My evangelical Mormon professor

Nothing else at BYU has surprised me except him. I knew I was gonna meet professors like [Hall, Welch, Parry & Ricks], and I knew I was gonna meet cool, open-minded Mormons like Adam & Nick & Julie & Kristi. I even knew I’d meet professors like Keller. But I never thought I’d meet someone like him.

~ Journal entry for Friday, January 24, 20031

I had my first class from Eric D. Huntsman when I took Roman History (ClCv 307) from him in Fall Semester 2002, which was also the semester I became the president of the on-campus evangelical Christian club. Huntsman was, at the time, an assistant professor in the classics department and I enjoyed his teaching style immensely. Something about the way he lectured always made me feel like I was listening to a Protestant preacher, and I could tell that I would like to get to know him better, but there were 50-60 students in the class and I didn’t feel like I had much of an excuse to introduce myself to him personally.

On October 30, 2002, Eta Sigma Phi (the classics honor society) held a club event at which Huntsman would be the speaker. Some of the students were going to dress up for it since it was so close to Halloween, so I borrowed an LDS missionary name tag from a friend, donned a black skirted suit, a CTR ring and a “Hold To The Rod” necklace and attended the party dressed as a sister missionary. Most of the club members knew about my non-member status and chuckled as soon as they saw my costume.

Huntsman later asked what was so funny about it, and I explained, “It’s funny because I’m not Mormon.” His eyes kind of lit up as I told him I was an evangelical Christian, and he mentioned that he had gone to high school in Tennessee and attended Baptist youth groups and Young Life as a teenager. He seemed to pick up pretty quickly that I already knew plenty about the LDS church and didn’t try to test my knowledge of the basics.  We got to talking about LDS church history and polygamy, and he even mentioned the second 1904 injunction to stop the further practices of polygamy. He recommended that I check out Mormonism in Transition by Thomas G. Alexander to learn more about it. That was the first I had ever heard of the Second Manifesto, and it was rare that I met people who were so open and forward about the patchier parts of LDS history. It was refreshing, to say the least.2

As I got to know Huntsman more, he impressed me often. He had a way of looking at salvation and grace and regeneration which seemed rather Protestant, even though he described it within the LDS framework. I wondered if he was some sort of covert Protestant in the LDS system, but that really did not seem to be the case. He had served as an LDS bishop for his ward for six and a half years and had recently joined the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. His ties to the LDS church were very deep. On one occasion Huntsman mentioned that his ancestors go back to the LDS polygamists, and I said, “I betcha my ancestors used to persecute your ancestors.” He said that was okay, we could still be friends.3 He became part of a group of people at the university I could count on to not slide into “missionary mode” and start trying to testify me into the church, and I appreciated that.

For Winter Semester 2003, I was taking both Johannine Writings (Greek 411R) and Greek History (ClCv 304) from Huntsman. While I adored both classes, Johannine Writings was probably my favorite class ever. Huntsman worked hard to incorporate readings on the text from a variety of viewpoints, both religious and secular. One of the main texts for the class was Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics by evangelical scholar Daniel B. Wallace, and Huntsman was always careful to give time to the evangelical viewpoint on certain passages. It wasn’t the same as taking a class on Johannine writings from an evangelical college, but it was the next best thing for my situation.

On Wednesday, January 22, 2003, I went up to Huntsman’s office to see him because I wanted to know how he had gotten involved with the Baptists as a teenager. We talked about so many things that day, and it became clear to me that Huntsman had made Jesus Christ his Lord and Savior just as evangelicals teach you must do, in part because of the influence of his Baptist friends, and yet he had stayed LDS. I remember I told him this was all “weird,” and in retrospect I feel like that was a terrible reaction, but his relationship to evangelical Christianity had thrown me. When I had walked into that office, I had believed the standard evangelical line about how a Mormon can certainly receive Jesus as his Savior, but that saving conviction and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit will assuredly lead the Mormon out of the church eventually. Huntsman had been a member of the church for years and years, had been a bishop in the church, was about to switch to teaching in the BYU Religion Department and clearly wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.4 Suddenly I wasn’t so sure anymore.

We also talked about his style of teaching and preaching, and he acknowledged with a smile that he would have made a “damn good” pastor. I told him I could especially see him as a youth pastor. He talked about his upcoming switch to teaching in the BYU Religion Department and how God had confirmed to him through prayer and other means of communication that it was the right thing to do. I knew I was going to miss having him in the Classics Department, but somehow I almost immediately knew that he was telling the truth about God wanting him in the Religion Department.5

Huntsman became something of a spiritual mentor to me after that, and I affectionately called him my “evangelical Mormon” professor. I would often visit him and talk to him about whatever was troubling me about being an evangelical at BYU. Here is my journal entry on one of our conversations:

We got to talking about miracles, and he told me about one of the healings he’s been involved in, and I told him that I’ve honestly never witnessed a true miracle. Sure, I’ve seen personal miracles, but nothing that a skeptic couldn’t find a logical explanation for. And sometimes I meet these people who speak in tongues and work miracles and are just spiritual phenomena, and they make me feel like a junior varsity Christian, I told him.

Dr. Huntsman was like, “Jack, what’s the more important miracle: that God saved you from suicide and made you Jack and changed your life when you were 16, or that you witness all of these things?” That almost brought me to tears. I’d never thought of it like that. I take so much for granted, Lord. Thank You. I just wanna grow as You see fit.

We walked out toward his car, and as we went he mentioned that he’d prayed about me. He’d asked God if I was going to join the church. And God’s answer was, “If I tell her to.” He takes me seriously. He doesn’t treat me like I don’t know God. He believes that I try to obey You, Lord.6

While he loves the evangelical style of preaching and teaching, and it suits his personality well, Huntsman is also very fond of traditional Protestant high-church liturgies and rituals, and I don’t really blame him. Ritual is the one thing I wish I had a little more of in my own evangelical worship, but it’s difficult to have everything.

People often ask me if I think Mormons can be saved in spite of incorrect theology. Before I knew Huntsman, I think my answer to that question was “probably not.” Now? I definitely believe it’s possible. I even believe that it’s possible that God wants some people in the LDS church. I don’t know why God told Huntsman to stay in the church, but I sure was glad he was there for me at BYU when he was.

If you are a student at BYU, I can’t encourage you enough to seek out Huntsman as a teacher, whether you are evangelical or LDS. His courses are academically rigorous, but you will not regret having him as a teacher. He also co-authored Jesus Christ and the World of the New Testament: A Latter-day Saint Perspective along with Richard N. Holzapfel and Thomas A. Wayment, which I think makes a great resource for any LDS family.

————————————————–
1 Some context on this entry: Hall, Welch, Ricks and Parry were all professors I had who were also writers for FARMS and had something of an LDS apologetics bent to their teaching. Adam, Nick, Julie and Kristi were friends and/or members of my ward and/or fellow classics majors who were very close to me and always treated me and my faith well. Keller was my religion teacher and had been a Presbyterian minister for years and years before converting to Mormonism, so he understood evangelical Christianity very well even though he no longer identified with it. I had great relationships with all of these people, and I certainly treasured their friendship, but at that point Huntsman was the first Mormon I had ever met whose evangelical tendencies completely floored me.

2 Recorded in my journal on Thursday, October 31, 2002. The actual date of the Eta Sigma Phi event was Wednesday, October 30, 2002. I made a later mention of how Huntsman had recommended Mormonism in Transition on Saturday, November 9, 2002.

3 Journal entry for Tuesday, December 3, 2002. I don’t actually know whether my ancestors persecuted Mormon polygamists; geneaology isn’t really my thing. I just have a lot of Southern ancestry.

4 I should also note that Huntsman was and has been an ordinance worker serving weekly in the Provo Temple since 2002, so it’s not like he doesn’t participate in the most distinctive parts of the Mormon worship experience.

5 Journal entry for Wednesday, January 22, 2003.

6 Journal entry for Friday, February 14, 2003.

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RELATED POSTS:

The Road to BYU
Faith in the face of failure
Final preparations
Freshman, Part 1
Freshman, Part 2
Called to serve
Religion classes at BYU
The jokes that weren’t funny
When my Catholic friend converted
Non-member in the classroom
My evangelical Mormon professor
Strength Made Perfect in Weakness I
A promise from God
This one is just for the hell of it . . .


Comments

My evangelical Mormon professor — 30 Comments

  1. With the obvious qualification that I cannot possibly comment from an evangelical perspective, ditto to everything you just said.

    I remember times sitting in Huntsman’s classes (all 5 of them) and recoiling in some discomfort, thinking, “gosh, does he know how EV he sounds?” And then I thought about it some more and the more I thought about it, the more Huntsman won me over to his “grace-centered” soteriology and convinced me that it really stood at the heart of even the Book of Mormon, let alone the Bible. Because of him, I can’t think about salvation and Christ’s transformative power the same way. It might interest you to know that he talked about Wallace from EV perspectives even when you weren’t there (so he wasn’t just doing it for your benefit). It also just now occurs to me that you were his “protestant student” he kept talking about in all of his classes. He would use you frequently as a launching point to get his students out of their Mormon comfort zones.

    Nevertheless, Huntsman does have some other ideas that are very Mormon–sometimes even more Mormon than his fellow Mormons. But, if I don’t misunderstand him, all that and even the church itself is a corollary to his relationship with Christ.

    So yes, I share your admiration of Huntsman. But Jack, in defense of Mormons, I think there are many whose hearts are in the same place as Huntsman’s. And I can’t speak for Parry, Ricks, or Welch, because I don’t know them, but despite Hall’s apologetic tendencies (of which I’m a fan, but one man’s feast is another’s famine) I would say that he shares many of Huntsman’s views as well. I know because I’ve been in conversations with both of them at the same time affirming the same Christian truths. In fact, although I wouldn’t call Hall a spiritual mentor, he has offered me some profound guidance when I really needed it.

    So I think there’s hope for Mormons yet. ;)

  2. I adored Dr. Hall. I was about as close to him as a student could be and still have a professional relationship to a teacher, and I took more classes from him than anyone else. I gave him the third dance at my wedding after Paul and my father, and when I was going through my separation and almost-divorce from Paul, he opened up to me and really gave me sound advice.

    So yeah, just to be clear I’m not putting Hall or any of the others down. They just didn’t quite have the same effect on my religious worldview that Huntsman did.

    Oh, and Huntsman talks about me still, eh? Well, I guess that’s fair, I certainly talk about him often enough.

  3. Man, Jack, we’re getting all kinds of personal details! Near-suicides, near-divorces…

    I laugh because I’m not nearly as courageous as you about putting it all out there. Have you posted about these things already, or should we wait with bated breath?

  4. I blogged about my almost-divorce here. I guess I’m free with discussing these things because I’m fully confident that, as far as God is concerned, they didn’t happen and I’m not ashamed of them. I’m a new person. And besides, maybe in blogging about them I can help other people through similar experiences.

    I also mentioned somewhere else (in the comments, not in a post) that when I was going through my divorce, I almost joined the LDS church. I went so far as to set a baptism date with the bishop. I think I may have even asked Huntsman to baptize me—if I didn’t it was certainly on my mind to ask him. He was one of the few people I told about the decision though, and I remember he asked me, “Jack that’s great, but are you sure you’re okay with what we teach? The theology?” I think he listed baptism for the dead and God having been a man. And there was kind of a roadblock in my head, and I let out a very unconvincing “I guess so.”

    But obviously I wasn’t okay with it, and I called the whole thing off.

    Still, I’m glad Huntsman had the wisdom to ask me tough questions about my decision. It helped stop me from making a huge mistake.

    EDIT: Oh, and I wrote about my near-suicide in my testimony here. It’s a little melodramatic and in need of a re-write, but it is what it is. Generally if I mention something in passing like that, I wrote about it in more detail somewhere else.

  5. I’m sorry, Jack. I didn’t mean to be flippant about your deeply personal experiences. I read the near-divorce post last night and the conversion one this morning. Both are deeply moving. Last night I went to bed and hugged my wife a little tighter.

    Way to go Huntsman for having the foresight to say the right things at the right times.

    I agree that he does have some oratorical mannerisms, but they don’t remind me of any Protestant preacher I’ve ever heard. But then again, I haven’t had positive experiences in this area. Most preachers I’ve heard sound very condescending. That may be just dumb luck or it may be the Mormon speaking style I’m used to.

  6. I’ve never met Eric, but I’ve been deeply impressed from afar by his scholarship. I enjoyed this account, Jack.

  7. Nothing to apologize for, Jon. I’m sorry for arrogantly thinking in my head that every person who reads this blog has read every single post and page I’ve ever written and knows what I’m talking about when I reference these personal details. :P

    Trust me, Huntsman sounds Protestant. Even he thinks so.

    Glad you guys enjoyed hearing about Huntsman. I have days where I really wish I could introduce him to the evangelical interfaith dialogue scholars and get them to see what I’ve seen.

  8. “Still, I’m glad Huntsman had the wisdom to ask me tough questions about my decision. It helped stop me from making a huge mistake.”

    Jack, if you don’t mind, I’d be curious in hearing what the tough questions were Huntsman asked you.

    Also, I remember you met up with Kevin Barney when you visited Trinity, and I was just curious to know more about how you two came to know each other.

    And Kevin, I just recently read your brief Review of Murphy and Southerton’s ‘Galileo Event’. Well done–I was in complete agreement with you and thought I’d just say thanks and keep up the great work. Your “How to worship Heavenly Mother without getting excommunicated” also gave me much to ponder on….

  9. I too enjoyed the account of Dr. Huntsman (and looked up a paper of his on the Internet, and it too made interesting reading).

    As a member of the Church who was raised evangelical and converted as an adult, I make comparisons all the time. I frequently think in evangelical terms with an LDS spin, perhaps more so than the other way around although I am firmly committed to the Church and what it teaches. When then-President Hinckley told me (and anyone else listening worldwide) before I joined the church that I should bring what I already have in my faith and have it added unto, I took him at his word. And I am grateful that I did.

    My general observation is that the best of evangelicalism (“best” as I use the term, of course) is remarkably similar to the best of Mormonism. There’s an emphasis on grace — but not cheap grace. There’s an emphasis on who we’re becoming, not the checklist of the things we have to do. There’s an emphasis not on the initial human act of salvation (“accepting Jesus as your personal savior” in evangelical terms, agreeing to baptism in LDS terms) but on what it means to live as a Christian (“enduring to the end” in LDS terms, sanctification in evangelical terms).

    Although evangelicals and Mormons use different language, and Mormons are more likely to differentiate between the Father and the Son, we often talk about our relationship with God and Jesus and the Christian life in remarkably similar terms when we understand our faith as its best. At least that is what I have observed.

    I remember sitting in a stake meeting fairly recently, a meeting that had the flavor of the best of Mormonism, thinking that it was the sort of meeting that I wish my evangelical brothers and sisters in Christ could experience. The emphasis was on those things mentioned above, and most of those things that drive some evangelicals crazy were barely mentioned (I counted Joseph Smith’s name mentioned only three times in the two hours, for example). I think that evangelicals who would have attending that meeting would have had a similar reaction to what Jack had with Dr. Huntsman — the ones astute to theology may have come away calling us a bunch of evangelical Mormons. Maybe that’s overstating things. At the very least, however, they would have come away not thinking that the main speakers there (two general authorities, one of them an apostle) were talking about a different Jesus than they one they worship.

    On the flip side of that, I’m in a book discussion group, one in which we read a wide, wide variety of books, and the book group is made up mostly of LDS couples. As a semi-experiment once, I chose the book What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey, an evangelical author. And the Mormons in the group loved it! Yancey teaches grace, but he doesn’t teach cheap grace. The Jesus that Yancey wrote about in that book is the Jesus that the Mormons in this group know and love, and they felt that they learned more about him through Yancey’s writings.

    I’m not saying that evangelicalism and Mormonism are the same thing, because they’re not, even when they’re both at their best (which doesn’t happen as often as it should). But we both can judge the other too harshly and rely on stereotypes rather than looking to see where the other is coming from. Despite theological differences, I believe there is a lot we can learn from each other.

  10. Clean Cut ~ It’s difficult for me to give any more details about my divorce-conversion conversation with Huntsman. I wasn’t keeping a journal at the time and I didn’t write down the conversation, and that period of my life was so painful, my memory is just one big blur. I can’t remember any more specifics about what Huntsman and I talked about. He was happy that I wanted to be baptized, but concerned that I was joining the church for the wrong reasons, and he was right. I was really only joining to try to save my marriage, and that would have been a very bad reason to join. I hadn’t really thought about how I was going to answer the theological and doctrinal problems I had with the LDS church once I became a member.

    Kevin Barney? Hmm. I don’t even remember how we met. I think we met through Zion’s Lighthouse Message Board or the old FAIR message board. He was a classics major at BYU back in his day and even had Dr. Hall as a professor when he was there, so we clicked right away. I think the first time I met him in person was when a group of us got together and had lunch in Provo for either Sunstone or one of the FAIR Conferences, and we’ve met a few times since then. I know he’s met Paul in real life.

    In addition to classics, Hebrew, and LDS history, we share a love for the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series, and I remember us having some fond discussions of Jana Riess’s What Would Buffy Do?: The Slayer as Spiritual Guide.

    Eric ~ I agree with a lot of what you said, and especially in practice the two groups are remarkably similar. It’s one of the reasons I was okay with marrying a Mormon. I’m glad you enjoyed hearing about Huntsman, I bet you would love to meet him if you had the chance.

  11. Jack, this is an incredibly moving post. I’m sitting here thinking about the miracles God has worked in my life.

    Thanks!

    Also thanks for introducing me to the Holzapfel / Wayment / Huntsman book. I love Holzapfel’s teaching style. He’s the right mix of scholarly and “warm fuzzy feel good” teaching. It’s interesting though, because I have always had the impression that his forte was Church history.

  12. Glad you enjoyed the post, Tom. I think Huntsman is going to check in on these comments from time to time and he’ll be happy to hear that people liked the story.

    Holzapfel is a bit of a jack-of-all-religious-trades. I met him because he heard about me from other teachers and specifically requested that I come meet with him. I never had the chance to take a class from him, but I wish I had. He was writing a book on the Provo Sesquicentennial for which he was going to use a photo from my wedding since it was a [public] Provo marriage, but I’m not sure if he ever released that project.

  13. For the record, I was saved as a mormon. I was active in the LDS church and came to know Jesus as my King of King and Lord of Lords… so it is possible… I will say 7 yrs later the Lord did take me out of that church. I have had some christians tell me it is impossible, that I wasn’t ‘saved’ while still a mormon. I tell them why the heck not? Is God limited. I also believe there are LDS who have definately given their lives to Christ and remain, for reasons I don’t pretend to understand. I am so glad that salvation is an individual matter and that God knows our hearts and our intents.

    God bless,
    gloria

  14. Wow. This is one of my favorite passages written by anyone, ever. I’m an evangelical at BYU, and everything you talk about in this post is so true to my own experience (not with Huntsman; I’ve never had him, but I’m certainly going to try to take something from him next semester) that it brought me to tears. Thank you so much for writing it!

  15. Sarah ~ I’ve heard from you before, haven’t I?

    Yup, I would totally recommend looking Huntsman up. He probably wouldn’t even mind if you wanted to stop by his office and introduce yourself. He was someone I would usually talk to when I was stressed. He does have that bishop/pastor feeling about him.

    BTW, TEDS is sending a group of students out to BYU sometime between March 4 and 14 next year, and I’m going to see if I can go with them. So if you have any interest in meeting…

  16. I would love to meet you! We need to make that happen.

    I remembered that I had commented on the blog of an evangelical who had gone to BYU once before, but I didn’t know if it was yours or not until I read more of it. But yep, that was me!

  17. Well, I will do my darndest to make it happen. :) The only reason I can see for why it might not would be if the organizers of the field trip find my missiological approach to Mormons too liberal, or if they’re concerned about the fact that I’m married to a Mormon. However, I’m hoping they’ll see the presence of a BYU alumna on the TEDS campus as a huge opportunity, and I do have all kinds of connections on the BYU campus still.

  18. I bet they’ll let you go. Has that been an issue already? Did you just start there this fall?

  19. I did just start here a few weeks ago.

    When I was applying to TEDS, my admissions counselor was pretty concerned about the Mormon husband thing. He wound up asking the history faculty if they were okay with it and they all said, “If she’s comfortable with her family being here, let her come.” I was worried about it for a few days though. (So far the history faculty has been extremely fascinated by my husband and nothing but cordial with him.)

    I’ve occasionally gotten comments from more counter-cult oriented evangelicals on the Internet to the effect that my LDS husband and degree from BYU prove that I’m too much of a “compromiser” with Mormons. Stupidly fickle charges. If I had come out of BYU affirming that Mormonism is a non-Christian cult and most Mormons are hellbound, I’d be the darling of the counter-cult ministry right now and people would be cooing about how having a Mormon husband and a degree from BYU shows that I know because I deal with it every day. (See this story about a Mormon-evangelical interfaith couple wherein the husband runs his own counter-cult ministry for an example.)

    So, I never really know what I’m going to get. But so far everyone at TEDS has been pretty understanding of my family situation and background and I think there’s a good chance they’ll want me to go.

  20. Wow, fascinating article.

    I’ll be really, really interested in hearing about how your experience at TEDS develops.

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  23. I looked over something similar to your post at techcrunch… anyhow, I think car audio is normally misunderstood but has a handful of good quality manufacturers also. -Best, Kristal Reitter

  24. Pingback: Evangelikal på BYU « « Mormonlady & FriendsMormonlady & Friends

  25. 33 for God is not a God of BC)”>confusion but of m]”>[m]peace, as in BD)”>all the churches of the BE)”>saints.
    I Cor 14:33 NASB

    8 And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?
    I Cor 14:8 ESV

    K, it seems to me that the question as to the truthfulness of the LDS church and the truthfulness of the Bible are related but separate questions.

    I will grant to you and will assume, although it is not absolutely certain in every case, that you are able to critique the Bible, at least to some extent, in many of the same ways that we could critique Mormonism. At least, in several matters of history and in matters of persons going to hell forever or not, I would tend to agree with you that there are problems.

    Bridget went to BYU and met some interesting people who had interesting views on some subjects. On the subject of “interfaith” dialogue and interfaith comparison, one of her BYU professors implied that there were many different strands of theology possible among the LDS and among the evangelicals. And what we call the evangelicals is a strand within Christianity. The evangelical strand is itself divided into strands, if we are going to go by the ideas held by self-proclaimed evangelicals. There is Clark Pinnock who called himself an evangelical but who recognized the Bible had some errors and thereby upset many other evangelicals. There is Hugh Ross (Christian apologist whose tapes are or have been distributed by firefighters for Christ) and Pat Robertson who believe the universe is old. There are evangelicals who say women should not pastor and others who say they can and at times should.

    There was Dietrich Bonhoeffer (executed by the Nazis) and CS Lewis (Christian apologist) and Martin Luther who believed that the 66 Books contained errors. Most evangelicals and most Christians would be very happy to claim Bonhoeffer, Lewis and Martin Luther as their own . . . At least most are happy to claim them as their own and to omit reference to their views on Bible errors.

    Anyway, one of Bridget’s professors said about interfaith comparisons, we should compare our (LDS) best with their (EV) best or with the nonLDS best.

    Anyway, it seems to me that part of the Bible’s best is I Cor 14:33, God is not the author of confusion. You have agreed that there seems to be a problem in Jac 2 v D&C 132. OK, the evidence is that God was not the author of one, the other or both of those. There are 4 passages in the BOM in which the a writer writes poorly or contradicts himself in the space of a verse. The worst–most problematic–of these is Alma 10:5. Alma the prophet says he doesn’t know much of the ways, power and mysteries of God. In fact, he says he never has. In the next sentence, he says he has made a mistake . . .

    33 for God is not a God of confusion but of peace,
    I Cor 14:33.

    OK, would you agree that, based on I cor 14:33, God did not inspire Alma 10:5a?

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