Me & Mormons — Part 2

After graduating from high school I came to the United States and attended an Evangelical university. I had zero interaction with Mormons during this time. I’m pretty sure that the local missionaries were told never to step on to our campus by their mission president.

Every student at the school had to take 30 units of Bible classes, so we all basically earned a Minor in Biblical Studies. I learned two things that influenced my future interactions with Mormons. The first was that fideistic epistimology (the belief that faith is best when it is blind and based on a person’s feelings) is not the way the Bible portrays faith or trust. The second was that Mormon missionaries often preached the importance of a “burning-in-the-bosom” in knowing what is or is not true about God, Jesus and the Bible. This sounded an awful lot like fideism to me.

After college I had a couple of LDS missionaries knock on my door on a cold winter night. Regrettably, I made them stand outside while I quickly and efficiently came to the conclusion that I knew way more about the Bible than they did and therefore was “correct” to not show them any kindness or consideration.

A couple of months later I visited my grandmother and step-grandfather. At the same time, one of my step-grandfather’s grandsons was visiting. He was a returned LDS missionary, with what I would now ascertain as a love for some of the old “fundamentals” of Mormonism. The one and only night we were there together we had a riveting but friendly conversation. I really didn’t know that much about Mormonism so I asked a lot of questions. It became evident after some time that my questions were unraveling the foundations of his faith.

I’m not sure if it was my strongest question or if it just happened to be the nail in the coffin, but I asked him a question about the fruitfulness of his mission that seemed to indicate that he needed to stop fielding my inquiries. The question was along these lines: he had told me that very few people were actually going to Hell, but that if he did not achieve exaltation he would feel that he was in Hell because he would know what he was missing. This seemed peculiar to me, that he would spend a bunch of money and two years of his life, to go to Ecuador to tell people about the exalted Kingdom and Mormonism if there was no real threat of going to Hell. This seemed to be an automatic “damnation” to anyone who did not accept his message or did not do everything required to achieve exaltation. They would have been better off in ignorance not knowing anything about Mormonism and then left to a lower kingdom in Heaven in complete bliss. I challenged that according to his beliefs he should have stayed at home and used all of that money to serve the needy in his own community.

My cousin-by-marriage decided it was time for bed after he couldn’t find an answer to my challenge. The next morning at breakfast he sheepishly pulled me aside and said “the Church has been nothing but good for me”. To which I responded “What’s it matter if it’s not true?”

This experience gave me tremendous confidence which played an unfortunate role in my future interactions with Mormons. . . .


48 thoughts on “Me & Mormons — Part 2

  1. *at the edge of his seat, rivited, anxiously waiting to see what happens next*

    BTW, I’m not poking fun. This is very interesting to me.

  2. I doubt that that line of questioning unraveled his faith. This is a very common topic of conversation among LDS. We get asked it all the time and we discuss in all the time. He was probably just annoyed with you.

  3. I believe that the question wouldn’t be a surprise to you, but it was clearly the first time he had ever considered this question and all of his non-verbals showed that he was concerned not annoyed. Interested to know what your response would be. Every other LDS I’ve asked the question of has refused to even speculate a solution. (not at all saying it’s a grand-stumper)

  4. These kind of stories always make me sad.

    Mormonism is under fire from a lot of quarters, and we really do tend to shelter our members far too much. Then they get blindsided like this…

  5. On my mission I would tell all of my fellow missionaries half-jokingly, that I believed we all were going to hell:

    1) all those who don’t believe us would go to hell because they didn’t have the truth.

    2) all those who do believe and are converted (including all of us missionaries) are going to hell because they are never going to live up to the light and knowledge they are given.

    Quite a few of my fellow missionaries were annoyed or bent by this joke, but not many knew quite how to respond since there is a under-current in LDS thought that the bar is always being raised when you learn more….and you just might not measure up.

    Because of that I can understand his response, especially assuming Tim put the questions more carefully and forcefully than the one paragraph description of the conversation reveals.

  6. I’m still interested to hear why this question is no big deal from a LDS perspective.

    but not many knew quite how to respond since there is a under-current in LDS thought that the bar is always being raised when you learn more….and you just might not measure up.

    I think there is a similar hopeless theme in all non-grace based religions.

  7. Tim,

    I think that is just the point. It is not a big deal because we aren’t saved by what we do, but by his grace. We are eligable to recieve his grace if we are converted to the fact that he has paid the penalty, and accept him as our Savior. True, if you focus on your works for works sake, you will never live up. But if you focus on works as a manifestation of you conversion and devotion to christ, they have significant meaning, as I think you might agree. Jared’s comments were kind of humorous. We, of course, know we are not all going to hell. But to preface the argument with his catch-22 (that is, you’re damned if you know, you’re damned if you don’t) forces those who have been putting too much emphasis on works (both in LDS and traditional Christian circle, though admittedly much more common among the LDS) to re-evaluate their position.

    And to answer your question more specifically, it is a big deal to some. But like I said, those people need to re-evaluate the way they view the atonement and Christ’s grace, and what role they play in the salvation of man-kind in general, and the salvation of us as individuals specifically. But these people are hardly representative of Mormons at large, and definitely do not (from my experience and understanding) understand the LDS doctrine concerning the relationship between grace and works.

  8. The answer is, of course, that Grace saves you and that you should rely on God to change you rather than trust in yourself to “measure up”. That is part of Mormonism, i.e. its in the scriptures, but the message is often clouded. I have noticed that the grace theme has been reasserted in the last 15-20 years in response to some of the guilt that you find in some people in the church.

  9. Darn you grace-Mormons. You’re not nearly as fun. 😉 I figured that would be the response.

    My cousin was definitely of the mind that it was his works that were saving him. Christ’s grace played a minimal work in our salvation according to him. This conversation took place 10 years ago and he was from Utah, if that means anything to you.

  10. Tim,

    I’m willing to take a stab at the question, but I’m also a bit reluctant. Statements like “I think there is a similar hopeless theme in all non-grace based religions” are the reason. I’m not interested in a grace/works debate and I’m even less interested in trying to convince you (or anyone) that Mormonism is Christ-based (and therefore, by definition, grace-based).

    So, in the spirit of Koukl, those are my ground rules. {smile}

    Now, why wouldn’t your question bother me?

    1) I don’t know what it means to “go” to Hell. The scriptures don’t tell us where Hell is—or even that it is a place (i.e. with GPS coordinates or whatever), only that God isn’t “there.”

    2) I don’t believe that God uses Hell to scare us into loving him. That’s a tactic dictators use: “It’s me or the furnace suckers! (Wow! everybody loves me!)”

    3) My hope is to love God, and I believe that he wants me to be with him (i.e. he loved me first). God does not force me to love him.

    4) The nature of restoration (Cf Alma 41) is to reunite people with that which they love: mercy for the merciful, love to the loving, self to the selfish, carnality to the carnal, etc.

    5) I don’t believe that Hell is “knowing for eternity that you fell short.” With #4 in mind, if I don’t love God—if I’m not interested in being godly—why would I care that I don’t get to be godly?

    6) Even if I did believe that Hell is “eternal buyer’s remorse,” it would only make sense to keep people ignorant on this earth if Heaven was merely the equivalent of escaping Hell. To the contrary, I believe that exaltation comes through loving God and being made one with Him. Eventually everyone will know that Jesus is the Christ—whether we love Jesus is a different story (Cf. Romans 14 and James 2).

  11. Well the other answer is, with regard to missionary work, is that missionaries are out to save or convert everyone, just to gather the “elect” a select group that will build the kingdom in the last days.

  12. Tim, I’d like to comment in response to notions of not being able to measure up. I think it is important to realize that such attitudes can arise from a multiplicity of factors. Ones outlook on life can be influenced by upbringing, family environment, social environment, education, religion, culture, etc. The fact that there are various LDS who have different experiences show that not everything can be reduced to a kind of religious determinism. It could be well possible that an individual suffers from feelings that he or she cannot measure up, but his or her siblings in the exact same family do not. How would we explain this? My point is that we cannot always assume the overriding factor in ones behavior composition is going to be tied to a particular religion.

    Many people often in life experience feelings of not being able to measure up, whether they are Christian or not. Sometimes these feelings occur because people are human. For example, a 2002 article in Christianity Today illustrates a Christian woman with her own battles with feelings of not measuring up.

    So whenever I used to read Hebrews 12:1, “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,” I’d picture myself running alongside my sisters in Christ, constantly trying to gauge how I was doing. Was I spiritual enough? Was my home sufficiently organized? How did my appearance stack up? I especially worried about how I was doing as a mom and wife. I wanted to know if I was “holding my own.”

    Again, I’m not showing this to arguing that somehow there is a problem with Evangelicals or Evangelicals and Mormons. I’m simply saying that sometimes people are overwhelmed or get depressed because they are human. It is important not to be too reductionist in our views of others.

  13. Tim,

    I find it interesting that you can judge and sentence a whole people and their beliefs based on a single encounter with a quasi-relative.

    It would be easy to find anyone in any religion that couldn’t answer “tough” theological questions you posed to the unwary returned missionary.

    I think the real issue here is the arrogant superiority you display in your article. Superiority I assume that comes from having taken 30 credit hours of Bible study.

    May God bless you with the humility to focus on your own personal faith before you find time to sit in judgement of others.

  14. Wulfstan,

    I think what I’m trying to expose is not only my interactions with LDS but also the unfortunate feelings of superiority I felt afterwards. I’m owning and confessing that judgmental attitude.

  15. I come at this issue a little differently, I guess. I try to live the commandments and to live worthy of the Spirit. I know that what I do will be in no way close to what I should or need to do to qualify for the best rewards. I but I trust, that with faith in Christ, as I do my best I will stand with Christ at the end being Judged. Whether I go Celestial or Terrestrial, is not my problem. For I leave it in the hands of God, and I know His Judgement is always right, fair, and merciful. And if there is anything I am missing to qualify for what God wants for me, Christ and the Atonement will make up the difference.

  16. It’s not your problem whether you go to the Celestial or Terrestrial Kingdom? Whose problem is it? It’s you who’s going there. For eternity.

  17. I misstated it. It is my problem, but not my worry. I will do all that I can, as I understand what the Lord would have me do, but knowing nothing I do would make me worthy anyway. The only worthy one is Christ and by leaning on him is the only chance I have anyway.

  18. Tim,

    Do you have a post somewhere that I could read about fideistic epistimology, and how you view the Bible’s take on how to attain religious knowledge (especially to different interpretations of the Bible)? As a Mormon, I am of the Spirit/Comforter, John 14:26, Bosom burning epistimology, and would like to know why this is rejected among evalgelicals, and how you approach truth.


  19. Hi Ben,

    I just posted some audio links here:

    I believe part 1 of the first one answers your question and contrast it with Mormon epistimology.

    OR you can listen to Dr. Craig Hazen give a full lecture on the topic here:
    [audio src="" /]

    My short answer is to read I Corinthians 15. Here you can see Paul stating that the basis on Christianity is on the historical fact of the resurrection. If the resurrection is not a true event, there is no reason to believe in any of it.

    Here’s two other post about it:

  20. Basically, the historic Mormon belief is that nearly everyone goes to heaven.

    In this thread ( if I can call it that) only two Mormon heavens are mentioned, the Celestial (of which there are three degrees or elevations of supreme holiness and eternal power – only good LDS who have all their temple work done can go there – the men do nothing but have sex with numberless wives and the women are pregnant forever populating “worlds without end” made by their LDS God husbands) and the Terrestrial (where all other “good” but not LDS people go) and unmentioned, the Telestial, where bad people and LDS who don’t keep their covenants go, but still heaven enough that JS said if you could see it you’d commit suicide to get there. The Telestial heaven is supposed to be much like present earth, only nicer.

    Jesus who lives in the Celestial Kingdom may choose to visit the Terrestrial Kingdom now and again but will never visit the Telestial Kingdom and those in lower Heavens can never advance their cause to be promoted to a higher heaven – ever.

    Hell, or to Mormons “Outer Darkness” (which is ice cold as there is no light, but burning in your heart in sorrow) is reserved only for the elite of all Mormons, those who “sin against the holy ghost” where-in the “crucify Christ anew”, meaning that they have had a personal visitation (not a vision) from Christ and then (crucify him anew) later deny it.

    In Mormonism, though originally all were charged to have such experience, it quickly, very quickly devolved to only the holiest (and highest ranking leaders) of Mormons to actually enjoy personal visits with the Savior and it has ever since been the basic Mormon belief that only the Mormons who lived so holy a life as to merit a personal visit from Jesus and then became so corrupt that they would deny that visit would merit eternity without any of the light of Christ, living with Satan and his followers in Outer Darkness – or Hell.

    In Mormonism, unbelievers and murderers and bad LDS all go to heaven, the heaven where for all eternity they pick the beans and cotton for those worthy of greater glory.

    And in Mormonism, God (Celestial Heaven) dwells in everlasting burnings. Beings not holy enough to withstand the heat are physically prevented from sneaking into the Holiest heaven by their failure to merit being made of matter spiritually pure (or fine) enough to withstand the intense heat of Celestial Glory, which is why JS had to be enveloped in white light and have his body physically changed to a more pure form to enable him to withstand his “First Vision” or more properly Visitation from God and Jesus without being burnt to a crisp.

    So Hell is reserved for only the most holy (who turn bad), all others go to heaven, maybe slave heaven, but heaven nonetheless.

    Doesn’t anyone read the D&C anymore?

  21. “but still heaven enough that JS said if you could see it you’d commit suicide to get there.”

    Joseph never said that. It’s a myth that still gets circulated around the Church, but it has no factual basis.

  22. Since Mormons hang out here, I have a question. Last week 2 missionaries sat in my Living Room with my husband & I discussing the beliefs of Mormonism. I am intrigued in the beliefs of your church, not becuase I am having doubts in my own faith or beliefs, but because I just don’t know much about it & want to know more.

    As we were talking about various topics Salvation came up of course. One Elder made a comment that surprised me at first. He said that we will never know for sure that we are saved until we go to Heaven and are judged. Then we will know if we are accepted.

    Do all Mormons believe this? Is this common. I have realized that not all Mormons are being taught the same things or believe the same things, so I was just wondering.

    Thanks in advance!
    Romans 10

  23. Dana,

    The short answer is that many Mormons confuse salvation and exaltation (the highest level of heaven). Mormons believe that everyone will be saved, whether in this life or the next (except for those that leave the LDS church).

    BUT obtaining exaltation is so highly valued in Mormonism that they sometimes don’t realize that it is different than salvation. The missionaries you met with will be a little embarrassed but will eventual concede that you are correct, that they didn’t have a good handle on their own theology.

  24. Thank you so much! That does make sense.

    I would love for these guys to come back so we could talk farther, but so far they keep passing me up. The strange part is that when they go to a house & find out that the people know me, they suddenly have to go. :o) Bummer, I really enjoyed our discussions. It really strengthens & challenges my own beliefs.

  25. “except for those that leave the LDS church”

    No Tim. Those people are “saved” too.

    Outer Darkness” is reserved only for a special type of person who gains full and perfect knowledge of the Restored Gospel, and then deliberately rejects it. Very few people qualify for it. Cain is a commonly cited example – a man who spoke with God and knew Him, and yet loved Satan more and worshiped him deliberately. Judas is another, but his case gets a bit fuzzy.

    Certainly, the dudes on don’t qualify.

    The LDS “hell” is actually pretty dang hard to get into.

  26. Seth R., that’s a pretty common understanding of the Sons of Perdition doctrine–it’s what I used to think when I was a true believer–but I don;t know if it is what is universally understood by the Church (or what has been consistently taught by Church leadership).

  27. Aquinas,

    Oaks article did help me to understand better what LDS are really saying when they use the words “saved” or “salvation”. I don’t agree with him, but it did clear things up for me. Thank you very much!

  28. Dana asked: “ One Elder made a comment that surprised me at first. He said that we will never know for sure that we are saved until we go to Heaven and are judged. Then we will know if we are accepted. Do all Mormons believe this?

    That’s an excellent question.

    I wouldn’t put it that way, and the Oaks talk states pretty well about how we don’t believe that there is just one type of salvation.

    I think that one of the differences between LDS soteriology and that of many evangelicals is that we are more likely to see salvation as a process rather than an event. So there isn’t a point in time where before that point you were destined to hell and then afterward you were destined to heaven.

    As a practical matter, I don’t see the time of judgment as something to be frightened about. It’s not a matter of “Have I done enough to be saved (exalted)?” It’s more like like “Thank you, Lord, for the gift of salvation.”

  29. I find Mormons do not like long indepth discussions about thier faith. I’ve concluded this based on that a few Mormons I’ve talked to over the past few years. They first use a circular arguement, using the same idea’s not giving anythought to what your saying, and then end each discussion with, “ask God for the burning in your bossom then you’ll understand” and then a “I do not have any more time to discuss this with you.”

  30. “I find Mormons do not like long indepth discussions about thier faith.”


    Most normal people don’t like long in-depth discussions about their faith either. It’s not a “Mormon thing.”

  31. I’m talking about those who make it a point to go up to you to spread their views, or write long blogs about their Mormon faith. These are which the only ones I’ve encountered.

  32. Those people are trying to convert YOU. Once they see you’re not converting, they want to cut their losses and move on.

  33. Tim:
    This I know, I’m just saying rather then run, answer the tough questions so we have some substance to what they believe.

    Depends, Philosophers of Ancient Greece spent many days and years discussing beliefs and debating each other for knowledge.

  34. Wow. I know I’m totally late to this game, but I’m riveted! Thanks, Tim. I will absolutely be reading more of what you peeps are discussing on this blog.

  35. I’m even later to the game . . .
    All Mormons are grace-Mormons. Unlike most evangelicals, we (try to) understand what grace really means – it’s not a free pass, it’s an acknowledgment of one’s dependence on God.

    But, of course, what you do matters. Most of the Bible, and a large part of the other latter-day scriptures as well, are devoted to setting standards of human behavior and admonishing us to exercise our agency to comply with those standards. Dieter Uchtdorf’s admonition to “Stop it!” is simply another prophetic warning not to engage in bad behavior.

    I find two problems with the things you learned which influenced your interaction with the Latter-day Saints (now, I haven’t read the rest of your posts on Mormons so you might go on to find this stuff out; if so, forgive me.) First, your teachers were incorrect to tell you that the Bible does not portray faith/trust based on “fideistic epistemology,” at least not as you seem to be thinking of it. There are many clear examples of the role of the Holy Ghost in testifying of the truth in Scripture, and it is that to which Latter-day Saints point as their source of testimony – not to “feelings.” Hopefully I don’t have to cite chapter and verse for you on that count. The Bible makes it clear that the source of testimony and truth (not necessarily the source of faith and trust) is the Spirit of God. You also have to study something, hear something, know something, to get a witness from the Spirit about it. Don’t confuse the LDS testimony with the modern “do whatever feels good” notion. That’s a fideistic epistemology.

    Second, the “burning in the bosom” is not a “feeling” like “I enjoy eating chocolate” or “I like to snuggle puppies.” (I’m not a fan of kittens, personally, YMMV.) It can take different forms for different people, but it is an external influence from the Holy Spirit testifying to the truth of a principle. It has everything to do with the truth of the principle and the willingness of the individual to listen, and nothing at all to do with the inherent pleasantness or appeal of the principle itself. Much of the changes I’ve made in my life since I joined the Church, I’d have rather not made, but since I knew (from the Holy Ghost) that those things were divine principles, it was change or put myself in opposition to God. Some people choose differently, but as for me, I try to serve the Lord.

    I’m surprised that your young RM friend was so bamboozled by your question, but he’s young yet. Setting aside the question of a loving and merciful God who allegedly sends people to burn for all eternity for not acknowledging Him, your question isn’t hard to answer. I doubt that it “shook the foundations of your young friend’s faith,” since most of us understand that there are many things we don’t necessarily comprehend at any given time, but we believe that we’ll come to understand them over time with study and the help of the Spirit. Since we don’t base our faith on man-made falsehoods like “the five solas,” most questions of that sort should be food for thought, not food for apostasy. Since we don’t believe in a literal fire-and-brimstone “hell,” but we do believe that there are many mansions in the Father’s house, then your goal in spiritual growth should be to gain as much knowledge and growth as possible. “Hell” is knowing that you didn’t live up to your potential. Missionaries go out to help people understand that there is more to life than they were aware of, and that the first steps to coming closer to God are faith in Christ, repentance, baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, and continual striving to live a Christlike life. That makes a difference. I didn’t save anyone from a nonexistent hellfire, but I helped a number of people become closer to God and to Christ and that’s what I was called to do as a missionary.

  36. It can take different forms for different people, but it is an external influence from the Holy Spirit testifying to the truth of a principle.

    It’s impossible to know whether an influence is internal or external.

  37. Just a point of clarification. My friend was no longer young. He’d been home from his mission for at least 15 years at that point.

  38. I am also late to this Tim…enjoying it very much so far:

    Steve said:
    “All Mormons are grace-Mormons.”
    Really? I don’t think we teach grace as well as you’re reporting. Grace is definitely a huge emphasis for EV’s and I see why they feel it is downplayed within Mormonism, even though I think the grace/works debates end up being more about semantics than anything else. (in other words, I think Mormons and EV’s have more in common re: grace than both sides think we do)

    Steve said:
    ““Hell” is knowing that you didn’t live up to your potential.”
    Where does that teaching come from? I think you are proving EVs point about grace with comments like this.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s