Weak Arguments #3: “I know what you believe, because Brigham Young, Bruce R. McConkie or some other general authority said…..”

Posted: October 5, 2014 in Bobby Gilpin, Mormon Studies, Weak Arguments

Mormon Doctrine Large_Edited

An ongoing series of articles on some common and recurring weak arguments that Christians make against Mormonism.

by Bobby Gilpin
The Argument:
“I know what you believe, because Brigham Young, Bruce R. McConkie or some other general authority said…..”

Why It’s Weak:
In making this argument you are assuming the beliefs of an individual you have likely only just met. This is never a good thing to do. If you’re an LDS member with any experience of speaking with Evangelicals, or any other critics of Mormonism before, you have likely had a discussion like this before.

Beheld-Virgin-Bearing-AD

Scenario One
Critic You deny the virgin birth don’t you?
LDS No, as a matter of fact I don’t, please let me explain to you my belief on this.
Critic I don’t need to hear it, I have a great quote from Brigham Young when He says the birth of Christ was as natural as anyone else’s.[1] I know what you guys believe.
LDS As I said that is not my view, would you please let me explain my view on this?

This far from only applies to Brigham Young quotes. Lets try another – one that I have personally experienced and learned from by my mistakes:

Scenario Two
Critic Ah, so you’re a Mormon. Well I think it’s totally heretical that you believe God was once a man.
LDS As a matter of fact I don’t believe that either. As Moroni 8:18 and Psalm 90:2 say, God has always been God.
Critic I ‘m sorry but I think you’re just being dishonest, Joseph Smith taught this in the King Follett Discourse, so you must believe it.
LDS There are some renderings of Joseph Smith’s sermons that seem to suggest this. I’m not too persuaded by them as these are not scripture. Would you please let me explain what I believe.

Joseph Smith delivering The King Follett Discourse on April 7, 1844 at Spring General Conference.

Joseph Smith delivering The King Follett Discourse on April 7, 1844 at Spring General Conference.

1) Point One.
We as evangelicals often have this notion that Mormons are all brainwashed and are in some big mind controlling cult, where they all believe the exact same thing – that they would never dream of questioning anything that their leadership says. This is not the case, there is a mass diversity of views within the LDS Church, some people take everything the general authorities say literally, some do not.

It’s always worth bearing this in mind when conversing with LDS people. Some are of the view that if it’s not in the Standard works, then it’s not binding; some may take a lot from the likes of Bruce R. Mcconkie and his book, “Mormon Doctrine”; some may look to James E. Talmage and his writings; some may take closer stock of Gordon B. Hinckley. It often depends on when they grew up or developed their faith.

2) Point Two.
This does not, for a second, take away the validity of your arguments against the teaching of Mormon leaders. What it does mean is that you need to word your argument a little differently. Rather than saying, “I already know what you believe Mr./Ms. Mormon”, instead say: “Here is what your leaders have taught, can we talk about it?”

3) Point Three.
You will inevitably come across the issue of what is official doctrine in the LDS Church. This is a question that no one really has an answer too, LDS or not. And can be a bit of a red herring in discussions. I could not possibly put forward a response to this that’s better than what Keith Walker from Evidence Ministries has done here – this is well worth a watch.

The Stronger Arguments:
First Suggested Strong Argument:
So with all this in mind lets try that first scenario again.

Critic Do you believe that Jesus was born of a virgin?
LDS No, as a matter of fact, I don’t. I affirm what the Bible says that Jesus was born without an earthly parent.
Critic Could you explain what you mean by an earthly parent?
LDS As a latter-day Saint I do not accept the idea that the Holy Ghost somehow “overshadowed” Mary then making her parent – no child is ever born this way. I believe that Jesus was a literal son of His Heavenly Father, and thus in the way that we would usually understand a birth to occur, Jesus was in fact born of a virgin. Bruce R. McConkie said this:

“For our present purposes, suffice it to say that our Lord was born of a virgin, which is fitting and proper, and also natural, since the Father of the Child was an Immortal Being”
(Bruce R. McConkie, The Promised Messiah: The First Coming of Christ, pg. 466)

This sums it up well for me.
Critic Thank you for explaining this. This to me still very much sounds like Jesus was not actually born of a virgin if you are saying that Heavenly Father impregnated Mary naturally.
LDS I guess we define virgin birth differently then, but this is my belief.

(Quick disclaimer: I know this last paragraph does not represent all LDS people – however it will some. It’s more the style of conversation than the content that I am attempting to model here.)

Do you see the difference? Rather than presuming what the Mormon believes, you ask, and then in the ensuing process you get them to tell you their view so you can discuss it from there. More often than not you will still have plenty of places to go with that based what the LDS person says. And sometimes you will even speak with a Mormon who is very “Evangelical savvy” and will give answers that sound identical to your view. That’s where the second stronger argument comes in.

Second Suggested Strong Argument:
While it is not good to make the assumption that Mormons believe something on the basis of a Mormon leader saying it, there is still a lot of ground for discussion on the back of what Mormon leaders have said. Lets try my scenario two again.

Critic Ah so you’re a Mormon, well I think it’s totally heretical that Joseph Smith taught that God was once a man, what is your view on this?
LDS As a matter of fact I don’t believe that. As Moroni 8:18 and Psalm 90:2 say, God has always been God.
Critic I appreciate your response, its good to know that LDS people can look past some of these statements and hold onto the truth about God. But is it not then an issue to you that people who are modern-day Prophets and Apostles are clearly teaching falsehoods about God?
LDS I don’t see LDS leaders as infallible, they are men and sometimes speak as such.
Critic That does not seem to measure up with the teachings of your church. For instance the 2013 LDS Manual, Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, said this:

President Snow later recalled, “the Spirit of the Lord rested mightily upon me—the eyes of my understanding were opened, and I saw as clear as the sun at noonday, with wonder and astonishment, the pathway of God and man. I formed the following couplet which expresses the revelation, as it was shown me. …

“As man now is, God once was:
“As God now is, man may be.”

Feeling that he had received “a sacred communication” that he should guard carefully, Lorenzo Snow did not teach the doctrine publicly until he knew that the Prophet Joseph Smith had taught it. Once he knew the doctrine was public knowledge, he testified of it frequently. [2]

Critic It seems that one of your Prophets saw that as a sacred communication, if he is the one with the authority to speak for your church, and this was reprinted in 2013 by your church, where is your authority to say that this is wrong?
LDS I guess I have no authority to say that this is wrong, I just don’t believe it.
Critic Ok I respect your view, however this seems to be what your church teaches, can we please focus on that as I see some massive issues there.

Dallin H Oaks Tweet

LDS Apostle Dallin H. Oaks’ tweet of September 26, 2014 regarding the upcoming Fall General Conference. (click to zoom)

Again not all LDS people will respond this way. Many LDS people will simply affirm that God was once a man, stop there and go no further. It’s more in LDS apologetic circles today where it’s being completely denied that it ever was or still is doctrine. But the point here is that while an LDS member may not believe what their leaders have taught on an issue, that does not change the massive issue that their leaders have actually taught it or that it’s still taught in current church manuals.

LDS Missionaries all over the world are knocking on doors talking about how amazing it is that they have a Prophet in their church that brings revelation today. So it’s not sufficient for LDS members to simply shrug off their Prophet’s statements past and present in discussion.

The fact is that those prophets have taught so many problematic things – such as Adam being God, black skin being a curse, and so many more issues – that there’s massive ground for discussion. Don’t just assume that the person you are speaking too holds this view, whatever it may be.

In fact, just this week Dallin Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles “tweeted” that they only say what the Spirit directs them to say at general conference, that’s well worth noting for these discussions.

So in conclusion there is massive ground for discussion with LDS members. There are so, so many areas that you can discuss with them, challenge them on, and help them to know who Jesus really is and what His grace really means. Just don’t assume because you may have read a book about Mormonism, or read some quotes somewhere that you know where any given Mormon comes from on that issue. Ask where they are coming from and then take it from there.

NOTES
[1] “The birth of the Saviour was as natural as are the births of our children; it was the result of natural action. He partook of flesh and blood – was begotten of his Father, as we were of our fathers” (Brigham Young, July 8, 1860, Journal of Discourses 8:115).

[2] Official LDS Church Manual, “Teaching of the Presidents of the Church”, Chapter 5: The Grand Destiny of the Faithful 

This article originally appeared on the Mormonism Investigated UK website.
Beggar’s Bread wishes to express it’s appreciation to the author and this website for allowing us to republish it here.

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Comments
  1. Following discussion took place the Christian Apologetics Bloggers Alliance forum of Facebook on Sunday, October 5th, 2014 regarding this article. I thought it valuable enough to post here (after gaining all the participants approval):

    Clinton Wilcox This isn’t responding to a “weak argument,” it’s responding to an attitude that they encounter that does need to change. Maybe a bit nitpicky, but still a misleading title.

    Bobby Gilpin Clinton, yeah I can see your point. I think this is maybe a principle that will lead to many weak arguments, which is why in the article I give scenarios of the weak arguments being made, and how they can be better.

    Clinton Wilcox I can see your point, as well, but I think there is warrant for this. For example, if a Pope has proclaimed a doctrine, a Catholic is most likely to believe it. I think it’s entirely reasonable (though maybe no more correct) for a Christian to assume a Mormon accepts a doctrine because it was uttered by a Mormon “prophet.” After all, according to the Old Testament, if prophets were ever wrong, they were supposed to be stoned. I also have yet to meet a Mormon who doesn’t believe that God was once a man (I also engaged in about a three-month stint in weekly meetings with Mormon missionaries, who believed this). So I think there is at least warrant for a Christian to believe this is accepted doctrine that all Mormons accept, although it is true that you should go to the source material directly to get what they actually believe. I still think, though, that a Christian could at least be warranted in their assumptions about this.

    Bobby Gilpin I have met many that don’t believe God was once a man Clinton, and also many that question other things, Mormonism in a lot of ways is a fast moving faith, and by no means always follows the patterns of other faiths, if only it was that simple sometimes

    Fred W. Anson I would second what Bobby said about meeting Mormons who don’t believe that God was once a man. And they seem to be slowly de-emphasizing it in their theology – Exhibit A being the recent Gospel Topics essay on the subject:
    https://www.lds.org/topics/becoming-like-god

    And one must always remember the following axiom when it comes to Mormonism:

    As heresy is, Mormon doctrine once was.
    As Mormon doctrine is, heresy will it become.

    That said, I completely agree that we should press Mormons on what they SHOULD believe versus what they’ve “cafeteria’d” and cobbled together as their own personal form of Mormonism within Mormonism.

    One of my favorite tactics is asking: “What do you think would happen if you were the teacher and taught that in a Gospel Doctrine class or confessed it publicly at your next Fast & Testimony meeting?”

    That tends to snap them back into reality.

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  2. I couldn’t help but think of this article when I read the following Christian Research Institute article (see link below) Here’s a pull quote:

    “Francis Schaeffer’s apologetic motto was that we must give “honest answers to honest questions.” First, we must really hear the question being asked or the objection being raised. We must get inside the minds of those who are giving reasons for not following Christ. Each person is different, no matter how common some skeptical objections may be. Don’t reduce people to clichés.”
    http://www.equip.org/articles/six-enemies-of-apologetic-engagement/#christian-books-2

    (with a shout out to Keith Walker for bringing this article to my attention)

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  3. […] [11] This was addressed by Bobby Gilpin in “Weak Arguments #3: “I know what you believe, because Brigham Young, Bruce R. McConkie or so… […]

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