Doctoral student reaches unreached people group in Utah
When most evangelicals think of unreached people groups, those who hold the Mormon faith typically do not enter their minds. However, Ben Sutton, a Doctor of Philosophy student with concentrations in evangelism and missions at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, quickly realized that Mormons, now known formally as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, are an unreached people group not found in some remote location around the world, but here in North America.
While working for a parachurch ministry called CRU, formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ, Sutton realized that he felt called to further his education at a seminary.
“I knew I wanted to go to seminary,” said Sutton. “I knew Southwestern was missional as well as a huge emphasis on theology, but the big emphasis on being missional.”
Sutton said that he applied to Western Seminary based in Portland, Oregon, but that his father convinced him to apply to and attend Southwestern.
“I was accepted to start at Western Seminary and was about to start my classes there, but two things pulled me away,” said Sutton. “One was that it was too expensive and Southwestern provided a much more affordable option for me, and the second was that my dad suggested Southwestern for how ‘super missionally minded’ the seminary was.”
Sutton graduated with his Master of Divinity in May of 2020. He then began pursuing his Ph.D. degree.
Sutton and his now wife, Maggie, considered where they were feeling called to serve the Lord as they both felt called to be missionaries. At the time, the Suttons were serving in the Baptist Student Ministries at the University of Texas at Arlington.
“During the dating stage of our relationship, Maggie and I decided to fast and pray about where God would lead us,” said Sutton. “She had a heart for unreached people groups, and I had a heart for the LDS people, but after some digging, we realized that unreached people and the LDS church are the same category.”
After missing one meal a day for two weeks, Sutton said that he and his wife were content with waiting for the Lord to show what His will was for their lives. After waiting for a year for the Lord to open a church position, Sutton realized that it might not be a pastoral position that he should be seeking.
While working fro the Baptist Student Ministries, the Suttons were making a living through raising support for themselves. When the couple discovered the North American Mission Board endorsed missionary program which requires raising support for living, the couple was intrigued.
“When we heard about NAMB and their endorsed missionary program, we applied,” said Sutton. “We got accepted, I got endorsed, my home church ordained me, and we started raising support. We got all the money we needed to live comfortably in Utah in three months.”
Living in Utah and sharing the Gospel with an unreached people group is a difficult thing to balance for Sutton. One reason for the difficulty is the mindset found withing the LDS people.
“The LDS faith is much more of a culture than it is a religion out here,” said Sutton. “They see evangelicals, specifically us Southern Baptists as junior varsity Christians because to them we don’t have the fully restored truth found in the Book of Mormon.”
The culture in Utah is vastly different than that of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, he noted.
“Up here, it’s difficult because you’re the minority,” said Sutton. “There are just very few evangelicals around you, so it can be very isolating at times. But at the same time, there is very sweet fellowship found with other believers.”
Sutton said that there are many people in Provo who will never meet an evangelical in their life due to the lack of evangelical presence.
“It’s insane that people in a state in the United States of America can go their entire life without meeting an evangelical, let alone a Southern Baptist,” said Sutton. “It breaks my heart for the people of Utah, and it drives me to continue to share the Gospel with them.”
Having the right strategy for evangelism is important in any context, but Sutton said that the LDS people’s thinking requires a very specific strategy.
“A lot of people think you need to tear down Mormonism or push them to see the true beliefs of Mormonism before they can become Christians, but that is not the case,” said Sutton. “When you read the New Testament, you see Paul preach about the altar of the unseen God. He does not tell them to forget about their gods, but to turn to the one true God, the creator of Heaven and earth.”
Though sharing the Gospel can be tough with an unreached people group, Sutton has seen some of the fruit of his labor within the last year.
“Over the course of the last year, we have seen five or six salvations from people within the LDS faith,” said Sutton. “Because we have been sharing the Gospel with them, they have come to faith, and it is so exciting to, as Paul said, ‘become all things to all men, so that by those means, we may save some.’ And that is what is happening here.”
One way Sutton prepares for evangelizing the LDS people in Utah is through his studies at Southwestern Seminary.
“I have learned a lot from academia, seminars, and reading, but I love that while Southwestern is academic, we are also practitioners,” said Sutton. “A lot of our staff and faculty are practitioners or have been practitioners for years before coming to teach here, and their wisdom just flows out.”
Sutton mentioned Carl Bradford as one faculty member who is actively a practitioner of evangelism while preparing students to do the same. Bradford, interim associate dean of the Roy J. Fish School of Evangelism and Missions, assistant professor of evangelism, and Malcom R. and Melba L. McDow Chair of Evangelism, is Sutton’s doctoral supervisor.
“You can’t talk about evangelism and not do it,” said Sutton. He loves that Bradford “not only teaches evangelism and leads students in Everyday Evangelism, but he is an evangelism pastor at his church and leads them in evangelism.”
Sutton said that he loves that Southwestern “not only talks the talk, but walks the walk” when it comes to evangelism.
“It has been a life-changing experience for me, and I cannot recommend Southwestern to people enough,” said Sutton. “I have loved my time at Southwestern, and finishing up my dissertation, I would not have chosen any other school besides it.”
Sutton and his wife are making a Kingdom impact by serving the people of Provo through sharing the Gospel, surrounded by people who speak the same language but are culturally an unreached people group.