One persistent criticism that I have heard Evangelicals level at Mormons is that we do not believe in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That argument is based on a BYU devotional given by Bruce R. McConkie where he denounced a then prevalent philosophy among the BYU faculty focused on developing special closeness to the savior at the expense of other members of the Godhead. Some have taken this talk to mean that Mormon's cannot draw close to Christ. That is of course utter nonsense. As Elder McConkie himself said during his devotional:
Now I sincerely hope that no one will imagine that I have in the slightest degree downgraded the Lord Jesus in the scheme of things. I have not done so. As far as I know there is not a man on earth who thinks more highly of him than I do. It just may be that I have preached more sermons, taught more doctrine, and written more words about the Lord Jesus Christ than any other man now living. I have ten large volumes in print, seven of which deal almost entirely with Christ, and the other three with him and his doctrines.
In October 1976, a few years before Elder McConkie's devotional, Elder James Faust, then a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy spoke about developing a personal relationship with the savior in moving and powerful terms. Some might see his remarks as contrary to Elder McConkie's speech, but I see them as wholly compatible.
There is a great humility and timidity in my soul as I presume to speak about coming to a personal knowledge of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of the world and the Son of God.
Recently in South America, a seasoned group of outstanding missionaries was asked, “What is the greatest need in the world?” One wisely responded: “Is not the greatest need in all of the world for every person to have a personal, ongoing, daily, continuing relationship with the Savior?” Having such a relationship can unchain the divinity within us, and nothing can make a greater difference in our lives as we come to know and understand our divine relationship with God.
We should earnestly seek not just to know about the Master, but to strive, as He invited, to be one with Him (see John 17:21), to “be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man” (Eph. 3:16). We may not feel a closeness with Him because we think of Him as being far away, or our relationship may not be sanctifying because we do not think of Him as a real person.
President Faust spoke of the need to truly come to know Christ because knowing him will "unchain the divinity within us. And as we come to know about Christ, and feel of his love we also come to know our father in Heaven. This is the pattern of the Gospel. We learn of him and are then transformed by him.
Interestingly, President Faust's message was reprinted in the Ensign in 1999 with a slightly different focus on coming to know Jesus Christ AND Heavenly Father.
Critics might suggest that this was a white wash of President Faust's talk in light of Elder McConkie's criticism. But I rather see that President Faust's decades of service made it even more clear to him that our relationship with God and our relationship with Christ are inexorably intertwined.
Or perhaps it is true that Elder McConkie's words influenced others to avoid using the "personal relationship with Christ" language. Nevertheless, the message is the same and in complete harmony. Come to know God and know the Savior because your eternal life depends on it.