We’re happy to share Kurt Manwaring’s interview with Robert Millet. Millet is a well known professor of ancient scripture at BYU. He was Dean of Religious Education there and is the author of numerous well regarded books including the Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon along with Joseph Fielding McConkie. He was part of the move in the 1990’s to emphasize the rhetoric of grace theologically in the Church.
The full interview is available at Kurt’s site. I should add I was able to spend a fair bit of time with his family in Louisiana when I was on my mission. His brother was a fantastic blues musician. Here are a few of my favorite excerpts from the interview.
Most important for me [at BYU], however, was my discovery of the Pauline epistles, and particularly Paul’s letters to the Romans and Galatians. Brother Matthews guided us toward a deeper appreciation for the effects of the Fall of Adam and Eve. He especially emphasized Paul’s message that salvation, meaning eternal life, is the greatest of all the gifts of God; that one does not earn but rather receives a gift; that men and women’s works of righteousness are a necessary but insufficient condition for salvation; and that the ever-present debate on whether we are saved by grace or by works is foolish, shortsighted, and distracting.
Perhaps more important, for the students and for me, was the fact that we focused a great deal on Romans and Galatians, specifically on justification by faith and salvation by grace. It was new stuff to them, but the Spirit that accompanied our learning experience seemed to persuade them that although they did not yet grasp everything Paul had written, they sensed deep down in their soul that what we were discussing was true and worthy of their serious attention.
In summary, I came to BYU with a changed heart and a strong desire to emphasize Jesus Christ, His infinite Atonement, and the power of His mercy and grace. My hope is that at least some of my students caught the vision.
Millet was key in setting up an interfaith dialog with Evangelicals starting in 2000 that has continued since every six months. Speaking of this Millet noted the problems.
The journey, while intellectually stretching and spiritually stirring, has not proceeded without some resistance or opposition.
My Evangelical friends have taken most of the hits (especially Richard Mouw), but I have also been accused by a few Latter-day Saints of being guilty of “compromising the faith,” assuming I suppose, that there is no way that this kind of a deep relationship could exist unless we have compromised something.
Such critics, high and low, are dead wrong. We agreed at the very start of this larger dialogue that no person should be a part of this exercise who was not deeply committed to and convinced of his or her respective faith. Never once have I or any of my Latter-day Saint dialogists (yes, that is a word) given the slightest indication to our friends that we are anything but faithfully solid, mainline members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We have read and studied and discussed and wrestled respectfully and cordially with our friends of other faiths in our investigation of what could be called saving doctrines, but they’re still Evangelical and we are still proponents and defenders of the restored gospel.
Interestingly while Millet along with others such as Stephen Robinson are noted for raising the topic of grace he attributes this move to Bruce R. McConkie.
I believe Elder Bruce R. McConkie’s last address, “The Purifying Power of Gethsemane,” delivered at the April 1985 general conference, was the beginning of that blessed trend. I am persuaded that it is one of those very few public addresses that literally “rocked the Church,” meaning, it so impacted those who then heard or saw the address, as well as millions who have since heard or read it, that we as a people will never be the same.
I sincerely believe it was the beginning of a divinely-planned movement that would make of the Latter-day Saints more deeply devout Christians. It is of interest to me that an Evangelical historian, John Turner, in his fascinating book, The Mormon Jesus: A Biography (Harvard University Press, 2016), begins his last chapter with a consideration of the significance of Elder Bruce R. McConkie’s last general conference address. He too believes it was a formative moment in Latter-day Saint history, one that has propelled the followers of Joseph Smith to a higher reverence for and commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ.
As regular readers know, I find the topic of grace very intriguing and have discussed it here many times. It’s also interesting in how it gets twisted at times into things like cheap grace or into a “grace of the gaps” penal theory where we have to do a certain level of work that’s insufficient and made up by the atonement. Both these two extremes are deeply problematic but keep popping up. I think Millet’s own writings have been deeply important for understanding grace. It’s constantly surprising to me how few people know of him.