What Evangelicals Now Need to Know About Mormonism

I’d like to speak to some common representations Evangelicals have of Mormonism as well as some common questions I hear when people discover that I’ve spent quite a bit of time studying Mormonism.

First off, I think it’s important for Evangelicals to recognize that a lot of information they have about Mormonism comes from second or third-hand anecdotes that Evangelicals pass on to one another. That’s not exactly the most reliable source of information and is typically how urban legends get started. While you might trust the person giving you the information to be passing along what they know accurately, rarely do people pause to question what the original source might have been. More often than not that original source for Evangelicals was a book or a movie titled “The God Makers” by Ed Decker. Without getting too deeply into the specific truth claims of Mr. Decker’s work I think Evangelicals need to know that “The God Makers” was largely created with the intent of scaring Evangelicals away from Mormonism so they would not be tempted to convert. Many Mormon beliefs were twisted to make them sound weirder or more devious than they actually are. Another popular source for Evangelicals is “The Kingdom of the Cults” by Walter Martin.

As effective as these books might have been in saving Evangelicals from Mormonism, they made for a lousy platform to evangelize to Mormons from, even worse if that information was passed on second or third hand. Some of the negative information in those books comes from true things taught by Brigham Young which the modern LDS church no longer teaches or holds to. I commonly hear Evangelicals say “Mormons just don’t know what their church teaches”. This is a laughable statement if you really think about it. If anyone will know what a church teaches it will be the people sitting in its’ pews every Sunday. It might be accurate to say that “Mormons don’t know what Brigham Young used to teach” or even “Mormons don’t understand the deeper beliefs of their church”, but you can be sure they hear exactly what their church teaches. (This same charge can be levied against Evangelicals because most can not give an accurate summation of the Trinity). On that note I’d like to comment on some of the things Evangelicals “know” about Mormonism.

Adam-God, Blood Atonement & Brigham Young
More than once I’ve heard Evangelicals holding Brigham Young’s teachings over Mormons. Quite often these attacks come with references to the Journal of Discourse replete with volume and page numbers as proof. There are two important things Evangelicals don’t understand about these teachings. The first is that the Journal of Discourses is not scriptural. It’s a collection of sermons. It’s no more fundamental to the Mormon faith than any book written by Billy Graham is to Evangelicals. Those sermons may be interesting, but they are not inerrant canon for Mormons.

This naturally leads to the second point, Brigham Young was not an inerrant prophet of the LDS church. Mormons do not believe in inerrancy. Evangelicals make a mistake when we try to hold Mormons to our standard of inerrancy. A fundamental of Mormonism is the belief in modern revelation. That means new prophets can not only introduce new doctrines, they can also contradict and overrule previous doctrines. This is the case with another one of Brigham Young’s favorite doctrines, polygamy. He taught that it was important and necessary; later prophets received new revelations about its’ practice and now taking on a second wife is the kind of thing that will get a person excommunicated from the LDS church. So while discussions on whether or not Brigham Young taught that Adam was God might be interesting or foreign to Mormons, they are Young’s teachings, not the teachings of modern Mormonism.

Jesus and Satan are Brothers
If Evangelicals know anything about Mormonism it is that the LDS church teaches that Jesus and Satan are spirit brothers. What Evangelicals don’t know is that this is an implication of Mormon teaching. It is accurate, but you can sit through a year’s worth of Sunday school meetings and read every word of the Book of Mormon twice and you will not hear an explicit teaching on this. I’m not saying it is not true. It is. What I’m pointing out is that it’s not the kind of thing Mormons develop lesson plans around.

The more overt teaching that implicates Jesus and Satan as spirit brothers is that we are all spirit children of Heavenly Father. You probably will hear Mormons talk about how Jesus is our spirit brother if you spend any time with them. If they can figure out what you are getting at, they will agree that Jesus and Satan are brothers.

What Evangelicals need to understand about this teaching is that Mormons are not elevating Satan to a similar plane as Jesus. Instead they are lowering Jesus to the realm of created beings. Mormons still consider Jesus to be highly esteemed and want to devote their lives to his teachings, they even call him God. But (fancy word alert) ontologically they don’t consider him any different than us (or Satan). That may not remove the offense to Evangelicals, but it puts it in the proper light.

Angrily confronting a Mormon with “you believe Jesus and Satan” are brothers won’t gain you much traction in getting them to attend church with you this Sunday. It’d be a bit like someone saying to you “Evangelicals believe Adolf Hitler might be in Heaven.”

Temple Mormons
The term “temple Mormons” is one that was solely invented by Ed Decker as far as I can tell. Mormons do not have any such distinction for “temple Mormons” and “non-temple Mormons”. If you use that term, it’s a dead give away that you got your information from “The God Makers”.

The secrecy surrounding LDS temples tends to creep out Evangelicals a little bit. Our minds start racing to all of the worst possible explanations for why Mormons keep the temple ceremony secret. Statues of oxen and pentagrams on some of the temples don’t seem to ease our imaginations. Let me put your fears to rest. There are no animal or human sacrifices taking place. No one is required to perform any sort of sex act on any of the altars. There are no beds in the temple. Mormons do not enter the temple and laugh at how well their mild-mannered, family-values ruse is throwing everyone off from their love and devotion to Beelzebub.

Evangelicals will not find the temple ceremony to be something familiar to their typical religious activities, but there is nothing overtly offensive, crude or blasphemous about it. The rituals performed there would not be terribly unfamiliar to those who are involved with freemasonry. A great many of your Mormon neighbors and coworkers find the ceremony to be uplifting and inspiring and I’m guessing that you’ve found that you can trust them to be decent and honest people in all situations.

If you are a savvy enough researcher you can find the entire temple ceremony and discover what it is about. Mormons consider the ceremony sacred and will not appreciate you prying into it; you need to consider this before you go looking. Within the last year a nationally televised program acted out the entire ceremony. Mormons were upset that this happened, but I did not find any one that would say that the presentation was inaccurate. So all that is to say, if you don’t trust Mormons when they tell you nothing freaky is taking place there, you can go find out for yourself if you’re so inclined.

Are Mormons Christian?
For some reason Evangelicals like to “serve notice” to Mormons that they are not Christian. As if we can wash our hands of the souls of any missionaries who visit our doorsteps because we’ve let them know they are going to hell. This isn’t particularly useful or effective. Please avoid dismissing Mormon missionaries with the words “you aren’t Christians” as you close the door on them.

If you’d like to debate Mormonism’s place in the Kingdom, I’ve found that engaging the question “are Mormons Christians” is not a great place to start. Mormons and Evangelicals are talking about different things. Mormonism comes straight out of Christianity. It doesn’t make any sense outside of the larger religious context of Christianity. So at least in one sense Evangelicals can acknowledge how Mormons are Christian. If you want to talk about the same thing with your Mormon friend, I’d recommend asking the question “Does Mormonism teach a saving faith?” You may not come to any better of an agreement, but at least you’ll be talking about the same thing.

Grace and Works
Mormons are not as monolithic in their view of the role of grace and works in salvation as they might have once been. There are some who believe exactly as Evangelicals do. This is NOT the thing that separates Evangelicals and Mormons the most. Sometimes though it appears to be our biggest dividing line. Part of the reason for this is that both sides are at times engaging in “boundary maintenance” and taking a harder line on their perspective than they actually believe.

Ephesians 2:8-10

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Notice why verse 10 says we are saved by grace; to do good works. Don’t be ashamed of the good works we are called to do. Evangelicals should feel free to give in a little bit and agree that there are good works for us to do. That doesn’t mean we have to agree those good works are adequate to save us, but we shouldn’t give Mormons the impression that we go on doing whatever we want because of grace. Evangelicals should also acknowledge that our good works will earn Christians something, namely jewels in their crowns. Both sides have to fight against a caricature created of them. Instead of reinforcing that caricature, do your best to give in where you can. Not for the sake of giving in, but for the sake of having your beliefs properly understood by someone who may have a cartoon understanding of them. Be prepared to also recognize that your own understanding of Mormon beliefs may be a little cartoonish.


The LDS church does not teach its members to shun those who leave the faith.  There is not an automatic threat that an ex-Mormon will lose all contact to their family including their wife and children.  It does happen at times, but not because the LDS church says it must happen.  Often when family ties are broken for ex-Mormons it is because of the tremendous stress such a paradigm shift creates in their relationships. It’s no different than when Evangelicals decide to become Atheists, Mormons or Catholics.  Sometimes relationships can not adjust to the new expectations and those relationships dissolve or fade away.  Evangelicals should not believe that those relationships dissolve due to a threat of ex-communication from the LDS church.  It simply does not happen.

Wow, We Can Get Ugly

I mentioned in a previous post, that there is a disagreement in Evangelicalism on how to approach Mormonism. If you would like to hear how heated it can become you should listen to these two episodes of the Frank Pastore show. There is definitely a wing that almost says if you don’t hate Mormonism as much as I do, then you must be Mormon.

I should give a couple of early indications of what you are going to hear. Frank Pastore in the last couple of years has been trying to do the Sean-Hannity-thing. He’s almost as good at it as Hannity which makes him sound like a really unpleasant person and not some one you would want to emulate as a Christian. In real life, he’s a nice guy (with a desire for ratings). Also, the advertising on the show is extremely over-sold. There are a LOT of commercials. You get about 2.5 hours of new content in 6 hours which is why I don’t listen to the show live. Be prepared to fast forward. I would edit it down, but I don’t own the copyright, so I’m not going to mess with it.

Regardless of who you are I guarantee that it will elicit a strong reaction from you. (and thus the success of the Hannity impersonation)

From August 15
1) Listen to the interview with Craig Hazen in the second hour. Notice how confrontational Pastore is with Hazen. Hazen throws in some key words in this controversy: jealousy and limited ministry resources.
2) Listen to how un-confrontational Pastore is with Jill Martin Rische.
3) The disparity between what Millett says in front of Evangelicals and what he says in front of LDS is big. I’m wondering why more LDS aren’t upset with Millett for distorting Mormonism.
4) It’s sounds like to me the issue isn’t that Greg Johnson isn’t distorting Christianity, it’s that he’s not going after Mormonisms unique claims hard enough.

From August 16
1) Listen to Jill Martin explain her own backstory to this controversy. She got left out of the clique.
2) Interesting that she rips Craig Hazen for praying inside the Mormon Tabernacle, Pastore says nothing. This despite Pastore telling Hazen the day before that he had no problem with the prayer.
3) Kurt Van Gordon hypocrisy as he accuses Greg Johnson of attacking his ministry while at the same time attacking Greg Johnson’s ministry. I have not heard every word out of Johnson’s lips but it’s my impression that he says nothing about what other ministries are doing. He personally told me, “they should keep doing what they are doing, I’m going to try something different.” I’m interested to know how many more conversations Van Gordon has been able to have with high ranking Mormons since 1991.
4) Van Gordon wants to know who and where Evangelicals are being confrontational with Mormons. How about going to Temple Square on October First.
5) Van Gordon alleges that Evangelicals are being won over to Mormonism as a result of Standing Together Ministries, but Mormons are not being won over to Evangelicalism. This is patently false and Greg Johnson can give names and phone numbers.

My own impression is that fewer and fewer Evangelicals are willing to participate in traditional Anti-Mormonism (or street Evangelism in general). This is putting a strain on some long standing ministries and they are lashing out at what they perceive to be their threat for ministry dollars. No money, no ministry. I think it’s gross how we can treat one another at times.

Hat tip to Summa Theologica

What Do We Do With You

I’d like to highlight an internal conversation that has been taking place in the Evangelical community for the last couple of years. The basic point is: we are somewhat at odds as to what to do with Mormonism. For the past 150 some-odd-years the typical response has been to offer nothing but hostility and firm rebuke to Mormons for following a false prophet and in the process accepting false doctrine.

The easiest way we have found to do this is the highlight the moral failings of Joseph Smith, to show the falsity of the Book of Mormon as an actual historical story and to expose a great many inconsistencies in both the history and doctrine of the LDS church.

Several years ago, Greg Johnson of Standing Together Ministries started encouraging Evangelicals to view Mormonism not as a cult but as a culture. As such we should find culturally appropriate ways to share our message with Mormons as we would in any “foreign” mission field. There are many who feel that Standing Together is watering down the gospel rather than fighting against falsehood.

An article was recently published in an Evangelical journal, highlighting many of the failings of Standing Together’s methodology. John Morehead recently wrote a rebuttal to that article. You can find it here

John has chosen to moderate the comments on his blog (wisely I think). But Todd Wood at “Heart Issues for LDS” is hosting a discussion between John Morehead, myself and Aaron Shafovaloff, a staff member of Mormonism Research Ministries (a traditional counter-cult ministry). If you’re interested in that conversation you can read it here.

Calvary Chapel is a Cult

Have you seen all of these Calvary Chapels pop up all over the place? I live in Southern California and they are everywhere. Calvary Chapel is a total cult.

They believe in the inerrancy of the Bible and in the importance of expositional teaching. They believe in pre-millenialism AND in a pre-tribulational rapture. They’ve got their own bible college that’s not even accredited and I think they teach all of their pastors to sound exactly like their founder, Chuck Smith. Cult, cult, cult!

Okay, my spoof is over. I don’t actually think that Calvary Chapel is a cult. But if you actually go to a Calvary Chapel and you read my “accusations” against it you probably thought “yeah, so? how does that make us a cult? I’m glad we believe those things and I’m going to stick up for them against a jerk like you.”

This is exactly how Mormons feel when we lead with the cult accusation. There may be excellent reasons why the LDS church qualifies as a cult of Christianity BUT if that’s where we start with them, they have no reason to believe that we actually want to befriend them and have true concern for them. Instead we’re telling them we want to combat them and tell them all the reasons we think they are wrong (and perhaps that is exactly what some want to do). But if we do that we should expect them to fight back. In my experience, picking fights is about one of the worst ways to change minds and one of the best ways to solidify people against your point of view.

Honey attracts more flies than vinegar.

Are Evangelicals Being Duped by Millet’s PR Spin

Yesterday afternoon I made a call into the Frank Pastore radio show to defend Richard Mouw’s comments that we Evangelicals need to apologize to the LDS. Frank acts like his an expert about Mormonism, but it’s obvious that he’s not saying anything that wasn’t given to him by Walter Martin and Ed Decker. It’s quite clear he hasn’t done any of his own research or come to any of his own conclusions (reading the Book of Mormon being a bare minimum to talk authoritatively about Mormonism). He’s kind of got a “Walter Martin said it, that settles it” attitude. It’s no surprise to find out that Walter’s daughter, Jill, is influencing his rhetoric, because EVERYTHING he said was right out of her playbook from the last couple of months.

Part of Frank’s diatribe was against an event at Mariner’s Church called “A Mormon and Evangelical in Conversation“. This is something that Greg Johnson and Robert Millet have done over 50 times now. (it’s influence on me is obvious) The two stand up and present the similarities and differences between Mormonism and Evangelicalism. Pastore was contending that Greg Johnson was selling out Evangelicalism and that Robert Millet was running all over him. But all of the callers that actually attended the event said that Johnson held his ground but it was Millet who made huge concessions. Many were quite surprised to hear Millet say that salvation comes by grace alone (a keystone of Evangelicalism).

Pastore chooses to ignore this and implies that Millet is just part of the vast LDS PR machine. He believes that Millet is not at all sincere in that belief but is just saying it to confuse Evangelicals into believing that LDS are no different. This accusation is just silly in my mind. First off, Millet has just as many critics on the LDS side as Johnson has on the Evangelical side. It’s quite clear that his comments are controversial in some LDS circles that reach all the way up into the 12 LDS Apostles.

Second, if Millet is confusing Evangelicals with his comments, he’s doubly confusing Mormons. 99.999% of Evangelicals have now idea who Greg Johnson is. They don’t consider him any sort of authority figure in Evangelicalism. But many many Mormons know exactly who Robert Millet is and what position he holds at BYU. They read his books and listen to what he says. If he tells Mormons that salvation comes by grace alone, and he doesn’t get disciplined, then Mormons are inclined to start believing that he is right. It’s of relatively small consequence if some Evangelicals believe him (because they think Mormons are heretical on a number of other topics), it’s a huge victory though if Mormons believe that Millet is right. That means other Mormons are going to start believing and living out salvation through grace alone. This is a MAJOR step in bringing Mormonism out of heresy.

What Pastore fails to understand is that Mormo doctine has a large oral tradition. A great deal of Mormon doctrine is not really written down in precise technical and theological ways. What many Mormons believe to be doctrine is often what they hear Mormon authorities and other teachers repeating. So if Mormons hear Robert Millet say that “salvation is by grace alone” or that “the Father did not have physical relations with Mary” then they start to believe that this is what Mormon doctrine is. What Pastore also fails to understand is that it really doesn’t matter if this is a contradiction to what deceased Mormon leaders said. It only matters if it’s a contradiction to what current Mormon leaders say (and right now NO ONE is publicly contradicting Millet, not even his critics).

I believe God is capable of making something big happen in the LDS church. I also believe that we are starting to see some early glimpses of it. I’ll admit that I’m an optimist about it. Pastore and others are looking at the same things I see and instead are choosing to view them cynically. In my view, grace is irresistible, even if Mormons are lying about their belief in its power, I believe they will come to embrace it. It’s too powerful to pick up and play pretend without it affecting you.