Six Ways to Choose a Faith

Author Mark Mittelberg has recently released a book titled Choosing Your Faith: In a World of Spiritual Options

In his book he list six basic ways people choose to follow any particular faith. In this interview with Stand to Reason’s Greg Koukl he discusses these 6 paths to faith. They specifically highlight Mormonism as a “mystical” faith. Interested to hear if Mormons agree with their assessment.

Their discussion I think gets at the core of many of the things Mormons and Evangelicals find peculiar about one another and the core of MANY of the discussions we have here.

Direct Link

Unedited direct link to the entire program here. Start at the second hour.


18 thoughts on “Six Ways to Choose a Faith

  1. Gag me. I’m so tired of the “Christianity is so logical/reasonable, just look at the evidence” crap.

  2. Well Kullervo, I would call creedal Christianity “highly intellectualized” rather than logical/reasonable. On those grounds I would hazard that it qualifies.


    John Moorehead, a Christian blogger living in Utah has been blogging about Christianity’s interaction with Mormonism and Paganism. He did a specific post recently you might find interesting:

    The Mormon Neopagan New Spirituality Synthesis

  3. As important as it is, the interviewee far overstates the importance of logic and reason. Logic and reason can get you only so far in matters of faith; the best it can do is show you that a belief system is plausible. Also, logic and reason are susceptible to the same sort of shortcomings that the other five methods have, but the interviewee doesn’t seem to want to acknowledge that.

  4. I agree with Mittleberg and Koukl that what the Bible says cannot be the basis of believing in the Bible. But the ultimately Mittelberg’s approach will end up in making the same sorts of massive leaps of logic required to “prove” that the bible is true based on evidence. It seems that the logical conclusion would be not to accept the Bible as inerrant, but only accept a particular verse if it was free of error.

    Mormonism is as mystical as Jesus and Paul were.

  5. It seemed that as they were concluding their discussion and talking about how an individual can find their faith (with the assumption that this individual would use the 6th path) that their examples were formed mostly around the other paths.

    For example, to overcome doubts you surround yourself with those who do not doubt (path #3–listening to those who can authoritatively tell/show you the truth) so that you may be “touched in a spiritual way” (paths #4&5–trusting that intuition/mystical experience). Unless somehow being touched in a spiritual way constitutes the evidential path…

  6. OK, long analysis of the discussion.

    Interesting about their critique of O’Reilley’s relativistic “cop-out” of “it’s true for me.”

    What O’Reilley was appealing to, was a sort of postmodern defense that has crept into Christian thought recently. Some conservative Christian voices have attempted to defend Christianity from its critics by reasoning, that if you think truth is relative for different people, then you have no basis for criticizing the world view of Christians either. I think this came from a bit of an in-your-face urge whereby conservative religious scholars wanted to “call out” relativistic liberals on their hypocrisy that demands relativistic tolerance for “hip” groups and ideologies and yet, at the same time, looks down its nose at Christianity.

    The problem, obviously, is that postmodernism is a rather odd and uncomfortable fit with a thought tradition that tries to make absolute claims. There’s a worry that Christian scholars (and Mormon scholars) who have invoked postmodernist dogmas in a bid for academic legitimacy for Christian studies or Mormon studies have “sold the birthright” so to speak. Is academic legitimacy really worth sidelining Christianity’s (and Mormonism’s) truth claims?

    Where the Mittleberg and Koukl screw up however is when they call this a “modernist” impulse. It’s not “modernist.” Modernists believe in objective truth that holds for everyone and and is provable. It is the postmodernists who reject the notion that objective truth is even possible. It is postmodernism that is wed with relativism, not modernism.


    I think they are unduly dismissive of this approach.

    The truth is, not everyone has the time, energy, or education to become a jaded religious blogger confronting the issues on a day-to-day basis. Some people are simply more concerned with raising families, being honest at work, helping others and putting that in a working framework of faith.

    Not everyone needs to be a crusader. Not everyone needs to do the legwork. It’s OK for some people to live by simple faith. It’s OK to sometimes trust that your pastor, your scholars, and others have already done the fighting for you, so you don’t have to continually reinvent the wheel every day. This does not make them inferior to the “street-smart apologist.” It just means that their time is invested in other things that are also important. Equally important, if not more important.

    Sometimes, it’s OK to simply check the party-line box on the voting ballot.

    We’ve got to be very careful about not getting elitist about the Gospel. And I think Koukl and Mittleberg are doing just that.

    Kind of a cheap shot against Islam that they threw in there too about Muslim “authoritarianism.” Who says it’s “authoritarian?” Well, at least they acknowledged that Christianity can be just as close-mindedly authoritarian as anyone.

    What about Paul’s statement that “to some is given to believe” and “to some is given to believe on the words of others?” Do not these people also have a place within the “body of Christ.”


    I think the warning to combine intuition with other inputs is rather sensible. I’m just worried that modern Christian thinkers are a bit too dismissive of the power of intuition – or how prevalent it is in human decision-making. I would argue that actually, the intuitive can be MORE powerful and correct than the logical.

    Listening to them talk about the conversation with the Mormon girl, what struck me is just how closed-off these guys were to the possibility that she might have been right. It’s almost like it’s taken for granted that there is no way God told her the Book of Mormon is “true.” Because “of course” THAT couldn’t be right could it? No, she must be deluded. And how on earth can we help this poor sweet deluded thing see what is OBVIOUS to us?

    Now, I realize these guys are talking to an inside audience and there are some assumptions that go with the territory. But who is really being close-minded here?

    Then I love how they just throw out a bunch of stuff about “testing false spirits” all the while assuming that the LDS “spirits” are false. They just assume it. They never prove it. In fact, they never even bother to tell you what sort of test is supposed to be applied and why the Mormons fail. All they do is make some ominous inferences that Mormonism fails because it contradicts the Bible.

    New flash. It doesn’t. So that test just ain’t going to work for you.

    Other than darkly hinting at the un-biblical nature of Mormonism, all they do is offer the following.

    “Feel does not equal real.”


    “Real does not necessarily equal good.”

    Well Mr. Mittleberg… congratulations! You’ve just done a smashing job of undermining existing faith without bothering to build it up in anything else.

    Surely you see this Tim? Most atheists and agnostics believes both the little platitudes Mittleberg so thoughtlessly threw out there. Believe them wholeheartedly (am I correct Kullervo?). But is a bunch of ex-Mormon agnostics what Mittleberg is really hoping for? Somehow I doubt it. But that’s what he’s creating when he seeks to undermine legitimate spiritual connections with God among those who are simply not equipped to find God in other ways.

    As for their statement that “Real does not necessarily equal feel.”


    This is not “the ultimate.” What gives him the right to say that?

    What kills me is that he then uses Jesus as an example. You don’t believe me? Well I’ll raise this man from the dead.

    I ask this seriously. Where are Mittleberg’s miracles? Today. Right now. Where are they? If you’ve got nothing, then don’t bother to invoke Jesus on me here. What of the signs that Paul says will follow the faithful? Do you have them? Then what good are the miracles of Jesus to you? Obviously he isn’t with you now right?

    So the evidence of miracles seems to be absent from modern Christianity. So that fails.

    Let’s cut to the chase. I don’t think Evangelicals’ stance on the historical veracity of the New Testament is even half so air-tight as they think it is. Mittleberg is just repeating the party line here. He thinks that because Jesus was a real person, that somehow makes Christianity more valid than the Book of Mormon.

    And let’s assume the veracity of the story of the New Testament. What guarantees that modern Christians are still on board? I think that however strong you think the case for the New Testament is, you have a very weak case for saying that you are following Christ to the exclusion of others.

    Look, Mittleberg has a nice explanation for the different ways in which people find religious truth or seek it. But he utterly fails to make the case that one is superior over the others or is sufficient without the others. Most of his arguments in its favor amount to begging the question. “The evidentiary approach is superior because… well… DUH! It’s evidential! Of course its better right?”

    He then conspicuously fails to convince that his own religion is particularly evidential.

    My increasing suspicion is that evangelicals are CLAIMING to be an “evidential” religion on the surface, when really, underneath it all they are relying on the other methods for their ultimate faith in the religion of their choice.

    My own faith is based on a mix of all of the above. No one approach gets priority over any of the others. I think Mittleberg’s elevation of evidence over the others is unsupported, elitist, condescending, and remarkably un-self-reflective. He also seems to sort of skim over other sorts of evidence in favor of evidence gleaned from a biased review of the historical record.

    There are several kinds of evidence (all of the Biblical, by the way):

    1.The evidence of miracles, spiritual gifts, and divine manifestations
    2.The evidence of the change wrought upon the heart of the believer – what are the fruits of this message? Are they sweet or not?
    3.The internal logic and sense that theological ideas make.
    4.Historical evidence

    Of the three, I think the history is probably the weakest pillar. So Jesus was a “real person?” So what? So he was resurrected and has supernatural powers? So what? Why should I care? If Superman were real, would I be obligated to worship him? You see, even if we accept some crucial parts of the the New Testament account, it is only persuasive. It is not conclusive. The mere fact that Jesus said he was God is not enough. The mere fact that he was resurrected is not enough. Even if you accept all that, what is to say that Jesus isn’t just another Superman? Someone powerful, but why worship him? And even if you accept his resurrection, why believe that he has the power to make you a better person and wipe out your sins?

    The mere fact of the resurrection (assuming it is fact, of course) does not get you from point A to point B.

    I just find it incredibly frustrating that evangelicals claim us of being “emotional” and “unreasonable” and then claim a mantle of reason and objectivity for themselves that simply DOES NOT DESCRIBE their religion. Evangelicals are playing at objectivity. They don’t really have it.

  7. Holdinator, that’s a good point. What is the “evidence” they then appeal to?

    Essentially, it boiled down to a combination of all the others.

  8. I think one aspect of this conversation that may not be entirely clear is that this book is going to be read largely by Evangelicals. So he’s not just getting at other faith traditions, he’s getting at what he considers to be poor reasons to believe in Christianity. He feels these other methods are routinely expressed by Christians but that they will not stand up under scrutiny (from the likes of Dawkins or others). As Seth said, this is an “inside” conversation.

    I don’t think he say anyone who has faith in Jesus for the wrong reason does not have real faith, BUT he probably would encourage them to move on to more solid ground.

    Jared said:
    Mormonism is as mystical as Jesus and Paul were.

    Evangelicalism is mystical as well. But it’s not solely mystical. I have spiritual experience. Most other Evangelicals I know have spiritual experiences. But that’s not all that we have or need to hold to. Jesus and Paul were just as logical as they were mystical.

    Seth said:
    I would argue that actually, the intuitive can be MORE powerful and correct than the logical.

    Wouldn’t you mean to say that you “intuit” that intuition is more powerful than logic? If intuition is really better than logic, you wouldn’t need to reason it at all. Otherwise intuition would need to rely on logic to prove that it’s better than logic.

    I realize that I’m nit picking your words, but it shows how naturally all of us are confined to logic and reason even if we wish to disprove them.

    He then conspicuously fails to convince that his own religion is particularly evidential.

    His book gives his 20 top evidential reasons to think Christianity is a reasonable faith. They didn’t touch that aspect in this conversation. AND he says that if you’re not convinced by reason, it’s not a good place to start.

    Let’s cut to the chase. I don’t think Evangelicals’ stance on the historical veracity of the New Testament is even half so air-tight as they think it is.

    Yes, let’s cut to the chase. Have you actually examined Evangelical’s best arguments for the historicity of the Gospels? Or have you just skimmed some internet postings? Would you like me to point you to some good resources

    Of the three, I think the history is probably the weakest pillar.

    I agree with your list of evidences. And for the sake of argument, I’ll concede that history is the weakest pillar. But Mormonism chucks it entirely. It doesn’t even attempt to answer the historical challenge. It says that it doesn’t exist. Is that because historical evidence is weak or because the historical evidence for the Book of Mormon is weak? (I can guarantee if historical evidence of Zarahemla was found, suddenly we’d hear a different tune from Mormons.)

    The mere fact of the resurrection (assuming it is fact, of course) does not get you from point A to point B.

    Let me explain the path a little bit better:

    A) Jesus claimed to be the son of God.
    B) Jesus claimed he would die and rise again
    C) Jesus died and rose from the grave
    D) If he were not the Son of God, God would not have allowed a blasphemor to display such evidence to prove his point
    E) Jesus backed up his smack

    I just find it incredibly frustrating that evangelicals claim us of being “emotional” and “unreasonable”

    To be fair to us, you’re claiming that for yourselves.

  9. Mormons claiming that their faith is emotional and unreasonable? Chucking history completely? How many Mormons reading this blog does this define? (Out of curiosity, because it doesn’t define my faith.)

  10. Thing with the Book of Mormon is that “absence of evidence” is not the same as “evidence of absence.”

    And if it comes to that, Mormon scholars are actually coming up with quite of a bit of pretty objective evidence. It’s not airtight, but it’s good enough for me to be unconvinced by those who claim the Book of Mormon to be about fictional people and events.

    As for the theology and how it meshes with the Bible, I think the Book of Mormon is doing a pretty fine job. So does the Pearl of Great Price for that matter. The theology is compelling, it is rich already, with the potential to become even more rich and compelling. It answers a lot of universal human questions in a very powerful way. The strength of the theology, in this sense, speaks for itself.

    Then you take another form of evidence – how it impacts and manifests in the lives of its followers. How does it work in application?

    Pretty well I’d say.

    And then you have the evidences of spiritual gifts – which we do claim. I haven’t had any particular instances myself. But people I trust have. They’ve seen people brought back from the brink of death, sickness banished, storms calmed, and any number of other miracles – small and momentous. These have accompanied the Restored Gospel and still do today.

    You top this off with an intuitive connection to God.

  11. “Emotional” does not equal spiritual. Most stories that I hear in testimony meeting where people convert don’t usually involve emotional experiences. The “still small voice” is not understood to be necessarily equivalent to the burning in the bosom.

    Mormons don’t rely on feeling alone, but on reason and history. The fact that we don’t know where Zarahemla is as little consequence to Mormons as the fact that we don’t know where Eden was to Evangelicals.

    I have read a lot about the Gospels and about early Christian understanding of the resurrection and the crucifixion, and I know that we don’t have very much objective evidence. I think there is better testimony and evidence that Joseph Smith’s gold plates existed than of the resurrection. Of course, lack of this sort of evidence shouldn’t matter should it.

    Does God expect us to rely on historical evidence for our salvation?

  12. Tim said: “Evangelicalism is mystical as well. But it’s not solely mystical. I have spiritual experience. Most other Evangelicals I know have spiritual experiences. But that’s not all that we have or need to hold to.

    Are you suggesting that Mormonism is all mystical, or nearly so?

    If so, I disagree.

    If I were to pick one of the six ways to talk about my conversion experience (from evangelical Christianity to LDS Christianity), I would have to talk largely (but not exclusively) about intutition.

    There were many tenets of the evangelical Christianity that I was taught while young that simply didn’t (and don’t) make sense. The idea that people could burn in hell for eternity if they had never heard of Jesus doesn’t make sense if one believes in a loving God. The belief that the doctrine of the Trinity comes from the Bible never made sense (I looked and looked and never found it). The separation that many evangelicals place between faith and works doesn’t make sense (nor do I think it’s Biblical). And I could go on.

    Once I started studying Mormonism (and my conversion was not something instant by any means), I could see how the Bible made sense. To oversimplify, eventually, everything just “fit” the way that things should. So eventually I took the plunge (both literally and figuratively).

    It wasn’t all intuition by any means. Logic and reason certainly played a part. An examination of history played a big part. (Nope, there’s no air-tight case to be made for either the Resurrection or the existence of the golden plates, although I believe in both.) Spiritual experiences (which I had before becoming LDS and still do) played a part. I can’t claim to have had any dramatic “mystical” experiences. What I can say is that being part of the Church feels so right; maybe some could call that mystical, I don’t know. But neither is my faith just a matter of feeling. It really is, like Seth R. said, all of the above.

    And I’m not convinced that the people who put that audio together rely on logic and reason all that much more than I do. For one thing, what we do with logic and reason depends to a great extent on what our assumptions are. For example, I heard these guys pooh-poohing Muslims for being so illogical, not believing that Jesus made the claims he made. But how do these two know Jesus made these claims? I believe Jesus did, but I can’t prove it based on reason and logic alone, even with a good dose of history. And neither can they. For all I know, the faithful Muslim probably uses logic and reason every bit as much as the makers of that tape do, but they just start out with different assumptions.

    I’m not saying that all religions or belief systems use those six factors to the same degree. I would think, for example, to stereotype a bit, that a hard-core Pentecostal is probably relying more on mysticism than does a staid fundamentalist. What I am saying is Mittleberg and Koukl are probably relying less on reason than they think they are.

  13. I generally agree with Seth’s and Eric’s critique,

    A thought on intuition:

    Intuition is not opposed to logic, you could describe it as a complex observation whose total origin cannot be readily explained. As you delve into science and philosophy (i.e. reason and logic) intuition generally plays a central role in guiding us to true ideas.

    What I find ironic is that the reason, logic and evidence they use to establish the bible is routinely denounced in Evangelical circles when it leads to non-biblical conclusions. Under Mittleberg’s rationale, we should seemingly believe in things that Science and history tell us even if it contradicts the Bible.

    Mormons have a similar line of reasoning to “prove” their religion. e.g.

    1. The Book of Mormon appears to be an ancient work, written by more than one author, and has compelling religious teaching, and included references to historical places and events. (there is rational evidence (but no necessarily proof) for each of these claims based on scholarship)

    2. Based on the dramatic circumstances of its coming about,it is most reasonable to believe that Joseph did not write it himself (he did not have the capacity to write it), and supported by the testimony of the witnesses of its translation and the plates and numerous attested visits by angels to people other than Joseph Smith, the most reasonable explanation is that Joseph received it by the gift and power of God.

    3. If the Book of Mormon is true, this is proof that Jesus is the Son of God (far better evidence than the Bible since the origin of the BOM is demonstrably divine.

    4. If the BOM is true than Joseph was a chosen prophet of god and the revelations and the church he founded and priesthood he restored are true.

    5. The LDS church is the only true and living church on the face of the earth with which God is well pleased. (Doctrine and Covenants 1)

    6. You should be a Mormon, whether you have a burning in the bosom or not.

    I guess since Mormon belief is completely compatible with the proof of the Bible, Mormonism is doubly reasonable.

    Mormons certainly accept that you can be a mormon without any spiritual experience, just relying on this logic, but most will say that its critical to establish a personal relationship with God via the Spirit and live so that you can have this guidance all the time. However, the “mysticism” is an addition to the eminently reasonable objective proof of the events restoration.

    I can see the holes in this line of reasoning, and generally they are the same holes I see in the “proof”of the resurrection.

  14. 4. If the BOM is true than Joseph was a chosen prophet of god and the revelations and the church he founded and priesthood he restored are true.

    I cannot stress enough 1) how often this is repeated by Mormons, and 2) how much is absolutely does not follow.

  15. I don’t agree with it either. I’ve already given the “fallen prophet” theory of Joseph Smith’s life narrative. It would be entirely consistent with the Book of Mormon being “true.”

    However, I am personally convinced that Joseph was tapped into the divine in a way similar to past prophets. I believe the Book of Mormon is just as “God-breathed” as the Bible.

    But that doesn’t necessarily mean that Joseph didn’t go off the deep end later in life. Or that the Brigham Young branch of Mormonism (or the Heber J. Grant branch of Mormonism for that matter) is, of necessity, true and authorized. And finally, the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and the divine calling of Joseph Smith do not necessarily insulate us from possible apostasy now or in the future.

    This religion was never designed to rest on its laurels. Yet that is exactly what we’ve been doing throughout the 20th century. So like Kullervo, I’m just not a fan of the “if Joseph saw God, then everything else follows” mindset. You’ve got to prove the Church, and do the legwork at EVERY stage of the game – not just the founding.

  16. I agree, it does not follow. My point was not to make the argument but to show a comparable argument.

    It equally does not follow that the resurrection proves that Jesus was God or any book of the Bible to be inspired.

  17. It equally does not follow that the resurrection proves that Jesus was God or any book of the Bible to be inspired.

    I couldn’t agree with you more, Jared C. I’m actually inclined to believe the resurrection happened, but it is not clear at all what it means.

  18. Jared,

    Thanks for laying out the LDS line of rationale. As I’m sure you know there are a lot of premises in there that have to be verified but I appreciate you explaining popular LDS thought.

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