Learning From Mormons

You might be interested in this blog post by a up and coming Christian apologist who recently invited a Mormon into his classroom.
http://www.conversantlife.com/other-faiths/learning-from-mormons

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About Tim

Evangelical Christian living in Southern California. I live with my wife and whatever foster children happen to be in our home at this moment. I love photography, baseball, movies and I'm fascinated by Mormonism.

25 thoughts on “Learning From Mormons

  1. Best quote:

    “Mitt Romney and Glenn Beck are good examples of leading Mormon intellectuals who are having a positive impact on culture.”

    I don’t know what is more funny, the belief that Glenn Beck and Mitt Romney are “intellectuals” or that they have are having a “positive impact” on culture.

  2. Jared C. Beat me to the comment I wanted to make. I don’t know if I can trust anything about the article with a statement like that.

  3. The article made an excellent point about the classiness of the typical Mormon—besides being well written.
    Thanks, Tim.

  4. Thanks for sharing Tim. I’m always delighted to run into a pleasant and respectful person who I disagree with. – Speaking of…

    Why is it that a faith built on subjective experience produces many leading thinkers?

    The inclusion of Romney and Beck aside – I’m always baffled when Evangelicals bring this up. As if faith in Jesus and Sola Scriptura were rational, scientific endeavours. Case in point – I’m still waiting for a good argument for Biblical inerrancy. Instead, all I get is – “The Bible proclaims it” and ” that’s what the Church has always taught historically”. You don’t get more subjective than that.

    We are ALL much more emotionally driven than we think.

  5. CJ,
    I think what he means by subjective is that the justification for belief comes from internal sources. The inerrancy of the Bible may not be as reliable or trustworthy as we think or claim, but the Bible and the historicity of the Resurrection stand outside of our internal emotional promptings. It’s the difference between saying “I believe because I think the external evidence supports it” and “I’ll believe no matter what the external evidence says.”

    The former is at least an attempt to interact with the world at large so thus his surprise that Mormons are producing so many leaders.

    ————————————————————————-
    Opinions on Romney and Beck aside, I think it’s been discussed here before that Mormons seem to be over-represented in the public sphere while Evangelicals seem to be under-represented. (and I’m quite certain that both statements can be taken to be faith-promoting by either faith system)

  6. Thanks for the link, Tim. Once I take the writer’s theological perspective into account, and ignore the Beck/Romney comment, I found the article a fairly positive account. I’m glad he was able to get someone articulate about his faith and that he encourages (and models, I assume) respect toward those with other beliefs.

    Related to what CJD said, I do have to question his premise that somehow evangelical Christianity (what he calls Christianity) is somehow less subjective than LDS Christianity. I’ve known plenty of evangelicals (particularly some of Pentecostal persuasion) who base their faith on emotions, and I know plenty of Mormons who don’t. I’m not convinced that in this regard we’re all that much different from each other.

    I’m quite familiar with both groups of people, and I’ve seen plenty of similarity in how we approach our faiths (we’re more similar to each other in that regard, for example, than we are to liberal Protestants). In general (and the blogosphere is an exception), I don’t think most Mormons nor most evangelicals spend much time looking at the outside evidence for their faith. And we both have believers who would continue believing no matter what “objective” evidence may say.

  7. I agree with Eric.
    I’d like to comment, however, on this statement of his:
    “I’ve known plenty of evangelicals (particularly some of Pentecostal persuasion) who base their faith on emotions, and I know plenty of Mormons who don’t.”

    I’d like to draw attention to the fact that the KJV of Hebrews 11:1 uses stronger words than “subjective” & “emotional” for that which comes from the spiritual world, namely, “substance” & “evidence.”
    The spiritual world can become more real than the physical world to someone who walks closely with God. After all, the spiritual world (God) created the physical world; the spiritual world is more permanent than the physical world.
    Often what we regard as scientific evidence turns out not to be evidence at all 50 years later when a new technology appears, enabling us to see a larger or more intimate picture of the physical world.

  8. I’d like to draw attention to the fact that the KJV of Hebrews 11:1 uses stronger words than “subjective” & “emotional” for that which comes from the spiritual world, namely, “substance” & “evidence.”
    The spiritual world can become more real than the physical world to someone who walks closely with God. After all, the spiritual world (God) created the physical world; the spiritual world is more permanent than the physical world.

    Nothing but rhetoric, Cal.

  9. Tim, I’m not a very reliable source for the ins and outs of historic Christian theology. So, an easy way for me to test the theory, I took the New Oxford Annotated Bible and put it next to the ESV Study Bible. Time and time again, the ESV SB acknowledges the various controversies and scholarly opinions (authorship etc.) and then proceeds to dismiss them one by one – in favor of traditional readings. Tradition!

    I don’t have time to bring up the recent contributions from Wright, Enns or (not least of all) Ehrman – but I think this world where the faith of an Evangelical is based on a treasure trove of historical/exegetical evidence – is pure fantasy.

  10. CJ, at the moment I’m not debating with you the historical reliability of the Bible. (and for what’s it’s worth most EV scholars I know acknowledge all the facts Ehrman states, but not his implications. Sometimes I think people confuse Inerrancy with Biblical Literalism).

    For a different example, suppose Mormons believe that the Tooth Fairy exist because they have a burning in the bosom that she is real (subjective), while Evangelicals believe the Tooth Fairy exist because the teeth under their pillows always disappear (objective). It doesn’t mean that either of them are right, it just shows they go about offering different reasons for their belief.

    [in addition, I fully acknowledge that Evangelicals have varying degrees of reliance on subjective experiences, myself included]

  11. CJ, at the moment I’m not debating with you the historical reliability of the Bible. (and for what’s it’s worth most EV scholars I know acknowledge all the facts Ehrman states, but not his implications. Sometimes I think people confuse Inerrancy with Biblical Literalism).

    Ehrman’s biggest problem is his inability to get past his Fundamentalist background, and his consequent conflation of Fundamentalism with Christianity generally.

    Most of his biblical smoking guns are openly acknowledged in any decent Bible–they’re only going to be a serious shock and surprise to a KJV-Onlyism Fundamentalist.

  12. Isn’t faith in general, and by definition, rather subjective? It surprises me when people work so hard to “prove” matters of faith since proof would seem to make faith unnecessary, unless my understanding of faith as explained in Alma 32 is one of those things that is unique to Mormonism. In which case, I suppose that the efforts to prove matters of faith are not as strange as I think.

    Getting to the article itself, I found that Sean McDowell’s approach to learning from those of other faiths is most excellent. I hope that he does this with many different faiths, and not just Mormons. Sadly, some of those who are commenting on his blog do not seem to have the same desire to approach other faiths with the kindness and respect that he demands of his own students.

  13. Totally agree with Kullervo and Tim on Ehrman.

    I really enjoyed this article. Setting aside qualms about Glenn Beck or whether Evangelicals really have an objective basis for their beliefs, I think the fundamental point McDowell is making is a very positive one. It’s so incredibly important for us to seriously, honestly, and lovingly listen to one another and learn about one another. And that’s something that can be radically lost in some dominant Evangelical attitudes. It breaks my heart sometimes when some of my Evangelical brothers and sisters just reactively caricature Latter-day Saints without ever having tried to show them Christian love. I can understand why many Latter-day Saints would get the impression that Evangelicals are hateful and prejudiced towards them. That’s not to say that Latter-day Saints aren’t guilty of some of the same sins (quite a few are), or that they never use the caricature of the ‘hateful Evangelical’ as a rhetorical ploy (I’ve seen this happen plenty), but there are definite and real problems within Evangelical attitudes and approaches. I also think it would be a fantastic idea for Evangelical students in older youth groups, colleges, and seminaries to meet like this with representatives of groups like the Latter-day Saints to simply get a better understanding. So on that score, I definitely have to applaud McDowell here; I think he had the right idea, and it’s one that needs to be more widely implemented.

  14. Alex, I approach faith in Jesus the same way I approach faith in a bridge. You can learn a lot about the bridge that helps your confidence, but eventually you have to give yourself over to the bridge and trust that it will carry you.

  15. I think the article underscores that Mormons accomplish a lot of what Evangelicals wish to accomplish, i.e. a worldwide community of believers that is cohesive, educated in scripture, and able to explain their beliefs in a way that is convincing and/or justifiable to non-believers. Based on their values of education, religious conviction, organization and hard work, Mormons start to have a bigger footprint on society. Evangelicals, or any religious group dedicated to universal evangelism, could obviously benefit from such an approach.

  16. Jared C,

    What you say about Mormons holds for the US and Canada. Outside of those two zones Mormons tend to be less educated than the surrounding society. Consequently they tend to not be cohesive, not educated in scripture, not able to explain their beliefs, etc. The problem for the church is that all of its explosive growth is (and has been for many years now) in areas outside the US and Canada. Only time will tell if Mormon theology will pull people up to US/Canada levels.

    My guess is not, simply because most of the people outside US/Canada simply don’t show up after a couple of months of membership. It’s hard to have an effect when people don’t even show up.

    Also, because it’s a distinctly US/Canadian phenomenon, I have to wonder how much of it has to do with Mormon theology and organization, and how much of it is based on the fact that in the early 20th century church leaders decided to make Mormonism “American values on steroids” to overcome the past stigmas of polygamy. That kind of approach will almost necessarily produce positive results inside the US/Canada. Outside those zones, not so much, at least not yet.

  17. As for why Evangelicals don’t put a high priority on education, this is simply the historical reality of the extreme reaction that American Fundamentalists had in the modernist controversy in the early 20th century. Simply put, Fundamentalists retreated from society as a response to that controversy. Thus, there was no push to be involved in education and politics. For the best summary of this I would recommend Mark Noll’s “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind,” especially chapter 5 entitled “The Intellectual Disaster of Fundamentalism.”

    The modern US Evangelical movement arose as a reaction to Fundamentalists who wanted to re-integrate into society, starting in the 1950’s. However, it’s tough to unlearn old habits and to test new boundaries while trying to remain faithful to old ideas. Thus the experience of fundamentalism still weighs on modern Evangelicals. It may be some time before Evangelicals can shed the old anti-intellectualism of the Fundamentalists completely. It will probably be even longer before perceptions that Evangelicals are anti-intellectual go away.

  18. Last comment.

    I think that Mormon intellectualism is quite frankly overblown. Mormons tend to outperform when it comes to JD’s, MD’s, and MBA’s. This I think is due to lots of Mormons who realize that if they are going to be single income families, that single income better be substantial. Thus many Mormons go for high income careers.

    However, while one can be an intellectual with those degrees, the overwhelming majority of those with those degrees are not. When you start looking at fields that are purely intellectual, such as philosophy, history, ancient languages, the humanities, social sciences, etc. I don’t see a glut of Mormons.

  19. I think don’t think the category of “intellectual” really applies to all that many Mormon or Evangelical leaders or preachers. Mormons do strike me as a bit more ready to accommodate divergent views on political and scientific issues.

    But I don’t think the common culture of education and scripture study is a “distinctively” US or Canadian phenomenon. I saw similar culture and habits in Europe, if not influence. I think the fact that LDS are less educated in other countries is a function of the youth of the church there. When the church started in America most were just unlearned immigrant farmers and PWT.

  20. But I don’t think the common culture of education and scripture study is a “distinctively” US or Canadian phenomenon. I saw similar culture and habits in Europe, if not influence. I think the fact that LDS are less educated in other countries is a function of the youth of the church there. When the church started in America most were just unlearned immigrant farmers and PWT.

    I think a lot of Europe is a special case though. A decent percentage of the active Church in western Europe has deep generational roots in Mormonism and “looks like” US Mormons quite a bit more. But due in part to emigration trends and European attitudes towards religious diversity, they don’t have the footprint there that they do here, and they won’t anytime soon.

  21. When the church started in America most were just unlearned immigrant farmers and PWT.

    When the church started in America, most Americans were just unlearned immigrant farmers and PWT.

    I saw similar culture and habits in Europe, if not influence. I think the fact that LDS are less educated in other countries is a function of the youth of the church there.

    Which means you are backing off your earlier claim that the church is a worldwide community of believers that is cohesive, educated in scripture, and able to explain their beliefs in a way that is convincing and/or justifiable to non-believers. FWIW, I would have thrown Europe into the mix just for completeness, if the LDS population in Europe were not so small and their cultural influence so miniscule.

  22. No, I think there are plenty of American-Style Mormons in Latin America, and/or eventually will be given enough time, the Church encourages education, sends missionaries from there to the First World for that purpose etc. I would venture to guess that new converts in the US are generally less educated or successful, at least they seemed to be on my mission in LA.

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