Sunday, November 26, 2006

Steve Cannon's Essay on Mormonism

My thanks to Stephen F. Cannon for his permission to reproduce this essay here, which originally appeared in the Quarterly Journal. Please note his account of encountering the Testimony, and also note the passages from Boyd Packer. Steve has been teaching the SS class at my church, and we spent two weeks on Mormonism.

DON’T CONFUSE ME WITH THE FACTS...
“I HAVE A TESTIMONY!”
by Stephen F. Cannon
As a young man in Bible College, in the early 1970s, I became fascinated with the subject of comparative religion. At that time, I began to read everything I could get my hands on about the subject of other religions, world religions, as well as those that had their origin in the United States. As I read books like The Kingdom of the Cults by Walter Martin and The Four Major Cults by Anthony Hoekema, my interest was piqued by the Mormon religion.
I decided very early that if I were to get a good grasp of the beliefs of these people, I would have to do a great deal of research into their records and documents. I then began to haunt the libraries around the Atlanta area and spent more and more time at the Emory University (Candler School of Theology) library. As my knowledge of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) began to grow, I found myself thrust into situations of witnessing and talking to members of the LDS church as they proselytized members of my own church and others. This, of course, led me into further research and began a pattern of debate and counter-debate that led to even deeper research. My fascination with the history, doctrines, and psychology of that church grew exponentially.
The first barrier that I had to overcome in my dialogues with LDS officials and missionaries was that of term redefinition. I addressed this problem in a recent issue of The Quarterly Journal in an article that I wrote challenging the historicity and authenticity of The Book of Mormon. In that article I mentioned the frustration that many have when trying to dialogue with Latter-day Saints about spiritual matters.
In it I opined that, “When discussing doctrinal or historical points with Mormons, one must be careful to define terms. Mormons use the same terms as Orthodox Christians, but define them differently.”1
This can be amply demonstrated by looking at how differently evangelicals and LDS define the word “Scripture.” In historic orthodox biblical Christianity, the term “Scripture” (Greek: graphe) has come to mean that body of writings incorporated from the Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament) inspired writings known today as the Bible. Latter-day Saints, however, have added three other volumes to the canon of Holy Writ and thus greatly expanded the meaning of the term “Scripture.” Along with the Bible, they recognize The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price.
Thus, when engaging in dialogue with Latter-day Saints, Christians have to be aware when the LDS person quotes Scripture to prove a point or define the term, of exactly which Scripture are they quoting: the Bible, The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants or the Pearl of Great Price. It is often difficult to tell because the other three volumes in their canon have been produced using King James English, so that they sound like the Bible.
Another key word that bears discussion and clarification is the word “Gospel.” Christians committed to the sufficiency of the Bible allow this Scripture to define what the word Gospel means (Greek: euaggelion = good news). According to 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, this “good news” is that Jesus Christ died for our sins, was buried, and that on the third day was resurrected, all according to the Scriptures (the Bible). Therefore, the good news, the gospel, is the atoning work of Jesus Christ!
However, just as they expanded the Scripture, the Mormons also expand the meaning of the word “Gospel.” The late Mormon Apostle Bruce R. McConkie, stated in his work Mormon Doctrine:
“The gospel of Jesus Christ is the plan of salvation. It embraces all of the laws, principals, doctrines, rites, ordinances, acts, powers, authorities, and keys necessary to save and exalt men in the highest heaven hereafter. It is the covenant of salvation which the Lord makes with men on earth.”2
A key element of this expanded definition (that would fall under the term “authorities” above) is the recognition of Joseph Smith as “the Prophet of the restoration.” We will see, in Mormon thought, that faith in the good news of Jesus Christ alone is not sufficient to secure one’s salvation. To the devout Latter-day Saint, it is Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith, and then the rest of the above definition.
These are only a couple of the many theological terms and words that the LDS people redefine. When entering into any meaningful dialogue with them, it is necessary at the outset of the dialogue to agree on just what you mean when you use a word. Though it may seem a little bit tedious at first, term definition is absolutely essential in order to keep everyone straight on what is being discussed.
HEAD FIRST INTO A BRICK WALL
Once I understood that term definition was essential, I began to see the dialogue sessions take on new depths. Although the missionaries or LDS friends rarely agreed with my definitions, at least when I spoke they knew the context in which I was speaking. Major hurdle No. 1 was cleared and I started picking up a little more speed in the discussions.
At that time I began serious research into the history of the Mormon church. I was reading the LDS’ seven-volume History of the Church, selected volumes of the Journal of Discourses, and contrasting them with Mormon historian Fawn Brodie’s penetrating biography of Joseph Smith, No Man Knows My History, and Jerald and Sandra Tanner’s Mormonism - Shadow or Reality? I then obtained photocopies of the first editions of the standard works of the LDS church and started documenting the many changes that had been made to these “revelations” through the years. Suddenly, it seemed that the dialogue sessions had reached a new level. I began to notice a new level of discomfort in those with whom I was talking. This was especially true with a couple of sets of missionaries with whom I had been meeting regularly on opposite sides of the city. It actually began to look as though I was making some headway with one of these young men in particular.
I remember, that in the next-to-last session with one duo, I had been pointing out the discrepancies in the several different versions of Joseph Smith’s first vision. I documented these differing versions with some photostats sent to me by a friend who had left the Mormon church. The young elders admitted that this was the first they had heard on the subject. One of them seemed particularly interested/troubled by the information. They wanted to take the documentation back to their mission president, discuss it with him, and have a final session the following week.
At that follow-up meeting, the missionary that seemed to be most interested did not return. He was replaced by an older missionary who from the outset became the spokesman for the duo. When I asked what they had found out about the differing versions of the first vision, “Elder Spokesman” countered with a question of his own, and the conversation took a completely new direction. The dialogue went something like this:
Elder: Mr. Cannon, have you ever read The Book of Mormon?
SC: Well, yes. I’ve read it all the way through once and read certain portions several times.
Elder: Then you are familiar with the challenge of Moroni 10?
SC: I think so. But let’s look it up together just to make sure I’m thinking about the correct passage.
Other Elder (reading aloud): Moroni 10:3 — “Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down unto the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.” Verse 4 — “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.” And verse 5 — “And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.”
SC: Okay. Yes, I am familiar with those passages.
Elder: Have you ever accepted that challenge? Have you ever prayed and asked Heavenly Father if these things are true?
SC: By “these things,” do you mean the first vision or The Book of Mormon? If you mean The Book of Mormon, then yes, I have prayed and asked God if the things therein are true. I have not prayed specifically about the first vision.
Elder: And did you receive a witness of the Holy Ghost that The Book of Mormon is true?
SC: No, I did not receive such a witness.
Elder: Well, I’d like to tell you that I too took the challenge of Moroni 10. I asked my Heavenly Father if those things were true and it was revealed to me through the power of the Holy Ghost that they are true. I can honestly say to you tonight that I know that God hears and answers my prayers. I know that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only True and Living Church on the earth. This I testify to you in the name of Jesus Christ and by the power of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
SC: I find that very interesting. You say that you know these things to be true.
Elder: Yes, that’s right.
SC: You know that these things are true because you prayed about them and somehow God answered you. How did He do this, did you hear an audible voice or was it an impression in your mind or what?
Elder: It’s a little hard to describe, but when I asked Heavenly Father if these things were true, there was a feeling that welled up inside me and a heat that went through me and from then on, I knew that it was the truth.
SC: So, your basis for confirming truth from that time forward is based on a feeling? I find that a little thin, but let me ask you, have you ever prayed about all the different versions of the First Vision? Do you have a feeling as to which version is correct?
Elder: Well, let me just say quickly, before we have to go to another appointment, that despite the fact that you have shown us some pretty interesting historical documentation, and I would have to study much deeper into the whole issue, that despite all this [holding documentation] I know that Joseph Smith is a Prophet of God, and that God and Jesus Christ did appear to him in the woods that day to begin the restoration of the True and Living Church. You have to understand that the Church has many enemies and many false things have been said and written about the Church, but I can tell you honestly that I know that this is His Church.
SC: And you know this because of a feeling? Despite whatever evidence exists to the contrary?
Elder: I know this because I have a witness of the Holy Ghost. You could show me a thousand books and papers or call up a thousand disgruntled people who have left the Church and despite all of that, I still know that this Church is true. I know this through the revelation and power of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
I had just run full tilt into the brick wall of The Testimony. I later would learn only too well the full ramifications of encountering this cleverly orchestrated device of psychological warfare used very ably by the power structure of the LDS church to recruit new and maintain existing members. It is with this subjective mystical “feeling,” that those who ordinarily govern their day-to-day life by the rules of logic, reason, and evidence, are able to suspend those rules and “sustain” all manner of incredible and conflicting beliefs.
THE SEARCH FOR TRUTH
As postmodernism gains increasing popularity in our culture, it may sound passé to talk about objective truth, but the foundation of the Christian religion is rooted in articulating and establishing claims of universal objective truth. The work of prophets, apostles and ultimately Jesus Christ Himself (as God Incarnate) was to reveal certain objective principles that were right (good) over against other objective principles that were wrong (evil). This was accomplished by articulating basic truths and establishing those truths by reason, logic, and the rules of evidence.
God in His infinite wisdom chose not only to work out His plan of reconciliation with His fallen creation in space-time history (the Mormons call this “mortality”), but also to provide means of verification of that plan in the same realm. He did not leave us at the mercy of subjective inner impressions (mysticism) for reasons to believe.
Jesus was continually appealing to objective history (not myth or fable) for reasons to believe. There was never any appeal by Him to listen to my words, pray and ask God if they are true, and you will get a feeling that they are true, even if there is objective evidence that demonstrates the opposite.
True, there were supernatural signs to demonstrate the power of the Savior and His disciples, but these were always pointed to as fulfillment of prophecy. The only supernatural sign (miracle) that was pointed to as the reason to believe was “the sign of the prophet Jonah”:
“But He answered and said unto them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth’” (Matthew 12:39-40).
And this sign was shortly to become an objective historical event, verifiable by the rules of evidence. When among His Jewish brethren, Jesus appealed to the extant Scriptures (Old Testament) to establish his mission:
“And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up: and, as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up for to read. And there was delivered unto Him the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.’ And He closed the book, and He gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on Him. And He began to say unto them, ‘This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears’” (Luke 4:16-21).
When He was among His apostles, His appeal to the truth of His mission was to the Scriptures:
“And He said unto them, ‘These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.’ Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures” (Luke 24:44-45).
When the Apostle Paul preached his Gospel sermon to the Bereans, he didn’t suggest that they “pray about what I say” and “get a witness of the Spirit that these things are true.” Nor did they by their own initiative retreat to their prayer closets seeking divine confirmation via the agency of a burning feeling in the chest.
“And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few” (Acts 17:10-12).
Even former Mormon Prophet, Seer, and Revelator David O. McKay recognized the importance of the above passage and stated in his book Ancient Apostles:
“Persecution and suffering could no more stop these inspired workers from preaching the Gospel than it could stop them from breathing; so as soon as they arrived at Berea, ‘they went into the synagogue of the Jews.’ The Jews here were more noble than those in Thessalonica, and would reason from the scripture, which was the Old Testament, kept in sacred rolls in the synagogue. So we conclude that the Bereans, not only listened attentively to what the missionaries told them but searched the scriptures to see if what they said was in harmony with the Law. When they found that it was, many believed, ‘also of honorable women who were Greeks, and of men not a few.’”3
No, Paul was a firm believer in the efficacy of the Scripture to establish the truth claims of the Gospel. It was to them that believers should appeal and in them that believers have hope.
“For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4).
Clearly, God our Heavenly Father, the creator of the universe, could have chosen to reveal everything about Himself (that He wants known) supernaturally to every individual. He could have imprinted directly on our spirits every fact couched in Scripture, so that we would have no need of a printed record. It is just as clear that He chose not to order His creation that way. And since God is sovereign of the universe and does nothing in a haphazard or capricious fashion, His choosing not to proceed that way was the correct choice. The Apostle John soberly warns believers:
“Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).
But just how do we test these spirits? Do we do it with feelings gained supernaturally (personal revelation)? To do so would be testing the thing we want tested by the thing we want tested! If a person prays about The Book of Mormon and gets a personal revelation (a feeling) that it is true but is not sure that the spiritual communication is from God, does he then pray to get a feeling that the feeling is true? Or did our Heavenly Father give us something by which we can benchmark personal revelations? The answer to that is a resounding yes! He gave us a written communication that is outside ourselves that gives us the principles by which to try those spirits.
It is the Law and the testimony of the Prophets (Hebrew Scriptures) and then the Gospels and Epistles of the Apostles (Greek Scriptures). We know this as the Bible. This is the Scripture by which we judge all other supposed communications from God, both supernatural and natural. Paul tells us:
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Moreover, God is consistent. He is not a changeable being.
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17).
He does not say something one day and then contradict Himself the next. If a revelation is truly from God it will be consistent with what he has already told us. If he has already spoken on a matter, then we don’t have to pray about that particular matter to see if it is true. God has told us in the Bible that it is wrong to murder. If a person gets a feeling that God wants him to murder someone in cold blood (as did Son of Sam, for example) then I know that feeling is wrong, it is not from God. A person’s feeling on the matter may be very strong, but there is an objective written communication from God against which we can test that feeling. We don’t have to rely on faulty intuition.
The discussion of whether or not the Bible has been tampered with (added to or subtracted from) or whether or not the canon has been closed will have to be discussed in another venue. Suffice to say, that if God is the omnipotent being that He claims to be, He is well able to preserve a body of written revelations against which all supernatural experiences are to be measured.
YOU, TOO, CAN HAVE A TESTIMONY
Just exactly what is this testimony? We’ll let the LDS authorities define it:
“Testimony is a generic term among Latter-day Saints for the assurance of the reality, truth, and goodness of God, of the teachings and Atonement of Jesus Christ, and of the divine calling of latter-day prophets. It is the core of LDS religious experience. It reaches beyond secondhand assent, notional conviction, or strong belief. It is knowledge buttressed by divine personal confirmation by the Holy Ghost and is interrelated with authentic faith and trust in God as demonstrated by dedication and discipleship. Fundamental in the Church is the doctrine that ‘no man can be a minister of Jesus Christ except he has the testimony of Jesus; and this is the spirit of prophecy. Whenever salvation has been administered, it has been by testimony.’”4
“You can be one, as well as I can be one, who declares the generation of Jesus Christ, who gives his genealogy, who comes to know in his heart by a power that is beyond intellectuality, by a power that comes from revelation and revelation only.”5
“Everyone of you who has a testimony and bears it is telling about a personal revelation from God. It is nothing less, or it isn’t a testimony, because the Holy Ghost revealed it to you. If you have a testimony, it is a revelation.”7
So we see that a testimony is an “assurance of reality,” it goes beyond second hand assent, notional conviction, strong belief or intellectuality, and it is in fact “knowledge,” but not just of the everyday variety. It is the “highest type of knowledge” and it comes from “revelation and revelation only.”
It is revealed to each “by the Holy Ghost.”
Well, then, how does one gain this revelation of the Holy Ghost? According to one LDS church leader, one must be in the proper frame of mind:
“Like the people in the world, you, the youth of the church, must put forth a similar effort to receive a witness from the Holy Ghost of the reality of the restoration of the gospel. For you, the testimony is not an automatic process; it comes only after you have ‘hungered and thirsted’ for it. This means you must have a desire much more intense than just a passive wanting.”8
To recap, the Mormon testimony then is a revelation of the Holy Ghost. It goes beyond the intellect, reason or logic and is the highest form of knowledge. It is the only way to know for certain the truth of the Mormon gospel and all that it entails. One can have a working knowledge of gospel principles, but cannot know of their truth without this higher knowledge. In order for one to obtain this sure knowledge, one must desire it above all else, pray, and then receive the revelation.
How then, does one know when he has received this revelation? Is there an audible voice from God? Handwriting on the wall? A burning bush? No, there is a burning in the bosom.
In the spring of 1829, Oliver Cowdery was taking dictation as Joseph Smith was “translating” The Book of Mormon. Cowdery wanted to do some translating on his own, but God had other plans. In a “revelation” given to Smith in April of that year, God tells Cowdery that there would be no translating for him, for that was Smith’s calling. During this communication a rule for establishing truth was given:
“But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me” (D&C 9:8-9).
In a glossary from The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, we read:
“Burning in the bosom — A metaphorical description of the feeling that sometimes attends the enveloping Spirit of the Lord, particularly when one understands God’s words through the influence of the Holy Ghost (Luke 24:32; D&C 9:3-8).”
Notice that the biblical proof text given is Luke 24:32 which says: “And they said one to another, ‘Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?’” Of course, without the additional new revelations, the Luke passage can in no way be construed to teach an inner “testimony” of a burning feeling being a yardstick for truth.
One commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants expands on the above passage and says:
“Now, I tell you that you can make every decision in your life correctly if you can learn to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This you can do if you will discipline yourself to yield your own feelings to the promptings of the Spirit. Study your problems and prayerfully make a decision. Then take that decision and say to him, in a simple, honest supplication, ‘Father, I want to make the right decision. I want to do the right thing. This is what I think I should do; let me know if it is the right course.’ Doing this, you can get the burning in your bosom, if your decision is right. If you do not get the burning, then change your decision and submit a new one. When you learn to walk by the Spirit, you never need to make a mistake. I know what it is to have this burning witness. (CR, October 1961, pp. 60-61).”9
Notice that this “revealing feeling” goes far beyond the scope of spiritual truths to encompass every decision in your life. Lest we mistake the intention of these writers:
“You do not know what to do today to solve your financial problems, what to plant, whether to buy or sell cattle, sheep or other things. It is your privilege to study it out: counsel together with the best wisdom and judgment the Lord shall give you, reach your conclusions, and then go to the Lord with it, tell him what you have planned to do. If the thing you have planned to do is for your good and your blessing, and you are determined to serve the Lord, pay your tithes and your offerings and keep his commandments, I promise you that he will fulfill that promise upon your head, and your bosom shall burn within you if the thing you have planned to do is right, and you shall know by the whisperings of the Spirit that it is right. But if it is not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought, and you will be turned away from that thing.”10
So the faithful Mormon who has gained a testimony can have this feeling of a burning in the bosom to guide him into not only religious truth, but also the mundane things in life as to what to plant, or how to make investments. The implications of this philosophy are enormous.
FEELINGS, NOTHING MORE THAN FEELINGS...
Who among us have not (as an adolescent or a teenager) felt the overwhelming feelings of puppy love generated almost instantaneously when one of our friends told us so-and-so really likes you a lot! That one who had perhaps been a nodding acquaintance had suddenly become the love of our lives; complete with elevated pulse, frequent sighs, and warm tinglings.
Or who hasn’t (at one time or another) wanted to believe a politician’s promise so much that we just know that this is the one that will make our lives and country better.
The point is, that if we want something fervently enough, all sorts of feelings can be generated. This seems to hold true especially with religious fervor. Because we are dealing with things non-corporeal, religious people (Mormon and non-Mormon), unfortunately, make their personal feelings the final arbiter of truth.
One example of this is the chorus of a popular evangelical hymn entitled “He Lives” which demonstrates fine music, but bad theology:
“He lives, He lives,
Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me,
along life’s narrow way...
You ask me how I know He lives:
He lives within my heart.”
Now, He very well may live within one’s heart. And if He does there are bound to be emotions. But whether anyone feels Him does not alter the fact that He lives! We know He lives because there are good and sufficient reasons for believing that He does. Reasons that can be corroborated in space-time history. There are historical reasons, there are archaeological reasons, there are textual reasons for faith and one’s feelings (emotions) are valid only when corroborated by these real-time events, just as doctrine is valid only if corroborated by the Bible.
To say that one knows something, just because one has a feeling relegates knowledge to the absurd. Arthur L. Johnson astutely observes:
“A quick look at what is implied by the term knowledge may help us here. Two aspects are important. First, to say that I know something is to say not only that I am aware of that something, but also that it is true. If, for example, I say that I know that the earth is flat, I am also saying (falsely) that it is true that the earth is flat, and that I am aware that this is so.”11
Using Johnson’s example, but adding a few words pertinent to our discussion, we could say, for example, that we know that The Book of Mormon is Scripture. We are saying that it is true that The Book of Mormon is Scripture, and that we are aware that this is so.
If we say the above, and there is no archaeological, historical, or textual evidence to corroborate the assertion of knowledge (there is, in fact, strong evidence to the contrary), then on what basis do we make the assertion? We make it based on a feeling, a “burning in the bosom” which is defined as a personal revelation that goes beyond strong belief, or intellectuality.
Once we make this move, then we have taken the search for truth into the irrational. Reason, logic, and the laws of evidence can be dispensed with if it is expedient to do so. If we choose to adopt this philosophy, we are able to compartmentalize our thought processes into two opposing categories: one having to do with spiritual, the other with the secular.
This is particularly evident in the lives of Mormon professionals. There are numerous LDS lawyers, doctors, and scientists. When they perform their daily tasks as professionals, they do so operating under the established codes of their professions. This writer has never heard of a defense attorney pleading his client innocent on the basis that he had a “burning in the bosom” that the person didn’t commit the alleged crime. Nor, has this writer ever heard of a doctor getting a “testimony,” that despite medical tests to the contrary, it should be this treatment rather than another performed. Yet, this writer has discussed religious matters with both LDS doctors and lawyers and had them testify that despite evidence to the contrary, they know that Joseph was a prophet, and so forth, based on that aforementioned feeling.
We have already observed that feelings can be generated. If someone wants something strongly enough, all sorts of internal emotional justification can be summoned. Also, it is evident that if one is in this yearning frame of mind, then one can be more easily manipulated by persons in authority. A perfect example of this (as it relates to Mormonism) can be seen in the story of Lucy Walker, one of Joseph Smith’s plural wives.
In the early 1840s, Smith was busy building his “theocratic kingdom” in Nauvoo, Ill. While publicly denouncing the practice of polygamy, he began to add privately a number of plural wives. In January 1843, 17-year-old Lucy Walker had come to live in the Smith household after the death of her mother. In the spring of that year, while Joseph’s first wife Emma was in Saint Louis on a shopping trip, Smith “proposed” to Lucy. Fawn Brodie records the details of the event:
“Joseph asked Lucy to become his wife. ‘I have no flattering words to offer,’ he told her after the usual preliminaries. ‘It is a command of God to you. I will give you until tomorrow to decide this matter. If you reject this message the gate will be closed forever against you.’ ... ‘Although you are a Prophet of God,’ she told him, ‘you could not induce me to take a step of so great importance, unless I knew that God approved my course. I would rather die.’ He walked across the room, returned, and stood before her with what she described as ‘the most beautiful expression of countenance,’ and said: ‘God Almighty bless you. You shall have a manifestation of the will of God concerning you; a testimony that you can never deny. I will tell you what it shall be. It shall be that joy and peace that you never knew.’ ‘Oh how earnestly I prayed for these words to be fulfilled.’ ... My soul was filled with a calm, sweet peace that ‘I never knew.’ Supreme happiness took possession of me, and I received a powerful and irresistible testimony of the truth of plural marriage.”12
The above account is a classic example of psychological manipulation. Cult watchers have seen this used many times by “religious” leaders. A vulnerable young girl is confronted by one whom they hold in spiritual awe. A “command” from God is issued to do something she normally would abhor. If there are initial negative reactions, then dire spiritual or physical consequences are predicted. An inner turmoil results. After all, this man speaks for God. Would he give me commandments that are not true? The leader pleads for the follower to “earnestly pray about it and if it is from God, you will get peace about it.” The veiled threat is, get peace about it or you will be cut off! More often than not, the follower falls into line and gets the justifying feelings. Just like Lucy Walker.
The problem is that feelings can be wrong. One can fervently feel that the liquid in the bottle on the table can cure a headache, but if the liquid is poison the results will be far different than the feelings indicate.
One can desire something so strongly that many psychological (and even sometimes physical) manifestations can be generated. This does not, however, “prove” the rightness or wrongness of a position. It only demonstrates the position-holder’s fervency.
FAITH FOUNDED ON FEELINGS
The foundation of the LDS church has been built on this “burning feeling.” It has been the church authorities, from Joseph Smith until the present prophet, who have encouraged, defined, and interpreted this feeling. There is no doubt that the “testimony” is regarded as the backbone of the church.
The current Mormon prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley, stated:
“I would like to say to you, that is the strength of this cause, the individual testimony that lies in the hearts of the people. The strength of this church is not in its buildings, in its chapels, in its offices, in its schools; it is not in its programs or its publications. They are important, but they are only a means to an end, and that the end is the building of the testimony — a conviction that will weather every storm and stand up to every crisis in the hearts and lives of the membership.”13
Former LDS Apostle Stephen L. Richards taught:
“The restored Church of our Lord is built upon ... the individual testimonies of its members. Indeed no one is asked to come into the Church until he has personal assurance of the divine truth it teaches. At times it is something of a shock to applicants for admission into the Church to be advised that the evidences of their real conversion are not adequate. Such persons are not infrequently urged to further investigation and more supplication that they may know of a surety that it is the truth which they embrace. A young lawyer once told me that he would like to join our Church. ... I told him also that it was necessary to do something more than merely to indicate his desire for membership. I advised him that he should make careful study of the gospel, that the principles taught by the Church would seem reasonable and desirable to him but that that was not enough. I then told him that in his studies he would be expected to supplicate the Lord for a divine impression of the truth and divinity of the work, which we call a testimony.”14
And the late Mormon prophet Spencer W. Kimball said:
“I mention this so you do not think that testimony bearing is some little thing that is incidental to the mission only. This is the church program. It is powerful and mighty. Can you see how important the testimony is? It is the lifeblood of the organization of the Church.”15
So, we see that even by the authorities’ own teaching, the testimony is the true foundation of the LDS church.
And, this must be so!
It must be so because there is no independent objective evidence that corroborates the truth claims of that body. Not historical, not archaeological, not textual. When you examine the claims of Mormonism according to these three criteria, those claims begin quickly to unravel. This has been true from the beginning of the movement. This is why it has been necessary to concoct a test that is subjective, experience-oriented, and can be psychologically generated.
This fact has given momentum to the general authorities’ strategy of suppressing historical documentation, revising recorded history and early revelations, and attempting to intimidate honest LDS historians into silence.
An example can be found in portions of an address given by current acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Boyd K. Packer. This chilling talk was given to the Fifth Annual Church Educational System Religious Educators’ Symposium at Brigham Young University on Aug. 22, 1981. Titled “The Mantle Is Far, Far Greater Than The Intellect,” the address was in reaction to Mormon historians who tell the unvarnished truth about the history of their movement.
“I have come to believe that it is the tendency for many members of the Church who spend a great deal of time in academic research to begin to judge the Church, its doctrine, organization, and leadership, present and past, by the principles of their own profession. Oftentimes this is done unwittingly, and some of it, perhaps, is not harmful. A member of the Church ought always, particularly if he is pursuing extensive academic studies, to judge the professions of man against the revealed word of the Lord.”16
Boyd then issued these suppressive intimidations:
“Church history can be so interesting and so inspiring as to be a very powerful tool indeed for building faith. If not properly written or properly taught, it may be a faith destroyer.”17
“Some things that are true are not very useful.”18
“The writer or the teacher who has an exaggerated loyalty to the theory that everything must be told is laying a foundation for his own judgment.”19
“The Lord made it very clear that some things are to be taught selectively and some things are to be given only to those who are worthy. It matters very much not only what we are told but when we are told it. Be careful that you build faith rather than destroy it.”20
“That historian or scholar who delights in pointing out the weaknesses and frailties of present or past leaders destroys faith. A destroyer of faith — particularly one within the Church, and more particularly one who is employed specifically to build faith — places himself in great spiritual jeopardy. He is serving the wrong master, and unless he repents, he will not be among the faithful in the eternities. One who chooses to follow the tenets of his profession, regardless of how they may injure the Church or destroy the faith of those not ready for ‘advanced history,’ is himself in spiritual jeopardy. If that one is a member of the Church, he has broken his covenants and will be accountable. After all of the tomorrows of mortality have been finished, he will not stand where he might have stood.”21
“I think you can see the point I am making. Those of you who are employed by the Church have a special responsibility to build faith, not destroy it. If you do not do that, but in fact accommodate the enemy, who is the destroyer of faith, you become in that sense a traitor to the cause you have made covenants to protect. Those who have carefully purged their work of any religious faith in the name of academic freedom or so-called honesty ought not expect to be accommodated in their researches or to be paid by the Church to do it.”22
Elder Packer is driving the notion that it is permissible to keep negative historical truths hidden in order to “promote the faith.” When someone does uncover the negatives, such as the one mentioned in the dialogue earlier in this article, then the testimony card can be played. The burning in the bosom can be appealed to, and the conflicting negative can be whisked off into the nether regions of psychological compartmentalization.
Thus the claim: “I know it’s true despite what you’ve shown me, because I have a confirming feeling that it’s true” in effect becomes the notary for truth.
CLIMBING THE WALL
So, people ask me, when you run head first into the brick wall of the Mormon testimony, what do you do? Just as you would with any impediment to progress, you recognize it for what it is, then you climb over it and go forward.
As has been demonstrated, the “testimony” is a complex set of feelings and emotions psychologically generated and defined by LDS Authorities as final spiritual confirmation of the truth of their religious beliefs. These feelings are generated by individuals who want to believe in the validity of that body so fervently, that they are willing to suspend rationality when it comes to religious matters.
The Mormon testimony, the burning in the bosom, is the final refuge for individuals bludgeoned by the lack of positive, objective historical evidence for the truth claims of their movement. It is the quintessential example of the old saw, “Don’t confuse me with the facts, I have my mind made up.”

Endnotes:
1. See this author’s article, “Challenging The Book of Mormon,” The Quarterly Journal, July-September 1997, pg. 4.
2. Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, Inc., 1976, pg. 331.
3. David O. McKay, Ancient Apostles. Salt Lake City: The Deseret Sunday School Union, 1918, pg. 190.
4. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (pg. 160) as cited in Daniel Ludlow, editor, The Encyclopedia of Mormonism. New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1992. Vol. 4. “Testimony”, (emphasis added).
5. Elder Bruce R. McConkie, BYU Studies, Vol. 16, No. 4, pg. 559, (emphasis added).
6. John A. Widtsoe, Improvement Era, (May 1945, pg. 273) as cited in Testimony compiled by H. Stephen Stoker & Joseph C. Muren, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, Inc., 1980, (emphasis added).
7. Spencer W. Kimball, Unpublished address, Church Historical Department, as cited in Testimony, op. cit., pg. 4, (emphasis added).
8. John H. Vandenberg, Improvement Era, (Dec. 1968, pg. 110) as cited in Testimony, op. cit., pg. 19, (emphasis added).
9. L.G. Otten and C.M. Caldwell, Sacred Truths of the Doctrine and Covenants. Springville, Utah: LEMB, 1982, Vol. 1, pg. 52, (emphasis added).
10. Conference Reports 1931, Apr.:37. As quoted in Rulon T. Burton, We Believe: Doctrines and Principles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City: Tabernacle Books, 1994. Section: Revelation, Subsection 4, Topic: No. 680.
11. Arthur L. Johnson, Faith Misguided: Exposing the Dangers of Mysticism. Chicago: Moody Press, 1988, pp. 26-27.
12. Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History. New York: Borzoi Books, Alfred A. Knopf Publisher, First Edition, 1945, pp. 337-338, (emphasis added).
13. Gordon B. Hinckley, “Area Conference Report,” August 1971, Manchester, England, pp. 160-161. As quoted in Testimony, op. cit., pp. 8-9.
14. Stephen L. Richards, Church News, Jan. 16, 1943, pg. 7. As quoted in Testimony, op. cit., pp. 11-12, (emphasis added).
15. Spencer W. Kimball, Unpublished address, Church Historical Department, Jan. 15, 1962, Berlin, Germany, pg. 3. As quoted in Testimony op. cit., pg. 145.
16. Boyd K. Packer, BYU Studies, Vol. 21, No. 3, pg. 259.
17. Ibid., pg. 262.
18. Ibid., pg. 263.
19. Ibid., pg. 264.
20. Ibid., pg. 265.
21. Ibid., pg. 266.
22. Ibid., pg. 269. See also this author’s article, “Behind the Deseret Veil,” The Quarterly Journal, October-December 1994, pp. 5-9.

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28 comments:

jeff g said...

Vic,

A couple of questions and comments.

First, what, exactly, is your motive behind all these recent attacks against Mormonism? I don't see how proving Mormonism wrong speaks to what your blog is supposed to be focused on. (Of course I suppose that a blog is really "about" whatever the author is thinking about.)

Second, I see the reasoning, or lack thereof, which Mormons employ against Christians as closely paralleling the reasoning which Christians employ against atheists. The "I just know it in my heart" experiences are doing all the work.

Now, I understand that you are only claiming that Mormonism is disproved by history while Christianity is not. But "not being disproved" does not count anything in favor or something.

Now here is my point. The historical record does not provide any compelling evidence of God's existence. Instead, the Christian is left to the feeling in their heart to know that there is a God and what relationship they have with him. How can the Christian be allowed to use such reasoning if the Mormon's are not?

JD Walters said...

jeff,

We've covered all these points already during the recent Mormon discussion. Most Christians' point was that neither Christians nor Mormons should be allowed to appeal to 'the burning in the busom' without substantial evidence to otherwise back up their claims. It has been argued that Christians do have such evidence, at least more evidence than Mormons have for their 'extra Revelation' which has to be piled onto what the Bible already has. Your 'point' that the historical record does not provide any comepelling evidence of God's existence is a purely subjective assessment of the evidence. Who says there's no compelling evidence? Someone who doesn't find it compelling, obviously!

And I think the Mormon discussion is more serious than many Christians think. Mormons claim to be preaching 'the Gospel of Jesus Christ', but if by that they mean the message of Jesus as handed down by the apostles and people who knew him (even most agnostic NT scholars agree that at least some of the Gospel traditions go back to Jesus), and as witnessed to in the Church ever since then, it is clearly not 'the Gospel of Jesus Christ'. Mormons mislead those who have never heard the Gospel into thinking that they are meeting 'Christians'. Frankly that makes me very concerned. I'm certainly not a power hungry proto-orthodox bishop of the 2nd century. I'm concerned about what people actually come to know about Jesus.

And what Vic is doing IS in the spirit of his blog. Many times he's posted on historical and philosophical challenges to Christianity with the aim of disputing them (see the recent discussion on the argument from evil). Since Mormonism also presents a challenge to the truth of Christianity, he has every right to challenge that challenge through questioning the historical and theological credentials of Mormonism. Vic is more than willing to defend the Christian faith with the same reasoning and logic as he uses to attack the BoM or Mormonim. In other words, he's consistent.

ELC said...

From the masthead: This is a blog to discuss philosophy, chess, politics, C. S. Lewis, or whatever it is that I'm in the mood to discuss. 'Nuff said. :-)

Anonymous said...

The Evangelical branch of Christianity has long attacked the Mormon branch. So it really is not very surprising that it is such a big topic on this blog. Interestingly, the other branches of Christianity appear to be much more accepting of their Mormon brethen.

Jeff Downs said...

Anonymous said…

Interestingly, the other branches of Christianity appear to be much more accepting of their Mormon brethen


And what are these "other branches of Christianity?"

I would suggest, before making such a stupid comment (sorry, but it is) that you do some homework.

jeff g said...

JD Walters,

And following in Vic's footsteps, what is the deductively valid historical argument for God's existence?

I would also point out a few other things about Mormons. They do NOT claim to be teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ as witnessed to in the Church ever since then. They think that such a gospel is apostate. In other words, to say that Mormons aren't Christian because they aren't Christian in the same way as other sects and traditions seems less than charitable and (should I say it?) Christian.

I wonder, what is it that the Mormons say specifically about Jesus that is so worrisome?

Jeff Downs said...

jeff g made the following comment

I wonder, what is it that the Mormons say specifically about Jesus that is so worrisome?

Are we supposed to take this question seriously?

After all, it was non other than Gordon Hinkley who stated we (Christians and Mormons) have different Jesus'

A different Jesus from scriptures...I dare say...is no Jesus at all.

jeff g said...

JD,

That's a pretty shallow response.

First of all, even if GB Hinckley did say that Christians have a different Jesus than Mormons (a claim which I seriously question), he certainly did NOT say that Mormons have a different Jesus than the scriptures. What is meant by the purported claim is that traditional Christians have a different Jesus from the scriptures.

Putting all that aside, you still did not answer my question. Let us say that Mormons and traditional Christians do have a different Jesus. In what way is Jesus different? How are these differences significant? How are they "worrisome."

Your response was both uncharitable as well as irrelevant.

Jeff Downs said...

It was certainly not irrelevant my friend. A different Jesus...is no Jesus at all. Just as a different God...is no God at all, but an idol (i.e. a false God).

I have a hard time believing the sincerity in your questions. If you just want to start a conversation there is probably a better way of doing it that asking questions, it appears to me, you already know the answer to.

See Who is the "Living Christ" of Mormonism?", by Bill McKeever.

JD Walters said...

So traditional Christians have a different Jesus than in the Scriptures? Which scriptures? The ones which Joseph Smith butchered and twisted to fit his own interpretative purposes? The NT writers sometimes also made mistakes with their reading of OT passages, mostly because all they had was the Septuagint, but Smith's 'revising' went way beyond that. It's safe to say that the best current translation of the Bible, based on the best available manuscripts, does not does support the accretions the Mormons have piled on to their 'Christian' theology.

jeff g said...

JD,

"A different Jesus...is no Jesus at all. Just as a different God...is no God at all, but an idol (i.e. a false God)."

Fine, but what is to prevent the Mormon from saying the exact same thing about Evangelicals? That is the point, and your comment did not address it at all. Thus your comment was irrelevant.

Furthermore, you automatically assume that the Evangelical version of Jesus is necessarily the Jesus of the scriptures. Accordingly, you condemn any departure from the Evangelical Jesus, since such a departure necessarily entails a departure from the scriptural Jesus. But your assumption is exactly what the Mormons are calling into question.

You can question my motives all you want, but you have no responded at all to the 3 questions at hand which are these:

It what way does the Mormon conception of Jesus depart from the Evangelical conception of him?

(Calling them two different Jesus' altogether rather than simply different conceptions of the same Jesus seems entirely unmotivated and less than charitable.)

Are such departures significant?

And finally, are such departures really worrisome after all?

You simply saying that the Mormon Jesus is different from the Evangelical Jesus answers none of these questions at all.

jeff g said...

jd walters,

The official Bible of the Mormons is the plain ol' King James version which every other Christian church accepts to some extent. This Bible is the primary scriptural source for knowledge concerning Jesus. Therefore your comment is almost entirely beside the point.

C'mon people. These are honest and interesting questions which deserve deeper thought than you guys are giving them. Instead of looking for reason why the Mormons are bad or wrong, try to see why they might be right and then go from there. I'm not trying to convert you, just tying to get you guys to engage the issues in a more responsible manner rather than engaging in the near blind demonization of those who disagree with you.

I should also point out that even if your comment were relevant, which it isn't, you still would not have answered any of the questions which I asked.

Anonymous said...

"And what are these "other branches of Christianity?"

I would suggest, before making such a stupid comment (sorry, but it is) that you do some homework."

I don't see Catholics or liberal Protestants getting all fussed up over Mormonism as the Evangelical branch does. Not sure about the Orthodox branch.

Jeff Downs said...

You simply saying that the Mormon Jesus is different from the Evangelical Jesus answers none of these questions at all.

It is bad, wrong, etc. to believe a lie. It's certainly not a good idea to walk out on the ice when someone says it thick, but it's really thin - you'll fall through and you might die.

Same thing with believing a lie regarding the person of Christ. It is hamful (to put it mildly) to trust in a false Christ.

I don't see Catholics or liberal Protestants getting all fussed up over Mormonism as the Evangelical branch does. Not sure about the Orthodox branch.

If that is your answer I won't comment any further, but if you care to give some real evidence for your claim, I'll bite some more.

jeff g said...

JD,

You are still begging the question. You have done nothing to show that the Mormon Jesus is a lie, only that it is different from your conception of Jesus.

I should also point out that you have set the standard way too high. It is bad and evil to believe a single false thing about Jesus? Surely somethings are more significant than other, right? What, exactly, is it about the Mormon conception of Jesus which is false? Again, you haven't answered any of my questions.

jeff g said...

JD,

I should also point out that your completely uncharitable approach to other people's views and arguments is disturbing.

I guy points out that Catholics and Liberal Protestants don't seem to have as much of an issue with Mormons as Evangelicals do. You call him stupid. He elaborates on what seems to be to be a plausible, if not true position and you claim that the burden of proof is on him to demonstrate that his position is not stupid. This is the very antithesis of charity in interpretation and argumentation.

You automatically assume your position to be true, and rather than defend it you simply criticize other positions for nothing more than disagreeing with your position.

You refuse to distinguish between having two different conceptions of the same person and actually trusting it two different individuals altogether. This is done without any good argument in order to make the Mormons look as bad as possible.

You think that any false belief is a morally significant belief without any concern for what the beliefs are or how significant they are.

This is not how one responsibly engages in argumentation. Argumentation is supposed to be a cooperative endeavor, not a war. We are supposed to be trying to reach the truth of the matter together, not destroying all competitors.

Its a sad day when a disaffected Mormon atheists has to defend the beliefs which he has himself rejected.

Jeff Downs said...

jeff g,

Your initial question was..."I wonder, what is it that the Mormons say specifically about Jesus that is so worrisome?"

It is worrisome because it is a different Jesus than that of scripture. That is an answer to your questions. I could give a fuller answer as to how to two differ, but that was not your question. LDS and Christians have two different views of Jesus, both LDS and Christians state the other is wrong. Both would tell the other, you need to believe this or that and that to stay were you are is wrong. I as a Christian would take this further and say that the LDS view of Jesus is false. The LDS would say, I don't have the full revelation. Ok, but your question has answered. LDS and Christians have a different Jesus. Both can't be right. Therefore, someone is wrong and it is not right to believe a wrong. From a biblical perspetive, it is sinful to foist upon God and people, false views about God, therefore it is harmful (all sin is harmful). I understand there may be degrees, but sin is still harmful. Actually, in this case a different God (i.e. an idol) will end you up in hell.

I guy points out that Catholics and Liberal Protestants don't seem to have as much of an issue with Mormons as Evangelicals do. You call him stupid.

You are obviously missing something and I'm not sure why. Anon did not mention Catholics and Liberal Protestants in his first post, he/she only said " the other branches of Christianity."

It was in the second post that he/she mentioned the two groups above. You seem to read the one post into the other.

You also seem to not care about actually reading what I said, or you like putting words into my mouth. I did not say he/she was stupid, but the comment he/she made was stupid. I'll stand by that. If Anon case to produce some actual documentation from the PC(USA), etc. and other denomination who believe the LDS doctrine is Ok, then we can deal with that. Keep in mind though that liberalism is not Christianity (read Machen).

He commented "I don't see Catholics or liberal Protestants getting all fussed up over Mormonism

Again, I'm not going to waste his/her or my time if that is the response, I'll leave it at that. Why do you desire to see me argue with him/her?

Regarding LDS conception(s) of Christ being false, I referred you to an article (see above) by Bill McKeever that will spell this out for you.

Thanks, I'm done. Carry on...

Anonymous said...

"If that is your answer I won't comment any further, but if you care to give some real evidence for your claim, I'll bite some more."

Fair enough.
Mainly based on my experience in the evangelical community and the Catholic/Liberal Protestant communities over the past 30 years. Can't recall a single conversation in the latter communities in which there was concern expressed over Mormonism. Quite a few took place in the evanglical churches I attended. There were even Bible studies held around the anti-Mormon theme.
A good experiement is to go into a Christian Bible store (which is usually interested in provding literature in support of the conservative, Evangelical tradition)and see how many anti-Mormon books there are and then compare it to a Catholic Book Store.
Or one can do a google search and find the numerous anti-Mormon articlles that are written by the non-denominational, evangelical brand of Christians.

JD Walters said...

The Mormon Bible IS the KJV, with appropriate alterations and distortions courtesy of Joseph Smith. I'm surprised you would deny this, as it is a well-known historical fact that Smith did tamper with the Scriptures, and that Mormons think this is legitimate due to Smith's prophetic status. Besides, KJV is not the best translation available anymore, though it does get points for style, so even if the Mormon Bible is the original KJV Mormons are still using a less-than-the-best edition of Scripture.

And I'm not demonizing anyone. I happen to know, here at Princeton, a really nice dude, excellent photographer and a really sharp mind, who happens to be a Mormon. I don't think he's a bad person or that he's engaged in strategies of deception. I think he's mistaken, but that's different from thinking he's crazy or has ulterior motives.

jeff g said...

How 'bout this. I will stop calling your responses uncharitable if you will be willing to continue this thread, because I don't see my question as having been answered at all.

Yes, my original question was "I wonder, what is it that the Mormons say specifically about Jesus that is so worrisome?"

However, I went on to elaborate on a number of occasions what I meant by this:

1) What, specifically, are the differences between the two views?
2) Are these specific differences significant?
3) Are the specific differences in the Mormon conception really worrisome?

So far, all you have said is that the Mormon conception is false. This is not a difference in the position but is instead a difference in the judgments which you have about it.

My position is as follows: The Mormon conception of Jesus is not significantly different than that of Evangelicals. There are differences, but they are not significant. Therefore, such differences are not worrisome.

Here are some other questions which an adequate response would also answer, assuming that you are going to follow the answer which have given:

What, exactly, is false about the Mormon conception of Jesus? (To be honest, I'm not even sure that you know the answer to this question. You are just sure that they are wrong, somehow.)
What about other false beliefs which an Evangelical may have about Jesus? Why are these not significant?
How is the Mormon view of Jesus so radically different from Evangelicals that their not even talking about the same person?

If you could answer all these questions, then I think you would really have something against the Mormons here. Unfortunately, however, simply saying "their wrong" isn't enough.

Anonymous said...

"Keep in mind though that liberalism is not Christianity (read Machen)."


Sounds like the true Scotsman fallacy to me.

jeff g said...

jdw,

Yes, JS did do a "translation" of the Bible, but this "translation" is not the official Bible of the church. The regular, unedited KJV is what they use. It's what they memorize and quote. The JS version is "helpful and inspired material" which supplements it, like a commentary of sorts, only slightly stronger. But again, the regular KJV is by far and away the primary source for Jesus material in the Mormon tradition.

I didn't mean to say you were demonizing people, only their positions.

Clark Goble said...

Also note that there is no problem with Mormons using other translations or even (gasp) reading Greek or Hebrew. Indeed (and this may shock some) Greek and Hebrew texts are taught at BYU. As for translations on my shelves I have several.

Come on, if you are going to critique Mormonism at least get the basic facts right. Otherwise you just make yourself look very, very ignorant.

Jeff Downs said...

Jeff G,

This will be my last post.

While I love to get into long discussions on these issue, I really can not afford it. I stopped by to make a couple of comments, not to carry on a 15 page debate.

I'm sorry you assume I don't know what I'm talking about...I guess I'll have to live with that, which I believe I can do. While I don't know it all, I've been involved in this type of ministry since 1994.

Regarding being uncharitable, I have no idea what you mean by this. You are obviously using it to paint a picture of me, but the fact remains, if what you say is true, I could certainly say the same regarding your attitude about my position.

jeff g said...

Charity in interpretation is the active attempt to see your interlocutor as saying something true; making your opponents arguments and positions as strong as possible.

I did not see you doing this for the Mormons. If I was wrong, I apologize, but it seemed like you were trying to make their position as wrong and/or absurd as possible.

Perhaps I did not interpret your position all that charitably either, but the problem is that I still have no clue what your position is. That is what I kept asking for, but never got it.

Maybe in some other thread, when you have more time, we could get into the issues a little deeper.

Jason said...

I was busy working up comments on various things that have gone on since last week (I've been out); and was a little surprised no one was willing to answer Jeff G's questions about the theological distinctions involved. (I agree with Jeff, answering with polysyllabic variations of "It's different and bad" to the question "What's different and bad about it?" isn't a good answer.)

Seeing as how the thread has run into degeneration, perhaps Victor would post it up as a topic?

Blake said...

The problem that I have with this essay is that it amounts to caricature of the Mormon position and experience. First a few observations.

1. Reducing the Mormon experience of the confirming spirit as a mere feeling is not merely reductive but misses the entire phenomenology. There is not merely a "burning in the bosom" that resonates with the surety of knowing, but also the cognitive aspect of an enlightened mind that opens up the scriptures and orders the world. There is an experience of "knowing that" and also of "knowing that one knows" and this cognitive dimension is entirely overlooked and by missing it amounts to carcature.

2. Surely the experience of the "hearts burning within us" is not foreign to the "bible college" background of the author. The experience of the disciples on the road to Emmaus when the resurrected Christ appeared to them is instructive. As Luke 24:32 states: "32 They said to each other, "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?" The point is that the burning of the hearts as the scriptural meaning is opened to the mind is even more sure than direct vision.

3. The notion that LDS have a "different Jesus" is both misleading and deceptive. First, both LDS and others believe that the man who walked around the Palestinian country side at the turn of the common era is the Son of God, the Messiah and the Savior. That is enough on any non-idiosyncratic reading to refer to the same individual in the same role and to make LDS as Christian as those who believe the same. Having different theological constructs does not mean that a different being is referred to. LDS make no bones about the fact that their theology is different -- and they (we) revel in it. The kinds of ontological issues that evangelicals and some other traditional "christians" insist are definitive of Christianity are in fact foreign to the entire biblical approach and message. I often get the idea that evangelicals think that the gospel is just their particular heremeneutic of the text of some philosophical commitment. It isn't.

4. Relying on the spirit rather than one's own noggin or ability to parse texts or arguments as the basis of religious commitment seems far more sound to me -- probably because I don't find the evangelical hermeneutic at all acceptable and most of their arguments sadly wanting. LDS don't buy into natural theology of the type that dominates much evangelical thinking. It is this strain of natural theology that I would argue is an importation and intrusion into the scriptural world-view(s).

So I reject this essay because it is mis-leading, a caricature and refuses to ask the essential question that we must ask when we engage one another -- why would a reasonably intelligent and sensitive person believe this way? Indeed, the very approach taken in this blog is both arrogant and offensive. It departs from the question: why would anyone so obviously wrong believe this way? If you cannot do better, you have no place being in the academy and teaching in any capacity.

Anonymous said...

Im so glad that someone accually see's what the devil has done with mormonism, after all we're not ignorant of his devices. The devil has used mormonism for confusion,quite clever acually and it will deceive the very elect if possible. I mean who would thing that the devile would promote good? If he can lead people away from the truth he would use anything. I think its kinda cheap that they put the mormon text in old english when it was instinct at the time that it was written. If we had the tablets that joeseph smith supposevely translated the book of mormon from, then it might be considerable. NO EVIDENCE THAT THERE WAS EVER ONE TABLET! NOT ONE! Thus Mormonism is based on mens word, and a burning feeling in the bosom! hahah. WALK BY FAITH NOT BY SIGHT! OR FEELINGS!