More Than a Bible

A recent study showed that nearly 50% of disaffected Mormons become atheist or agnostics. A mere 11% identify themselves as Christians. I think this is a matter of serious concern. Regardless of church affiliation I imagine the LDS heirarchy would like to see all of those who have crossed their path to be in some way devoted to the teachings of Jesus.

Disaffection from Mormonism and Christianity is a complicated topic so I don’t thing I can pinpoint the exact reason this occurs. But I think that a portion of the reason this happens is due to the story the LDS church uses to explain its origin. Another reason is found in some of the LDS evangelistic and apologetic messaging. In short, the LDS church tells its members and potential converts that the Bible is weak and unreliable and that Christianity is shallow, hollow and untrustworthy. The church does this in order to give the Book of Mormon and the LDS church a position of prominence and superior relevance in the life of its members. Does it leave any wonder why former Mormons leave Christianity all together when they lose faith in Mormonism?

This answer from FAIR about sharing the best way to tell people about the Book of Mormon highlights my point:

The Bible alone, as magnificent as it is, has not united the believing world under one Lord, one faith or one baptism. In fact, it seems that the Bible itself has never come under more criticism or skepticism at any time since its inception than it is today. Many around the world are concluding that the Bible is irrelevant in their lives. They say that Jesus may have been just a legend or a mere myth which, over time, transformed him into a God in the minds of a group of people who came to call themselves Christians. The very value of scripture seems to be assailed constantly.

The April 2012 General Conference seemed to have a thread of awareness in it that secular materialism is becoming a threat to faith and that there are shared values found in Protestant denominations. If the LDS church wants to consider itself a part of the larger Christian family it needs to do its part to tone down its own sectarian rhetoric. The simple fact is that we are now living in a post-Christian society. Disaffection to mainstream Christianity is not the threat that Mormonism needs to worry itself with (particularly when its making its own move in that direction).

I was glad to hear L. Tom Perry affirm the need for the Bible in this month’s General Conference. I’d like to see Mormon apologist do more of the same. The current apologetic approach seems to be to affirm and build the secular case against the Bible in order to make room for distinct Mormon doctrines. I think this has the unintended consequence of actually weakening Mormon faith. Mormons need to acknowledge and affirm the important place the Bible has in their religion. They need to be strengthening the case for the Bible. There need to be Mormon apologetic resources which make the case for the reliability of the Bible. Until such time I think we can continue to see disaffected Mormons not only lose their faith in Joseph Smith but Jesus as well.

16 thoughts on “More Than a Bible

  1. Tim — It’s hard to know what to make of that study, because it didn’t use a random sample (not did it claim to) of people who have left the faith. The sample instead was drawn from, or at least connected with, ex-believers who have become disaffected with the church, often over historical, social or political issues. So I think it might be a stretch to use the survey to support much of any conclusions about how a different apologetic approach might have served people differently.

    That said, I’d agree that we could and probably should do more to promote Biblical knowledge. And there’s really no reason why we shouldn’t; by and large, our key doctrines such as the Atonement are drawn from the Bible, and Joseph Smith himself commonly preached from it. And I think we do a pretty good job of teaching parts of the Bible, such as the gospels and parts of the Pentateuch; but there are vast sections of it that are all but ignored, and I’m not just talking about the Song of Solomon.

    During the weeks before Easter, I read all the letters of Paul in roughly the order in which they were written, and I found it to be a faith-affirming experience. (And for what it’s worth, I’m more convinced than ever that Paul did not believe in the Nicene formulation of the Trinity.) We’re often encouraged to read the Book of Mormon in the way I read the epistles, and I think we should do the same for at least the New Testament. I think that doing so would help give us a deeper appreciation of the work that Jesus accomplished for us.

  2. Yes. One just needs to read the Book of Romans to see the problem (that “no one seeks for God”…that “no one is good…not not one”…and that we are in need of a real Savior, and not a tune up).

    Once one has that ‘grace scheme’ going for them, instead of the ladder-climbing ‘law scheme’, then one will truly be liberated from the self-improvement/religious project, and rely totally on the grace of God. The result is true freedom. The freedom of the Christian…and the freedom of God to save real sinners…the kind we know we are.

  3. LDSA — I don’t recall the exact order, and I’ve erased my electronic list; I synthetized a couple lists I found online along with the introduction to the Pauline epistles in one of my Bibles. I’m pretty sure I started with 1 Thessalonians and ended up with 2 Timothy.

  4. I agree that something like this is ideal. My worry is that this may a really big course correction for the LDS church to try.

    Since Ezra Taft Benson’s presidency the message has been specifically to read the Book of Mormon. Almost every single counsel to read a specific book of scripture has been to read the Book of Mormon. I can’t think of many specific counsels to read the Bible. By that I mean Mormons generally are told to read the Book of Mormon. If the Bible is mentioned, it’s usually in conjunction with reading the Book of Mormon. The bottom line is that for 26 years, the Bible has been seen as secondary in importance to the Book of Mormon. You can also add to that a vague mistrust in the Bible drawn from canonized sources like the the Book of Mormon and the Articles of Faith. Add to that the fact that large portions of latter-day scripture are meant to correct or fix the Bible. Finally, the Bible for most LDS is unreadable because the KJV language has become very opaque to modern readers. This might have been mitigated if the LDS members had constantly been reading the KJV, much like had been done in most of the Christian world up until the 1970’s. But neglecting the KJV in favor of the Book of Mormon has made the Bible much more difficult for those raised since Benson became LDS president.

  5. Pingback: Test Your Knowledge of Mormons and Muslims | Unzipping the Mitt

  6. It would be nice to hear Mormon scholars and apologists joining in on a defense of the Bible’s reliability and trustworthiness rather than attacking it.

    But that sounds like fodder for an episode of Sliders.

    BTW, the paragraph cited from the FAIR blog is pretty lacking in perspective. The Book of Mormon hasn’t united the Mormon world under one Lord, one faith, and one baptism either, let alone the Christian world. And it isn’t like the Book of Mormon hasn’t seen its share of scathing criticism.

  7. Cal told me:

    Your outlook is usually level-headed.

    You might think differently if you get me talking about politics.

    Jack said:

    It would be nice to hear Mormon scholars and apologists joining in on a defense of the Bible’s reliability and trustworthiness rather than attacking it.

    I haven’t paid attention recently to LDS apologetics to know how common that is, but I did a few minutes ago run into the following New Era article. It isn’t very recent, but it does seem to do what you suggest: The Genesis of the New Testament.

  8. Eric, I can’t get into politics again or Tim will roast me, but if you say you’re not supporting Romney, I will be flabergasted.

  9. To LDS Anarchist: Not so much—because you seem a little more on the wild side! Statistics show that the more people read the Bible, the more apt they are to be conservative. I know Eric reads the Bible.
    Since we’re off topic, I’ll shut up now.

  10. David said: Finally, the Bible for most LDS is unreadable because the KJV language has become very opaque to modern readers.

    This is an important point. The KJV is far less approachable, its practically impossible for a contemporary reader to fully understand. It takes a lot of effort to figure out what is being said. The average Mormon, like most everybody else, shy away from reading it in earnest because of the difficulty.

  11. Yeah, I agree with you guys. Getting stuck on the KJV is a perfect example of what we in the charismatic movement call “religion”—activity that is thought to be God-directed but isn’t. God never told us we had to read a Bible in ancient English. It’s down right ridiculous.

    Falling into such traditions is what happens when we are not led by the Spirit of God. And people get turned off to Christianity. . . . I think I’m back on topic.

  12. The KJV is modern English, not “ancient” English. There’s no such thing as “ancient” English, but this is what Old English looks like:

    HWÆT, WE GAR-DEna in geardagum,
    þeodcyninga þrym gefrunon,
    hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon!

    This is what Middle English looks like:

    Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote
    The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
    And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
    Of which vertu engendred is the flour;

    Shakespeare and the KJV are Modern English.

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