The Message of Sin to a Mormon Missionary

I spent quite a bit of time as a missionary seeking out Evangelicals to talk with.  (I spent 8 months of my mission within a mile of Azusa Pacific University, and I would tract through the student housing for fun.)  Most of the Evangelicals that I met approached me with one of two attitudes: (1) ridicule, and (2 ) fear. I have never felt anyone fear me like I have felt in the presence of some true-believing Evangelicals when I was a missionary. I can chalk some of this up to pure physical presence (I was 6″2, and built a sort of like a skinny orangutan) but I am not a particularly hostile person, and I had made it clear that I was there to learn from them if they were.

It seemed that most of the fear came when I expressed my faith with both confidence and demonstrated knowledge of the Bible.  I seemed to be able to explain my faith better than they could, and in a more confident spirit. Because they “knew” I was wrong, this made them fear that they did not have the prowess or ability to correct me, so they simply wanted escape.  They saw me as a representative of the devil, when I knew I was a representative of God. I knew I was not from the devil, I knew I was there to save them, and they seemed to fear the salvation on offer.  Their fear made me think that the Gospel they believed in must be deeply confused.

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Living by the Sword

I don’t want to disrespect Slowcowboy or any other Christian that hangs out here with this post, but something is under my skin.

TO EVANGELICALS: If you want to have any influence whatsoever with Mormons you have to adopt the same approach they adopt toward you. i.e. “Bring all the TRUTH you have and let us show you MORE.” Not, “You have it wrong and you are going to hell if you don’t shape up.” This is not about theology, it’s just human relations.  I am not pointining any fingers here, but from what I know of the love of God and the truth in Christ, traditional Christians should not be afraid of Mormons. Yet,  90% of all the inter-faith dialogue I see among Christians is complaining, arguing and fear-mongering.  If Evangelicals spend their efforts resisting the evil of bad theology, they are going to be as effective at winning souls for the TRUE Christ as the Spanish inquisition. Resisting bad theology is not teaching good theology. 

Mormons are not traditional Christians for a reason.  The more Evangelicals try to tear down LDS theology and claim that Mormons are not committed to Christ, the more Mormons feel completely secure that Evangelicals are part of the crowd in the great and spacious building mocking those who seek the love of God in Christ. This approach keeps people in the Church more than it leads them to whatever view of Christ Evangelicals have.  The folks that attack Mormonism come across like self-serving dumb-asses. Resisting Evangelicals come across as part of that crowd that Mormons think are clearly apostate. Why, because attacking anybody is blatantly un-Christian.

From a LDS perspective, and the perspective of a whole lot of non-LDS Christians, there is nothing to be proud of in Christian theology, and nothing to be proud of in Protestant theology. The most Protestant nations on earth are also the harbingers of death, destruction, and mayhem. It is arguable that the holocaust was an all-too-direct result of the Reformation. There is a strong case that the “whore of all the earth” is the traditional Christian Church.  The LDS don’t use this approach much because it is completely ineffective in converting Protestants, but that is not because it is not completely reasonable to see the church this way.  From the LDS the field is white, but most of it is choked with tares.

Mormons don’t see traditional Christianity as a reasonable alternative because they don’t believe they have everything that traditional Christians have and more. When I was a missionary, it was all too easy. I would stack up the LDS approach against anything out there. And it had nothing to do with theology.  If you take the ordinary run-of-the mill deist, they are going to find the LDS view just as reasonable as the Evangelical view.

Why am I saying this?  Its because I have skin in the game. I actually think Evangelicals have something the LDS do not have, but I fully believe that most Christians I have met don’t have what many Mormons have.

I WANT ENLIGHTEN MY LDS FAMILY TO CHRIST. If they want to be Christian, they should more fully join the body of Christ.  I think it is obvious that they do not need to leave the Church in order to accept Christ in an Evangelical way, just like Catholics don’t need to become Calvinists in order to be Evangelical. I believe the LDS should wake up to a richer and deeper view of redemption, but in the six years I have spent following the conversation I don’t see how Evangelicals are going to help them do that.  And the problem is not the Mormons. They need people that can see to lead them, not people that are blind to the Spirit that they follow, that they are sure leads them to Christ and God.  There are plenty of people in the Church that would be willing to embrace and teach a more grace-filled theology.  One of the greatest barriers to this is that those that try to teach them grace can’t get past their pagan theology enough to break spiritual bread with them. The boundaries are more important than the Gospel.  I don’t think the truth Mormons learn from the Spirit is AT ALL incompatible with the truth that Evangelicals know from the Spirit and from scripture.  I don’t think you have to name all of your errors in order to embrace the truth. I don’t think you have to give up all of your cults or culture to embrace the truth.

Evangelicals often try to save Mormon’s souls from the wrath of a God that Mormons know loves them. You can’t convince a Mormon that God will send them to hell.  Evangelicals should be focusing on saving Mormons from the wrath they hold in their hearts for their own souls and the hell they put themselves through on earth. God has nothing but love for the Mormons, and He routinely shows this (even if they don’t quite understand the breadth and depth of that love).  I can’t see why Evangelicals can’t follow suit.

The Teachings of the Twelve Apostles show us how the first Christians were Mormons?

Early Christian Gravestone, Jesus the ShepherdIf you haven’t read the Didache, it’s a fascinating read.  Named after the Greek word for “teaching” this short work purports to contain the teaching of the twelve apostles of Christ.  Written as early as the first century, it was considered by some prominent early Christians as part of the New Testament.  The Didache is intriguing because it was not written to tell a story, or to explain theology, but as a manual for what Mormons would call “living the Gospel.”

The Didache is ostensibly the direction of the Twelve Apostles concerning how to practice Christianity.  It lays out how to live, how not to live, how to baptize, how to prepare the sacrament, how to pray and fast, how to deal with traveling preacher, how to appoint local leaders, and how to prepare for the Second Coming. One reason the book struck me as “Mormon” is that Jesus is not mentioned by name at all. The “way of life” is straightforward– love of God, the golden rule, and shunning immorality. It’s approach to religion is unsophisticated and straightforward, not unlike most LDS conference talks. 

The book is also Mormonesque in the way it directs believers to appoint church leaders from their own congregations. Professional, traveling preachers are to be accepted, but tested. Those that hang around too long, or leach off the membership, were to be rejected.  It also smacks of the Mormon worthiness narrative.  The congregations were told to confess and repent of their sins before Sunday worship so that their sacrifice to God could be pure. They were also directed to resolve all disputes with others. 

It makes me wonder how Christianity would differ today if this guidance was considered the infallible word of God.  Would Evangelical-style money-preachers be rejected more readily? How would the church look if these practical principles were enforceable as scripture?  These are some of the fascinating questions these just-barely-uncanonical works leave me asking.

Mormons & Evangelicals: What can I learn from you?

Over several months so I have had a born-again sort of experience of sorts– one of those times in life where perspective shifts dramatically and you feel like you are seeing the world for the first time.  One of the biggest difficulties in experience was recognizing that I had lost faith in the LDS Church. It has been coming for quite a while, and it feels like the core meaning of my life was yanked from me. Losing faith has been very difficult for me even to acknowledge. But for complex reasons, I can’t now honestly claim to believe in the Mormon Church and this reality has stung me hard.  My participation in this blog has been a big part of the process of figuring out where I am and what to do next.

Over the years the blog has been a place for me to vent a lot of the deep thoughts and patent nonsense that bubbled up during this process. (Regulars here will recognize I write far more of the latter than the former.)  But lately I have been thinking about what attracted me to this blog– and how it might help me in the new spiritual life that I face.

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Have You Been Changed By Grace?

Guest post by Eric

In the perennial debate over grace vs. works, there seem to be two extremes:

  • On the one end is the view that because believers in Christ have been saved by grace, works don’t matter, or don’t matter in any way that counts. The fancy term for this view is antinomianism, which is related to the concept of “cheap grace.” This is the stereotype that many Mormons have of evangelical belief.
  • At the other end is the view that some have labeled “works righteousness,” that grace is something that kicks in only once we have become worthy to receive it. This is a stereotype that evangelicals often have of Mormons, that we are trying to work our way into heaven.

I’m not going to get into an argument over which stereotype is more accurate. Suffice it to say that if you’re looking for adherents to either of those views (although they may not admit it), it isn’t hard to find them.

I do think, though, that there is a type of works righteousness that is supported by much if not most of Mormon culture and even often by teachings of church leaders. (You’ll sometimes find it in evangelicalism too.) For various reasons, we Mormons have become so wary of teaching cheap grace that we forget what even our specifically Mormon scriptures have to say about the infinite nature of the Atonement.

It is possible to teach grace without resorting to cheap grace. I thought this was very well done in a talk that was given to Brigham Young University students last year by Brad Wilcox, a professor there. I was introduced to this talk recently by my son serving on a mission; it was recently viewed by all missionaries in his mission, and missionaries’ parents were asked to view it as well. I’ve been told that the missionaries found it powerful (my son certainly did!), and I did too. The talk, “His Grace Is Sufficient,” is available in text and video formats.

One thing I liked about the talk is that it is specifically Mormon in tone and addresses some common LDS perceptions that keep people caught in the trap of relying on their own efforts — this isn’t Protestant grace with a Mormon veneer. Even so, I hope that even non-LDS Christians can find something of value here.

Talking with Mormons

Talking with Mormons - Richard MouwRichard Mouw has released a new book entitled “Talking with Mormons: An Invitation to Evangelicals“. I haven’t read the book so I don’t intend to review a book I haven’t read. I respect Richard Mouw and his influence on me is evident.

I do wish to respond to something attributed to Dr. Mouw in an article by Peggy Fletcher Stack.

Too often, Evangelicals pick up little-taught LDS beliefs — such as humans becoming gods or having their own planets — and put them at the center of Mormon theology, rather than at the periphery.

This quote isn’t directly attributed to Mouw so I don’t know if it’s something he said or if it’s Stack’s attempt to collapse a larger thought offered by Mouw. Without having read the book, I’m tenuously willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. But I find this troubling.

Mouw was correct to call out some Evangelicals for previously mischaracterizing Mormon ideas and beliefs. But I think this too is a mischaracterization of Mormon beliefs. Dr. Mouw has been meeting for many years with various Mormon scholars and thinkers. He may have been given the impression by those Mormons that Exaltation is a doctrine at the periphery of Mormon thought but it is a mistake to believe so.

In my own dealings with some Mormons (though not by any means all) I have experienced a reshaping of Mormon teachings that makes them more palatable and less offensive to Evangelical ears. In particular I have experienced this with missionaries and those more bent toward Neo-Orthodoxy. But when I listened in on “in-house” discussions of Mormonism I discovered that those teachings were not as they were originally presented to me, and in some cases were the opposite of what I was told. This has happened frequently enough that I sometimes wonder if there is an unwritten rule of Mormon culture; make the church appear to be whatever the outsider needs it to be. [Some former members have taken to writing long articles on this phenomenon]

I firmly believe that Evangelicals need to listen to Mormons and let Mormons define their own beliefs. But I do not think Evangelicals should be content with how Mormons define their beliefs to Evangelicals. To really understand Mormonism it’s important to go a step further and understand how Mormons define their beliefs to other Mormons. In some cases Evangelicals will discover something entirely different. I think that may be the case here in regards to Dr. Mouw’s understanding of Exaltation.

Exaltation is a core belief of Mormonism. The idea that humanity can become deity is emphatically a core belief. The nature of God as a human and the “plan of salvation” (in which we can become gods) are essential ideas in Mormonism. If Richard Mouw thinks that these are periphery issues, he either doesn’t understand Mormonism or he’s been woefully misinformed about Mormonism. I don’t need to reach back into the archives of 19th Century sermons to show this to be the case. I can direct him to current publications and sermons from recent General Conferences to provide evidence.

I probably advocate for much of what Dr. Mouw discusses in his new book, but this snippet from “The Salt Lake Tribune” leaves be concerned and skeptical.

I just discovered this Catholic review of Mouw’s book.

This part is relevant to my post:

Mormons fail the Calvinist test because they believe that, as Mouw puts it, God and humans are “of the same species ontologically.” Mormonism went wrong not with the Book of Mormon but with a flawed metaphysics.

Mouw argues that a “metaphysical gap” between God and us is essential to Christian faith and that Calvinism offers the best protection against any attempt to close that gap: “Judaism and Christianity have been united in their insistence that the Creator and creation—including God’s human creatures—are divided by an unbridgeable ‘being’ gap.” Mouw means that God’s existence is so different from our own that it can be said that God is beyond being altogether. Put another way, God is so “other” that God cannot even be said “to be.”

So it appears that Mouw is indeed aware and concerned about the Mormon view of the nature of God.

Mitt Romney’s Mormon Problem Explained

Mitt Romney has a problem. It’s a Mormon problem.  But it’s not the problem you think it is.

When most people think of Mitt’s Mormon problem they think it has something to do with Evangelicals.  It’s true that Evangelicals don’t like Mormonism and it seems apparent that Evangelicals would prefer to not vote for a Mormon.  But Evangelicals are very pragmatic.  When it comes to an election Evangelicals will vote for a Mormon who fits their political values.  Most Evangelicals haven’t been faced with that before, but when push comes to shove they’ll do exactly what Evangelicals in Utah, Idaho and Arizona do, pick the candidate that best fits their political worldview. Continue reading

To The Ends of the Earth

Campus Crusade for Christ, an Evangelical ministry has a sub-ministry called “Global Ministry Outreach”. They function as the online outreach for Campus Crusade’s ministry. They buy search terms relevant to Christianity, religion and Jesus. Their ads generally direct people to websites like this one. Ads are displayed all over the world and they try to focus their ad buys on under-evangelized and closed countries.

What’s interesting about their ministry is that they give live tracking of events related to their advertising. If you go to you can see a map of where in the world people are visiting their sites, making a commitment to follow Jesus, providing their email and are engaging in a followup discipleship. All of these interactions are directed toward volunteer online missionaries who receive the email correspondence, answer questions and encourage new believers into an authentic relationship with Jesus. They’re currently putting together a network of churches for new believers to seek out.

This video tells the story of one online missionary.

Global Media Outreach can reach about 1 million people in a day for $60,000 (6 cents a click). I have my own reservations about the method and about the “Four Spiritual Laws” approach. But if you take their reported numbers and divide them by 10 to get a conservative estimate it cost about $45-$55 to find an authentic convert to Christianity. It’s an interesting project and easily the safest and most effective access into closed countries.

Their main competition for keywords is the LDS church.

Returned Missionaries

I’m sorry my time has been consumed with a great number of other things lately. Among them regular meetings with a couple of Mormon missionaries from the great state of Colorado and meetings with a recent Mormon convert to Lutheranism. (He left the Mormon church a week before we started meeting and I’m doing what I can to encourage him in his journey and explain Protestantism to him).

My wife passed this email from on to me so I thought I would share it here.  Sean and Brett were two of my classmates in college.  They both live near me and I bump into them about once a year or so.  They use trips to Salt Lake City and Berkeley as a means of giving students practical applications for their studies in theology, philosophy and Christian apologetics.

Last week two of our intrepid bloggers, Sean McDowell and Brett Kunkle, traveled to Utah with a team of six leaders and 23 students to interact with Mormon students at BYU, knock on doors in Salt Lake City, and tour Temple Square to learn about the history and doctrine of Mormonism. Sean writes about the experience in two fascinating blogs, “Conversations With Mormons.” And Brett, who serves with Stand to Reason Ministries, reflects on the “Reality of the Resurrection” in a three-part blog. These are inspiring and instructive articles on the core values of the Christian faith, which hinge on the reality of the living Christ. Read and post your comments. Sean and Brett want to know what you think!

It’s True

When I was a kid I heard rumors of video of an entire tribe in Papua New Guinea accepting the Gospel message all at the same time and then breaking into a massive celebration that lasted several hours.  I saw a portion of the video several years later.  For some reason it just occurred to me that the video would now be on YouTube and I found it tonight.

This will give you a good idea of an evangelism technique used by New Tribes Missions.  They exclusively seek out tribes which have never heard the message of the Bible.

Helping Mormon Missionaries Call Home

In my previous post, I suggested that Evangelicals should offer the use of their phones and their internet access to Mormon missionaries that visit their homes.  I suggested this not as a means of offering temptation to break the rules.  Instead, I suggested it as a means of showing kindness to someone who may desperately need the offer.

I recognize that Mormons are generally happy with their missionary program and see the rules and regulations associated with it to be appropriate and instituted with the best of intentions.  I’m not denying or questioning the sincere motivations that the LDS church may be operating under.  But I want to point out from an outsiders point of view what is happening in the daily life of a Mormon missionary.

Missionaries are:

  1. told that they must wear a standard uniform at all times that includes what type of underwear they must wear
  2. stripped of their first names
  3. told who they must live with
  4. responsible to observe and report any infractions they witness their companions commit
  5. required to be with their companions at all times
  6. limited to a small set of reading materials which only include religious text
  7. prohibited from television, newspapers and movies
  8. offered limited contact with family and friends and are told exactly when they can call their families
  9. typically eating a diet based mostly on cheap carbohydrates
  10. experiencing various levels of culture shock and may be almost completely removed from their native tongue
  11. in an enviornment where blessings and successes are often taught to be in direct proportion to personal worthiness
  12. not given control over their own passports
  13. committed to Church related activities nearly every waking hour of the day

I know that many feel there are perfectly good reasons for each of these items.  I’m not arguing the specifics, I am looking at the entire picture. I want to be clear;  I am NOT saying that the LDS church is a cult.   But in any other religious context, the sum of this checklist starts raising some flags of concern for me.   When you study real life cultic groups, this is the exact set of circumstances manipulative religious leaders put their followers into. It’s a breeding ground for emotional and spiritual abuse.

I am NOT saying that LDS Mission Presidents are committing emotional or spiritual abuse.  Nor do I think the LDS church is knowingly and willing setting up this situation so that spiritual and emotional abuse can happen.  But if just one Mission President is inclined to be abusive, the playing field has already been set perfectly for him to have a heyday on the hearts and minds of young men and women.

I heard Steve Hassan say that if you encounter people that you know are in a mind-controlling environment, such as Moonies or Hare Krishnas, you should offer your cell phone to them in case they’d like to call their families.  Their ability to use a phone may be severely limited and you may be giving them a lifeline out of an abusive situation.

I have no idea how the Mission President may be behaving in my area.  He’s most likely a kind and decent man who has no desire to harm the missionaries in his care.  But on the off-chance that he’s not kind and decent, I think it’s appropriate to offer LDS missionaries the knowledge that they have somewhere safe to come if they need to contact family or friends for any reason.

I am well aware that most Mormons enjoyed their missions quite a bit.  I am well aware that many feel nothing abusive ever happened in their experience.  I am not at all suggesting that Mormon missions are even frequently abusive.  I expect the vast majority of missionaries to turn down my offer.  I have no plans to push it on them or encourage them to call their families as a subtle way to undermine the LDS church.  But given the context the missionaries are living in, I think it’s appropriate for a non-Mormon to offer sanctuary to someone who may need it even if that chance is remote.

Witnessing to Mormon Missionaries

Someone recently asked me to tell him everything he needs to know about Mormonism.  The catch was that I only had 5 to 10 minutes to do it.  I decided then and there that the most important thing I can teach other Evangelicals about Mormonism is what to do when missionaries show up at their door.

I think there is a lot that Evangelicals can do to change Mormonism, and since the place Mormons and Evangelicals are most likely to meet is the door step, I think it would be helpful for Evangelicals to have a preset strategy.  Those missionaries are sent out with a specific set of instructions and teachings to prioritize.  It’s only right that we welcome them to our homes with the same level of organization.  The problem for me is that Mormon missionaries spend about 3 months studying and getting ready. I’ve got 5 minutes to tell an Evangelical everything they need to know.

One thing I’ve learned is that Mormons generally walk away from their missions with a really bad taste in their mouth from Evangelicals.  Any hope we might have of bringing them into one of our churches after their mission is pretty slim, particularly if they were sent to the Bible Belt.  They’ve just spent 2 years having doors slammed in their face, being yelled at, having rocks thrown at them, and being told they are on their way to hell as a means of introduction, all in the name of Jesus.  For many good reasons, they view Evangelicals as “the enemy” (among the reasons the fact that we view them as “the enemy” as well).

Many people suggest a number of theological talking points to emphasize when speaking to Mormons.  Some suggest you educate them on all the things they don’t know about Mormonism. Others suggest making life a miserable as possible for them so as to discourage them from further service.  Still others hope for missionaries willing enough to sit through an hour long video about the lack of credibility found in “The Book of Abraham”.

I’ve got a different idea than all of those and I think you’re more likely to successfully finish my plan more than any other; plus I can teach you everything you need to know in just 5 minutes.

Step 1 – The Introduction

Answer the door, smile politely and say “I would LOVE to talk with you more about faith, but I’ve found that it’s really difficult to find meaningful conversation with strangers.  Would you like to come back on a different night and have dinner?  We could just get to know each other a little bit first and then on another night we could meet up again to talk about each other’s faith.”

I’d be VERY surprised if Mormon missionaries didn’t take you up on this.  You’re offering a home cooked meal and two separate appointments. They have nothing more important to do than meet with non-Mormons in their own homes.

Step 2 – The Dinner

Have dinner with them. Remember they don’t consume caffeine or alcohol.  Pass on it yourself for the evening out of respect. Do NOT talk about theology.  Share all about your life.  Include where you’re originally from, where you went to school, your hobbies, what sports teams you root for, etc.  Make sure to ask them for all of the same info.  You’re likely to find you have a lot in common.  That’s good.   If possible, pry their first names out of them. Don’t be too pushy, they’re “technically” not supposed to use them.  But gently chide them about both of them not really being born with the first name “Elder”.  It’s unimportant to learn their first names, but it’s a nice bonus.  See if they want to play a board game (If they take you up on video games they’re breaking the rules. They’ll have fun, but feel guilty later).

Let them know at some point in the evening know that your phone and internet access are available to them if they’d like to contact somebody back home. They will decline, but make sure they know that they can return any time in the future to use either one.

Make sure to set up a time for your next meeting and assure them you’ll let them talk all about the Mormon faith.

Step 3 – The Testimony Meeting

In preparation for the missionaries coming over, set out some extra toiletries for them to take home. They’re living off of something like $1.25 a day (at their own expense).  They would love extra shampoo and toothpaste and it’s likely you’ve got some extra stored up in your pantry already.

Feel free to pray with them if you or they want to open in prayer.  Doctrinally speaking, you are safe to pray with anyone and everyone who wants to pray with you.  Jesus is never angry that people are praying to him, no matter who they are.  If you’re uncomfortable with it, respectfully pass.

Ask the missionaries to share with you their testimonies.  In Mormon ears this is something akin to someone asking you “Could you tell me about the four spiritual laws?”  They will LOVE this opportunity to tell you about how they became Mormons and what it means to their lives.

Listen respectfully.  Don’t interrupt; you’ll get your chance to talk soon.

When they’re finished, ask if you could share your own testimony.  This is your own story of what Jesus has done for you, so I’m not going to tell you how to script it.  Your story is more powerful than anything I could tell you to say.  One caveat, if you’ve experienced miracles, talk about those miracles (and I don’t mean “I-found-my-keys” kind of miracles, I mean genuine healings and things ONLY explained by the Holy Spirit).

Close in prayer and thank them for coming over.  Again, let them know your phone and internet access are available if they need to contact someone back home (don’t be pushy or creepy about it).  If you’re really interested in studying up on Mormonism and talking more with them that’s totally up to you.

If this is all you do, you’ve just given those young men (or women) an oasis experience amidst a very difficult two years.  They WILL remember your kindness and hospitality and they will remember that it was someone desperately in love with Jesus who gave it to them.  I guarantee this approach will open doors that have previously been sealed shut for other Evangelicals who do know a lot about Mormonism.

That’s it! You’ve now learned everything you need to know about handling Mormons at your door and it didn’t take me three month to teach it to you. I hope you get the chance to try it out.

The post is a part of a collection of posts by other Evangelicals who have different ideas for what you should do.  I recommend you read what Jack at Clobber Blog and Aaron at Mormon Coffee have to say.  Gloria also wrote a similar post.

Hi from Kolob! Why E.T. might be a Mormon (probably not an Evangelical)

According to some estimates, there are billions of inhabitated planets in the universe, and maybe even tens of billions of “earth-like planets”  in our galaxy alone.

Mormon scriptures are in accord.  We believe that there are unumerable  inhabited planets created by God. In Moses 1:33-39: God tells Moses:

33 And aworlds without number have I bcreated; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the cSon I dcreated them, which is mine eOnly Begotten.

34 And the afirst man of all men have I called bAdam, which is cmany.

35 But only an account of this earth, and the inhabitants thereof, give I unto you. For behold, there are many worlds that have passed away by the word of my power. And there are many that now stand, and innumerable are they unto man; but all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I aknow them.

. . .

38 And as one earth shall pass away, and the heavens thereof even so shall another come; and there is no aend to my works, neither to my words.

39 For behold, this is my awork and my bglory—to bring to pass the cimmortality and deternal elife of man.

For me these are some of the most intriguing and powerful descriptions of God.  They are at the heart of Mormon ideas of the purpose of life and the relationship between man, God and creation.

When you consider that there are over 100 billion galaxies and tens of billions of earth-like planets in each of those galaxies you are really talking about an unimaginably large number of worlds like ours.

Later in the Pearl of Great price, Abraham sees a vision of the greatest of these worlds: Abraham 3:2-3

2 And I saw the astars, that they were very great, and that one of them was nearest unto the throne of God; and there were many great ones which were near unto it;

Evangelicals and others are quick to laugh at references to a planet Kolob. In a recent blog conversation I had with a few Evangelicals and I was told that the Mormon belief in the planet Kolob was simply unbelievable.

I really have no idea what Evangelicals think about extra-terrestrial life aside from these sorts of comments,  but given the scientific evidence of other worlds, the evidence for extra-terrestrial life is far stronger than the evidence for a worldwide flood or any number of biblical accounts.

I do think, however, that christian thought is generally earth-centric.  If no one is saved without knowing about Jesus while alive, it looks like the infinitely vast majority of God’s creation is just out of luck, or out of touch. If traditional Christianity hasn’t been able to effectively penetrate the Indian subcontinent, how can we expect it to penetrate the depths of the Milky-way?

Mormon thought seems to take into account of the cosmological reality a bit better than what I know of Evangelical thought.  Am I wrong?

P.S. here is in an interesting related discussion from Parchment and Pen, an evangelical theology blog.

“As an Atheist, I Truly Believe Africa Needs God”

Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa. . ..  In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.

I highly recommend this article.  The author understands that ideas matter and that Christian relief  offers something profoundly more important than just raw goods.

How God Makes Mormons

Today I heard the first missionary discussion taught to a new investigator to the Mormon church, and it made me  suprised how effective the approach is, considering how un-compelling it felt to me. Perhaps I was just too familiar with the subject matter, too jaded, critical or skeptical (or all of the above) but when I tried to see the discussion through the eyes of the investigator (a 25 year old presbyterian from Cameroon) the content and delivery just didn’t grab me.

For those who don’t know. Mormon missionaries teach others about the church through teaching a series of core principles and leading people through a series of commitments. For those Evangelicals who want to become completely familiar with our subtle brainwashing techniques they can download their own copy of the complete missionary handbook “Preach my Gospel” here.  This manual probably provides as close as you can get to the “official doctrines” of the church because these are the elementary doctrines that the leadership has decided to have taught to all missionaries and every new member of the church.

The missionaries introduce the church with the idea that God lives  and sent his Son to save us and has always spoken through prophets and that he spoke to Joseph Smith in our time and that our church   They then explain the role and mission of Jesus, the pre-earth life, the fall and redemption through the atonement of Christ, and the potential to inherit various kingdoms of glory through making and keeping covenants.   They ask those interested in the church to read the book of mormon,  be baptized, come to church, quite smoking, drinking, having extra-marital sex and to pay 10% of their income in tithing.  This usually happens in the course of 2-3 weeks but times vary greatly.

Central to the entire process is teaching people about the Spirit of God and how to recognize it.  Essentially the missionary process is an attempt to invite people to receive personal revelation to become members of the church.

I didn’t feel the Spirit when they taught the first lesson to the young business student from Africa today,(Maybe I was too concerned with the annoying way the young missionary was bobbing his head when he spoke, not sure).  I have felt the Spirit dozens of times when I taught the same lesson on my mission.

Tens of thousands each year make these commitments and become Mormons, in spite of annoying head bobs or other foibles of the barely-post-teenage missionaries that teach people about the church.

The experience made me think about how Evangelicals would go about converting me or someone unintiated to the faith and the meaning and significance of the different approaches.

How would evangelical missionaries go about converting me  (other than through internet blogs 🙂 ) ?  How much of the approach involves teaching me how Mormonism is heresy vs. presenting a compelling alternative?

The Forgotten Ways

“About four years ago I attended a seminar on missional church where the speaker asked a question. “How many Christians do you think there were in the year AD 100?” He then asked, “How many Christians do you think there were just before Constantine came on the scene, say AD 310?” Here is the somewhat surprising answer.

AD 100     as few as 25,000 Christians
AD 310     up to 20,000,000 Christians

He then asked the question that has haunted me to this day: “How did they do this? How did they grow from being a small movement to the most significant religious force in the Roman Empire in two centuries? Now that’s a question to initiate a journey! And delving into this question drove me to the discovery of what I will call Apostolic Genius (the built-in life force and guiding mechanism of God’s people) and the living components or elements that make it up. These components I have tagged missional  DNA, or mDNA, for short.

So let me ask you the question — how did the early Christians do it? And before you respond, here are some qualifications you must factor into your answer.

  • They were an illegal religion throughout this period. At best, they were tolerated; at the very worst they were very severely persecuted
  • They didn’t have any church buildings as we know them. While archeologist have discovered chapels dating from this period, they were definitely exceptions to the rule, and they tended to be very small converted houses.
  • They didn’t even have the scriptures as we know them. They were putting the canon together during this period.
  • They didn’t have an institution or the professional form of leadership normally associated with it. At times of relative calm, prototypical elements of institution did appear, but by what we consider institutional, these were at best pre-institutional.
  • They didn’t have seeker-sensitive services, youth groups, worship bands, seminaries, commentaries, etc.
  • They actually made it hard to join the church. By the late second century, aspiring converts had to undergo a significant initiation period to prove they were worthy.”

Before the example of the early Christian movement can be dismissed as a freak of history, there are other examples of remarkable Christian growth through out history.  When Communism took hold in mainline China, it was estimated that there were about 2 million Christians. After decades of persecution via death and imprisonment, today’s Chinese church is estimated to have as many as 80 million members.

“By the end of John Wesley’s life one in thirty English men and women had become Methodists. In 1776 fewer than 2 percent of the American population were Methodists. By 1850 the movement claimed 34 percent of the population. How did they do it? The twentieth century saw the rise of Pentacostalism as one of the most rapidly growing missionary movements  in the history of the church. The movement has grown  from humble beginnings in the early 1900s to 400 million by the end of the twentieth century. It is estimated that by 2050 Pentecostalism will have one billion adherents worldwide.  How did they do it?”

–excerpts taken from the introduction of The Forgotten Ways by Alan Hirsch


The above is taken from this great book I’m reading that I find to be partly about strategic church growth and partly devotional. The author investigates the sociological elements of these explosive Christian movements and how to duplicate them.

I’m about half way through the book now and the main thing I’m coming away from it with is that there is a significant difference between growing Christianity (a movement) and growing a Church (an institution).

One of the things that has challenged me the most is the idea that only about 20-30% of the US population may have any interest in going to a church to learn more about Christianity.  So no matter what we do to improve how we “do” church, we’re still only tickling the ears of a small portion of our culture if church services are our driving method of evangelism.

I’d be really interested to hear an LDS perspective on this book. On the one hand it challenges the Mormon story of Christianity.  It highlights the rapid growth of Christianity (without a valid priesthood) and points to the lack of a central insitution and correlation as one of the reasons it grew and prospered.  On the other I think some of the things the Mormons have done are in line with what he finds as keys to success (“every member a missionary” and a constant push to expand to the edges of ward boundaries).

If any LDS have read this book, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The Plan for Tonight

Seth sent me this link about some Evangelical missionaries spreading the word on Temple Square in Salt Lake City. Evangelicals Aglow with Their Faith .

Just to make sure the scales are balanced, Salt Lake City has been sending missionaries my way.  Several weeks ago some LDS sister missionaries approached my wife in a grocery store parking lot.  We were finally able to host them for dinner about a week ago with the caveat that we not discuss our faiths, but just get to know each other personally.  Knowing that they are on a limited budget, we let them raid our toiletry stockpile and invited them to use our phone for long distance calls any time they wanted. Tonight, we’re inviting them back for more religious discussion.

Last night as we prepared for bed my wife and I discussed what “the plan” for tonight would be.  We think we’ll ask the young women to share with us how they came to gain a testimony of the Book of Mormon and in turn share some of our experiences with the Holy Spirit in our own lives.

Then (time permitting) we’ll most likely make it clear that we’ve thoroughly investigated Mormonism and do not find it credible.  We’re happy to have the young women back if they’d like to learn more about our faith.  We’re also willing to share our reservations about Mormonism with them if they’d like to attempt to answer our objections.  We’d probably be more than happy to have them back for dinner and light discussion if they’d like.

Some Mormons Coming to Visit

A friend of mine sent me this email.  What would you say?

I was working out in my front yard when some Mormon missionaries came walking up.  I said, “So you’re on your mission, huh?”  They said yes and asked if i had spoken with anyone like them before.  I said that in fact I had taken a class on Mormonism in college and one of our assignments was to sit down with two missionaries and talk about the differences between Christianity and Mormonism.  I let them know that I am a Baptist minister as well.  Not backing off, they asked, “Would you be willing to listen to what we have to say?”  I said, “Sure, if you’re willing to listen to what I have to say.”  They said that they would enjoy hearing some of the differences between Baptist and Mormon beliefs.  So we set up a time to meet this Wednesday.  Any good suggestions as to where I should start or what approach I should take?

Me & Mormons — Part 7

After hearing President Hinckley speak we set up an appointment with Scott, his wife, Elder A and Elder P. It turned out that is was a really good thing that we invested time in getting to know each other on a personal level because our first discussion was not a positive one.

As I had mentioned before, in preparation for meeting with the missionaries I decided it would be a good idea to read the Book of Mormon in its entirety. The missionaries knew I had finished reading it and I think our discussion generally went down hill when they asked me what I thought of it. My impressions of the Book of Mormon were not positive ones. I can’t remember exactly all of the details of how our conversation went but I do remember what I initially thought of the Book of Mormon. So this should give you a flavor for our discussion. (I should also make it clear that the amount of anti-Mormon literature I had read at this point was quite minimal)

I didn’t really encounter anything all that controversial or profoundly new in the Book of Mormon as far as general themes and teachings. It seemed to me to be a generally benign religious tome that didn’t advocate sacrificing babies, drinking goat’s blood or wearing funny underwear. It talked quite a bit about Christ and I’m overall interested in anything anybody has to say about Jesus. There were large portions of Bible repeated word for word throughout. I certainly didn’t mind rereading the Sermon on the Mount in a different context. As I remember the only major things that stood out to me that were practically different from my own faith was that baby baptisms were wrong as well as being a pastor for hire.

I found it to be a terribly difficult book to read. It seemed that some one was trying desperately hard to copy the style of the King James Bible but without any understanding of the grammar that makes it readable and beautiful. I’ve grown up reading just enough of the KJV to know how to understand its lexicon so it wasn’t the genre of the writing that made it difficult as much as how poorly it was executed. The frequent use and misuse of “and it came to pass” seemed like a dead give away that it was someone’s favorite filler that enhanced the Old English feel of the passages. Poor writing is by no means a sin but the Book of Mormon lacked the cohesive readability I’ve come to expect in translations of scripture.

What caught my attention and my objection was that the Book of Mormon claimed to be an actual historical account. Through out the account I came across numerous things that were historically anachronistic for the New World. My wife had been a missionary in Peru and while we were dating I visited her several times. In my travels I began to learn quite a bit about Incan civilization. The Incans were by far the most advanced native people in the New World but according to Book of Mormon the Lamanites and Nephites seemed to have surpassed them by ages. Yet we have no record of them. Their cities and weapons can’t be found nor can we even see their neighboring tribes borrowing their advanced technology from them. (in case anyone wants to clarify it to me, I know that the events of Mormon did not take place in Peru but more than likely in the MesoAmerican area. But comparing the Incans to the Mayans, the Incans were more advanced and the Nephites were more advanced still)

I also found mention of plants and animals that I knew were not part of the American continents until the Spainards arrived. Yet, here they were being actively used by active groups of people only to disappear before the Europeans arrived and leave no historical record behind.

What I believe really sealed my conclusion that the Book of Mormon was in no way a historical account of anything was something Jesus was said to have stated. I read 3rd Nephi 19:4

And it came to pass that on the morrow, when the multitude was gathered together, behold, Nephi and his brother whom he had raised from the dead, whose name was Timothy, and also his son, whose name was Jonas, and also Mathoni, and Mathonihah, his brother, and Kumen, and Kumenonhi, and Jeremiah, and Shemnon, and Jonas, and Zedekiah, and Isaiah—now these were the names of the disciples whom Jesus had chosen—and it came to pass that they went forth and stood in the midst of the multitude.

There was my name, Timothy, in the pages of the Book of Mormon. There’s nothing unusual or novel about me reading my own name in scripture. But of all the names in the Book of Mormon, Timothy, is the one I know something about. The people who came to the New World and were the ancestors of the Lamanites and Nephites were Jewish. Timothy is a Greek name. The Bible takes the time to make sure we know that Timothy was half Jewish and half Greek. Jews who fled Israel before the time of Alexander the Great would not have been naming their children with a Greek name for several hundred years in isolation from Hellenization. They probably wouldn’t have known the name much less used it. I strongly remember stopping and thinking “TIMOTHY! There shouldn’t be any Timothys in this story.”

The other thing that caught me wrong about the Book of Mormon account was the collapse of Christianity. It went against everything I’ve been taught and seen in practice. Whenever Christianity is opposed and persecuted it flourishes. Even today it’s generally agreed that Christianity would not be doing as well as it is in China without Communist oppression. More often than not it flourishes at the center of the place it’s being oppressed. Christians have a remarkable ability to convert their captors. But in the Book of Mormon, the true practicing Christians are rather easily wiped out. That just flies in the face of what I know of Christianity and what God promises (the gates of Hell will NOT prevail against it).

So that summed up a rather contentious discussion. It wasn’t a fight by any means, but it wasn’t a love fest either. I believe we ended the evening all feeling frustrated. I had to walk everyone out of our gated apartment complex. Scott’s wife pretty much disappeared as soon as we opened our front door I’m not sure where she went. As we reached the gate Scott pulled me aside and asked me what was going on. He was so sure that he had seen the Spirit in my wife and I and he couldn’t understand why we seemed to be rejecting their message. I responded that I was interested in investigating any truth claims made by anyone but that I just wasn’t seeing truth here.

Scott said we would talk more but he asked me to take it easy on the missionaries. He said that they were young, didn’t know too much and that I should just let them go through their discussion materials. (I found that ironic given the conversation Scott and I had about people delivering their religious scripts rather than having a conversation). It turned out that the Elder A and Elder P were much more resilient than Scott and would not be easily dissuaded from visiting my home. . . .