What Are We Doing Here?

I was recently asked

Tim, please correct me if I have misunderstood you. It seems to me that you have already completed your evaluation of Mormonism and have concluded that Joseph Smith is a false prophet and that teachings in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are false. You have held up Mormonism to the standard of scriptures and you believe it does not comply with what you know to be true about the nature of God and Jesus. I feel that you have made your position clear about that in this thread and on other posts.

My question is, with this understanding, what kind of communication do you hope to have with Latter-day Saints who participate on the blog?

I have to admit that this question made me pause for a second. Not because it stumped me. I do have at least a rough idea of what I’m after. But how to articulate it?

I’m definitely not interested in any sort of Kumbaya-let’s-all-get-together-and-celebrate-our-differences forum. I’m also not asking anyone to convince me that Mormonism is true. Nor do I think I have much hope via blogging of leading someone through the four spiritual laws, the sinner’s prayer and resignation from the LDS church. I do in fact think Joseph Smith is a false prophet. But quite intentionally, I spend very little time pointing out what I perceive as his moral failings or the historical problems with his institution. I rarely mention the differences between faith-promoting and the actual descriptions of popular Mormon lore.

So what do I hope to happen through this blog? Iron sharpening iron is often a violent act. I recognize that my personality type is not common in our society. But I like to have my thoughts and ideas challenged. I also enjoy challenging the thoughts and ideas of other people. I find these challenges to be a sort of refiner’s fire for poor thinking and shoddy reasoning. They also strip away inaccuracies and distortions pretty effectively. Both sides have a number of popular straw men set up against the other which need to be debunked so that the real issues can be discussed. I find a valuable education (and at times edification) in these interactions.

I want my thoughts on Mormonism to be challenged. I want Mormon thoughts on Mormonism to be challenged. I want my thoughts on Evangelicalism to be challenged. I want Mormon thoughts on Evangelicalism to be challenged. Our faiths appear quite similar on the outside but their core principles offer so many contradictions. I wish to explore those differences and see which can be modified, stretched or amended and which are off limits.

To make the whole thing even more difficult, I want to learn to disagree with Mormons in a way that my discipleship under Jesus can’t be questioned by anyone. I want to find a way to “violently” disagree, to what I believe to be falsehood, that still leaves Mormons interested in me and my presentation of Jesus. At times I think I succeed, there are many other times in which I do not.

I spent a good amount of time on a Mormon message board. Ultimately I found it too combative and too aggressive, so I left. I started this blog because of a conversation I had with a Mormon that led me to believe a more civil and respectful tone could be reached by both sides. I hope the readers and commentators of this blog can agree.

And most certainly, not all of the conversations here are duels. Nor should they be. There is much we agree on and much that can be celebrated (but let’s be honest, that’s not as much fun). :)

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20 thoughts on “What Are We Doing Here?

  1. As to “why aren’t there more Evangelicals here?” I agree that it would be better if there were more Evangelicals commenting on this blog. (I also think it would be much better if a Mormon were co-authoring.) But despite the Mormon perception that all Evangelicals are out to get them, Mormonism just isn’t that high on the radar of most Evangelicals.

    It takes a great deal of work to accurately understand and discuss our differences (particulary when the bulk of Evangelical education on Mormonism is “The God Makers”.) I think it’s reasonable, out of respect, that an Evangelical should at least have read the Book of Mormon if they wish to get into serious conversation about Mormonism. How many Mormons have done that much less Evangelicals?

  2. Tim, thanks for your reply. I’m going to restate your goals and then please let me know if I have accurately characterized them, and if I haven’t please help me out. It seems to me that you hope to use this blog as a place to test out various arguments against Mormonism. Through a back and discussion you hope the blog has an educative value by challenging the thoughts of people back and forth. However, one sharpens the saw for a reason. What is that reason? What results do you hope to achieve other than sharpening your skills? In other words, what is the ultimate goal of having these sharpened skills? What do you want to use them for?

    One of the problems I see is that you have this goal of improving “reasoning” on both sides. But what are the criteria of solid reasoning? What are the criteria of valid reasoning when discussing these issues? Is it possible for both sides to have solid and logical “reasoning” while remaining faithful to their respective faith traditions? Many times, I simply do not think that this is allowed. In other words, the rules of the game are set up so that no one will ever allow another person to have solid reasoning and remain a member of a different faith. That simply isn’t a useful way to approach the issue. So, while I understand that debate and apologetics serves an educative value, is this all? “A discussion of differences and similarities between Mormonism and Evangelical Christianity” and for what purpose?

    Another thing you have said is that you hope to learn to disagree with Mormons so that they won’t question your discipleship with Christ. This is a very telling statement. Clearly, you feel it isn’t enough to simply disagree with someone. We can all do this, it comes quite naturally. However, your question is how can one disagree and be perceived as still following Christ? In my view, when it gets personal like this, if a person is judging your personal relationship with Christ, then sometimes it isn’t worth having a discussion with them. I am an advocate for dialogue, but that doesn’t mean one must dialogue with anyone who comes to you. For me the better question is “How can I convey my perspective in a way which will be understood and appreciated by the person with whom I am speaking?” For me, I would much rather have someone say, “You know, I don’t share that same view point, but I think I better understand the reasons why you have that view, I can see how that makes sense, and I’m beginning to see the advantages and beauties of such a perspective.” And by this, I don’t mean secretly thinking, “Well, the reason you have this view is because you are ignorant or deceived.”

    There is a time, and perhaps we have all experienced this, where we have an Evangelical who has studied their faith and lived it and has a strong conviction and likewise a Latter-day Saint who has studied their faith and lived it and has a strong conviction. In addition, suppose these two individuals engage in communication and quickly learn that neither side is going to convert the other side. When that time comes, what do you do? Either you simply walk away and stop talking to each other, or you continue to engage in communication. But that kind of communication? What is the best kind of communication to engage in? Does it make sense to continually try to say to the other “How on earth can you believe this? Don’t you see how flawed this is?” Is this the most optimal kind of discussion? Or, is the only reason to engage in discussion with these individuals is so we can sharpen our skills and then later move on to someone else who is more vulnerable with our enhanced skills?

    One of things about apologetic argumentation is that it is all about testing a weapon. You stumble upon a certain argument and then you have to try it out, you test it on someone (it doesn’t really matter who) and see how much damage it does. If it isn’t doing as much damage as you would like, you dig around in your arsenal and find another weapon. It always seems like such a devastating argument, but then you realize it doesn’t necessarily have the effect you think it should. I haven’t seen many people change their faith because of a debate or argument. That isn’t to say it doesn’t happen, but I’ve never seen this happen.

    When I have looked at the kinds of posts you have chosen since the creation of the blog, it seems to me to indicate that you desire Latter-day Saints to leave the Church and, it seems to me that you hope to do this by showing Latter-day Saints defects in their belief and in the institutional Church. I may be wrong but I am simply giving you my perception. For example, you have posted comments by leavers of the Church (deconversion testimonies) about their laments and concerns. You have posted concerns about the epistemological validity of Moroni’s challenge, about the validity of Temples, even posted Catholic critiques of Mormonism. Have you found these discussions to be fruitful? Are they achieving your goals? What goals and methods you choose are obviously up to you, I simply want to clarify my understanding.

  3. Hi Aquinas,

    I think there is something fundamental to both Evangelicals and Mormons that will be difficult to get around. They are both interested in making converts. The very term I use to identify myself expresses the emphasis I place on evangelism. I do not think that Mormon and Evangelical difference are insignificant. I believe Mormons would be better off being Evangelicals. I pretty sure Mormons believe I would be better off being a Mormon (the church wouldn’t continue to send missionaries to my door if they did not). I do not recognize Mormon baptism. The LDS church does not recognize my baptism, until the time in which we think we’re both part of the same universal church I doubt there will be a time when Mormons and Evangelicals are not trying to convince the other to jump back in the water.

    Craig Blomberg recently said on another blog:

    I observe that in the semiannual gatherings of an informal group of Evangelical and LDS scholars, slightly fluctuating in terms of who participates but with several of us who have been in since the beginning, there is no topic or doctrinal passion that is off limits and there has been no lack of evangelistic conversation on both sides.

    I take it from your own blog that you admire these gatherings or at the very least admire some of the participants. Quite frankly, I am envious that I can not sit in on these gatherings. The blog is somewhat of my hope to bring the same sort of conversations to those of us Evangelicals and LDS who are not in the Academy. If no topic or doctrinal passion is off limits there, why should it be here? If no lack of evangelistic effort is present there, why should it be here?

    You said:
    Another thing you have said is that you hope to learn to disagree with Mormons so that they won’t question your discipleship with Christ. This is a very telling statement.

    In making that statement I was making reference to a common LDS complaint that Evangelicals can not seem to encounter Mormons in what they would consider a Christ-like manner. Clearly Jesus disagreed with many over religious issues. I think he clearly illustrates that it is possible to state your disagreements without sinning. I agree that if a person can not righteously disagree, they perhaps should consider a different way to communicate.

    You go on to say:
    For example, you have posted comments by leavers of the Church (deconversion testimonies) about their laments and concerns. You have posted concerns about the epistemological validity of Moroni’s challenge, about the validity of Temples, even posted Catholic critiques of Mormonism.

    Yes, in the 15 months I have written on this blog I have posted perhaps 3 articles by ex-mormons. I posted them because I thought they reinforced an Evangelical perception of Mormons and wanted a faithful counterpoint to them. I’ve given a critical view of some of those same ex-mormons.

    I have often posted about Mormon and Evangelical epistimology because it is clearly a major difference between the two groups.

    I did indeed post some videos of Catholic critiques of Mormonism. When I began posting my “Me & Mormons” series I discovered, to my surprise, how interested Mormons were to everyday Evangelical perceptions of Mormonism. So in that same vein I directed people to a location of Catholic views of Mormonism. Not because I thought they were effective arguments for deconstructing Mormonism (they weren’t) but because I thought they were interesting.

    You failed to mention that I also have posted several critiques of Anti-Mormon campaigns and offered my criticism of Evangelical apologist who wish to keep the “old way” of discussing differences with Mormons. I’ve discouraged the use of the word “cult”. I’ve also directed people to a sneak peak of LDS marketing materials and major LDS press releases.

    Have you found these discussions to be fruitful?
    Yes. If for nothing more that to illustrate to a number of non-posting Evangelicals that there can be a different way to talk to Mormons than what they’ve been taught in the past.

  4. I do not recognize Mormon baptism.

    Out of curiosity, why not? Mormons baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

    Do you even believe in the necessity of baptism?

  5. Tim said: “I think there is something fundamental to both Evangelicals and Mormons that will be difficult to get around. They are both interested in making converts.

    But there is an imbalance.

    From the evangelical point of view (or, to be more precise, from one common evangelical point of view), if I don’t believe in the “correct” God, even if I am doing my best to follow the teachings of Jesus and the Bible, the risk I take is that I will burn in hell for eternity.

    From the LDS point of view (or, to be more precise, my understanding of LDS teaching), if you sincerely live a life in which you are attempting to understand who Jesus is and are seeking to become more like Christ by following his example (as many, many evangelicals do), but don’t accept the teachings of the LDS church because it doesn’t make sense to you, the risk you take is that you will end up at a place that is pretty much like heaven as evangelicals understand the term.

    What this has to do with the discussion, I’m not really sure. But it may explain a little bit about why people approach these conversations in different ways.

    Seth R. asked: “… what are the “Four Spiritual Laws?”

    Once upon a time, I had these close to memorized:

    1. God loves you and offers a wonderful plan for your life.

    2. Man is sinful and separated from God. Thus he cannot know and experience God’s love and plan for his life.

    3. Jesus Christ is God’s only provision for man’s sin. Through Him you can know and experience God’s love and plan for your life.

    4. We must individually receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; then we can know and experience God’s love and plan for our lives.

    Sounds to me like a good introduction to the Gospel. I don’t see anything in there I’d disagree with.

    I’m pretty sure that these were developed by Campus Crusade for Christ, an evangelical organization. They are used in many, many evangelical churches and have been put into tracts and various other evangelical materials. I’m not sure how much they’re used now, but, say, 20 years ago, you couldn’t go in an evangelical church without seeing Four Spiritual Laws tracts available for the taking somewhere in the narthex.

  6. Strangely my explanation of the Four Spiritual Laws didn’t show up.

    Asking an Evangelical “what are the four spiritual laws” is a bit like asking a Mormon “do you think I could talk to your missionaries sometime?” I told my wife that you had asked that question and her eyes lit up (the same reaction would be true of most EVs).

    Here is an online presentation of them. It takes 2 minutes to review: http://www.godlovestheworld.com/

    It is a very popular evangelism tool (and for some reason I have never once used it).

  7. I do not recognize Mormon baptism.

    Out of curiosity, why not? Mormons baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

    Do you even believe in the necessity of baptism?

    Wow, there’s about 8 issues in there that I don’t know I want to hijack this thread with. But short answer, I don’t think the LDS church is a Christian church. I don’t think the dunking a person gets by a LDS missionary does squat for them in and of itself.

    But I’m satisfied that there will be Mormons in heaven with nothing but a baptism in an LDS ward. I think a baptism of the heart is more important than the physical act in the water.

  8. Tim said: “I don’t think the dunking a person gets by a LDS missionary does squat for them in and of itself. … I think a baptism of the heart is more important than the physical act in the water.

    Actually, I agree with both of those statements.

    I do believe that baptism by priesthood authority is esssential. But without conversion it accomplishes absolutely nothing.

  9. Wait, Tim.

    You’re an Evangelical Protestant, right? Do you even believe that baptism is necessary for salvation? Evangelicals generally don’t. If not, why does the validity of Mormon baptism even matter? Christian salvation–especially the Protestant kind–is entirely on the merits of Jesus, so it’s not even like baptism gives you a little boost or something. So why bother with nonessentials?

    And even if you do believe baptism is important, you’re still a Protestant, and Protestants (except for maybe weird fence-straddling Catholiprotestant Anglicans) are supposed to believe that priesthood authority is in the hands of all believers, right?

    So what if the person performing the baptism was a Mormon, but happened to also be a true follower of Christ–yes, in error because he’s in a weird church that teaches heretical beliefs, but lots of true believers in Christ are probably in error on one thing or another, so how do you draw the line?–would a baptism he performs in the name of the Fathe,r the Son, and the holy Ghost be valid?

    I mean, Jesus commanded the apostles to baptize all nations in the name of the Fathersonandholyghost but he didn;t say they had tobe thinking the right thing when they did it or that they couldn;t be in a heretical organization when they did it or it wouldn;t be valid.

    So if someone who believes in salvation by Grace but is a Mormon noetheless, say Steven Robinson, let’s say Steven Robinson performs a baptism, shouldn;t it be valid?

    Or what if the person being baptized is in fact a believer in Jesus, despite their simultaneous intention to join the Mormon Church? Does that mater? Do both baptizor and baptizee have to be Real Christians(TM) for it to be valid?

    And again, why does this even matter ot a Protestant who theoretically shouldn;t believe in the necessity of baptism anyway?

  10. Like I said. Hijack.

    You’ve pretty much got my beliefs right. I think the person who’s performing the baptism doesn’t even have to be a Christian. Anton LeVey could be doing it, and if the person being baptized is being transformed (for Christ) I think it’s valid.

    I think baptism is important, but not for salvation.

  11. No need. I can get it later. Why don’t you hedge your bets and join an church in orthodoxy?

    Because orthodox Protestantism doesn’t require membership in a church for salvation.

  12. Tim, I appreciate you taking the time to respond to my comments. Let me begin by agreeing with you that both Latter-day Saints and Evangelicals take the Lord’s commandment to go forth and preach the Gospel very seriously. However, where we might differ in our perspectives is that I don’t see this as an inevitable barrier to effective dialogue and communication.

    I posted this quote from Blomberg on my site, but I think it is applicable here. He writes:

    But I admit I do dream of an apologetic blogsite somewhere, and of Christians who would post on it, where the goal was not to see how many wrong ideas one could combat, and/or to attack others…but that really worked hard on using the most winsome, loving, empathetic kind of address, while still employing the most rigorous intellectual engagement possible. Until someone does that, and I haven’t discovered it yet, we may win a few isolated malcontents from other worldviews, but we will continue to convince the vast majority of non-Christians to want nothing to do with our faith and thus indirectly contribute to leaving most of them, if not confirming them in their convictions, squarely on their way to hell.

    I don’t see Blomberg relinquishing his desire for evangelism. Rather, I see this concern is motivating his desire for a more “winsome, loving, empathetic” kind of communication which doesn’t end up being responsible for “indirectly contributing” to pushing people away from Christianity.

    When Paul Owen was challenged for his dialogues with the Latter-day Saints he responded:

    There is nothing to be lost in advocating an open-minded approach to dialogue with the Mormon people. We need to be exposed to the breadth of theological vision which is possible within Mormonism. We need to encourage influential Mormon thinkers like Robert Millet to take steps in the direction of sound biblical and ecumenical Christian orthodoxy. We need to praise any attempts they might make to move in the right direction. Such dialogues of course, are not themselves truly ecumenical in nature (as is Roman Catholic/Protestant dialogue); rather they are evangelistic and inter-religious in nature (along the lines of Acts 17:16 ff.). May God continue to use such conversations, as those which are being promoted by good and godly men (like Mouw and Blomberg), to bring the Mormon people to a greater exposure to the light of historic Christian religion.

    I’m not offended in the least by statements like this from Blomberg and Owen simply because they are motivated by an evangelistic desire. In fact, I am much more willing to listen to these individuals, and others who take the time to engage with Latter-day Saints in a responsible and civil manner. I greatly respect anyone who takes the time and effort to give Mormonism a respectful and charitable reading. Given the Evangelical and Latter-day Saint commitment to the Lord’s great commission, no one should be offended with having the Good News delievered to them.

    One of the real challenges I’ve observed is that often Evangelicals are simply notpreaching the Good News to the Latter-day Saints. Rather, they devote years to preaching the “bad news” of Mormonism to Mormons. Rather than having the goal to draw the Latter-day Saints closer to Christ, their goal is to push the Latter-day Saints further from the Church by using various approaches. Proof-texts are thrown around, and time is spent trying to prove to the Mormon how horrible her religion is, how ugly it is, and oppressive it must be, etc., and I don’t think this is effective at all from a Latter-day Saint perspective or from any other faith perspective. Indeed, there are serious misgivings as to whether this approach has a positive effective on any of the new religious movements. Time and again I have observed that it has the complete opposite effect. In the words of Blomberg, it merely “convince[s] the vast majority of non-Christians to want nothing to do with our faith and thus indirectly contribute[s] to leaving most of them, if not confirming them in their convictions, squarely on their way to hell.”

    To reiterate, I don’t think the desire to evangelize is a problem or barrier, if anything it could be a wonderful strength. Rather, it comes down to the approach. The problem is not that Christians desire to take the Gospel to the Latter-day Saints. The problem I see is with the methods used to try and achieve this goal. It seems that for many Evangelical apologists the only thing that will satisfy them is for a Latter-day Saint to either leave the Church or publicly renounce teachings of their prophets. This simply isn’t an effective way to engage with faithful latter-day Saints, other than effectively closing the lines of communication. Part of my comment was to seek clarification of your goals and method. In other words, given an evangelistic context, what do you feel are the best methods to engage the Latter-day Saints? My own view is that I think there should be more emphasis on dialogue and progress which can be made without demanding a Latter-day Saint reject their entire belief system wholesale.

    In your inaugural post two years ago you wrote, “We’re going to try something new here. Hopefully you’ll see some productive and edifying conversations.” You are right that I have not mentioned some of the posts that I have appreciated, and would like to point out that I have appreciated your coverage on many of these issues.

  13. I guess as a threshold matter, I’m just happy to convince someone that I’m not an ignorant dupe (or a liar) for advocating the beliefs and convictions that I have.

  14. I appreciate one of the apparent goals of this blog if it is indeed representative of a two-way conversation and dialogue that seeks understanding as well as persuasion in two directions. I’m afraid that I must agree with Aquinas in that in my view, most of the attempts by Evangelicals are aimed at pointing out doctrinal heresy and offering apologetic arguments. While a discussion of doctrinal differences, and even apologetic arguments, can find their place in interreligious dialogue, it usually takes on a very different flavor in other contexts than that of Evangleicals and Latter-day Saints. I’m glad that LDS representatives like Aquinas find a wider approach by Evangelicals that incorporates dialogue more positive. I can only ask that more of my fellow Evangelicals would consider the same in as positive a manner as my LDS friend Aquinas.

  15. I am thankful that God has gifted me with eternal life and that it is a present possession. John 5: 24 says “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”

    Praise be to God.

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