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Showing posts with label Book of Mormon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Book of Mormon. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Talking with Mormons (podcast)



Mormonism boasts over 12 million adherents, and it's still growing. What should we say when Mormon missionaries come to our door? How are Christian beliefs different than Mormon beliefs? In this latest podcast, Lenny provides are some ways to help you how to engage Mormons in fruitful discussion.
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Friday, September 18, 2015

Talking with Mormons: When Beliefs Contradict Themselves



Yesterday, I had two LDS missionaries come to my door. These sisters have visited me before; they came to the door a couple of weeks ago asking me to sign a birthday card for a neighbor which gave me the opportunity to engage them in conversation. Both girls were in their early twenties and both had grown up in Utah. Each had at least one parent who was a multi-generational Mormon.

As we talked, I explained that I've spoken with Jehovah's Witnesses and others who have come to the house. These folks were very sincere in their beliefs, but I explained why sincerity isn't enough. I explained that there is only one good reason for believing anything, and that is it must be true. I then said that a lot of people trust their feelings as a guide to know what's true, but this is a terrible guide, for certainly the Muslims who blow themselves up or fly planes into buildings are very sincere in their beliefs. I offered the tape measure analogy as a better way to discover truth.

Lastly, I said that for belief systems, the way one can objectively assess their truth value was to look for two things: external correspondence and internal consistency. That is any belief system or word view must be internally coherent and not hold to contradictory beliefs and its claims must match the way we understand the external world to really work. If a belief system is contradictory, then I cannot see how it can be true.

Up to this point, the ladies were following along pretty well and agreed with me. So I then raised the point of eternal progression. I didn't want to talk about ancillary issues but focus on the critical beliefs central to their faith, and eternal progression sits right at the center of Mormonism. They agreed and also agreed that the God we now worship had also progressed from being a man to a God. So, I said I had a difficulty here as the Book of Mormon states in Moroni 8:18 that God is eternal and unchanging (you can read the entire argument here.) The sisters were taken aback at this passage and said they would have to research it more. They took down my number and agreed to come back with an answer for me. I gave them my thanks and our meeting ended.

A Question, a Contradiction, and a Response

Yesterday, the ladies returned with a response. They told me that it was pretty difficult to get an answer to this question; they had to go all the way up to their mission president to find one. As they explained it, all human beings exist in a spiritual state prior to their earthy birth. (This I already knew.) Their president had told them that our God, Elohim, then had existed with his God attributes in this state and he still has them now. They pointed to the teaching of Joseph Smith's King Follett discourse where there was a council of the Gods called to create a plan of salvation for the people of earth and how Jesus existed as God there even before he was born on earth.1 They concluded that just like Jesus was considered God before his embodiment, so too was Elohim considered God before his embodiment and thus has been God forever.

The answer has several problems, two of which I pointed out immediately. The first was "If God existed as God before his embodiment, then why bother with the work of being embodied at all?" The whole concept of God means a perfect being. That's why we worship him. If Elohim had all the attributes necessary to qualify him as God, then he doesn't need to be improved through bodily experiences where he can be shaped and learn. Either he was something less than God in his premortal existence or He went through the exercise for no purpose. Notice this is Elohim, not Jesus we're discussing.

Why Worship God and Not the Guy Down the Street?

The second reason is even more troubling. If their claim is true, that Elohim was God in a premortal state, and he retained that even when he was embodied and went through all the experiences and temptations, learning to resist them on his planet then it means that everyone who is in that embodied state now is also God right now! Mormon theology makes no distinction between Elohim's eternal progression and those Mormon missionary ladies who were standing in front of me. So I asked them, "Why then should I worship Elohim and not the Sister standing next to you right now if what you say is true? In fact why should I worship anyone if I'm a God in my earthy state?"

They countered that we worship God because he created us, but that isn't right as we existed as God prior to our embodiment. This is where Mormon theology becomes hopelessly confused. According to LDS thought, all spirits existed eternally in the past. There is no creation ex nihilo for the LDS. Elohim and his spirit bride gives birth to spirit children who are I guess formed into spiritual bodies (their understanding here was vague) just as earthly parents then give birth to physical children where that spirit joins with a physical body. But given this view, it's just as legitimate to worship our physical parents as it is to worship Elohim, who is our spiritual parent. Of course the sisters were not at all eager to believe in worshiping other people. But that's the logical conclusion if their explanation of Moroni 8:18 is right.

In order to get out of the quandary, they appealed to the mysteries of God, quoting article 9 of their articles of faith: "We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God."2 They suggested that he may reveal more, but we just must have faith and approach God sincerely.

At this point I reminded them of my first conversation with them, that the truth is something more than sincerity; the 9-11 hijackers were very sincere. I said this is more than a misunderstanding; it's an internal contradiction in Mormon theology. And it isn't any little issue, either. It is the core of Mormonism! Why should I reject historic Christianity for a system that shows itself to be incoherent? (I didn't use those words, but that was the jist of my question to them.)

I then asked how well they understood historic Christian theology. They responded that they didn't know it very well. That gave me the chance to tell them the Gospel and how Christianity is never about works (article 3 of their Articles of Faith) but about a loving response to what God has already accomplished in Jesus Christ.

I don't know if I'll see the sisters again. I hope I do. But I pray even more that those bothering contradictions that sit at the center of Mormonism will dog them. I pray that the Hound of Heaven will pursue these ladies and they don't find rest until they rest in the one through whom all real rest comes. Pray for them if you get the chance. I think God is on their trail.

References

1. Joseph Smith Jr., "The King Follett Sermon," Ensign, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. May 1971, 13
2. Smith, Joseph, Jr. "Articles of Faith." Mormon.org. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 21 Feb. 2012. Web. 18 Sept. 2015. https://www.mormon.org/beliefs/articles-of-faith.
Image courtesy More Good Foundation and licensed via Creative Commons (CC BY-NC 2.0).

Thursday, June 18, 2015

How to Talk with Mormons (podcast)



Mormonism boasts over 12 million adherents, and it's still growing. What should we say when Mormon missionaries come to our door? How are Christian beliefs different than Mormon beliefs? In this new podcast series, Lenny teaches you how to engage Mormons in fruitful discussion.

Monday, November 17, 2014

How Not to Show You Have Truth...

View of the Salt Lake Temple from the East.
In Utah, I was able to speak to several sister missionaries, some young and some old. After watching "Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration" in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, a pair of sister missionaries and an older one asked me a few questions. I explained what I was doing there – that I had questions about the LDS faith and that I was there to find out more about the religion and discuss how it differs from Christianity.

I later found out the older sister missionary got reprimanded for "debating" with us, that "debating was not what they were here to do," and that "if she continued to do this, there would be problems." But the discussion we had was highly civil, respectful and mutually enjoyed – which the sisters themselves verbally acknowledged. This was not an isolated incident, however. Most of my experience with LDS leadership has been that of discouraging questions that are not easily answered via 1) pushing any serious questions to the faith towards the LDS church’s website or 2) by asserting that I needed to test what is true by means of prayer or 3) by simply brushing me off. Obviously, these could possibly be isolated incidents, but the sheer consistency of these responses makes me think this is how the LDS faith actually responds to those sincerely trying to seek truth that have difficult questions.

I appreciate that in following Christ, critical thinking, testing, and transparency is not only a righteous ideal, but a command. The whole worldview of Christianity is strong enough to withstand testing and to be put through the ringer of reason and evidence. If it really is true, shouldn’t that be the case?  Would we really have anything to hide? Had the situation been in reverse, if they sought us for questions about Christianity, I can GUARANTEE we would have been there as long as possible.

It has once been said that, "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." That same person did not say truth would be known by feeling, but by reading the word of God. And it is true: in Christianity, testing important truths is not really about feeling; it’s about reading the words of God: "Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, IF you continue in my word, THEN are you my disciples indeed; AND you shall know the truth, AND the truth shall make you free." John 8:31-32 (and essentially Psalm 119).

If you are truly serious about telling me you have truth, then please be intellectually honest: do not discourage sincere questions or stifle the gift of rational, critical thought.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Heresies of Mormonism



What is a heresy? Any belief that denies those Christians have historically recognized as essential to the faith; such beliefs include the triune nature of God, the divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ, His eternality,  and the nature of His incarnation. Mormonism rejects these essentials and substitutes its own fictions. In this video clip, Lenny takes a brief look at the teachings of the LDS church and demonstrates why Mormonism is not a Christian faith.


Friday, June 27, 2014

The Book of Mormon Shows Joseph Smith to be a False Prophet

Last night on the streets of Manti, I had an interesting discussion with a man about his beliefs and the Book of Mormon. He was older, in his sixties, and he had been studying the book fervently. Born and raised in Utah, he came from a multi-generational family that was faithful to the LDS. He said that he had to read the book "hundreds of times" before he could truly understand it, but he now does and it drove him to some interesting conclusions. One of the most surprising admissions he made to me was that the later revelations of Joseph Smith were wrong and he was a false prophet!

A statement like the one above strikes people as counter-intuitive, but I actually agree with the man. If you were to read the Book of Mormon alone, you would never arrive at Mormon doctrine. In fact many passages in the Book of Mormon directly contradict the later revelations that Smith taught, even regarding the nature of God Himself.

Eternal Progression

The central concept of LDS theology is the doctrine of eternal progression. That doctrine teaches that God is a man who was a faithful Mormon in his physical life and has now been exalted. As the LDS prophet Lorenzo Snow famously put it, "As man now is, God once was; As God now is, man may be."1 While Snow coined that phrase, he didn’t create the doctrine. Joseph Smith originally taught this idea in a very famous sermon known as the King Follet sermon. There, Smith in his office of prophet who is to present the revelation from God Himself, Smith teaches:
God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by His power, was to make himself visible—I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God, and received instruction from, and walked, talked and conversed with Him, as one man talks and communes with another.2
Smith goes on to explain that "you have got to learn how to be gods yourselves" in order to have eternal life.

The unchanging nature of God in the Book of Mormon

The teaching of the exaltation of God from a man is in direct contradiction to Smith’s Book of Mormon, though. Moroni 8:18 declares, "For I know that God is not a partial God, neither a changeable being; but he is unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity."3 Mormon 9:9, borrowing from the book of Hebrews reinforces the idea that God is changeless. "Do we not read that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and in him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing."4  According to the Book of Mormon, then, Joseph Smith’s teaching that God was once a man is false.

It is interesting that Joseph Smith prefaced his remarks about God by saying how important it is to get the doctrine correct. He put it in no uncertain terms:
My first object is to find out the character of the only wise and true God, and what kind of a being He is; and if I am so fortunate as to be the man to comprehend God, and explain or convey the principles to your hearts, so that the Spirit seals them upon you, then let every man and woman henceforth sit in silence ... But if I fail to do it, it becomes my duty to renounce all further pretensions to revelations and inspirations, or to be a prophet; and I should be like the rest of the world—a false teacher.5
I believe Smith is a false teacher.  The man with whom I was conversing did as well, however he still held to the Book of Mormon and claimed that Smith was called to be a translator, not a prophet or political leader. I think that someone who claims to be a prophet and is proven to be false would not be used of God to reveal his word. That’s pretty simple since the definition of a prophet is someone who reveals the word of God to the people. Smith is a false teacher, and none of his teachings, including the Book of Mormon should be trusted.

References

1. The Teachings of Lorenzo Snow. (Salt Lake City, UT: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2012). 83.
2. Smith, Joseph, Jr. "The King Follett Sermon." Ensign Magazine. April 1971. Web. https://www.lds.org/ensign/1971/04/the-king-follett-sermon?lang=eng Accessed 27 June 2014.
3. Smith, Joseph. "The Book of Moroni." The Book of Mormon Online. (Salt Lake City, UT: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Web. 2007. Accessed 27 June 2014.
4. Smith, Joseph. "The Book of Mormon." The Book of Mormon Online. (Salt Lake City, UT: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Web. 2007. Accessed 27 June 2014.
5. Smith, Joseph, Jr. "The King Follett Sermon." Ibid.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Of Pageants and Propaganda

Yesterday, we arrived in Manti for the first night of our Apologetics Missions Trip. Each year for two weeks in June, the LDS Church hosts The Mormon Miracle Pageant in Manti, reenacting Joseph Smith's claims of visions from God, an intricate history of ancient Israelites transplanted to the Americas with wars and revivals, and the ultimate exaltation of faithful Mormons to Godhood. It was a big production, with thousands coming out to watch each night.


The interesting thing about this performance is it fits the same mold as other official church "biographies" produced about Joseph Smith and the Mormon church. Every one I have seen really whitewashes the history of Smith and his followers, and falsely characterizes what traditional Christianity teaches. I get that people want to hold their leaders I high regard, but Smith is clearly inhuman in LDS presentations. Even in the Bible, the Apostle Peter is shown as a flawed man who denied Christ in Jesus' hour of trial. This is peter, the one whom Jesus called "rock", the one whose declaration of Jesus as the Christ prompted Jesus to respond that His entire church would be built on it.

I think many people relate to Peter in the Bible not because he was given such revelations from God, but because he was so flawed and carried away by his emotions. Peter was a "ready, fire, aim" kind of guy; he said what he felt at the time even when it was wrong. I think that's why so many people relate to him so well; he was human.

We see none of that humanity in Joseph Smith. Instead he is portrayed in mythic form, like Hercules. Smith is portrayed as pious at the tender age of fourteen and the play's script hammers home this point with a narrative that has Smith clinging to his first vision "in spite of persecutions and threats of death." Of course, it wasn't the first vision that upset the people of Illinois and Missouri so much. It was the fact that the Mormons were polygamous, which endangered their daughters, and later they were politically manipulative, controlling the vote.1

Beyond the fanciful representation of Smith, the retelling of the Book of Mormon's account of the history of the Americas. As the tale unwinds of the great civilizations of the Nephites and Lamanites who go to war again and again, with various revivals and fallings away, and with the supposed appearance of Jesus on this continent to establish His church here, it becomes clear just how mythical the story is. Forget the fact that there is no archaeology to support any recognition of any civilization advanced as the Book of Mormon claims. Forget the fact that there isn't a shred of DNA to show the native American peoples were of Semitic descent. The Book of Mormon has huge historical anachronisms that show it couldn't be an account written in the time period given.

One of the biggest was on full display at the Pageant as the supposed ancient faithful continued to proclaim that they had established themselves on this continent for the reasons of worshipping the true God, practicing the true faith and pursuing freedom and liberty.2 As Americans, we understand the idea of freedom of religion and freedom to pursue life, liberty, and happiness, but such words don't fit in a civilization existing about one hundred years before Christ. Those are words coming from the American revolution. They are a out of place as someone today finding a supposedly ancient scroll from Egypt and translating it to say that someone chose to open a home office. They also repeated the canard that people who lived prior to Jesus would claim the name Christian. As I've explained before, this makes no sense at all.

I had the opportunity to talk with a Mormon couple before the pageant and asked them why they were Mormons. How did they know that this is the true faith? Although they were both raised Mormon, the wife said that there was a time when she had to "investigate these things for herself." She ultimately admitted that the truth value of the entire LDS faith rests on the truth or falsehood of the Book of Mormon's claims. "If it isn't true, then everything we've been teaching in our churches and classrooms is wrong." I agree with her. The question is only will she be open to investigating the facts instead of her feelings towards her church?

References

1.In Joseph's Smith's idyllic community of Nauvoo, Illinois, even some of his followers including publisher William Law grew increasingly disenchanted with the changes that Smith was instituting, including such political manipulations. Law published a single edition of the Nauvoo Expositor that highlight's Smith's interests with politics. In the online copy found here, he writes:
The next important item which presents itself for our consideration, is the attempt at Political power and influence, which we verily believe to be preposterous and absurd. We believe it is inconsistent, and not in accordance with the christian religion. We do not believe that God ever raised up a Prophet to christianize a world by political schemes and intrigue."
2 Alma 43:47-48 specifically uses the concepts not only of freedom from bondage, but the idea of freedom of religion and liberty, wording more indicative of a 9th century author rather than an ancient author.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Why does Lehi disobey direct commandments of God?

All Jeremiah references are taken from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints King James Version (LDS KJV).

Lehi is the first distinct LDS prophet and Nephi is his son, who takes the spiritual lead after Lehi's death. Nephi records his father's revelations in the first chapters of 1 Nephi in the Book of Mormon.


1 Nephi: Lehi and Nephi's Commands

The heading just prefacing 1 Nephi 1:1 reads, "[Lehi] is persecuted by the Jews."  The events of the book begin "in the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah." (1 Nephi 1:4).  Nephi's father, Lehi, begins in joining other prophets (initially, just Jeremiah; Jeremiah 25) that preach repentance in the face of the destruction of Jerusalem. The Book of Mormon references Jeremiah 26:18-20 in its footnotes and there, Jeremiah, Micah, and Uriah are all despised for prophesying destruction of Jerusalem because of its evil ways (also, 1 Nephi 1: 18-20). Shortly thereafter, Lehi is given a very comprehensive revelation, one so great that his son, Nephi, is unable to make a full record thereof: "And now I, Nephi, do not make a full account of the things which my father hath written, for he hath written, many things which he saw in visions and dreams…" (1 Nephi 1:16). Lehi later receives many words from God in visions and dreams (1 Nephi 2:1-2, 11; 3:2; 5:4). Such words include commandments such as: God's call to the wilderness then short return to Jerusalem to collect bronze plates (containing secular and Jewish history, even up to contemporaneous history and Jewish genealogy), then back to the wilderness. Later, Nephi is in charge of his fleeing people and is commanded to build a ship that will later lead him to a promised land (1 Nephi 17:8, 49, 51). Nephi loads himself and his family to the Promised Land and they arrive in 589 B.C. (1Nephi 18:8, 23)

Jeremiah and the Commands to Israel

Now continue on to Jeremiah 27. It has a small forward in the LDS KJV: "The Lord sends word to many nations that they are to serve Babylon—the vessels of the Lord's house will go into Babylon." The later verses follow in 8-10:
"And it shall come to pass, that the nation and kingdom which will not serve the same Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, and that will not put their neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, that nation will I punish, saith the Lord, with the sword, and with the famine, and with the pestilence, until I have consumed them by his hand. Therefore hearken not ye to your prophets, nor to your diviners, nor to your dreamers, nor to your enchanters, nor to your sorcerers, which speak unto you, saying, Ye shall not serve the king of Babylon: For they prophesy a lie unto you, to remove you far from your land; and that I should drive you out, and ye should perish."
This message continues on through the rest of the chapter. The Israelites are not the only things of God commanded to go to Babylon, but the vessels of the Lord's house are also. Jeremiah prophesied that Hananiah would die because he falsely prophesied that God would break Babylon's rule and return the vessels of the Lord back to Jerusalem and Hananiah dies later that year. Further doom is given to those that prophesy against Jeremiah's words, which are to go to Babylon and take up roots there (Shemaiah in Jeremiah 29:24-32).

Promised Return

Lastly, God promises that he will return everyone that was scattered and captured by Babylon, back to the place from where they were dispersed, "And I will be found of you, saith the Lord: and I will turn away your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith the Lord; and I will bring you again into the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive." (Jeremiah 29:14) So even if Nephi did receive a commandment to go to a promised land, he and the other Jews there would be gathered back from their original land.

Issues

Contrary to the previous instructions, God previously directed Lehi to take the bronze tablets out of Jerusalem and away from Babylon. This takes them out of the category of the "vessels of the Lord's house." To resolve the issue there are at least two options:
  1. Either the bronze tablets are not vessels of the Lord's house, or
  2. Lehi disobeys a direct commandment of God.
What if the event dates are all off? That presents multiple concerns.
  1. Since there is a serious degree of evidence surrounding the accuracy of the traditional dates of the captivity, that undermines the historical authority of what Joseph Smith labeled the "…most correct of any book on earth…" 
  2. Why would Nephi, "having been taught somewhat in all the learning of [his] father," have been taught a different calendar or dating system?
  3. Even still, this still does not change that both of these refer to the exact same event, exile to Babylon, with the exact same consequences for not going, judgment. Even Nephi acknowledges that it was good Lehi did not stay long in Jerusalem while getting the bronze plates, lest he face destruction (1 Nephi 3:18). This aligns with the similar warnings Jeremiah gives to anyone in Jerusalem.
  4. If Lehi and/or Nephi was/were given different instructions than Jeremiah and other contemporary prophets, then why does he never speak with any of them to verify his visions? Even Paul does this in the New Testament. He not only receives direct revelation from Christ, but also validates this message with the other apostles on at least two different occasions.

What Then?

If we are to accept any words of Lehi, the first in the line of distinctly Mormon prophets, then we need to resolve why his behaviors and the behavior of his son Nephi (who was fully taught by Lehi in all spiritual matters) acted contrary to God's directives for all members of Israel. But, if no such resolution exists for Lehi and/or Nephi, then is it unreasonable to reject their prophecy?

Sunday, November 03, 2013

The One Question Mormons Hope You Don't Ask


Talking with Mormon missionaries can feel daunting. They seem to know their scriptures and have all the answers. Do the LDS really worship the same God we do? Are they Christians? Here is a very special four part podcast series where I offer a key question that Mormons cannot answer. Listen to all four parts here:
Photo courtesy Saaby and licensed by the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 Generic License.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Are Mormons Christians?

Every so often I have the opportunity to go onto a college campus and answer questions from the students. Recently, a student who identified himself as a Mormon wished to ask about my position on whether Mormons are Christians. He said that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has Jesus' name in the title, so they are certainly Christians, too. He then asked "why do evangelicals insist that we are not also Christians?"


I answered by asking a question of my own. "Why do property lines exist?" I asked him. "Why do we make sure that we mark the beginning and ending boundaries of our lands? The answer (as I'm sure most people know) is so there is no confusion or encroachment by others. Property lines define the beginning and the end of my land. As a landowner, it is important to know where that land starts and stops. I shouldn't assume land that isn't mine as much as another shouldn't assume to own land that I paid for.  I also have to care for my land; it should be both nurtured and protected.

This idea of defining boundaries is also important when discussing religious beliefs. For example, not every religion could be considered theistic. Zen Buddhism is a faith that really doesn't believe in a God as such-- it is an atheistic faith. Other religions hold to differing beliefs about the nature of God, and still more about who Jesus is.

One of the ways Christianity has set up its defining lines is by the historic creeds of the church. The early church fathers knew that this would happen as they were warned by Paul who said that others may come and spread a gospel contrary to the true one[1]. The apostle John also warned the Christians that there existed many pseudo-Christs (e.g. anti-Christs) even during his time.[2] So it shouldn't be a surprise that the church when confronted with a heretical belief would work to make sure Christianity was properly defined. The Nicene Creed was created to be such a boundary point. It is a measuring line to tell what beliefs are necessary for one to be considered a Christian.

The Nicene Creed affirms that God is a single being made up of three persons, it affirms that Jesus was fully God and fully man, it upholds the virgin birth of Christ, and the atoning work of the crucifixion. But the Latter-Day Saints officially reject the Nicene Creed. Each of these doctrines, which are considered essential to the makeup of Christianity, is specifically contradicted in Mormon theology. God is not a single being, but three beings. Joseph Smith considered Jesus a normal man who was just exalted in the same way that every Mormon can be exalted. In Doctrine and Covenants he writes, "The difference between Jesus and other offspring of Elohim is one of degree not of kind."[3] He also taught that Jesus was conceived naturally, from God the Father having physical relations with Mary.

So, in no essential category can a Mormon who holds to the doctrines of the Mormon church also claim to be a Christian without completely destroying the very definition of Christianity itself. This should not be surprise, given that Joseph Smith in his first vision has God labeled these very creeds as "abominations."[4] Therefore, Mormonism by its own admission stands counter to the very beliefs that define what a Christian is.

This is a question that I think has confused many Mormons. They certainly see themselves as a Christian denomination and are quite confused at the hard lines being drawn by those who follow the historic Christian faith.  Hopefully, my response to this student will bring a bit more clarity to others as well.

References

[1] Galatians 1:6-9
[2] 1 John 2:18
[3] Doctrine and Covenants 93:21
[4] The History of Joseph Smith 1:19. See https://www.lds.org/scriptures/pgp/js-h/1?lang=eng

Friday, December 28, 2012

2012 Top Ten Apologetics Blog Posts

2012 is coming to a close, and as I did last year, I'd like to take a moment and look back on some of the more popular posts from the last twelve months. Come Reason has continued to reach farther than I would've imagined, with over 300,000 unique visitors from all over the globe reading our articles, posts, and interactions  Add to that the highly popular podcasts and the various peaking engagements, and we've been very blessed this year.

Below are the top ten blog posts for 2012. My series on the "Top Ten Neglected Books for Apologists" really resonated, making six of the ten spots on the list.  But the most popular post by far was my response to Jefferson Bethke's viral video "Why I Hate Religion but  Love Jesus". It seems that everyone had an opinion on this, I only hope that my thoughts add to a better understanding of approaching Christianity as a thoughtful faith.

The other top posts dealt with the Billy Graham organization's purging the word "cult" from their web site during Mitt Romney's campaign as well as an internal contradiction within the Book of Mormon itself. All ten posts are linked below. Which was your favorite?
  1. What's Wrong With "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus"?
  2. The Book of Mormon's Slip is Showing
  3. Billy Graham, Mormonism, and the word "Cult"
  4. Top Ten Neglected Books for Apologists - #10 Theory of Knowledge
  5. Top Ten Neglected Books for Apologists - #5 The Edge of Evolution
  6. Top Ten Neglected Books for Apologists - #4 In Defense of Miracles
  7. Top Ten Neglected Books for Apologists - #6 The Christians as the Romans Saw Them
  8. Top Ten Neglected Books for Apologists - #7 Questions That Matter
  9. Top Ten Neglected Books for Apologists - #9… A Romance Story?
  10. Should the Gospel accounts be taken as history or as propaganda?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Book of Mormon's Slip is Showing



Have you ever watched the History Channel show Pawn Stars? Although many customers are obviously pre-selected and the facts are scripted ahead of time, my boys still like to watch how different quirky items claiming to be from years past get inspected to see if they're the real deal (and worth some real money) or simply forgeries that are worthless. I find it interesting as to how the experts that the staff call into the store look for telltale clues as to the legitimacy of the item.

The reason I bring this up is I recently came across a passage in the book of Mormon that would set off all the bells and whistles of Rick Harrison and his crew immediately. In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Nephi was part of a wave of Hebrew exiles, fleeing the Babylonians that were conquering Jerusalem at that time. These refugees supposedly built boats and sailed to the Americas, as they were told by God. Nephi also recounts how he had known of a stunning prophecy of the coming Messiah; a prophecy that gives more detail about the Savior to come than any Old Testament prophet ever did.  He writes:
"For according to the words of the prophets, the Messiah cometh in six hundred years from the time that my father left Jerusalem; and according to the words of the prophets, and also the word of the angel of God, his name shall be Jesus Christ, the Son of God." (2 Nephi 25:19)
Here's my question. At this date in history, the Babylonian empire was at its zenith. They would be overthrown by the Medo-Persians. We also have this book itself claiming it was written in "reformed Egyptian." The Greeks didn't come along until some 300 years later.

So, given all this, how in the world would Nephi use a word like "Christ", which is a transliteration of the Greek word Χριστός, the language of the New Testament? Hebrew prophets before Nephi would've called Jesus "anointed one" or "Messiah" (משיח), but not "Christ". Greece was a series of fragmented city-states at that time that fought among themselves as much as fighting any others. It wasn't until after Alexander the Great conquered the known world by 323 B.C. did the establishment of Greek as the common language become  settled across the empire.

But here we see a supposed Hebrew prophet who was raised near Jerusalem and could write in a modified Egyptian language using a term for the Messiah that only comes from a Greek word.  Does this sound believable?  It's kind of like claiming you found a book written by George Washington where, when visiting New York he borrowed a 20th century advertising slogan and exclaimed, "I love the Big Apple!" Such points are clear signs that the book's author sits well outside its historical setting - and they are a clear sign of a forged document.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

What's an Apologetics Missions Trip?

This month, I had the privilege of leading a group of 34 people, ranging from junior high to post-college, on an Apologetics Missions Trip. What kind of trip is an Apologetics Missions Trip, you ask? It's a trip where we not only train people how to defend their faith and share it with others, we go out and do it in real world settings. We meet with people on the street, we ask the staunchest defenders of those who hold different beliefs to tell us their views, and we discuss them in an intelligent and loving way.



For this trip, we caravanned to Salt Lake City, Utah so we could interact with members of the LDS (Latter-Day Saints) church. We chose Salt Lake because it is explicitly immersed in Mormon culture and thought. In some suburbs, there are populations of over 60,000 people and only two Christian churches to serve the cities! This is a non-Christian environment.

After some extensive training, we took the students to Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake where they were able to strike up discussions with Mormon missionaries and ask them about their beliefs. Students visited a splinter LDS group in southern Utah that still practices polygamy and attended one of their services. We also visited the campus of Brigham Young University and were able to interact with the students attending there. In between, we had opportunities to hear from some ex-Mormons and those with ministries that reach out to Mormon communities.

For most of our students, the experience was life-changing. Here are a few of their comments:
  • "I went on this trip expecting God to use me to minister to Mormons in any way He willed, but God in all His wisdom and beauty ministered to my heart as well through the most unassuming circumstances! What a rich experience this trip was. I came back with more passion and fervor to communicate the truth of the Word to the unsaved who enter and surround my daily life."
    ——
  • "The Lord broke my heart for the lost and gave me a new passion for His Word. But it also made me appreciate my salvation, the truth, and freedom that are God’s grace to me, so much more."
    ——
  • "My heart absolutely broke for the Mormons who were so lost in a lie. It felt like there was no freedom of religion in Utah and that the Christians were forced to be underground or hidden from society."
    ——
  • "Truly God is faithful to not only do a mighty work in the heart of those whom we had the opportunity to talk to, but to do a mighty work in my own heart as well!"
    ——
  • "This trip has given me a greater confidence and ability to articulate and defend orthodox biblical Christianity in the marketplace of religious and philosophical ideas."
    ——
  • "Before I went on the Utah Apologetics trip, some of my friends had jokingly said to me ‘if you want to talk to Mormons, why do you need to go all the way to Utah? You can find plenty right across the street!' And I kind of understood what they meant. But going to Utah and being in the middle of the Mormon culture opened my eyes to what a need they have to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. One Christian Pastor who is an ex-Mormon, Russ East, mentioned at the beginning of our trip that when we talk with the Mormons, we need to speak the truth to them and show them where the Book of Mormon falls short, but that it's also very, very important to show the love of God to them by being good listeners and not being in "attack mode". And he also mentioned inviting them to church with us so that they can hear good worship music. I think he said this because the death of Jesus for the sins of the world is so downplayed in the Mormon faith, that the freedom and joy of the Lord is lacking. So, although they are pre-occupied with other ‘good things' like works, family, etc., the importance of Jesus' death and salvation for our sins is easily neglected. It's so important to remember that the Lord looks on our heart."
Apologetics Missions trips are unique experiences where students get to study theology, apologetics, and evangelism and then use it right away with real people. Even as I continue to hear from those who attended the trip, they are continuing to talk with the Mormons they met in salt Lake. Some have even asked local Mormon missionaries to come over for dinner so they can discuss faith in greater detail. Above all, God is working in the hearts of all those who went, strengthening their walk and teaching them to "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3 NKJV).

Next spring, we are hoping to have another Apologetics Missions Trip, targeting a hub of atheistic culture, U.C. Berkeley. I hope you can join us. If you'd like to read more about some specific encounters we had with the Mormon missionaries, read this recent blog post. And if you'd like to attend one of the apologetics classes held monthly, look at our calendar for upcoming classes.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Your Burning in the Bosom Might Require a Tape Measure

Last week, I had the privilege to lead a group of 34 students to Salt Lake City, Utah for an Apologetics Missions Trip. These trips are designed to help students interact with those who don’t hold to their religious views, to ground them in the theological truths of the Bible, and to teach them how to witness more effectively. It’s one thing to read a book or listen to a lecture on witnessing to the cults; it’s a far different thing to take it out of the classroom and actually do it.


One destination on our trip is the Temple Square in Salt Lake. This is the focal point of the LDS faith, with the Temple being the most iconic element of Mormonism. When we arrived at Temple Square, we had the students break into groups of two or three and then disperse to discuss beliefs with the Mormon Missionaries who are all too eager to engage visitors. In my time, a friend and I were able to engage with two different sets of Mormon Sisters – women in their early twenties who are on their mission, representing the LDS faith. The Sisters showed us the various buildings (the Tabernacle, Joseph Smith memorial, Church History Museum, and such) and along the way we began talking about Mormonism.

Now, the main “proof” of the validity of Mormonism for the overwhelming majority of Mormons is what has commonly become known as the “burning in the bosom.” Taken from a passage at the end of the Book of Mormon (Moroni 10:4), Moroni instructs the reader

And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

Time and time again, as we talked with Mormons, they ultimately retreated to this passage as the unshakable measure of proof that the Book of Mormon is God’s word and that Joseph Smith was His prophet. “The Holy Ghost has confirmed these facts to me, and how can you get a higher authority than the Holy Ghost?” was the questions I received. They would then ask, “Have you read the Book of Mormon and prayed sincerely for God to reveal whether it’s true?”

I responded, “Yes, I have read the Book of Mormon, and I have prayed. However God revealed to me quite clearly that this was not His word. So, what do we do now?” At this, the missionaries were a bit taken aback. They suggested that I must not have prayed sincerely enough. I countered with an analogy.

“Look, suppose I was a house builder with 10 years of experience. I may look down on that two by four and say, ‘That’s a 92-1/4” stud. My experience gives me the ability to eyeball those and tell.’ You may come up and say, ‘Well, I have 10 years of experience, too! I can eyeball that board and tell you it’s a full eight feet long!’ We each have had an experience, and we each believe sincerely that we’re right. But out experiences are in contradiction to one another. How do we solve the issue?” The answer is obvious, of course. You measure the board! We appeal to an objective standard. You can place the board against an eight foot wall being framed and if it fits within the opening, it is 92-1/4” and if it is the same as the height of the entire wall, it’s a full 96”.

This appeal to an objective standard is common-sensical and is how Mormons would settle any other question – except the question of the Book of Mormon. The personal experience in proving it to be true trumps everything, including archaeological evidence (there are no traces of any of the civilizations that the Book of Mormonism mentions1), the factual evidence (The Book of Abraham has been proven to be the Egyptian book of the dead2), DNA evidence (the American Natives are not Semitic in origin3), and the contradictory nature of Joseph Smith’s teachings when compared to the Bible.

In my discussion, the missionaries simply refused to acknowledge my point. “But you must pray!” they told me. “The Holy Ghost is the ultimate authority!” So, they basically said that their personal experience trumps all, even the facts when they are presented. I again asked how we can reconcile this stand-off. They had no further answer and bit me good-bye.

This to me is sad. These girls have so much of themselves invested into their belief system, that they cannot even make room for admitting there is more than one way to find the truth! I’ll keep praying for them. I also hope that we as Christians don’t fall into that same trap. 1 Peter 3:15 says we’d better be able to give reasons for why we believe as we do. To do anything else would result in building a house of faith where the walls are eventually going to collapse.

References:

1. See “The Lost Book of Mormon Geography” at http://blog.mrm.org/2008/06/lost-book-of-mormon-geography/
2.Joseph Smith’s papyri was rediscovered in 1967 and, now that we can translate Egyptian hieroglyphics, its plain to see this is true. http://www.mrm.org/book-of-abraham
3.See “Who Are the Lamanites?” at http://utlm.org/newsletters/no103.htm#DNA
Image courtesy Flickr user redjar.Typhoon at en.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 2.0], from Wikimedia Commons
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