A Born-Again Mormon

Shawn McCraney, author of “I was a Born-Again Mormon” and sometimes controversial host of “Heart of the Matter” sat down with Mormon Stories.  Shawn talks about his conversion out of Mormonism, his methods and tactics and what he thinks Mormons need more than anything else.

I’m always interested and engaged when I watch Shawn.  He’s a very charismatic person. I’m not always sold on his delivery.  It was great to get to know a little bit more about his Christian values and his journey to Jesus.  I guarantee that if you watch this interview you’ll have a better understanding of him and what he is after.

You can watch the interview here or listen to it at Mormon Stories.

What Has Changed?

I entered the world of online Mormon discussions at about this time 4 years ago.  It was shortly after visiting the Newport Beach Temple.  Upon returning home my wife promptly fired up the internet to find out all the sacrets that our tour guide wasn’t allowed to tell us.  That lead me to not only learn those sacrets but to discover a dearth of information concerning a fascinating topic I thought I already knew a lot about (but didn’t).  I haven’t learned everything I know about Mormonism from the internet, but certainly most of it.  I used to spend a great deal of time at FAIR, and then Ex-Mormon.org. Then after having a bad taste in my mouth from both places I played around a little bit on the MySpace Mormonism forums and then dove into the blogging world. (for a more complete history of my life with Mormons, check out my series: Me & Mormons)

I have noticed some changes since I started hanging out on the web with Mormons. The change I have seen has been how Mormon history is discussed.  When I first started blogging, I made a decision to not focus on Mormon history as much as possible.  It was being done elsewhere and the tone of the discussion didn’t seem all that fruitful for what I was after.  It used to be that discussions on Mormon history where a back and forth about what the facts really were, mostly focusing on Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy, Brigham Young’s teaching of the Adam-God doctrine, the Mountain Meadow Massacre and translation methods of the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham.  Now those facts are for the most part pretty much agreed upon.   The discussion has instead turned to “does it matter”.  The conversation has become about theology rather than history.

Occasionally you’ll find an odd nut attempting to claim that Joseph wasn’t a polygamist, but when that happens both Mormons and Non-Mormons come at them with the same ammo and knowing smirk on their faces.

If I had to say there was one thing that changed the focus of the discussion on the internet it was Rough Stone Rolling.  Bushman provided a faithful Mormon voice to the same things that Non-Mormons had been saying for quite some time.  He gave Mormons permission to own their history rather than being forced to repudiate it.  I’d say very few of us involved in these discussions have actually read the book, but it gave us a common source to point to and agree with.

If I had to say there was one site (or person) that has changed the discussion it would be Mormon Stories (and John Dehlin).  While few of us have the time to read Rough Stone Rolling, it was quite easy and accessible to listen to a podcast that discussed the same things.  Again Mormon Stories provided a voice from someone attempting to be faithful to the church but delivering information that was typically viewed as threatening to Mormonism.

While I’m on the topic of changes on the web I’d have to say the rise of “New Order Mormonsim” is right up there as a shift in the community (again John Dehlin probably gets the lion’s share of the credit for bringing that community out of the shadows).  There’s also the rise of friendly ex-mormonism.  If you haven’t checked out the Mormon Expression Podcast you should.  I’m impressed with their ability to discuss Mormonism and Mormon culture from a knowledgeable but outsiders viewpoint without anger or reprisal.

Of course, if you’re still looking for a good history and archeology debate, the Book of Mormon holds a great deal of potential. But even there, you see very few strongly holding to the Lamanite and Nephite people living near or visiting Palmyra, New York. If they are out there, they find themselves debating against Mormons more so or as much as Non-Mormons.

What Separates Mormons and Evangelicals Most?

I’m hoping that we can find agreement in a discussion about what separates Mormons and Evangelicals the most. We may not ever come to an agreement on all things, but at the very least we can agree about exactly what it is that we disagree about.

The idea for the this post came from a comment made by The Yellow Dart.  He as an aside suggested that he thinks the thing that most separates us is the doctrine of “creation ex nihilo” (which means that God created everything out of nothing).  I think that is for sure a key area of disagreement but not the thing that MOST separates us.

Instead I think our disagreements start and end with Joseph Smith.  In every instance of conflict, everything boils down to the prophetic authority of Joseph Smith.  Evangelicals hold him to be a false prophet and thus disregard anything new or contradictory to the Bible.  Mormons hold him to be a true prophet and more relevant to our day and age.  If we came to a mutual understanding of Joseph Smith virtually every other difference would fade away.

Am I wrong? Is there something more fundamental to our differences?

Pelagius, Charles Finney and the Origins of Mormonism

A podcast I listen to about Christians solutions to poverty makes a big point on the tragedy of taking shortcuts.  The implications of shortcuts were ringing in my ears as I listened to this Stand to Reason podcast about Charles Finney

Direct link here. Full episode here.

Charles Finney was a Presbyterian minister who was largely responsible for the Second Great Awakening, an American revival in the early 19th Century. He’s credited with inventing the modern day “altar call” and born-again experience.  What most people don’t know is that Finney was largely influenced by Pelagius, a 4th Century monk and heretic, who didn’t believe in vicarious atonement or original sin. Finney sought to gather people around Jesus as merely a moral figure and make the church a moral reform society.  Finney preached that “deeds not creeds” should be our focus to that end.

Probably the worst thing that came out of Finney’s revivals was the “get saved” mentality which sought out converts rather than disciples.  It was Finney’s philosophy to do and say whatever necessary to get people to make a decision at that moment.  Unfortunately that led to a rather shallow depth of faith for his converts.  As other revivals came through the area people were switching back and forth between denominations based on the powerful calls to action the revival preachers offered rather than a rich understanding of the tenets of their faith.

Because of the intense revivalist battles the area eventually earned the name the “burned-over district“.  It also became known as the psychic highway.  It became a sort of  past time in the area to have intense spiritual experiences and to create new religions around those experiences.  Among those religions, Mormonism.

This podcast also has a great number of implications and insights into our recent discussion on liberal Christianity and “faithless” religion.

What Jesus Thinks About Polygamy

Exodus 21:10-11

If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights.  If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money.

Deuteronomy 24:1-4

If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies,  then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the LORD. Do not bring sin upon the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance.

With these scriptures in mind, the Pharisees came to Jesus to get his take on what constitued what “displeasing” meant.  Some thought it only applied to sexual immorality others thought that wrinkles and burnt food counted.  The Pharisees liked the latter definition over the former.  To them Jesus said:

Matthew 19:3-12

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”

Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”

There are a number of things set up in the Mosaic law that we would not want to live with and acting on them is not what we would call righteous.  The rest of Exodus 21 talks all about selling off your daughter and how to treat slaves.

As you may noticed the Pharisees tried to say that divorce was commanded by Moses and Jesus corrects them.  It was permitted because their hearts were hard. As polygamy and slavery are mentioned right there alongside divorce in Exodus 21, I don’t think we have to take a huge jump to conclude that they were also permitted because the Israelites hearts were hard  (Further backed up by Paul calling elders to be the husband of but one wife). The rules governing them were provisions for remaining lawfully in the nation of Israel.  They were not commandments for righteous living.

Modern day polygamist often claim that living out polygamy is an act of righteousness.  I think Jesus quite clearly tells us that it is an act of hard-heartedness.

When God commanded Joseph Smith to resume polygamy was it because he was calling him to righteousness or hard-heartedness? Will we have hard hearts in the afterlife?

Can a Christian Follow a False Prophet?

When I was in college I went on a field trip to the Scientology Celebrity Centre. This is the kind of thing you do when you go to a Christian college. While I was off meeting Tom Cruise, some other group of students was visiting the local Mormon ward. Our tour guide explained that Scientology is not a religion and that their membership included members of all kinds of faith.

We were on a fact finding trip so all of our questions were only meant to clarify not to challenge. But even if I were allowed to challenge the glassy-eyed young woman I don’t think I could have successfully influenced her to believe that a Christian could not truly call themselves both a Christian and a Scientologist. The two would seem to contain mutually exclusive propositions. The deeper your knowledge of the two became the more in conflict they would appear to be. (for example )

The topic of the security of salvation for Mormons is often brought up when LDS and Evangelicals get together.  Quite frankly it’s often put in these terms by Evangelicals “you’re going to hell”. I don’t wish to debate whether or not Mormons are Christians or pretend to know who exactly is going to hell.  The only thing I know about it is that we all deserve to go there and Christ alone is the judge of what level of belief a person must have to warrant his grace.

But one thing is for sure, false prophets are specifically condemned by nearly every New Testament writer and Jesus himself.  We MUST be on the look out for them and we MUST reject their teachings.  It doesn’t appear to me that a true disciple of Christ can follow a false prophet. At best you could say a person is a failed disciple of Christ.

An immature believer might continue to engage in sin.  But as that person is disciplined and molded into the character of Jesus their transgression will lessen in frequency and severity.  This is the good fruit of a true believer.

Likewise, I think we can expect to see immature believers following after false prophets and bad teachings.  I don’t expect to find the serious elite of Christianity sitting in the pews of the health-and-wealth churches.  But as they investigate the Bible and their own faith with more seriousness, as they learn to listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, they will learn to recognize false prophets when they hear them.

So what should we think of a person with a salvation experience who goes on sinning?  Their bad fruit makes me nervous for them.  They certainly are not entering into the Kingdom of Heaven and I don’t know if I can say with any certainty that they ever will. Over 70% of US citizens claim they have a personal relationship with Jesus that is still important to them today.  Clearly there is a difference between saying you have faith in Jesus and actually practicing faith in him.  I simply don’t know if they ever loved Jesus.

I think the same can be said for those who listen to false prophets.  It can be excused as immaturity to some degree. But when those individuals start reaching into leadership positions and serious Biblical study, their inability to understand “sound doctrine” leaves me puzzled at the seriousness of their commitment to Christ.  To be sure, they exhibit a serious commitment to their religious practice and to the false teachings they’ve adopted.  But if they can not abandon those for their first love, I don’t know if I can say they ever loved Jesus.

But a true follower of Jesus will seek after righteousness and truth and strive to abandon both sin and falsehood.  Is a person who goes on sinning a true Christian?  “By their fruits you shall know them.”   Is a person who follows a false prophet a true Christian? “By their fruits you shall know them.”

Now before everyone gets their panties in a bunch.  I don’t think this line of reasoning is necessarily good news for me.  I think the same can be said for rejecting a true prophet.  I think Joseph Smith clearly demonstrated himself to be an abusive, manipulative false prophet.  If he happens to have been a true prophet of Christ (with the longest leash in history), and I reject him and encourage others to reject him, what kind of standing do I have with Jesus? “By their fruits you shall know them.” The last thing you could say about me is that I am a “good Christian”. My actions prove otherwise.

Perhaps there is a third way out.  Do you believe a true follower of Jesus could follow a false prophet or reject a true prophet?

Oprah’s Cult Club

While on sabbatical from religious blogging a number of blog-post worthy things happened, mostly on television. One of those events was Oprah Winfrey’s journey into the heart of Fundamental Mormonism for some fresh baked bread.

I had two strong thoughts on Oprah’s visit to the Yearning for Zion Ranch. The first was that she is extraordinarily savvy at disarming people and becoming accepted by them enough for interviews. The second was that she wasn’t prepared enough to probe past the “milk-before-meat” half-truth answers they were giving. She quite often just accepted their answers on face value. Perhaps that was part of her plan though, to limit any and all confrontations (for future visits).

What surprised me the most was that she used the word “cult” several times (the irony of Oprah talking about cults aside). I think Oprah correctly used the term in referring to the FLDS as a cult. Every expert on mind-control and sociological cults classifies them as a cult and they meet every qualification you can think of.

I recognize that LDS are sensitive to the use of the “C” word. But I’m wondering what LDS think of the FLDS. If you’re LDS, do you consider the FLDS a cult? If not, is that because you eschew the word entirely, because you don’t think any group should be called a cult, because you don’t believe there is any such thing as a mind-controlling cult, or for some other reason specific to the FLDS?

Please note: this discussion is NOT about polygamy or government’s misuse of power in protecting children. It IS about mind-control and the FLDS use of such tactics.

Please ALSO note:
To be absolutely clear. I’m not asking if you think the words “cult” and “brain washed” are good terms for defining groups we don’t like.

I’m asking if you think the FLDS meet the strictest of definitions used by psychological professionals.

Could evangelicals accept Joseph Smith as a fallen prophet?

Since Tim’s on hiatus for Lent, I’m doing a guest post so that we can still have an evangelical voice while he’s away. I know you’re excited about that, you don’t even have to say it. Now on to the post!

I’ve always been intrigued by the 1832 account of the First Vision, written in Joseph Smith’s own hand. It says:

marvilous even in the likeness of him who created him (them) and when I considered upon these things my heart exclaimed well hath thewise man said the (it is a) fool (that) saith in his heart there is no God my heart exclaimed all all these bear testimony and bespeak an omnipotant and omnipreasant power a being who makith Laws and decreeeth and bindeth all things in their bounds who filleth Eternity who was and is and will be from all Eternity to Eternity and when I considered all these things and that (that) being seeketh such to worship him as worship him in spirit and in truth therefore I cried unto the Lord for mercy for there was none else to whom I could go and to obtain mercy and the Lord heard my cry in the wilderness and while in (the) attitude of calling upon the Lord (in the 16th year of my age) a piller of fire light above the brightness of the sun at noon day come down from above and rested upon me and I was filled with the spirit of god and the (Lord) opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord and he spake unto me saying Joseph (my son) thy sins are forgiven thee. go thy (way) walk in my statutes and keep my commandments behold I am the Lord of glory I was crucifyed for the world that all those who believe on my name may have Eternal life (behold) the world lieth in sin and at this time and none doeth good no not one they have turned asside from the gospel and keep not (my) commandments they draw near to me with their lips while their hearts are far from me and mine anger is kindling against the inhabitants of the earth to visit them acording to th[e]ir ungodliness and to bring to pass that which (hath) been spoken by the mouth of the prophets and Ap[o]stles behold and lo I come quickly as it [is] written of me in the cloud (clothed) in the glory of my Father and my soul was filled with love and for many days I could reioice with great Joy and the Lord was with me but [I] could find none that would believe the hevnly vision nevertheless I pondered these things in my heart about that time my mother and but after many days

Some observations:

Continue reading

Lost in Translation

The Book of Mormon declares that the Bible has been deliberately altered (see 1 Nephi 13:26-28). Mormons will often point to all the different translations of the Bible as proof that it has been changed. You can ask them something like:

  • Does translation always lessen scripture’s value or change its teaching?
  • What about the Book of Mormon? How many translations have been made of it? Is it less reliable in French or German?
  • Does the church put a disclaimer on the Book of Mormon in other languages as they do with the Bible? If not, why not?
  • If professional LDS translators can reliably take the English Book of Mormon into French, why can’t professional translators take the Greek New Testament into English?
  • If the Bible is in such bad shape, which verses are wrong, so I won’t use them?

The last question in this sequence I think is an excellent question.  Some LDS will point to the Joseph Smith translation as a means of finding out which verses in the Bible are wrong.  This begs the question, if those same verses are found (word for word) in the Book of Mormon, are they also wrong? Which is more reliable, the Book of Mormon or the Joseph Smith Translation?

For the record, I think translation does in fact lessen scripture’s meaning.  It’s an inherent problem in translation.  Studying the scriptures in their original languages holds immense value.  But that said, I don’t think any of the major translations of the Bible can be shown to have negligently translated the original language.

Many of the cultural Mormon arguments against the Bible are made out of a ignorance of the translation process.  There’s an understanding that modern English translation are updated from the KJV rather than taken directly from the oldest manuscripts.

Rejecting Christ

Is this statement an accurate description of LDS thought? If you’re a Mormon do you agree with it? Why or why not?

“Those who reject that Joseph Smith talked with Jesus Christ, are NOT ONLY REJECTING Joseph Smith, they are ALSO REJECTING Jesus Christ.”

[Edit: this statement was expressed at an LDS sacrament meeting. I did not hear it directly though]

Joseph Smith is the Anti-Christ

The key to great blog stats is all in the title.  If you can figure out what search terms people are using to research a particular topic, you can rule the search for hits.  I’ve found this true not only from this blog, but from other web projects.  This blog has been active for 22 months.  Below are the most popular postings by title:

Jesus Was A Polygamist? – Clearly no one is interested in my thoughts on a silly painting.

The Worst Chicken Coop Ever Made – If you misspell “Chicken Coop” in your title, the URL keeps your typo and everyone else who misspells that word finds your religious blog

Jesus and the Mayans – I’m thanking the Hemispheric Theory of the Book of Mormon for this one.

We Need to Apologize – This isn’t popular in search terms so it must be that I put it front and center (and it’s so different than what most LDS hear from Evangelicals).

Joseph Saved Me From Getting Hung Up On Jesus – A big thanks to ex-mormon.org for discussing this thread.

We Push Them Out Into What? – My big splash into the Bloggernacle.  A number of blogs linked to this article.

Calvary Chapel is a Cult – Calvary Chapel should be worried about the number of people using this search term.

Is the Bible factually reliable? How does it matter?

Setting aside a point-by-point response to Licona’s argument for the proof of the historicity of the resurrection presented indirectly in the previous post (Which, for the record, is not really convincing to me, especially the points where he says that “100% of scholars agree” (seriously, does such proposition really exist?) I think the reliability question that Tim has raised is an important question for both Evangelicals and Mormons and I think there are some interesting differences in how they seem to approach the question.

Of course the Bible is not very reliable on all kinds of things, such as the definition of Pi, the classification of birds and insects, etc. (most Evangelicals agree on this as well) but the critical question is it a reliable witness for the things that are not seen?

I think some Mormons and most Evangelicals believe in some form of the theory that the writers of the Bible were directly guided to write what they put down on paper (metal or papyrus, as the case may be). That through some “mystical” experience these writers were directed to put the words that ended up on the scripture page. If you believe this theory,(which is not established within the text), the bible is almost by definition reliable.

Some Mormons seem to have a more open understanding of how the bible was written. Understanding it was written by men who were essentially similar to the leadership of the church today, they understand that a multitude of different opinions can be expressed in many scriptural genres without a compelling reason to accept each statement as words from God’s Mouth. The New Testament, excluding the Revelation of John is written from some guys’ perspective, the Gospels and Acts are narratives from (ostensibly) one person’s perspective and the epistles are sermons similar to LDS conference talks. I think from a Mormon perspective we can see that the sermons of Paul and the other Apostles could go wrong by overemphasizing things that those men thought was important and underemphasizing other topics, Mormons also can recognize that they might have just got things wrong on some points (just as we can see this in latter-day apostles’ writings and sermons).

I think some Mormons could say that we listen to prophets and believe the scriptures because they resonate with the source of truth that is inherent to us, our spirit and God’s.

I think writings that claim to be direct revelation from God are more problematic, but I think we should read the statement “according to me” after the statement “Thus saith the Lord” when we read the D&C as well as Revelation. Others may disagree but I think it only makes sense to understand all revelation as coming through a spokesperson who has the ability to put words in the Lord’s mouth wittingly or unwittingly to make the message make sense. Those who believe in this sort of revelation simply don’t have the phenomenological equipment to explain how the voice of God speaks through man since 1) extremely few people have ever had the guts to speak in this manner and 2) those that did haven’t explained the process very well and it usually comes to us second hand. Therefore I class the “thus Saith the Lord” scriptures in almost the same category as other scriptures.

I think some Mormons could say that we listen to prophets and believe the scriptures because they resonate with the source of truth that is within us. The Bible is reliable if an when it speaks from the Spirit.

To such an LDS, the scriptures are reliable in the message that resonates with the Spirit of God and if they are unreliable in every other way then we can live with that.

Evangelicals like Tim seem to be much more rigid, appearing to say that if the scriptures are not reliable as historical documents then we can trust the message, and therefore making the historical accuracy a near tenant of faith.

While Christianity is eminently a historical religion, which depends on the historical events of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, I think it’s goes a bit too far to allow historical evidence to either make or break your faith, especially considering the multitude of ways you can interpret historical events.

I think an absolutely central principle to my faith (and Mormonism) is that every person has some ability to determine right and wrong and to discern things of God just as children recognize their parents voices. I also think that there is something central to Mormonism regarding knowing the truth through living it. I.e. We can “know of the doctrine” if we do His will. These sorts of measures of are not really mystical at all but they are not particularly scientific either.

I think Brigham Young explained the Mormon position quite well:

“I believe that the Bible contains the word of God, and the words of good men and the words of bad men; the words of good angels and the words of bad angels and words of the devil; and also the words uttered by the ass when he rebuked the prophet in his madness. I believe the words of the Bible are just what they are; but aside from that I believe the doctrines concerning salvation contained in that book are true, and that their observance will elevate any people, nation or family that dwells on the face of the earth. The doctrines contained in the Bible will lift to a superior condition all who observe them; they will impart to them knowledge, wisdom, charity, fill them with compassion and cause them to feel after the wants of those who are in distress, or in painful or degraded circumstances. They who observe the precepts contained in the Scriptures will be just and true, and virtuous and peaceable at home and abroad. Follow out the doctrines of the Bible and men will make splendid husbands, women excellent wives, and children will be obedient; they will make families happy and the nations wealthy and happy and lifted up above the things of this life. Can any see any harm in all this? … “Now, if we can take the low and degraded and elevate them in their feelings, language and manners; if we can impart to them the sciences that are in the world, teach them all that books contain, and in addition to all this, teach them principles that are eternal, and calculated to make them a beautiful community, lovely in their appearance, intelligent in every sense of the word, would you not say that our system is praiseworthy and possesses great merit? Well, this is all in that book called the Bible, and the faithful observance of the principles taught in that book will do this for any family or nation on the earth.” Journal of Discourses, Vol.13, p.176, Brigham Young, May 29, 1870. Cf. JD, Vol.13, p.235 – p.236,

JD, Vol.14, p.99, Brigham Young, August 8, 1869 – “We believe the Bible and practice it, as far as our weaknesses will permit. Not that we do it perfectly; as it has been stated this morning, we have darkness, unbelief, ignorance, superstition, and our traditions to contend with and overcome; and they cling to us to that degree that we can hardly overcome them.”

Why It Matters That Jesus Is “My God”

I’m beginning a new post because the comments in my last post got off on a number of diversions. Among those comments were these:

Jared said:
What does Thomas’ opinion (as reported by John) matter, in the original Greek or otherwise?

Seth said:
. . .But like Jared, I wonder why Thomas’s opinion has much weight for our purposes.

Kullervo also made a number of good points questioning the historicity of John that are important to discuss and I don’t wish to dismiss them. But in the realm of Mormon and Evangelical conversations it’s not an issue. Both Mormons and Evangelicals have come to agree that they are Thomas’ words and that the Gospel of John accurately records them. We also agree that those words are authoritatively canonized and should be viewed as scripture.

So why does it matter that Thomas called Jesus “my God”? (John 20:28) It matters because it tells us, as disciples of Jesus, what kind of view WE should have of Jesus. It gives us an indication of what we should think when we encounter a risen Jesus. Thomas was not chastised by Jesus for declaring him to be his God. Instead Jesus acknowledges his belief and says others will be blessed for having the same belief without the benefit of sight.

Compare this to John falling at the feet of Jesus in Revelation 1 (a correct response) and to John falling at the feet of an angel in Revelation 19 (an incorrect response). Jesus apparently expects his followers to fall at his feet and worship him as their God. It matters because it is what is due to Jesus. Denying God the worship he deserves has consequences.

The Book of Mormon and sermons by Joseph Smith both indicate that this should be our posture to Jesus as well. The “Joseph Smith Translation” doesn’t even scratch this portion of John. If, as a Christian, you don’t think Jesus should be worshiped as your God I’d like to know why and what your opinion is of Thomas and John’s example.

Random thought about this passage

It struck me in church today that in John’s Gospel, the stories after the resurrection seem to be cleaning some loose ends from before the crucifixion. Similar to Jesus asking Peter three times if he loved him I think this story about Thomas has some relevance to a conversation Thomas and Jesus had at the Last Supper.

John 14: 5-7

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Resist With All Your Might

I’m curious how LDS would respond to a person who accepts Moroni’s challenge, then prays with all integrity and humility, and then receives an answer from a still small voice that says:

“Resist the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith and the LDS church with all your might. Do what ever you can in righteousness to thwart their mission and destroy their destructive influence.”

Should that answer be accepted as valid and trustworthy? Please explain.

In What Way Is It True

Seth recently suggested that there were a number of ways to view the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith. Several of them suggest that they are true. In which was do you view the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith:

Let me break it down for clarity. There are a few ways to view the Book of Mormon:

  1. An actual “true” historical document about what went down in the Americas
  2. A true religious document containing God’s stated prophesies and teachings
  3. A useful book of moral teachings
  4. A dangerous and false book

There are several different ways to view Joseph Smith:

  1. An infallible prophet who always spoke with perfection when addressing spiritual or God-related matters.
  2. A fallible prophet who got things right most of the time or perhaps only half the time on “spiritual matters.” Or a variation on this one – a fallen prophet who began well, but eventually fell off the wagon.
  3. An often well-intentioned fraud who had some neat ideas and was possibly inspired on occasion
  4. A wicked sort of fraud who should be discounted entirely.

Personally I go between #3 and 4 on both (BoM more 3 and JS more 4). But I would be THRILLED with the LDS church accepting #3 for both items. Former President Hinckley said that there is no middle ground. Either it’s all true or it’s a wicked fraud. Was he right? What does the LDS church teach about both?

Because Joseph Said It Was True

Leviticus 18:18
Do not take your wife’s sister as a rival wife and have sexual relations with her while your wife is living.

In March of 1843 Joseph Smith took two sisters, Emily and Eliza Partridge as polygamous wives. (Actually he married them twice but that’s another story.) In discussing Old Testament polygamy, defenders of latter-day polygamy are quick to point out the provisions and restrictions on polygamy listed in the Bible as justification.

As interesting as polygamy is, this post is not about that.

A problem I think Evangelicals and Mormons encounter in discussing Biblical doctrine is that we’re really not on the same playing field. We have different rules for its application. We Evangelicals want to show why Mormonism is false by illustrating through the Bible why Mormon doctrine is in contradiction to the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. The slipperiness or non-existence of Mormon doctrine not withstanding, this is a difficult proposition.

It is difficult for one reason. Despite the fact that Mormons claim that the Bible is scripture and hold it up as such, the Bible will always take a seat when something Joseph Smith said or did comes in contradiction to it. Joseph can do or say anything because he says he’s a prophet with authority over the Bible. I point out the passage from Numbers as an illustration of this. Here on one hand, we have a clear Biblical passage restricting polygamous wives from being sisters. On our other hand we have Joseph Smith’s direct violation of this commandment. Mormons will wave this off quite simply by saying “But God commanded him to do it.”

So it seems that no matter how clearly the Bible might or might not illuminate to us that there is and only will be ONE God, it’s generally fruitless for me to point it out because Joseph was told something different. Mormons will always hold the words of Joseph Smith over the words of the Bible.

What troubles me about that is that I have friends who are willing to reject teachings of the Bible in favor of something one man merely says Gold told him. There is no evidence for any of Joseph’s revelation whether it is the plurality of gods or the plurality of wives that anyone experienced other than Joseph Smith. The only thing anyone has ever had to go on is “because Joseph said it was true” (and perhaps “I’ve got a good feeling about it”).

I could point out Biblical passages which instruct us to accept new prophecy only when it conforms to scripture. But here again, there’s no point in directing Mormons to the Bible, as long as Joseph tells them that his new revelations supercede scripture and they decide to take his word for it.

Ask a Mormon on 106.7 KROQ

The Kevin and Bean Show on KROQ recently had a featured called “Ask a Mormon”. Interesting what they decided to discuss. Their guest is an ex-Mormon, but by no means a raving lunatic.

It’s at the 14 minute mark if you want to fast forward. The Kevin and Bean show is a long running morning program on a popular rock station in Los Angeles, so you can expect to get everything that might come along with that. Sadly for us Evangelicals, I think they handled the subject matter much more respectfully than many of our own radio host would have.

Click here to download.

We Push Them Out . . . Into What?

My own non-scientific observation and speculation is that 70-80% of ex-Mormons not only leave the LDS church, they leave Christianity entirely. I think for this reason we Evangelicals need to be careful in the way we present information that we think challenges Joseph Smith’s prophetic status. There are several reasons for this phenomena in my opinion and I’ll name a few of them in a minute. But I think we need to consider how and why we might pull someone from a place where we are uncertain about their place in Christ to a place where they are certain that they want nothing to do with Him.

There are several reasons I think ex-Mormons leave Christ. It’s a complex problem and it always concerns individual choice. But I think I can highlight some of the major themes. None of these are true of all Mormons or all ex-Mormons.

1) Many Mormons have spent much of their lives questioning nothing about their faith. They’ve recently learned the tools of skepticism and they become rampantly skeptical of everything. When you first give a child a hammer, everything becomes a nail. We have two obligations when it comes to knowledge. The first is to believe as many true things as possible. The second is to not believe as many false things as possible. Neglecting either one of these obligations is the same fallacy on opposite ends of the spectrum. I think many ex-Mormons are so upset that they lived by faith in things that they now believe are false that they are determined NEVER to believe any false thing again (which in general is a good idea). Unfortunately they stop believing some true things as well.

C.S. Lewis describes characters like this at the end of “The Last Battle”. A false Aslan is exposed and his followers refuse to accept the true Aslan when he meets them because they never want to be tricked again.

2) We Evangelicals offer what we are against, false prophets, rather than what we are for, a personal relationship with Jesus that transforms us into new creations that live by grace. So we shouldn’t be surprised when ex-Mormons take what we offer and nothing more.

3) There are many in the LDS church who find the words “obedience to Christ” and “obedience to the Church” to be synonymous. Jesus and the church are the same thing for many Mormons. So when they leave the Church they leave Jesus without it ever occurring to them that Jesus may be different than the Church. For some Mormons the Church is more central to their faith than Jesus. The only reason they follow Jesus is because the Prophet told them to. I think some of this is inspired by false ideas in Mormon culture and some of it inspired false ideas taught by the LDS church.

(I don’t think Evangelicals are guiltless here either. There are far too many Evangelicals who confuse Jesus with the Republican party, American patriotism, financial prosperity and a host of other things. Our need to clean house on these things will be a future topic.)

4) The never believed in the first place. They were born into the Mormon culture and religion. They’ve long felt atheism to be true.

5) Sin and the desire all people have to live in rebellion from Jesus.

6) They feel the evidence supporting the reliability of the Bible/Christianity is no stronger than the evidence for the Book of Mormon/Mormonism. This is encouraged by the LDS church’s deconstruction of all other Christian faiths. It’s a restoration church so it has to show why mainstream Christianity is false and why the Bible is unreliable by itself. To supports it’s own mission, the LDS church has latched onto the best the anti-Christian community has to offer and used it to bolster its own claims. When ex-Mormons leave the LDS church, they don’t need to learn why mainstream Christianity is false, they’ve been taught that their whole lives.

Once again, not all of these are true of every ex-Mormon, but I think this covers the general reason ex-Mormons most often become ex-Christians as well. Did I miss any?

To LDS, I say pursue Jesus with me above all else. To Evangelicals, I say be careful that when you replace Jesus for Joseph that it’s really “Jesus” in their hand.

Dealing with History

I was asked on another blog:

In your experience, in the Evangelical community, how has Protestantism dealt with it’s past? From my understanding, Catholicism and Protestanism hasn’t had a clean slate either. While historically, facts are given, how does that affect membership, say of someone who questions whether an organization with such problems be from God, and how does Protestantism reconcile those instances in history?

No doubt there have been many historical scars in the past of mainstream Christianity. Be it the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Salem Witch trials and numerous tele-evangelist scandals there is a lot of ugliness in our past. My own church, which is only 10 years old, is not without its blemishes. Our founding pastor admitted to having an affair with a married woman and was released from ministry about 5 years ago.

So, why are Protestants resilient in their faith despite all of these nasty things? I think there are a number of reasons. The first is that we place our faith in Jesus not our organizations. We attend our churches just as a way of worshiping Jesus. If we discovered that our church or denomination was corrupt, we would go on worshiping Jesus, we would just do it somewhere else. We view the church as a means to Jesus, but not Jesus’ means to us. We grant our churches with some authority, but believe in a more personal and individual authority that comes directly from Christ.

We expect to occasionally encounter sinful men in our churches. It really doesn’t affect me personally if Martin Luther hated Jews. My life and my faith have been profoundly impacted by his (and others) actions, but they are not centered around him. My life is centered around Jesus. So where I find Luther preaching truth about Jesus, I embrace him. Where I find him teaching falsehood, I reject him.

Another reason is that we don’t grow up believing a whitewashed version of events. We don’t control the information. When we learn about the Crusades, we learn both the good and the bad about them at the same time. All of the facts are there and we don’t (and can’t) pretend to believe in a “faith promoting” version. So we never have to wrestle with the difference between what we’ve been taught and what the facts actually are.

When contemporary scandals happen, we air them out. We expose them to light and go out of our way to make sure people know what happened and how. When a pastor has a moral failing it for sure can be devastating to a congregation. But the disappointment they feel is directed at their pastor, not at God. Evangelicals are guilty of putting people on pedestals, but when they fall off we recognize that it wasn’t God who put them up there.

I think this is a chief cultural difference between Evangelicals and LDS. We are not under the notion that God is directing the everyday operation of our churches. We for sure want to be following God’s will and seek after it, but we also know that there are many decisions that are made in our churches which are just people using their best judgment. LDS to some extent MUST believe that their leaders are specifically appointed by Jesus. In varying degrees LDS hold that every direction and appointment is coming via the direct authority of God. So when men fail (as they always will) the disappointment follows the chain back up to God.