What can traditional Christians learn from Latter-day Saints? This provocative question receives rigorous consideration in a book titled Mormon Christianity by Stephen H. Webb. Webb—a formerly evangelical, now Roman Catholic scholar—advances an ongoing dialogue between historic Christianity and Mormonism, which has been building momentum for several years. (Three other volumes involving scholars with a connection to evangelicalism that stand out in this regard are How Wide the Divide? A Mormon & an Evangelical in Conversation by Craig L. Blomberg and Stephen E. Robinson (1997), Claiming Christ: A Mormon-Evangelical Debate by Robert L. Millet and Gerald R. McDermott (2007), and Talking with Mormons: An Invitation to Evangelicals, by Richard J. Mouw (2012).)
According to Webb, the Mormon moment generated by Mitt Romney's presidential campaign opened up the door to a longer-term interest in Mormonism, a phenomenon he refers to as "Mormon Ecumenism." Webb hopes that fresh consideration of Mormonism will provide a helpful challenge to many Christian minds and imaginations.
The distinctive feature of Webb's ecumenical effort is his emphasis on metaphysics (meaning "big ideas"). Webb's thesis is that "Mormons have an original, fascinating, and provocative metaphysics." What is so provocative—and appealing—about Mormon metaphysics? It is the notion of God's eternal-material embodiment. As he writes near the outset of the volume, "Much of this book is nothing more than an attempt to take seriously the possibility that God has a form or shape that is something like what we call a body." For Webb, this perspective bears on the whole range of Mormon thought and practice.
Mormon metaphysics is challenging in that it flies in the face of traditional Christian teaching, which rejects the notion that God is embodied. According to historic Christianity, God is pure immaterial spirit by nature. Mormon metaphysics appeals to Webb in many ways. In his estimation, it helps Christians address modern atheism's belief that matter is all there is and presents Christian faith claims more cogently than key tenets of classical theism.
Webb claims that "Mormonism can address directly and sympathetically the question of materialism that lies at the heart of modern atheism." For the Latter-day Saints, matter is "the very stuff of the divine." Against the claim that everything can be reduced to materiality—and that God and the soul as spiritual entities do not, therefore, exist— Mormonism holds to a metaphysic wherein all reality, including spirit, is material, including God and the soul. Webb believes Mormonism removes all dualisms between this world and the one to come—and the world in which we are said to have existed previously in a pre-mortal life (Mormons have a doctrine of the soul's "preexistence").
Webb also maintains that the Mormon belief in an embodied God gives us better grounds for understanding Jesus' humanity than traditional Christianity, which asserts both that God is outside space and time and that Jesus is identical in nature with the Father. "Indeed," he argues, "no other theology has ever managed to capture the essential sameness of Jesus with us in a more striking manner."