Martin E. Marty opens his brief foreword to this extensive volume with the question “Why bother?” Why bother writing a book comparing conventional Christian doctrines with Latter-day Saint beliefs when “those who are curious about religion . . . are likely to be busy readers, who have to budget the time” they can devote to a volume like this? (vii). One potential answer is that Latter-day Saint scholars, having studied Christian theology at “Harvard or other graduate schools” while their colleagues in turn know little about Mormon theology, are in a certain kind of “responsive-defensive mode”; hence, a book comprised of dialogues comes naturally.
This project originated when David Paulsen was appointed to hold the Richard L. Evans Chair of Religious Understanding at Brigham Young University (1994–98), a position set aside for “increasing mutual understanding . . . between Latter-day Saints and other Christians.” Likewise, the preface clearly sets the aim of the book as being “to foster conversations between Latter-day Saints and others in the Christian world.” What might appear to traditional Christians as a “responsive-defensive” act by Latter-day Saints could, however, just as easily be viewed as a proselytizing move; holders of the Evans Chair could be seen as merely intellectual missionaries. It is far more important in my opinion, however, to think of people like David Paulsen as individuals whose native faith, lifelong reflection, and sense of charity prompt them to “foster conversations” with others who share similar interests in the nature of life and God and the philosophical theology of religion but who differ on the radical issue of Joseph Smith as a prophet of a restored religion.