about!), but changes to what it teaches about the very nature of the Godhead.

      There are so many things in Mormon history that the church has kept hidden and is now having to admit because of the accessibility of this information on the internet. The things mentioned previously are only some of those things. There are many, many disturbing facts about Mormon history that we are not taught and that are actually contrary to modern day teachings. In my 40 years I have seen some of those changes take place. In all of that time I have not witnessed one change to the Bible.

      No, I am not going to provide references to everything I have said. It is your responsibility to seek out the truth!

      That truth seeking needs to include more than praying and waiting for a burning in your bosom because our feelings can be used by familiar spirits to deceive us! The Bible warns we are to test the spirits to see whether they are of God, and to be aware that there are false prophets.
      1 John 4:1King James Version 4 Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.

      I hope that Mormon people will wake up and have personal accountability in exercising their free agency to learn the truth about the Mormon church instead of blindly following, thinking that anything less is being unfaithful. What good is having knowledge if it isn’t the truth?

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