Christian Books for Former Mormons

A couple of months ago I was asked for a list of books to help a former Mormons transition to Protestantism.  I reached out to some friends and we came up with this list.These books are listed in order of complexity and depth, starting with the easiest to read.

Good News for Anxious Christians: 10 Practical Things You Don’t Have to Do

Starting at the Finish Line: The Gospel of Grace for Mormons

The Cross of Christ

An Exploration of Christian Theology

Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview

I also STRONGLY recommend getting a modern English translation of the Bible. I love the King James Version and I think it’s a great translation, I recommend it to all my 400 year old friends. The English language has evolved and some of the phrasing in the KJV is archaic which makes it more difficult to understand. The newer translation were all created consulting the oldest known manuscripts of the Bible and were translated from the original languages so you can trust them to be accurate. Fears of the “Telephone Game” are misplaced. I almost always use the NIV. I also highly recommend reading the Bible in a paraphrase known as “The Message”. It’s available for free on the YouVersion Bible App created by

I recommend a fresh reading of Romans, Galatians and Hebrews with an attempt to dismiss everything you’ve been taught about these scriptures. Try to read them as if this is the first time you’ve read. If you can read them each in one sitting I think your experience will be even better. Don’t view the chapters as natural stopping points.

Lastly there is a study program called LDS Transitions that was made by Christians in Utah who saw a need for it based on the large number of people that have started to transition out of the LDS church.

My favorite book for all Christians is “The Divine Conspiracy” by Dallas Willard. It’s probably not the best book to start with as part of a transition, but sometime in your life you should read it.

God & Science

Biola University recently hosted an forum where the toughest scientific challenges to Christianity were fielded by William Lane Craig, JP Moreland and John Lennox. I thought the discussion was as candid as you could hope. Topics covered included the multiverse, the problem of the God in the gaps, historical Adam & Eve, and human sex with neanderthals. Hugh Hewitt moderated and kept the conversation lively and challenging.

Maximally Perfect in Every Way

In his book The God Question, JP Moreland sets out to give a basic overview of why someone should consider becoming a Christian and what her life should look like in following Jesus.

In his chapter on Worship he states:

Christian philosophers call God a “Maximally Perfect Being.” This sounds pretty heady, but in reality, it is a crucial concept. To see why, think of people who are phenomenally gifted. Now, these folks deserve respect for their attributes, abilities, or whatever. How much respect? They deserve a degree of respect proportionate to their excellence in their area of giftedness, such as intelligence. But these people do not deserve our complete or full respect. Why? Well, if someone more intelligent came on the scene, the new person would deserve more respect. So even if a more intelligent person is not around, we know such a person undoubtedly exists, so we hold back our respect a bit.

A Maximally Perfect Being is one who could not possibly be surpassed in wisdom, mercy, love, power, and so on. God is not the greatest being who happens to exist. He is the greatest being who could possibly exist. The implication should be clear: God is worthy of our complete, full, deepest, total commitment. Worship is the act of giving admiration, respect, affection, honor, reverence, and adoration to God. And given the nature of God, worship should be unreserved and total.

I think his thoughts give a good overview of why Evangelicals are so scandalized by Mormon teachings on the nature of God. To view God as someone who may have once been a man, might have been a sinner, or even someone who is in the process of progressing robs Him of something integral to His character. To the Evangelical ear, Mormonism states that God is not a Maximally Perfect being.

This is part of the reason Evangelicals often ask Mormons why they don’t seek to worship the god of God. We want to give respect and worship to the one who deserves it most. We are seeking out the greatest possible being. If there is one greater than Heavenly Father we want to offer him our praise.

Mormons believe in a Mother in Heaven

Since Tim is gone, I thought I would back him up by writing a Tim-Style Post.  i.e. throw out a controversial LDS doctrine in sort of a challenging way and then open it up for comments.

Few Mormon doctrines are more radically paradigm-shifting than the believe in the existence of a Heavenly Mother.

What equally interesting to me is what this particular doctrine tells about how Mormonism works.

I think Evangelicals often stand with open-mouth when they read that those crazy Mormon’s believe such things because they are nowhere to be found in the Bible.  Aside from being a radical shift in understanding of God and Man between Protestants and Mormons, the doctrine also shows a fundamental difference in the way Mormons form their personal theology vs. the way Evangelicals seem to go about it.  This is what I want to explore with this post.  To try to explain to bible-focused (limited?) Evangelicals why Mormons believe in a Mother in Heaven, even when its not in the bible.  For this I am going to have to call on the usual bunch of commentators.

Few people, if any, know the ultimate origin of the idea that we have a Mother in Heaven.  Joseph Smith does not seem to have spoken directly about it in his life and there is no reference in the LDS Canon.

The first time we see it in writing comes from a woman, Eliza R. Snow, in a hymn, “O My Father”  President Kimball acknowledged that “O My Father” was a “doctrinal hymn” and dozens of prophets and apostles have reiterated this idea.

President Lorenzo Snow explained that Eliza Snow got the doctrine from Joseph shortly before he was murdered.

President Spencer W. Kimball in a general conference address:

“When we sing that doctrinal hymn … ‘O My Father,’ we get a sense of the ultimate in maternal modesty, of the restrained, queenly elegance of our Heavenly Mother, and knowing how profoundly our mortal mothers have shaped us here, do we suppose her influence on us as individuals to be less?” (Ensign, May 1978, p. 6.)

The doctrine of the hymn is pretty straightforward, there is a mother in heaven and we will return to live with Her and the Father, and that they together sent people on their mission to earth:

I had learned to call thee Father,
Thru thy Spirit from on high,
But, until the key of knowledge
Was restored, I knew not why.
In the heav’ns are parents single?
No, the thought makes reason stare!
Truth is reason; truth eternal

Tells me I’ve a mother there.
Let me come and dwell with you.
With your mutual approbation
All you sent me forth to do,
Then, at length, when I’ve completed
When I leave this frail existence,
When I lay this mortal by,
Father, Mother, may I meet you
In your royal courts on high?

So there we have it, a revolutionary new way of looking at God and heaven that turns traditional notions on their ear.

Mormons believe it, but I can see the Evangelicals left scratching their heads:

  1. The doctrine is not found in scripture, including Mormon Scripture
  2. The doctrine was not explicitly taught or explained by Joseph Smith (even though it is pretty clear that he was claimed that he originally  taught the doctrine)
  3. It really shifts away from all traditional interpretations of the Bible.

I can see how an Evangelical is probably left dumbfounded:  “You can’t win with those Mormons, how can I teach them correct theology whenthey are going to beleive stuff like this with such slim support or understanding?”

Here we have, in my mind, the genius as well as the vulnerability of  Mormonism. . . our willingness to believe in things that are not in the Bible.  To some Mormons, this doctrine is very uncomfortable.  We sometimes downplay it and even reproach those that make “too much” of it due to the little we “know” about it.  To others, agreeing with Eliza R. Snow, it makes religion make more sense: i.e. “If man is made in the image of God, why wouldn’t there be family in heaven as well as on earth. ”

I think if we can give a good explanation to our Evangelical friends  of why we believe this doctrine, they will be a lot closer to really understanding Mormonism.  (and we might have a clearer way of understanding our own view of how “doctrine” is born).

So Mormons, explain to Evangelicals :

1. Do you believe in a Mother in Heaven? and

2. Why?

3. What is the significance of the doctrine to you, to the Church, and to the world?

Evangelicals, we know you don’t believe it, and we know its not in the Bible, if you try to understand why we believe you may learn a lot about Mormonism in general that will enlighten you on how we do religion in other areas.

3 Aspects of Belief

I recently read something in JP Moreland’s “The Kingdom Triangle” that resonated with me. In regards to strengthening one’s faith he says there are three aspects of belief that are important to ponder.

1. The Content of a Belief. The content of a belief helps determine how important the belief is for our character and behavior. What we believe matters — the actual content of what we believe about God, morality, politics, life after death, and so on will shape the contours of our life and actions. In fact, the contents of our beliefs are so important that according to Scripture, our eternal destiny is determined by what we believe about Jesus Christ.

Today, people are inclined to think that the sincerity and fervency of one’s beliefs are more important than the content of the beliefs themselves. As long as we believe something honestly and strongly, we are told, that is all that matters. Nothing is further from the truth. Reality is basically indifferent to how sincerely we believe something. I can believe with all my might that my car will fly me to Hawaii . . . but that fervency doesn’t change a thing. As far as reality is concerned, what matters in not whether I like a belief or how sincere I am in believing it, but whether or not the belief is true. I am responsible for what I believe and, I might add, for what I refuse to believe because the content of what I do or do not believe makes a tremendous difference to what I become and how I act. [note from Tim: nobody doubts the sincerity of the 9/11 terrorist, but we still think they will be punished despite their efforts to try their best to do God’s will because the contents of their beliefs led them to conclude something evil was in fact righteous.]

2. The Strength of a Belief. In addition to content, a belief also exhibits some degree or other of strength. To see what I mean here, consider the fact that we all believe things without being absolutely certain that they are true. If you believe something, then you are at least more than 50 percent convinced the belief is true. If it were 50-50 for you, you wouldn’t really hold the belief in question. You would still be evaluating the claim to see whether or not you should believe it. A belief’s strength is the degree to which you are convince it is true. As you gain evidence and support for a belief, its strength grows for you. That belief may start off as plausible and later become fairly likely, quite likely, beyond reasonable doubt, or completely certain. The more certain you are of a belief, the more it becomes a part of your very soul, and the more you rely on it as a basis for action.

3. The Centrality of a Belief.
Finally, there is the belief’s centrality. The centrality of a belief is a measure of how crucial the belief is for supporting your other beliefs. The more central a belief is, the greater will be its impact on your worldview if the belief were given up. My belief that tulips are better than roses is a fairly strong one for me but it is not central. I could give it up and I would not have to abandon or adjust many other beliefs I hold. But my belief in the existence of God and Jesus Christ is very central for me . . . as I grow, these beliefs come to play a more central role in the entire way I see life.

Kicking It With Kirkegaard

Soren Kirkegaard was a 19th Century Danish theologian who still has a great influence on Chrisitanity today. During Kirkegaard’s lifetime Christianity was under serious attack. Biblical archeology weighed strongly against the Bible being a real, historical account. So in defense of Christianity, Kirkegaard began arguing that faith really has nothing to do with reason. Faith is something wholly different and we’re mistaken to try to confuse the two. Evidence isn’t important, it’s a person’s spiritual experience that explains the truthfulness of faith. The historical Jesus isn’t nearly as important as the Jesus we encounter in our hearts. There’s a Protestant hymn that says “You ask me how I know he lives; he lives within my heart,” this is perhaps the strongest evidence of Kirkegaard’s influence on the church, that people still sing this song or give this answer to critics.

I think Kirkegaard was wrong. I think spiritual experiences are important to the faithful. But I do not believe it’s all we have. Since his time Biblical archeology has gone the opposite direction. The Bible has shown itself to have an incredible amount of accurate detail. We can know that the Bible is authentic and credible.

I think Kirkegaard was also wrong because it’s not the apologetic pattern we see in the New Testament. Here are some references showing how Paul defended his faith.

Acts 17:1
As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3explaining and proving that the Christ[a] had to suffer and rise from the dead.

Acts 17:17
So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there.

2 Corinthians 10: 3-5
3For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

I Corinthians 15 is the big, money-where-your-mouth-is passage in the Bible. It was written no more than 15 years after Easter. Most of the major players were still alive. If you ask Paul how he knows Christ lives, he doesn’t say he lives within my heart. He says go ask all the people who saw him alive after Easter Sunday. He ties the truthfulness of our faith to a historical event. And then he says, if it didn’t happen we should not believe.

1 Corinthians 15:14
And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.

The last time I heard a strong defense for Kirkegaard’s ideas was in a debate between an atheist and a Christian. It was the atheist who desperately argued that faith should be unreasonable not the Christian. I don’t think we should take advice from the faithless on what our faith should look like. Can we absolutely prove Christianity to be true, no of course not (we can’t absolutely prove anything), but we can show that it is reasonable and intelligent.

How To Know Your Prayers Were Answered

I recently listened to a lecture on prayer by JP Moreland. He gave a great recommendation for how to know your prayers are being answered. He took it straight from the Intelligent Design playbook. It’s a concept known as “specified complexity“.

Say you’re playing the card game “Spades”. The dealer gives you exactly 13 Spades. It’s a perfect hand! But wait, don’t get too excited. The chances of getting 13 Spades in a hand is just the same as getting ANY 13 cards in your hand. It’s not the random luck that should get you excited (otherwise you’d be excited to get any hand since they are all random). It’s the rules of “Spades” that make those 13 black cards special.

So how does this apply to prayer? Quite simply, we need to add some “rules” to our prayers. Not to test God, but so that we’ll know which random events in our lives are special. It’s quite easy and common to say to God “please give me a special week”. But that doesn’t really mean anything. We could find a $5 bill on the ground and assume that God answered our prayer for a special week. It’s a very safe prayer. We don’t ask God for too much and he doesn’t disappoint us by not giving it to us. “Please help Aunt Dora to feel better”. God may answer that prayer, but we’ll never know because the conditions on Aunt Dora feeling better are pretty loose.

What we need to do is pray boldly and specifically. We need to pray exactly for what we KNOW to be a good and righteous outcome. So for instance, a friend of mine is a nurse and she recently started a medical ministry at our church. She asked for prayer for her first meeting that it would “go well”. That’s kind of a pansy target in my mind. So I prayed with her that God would specifically send a doctor to the meeting that would model humility and what it looks like to submit to the leadership of a female nurse in a ministry setting. I prayed that this doctor would make him/herself know to my friend at the meeting by saying something along those lines to her. I knew that if it had happened my friend would not only think that the meeting went well, but she would know that God was active in her life.

Here’s the trouble. God didn’t answer that prayer. It didn’t happen (yet, I’m still cooking it). So now I’m bummed because I KNOW God didn’t answer my prayer. If I had just prayed for the meeting to “go well” I could assume he answered my prayer, but I wouldn’t really know. Honestly, my friend is pretty on top of things, she could set up a good meeting without God’s active role in it. There’d be no way to know if it was God’s hand at work in that meeting.

So I’ve started to add some “rules” to my prayers. What if 95% of the time God doesn’t answer my prayer and give me what I ask for? That’s going to suck. But that also means that 5% of the time I’ll know that God really WAS listening to me and answering my exact requests. That 5% will be SO much more encouraging than 100% of not knowing one way or the other.

The same night I prayed for my friend’s meeting, I also prayed for my foster daughter. I prayed that both her boyfriend and another guy friend would be taken out of her life by the end of the week (a remote possibility for one if not both). Within 36 hours they were both gone.

I also should throw in that you can’t just “dive bomb” these things and think that a 10-seconds-in-passing is going to do it. You’ve got to be committed and consistent to praying for the same thing. But that’s all for another post: “How To Get Your Prayers Answered.”

Pray Boldly


I learned an important lesson in prayer a couple of years ago. I went on a short term missions trip to a very poor community in the Amazon region of Peru. While we were there we were asked if we could pray for a little girl who had been hurt. She was born with some sort of birth defect that prevented her from walking normally. In addition a large antique sewing machine had fallen over on her. It left her without the ability to walk at all, in addition she was in constant and excruciating pain.

When we visited her, it made us all feel quite somber and hopeless for her. She needed some serious medical attention, but her family had very little money. Even if they were able to scrape together the money, given the amount of pain she was in, there would be no way for her to take the 20 hour bus ride over the Andes mountains to get to Lima.

Her mother insisted on picking her up and holding her so that we could all lay hands on her. When I saw how much pain this caused the girl it caused my stomach to turn. Several people prayed out loud for her. My own prayers were quite weak. I prayed that God would ease her pain and I prayed that somehow the family would be able to get the money to get her to a doctor. I left thinking “what hope is there for this child?”

The next day the little girl woke her mother up standing next to her bed and smiling. Her mom asked what she was doing standing and she matter-of-factly stated “God healed me”. The way the story was communicated it sounded like the little girl said it like “no duh!” And sure enough she could walk again. We found out when she walked across the community to see us. It was a real miracle.

There was no doubt in my mind that God had done this for this little girl. He had performed a miracle and did so despite my own lack of faith. I felt like I had such a small and impotent faith in that moment. I prayed in a way so that I wouldn’t be disappointed. God proved himself to be so much more generous than I could imagine. While we were praying, God was planning a party for this little girl and I was trying to find a way to excuse myself because I didn’t think it was going to be all that great.

I learned an important lesson that day about the need to pray boldly and with confidence. I’m listening to a series of lectures by JP Moreland right now. He made a great point along these lines. We can go about praying in such a way so that we’re never disappointed by God’s lack of answers to our prayers. If we choose to do that we’re trying to protect our own faith. If we pray boldly and seek miraculous answers to prayer He may only grant our request 5 times in 100. But if our prayers are big and specific enough, those 5 times will be far superior to any disappointment we might feel the other 95 times.