From Baptist Minister to Latter-day Saint Elder


Bryan Ready

Bryan Ready ( served as a Southern Baptist pastor in Illinois from 2001 to 2015 and was baptized as a Latter-day Saint in June 2016. He previously served as a Southern Baptist youth/music minister at various churches in Illinois and Kentucky from 1990 to 2000. He has a master of theology (ThM) and a master of divinity (MDiv) from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Following is a shortened transcript of his presentation to the BYU Religious Education faculty on 2 March 2018.

My seminal religious event took place when I was fourteen. I had grown up in a nominally Christian home, and I was invited to attend a Southern Baptist church. The very first service, the pastor preached on Jesus. He talked about how Jesus had died for us and how we needed to repent of our sins and commit our life to Christ. That sounded like a reasonable proposition to me as a fourteen-year-old. So I prayed. There were no whistles or bells or anything spectacular, but God really grabbed hold of my life at that moment.

Shortly thereafter, by coincidence or other means, I developed a very strong interest in the history and theology of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There were reasons for that. I had classmates that were Latter-day Saint and so forth. I began to study it in depth. I read anti-Mormon stuff, as you can imagine, and I read Jesus the Christ and Articles of Faith by James Talmage. By the time I got to graduate school, I had already felt God calling me to the ministry, and I had begun serving as a minister of youth activities and a music director. By the time I got to graduate school—or seminary, as Baptists refer to it—I was an intense student of the faith. Just about every paper that I wrote in school had something to do with the Latter-day Saint faith or theology. The very first chapel service I attended was about a past president of the seminary, who had written an unpublished manuscript on the life of Sidney Rigdon. I eventually did my master’s thesis on that.

My study of Mormonism led many to ask, “Why are you so interested in Mormonism?” I replied “Why do you like to collect baseball cards?” It started out as just a weird hobby, but it wouldn’t leave me alone. I could put it on a shelf for a time, but it kept coming back. I became frustrated because I was spending more time studying Latter-day Saint theology than Baptist theology. I was thinking, “Why am I so interested in this? Why is this such an appeal to me?”

Some Latter-day Saint missionaries came to my door once in a while, and most of the time I would smile, welcome them in, and we would have a nice little bash. [laughter] But one time they asked, “Is there anything we could teach you?” and I first answered, “Not really.” But then it dawned on me: “Yes, there’s one thing. I have been fascinated with this church for twenty-five years. . . . Why am I so obsessed with this faith?” So I started meeting with different missionaries on and off for about five years.

One of the big hurdles was that some family members thought I was crazy, and they still think I’m crazy. I was in a full-time pastorate, and I had to find a full-time job. But one of the biggest hurdles was I had some fairly significant theological convictions which at face value seem contrary to a lot of what the Church teaches. Joseph Smith and President Gordon B. Hinckley said things like “Bring all the good that you have and let us see if we can add to it.” Could I bring my theological convictions, and still be a faithful member of the Church?

I needed help. So, I wrote to Dr. Robert Millet to see if he could talk, and he said, “My schedule is a little full right now, but I’ve got this other guy over here that could talk to you.” [laughter] So Shon Hopkin and I began a dialogue that lasted about four years. I wanted someone to bounce some theological ideas off of. Missionaries are great, but you can’t really talk about soteriology or eschatology with missionaries without getting a blank look in response. [laughter] So Shon and I bantered back and forth for several years, and eventually he was coming up to St. Louis, and I said, “You might want to bring some white clothes with you.” He asked why, and I responded, “What do you usually wear white clothes for?” He said, “Are you serious?” He ended up baptizing me.

So the two theological areas that were a bit of a challenge to reconcile were soteriology, or salvation, and the Trinity. Two books have been written with professors of this institution: How Wide the Divide and Bridging the Divide. Those are excellent books. I still use Bridging the Divide anytime somebody wants to know why I got interested in Mormonism or why it’s so important. The divide between Baptists and Mormons is not very wide in my mind. But where the divide exists, it’s deep. I don’t know how many times Baptists and Mormons have sat together and debated the whole faith versus works thing. We tend to talk around each other. Baptists tend to view salvation as a past event, while Latter-day Saints tend to view it as a future event. Paul talks about you are saved, you’re being saved, and you will be saved. We start to realize that it’s not an event as much as it’s a process; then we see we’re not as far apart as we think we are. Regarding grace, Baptists tend to emphasize grace as God’s unmerited favor, whereas Latter-day Saints look at it as God’s enabling power. At face value, they seem to be conflicting definitions, but really they’re just dimensions of the same salvation process, kind of like the blind men touching different parts of the elephant.

Baptist theologians tend to break down the process of salvation into justification, sanctification, and glorification. Justification is when you commit your life to Christ, you repent of your sins, and you commit your life to Christ. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves. . . . Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9). Baptists see no room for works in justification, and they see it completely as a work of God that is effected to us through God’s grace, or God’s unmerited favor. Now some might say, What about the work of repentance? What about the work of the commitment that you have to make, the response that you have to make? I don’t have time to debate that. Even if you want to consider those as works, they are simply a response to what God has already done. If you are repenting of your sins, you are responding to the conviction of the Holy Spirit. If you are committing your life to him, you are responding to his invitation to come. So even those works in and of themselves are a mere response to what God has already done in your life. That’s justification. When Baptists tell you they are saved, they are talking about justification.

Now, what about the other two dimensions—sanctification and glorification? Sanctification is the process of becoming like Christ, or our spiritual growth as we live through our lives and do what God has called us to do. Ephesians 2:10 says we are created by God to do his works. The purpose of your salvation is to do works, so Baptists certainly believe that our works play a role in our sanctification. Jesus talks about the gift of the talents. He says, I am the vine. You are the branches. If you don’t bear fruit, you are going to be cut off. Baptists certainly believe that works play a role in our sanctification, and that’s where that that other aspect of grace comes in, which is God’s enabling power. Baptists would admit that we can’t do what God wants us to do unless he gives us the power and the ability to do it. Then glorification—the Bible is very clear that we will be rewarded for our works and that our rewards will be based on our works. The late Billy Graham once said that he believed that there would be other people closer to the throne of God than he was because he received some of his recognition here on earth. So we certainly believe that works play a role in our glorification; we will be rewarded based upon the works that we did. Again, in justification, it is just God’s unmerited favor, there are no works except for repentance or the commitment. In sanctification and glorification, God’s enabling power and works certainly play a role.

It’s very interesting to me that the same verses that Baptists use to support the Trinity, Latter-day Saints use to say the Trinity isn’t real. The most famous one is the baptism of Christ. Baptists point out that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are all there, so it’s a trinity. Mormons say you’ve got God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit—they’re three separate persons, and they’re all there. There’s a lot of confusion. So here’s how I’ve reconciled these things. Number one, let me give you an illustration of how I understood the Trinity as a Baptist, and as one that came out of a Baptist theologial graduate school. Picture in your mind’s eye the earth. Watch it rotate, and you see the oceans. Let’s focus on the Atlantic, the Pacific, and the Indian. That Atlantic is not the Pacific. The Indian is not the Atlantic. They inhabit different geographical spaces. They have different ecosystems, different animals, different flora and fauna. They’re three very different oceans, but you can’t tell where one stops and another starts. That was the illustration of the Trinity that I used as a pastor.

Now, is there any way that that can mesh with the LDS concept of God the Father, especially God the Father being a corporeal being and what Joseph Smith experienced in the Sacred Grove? Well, if Jesus is a corporeal being and he can be a member of the Trinity, there’s no reason that God the Father, if he’s a corporeal being, couldn’t also be a member of the Trinity. The question is, is God the Father merely a corporeal being, or does he also have a spirit? And we would agree that he has a spirit just as the Son does, and obviously the Holy Spirit. Then is it possible that in some way God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are connected ontologically and metaphysically? Now, think about some of the earthly examples that we have. Biological twins have a connection that’s very unique, a connection that no one else can experience unless he or she is a twin. Twins know each other’s thoughts. They have a similar intuition and so forth. Think about a couple who have been married for many years. There is a spiritual oneness that comes to them where they can finish each other’s sentences and they know what each other is thinking. So if those things can exist on earth, is it possible that something to the next degree could exist in heaven? . . . Is it possible that the matter which makes up the spirits of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit are knitted together? Are they connected in some ontological way that goes beyond and is more tangible than simply being one in purpose? And that’s how I brought my Trinitarianism into my LDS faith.