Mormon blogger Greg Trimble recently wrote a blog article that has picked up a decent amount of social media buzz entitled “51 Questions That Might Lead You to Mormonism“. Running through his post it became quite clear to me that after 7 years of blogging about Mormonism and Evangelicalism I’ve discussed almost every single one of these in one form or another. I felt like Horsack from “Welcome Back Kotter”. It’s quite possible that I’ve actually written something about every one of these questions on this very blog. In the tradition of marathon runners and novelist throughout history, I’m going to do something that’s going to take a lot of time; I’m going to answer all 51 questions. That’s my pledge to you.
I’m going to break up my answers into multiple posts and I’m not quite sure if there will be 5 posts, 10 posts, or something in between. As you can imagine, it’s much easier to ask 51 questions than it is to answer 51 questions. Most people would just turn his post around on him and ask 51 questions that might lead you out of Mormonism. I learned a long time ago that that sort of thing is not my job. Other people have taken it on and I’ve found it doesn’t really line up with my goals in this space. My job is to dialogue with Mormons about the shape of our respective faiths and to clear the air of misconceptions and errant assumptions.
Before I begin I feel the need to discuss Greg’s list as a whole and give a little bit of context to the answers I’m going to provide. First off, Trimble’s list is quite frequently known as the “shotgun approach”. Rhetorically it’s a bit like bringing a bucket to a water balloon fight. It provides the emotional satisfaction of getting someone else wet even if 90% of the water falls on the ground. At that ratio, I think it’s fair to say that at least 5 of my responses are not going to be all that satisfying. They for sure won’t overcome a person’s decision to follow a personal spiritual experience in the face of other considerations.
Second, I’m not aiming to convert anyone (at least not in these responses). I just want to show that traditional Christians have given a full hearing to Mormonism and have thought about all of these issues. I haven’t rejected Mormonism for a lack of consideration.
Third, I noticed that these questions presume a basic understanding of Christianity and an active desire to pursue faith in the Christian God. It seems Mormons are still convinced that their strongest evangelistic strategies are aimed at Christians. As the saying goes, Mormonism has left Protestantism but it can’t leave it alone. Some might say this is mostly just a list of “anti-Protestant” questions. As Mormons more and more express a desire to be recognized as “Christian, just like all of you” I hope to see it mature past sheep stealing. I should expect to see more effort on reaching out to people who are ignorant about Jesus rather than reaching out to people who are ignorant about Joseph Smith.
Fourth, I’m not going to write up 1500 word responses to every question. Nobody wants to read that and I certainly don’t want to provide it. BORING! I’m going to try to be as pithy as possible and provide links to other resources with more information when appropriate. As I said earlier, it could be that I’ve already written a blog post or provided some form of comment on every single one of these questions. Also, I’m going to try to mix in some humor for my own sake if no one else’s. This shouldn’t be viewed as an effort to disrespect Greg Trimble or the Mormons faith. I’m just trying to keep things interesting because I could barely force myself to read all 51 questions. I can’t imagine anyone being interested in all 51 answers.
Now that I’ve told you how terrible this is going to be, let’s get started. . .
1. There are 50,000+ Christian denominations. Why are they not one church? (Eph 4:5)
Trimble, you ignorant sack of rhinoceros puss. The only thing more obvious than your lack of education is the foul stench that surrounds you. Just kidding! That’s not how this is going to go.
You’ve started off with a bang. If I were Catholic, Orthodox and one of the many restoration sects I’d say “THERE IS”. Unfortunately Mormonism isn’t at all immune from this question. If Joseph Smith restored God’s one true church, why are there over 100 different Mormon sects? (Have you ever walked around Independence, Missouri?) The answer for Mormons is similar to the answer for Traditional Christians. There are as many reasons for all the different sects as there are sects.
The Protestant answer is that there is only one church. Jesus set up a spiritual community of true believers that are united by the Holy Spirit rather than a earthly organizational structure with accounting practices and human resource policies. His Kingdom is not of this world. The diversity of churches allows for different expressions of worship, devotional practice and theological emphasis. It’s absurd to think that African Christians should culturally practice their faith in the same was as Russian Christians. If God thinks there should be many variations of orchids, he must love the diversity of believers as well. Despite the MANY differences between traditional sects we are surprisingly united on the essentials. We’d probably have fewer sects if renegade frontiersman weren’t so inclined to call themselves prophets.
2. If the Bible has obvious contradictions, then how can it be viewed as the final and infallible word of God by Christians? (Acts 9:7, Acts 22:9)
I think you confused the words infallibility (no errors in teachings) with inerrancy (no errors). The concept of inerrancy has always applied to the original manuscripts not to errors in translation or transcription. In addition, Inerrancy only arose as a theological concept in response to Modernism about 100 years ago. Many Christians hold to Infallibility rather than Inerrancy. It’s likely that the term will lose popularity as a theological concept as Western culture moves away from Modernism to Post-Modernism (and beyond).
Whether Acts 9:7 and Acts 22:9 offer a contradiction is a debate for another time.
3. Does the Bible say anywhere in it that there will not be any more prophets or any additional scriptures?
No. Next question.
4. There are various letters from Paul and others that were not included in the Bible. Who gets to decide what goes into the Bible and what gets left out?
The early Christians councils determined what is included in the Bible with a number of criteria including, content, date written and the author’s relational proximity to Jesus and the 12 disciples. It could be that we might discover Paul’s lost letters and decide they fit the criteria used on the rest of the books of the New Testament. It could also be that those letters were more personal in nature and didn’t have much application outside their original audience and weren’t preserved for a reason.
We follow the pattern of the canon out of deference to the wisdom of the Christians who came before us. In principle I am personally open to the idea of an “open canon” but the criteria for expanding the canon would exclude anything written outside of the First Century.
It should be pointed out that while Mormons have added to the list of scriptures, they seem quite content with the Biblical canon. Whatever authority went into forming the Old Testament and New Testament seems to be sufficient for Mormons as LDS have always accepted those two collections.
5. Did we live as pre mortal spirits before we came to earth? (Jer 1:5, Job 38:7)
Mormons aren’t the only ones to presume a pre-mortal existence. Christians have debated the idea long before Joseph Smith. The concept may have some merit but I am not persuaded. Jeremiah 1:5 can just as easily apply to God’s knowledge of the future as a pre-mortal spirit. Job 38:7 is most probably a reference to angels rather than pre-mortal humans. It should be noted that God is telling Job that he was NOT there when God laid the corners of the Earth. So at the very least the passage is saying that Job did not have a pre-mortal spirit.
I personally don’t see any harm from a Christian believing in pre-mortal spirits. If it floats your boat to existence have fun.
It looks like the next string of questions are all related to the Trinity and should be kept together and this post is getting too long. So keep your eyes out for Part 2.