Google "a different jesus" and you'll find that 7 of the first 10 links that come up on the first page are about Mormonism. Three of those link to predictable discussions either proclaiming that Mormons worship a different Jesus or arguing that Mormons worship the same Jesus as most other Christians. Four of those link to Robert L. Millet's A Different Jesus? The Christ of the Latter-day Saints (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2005), the book that ought to be a primary reference for those engaging in the discussion, but usually isn't. Along with How Wide the Divide?, it seems like the best book to give to any Christian interested in learning about LDS beliefs concerning Christ (as opposed to what critics portray LDS beliefs to be).
In the book, Millet follows the same pattern he uses in his other books treating LDS beliefs. In the introduction, he lays out what he considers the proper definition of LDS doctrine and tries to head off the usual Evangelical practice of describing LDS doctrine on the basis of a couple of 19th-century quotes from the Journal of Discourses:
[I]t is not difficult for a critic of the LDS faith to locate some extraneous statement by some leader, spoken some time in the past, a statement that would not be part of the doctrine of the Church today. In the spirit of fairness, it would probably not be difficult to locate a few statements by such beloved spokespersons as Martin Luther, John Calvin, Billy Sunday, D. L. Moody, Billy Graham, or John Stott that would not necessarily represent the majority view on evangelical doctrine. The "doctrine of the Church" today for the Latter-day Saints has a rather narrow focus and direction — it would be found in official Church pronouncements, within current Church manuals and handbooks, and would be a topic discussed regularly in General Conference or other official Church gatherings. (p. xiv.)
Of course, the spirit of fairness rarely characterizes Evangelical discussions of Mormonism or LDS doctrine. It's not clear why this is the case: certainly one can fairly describe Catholic belief or Anglican belief or Jewish belief but still disagree pointedly with the faith claims and commitments of Catholics, Anglicans, and Jews. Why do different rules apply to Mormonism? Perhaps they don't. Perhaps Evangelicals mischaracterize Catholicism, Anglicanism, and Judaism as frequently and as egregiously as they mischaracterize Mormonism.
Of course, reading Millet's book might be just a little confusing for some Mormons whose familiarity with Mormonism is limited to sacrament meeting talks, Sunday School discussions, and occasional forays into the Book of Mormon. Millet's views result from an LDS scholar's careful consideration of current official LDS doctrine (see the above definition thereof) as contrasted with former LDS doctrine that is no longer affirmed and as contrasted with LDS folk doctrine that, technically, is not and never was accepted as official LDS doctrine. Those are the sort of distinctions that most LDS, including teachers and even some leaders, have not ever bothered to make. That confusion is perhaps understandable given the absence of any reliable procedure for promulgating or identifying "official LDS doctrine." Still, Millet's narrow definition is a step in the right direction. It is unfair to cull a few 19th-century quotes and represent them as "Mormon doctrine" when that procedure is not used to represent the doctrine or beliefs of any other denomination.
So why did I say in the opening paragraph that this is the book that ought to be a primary reference for those debating the issue of a "different Jesus" for Mormonism or (to use different terminology for what is essentially the same issue) whether Mormons are Christians? Besides being authored by Millet, an LDS scholar who has taken a special interest in LDS interfaith outreach, the book is published by an established and respected Christian publishing house (Eerdmans) and has both a foreword and an afterword by Richard J. Mouw, an established and respected Evangelical scholar. The book is written primarily for Christian but non-LDS readers. Like Millet, Mouw engages in interfaith outreach, which unlike Millet wins him no praise from his fellow believers, as Mouw notes in the afterword:
On several occasions I have called publicly for evangelical Christians to tone down the rhetoric in order to take a fresh and honest look at what Mormons really believe. And each time I have received angry responses from evangelicals who see me as calling for ungodly compromise with a religion that is fundamentally and unalterably opposed to biblical Christianity. (p. 178.)
That sort of sums up the problem, doesn't it? As I have said a number of times, the "Mormon problem" is largely an Evangelical problem. The inability of any Evangelical candidate in the ongoing Republican nominating race to connect with the general electorate or to survive more than a few weeks in the media spotlight is another aspect of that problem: Evangelicals don't quite live in the real world. Millet's book is an admirable if largely unappreciated attempt to pierce the Evangelical veil and attach some reality to their view of Mormonism. Scoring sectarian points by misrepresenting the beliefs of your religious rivals is not, after all, a viable long-term strategy. In the end it discredits those who employ it.
I'll close with another quotation from the afterword by Richard J. Mouw. He makes two points that seem terribly relevant for both LDS and Evangelical readers:
There are two general points that I want to be very clear about here. One is that I am no closer to accepting the historical claims of Mormonism than I was the night [in the 1950s] that I listened to Walter Martin make the case against Mormon teachings. ...
The second point is that I have absolutely no suspicions that my friend Bob Millet is deceiving us in this book about his own deepest convictions. This has to be said, because many of my fellow Christians view the things that Mormons say with much cynicism about what they "really" mean. The most common charges along these lines are that LDS leaders are so eager to be accepted as a mainstream religion that they are deliberately misleading us about their actual beliefs and that when Mormons utter Christian-sounding words, such as that "Jesus died for our sins," they are using the words in very different ways than do we in the Christian tradition. (p. 179-80.)