Archive for the ‘Mormon Studies’ Category

Dear Mr. Ex-Mormon Atheist, It may not be this, but it very often feels like this to those you’re processing your Post Mormon anger at in public.

compiled by Fred W. Anson
A few years ago, the good folks at the Zelph on the Shelf did a fantastic article entitled, “15 Things Ex-Mormons are Tired of Hearing” which was a superb compilation of the bad arguments that Ex-Mormons typically hear from True Believing Mormons (aka “TBMs”). As the author noted in her introduction, these are things that not only don’t facilitate constructive debate, they distract from it.

I loved the article. So did my friends. We ate it up!

Now my friends, like me, are mainly mainstream Christians and most are Ex-Mormons as well. And they suggested that we put together a list of the top 15 things that Christians are tired of hearing from ex-Mormon atheists/agnostics. So I slapped together a crowdsourced poll, posted it on the Internet, and the results will be discussed and considered over this short series of articles.

By the way, if you missed any of the prior segments of this series and would like to read it in order, from the beginning, click here for Part One, and here for Part Two.

5) “The Bible is just as credible as Mormon scripture is – as in not at all!”
And yet we have mountains of artifacts and manuscripts from the Biblical periods; the DNA evidence matches the historical record to a T; science generally supports rather than discredits the Bible, and; Archaeology validates rather than contradicts the biblical record. How is does that not, at the very minimum, make the Bible credible? Further, the theology of the Bible is in continuity with Old Testament theology rather than being a radical break from it as all Mormon scripture after the Book of Mormon is and it doesn’t contain the type of doctrinal errors and snafus that the Book of Mormon does. More than that, the Bible may be a challenging book to read due to its antiquity but at least it’s well-written, unlike the rambling repetitive prose of the Book of Mormon in particular and other Mormon scripture in general. And regarding science that so many Ex-Mormon Atheist point to as evidence for their claims, I would ask them to consider this from Francis Collins, Director, National Human Genome Research Institute:

I don’t believe there is an inherent conflict [between belief in God and science], but I believe that humans, in our imperfect nature, sometimes imagine conflicts where there are none. We see something that threatens our own personal view, and we figure that there must be some reason why that alternative view has to be wrong, or even why it has to be evil.
(David Masci, “The ’Evidence for Belief’: An Interview with Francis Collins”, Pew Research Center website, April 17, 2008) 

Again, I could be wrong here but I often think that many Ex-Mormons simply project their bad experiences with Mormon scripture onto the Bible and assume that they’re the same when, stated plainly, they’re not. I’ve also noticed that many Ex-Mormons coming out of the Latter-day Saint bubble are simply unaware of the vast body of literature that’s been built over the last 2,000-years in support of the Bible. Christian apologists are nothing new and can even be found in the pages of the New Testament (see Paul’s Mars Hill discourse in Acts 17 as one of many examples). So, there’s a lot more that could be said about this, but it’s probably been said better elsewhere. For example, I would recommend Joel Kramer’s excellent documentary “The Bible vs. Joseph Smith” to those interested in pursuing the subject further.

Click above to watch a documentary that compares and contrasts Biblical truth claims against the claims of Joseph Smith. 

4) “The Christians that I engage with are just as fanatically blind, irrational, and anti-intellectual as True Believing Mormons. Therefore, Christianity is just the other side of the same fanatical coin.”
Sadly, there’s some truth to this. Trust me, all too often I get just as irritated and frustrated with this as you Ex-Mormon Atheists do on this point. That said, please note my use of the words, “some truth”.  My Atheist friends, I would hope that you have been exposed to enough Christians to realize that what’s true of some isn’t necessarily true for all. Not all Christians are hunkered down in the Christian Tank in true Mormon fashion holding onto their closed minds and open Bibles and refusing to consider anyone or anything outside of said Tank, are they?

I would point to the work of well Christian authors like C.S. Lewis, Timothy Keller, John Lennox, Gary Habermas, Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, J. Warner Wallace, and Francis Schaeffer as evidence of this. Let me outline just a few key works briefly:

  • C.S. Lewis was an atheist who was converted to Christianity as a result of the transcendence of life articulated in works of literature – including non-Christian authors, including pagan authors. His book The Abolition of Man argues against what he perceived as the corrosive nature of modernistic relativism and for universal ethical absolutes (which he called “the Tao”) using not only Christian sources but pagan sources as well. In his book Mere Christianity he gets even more specific, making the case that Christianity is the most rational and moral worldview. He makes this not from Christian sources but from logic, reason, and historical evidence that is outside of the Bible.
  • Gary Habermas was a historian and a skeptic who was forced to concede that not only was the resurrection of Christ reasonable but compelling. He came to this conclusion using sources that are not only critical of the resurrection but antagonistic to it – an approach that he calls the “minimal facts” method. His book The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (which he co-authored with Mike Liacona, one of his students) is a good introduction to Mr. Habermas’ work.
  • Lee Strobel was an atheist journalist who, angered by his wife’s conversion to Christianity, set out to disprove the resurrection of Jesus Christ but in the end was forced to concede that it was not only possible but highly likely. As a result, he converted to Christianity. The book that outlines his journey as well as the evidence that he discovered, The Case for Christ, is good but, candidly the movie is even better.
  • J. Warner Wallace was, to use his own words, “an angry atheist” who took it upon himself to disabuse his Christian friends of their misguiding beliefs. Ultimately, using the skills that he had acquired as a trained Cold Case Detective for the Los Angeles Police Department, he was compelled to admit that the case for Christ was more cogent and credible than the case against Him. He has published his findings in the book “Cold Case Christianity“.

Now notice something here, my atheist friends, in all these cases they were outside of the Christian Tank and using the same epistemological tools that you do: logic, reason, and evidence. Further, not only that but in almost all cases not only were they hostile to the Christian worldview and belief system, they were also considering sources that were too. And yet when confronted with new evidence that contradicted their current preferred narrative, they changed their mind, didn’t they?

How is this fanaticism? How is this the same kind of subjective, thought-stopping, close-minded, anti-intellectual, feelings-centric approach to truth that you knew in Mormonism? Clearly, my atheist friends, these are not just “two sides of the same fanatical coin” are they? And clearly, not all Christians are as fanatically blind, irrational, and anti-intellectual as you say they are, are they?

Again, there are bad apples in all bushels so to broad brush and overgeneralize as you have in your argument is always going to get one into trouble, isn’t it? And if you doubt me, perhaps we should talk about the Ex-Mormons that we’ve seen who hold to and proselytize for atheism with the same blind passion and zeal that they did Mormonism back in the day. Shall I proceed, or would you like to just click through to just about any atheist Ex-Mormon discussion group and see it for yourself?1

Or put another way: Stone meet glasshouse.

Click above to watch an October 3, 2007 debate between Neo-Atheist Richard Dawkins and Christian Theist John Lennox.

3) “The God of Christianity is a moral monster. How can you worship such an egotistical hater and murderer?”
Unless I’m mistaken, your assertion is a variant of this famous quote from well-known Neo-Atheist, Richard Dawkins in his bestselling book, “The God Delusion”:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
(Richard Dawkins, “The God Delusion”, p.31; Houghton Mifflin, 2006) 

There’s a lot there to unpack there, so for the sake of brevity (after all, entire books have been written in response to this statement from Mr. Dawkins), I will limit myself to just one portion – the “vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser” claim.

One of the key principles for properly interpreting literature – any piece of literature, including the Bible – is that the text must be interpreted within its historical context.2 When one fails to do so one is engaging in the fallacy known at “Presentism” which is defined as follows:

In literary and historical analysis, presentism is the anachronistic introduction of present-day ideas and perspectives into depictions or interpretations of the past. Some modern historians seek to avoid presentism in their work because they consider it a form of cultural bias, and believe it creates a distorted understanding of their subject matter. The practice of presentism is regarded by some as a common fallacy in historical writing.
(Wikipedia, “Presentism (literary and historical analysis)”)

Yes, my atheist friends, I agree: To modern 21st Century ears and by today’s values, the language of the Biblical God can sound harsh, unreasonable, even immoral. However, Biblical Scholar Paul Copan explains, using the exaggerated war rhetoric in the Old Testament as a case study, by ancient standards, the biblical rhetoric was just par for the course:

Most Christians read Joshua’s conquest stories with the backdrop of Sunday school lessons via flannel graph or children’s illustrated Bible stories. The impression that’s left is a black-and-white rendition of a literal crush, kill, and destroy mission. A closer look at the biblical text reveals a lot more nuance—and a lot less bloodshed. In short, the conquest of Canaan was far less widespread and harsh than many people assume.

Like his ancient Near Eastern contemporaries, Joshua used the language of conventional warfare rhetoric. This language sounds like bragging and exaggeration to our ears. Notice first the sweeping language in Joshua 10:40: “Thus Joshua struck all the land, the hill country and the Negev and the lowland and the slopes and all their kings. He left no survivor, but he utterly destroyed all who breathed, just as the Lord, the God of Israel, had commanded.” Joshua used the rhetorical bravado language of his day, asserting that all the land was captured, all the kings defeated, and all the Canaanites destroyed (cf. 10:40–42; 11:16–23: “Joshua took the whole land . . . and gave . . . it for an inheritance to Israel”). Yet…Joshua himself acknowledged [later in the narrative] that this wasn’t literally so.
(Paul Copan, “Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God”, p.170. Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition)

Mr. Copan then goes on to compare and contrast the war rhetoric of other countries from the same period to Joshua’s:

Ancient Near Eastern accounts readily used “utterly/completely destroy” and other obliteration language even when the event didn’t literally happen that way. Here’s a sampling:

• Egypt’s Tuthmosis III (later fifteenth century) boasted that “the numerous army of Mitanni was overthrown within the hour, annihilated totally, like those (now) not existent.” In fact, Mitanni’s forces lived on to fight in the fifteenth and fourteenth centuries BC.

• Hittite king Mursilli II (who ruled from 1322–1295 BC) recorded making “Mt. Asharpaya empty (of humanity)” and the “mountains of Tarikarimu empty (of humanity).”

• The “Bulletin” of Ramses II tells of Egypt’s less-than-spectacular victories in Syria (around 1274 BC). Nevertheless, he announces that he slew “the entire force” of the Hittites, indeed “all the chiefs of all the countries,” disregarding the “millions of foreigners,” which he considered “chaff.”

• In the Merneptah Stele (ca. 1230 BC), Rameses II’s son Merneptah announced, “Israel is wasted, his seed is not,” another premature declaration.

• Moab’s king Mesha (840/830 BC) bragged that the Northern Kingdom of “Israel has utterly perished for always,” which was over a century premature. The Assyrians devastated Israel in 722 BC.

• The Assyrian ruler Sennacherib (701–681 BC) used similar hyperbole: “The soldiers of Hirimme, dangerous enemies, I cut down with the sword; and not one escaped.”

You get the idea. Let’s now return to the Old Testament text to press this point further. It’s true that Joshua 9–12 utilizes the typical ancient Near Eastern literary devices for warfare. But at the book’s end, Joshua matter-of-factly assumes the continued existence of Canaanite peoples that could pose a threat to Israel. He warns Israel against idolatry and getting entangled in their ways: “For if you ever go back and cling to the rest of these nations, these which remain among you, and intermarry with them, so that you associate with them and they with you, know with certainty that the Lord your God will not continue to drive these nations out from before you” (Josh. 23:12–13).
(Ibid, pp.171&172)

Finally, in his chapter summary from chapter 17, (“Indiscriminate Massacre and Ethnic Cleansing? The Killing of the Canaanites (III)”) Mr. Copan further explains that the historical reality doesn’t match the rhetoric any more than the rhetoric of other leaders of the region and era did:

• The language of the consecrated ban [against allowing any living thing to survive] (herem) includes stereotypical language: “all,” “young and old,” and “men and women.” The ban could be carried out even if women and children weren’t present.

• As far as we can see, biblical herem was carried out in particular military or combatant settings (with “cities” and military “kings”). It turns out that the sweeping language of the ban is directed at combatants.

• The ban language allows and hopes for exceptions (e.g., Rahab); it isn’t absolute.

• The destruction language of ancient Near Eastern warfare (and the Old Testament) is clearly exaggerated. Groups of Canaanite peoples who apparently were “totally destroyed” were still around when all was said and done (e.g., Judg. 1).

• The greater concern was to destroy Canaanite religion, not Canaanites per se, a point worthy of elaboration (see the next chapter).

• The preservation of Rahab and her family indicates that consecration to the ban wasn’t absolute and irreversible. God had given ample indications of his power and greatness, and the Canaanites could have submitted to the one true God who trumped Egypt’s and Canaan’s gods, sparing their own lives.

• The biblical text, according to some scholars, suggests that peace treaties could be made with Canaanite cities if they chose to, but none (except Gibeon) did so (Josh. 11:19). The offer of peace was implicitly made to Jericho.

• The biblical text contains many references to “driving out” the Canaanites. To clear away the land for habitation didn’t require killing; civilians fled when their military strongholds were destroyed and soldiers were no longer capable of protecting them.

• From the start, certain (more cooperative) Canaanites were subjected to forced labor, not annihilation (Judg. 1:27–36; 1 Kings 9:20–21; Josh. 15:63; 16:10; 17:12–13; cf. Ps. 106:34–35). This was another indication that the ban wasn’t absolute.

• Joshua carried out what Moses commanded (Deut. 7 and 20), which means that Moses’s language is also an example of ancient Near Eastern exaggeration. He did not intend a literal, all-encompassing extermination of the Canaanites.

• The archaeological evidence nicely supports the biblical text; both of these point to minimal observable material destruction in Canaan as well as Israel’s gradual infiltration, assimilation, and eventual dominance there.

We have many good reasons to rethink our paradigm regarding the destruction of the Canaanites. On closer analysis, the biblical text suggests that much more is going on beneath the surface than obliterating all the Canaanites. Taking the destruction of anything that breathes at face value needs much reexamination.
(Ibid, Kindle edition, p.184)

So, yes, my atheist friends, if you engage in fallacious presentism then you can make this poor argument. However, if you limit yourself to proper historical and hermeneutical scholarship, this argument unravels.

Sadly, Mr. Dawkin’s Neo-Atheist work doesn’t appear to be interested in an honest, nuanced approach to the issues that he raises. Rather, he seems to prefer bombastic, over-heated polemics, hyperbole, and misrepresenting both those he disagrees with and his sources. I would hope that you can be better than that – more thoughtful intellectually honest, to be specific. As the saying goes, there really are two sides to every story.

In the last article in this series, we will cover the top two things that we’re tired of hearing from Ex-Mormon Atheists.

Click above to watch Bible Scholar and Christian Apologist Paul Copan address the question, “Is God a Moral Monster” at Apologetics Canada Conference 2012.

NOTES
1 I wrote about the dynamic of Atheist fanaticism in my article, “Why I Steer Christians Away from Non-Christian, Ex-Mormon Bulletin Boards”.

2 For reference, here are the Eight Rules of Interpretation from the book “Who Said Women Can’t Teach?” by Charles Bromley.

The Eight Rules of Interpretation Used by Legal Experts for Over 2,500 Years
1) Rule of Definition.
Define the term or words being considered and then adhere to the defined meanings.
2) Rule of Usage.
Don’t add meaning to established words and terms. What was the common usage in the cultural and time period when the passage was written?
3) Rule of Context.
Avoid using words out of context. Context must define terms and how words are used.
4) Rule of Historical background.
Don’t separate interpretation and historical investigation.
5) Rule of Logic.
Be certain that words as interpreted agree with the overall premise.
6) Rule of Precedent.
Use the known and commonly accepted meanings of words, not obscure meanings for which there is no precedent.
7) Rule of Unity.
Even though many documents may be used there must be a general unity among them.
8) Rule of Inference.
Base conclusions on what is already known and proven or can be reasonably implied from all known facts.

Again, if you missed any part of this series and would like to read it in order, from the beginning, click here for Part One, and here for Part Two.

Again, if you missed any part of this series and would like to read it in order, from the beginning, click here for Part One, here for Part Two, and here for Part Four.

by Brian Horner
We Learn by Contrast
The Bible is not a Book; the Bible is a library. It contains 66 different books written by 40 authors spread out over four empires (Israelite, Egyptian, Babylonian, and Roman) over a period of somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 years. It was written in three different languages (Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic) on three different continents (Africa, Southwest Asia, and Europe). The evidence of the multi-sourced nature of the Bible is indisputable. No serious scholar, believer or critic, doubts these basic facts.

By contrast the entire Book of Mormon (BoM), in fact, every single distinguishing aspect of the Mormon religion, is conclusively traceable in its origin to only ONE source, one man – Joseph Smith, writing in the 1820s in the Western New York frontier.

Mormons will argue that the Book of Mormon is like the Bible – a collection of books, written by different authors. But that claim is unsupportable. There is no evidence that any of the BoM’s alleged authors or even their whole civilizations ever even existed.

On this point, the contrast with the Bible is as clear as it is important. There is no dispute anywhere in proper scholarship (i.e. anything more substantive than rants by virtually anonymous, self-appointed, never-published, non-peer-reviewed internet “experts”) about the fact that the history of the human civilizations described in the Bible follow the basic trajectory of the historical trajectory of the Bible. The Egyptian, Babylonian, Assyrian and Roman empires really did exist right where and when the Bible describes them. Israel actually existed precisely where and when the Bible says it did. The existence of dozens upon dozens of individual characters on the Bible’s pages has been confirmed along with countless numbers of details about their lives. These facts are established as objective truth with or without the Bible. In other words, we have what historians call “multiple, independent attestation” backing up much of what the Bible says are actual people living in real locations and experiencing true events. If we did not have the Bible –if the Bible never even existed– we would still have multiple, independent accounts of many of its events, even up to and including the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ and the establishment of the Christian Church.

Now, By Contrast…
No one has ever positively identified where or exactly when anything recorded in the Book of Mormon supposedly happened. Mormons cannot even conclusively identify or even agree on which of the American continents (North or South) to look for any such evidence. There is precisely zero evidence that any person in the BoM’s New World narrative ever even existed. We have exactly no evidence of any of the BoM’s 100 named western hemisphere cities. There is no evidence of the BoM’s massive wars of extinction ever actually occurring. And while the Bible’s original languages are massively well attested and nowhere ever even disputed, the simple fact is, we have no evidence or any reason whatsoever to think that Joseph Smith’s “Reformed Egyptian” ever even existed. As with ALL things Mormon, there is but one, single sole source for the original claims for its existence: one man. Joseph Smith.

The single-source nature of the Book of Mormon and for the entire Mormon religion is entirely consistent with the explanation that Joseph Smith, alone or with conspirators, faked the whole thing.

If Smith lied about the Book of Mormon, we rightly expect that there would be no evidence for the simple existence of the BoMs various human civilizations. There is no such evidence.

If Smith lied, we rightly expect that there would be no evidence that any of the named “Jaredites”, “Nephites”, “Mulekites”, or, in the goofy words of Smith himself, “all manner of ‘ites'” named in the BoM. There is no such evidence.

If Smith lied we should find precisely zero evidence of any of the historically significant events described in the BoM, such as the extermination of the massive “Nephite” civilization. No one has ever found any such evidence.

If Smith lied, we should never find any evidence of Joseph Smith’s “Reformed Egyptian” language. There is no evidence of any kind to suggest such a text type ever existed.

If Smith lied, we should expect to see a pattern of similar lies throughout his life, beginning before his self-appointment as a supposed, “prophet”. There is plenty of evidence of this, from the testimony of his own mother to his wild imagination to the affidavits of his neighbors and the victims of his scams to his conviction for crimes generally lumped today under the legal heading of fraud.

If Smith lied, we should be able to find similar kinds of speculations about the history of Native America that preceded Smith and from which he could have “borrowed” to create the BoM. We do. Spaulding, Adair, Ethan Smith and many others had been writing similar stories beginning over 100 years before Smith was even born. And the King James translation of the Bible actually appears, quoted verbatim, and anachronistically in many places throughout the BoM.

In other words, the state of the evidence has always been and continues to be entirely consistent with the explanation that Joseph Smith was a lying fraud who faked his alleged, “revelations from God” or that he was delusional and actually believed his own psychotic episodes. The one explanation that none of the evidence supports is the notion that Smith was telling the truth.

Facts Not Feelings
It matters not a wit whether you believe it or how you may feel about it. Truth is based on facts and the fact is, the BoM and therefore the Mormon religion of which it is, in the words of Joseph Smith, the “keystone” has only one positively identified source in all of known human history. And the only solid evidence we do have shows that Mr. Smith copied parts of the King James Bible and the fictional works and speculations of other men (Spaulding, Adair, et al) and mixed them together with the figments of his own fevered and legendary imagination to produce one of the greatest hoaxes in human history.

With the failure of the one and only, single sole source for the Book of Mormon (and all of Mormonism, for that matter) the religion of Mormonism itself dies a merciless death – splattered asunder on the harsh rocks of observable reality, the very rocks upon which Mormonism hurls itself when it requests your investment in its credibility.

“The Bible and the Book of Mormon Testify That Jesus Christ Is the Savior of the World”
by Greg Olsen (1959– ). Only one of these two books is attested to by verifiable facts.

 

compiled by Fred W. Anson
A few years ago, the good folks at the Zelph on the Shelf did a fantastic article entitled, “15 Things Ex-Mormons are Tired of Hearing” which was a superb compilation of the bad arguments that Ex-Mormons typically hear from True Believing Mormons (aka “TBMs”). As the author noted in her introduction, these are things that not only don’t facilitate constructive debate, they distract from it.

I loved the article. So did my friends. We ate it up!

Now my friends, like me, are mainly mainstream Christians and most are Ex-Mormons as well. And they suggested that we put together a list of the top 15 things that Christians are tired of hearing from ex-Mormon atheists/agnostics. So I slapped together a crowdsourced poll, posted it on the Internet, and the results will be discussed and considered over this short series of articles.

By the way, if you missed Part One of this series and would like to read it in order, from the beginning, click here.

10)“It’s religious fanatics like you that fly airplanes into skyscrapers!”
Yes, it is true that some religious fanatics do commit violence, there is no denying this. However, what this argument fails to account for is that so do some atheist fanatics. There are bad apples in every bunch. But does that make all the apples bad? Isn’t this, in reality, nothing more than a cherry-picked, broad-brush, guilty by association faulty that either side can use? As Christian Professor and Apologist Alistair McGrath and his wife Joanna noted well of famous Atheist, Richard Dawkins’ use of this argument in his book, “The God Delusion”:

Dawkins treats this as the defining characteristic of religion, airbrushing out of his somewhat skimpy account of violence any suggestion that it might be the result of political fanaticism – or even atheism. He is adamant that he himself, as a good atheist, would never, ever fly airplanes into sky-scrapers, or commit any other outrageous act of violence or oppression. Good for him. Neither would I. Yet there are those in both our constituencies who would. Dawkins and I may both disavow violence, and urge all within our groups to do so. But the harsh reality is that religious and anti-religious violence has occurred and will continue to do so.
(Alister McGrath and Joanna Collicutt McGrath, “The Dawkins Delusion?, Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine”, pp.59-60

Later in the same book the McGraths expand this out further:

As someone who grew up in Northern Ireland, I know about religious violence only too well. There is no doubt that religion can generate violence. But it’s not alone in this. The history of the twentieth century has given us a frightening awareness of how political extremism can equally cause violence. In Latin America, millions of people seem to have ‘disappeared’ as a result of ruthless campaigns of violence by right-wing politicians and their militias. In Cambodia, Pol Pot eliminated his millions in the name of socialism.

The rise of the Soviet Union was of particular significance. Lenin regarded the elimination of religion as central to the socialist revolution, and put in place measures designed to eradicate religious beliefs through the ‘protracted use of violence’. One of the greatest tragedies of this dark era in human history was that those who sought to eliminate religious belief through violence and oppression believed they were justified in doing so. They were accountable to no higher authority than the state.

In one of his more bizarre creedal statements as an atheist, Dawkins insists that there is ‘not the smallest evidence’ that atheism systematically influences people to do bad things. It’s an astonishing, naïve and somewhat sad statement. Dawkins is clearly an ivory-tower atheist, disconnected from the real and brutal world of the twentieth century. The facts are otherwise. In their efforts to enforce their atheist idealogy, the Soviet authorities systematically destroyed and eliminated the majority of churches and priests during the period 1918–41. The statistics make for dreadful reading. This violence and repression was undertaken in pursuit of an atheist agenda – the elimination of religion.

This hardly fits in with another of Dawkins’ creedal statements: ‘ I do not believe there is an atheist in the world who would bulldoze Mecca – or Chartres, York Minster, or Notre Dame.’ Sadly, this noble sentiment is a statement about his personal credulity, not the reality of things. The history of the Soviet Union is replete with the burning and dynamiting of huge numbers of churches. His pleading that atheism is innocent of the violence and oppression that he associates with religion is simply untenable, and suggests a significant blind spot.
(Alister McGrath and Joanna Collicutt McGrath, “The Dawkins Delusion?, Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine”, pp.78-79

And I think that what can be said of Dawkins’s use of this argument can be said of its use by atheists in general. As the saying goes, “There’s reality, and then there’s your reality. Apparently, never the twain shall meet!”

Click on the click above to watch Rod Liddle’s 2006 documentary in which he investigates and debates whether atheists can be considered as intolerant and fanatical as some established religious groups.

9) “If you consistently applied your standards you would be just as critical of Christianity as you are Mormonism.”
I absolutely agree – and thankfully I’m not alone. This is probably why you see so much loyal dissent, debate, and disagreement within Christianity. If you doubt me I would encourage you to pick up just about any issue of Christianity Today magazine and start reading. If there’s anything that Christians have demonstrated well over the millennia is what a bunch of cranky, cantankerous, contentious, navel-gazing, critical thinkers and self-critics they are. One need only consider William D. Hendricks’ book “Exit Interviews: Revealing Stories of Why People are Leaving the Church” or Ron Enroth’s book, “Churches That Abuse” to see this.

Candidly, whenever I hear this argument from Ex-Mormon Atheists I can’t help but wonder if they’re projecting Mormonism onto Christianity. After all, in Mormonism, critical thinking in regard to the religion isn’t just discouraged, it’s militantly suppressed. As the Ostler’s said so well in their classic work, “Mormon America”:

The thin-skinned and image-conscious Mormon can display immature, isolationist, and defensive reactions to outsiders, perhaps because there is no substantive debate and no “loyal opposition” within their kingdom. With some, it almost seems that the wilderness is still untamed, the federal “polyg” police are on the prowl, and the Illinois lynch mob is still oiling muskets and preparing to raid Carthage Jail. All too often Saints use the label “anti-Mormon” as a tactic to forestall serious discussion.
(Richard N. and Joan K. Ostling, “Mormon America: The Power and the Promise” (2007 Edition), p. 115)

So, I suspect, though I could be wrong, that whenever an Ex-Mormon Atheist sees a mainstream Christian playing the persecution card, as candidly some do, they assume that the entire religion is Mormonism all over again – and it ain’t.

8) “Live and let live – stop harassing my Mormon family and friends will ya? Stop trying to disabuse them of their chosen lifestyle! Move on with your life, get over it!”
Fair enough.
You first!

Of all the Double Standards that we’ll see in this series this one, to me, is the most glaring. I’ve always found it fascinating that Atheist Ex-Mormons get their knickers in a twist over others – especially Evangelicals – attempting to disabuse their Mormon family and friends of their faith, but think nothing of attempting to do the same themselves.

So, Kettle, meet Pot.

Further, I’m grateful for the Atheists who understand why Christians are only being consistent with their worldview and values when they evangelize. Take, for example, the famous magician and outspoken Atheist, Penn Jilette (of Penn & Teller) who probably said it best when he said:

I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward—and atheists who think people shouldn’t proselytize and who say just leave me along and keep your religion to yourself—how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?

I mean, if I believed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.
(Penn Jilette, YouTube video, Nov 13, 2009)

My Ex-Mormon Atheist friends, we don’t begrudge you all for behaving in ways consistent with your worldview. Heck, we don’t even begrudge you all attempting to proselytize and persuade us of the superiority of the atheist worldview and/or disabuse us of what you see as our false beliefs, values, and misguided point of view. And we don’t criticize and condemn you for doing so with our Mormon family members and friends. So why do you begrudge, criticize, and condemn us for behaving in ways consistent with ours?

7) “Moses was a cult leader, Jesus was a cult leader, Mohammed was a cult leader, and Joseph Smith was a cult leader – so what’s the difference? A cult is a cult.”
If you’re using the dictionary definition of, “great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (such as a film or book)” (the Merriam-Webster English Dictionary definition of “cult”)? Sure, I agree. However, if we use that definition shouldn’t we add names like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Bill Maher to the list too? After all, we see the same kind of dogmatic devotion to them in some Atheist circles that we see from Muslims, Christians, and Mormons in theirs, don’t we?

And if you’re using the sociological definition as determined by something like, say, the BITE Model, then yes, some Christian groups are indeed cults, but not all. For example, one can think of Westboro Baptist Church which clearly qualifies as such according to that criteria.

However, if you’re using the theological definition of, “Christian cults are new religious movements which have a Christian background but are considered to be theologically deviant by members of other Christian churches”? (see the Wikipedia article on the word “Cult“) No, I don’t agree. Unlike Mormonism, mainstream Christianity has boundaries, and if a group or a leader falls outside of those boundaries, as far as we’re concerned they’re a cult. Period. For example, we consider Shawn McCraney and his McCraneyism movement to be just as much a cult as the Mormon Church is according to this criterion.

So tell us, Mr. Ex-Mormon Atheist, exactly why are standard boundary definition and maintenance problems here? After all, if someone claims to believe in a deity then they’re no longer an Atheist, are they? And if someone denounces Joseph Smith as a true prophet, then they’re no longer Mormon, are they? Why are others allowed to maintain boundaries around their group or culture, but mainstream Christians aren’t? I find this puzzling.

Click the link above to see Whiteboard Animation explaining the BITE Model.

6) “No one listens to Mormon Critics! When I was a Mormon I hated and ignored people like you!”
And yet here you are! Are you seriously going to tell me that the work of Mormon Critics had no influence on your decision to leave? Would you prefer that the Tanners hadn’t have put pressure so much pressure on the LdS Church that it had no choice but to acknowledge and release previously suppressed manuscripts like the 1832 handwritten Joseph Smith, First Vision account? Would you prefer that Wesley Walters (a Presbyterian minister) hadn’t tracked down and published the Joseph Smith 1826 Bainbridge, New York Trial Record? Or that he hadn’t encouraged well known Mormon Historians like Michael Marquardt, Dan Vogel, Will Bagley, and others and helped get them established in the discipline? Or perhaps you would prefer that Christian Mormon Critics hadn’t pressured the LdS Church to give up polygamy in the 19th Century, or racial discrimination in the 20th?

Would you prefer that the Joseph Smith Papers Project – which was to a large part a reaction to the common refrain that the LdS Church wasn’t open and transparent with its archives – didn’t exist? Or perhaps the Mormon Think website, which would be impossible without the body of evidence from Mormon Critics that makes it possible? And can you honestly say that if you hadn’t been confronted by all this evidence and the arguments that flow out of it from the Mormon Critics that you used to hate you wouldn’t be free of Mormonism now?  Apparently, you didn’t do as good a job of ignoring as you seem to think you did, did you? And can you honestly say that you aren’t glad that Christian Mormon Critics like me persisted despite your “in yer face” hatred and attempts to ignore us back in the day?

So Mr. Atheist . . . you’re welcome. It was our pleasure. Really! We’re just glad to see that you’re out, aren’t you?

In the next installment of this series, we will cover the next set of things that Christians are tired of hearing from Ex-Mormon Atheists.

Click on the above link to see Mormon Apologist Mike Ash’s 2002 FAIRMormon presentation on how and why the body of work from Mormon Critics has improved the quality of Mormon Scholarship over the years.

Again, if you missed any part of this series and would like to read it in order, from the beginning, click here for Part One, here for Part Three, and here for Part Four.

by Brian Horner
The Mormon attitude toward matters of faith is to eschew and even despise the use of their own minds. Mormons seem to carefully avoid the first commandment: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind…” (Luke 10:27). There is no way I could ever enumerate the many instances when Mormons told me, in one way or another, that I was wrong for using my mind to actually think about the claims of the Mormon religion, or even my own Christian faith, for that matter.

I am fairly certain that this rank anti-intellectualism is due, at least in part, to the fact that the Mormon religion appears in world history for the first time in the United States in the early 1800s. This is a period when Christians were beginning to abandon the strong intellectual traditions of the faith, ceding the intellectual high-ground that we had occupied for some 1,700 years and turning instead to a purely emotion-based religion. Today there are many, in fact FAR too many, Christians who operate purely on the basis of their blind faith and the fear and even loathing of any form of attempting to arrive at or support Christian truth by using the minds that God gave them for that very purpose.

Anti-intellectualism is rampant in the orthodox church. But it is the essential sine qua non of Mormonism. That is most likely due to the fact that the definitive, distinguishing and essential claims of the Mormon religion, as found in the Book of Mormon (the BoM), for example, remain totally and completely divorced from all observable reality. The historical narrative of the BoM is not recognized anywhere outside the proverbial mental walls erected by the Mormon organization. Literally no one other than Mormons even pretends to take it seriously and Mormons accept it ONLY upon the basis of their own personal, subjective emotional reactions.

Based on these facts, Mormons appear to just assume without question that all matters of faith are should, by definition, be rightly separated from any form of intellectual confirmation or even consideration. As I mentioned above, this is not unique to Mormonism. There are far too many Christians who mindlessly tread down that dark trail of willful ignorance as well. This attitude reduces religious faith to something that is operationally indistinguishable from pure superstition.

Since this problem is so common in Christianity and so universal in Mormonism, I thought it might be wise to present what the opposite view looks like. Can matters of faith be studied objectively? Are you some kind of criminal for daring to question your own beliefs and then insist on valid answers? Must people of faith be totally indistinguishable from mindless, superstitious heathens?

No …well, at least Christians do not have to suffer such nonsense. Unknown to many Christians and virtually ALL Mormons the foundational, essential claims of the Christian faith can be and, for nearly 20 centuries have been, subjected to intense intellectual scrutiny. The consistent result remains obvious: there are solid historical, linguistic, documentary, archaeological and other forms of relevant evidence that strongly confirm countless claims found in the Bible in general and the New Testament in particular.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ after his death on the cross is the most critical and important claim of the Christian faith. Without that being an actual fact of history, Jesus becomes indistinguishable from any number of soothsayers, messiah-wannabes, false prophets, lunatics and con men. The fact that Jesus rose from the grave is the one unquestionable component of the gospel of Christ that, if true, sets Jesus totally apart from all other founders of every single religion on earth.

The question is, is there any solid evidence and valid reasons that will remove this blessed event from the category of myth, fairytale, and superstition and place it in the category of historical events, right alongside other historical events that no one bothers to even question anymore?

Maybe yes, maybe no. See for yourself. Below is an example of a competent Christian apologist, Dr. David Wood (a one-time classmate of mine) taking on an atheist friend in a formal debate. Dr. Wood offers some examples (nowhere near a comprehensive list) of the evidence and arguments for the historical truthfulness of the Bible’s claims about the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Today most people (Christians, Mormons, other faiths, atheists, etc.) are almost totally ignorant of the history and impact of the intellectual tradition of the Christian church on planet Earth. Christians have maintained the single strongest, broadest and best attested and confirmed worldview ever since the earliest days of the church. The list of Christian thinkers who established the intellectual foundations of Western Civilization is long both in names and in the length and number of historical periods that these Christians influenced. Spanning the spectrum of Western thought, from philosophy to the arts to the sciences; from J.S. Bach’s (a devout Christian) development of the equal-tempered tuning system that is the norm for all Western music to DNA research and astrophysics, the intellectual traditions of Western Civilization are derived from the fundamental elements of the Biblical worldview.

The overarching trajectory of the history of Western thought reveals an important pattern. Prior to the revelation of the Word of God and its eventual accessibility to the world, the ancient thinkers of the West (primarily the Greeks) considered the universe to be fundamentally chaotic. It was impossible to study the universe. Men generally attributed most or all phenomenon to the whims of mythical gods who held authority over one part of the creation or another. With the advent of the Biblical worldview that changed and the future was cast. The Bible represented the world as orderly – having been created by a rational God. Because of this understanding, the features and actions of the universe could be studied and measured and the influence of the universe’s particulars on each other could be observed and cataloged.

The Scientific Revolution was initiated by Christian men, such as Francis Bacon and Issac Newton who viewed themselves as privileged to be able to use the brain that God gave them to “think God’s thoughts after Him”. Using the “scientific method” that they developed on the premise of the observable order in so many phenomena around them, these Christian men concluded that intelligent beings created in the very image of God can learn how the universe actually works and they understood that their discoveries were adding glory to the Creator of the universe by observing his unspeakably awesome creation. The following short video explains.

Sadly, over time, the focus of science began to become so obsessed with the gift (the universe) that they generally forgot the giver – the Creator of the universe. Science eventually gave birth to a worldview that we know today as “scientism” – the philosophical view that ONLY science can determine what is actually known about any given phenomenon. All other epistemic methods are generally relegated to the categories of subjective and relativistic “beliefs” and cannot be used to determine actual knowledge.

What is so ironic is that those who propound and exalt scientism have forgotten that the foundation of their worldview is the Word of God which showed that the universe is indeed ordered and therefore accessible to rational inquiry. In other words, without the Biblical worldview, science would not have arisen. And if there was never any science, there could be no Scientism.

Be that as it may, I think Mormons should take a look at how today, an age in which the dominant worldview is scientism, Christians are able to answer even the toughest challenges to our faith. Here is one example. On the question of creation itself, what is the Christian answer? There are many ways to frame and communicate that answer. Here below is one of them. This is an example of loving God with all your mind as he commands.

compiled by Fred W. Anson
A few years ago, the good folks at the Zelph on the Shelf did a fantastic article entitled, “15 Things Ex-Mormons are Tired of Hearing” which was a superb compilation of the bad arguments that Ex-Mormons typically hear from True Believing Mormons (aka “TBMs”). As the author noted in her introduction, these are things that not only don’t facilitate constructive debate, but they also distract from it.

I loved the article. So did my friends. We ate it up!

Now my friends, like me, are mainly mainstream Christians and most are Ex-Mormons as well. And they suggested that we put together a list of the top 15 things that Christians are tired of hearing from ex-Mormon atheists/agnostics. So I slapped together a crowdsourced poll, posted it on the Internet, and the results will be discussed and considered over this short series of articles.

15) “Christianity keeps changing just like Mormonism does. You’re a hypocrite.”
Which, of course, is why the ancient creeds are just as respected, confessed, and venerated today as the day that they were issued, right? Sarcasm aside, no, the essential doctrines of the Christian Faith* have never changed. They are:

1) The Deity of Jesus Christ.
2) Salvation by Grace.
3) The resurrection of Jesus Christ.
4) The gospel of Jesus Christ, and
5) Monotheism.

As Christian Theologian, Matt Slick notes well,

The Bible itself reveals those doctrines that are essential to the Christian faith. They are 1) the Deity of Christ, 2) Salvation by Grace, 3) Resurrection of Christ, 4) the gospel, and 5) monotheism. These are the doctrines the Bible says are necessary. Though there are many other important doctrines, these five are the ones that are declared by Scripture to be essential.
(Matt Slick, “Essential Doctrines of Christianity”, CARM website)

This type of systematized theology and boundary definition is impossible in Mormonism due to its doctrine of continuing revelation and the lack of an objective, unchanging standard that is the ultimate authority over even leaders. Thus, what was an essential doctrine in Brigham Young’s day, polygamy, can simply be shoved aside in Wilford Woodruff’s day.

To be fair, yes, on non-Essentials of the Christian faith there can and will change, but so what? How essential to salvation are things like women’s skirt length or whether men wear neckties or T-Shirts to Sunday Worship services? For that matter, how essential to salvation is whether our services are held on Saturday or Sunday? Christians can and will disagree on these non-Essentials and it’s simply no big deal. And if they change tomorrow (and they probably will), who cares?

Click on the above link to hear Theologian Matt Slick explain the Essential Doctrines of the Christian Faith and how they’re practically applied. 

14) “Ex-Mormons who become Christians have just switched cults. Christianity is just as crazy as Mormonism.”
Thus says the kettle to the pot. From a Sept. 19, 2008, Wall Street Journal article:

“You can’t be a rational person six days of the week and put on a suit and make rational decisions and go to work and, on one day of the week, go to a building and think you’re drinking the blood of a 2,000-year-old space god,” comedian and atheist Bill Maher said earlier this year on “Late Night With Conan O’Brien.”

On the “Saturday Night Live” season debut last week, homeschooling families were portrayed as fundamentalists with bad haircuts who fear biology. Actor Matt Damon recently disparaged Sarah Palin by referring to a transparently fake email that claimed she believed that dinosaurs were Satan’s lizards. And according to prominent atheists like Richard Dawkins, traditional religious belief is “dangerously irrational.” From Hollywood to the academy, nonbelievers are convinced that a decline in traditional religious belief would lead to a smarter, more scientifically literate and even more civilized populace.

The reality is that the New Atheist campaign, by discouraging religion, won’t create a new group of intelligent, skeptical, enlightened beings. Far from it: It might actually encourage new levels of mass superstition. And that’s not a conclusion to take on faith — it’s what the empirical data tell us.

“What Americans Really Believe,” a comprehensive new study released by Baylor University yesterday, shows that traditional Christian religion greatly decreases belief in everything from the efficacy of palm readers to the usefulness of astrology. It also shows that the irreligious and the members of more liberal Protestant denominations, far from being resistant to superstition, tend to be much more likely to believe in the paranormal and in pseudoscience than evangelical Christians…

… But it turns out that the late-night comic is no icon of rationality himself. In fact, he is a fervent advocate of pseudoscience. The night before his performance on Conan O’Brien, Mr. Maher told David Letterman — a quintuple bypass survivor — to stop taking the pills that his doctor had prescribed for him. He proudly stated that he didn’t accept Western medicine. On his HBO show in 2005, Mr. Maher said: “I don’t believe in vaccination. . . . Another theory that I think is flawed, that we go by the Louis Pasteur [germ] theory.” He has told CNN’s Larry King that he won’t take aspirin because he believes it is lethal and that he doesn’t even believe the Salk vaccine eradicated polio.

Anti-religionists such as Mr. Maher bring to mind the assertion of G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown character that all atheists, secularists, humanists and rationalists are susceptible to superstition: “It’s the first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense, and can’t see things as they are.”
(Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, “Look Who’s Irrational Now”, The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 19, 2008; p.W13)

Click on the above link to watch Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston College argue that belief in God is more rational than atheism. 

13) “History shows that religion is the #1 cause of war and violence.”
Actually, no. In fact, history shows the exact opposite, as Rabbi Alan Lurie explains in the Huntington Post:

While clearly there were wars that had religion as the prime cause, an objective look at history reveals that those killed in the name of religion have, in fact, been a tiny fraction in the bloody history of human conflict. In their recently published book, “Encyclopedia of Wars,” authors Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod document the history of recorded warfare, and from their list of 1763 wars only 123 have been classified to involve a religious cause, accounting for less than 7 percent of all wars and less than 2 percent of all people killed in warfare. While, for example, it is estimated that approximately one to three million people were tragically killed in the Crusades, and perhaps 3,000 in the Inquisition, nearly 35 million soldiers and civilians died in the senseless, and secular, slaughter of World War 1 alone.

History simply does not support the hypothesis that religion is the major cause of conflict. The wars of the ancient world were rarely, if ever, based on religion. These wars were for territorial conquest, to control borders, secure trade routes, or respond to an internal challenge to political authority. In fact, the ancient conquerors, whether Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, or Roman, openly welcomed the religious beliefs of those they conquered, and often added the new gods to their own pantheon.

Medieval and Renaissance wars were also typically about control and wealth as city-states vied for power, often with the support, but rarely instigation, of the Church. And the Mongol Asian rampage, which is thought to have killed nearly 30 million people, had no religious component whatsoever.

Most modern wars, including the Napoleonic Campaign, the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the American Civil War, World War I, the Russia Revolution, World War II, and the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam, were not religious in nature or cause. While religious groups have been specifically targeted (most notably in World War II), to claim that religion was the cause is to blame the victim and to misunderstand the perpetrators’ motives, which were nationalistic and ethnic, not religious.
(Rabbi Alan Lurie, “Is Religion the Cause of Most Wars?” The Huffington Post, 04/10/2012) 

Click on the above link to hear Science Journalist Trace Dominguez examine the idea that religion is the main cause of war and violence.

12) “If the Bible is so reliable why has it been changed more than the Book of Mormon has? Ever heard of ‘copies of copies of copies’?”
Yes, we have. We also know how to read and we know how to listen – and we have both heard and read your unnamed source, Bart Ehrman, who came up with that Thought Stopping cliche’. So what’s particularly interesting to us is that the 2005 paperback edition of “Misquoting Jesus” by Bart Ehrman contained an appendix (“Appendix A” to be exact) which consisted of a “Bonus Interview” between Ehrman and the editors of the book. This interview wasn’t included in the hardcover edition of the book or any of the subsequent paperback editions up to and including all current editions. The reason for this is only known only to the publisher and Mr. Ehrman, but one question and answer sequence in the interview is particularly interesting:

Bruce Metzger, your mentor in textual criticism to whom this book is dedicated, has said that there is nothing in these variants of Scripture that challenges any essential Christian beliefs (e.g. the bodily resurrection of Jesus or the Trinity). Why do you believe these core tenets of Christian orthodoxy to be in jeopardy based on the scribal errors you discovered in the biblical manuscripts?

Bruce Metzger is one of the great scholars of modern times, and I dedicated the book to him because he was both my inspiration for going into textual criticism and the person who trained me in the field. And even though we may disagree on important religious questions—he is a firmly committed Christian and I am not—we are in complete agreement on a number of very important historical and textual questions. If he and I were put in a room and asked to hammer out a consensus statement on what we think the original text of the New Testament probably looked like, there would be very few points of disagreement—maybe one or two dozen places out of many thousands.

The position I argue for in Misquoting Jesus does not actually stand at odds with Prof. Metzger’s position that the essential Christian beliefs are not affected by textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament. What he means by that (I think) is that even if one or two passages that are used to argue for a belief have different textual reading, there are still other passages that could be used to argue for the same belief. For the most part, I think that’s true.

But I was looking at the question from a different angle. My question is not about traditional Christian beliefs, but about how to interpret passages of the Bible. And my point is that if you change what the words say, then you change what the passage means. Most textual variants (Prof. Metzger and I agree on this) have no bearing at all on what a passage means. But there are other textual variants (we agree on this as well) that are crucial to the meaning of a passage. And the theology of entire books of the New Testament are sometimes affected by the meaning of individual passages.

From my point of view, the stakes are rather high: Does Luke’s Gospel teach a doctrine of atonement (that Christ’s death atones for sins)? Does John’s Gospel teach that Christ is the “unique God” himself? Is the doctrine of the Trinity ever explicitly stated in the New Testament? These and other key theological issues are at stake, depending on which textual variants you think are original and which you think are creations of early scribes who were modifying the text.”
(Bart Ehrman, “Misquoting Jesus” (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005), pp.252-253, Appendix A) 

Once again for emphasis: “…the essential Christian beliefs are not affected by textual variants…” In other words, the quantity of textual variants isn’t an issue if the quality of the variants are such that the meaning of the text doesn’t change. One or one million, it makes no difference. And, according to Professor Ehrman, that’s the case with the Biblical manuscripts, isn’t it?

Now, give that, let’s compare and contrast that to the Book of Mormon in which the following variants occur between just the first two editions of the book, shall we?

1 Nephi 11:18
“the virgin whom thou seest, is the mother of God” (1830 edition)
“the virgin whom thou seest, is the mother of the Son of God” (1837 edition)

1 Nephi 11:21
“behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Eternal Father!(1830 edition)
“behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father!(1837 edition) 

1 Nephi 11:32
“the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people, yea, the Everlasting God was judged of the world.” (1830 edition)
“the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea, the Son of the Everlasting God, was judged of the world; (1837 edition)

1 Nephi 13:40
“the Lamb of God is the Eternal Father and the Savior of the world.
“the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father and the Saviour of the world;”

So in the course of just seven years, only two generations of carefully controlled and published manuscripts, as well as the same original author – Jesus Christ goes from being God to being something less than God. The quantity of variants is small but the quality of the variants is huge as Mormon Christology makes a huge shift by downgrading the deity of Christ.

So, yes, this something that we do in fact, see with the Book of Mormon. However, over centuries, multiple generations of manuscripts, and multiple transcribers – none of whom were the original author or who were controlling the distribution or publication of the text – this is something that we don’t see in the biblical manuscript base. Respectfully, my Ex-Mormon Atheist friends, you appear to be projecting the Book of Mormon onto the Bible when it’s simply not merited. That least that’s how it appears to many of us.

Link on the above link to watch a 2011 debate between Biblical Scholars Bart Ehrman and Daniel Wallace on the reliability of the New Testament text. 

11) “If there IS a God then all you have to be is good to get into heaven, right? So why are you harassing Mormons? They’re good people!”
Well, for a start, the belief that “all you have to be is good into heaven” isn’t Christianity, it’s Moralism. In fact, it’s the basis of all non-Christian, pagan religions – including Mormonism – that one can work one’s way into salvation. And the belief that the goal of Christianity is to make good people better then you’re teaching therapeutic deism, not Christianity. As Christian Pastor, Philosopher, and Theologian, Timothy Keller has said so well,

If you believe that all good people can go to heaven, not just Christians, you are moralistic. If you also believe that all the contradictory rules and teachings of the various religions don’t matter, that everyone’s personal view of right and wrong is enough, then you are therapeutic. And if you think you can get to heaven without the enlightenment of Buddhism, or the sacraments of Catholicism or the justifying faith of Protestantism, then you are a deist. We don’t really need divine intervention. We’ll climb the ladder ourselves, thank you.
(Timothy Keller, “Pharisees With Low Standards”, TimothyKeller.com website, February 27, 2009).

So respectfully, my atheist friends, this argument is a strawman. Biblical Christianity teaches that no one can work their way into heaven by being good. In fact, the Bible is clear that no one is good, except God. Rather, Christ was crystal clear that the only way to heaven is through Him and His atoning work on the cross alone, “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6 NKJV) 

Further, the Bible is clear that no one can come to God if they’re holding to another God or Jesus or another gospel:

But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it!
(2 Corinthians 11:3-4 NKJV)

The Biblical word for this is “idolatry” and, as Christians, we believe that the fate of those who hold to a False Jesus and/or False Gospel will be severe:

But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.
(Revelation 21:8 NKJV)

Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.
(Revelation 22:14-15 NKJV)

So you see, in regard to Mormons and Mormonism, we’re simply being as consistent with our worldview as you atheists are whenever you all attempt to dissuade them of what you perceive as false teachings and beliefs. There’s really no difference. We don’t attack you all for being true to your worldview and beliefs in your interactions with Mormons, why do you attack us for being true to ours?

In part two, of this series, we’ll consider more of the things that we Christians are tired of hearing from Ex-Mormon atheists.

Click on the above link to hear Christian Apologist Frank Turek answer the question, “Do morally good people go to heaven?”

NOTES
* For a more complete overview of the Essentials of the Christian Faith with live links to fuller, more complete explanations of the issues and specific doctrines in question click here.

Again, if you missed any part of this series and would like to read it in order, from the beginning, click here for Part Two, here for Part Three, and here for Part Four.

Margaret Barker lecturing at the University of Nottingham in 2014.

compiled by Fred W. Anson
For those unfamiliar with Margaret Barker here’s her official biography:

Margaret Barker has developed an approach to Biblical Studies now known as Temple Theology. Margaret Barker read theology at the University of Cambridge, England, and went on to pursue her research independently. She was elected President of the Society for Old Testament Study in 1998, and edited the Society’s second Monograph Series, published by Ashgate. She has so far written 17 books, which form a sequence, later volumes building on her earlier conclusions.

Since 1997, she has been part of the symposium Religion, Science and the Environment, convened by His All Holiness Bartholomew I, the Ecumenical Patriarch. This work has led her to develop the practical implications of temple theology as the basis for a Christian environment theology.

In July 2008 Margaret Barker was awarded a DD by the Archbishop of Canterbury ‘in recognition of her work on the Jerusalem Temple and the origins of Christian Liturgy, which has made a significantly new contribution to our understanding of the New Testament and opened up important fields for research.’

Margaret Barker is a mother and grandmother, a Methodist Preacher and was involved for over 30 years with the work of a Women’s Refuge.

Margaret Barker DD has no connection with website Temple Illuminatus.”
(Margaret Barker website, retrieved 2017-08-19)

She is the darling of Mormon Apologists and Liberal Christian Theologians the world over as her work can be used to undermine confidence in and the authority of the Bible. What follows are the two finest debunkings of Margaret Barker that I have found to date. If you find any newer, or better ones let me know and I’ll do a follow-up to this compilation:

First, from a Latter-day Saint scholar who is somewhat “less” than enamored with Barker’s scholarship:

TT, “My Margaret Barker Experience”
I first heard about Margaret Barker seven years ago and have watched from the sidelines as LDS scholars have fallen all over themselves after her ideas. However, I have never read her work. My avoidance of her work changed when a friend of mine sent me one of her lectures for comment (this is a great way to maintain a long-distance friendship, btw). It was worse than I imagined. I listened to the 35-minute lecture probably 10 times and just got more frustrated every time. I am slightly embarrassed by this episode of LDS intellectual history. It represents a step backward in dealing with the contemporary critical evaluation of biblical texts and ANE [Ancient Near East] religion.

The lecture in question is called “What Did King Josiah Reform?” She delivered it at BYU some time ago. The main thesis of the paper is that Josiah’s Deuteronomic reforms were a major departure from earlier Israelite temple worship and that many people strongly opposed these changes. This seems perfectly fine and uncontroversial, and I have absolutely no problem with this argument. The problem is in her imaginative reconstruction of this earlier ritual and other religious themes that she thinks were reformed.

Barker reconstructs earlier Israelite religion as consisting of, among other things: Asherah worship (the temple Menorah was the Asherah), child sacrifice as atonement, the ability to experience a vision of God, the belief that God’s son is the God is Israel, a Melchizedek priesthood, angel worship, that the temple rooms corresponded to the days of creation, and a scattering of true believers who resisted Josiahan reforms and maintained “authentic” worship. It is easy to see why LDS readers are attracted to many of these ideas (though Asherah worship and child sacrifice don’t seem all that helpful). But this is exactly the reason that we need to critically investigate these claims. They are too easy.

There are essentially two problems with her argument. First, Barker’s historiographical method relies on texts and accounts that are far removed from the historical period she is reconstructing, which makes it extremely unlikely that these texts contain reliable historical data. Second, she is working on a number of hidden assumptions about the consistency of interpretation of pre-Israelite religion. She only has two views of this history. There is an “authentic” worship which can be recovered by her and the Josiahan reform. This assumption masks the rather obvious fact evident in the texts that she is studying that there were numerous interpretations of what the “authentic” version of ancient Israelite religion was. Both of these problems cause her to overlook what is actually interesting about the material that she is studying, namely, that diverse ancient religious parties appealed to an idealized view of pre-exilic religion in order to give their own views authority.

First, the thesis suffers from a series of truly unforgivable historiographical sins. The most obvious is that the majority of her sources for this reconstruction come from many centuries after the fact and from groups who have a vested interest in controlling a particular view of Israelite history. For instance, she uses Christian texts up through the fourth century CE frequently in her reconstruction, which unsurprisingly makes early Israelite religion look like and prefigure Christianity. Further, the texts she uses rarely actually attempt to represent ancient Israelite religion, it is simply her extrapolations. The Christian views are better explained by their own immediate historical context rather than appeals to a secret tradition from a millennium before.

Barker’s use of Jewish texts is equally problematic. She uses DSS and Enochic literature to reconstruct what was happening in the First Temple, even though these texts were written hundreds of years after the First Temple had been destroyed. She conflates Jubilees, 1 Enoch, and the Damascus covenant as if they represented a shared view of the temple. But most egregiously, she fails to note that the critiques of the temple in these texts have to do with Second Temple politics, including disputes over priestly families in control of the temple, not with the First Temple at all. Additionally, she attributes the loss of the Menorah and Ark of the Covenant to Josiah’s reforms rather than the Babylonian conquest. No ancient texts ever even insinuate this, but it is a major part of her argument. Finally, her appeal to the fictional Recabites (she offers a rather Christianized reading of this text) as evidence for concrete historical information is highly problematic and what she chooses to identify as the historical kernel of that account is arbitrary at best.

When she starts looking to Islamic texts and early 20th-century missionary accounts to Tibet, we are in serious trouble. The argument loses even more credibility. The principle historiographical problem with her reconstruction is precisely that it relies on so many different texts from different time periods without any acknowledgment that these accounts are historicized by their own environment. Rhetorically, it appears that she is mounting evidence for her case, but in reality, it is smoke and mirrors. There are no texts that include all of these descriptions of ancient Israelite religion. The reconstruction involves taking elements out of context from diverse religious groups in ancient Judaism and Christianity and cherry-picking how those pieces get put back together. For instance, she concludes that since one of the DSS is about Melchizedek, that “Melchizedek must have been a part of the earlier religion.” There is simply no reason to make this assumption.

The more likely explanation is that 2nd c. BCE separatists developed theologies out the holes and gaps in the biblical text in order to make appeals about new teachings and give them authoritative status. Many of her other ideas don’t even have one text to back them up since she relies on inference or silence to make her claims. In other cases, she starts with her conclusions and then attempts to interpret the texts on that basis. For instance, because 4th century CE rabbinical texts make one statement about the temple symbolism related to the creation, she asserts that all previous Jewish texts about creation must be talking about the temple.

This is the basis of the second major problem: her complete lack of any historical analysis. There is no sense that traditions change and develop over time and that different contexts will provide different interpretations of the past and the present. She doesn’t seem to have any critical evaluation of why these religious elements were changed, or why they were “preserved.” Instead, the narrative theme of the changes is that of apostasy from a pure, original, true worship. While this theme will sound familiar to LDS readers, it represents an unsophisticated view of historical developments. A more responsible historical approach would be to see the multiplicity of claims to authority and authenticity, and that there were more than two views of the temple which survive from ancient Israel. This problem I think is repeated frequently in her historical method, which can best be described as parallelomania combined with a vivid imagination. At best, she is simply uncritically repeating the historical imaginations of pious ancient Christians and Jews. At worst, she is producing her own pious imaginations and attempting to attribute them to early Christians and ancient Jews.

The missing link in her evaluation is that the information that she actually surveys really tells you how early Christians, Muslims, second temple Jews, and 20th-century missionaries appealed to First Temple Judaism and to ancient Israelite religion as a basis for legitimacy and authenticity. There is no reason to suspect that what they actually said about that has any historical basis whatsoever. In the same way, Barker and many LDS thinkers are engaged in the same kind of project, to appeal to pure “origins” of Israelite religion in order to produce authenticity about contemporary beliefs and practices. Such an approach is necessarily partial and selective. Instead of learning about ancient Israel, we learn about those who are attempting to recount its history. If Barker’s work has any value, it is in the exposure of this theme in various religious traditions up until today.
(TT, “My Margaret Barker Experience”, Faith Promoting Rumor website, November 9, 2007, it has been very lightly edited to both fit this venue and format and correct grammatical and spelling errors that were in the original. The bracketed words were added to clarify and define the author’s undefined acronym.)

Margaret Barker speaking at BYU on November 9, 2016.

This second debunking is from Christian Apologist Rob Bowman:

Rob Bowman’s Debunking of appeals to Margaret Barker by Mormon Apologists
Kevin Christensen is the main Mormon author who has brought into LDS apologetics this notion of the Deuteronomists being responsible for the extant text of the OT conflicting with LDS theology. Christensen specifically appeals to the way this idea was developed by Margaret Barker, a Methodist scholar whose interpretations are decidedly non-Methodist. Christensen’s main writing on this theme was Paradigms Regained: A Survey of Margaret Barker’s Scholarship and its Significance for Mormon Studies, Occasional Papers 2 (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2001). See also his article “The Deuteronomist De-Christianizing of the Old Testament,” FARMS Review 16/2 (2004): 59-90, which specifically argues that the OT was explicitly Christian before the Deuteronomists got hold of it.

I’ve been working on a serious rebuttal to this line of argument for several years. I can see that I need to get something done on it soon as this argument keeps coming up. Let me summarize some of my findings here with the understanding that I’m still working on it.

First, let me summarize Barker’s theory and how Mormons are using it. The basic idea is that during the period of the First Temple (roughly the tenth through the seventh centuries BC), Judaism was essentially a polytheistic religion in which the gods included Elohim, his son Yahweh, other divine sons, and a goddess named Asherah. Mormon apologists have seized upon this theory as somehow correlating with their belief that Elohim is the Father, Jehovah is his firstborn son, and Jehovah and his spirit siblings were the offspring of the Father and a heavenly Mother.

According to Barker, around the time of the Exile (beginning not long before it) some Jews overthrew the earlier polytheism that had historically been taught in the Jerusalem temple and replaced it with a monotheism in which Elohim and Yahweh were one and the same and in which there was no room for goddesses or any other gods. These narrow-minded men, known as the Deuteronomists, reworked the Jewish Scriptures to support their new theology. Josiah’s reform is typically understood as the work of these Deuteronomists, on the basis that the book that the OT says was found in the temple during Josiah’s reign was Deuteronomy and that it was actually written at that time (a fairly standard view in liberal scholarship).

The theology of the first temple (the one destroyed by the Babylonians) was thus polytheistic, whereas the theology of the second temple (the one built after the Exile and destroyed centuries later by the Romans in AD 70) was monotheistic. Barker claims to find vestiges of the First Temple theology (the good, polytheistic one) in isolated verses in the Old Testament (which the Deuteronomists somehow missed), in extrabiblical Jewish literature (especially in the Enoch literature), and in the New Testament (which usually calls Jesus “Lord” and the Father “God”). Again, Mormon apologists see Barker’s position as validating the Mormon claim that important “plain and precious things” were removed from the Bible by conniving apostates.

Now with that foundation laid, please consider this bullet-point commentary on Barker’s theory and on the Mormon use of that theory to validate Mormon theology.

• The Canaanites and anyone else, including at times many Jews, who accepted this Near Eastern pantheon also practiced idol worship as part of that belief system. Polytheism and idolatry went hand in glove. You want to claim the ancient Canaanite religion as a precursor to Mormonism, you are stuck with the idolatry that goes with it.

• The Enoch literature dates from well after the Babylonian Exile, and of course, so does the New Testament. So Barker’s theory depends on claiming that literature that has traditionally been understood to date from the First Temple period actually represents Second Temple theology, while literature that dates from the Second Temple period actually represents First Temple theology. You can come up with all sorts of fascinating theories if you’re allowed to play with the source documents like this.

• The people of Canaan in the First Temple period who believed in the goddess worshiped her, whereas Mormons teach that people should not worship Heavenly Mother. Worse still, those ancient believers viewed the goddess as the consort of Yahweh, not Elohim. In other words, if we correlated Mormon theology with this reconstructed First Temple Israelite theology, Heavenly Mother would be married to her son Jehovah (Jesus).

• The Deuteronomists, if they existed, did not merely edit the Old Testament to make it more monotheistic. The stock secular and liberal critical view in Old Testament studies is that the entire sequence of books from Deuteronomy through 2 Kings is “Deuteronomic.” One cannot accept those books as Scripture but merely in need of some minor theological editing; the critical theory treats those books in their entirety as Deuteronomic. Thus, the Mormon who entertains Barker’s theory is actually flirting with the idea that roughly a quarter of the Old Testament (at least) was written to teach what was from a Mormon point of view false doctrine.

• There are roughly a thousand statements in the Old Testament equating Yahweh with Elohim in a variety of ways: using the compound name “Yahweh Elohim,” affirming “Yahweh is Elohim,” referring to Yahweh as “our/my/your/his/their Elohim” or “Yahweh the Elohim of Israel,” and so on. Not only are there many such statements in the OT, but they are spread throughout the OT. Statements referring to or identifying Yahweh as Elohim occur in all but five of the books of the OT (Esther, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Lamentations, and Obadiah). Of these five short books, Esther uses neither name even once, Ecclesiastes uses only Elohim and never Yahweh, and the other three books use only Yahweh and never Elohim. These five books, then, never have the opportunity (lexically speaking) to identify Yahweh as Elohim or to distinguish Yahweh from Elohim.

The other 34 books, however, do have such an opportunity, and they all identify Yahweh as Elohim. Most of them do so repeatedly; the longer books typically do so dozens of times each. It would not be an overstatement by any means to assert that the primary message of the Old Testament, at least as it has come down to us, may be summarized by the three words “Yahweh is Elohim”! If this aspect of the Old Testament is deemed the work of apostates, you might as well just throw the whole thing out.

I know that Mormons would like to dismiss what I am saying here on the grounds that I am assuming the inerrancy of Scripture. They would be mistaken, not about my belief in the inerrancy of Scripture, but about that belief having anything to do with the issue here. If Yahweh is not Elohim, the Old Testament is not merely errant but is hopelessly misleading on the most basic of theological issues from Genesis to Malachi.

• In effect, the Mormon use of Barker’s theory turns the Old Testament upside down. The Old Testament consistently presents the monotheists as the good guys and the idolatrous polytheists as the bad guys, as the ones who corrupted Israel and who brought divine judgment on Israel. The Mormon apologists claim that the polytheists were the good guys and the monotheists were the bad guys, the ones who corrupted the Jewish religion.

• About that: Which prophet was called by God to warn apostates in Jerusalem of divine judgment? Jeremiah, of course. But Jeremiah was a “Deuteronomist”! That is, Jeremiah identified Yahweh as Elohim well over a hundred times in his book, and not once distinguished them as separate deities. Here again, the Mormons have things exactly backward. The prophets who warned Jerusalem of apostasy were warning against accepting the Canaanite polytheism and exhorting the Jews to worship and serve Yahweh alone as Elohim.

• The New Testament (NT) clearly accepts the identification of Yahweh as Elohim, at least in using equivalent language in Greek. For example, both Luke-Acts and Revelation use the compound name “the Lord God” (Greek, kurios ho theos) as a designation of God (Luke 1:32, 68; Acts 3:22; Rev. 1:8; 4:8; 11:17; 15:3; 16:7; 18:8; 21:22; 22:5). This is a stock designation for God in the Septuagint, appearing over 900 times (translating both Yahweh Elohim and Adonai Yahweh). The NT also quotes OT texts in which the titles kurios (representing the Hebrew YHWH, Yahweh) and theos (representing the Hebrew Elohim) are used for the same referent (Matt. 4:7, 10; 22:37; Mark 12:29, 30; Luke 4:8, 12; 10:27; 20:37; Rom. 14:11; Heb. 8:10; Rev. 19:6; 22:6; see also Luke 1:16; Acts 2:39). These include the famous Shema, the OT affirmation of Jehovah as Elohim that became the Jewish “creed.” The NT writers seem oblivious to any alleged problem with the theology of the Jewish Bible. Yet if any “conflation” of Jehovah with Elohim took place in the Hebrew Bible, it was a done deal long before the NT writers came along.

• The primary objection that Mormons raise to this argument is the distinction made in the NT between the Father as “God” (theos) and Jesus as “Lord” (kurios). A superficial reading of the NT may seem to support the view that the Father is God (=Elohim) while the Son is Lord (=Jehovah). There are some serious problems with this line of reasoning. First, the NT in several places identifies Jesus as “God” (John 1:1, 18; 20:28; Acts 20:28; Rom. 9:5; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:8; 2 Peter 1:1; 1 John 5:20). Second, at least some NT texts speak of the Father as “Lord” in contexts where this designation represents the OT name Jehovah (e.g., Luke 1:32; 2 Cor. 6:17-18). Third, it appears that the NT writers usually used “Lord” for Jesus and “God” for the Father to avoid confusing Jesus with the Father, not in order to designate them as separate deities.

• Finally, the Mormon use of Barker’s theory ignores the Book of Mormon. The name Jehovah appears only twice in the Book of Mormon. In both cases, Jehovah is simply another name for God (2 Ne. 22:2; Mor. 10:34). Like the NT, the Book of Mormon uses the compound name “the Lord God” as a designation of the deity (1 Ne. 1:14; 10:4; 13:30, 32; 14:25; 19:11; 20:16; 21:22; etc.) as well as such expressions as “the Lord our God” (1 Ne. 2:7; 7:21-22; 16:20, 22; 17:30, 45, 53, 55; 20:17; etc.). It also has such direct affirmations as “I, the Lord, am God” (1 Ne. 17:14; cf. 2 Ne. 6:15).

This is all so-called Deuteronomic language. Arguably the Book of Mormon is even more consistently “monotheistic” in its language than the OT. The plural form gods occurs only twice in the Book of Mormon, the first referring to the Fall as resulting in human beings becoming “as Gods, knowing good from evil” (Alma 12:31), and the second referring to “idol gods” (Morm. 4:14). In short, not even once does the Book of Mormon use the term “gods” in a positive sense. The Book of Mormon never suggests that “the Lord” (Jesus the Son) is a different deity from “God”; to the contrary, the Book of Mormon repeatedly refers to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as one God (2 Nephi 31:21; Mosiah 15:4-5; Alma 11:44; Mormon 7:7).

To sum up: (1) Margaret Barker’s theory is a flimsy reconstruction of the history of ancient Judaism and early Christianity based on idiosyncratic speculations and dubious interpretations of isolated texts; (2) it makes mincemeat of the Old Testament; (3) it does not support the idea that the Jews ever held to a belief system comparable to Mormonism; (4) the Mormon use of Barker’s theory renders the Old Testament essentially valueless, viewing things quite backward (the good guys are really the bad guys, etc.); (5) the New Testament assumes the reliability of the Old Testament text and doctrine, and it affirms the monotheism of the so-called Deuteronomists; and (6) the Book of Mormon is also “Deuteronomic”!
(Rob Bowman, compiled from a series of posts in the Preaching From An Asbestos Suit (PFAAS) Facebook page starting with this post, I have very lighted edited Mr. Bowman’s original Facebook posts to fit this venue and context.) 

Margaret Barker (left) with Mormon Apologist Daniel C. Peterson (center), and the late Roman Catholic philosopher and theologian Stephen H. Webb (right) speaking at an Interpreter Foundation event in Orem, Utah on August 8, 2015. Like Barker, Webb is another Theologically Liberal Christian Scholar whose heterodoxy Mormon Apologists like Peterson often appeal to.

by Fred W. Anson
This was the very first article that I wrote in Mormon Studies. It’s pretty old (if you couldn’t tell by the term “Bulletin Board” in the title). As I recall, was only written a few years over a decade ago, but it seems like a different lifetime now. Much has changed in Mormonism, much has changed in Mormon Studies, and much has changed with me. 

Case in point, Jim Spencer, my wonderful first Mormon Studies mentor, liked this article so much that he published it on his “Maze Ministry” website. And like Jim, that website is now deceased. I miss them both. I’m not thrilled with parts of my presentation and some of the content. But, none-the-less, I think that it makes a good point and issues a much-needed warning that’s just as relevant today as it was back then. If Jim were still with us today, that he would agree.  I hope that you do too. 

I was raised Christian. My brother converted to Mormonism in the late 1960’s. He was converted by my Uncle who lives in the Bay Area. And, of course, growing up and living the Southwest United States I’ve had many, many Mormon friends. I like Mormons and have a lot of respect for them.

However, thanks to good books like James Spencer’s “Beyond Mormonism”, I have come to appreciate that Mormonism is not only a fraud but a very dangerous fraud. If you are still doubting the veracity of that statement and/or Mr. Spencer’s book I would refer you to any or all of the following books:

“Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith” by Martha Beck
(written by the daughter of well-known Mormon Apologist and BYU Professor, Hugh Nibley)

“No Man Knows My History” by Fawn M. Brodie
(written by the niece of ninth LdS President, David O. McKay) 

“Wife no. 19” by Ann Eliza Young
(written by the nineteenth wife of Brigham Young) 

“Mormonism Unveiled” by John D. Lee
(written by the adopted son of Brigham Young)

After attempting to reason with True Believing Mormons on Amazon.com I was frustrated and confused. It felt like I was talking to a “wall of glass” most of the time. This had been my experience with my Brother too. I didn’t feel like they were listening – or even open to listening to anything but LDS Church dogma.

Now I agree with Elizabeth Browning who once said, “Always learn from experience – preferably someone else’s” so I knew that I needed to get expert advice from those who had gotten out of Mormonism. I was clearly missing something – insight, and wisdom. And I thought I knew where to get it!

FLAMED TO A CRISP ON EXMORMON.ORG
Being Internet literate my first thought was to turn to the ExMormon Internet boards. The most popular and well known ExMormon site is www.exmormon.org (often referred to as “RfM” as in “Recovery from Mormonism”).

In fact, I had used that site for a lot of my research into the history and theology of Mormonism. So I signed up for their forum and asked the following question: “Is reasoning with True Believing Mormons [in an attempt to bring them to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ] a waste of time?” Now remember up to that point all my experiences on the site had been positive so you can imagine my surprise when I got flamed to a crisp in about 15-minutes with innumerable responses like:

“That’s like asking which idiot is the biggest!”
“You’re both nuts so what’s the point?”
“Crazy wanker! Why should I waste any time reasoning with YOU?”
“As if YOUR so-called-god is any better than their so-called-god?”

All this vitriol was because in my post I made the mistake of revealing that I am an Evangelical Christian. I didn’t know at the time that the ExMormon.org bulletin board has a reputation for quickly flaming any person of faith to carbon — be they Mormon, Christian, Muslim, Jewish or anything other than Atheist.

HEALING AND HANGING OUT AT POSTMORMON.ORG
So, still needing to get my question answered, I found www.PostMormon.org via a Google search. I explained what had happened on ExMormon.org and got my question answered straightaway (the answer is, “Maybe, it depends on the TBM that you’re trying to reason with.” by the way). They were very nice, respectful and accommodating. They answered my questions. They asked me questions. I learned a lot about both Mormon History and Culture. I felt great, they felt great.

So far so good.

I am a computer Engineer and while I’m watching status bars on computers go by I kill idle time by doing posts – like this one – on subjects that interest me. I put up a lot of posts (and I mean A LOT – about 20 per day) on http://www.postmormon.org and got a generally good reception. I was careful, per the board guidelines, to qualify all my opinions with “IMO” or “from my perspective” or equivalent. To my knowledge, I never once told anyone what they should believe. And if I did it was a lapse and not deliberate – I hate that stuff. However, I did speak from my life experience – the majority of which has been lived as a Christian – and I did try to provide food for thought (just like everyone else was doing)

DISCOVERING THE TRUE PURPOSE OF POSTMORMON.ORG
And, yes, I spoke in unflinching terms about what I see as the errors of Mormon Theology and the problems that I see in Mormon Culture. (However, what I said was far less incendiary than what was displayed by most of the Ex-Mormons on the board)

However, through it all, I refused to recant from my Evangelical Christian beliefs. Again, I was always clear on I was and what I believed. I honestly didn’t think that would be a problem on a board that’s called “PostMormon.org” as opposed, to say, “PostGod.org”, “PostFaith.org”, “AnythingButGod.org”, “PostMormonNowAtheist.org”, or “DontBringYourStinkinGodHere.org”

Never-the-less, at some point, the board founder must have decided that these posts from a Christian perspective were a problem. To give you some perspective the board founder attended a Baptist church after he left the LDS Church and in his words (from his exit story on PostMormon.org),

“I reached the conclusion that the New Testament is pretty much the same kind of white-wash-sell-job as the Book of Mormon. A few basic common sense concepts and a lot of whitewashing and holy sounding stuff. So I quit going to the church.”
(Jeff Ricks, “The Lord in the Bahamas”, PostMormon.org website)

He started “calling me out” by taking direct aim at Theism in general and Christianity in particular – directly calling it “Bullshit”. His arguments were well-formed and consistent. He was very impressive and persuasive in style, delivery, and substance.

Unfortunately, once he started, a gang of militant Atheists lined up behind him and all the faith-based belief systems, got a thorough “stompin’ ‘n’ trashin'”. To show you how bad it got some of the posters even advocated banning religious advocacy altogether. Others implied (or simply overtly stated) that non-Atheists were at the very least unenlightened and at the most mentally ill. Suddenly I felt like a Jew surrounded by Nazis on Crystal Nacht. It was, to say the least, unsettling.

I did my best to present a Christian voice in the midst of the fray but it was hard to keep my head above water – there were several anti-Theist threads running concurrently and there were simply too many angry, militant Atheists on the board. I had a few allies but still, I felt overwhelmed.

Then the board founder started a new thread called, “Really, what good is Jesus?” and this new thread unleashed an avalanche of unbridled hatred and scorn on Christ, Christianity, and Christians. That was when I decided that enough was enough. I silently slid out the door and quietly shut it behind me.

NO, I AM NOT ALONE
After I left, I discovered that my experience on these ExMormon boards is not unique. Here’s what others have had to say about PostMormon.org:

“I [an ExMormon] am now a mainstream Christian. Not someone [who] is very accepted on the postmormon board. So I would say unless you do not believe in God; you will not have a great experience there.”
(Lil Daisy, comment on Mormon Coffee website, June 24, 2007)

“. . . they [PostMormon.org] won’t welcome me because their communities are not about lifting up Christ. My faith is the sheer contrast. I believe in God who declares absolutes. They are angry at this conception. So it makes heart ministry to post-Mormons extremely difficult.”
(“PostMormon.org Has Come to Idaho Falls”, Heart Issues for LDS website, June 7, 2007)

If I could have one “wish” for both ExMormon.org and PostMormon.org it would be that they would exercise full disclosure on their true agenda – which appears to be to convert True Believing Mormons into True Believing Atheists.

I agree with Mormon Researcher, Sharon Lindbloom who blogged:

“I love the idea of available support for people struggling with the problems they encounter in questioning or leaving Mormonism, but PostMormon.org seems to be throwing the baby out with the bath water. Truth is freely available to all; yet the ability to know the truth is not an illusion. By embracing this ideology PostMormon.org is merely replacing one deception with another.”
(Sharon Lindbloom, “Validating Post-Mormons”, Mormon Coffee website, April 11, 2007)

SO, UNLESS YOU’RE CALLED DON’T GO!
As for me, I have left and I have shaken the dust of http://www.PostMormon.org off my sandals (Matthew 10:11-15). I advise other Christians to not make the same mistake that I did — twice.

These non-Christian, ExMormon sites are simply not safe places for people of faith! So unless God calls you there, don’t go. There are much better, healthier, safer ways to learn Mormon History and Culture than these sites. In fact, the one that you’re on right now [this is a reference to Jim Spencer’s now-defunct MazeMinistry.org website] is one of the best.

Yeah, being a theist on these Atheist Ex-Mormon boards is kinda like being on the receiving end of that.

APPENDIX: THAT WAS THEN, THIS IS NOW
If you’re wondering why my introduction was vague on when that article was first written and published it’s because I honestly don’t know. My record-keeping back then wasn’t what it is now. That said, I’m guessing that it was sometime in either 2007 or 2008. So that, of course, raises the question, what has happened in the ensuing decade both with myself and the Ex-Mormon websites mentioned in the article. The short version on these websites is that theists are still, to this day getting fried to a crisp on ExMormon.org and PostMormon.org has been down since 2017 due to being hacked. Further, both sites seem to only be shells of their past glory days now as, as of this writing, most folks have moved to the various Ex-Mormon groups on Facebook or the r/exmormon forum on Reddit. Thankfully, today’s groups seem to be less openly hostile to theists even though they’re still generally hostile to theism.

That said, the longer version is that after the above article was published, the founder of the PostMormon.org board caught wind of it and cyberstalked me onto the Concerned Christians discussion board (now also defunct) which had become my “home” after my PostMormon.org experience. He informed the audience there that I was full of it, a liar, a deceiver and that I was nothing more than a bitter, angry ex-member who was out to harm PostMormon.org because I had been offended while I was still a member there. He even went so far as to put up a post on PostMormon.org about how I had “betrayed” them all with this article. I was then demonized by the other PostMormon.org members with the most common accusation that I had really just been lurking all along so I could someday pursue my real, secret agenda – to convert them all to mainstream Christianity.

Friends, does any of this sound familiar?

If you’re thinking that it sounds very similar to what the LdS Church says about Ex-Mormons – like all those folks on the PostMormon.org board – you would be right. In the ensuing years, I have noticed that many Ex-Mormons may have physically left the Mormon Church but culturally, mentally, and emotionally they’re still very Mormon. Some even brag about and nurture this mindset. Hence, some in Mormon Studies refer to Mormon Culture as a “spectrum” that includes Ex-Mormons.

To be sure, overcoming a lifetime that includes indoctrination and acculturalization that started when the Ex-Mormon was in diapers surely ain’t easy! After all, I still see remnants of my upbringing as a good Nazarene boy bubbling up from time-to-time – and as of this writing, I’m 59-years old Calvinist and Charismatic, in many ways, the polar opposite of the Nazarene Wesleyanism of my parents. Some things, apparently, last a lifetime. However, the fact that many – no, I’m going to say most, based on my own first-hand experience – Ex-Mormons come out of the LdS Church and unconsciously project Mormonism onto mainstream Christianity despite the vast differences between the two.

There’s no greater proof of this than the fact that many long term Ex-Mormons – some who have been out of the Mormon Church for decades and who have studied mainstream Christianity from non-Mormon sources – will still take umbrage over the fact that Mormonism isn’t Christian even though it doesn’t even meet the most basic and essential criteria for inclusion in Judeo-Christianity: Monotheism.

A common, but wrong, assumption by most Ex-Mormons is that because they know Mormonism, they know mainstream Christianity too. But I will tell you from first-hand experience helping numerous Ex-Mormons transition out of the LdS Church, they don’t. Stated plainly, the LdS Church doesn’t teach members Christianity. Rather, it abuses Christian scripture, terms, and forms to teach members a bastardized, twisted, neo-pagan religion that is to Christianity what Islam is to Judaism: Two completely different and distinct religions albeit with a modicum of similarities.

Further, because Mormon Culture prefers bifurcation to nuance (“Everything is either black or white – there is no grey!” v. “There are many shades of grey.”) mainstream Christianity tends to simply be labeled “just the other side of the same bad penny” in Ex-Mormon culture. And it doesn’t help the cause when you have far too many Christian fanatics bashing the culture that these people came from with the same mindless, passion, and zeal that we see coming from true-believing Mormons. Yes, friends, mindless fanaticism is everywhere – including atheism.  But, that said,  not everyone in every religious group is a mindless fanatic. This is something that the folks on the boards in question often seemed to fail to grasp even when they themselves demonstrate the same polemic, “take no prisoners”, fanatical zeal for Post-Mormon Atheism that we’ve come to expect from Mormon Apologists.

As they say, “Different flame, same moth.”

This became more yet more evident to me over the years after my PostMormon.org experience when I discovered that the key players, moderators, and administrators (including the founders of both ExMormon.org and PostMormon.org) were board members of the Ex-Mormon Foundation. When I was new to Mormon Studies, The Ex-Mormon Foundation was a wonderful group that was committed to helping former members of the Mormon Church find support and help in their transition out of the LdS Church via resources up to and including an annual conference in Salt Lake City each year. Yes, one would find the same kind of processing of anger and bitterness that one found on the boards at these conferences, and one would find the same militant atheism among some members but disabusing people of religious faith wasn’t core to its mission. I was even a member of the Ex-Mormon Foundation for several years and supported them financially even though I never attended the annual conference. I saw it as a force for good in the world.

Then, over time I noticed that the focus of the official, public speaking agenda at the annual conference slowly transitioning from being focused solely on education on and opposition to Mormonism to public opposition to theism in general and Evangelical Christianity in particular. By the time of the Foundation’s eventual demise, each conference would feature at least one speaker who was militantly anti-religion and some conferences even featured speakers who were explicitly anti-Christian. And, I believe, not coincidentally, at the height of this disturbing trend, the President of the Ex-Mormon Foundation was a well-known Administrator on PostMormon.org.

Coincidence?

And, ironically, while all this was happening we’re being told both that neither these groups or this formerly fine foundation are anti-religion or anti-theism. Well, as the saying goes, I can’t hear what you’re saying because what you’re doing is too loud.

Friends, this is a challenge to these Ex-Mormon groups and boards to simply exercise the same kind of honesty of themselves that they so rightly and appropriately demand of others. If you’re going to be anti-religion, then fine, be anti-religion – but don’t say one thing and then do another. Don’t claim that mainstream Christianity and other religions are viable and reasonable options on the Mormon Spectrum and then take every opportunity to disabuse mainstream Christian theists of their faith should they naively wander into your Anti-Religion bashing group. If your real agenda is to turn True Believing Mormons into True Believing Atheists, fine.  Then be true to what and who you are and state it plainly and boldly upfront. Just be forthright honest so that those of us who aren’t interested in joining your gang know not to walk down your street and get mugged.  But just knock off the pretense of neutrality, please! You’re not neutral, just say it. Own it.

In the end, I have learned a lot from my hard experiences with Ex-Mormon atheist Internet groups. So when I finally started my own Ex-Mormon transition groups I explicitly included the word “Christian” in the group names and stated plainly in the group description that the profession of non-Mormon, mainstream Christianity is a requirement for membership. The group rules in these groups also politely ask members who become atheists in the course of their transition out of Mormonism to remove themself from the group. After all, a Christian group is a Christian group, right? We don’t represent ourselves as something that we aren’t and we don’t claim to be neutral, because we aren’t.

Finally, and in the end, I would hope that we mainstream Christians and Ex-Mormon Atheists could find a way to engage in peaceful co-belligerence against Mormonism. After all, history has shown us what great things can happen when folks who normally are in opposition to each other can engage in cooperation against a common enemy. That was my hope when I wrote my article back in the day, and it remains my hope today.

“History has shown us what great things can happen when folks who normally are in opposition to each other can engage in cooperation against a common enemy.” The “Big Three” at the Yalta Conference in February 1945: Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Joseph Stalin. The Yalta Conference was held after Nazi Germany was defeated by the Allies.

 

Robert Weingarten, “Jackson Pollock #1” (2007)

compiled by Fred W. Anson
The issue
“As an Evangelical, I’m being told that Charis is a reciprocal ‘covenant’ and also that Strong’s Greek is ‘outdated’. One of the sources that this LDS individual is using is Evangelical, Douglas Moo’s article, ‘John Barclay’s Paul and the Gift and the New Perspective on Paul,’ The other is Latter-day Saint, Stephen O. Smoot’s ‘Saved by Charis: A Review of “Relational Grace: The Reciprocal and Binding Covenant of Charis”’ (with thanks to Cynthia Debban Petermann and Paul Nurnberg for providing this issue clarification)

Rob Bowman’s response
It’s complicated. This claim is also being made by some non-LDS scholars, although how it is understood or applied in the NT isn’t always the same.

First, I thought Douglas Moo’s article, “John Barclay’s Paul and the Gift and the New Perspective on Paul,” was excellent.1

Second, the Greek word “charis” (χάρις) does not mean “covenant.” Nor is the word necessarily associated with a covenant, though of course, the “new covenant” in Christ has grace as a key aspect. The Book of Hebrews, which uses the term “covenant” more than the rest of the NT combined (see especially chapters 7-10), tells us that Jesus is our high priest seated on the throne of God in heaven, ready and able to give us “grace” and “mercy” with sympathy for our weaknesses (Heb. 4:14-16), having died as a sacrifice for our sins in order to save those who come to him (7:26-8:6). So we can agree that the grace of God is associated with the new covenant, for which Christ is our mediator with God.

Third, describing the new covenant as “reciprocal” requires some explanation. It is reciprocal in the sense that a covenant is a relationship between two parties, in this case, God and believers (the church, if you will, considered as one party). It is therefore reciprocal in that God expects those who have entered into the covenant to remain in it in order to continue receiving the benefits of it. Remaining in the covenant entails continuing to honor the Benefactor in order to continue receiving his generous gifts. But those gifts can never be earned. There is no payment plan for reimbursing God, our Benefactor, for the gifts of forgiveness and eternal life.

Fourth, the evangelical doctrines of salvation by grace alone and justification by faith alone do not mean that Christians are not expected to do good works. We are not saved by our works (Eph. 2:8-9), but because we are saved we do good works (2:10). Salvation consists not *only* in forgiveness of sins but also in regeneration (the new birth), the indwelling and sealing of the Holy Spirit, sanctification (being set apart or consecrated to God as his holy people), and eventually glorification in which we become sinless, absolutely holy, loving, good, and righteous people. No one can be saved who wants forgiveness without the rest of the blessings of salvation. You can’t tell God, “I’ll take forgiveness but I don’t want you messing with my life.” Let me re-post some material that I have posted on FB a couple of times in the past:

What is the evangelical view of faith and works? Let’s look at some representative statements.

First, here is Luther’s comment on Galatians 5:6:

Faith must of course be sincere. It must be a faith that performs good works through love. If faith lacks love it is not true faith. Thus the Apostle bars the way of hypocrites to the kingdom of Christ on all sides.”
The Epitome of the Formula of Concord, a Lutheran confession:
“But after man has been justified by faith, then a true living faith worketh by love, Gal. 5:6, so that thus good works always follow justifying faith, and are surely found with it, if it be true and living; for it never is alone, but always has with it love and hope.
(Martin Luther’s Bible Commentary, Galatians 5)  

John Calvin, in his Antidote to the Council of Trent:

I wish the reader to understand that as often as we mention Faith alone in this question, we are not thinking of a dead faith, which worketh not by love, but holding faith to be the only cause of justification. (Galatians 5:6; Romans 3:22.) It is therefore faith alone which justifies, and yet the faith which justifies is not alone: just as it is the heat alone of the sun which warms the earth, and yet in the sun it is not alone, because it is constantly conjoined with light.

The Westminster Confession of Faith

Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness,
is the alone instrument of justification:
yet is it not alone in the person justified,
but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces,
and is no dead faith, but works by love.
(Westminster Confession of Faith 11.2)

To conclude: Evangelicalism teaches both “faith alone” (i.e., faith is the sole instrument of justification) and “faith not alone” (i.e., faith is never alone but produces love that does good works). This is not a contradiction but merely reflects the fact that the two statements use “alone” in different ways.

This is what evangelical theology teaches.

Jesus did say, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15; see also 14:21). I think we need to take that seriously. I also don’t think it conflicts with salvation by grace alone. God’s grace saves us not only from the penalty of sin but also from the power of sin. Love and good works are the fruit of genuine salvation.

NOTES
1 Just a clarification: As I just mentioned, the article is actually by Douglas Moo, not John Barclay. Moo is discussing Barclay’s book and the scholarly context in which it was written.

About the author: 
Rob Bowman is the former Executive Director of the Institute for Religious Research (IRR). He left IRR in 2019 to pursue a career in theological research, writing, and teaching. Previously he served as Manager of Apologetics & Interfaith Evangelism for the North American Mission Board (2006-2008). For ten years Rob taught graduate courses in apologetics, biblical studies, and religion at Luther Rice University (1994-99) and Biola University (2001-2005). He has also worked with other apologetics and discernment ministries, most notably the Christian Research Institute (1984-91), the Atlanta Christian Apologetics Project (1994-99), and Watchman Fellowship in Alabama (1999-2000). Rob has spoken at over a hundred churches and at some three dozen conferences and debates. He has five years of experience hosting call-in radio talk shows focusing on apologetics, including the nationally famous Bible Answer Man show.

Rob Bowman earned the M.A. in Biblical Studies and Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary, did doctoral studies in Christian Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary, and earned his Ph.D. in Biblical Studies at South African Theological Seminary. He is the author of roughly 60 articles (e.g., in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Review of Biblical Literature, Christian Research Journal, Moody Monthly, Pastoral Renewal, Mission Frontiers, and Journal of Evangelism and Missions) and 13 books pertaining to apologetics, religion, and biblical theology, including two winners of the Gold Medallion Award, An Unchanging Faith in a Changing World (1997) and Faith Has Its Reasons (2001; 2d ed., 2006). His most recent books are Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ (co-authored with Ed Komoszewski, 2007), which received numerous endorsements from such scholars as Ravi Zacharias and Richard Bauckham, and What Mormons Believe (2012).

Rob and his wife, Cathy, have been married since 1981 and have four children, three of them still living at home.

This compilation was derived from the following Facebook discussion threads:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/1853695141544362?view=permalink&id=2072500106330530 and https://www.facebook.com/groups/PFAAS/permalink/2249032808677258.
(note this is closed Facebook group that you must be a member of in order to view group content. Click here to apply for membership in the group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/PFAAS)
It has been republished here with the kind permission of the contributors on Facebook. 

by Fred W. Anson
Patristic Studies is a specialized area of study within Religious Studies focusing on the period from the end of the Apostolic New Testament era (c. AD 100) to either AD 451 (the date of the Council of Chalcedon or to the Second Council of Nicaea in 787 depending on which Church Historian you talk to.1 It’s an area of study that few Protestants are aware of or have knowledge of. As Religious Studies Scholar Chris Welborn notes:

The Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox churches typically have held this period in higher regard than have other churches. This is not surprising, since they share many points of theology and morality from this period. These churches also claim a line of divine authority from the New Testament period through the patristic period to this day.2

So given how other churches have used Patristic Studies to establish their direct lineage from primitive Christian, it should come as no shock when Mormon Apologists do the same. As Mr. Welborn observed in an article published in 2006:

Mormons have studied patristic writers increasingly since the middle of the twentieth century so as to use them to justify their church’s claim to be the true church. In doing this, they presuppose without qualification that Mormon theology and practice are true, and that the same Mormon theology and practice that are prevalent in the present day also were normative in the New Testament period. They then examine patristic writings to find similarities and dissimilarities to their theology and practice. The similarities, they say, were a remnant of authentic New Testament belief. The dissimilarities, however, they blanketly attribute to Hellenistic (Greek) philosophy, which they suppose entered and corrupted the church after the apostles died.3

This is fully aligned with Mormon Great Apostasy dogma which Mormon Missionaries explain to investigators of the faith like this:

Without the Apostles, over time the doctrines were corrupted, and unauthorized changes were made in Church organization and priesthood ordinances, such as baptism and conferring the gift of the Holy Ghost. Without revelation and priesthood authority, people relied on human wisdom to interpret the scriptures and the principles and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

False ideas were taught as truth. Much of the knowledge of the true character and nature of God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost was lost. The doctrines of faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost became distorted or forgotten. The priesthood authority given to Christ’s Apostles was no longer present on the earth. This apostasy eventually led to the emergence of many churches.4

It’s also explained to these investigators that due to this universal apostasy a restoration of the Christian Church back to its original pristine, primitive state is required. Citing these Patristic sources, it’s asserted, is both proof of this apostasy and validation that the LdS Church alone holds the key to this required restoration.

The full image of the Origen icon from this article’s banner art.

Enter Origen
A particular favorite of Mormon Apologists seems to be Origen of Alexandria (c.184 – 253AD). The following excerpt is from Methodist, Church Historian, Justo Gonzalez’s popular and influential book, “The Story of Christianity: Volume 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation”. In it, the knowledgeable student of Mormonism will see hints of the Latter-day Saint doctrines of pre-existent spirits (all humans were spiritual beings in heaven prior to coming to earth and inhabiting a physical body), ex-materia creation (the cosmos was formed out of pre-existing matter, not created ex-nihilio – out of nothing), and universal salvation (aka “universalism”):

Origen feels free to rise in great speculative flights. For instance, since the tradition of the apostles and of the church gives no details as to how the world was created, Origen believes that this is a fair field of inquiry. In the first chapters of Genesis there are two stories of creation, as Jewish scholars had noted even before the time of Origen. In one of these stories, we are told that humankind was created after the image and likeness of God, and that “male and female created He them.” In the second, we are told that God made Adam first, then the animals, and then formed the woman out of Adam’s rib. In the Greek version of the first narrative, the verb describing God’s action is “to create,” whereas in the second it is “to form” or “to shape.” What is the meaning of these differences? Modern scholars would speak of the joining of separate traditions. But Origen simply declares that there are two narratives because there were in fact two creations.

According to Origen, the first creation was purely spiritual. What God first created were spirits without bodies. This is why the text says “male and female”—that is, with no sexual differences. This is also why we are told that God “created,” and not that God “formed.”

God’s purpose was that the spirits thus created would be devoted to the contemplation of the divine. But some of them strayed from that contemplation and fell. It was then that God made the second creation. This second creation is material, and it serves as a shelter or temporary home for fallen spirits. Those spirits who fell farthest have become demons, while the rest are human souls. It was for these human souls—fallen preexistent spirits—that God made the bodies we now have, which God “shaped” out of the earth, making some male and some female.

This implies that all human souls existed as pure spirits—or “intellects,” as Origen calls them—before being born into the world, and that the reason why we are here is that we have sinned in that prior, purely spiritual existence. Although Origen claims that all this is based on the Bible, it is clear that it is derived from the Platonic tradition, where similar ideas had been taught for a long time.

In the present world, the Devil and his demons have us captive, and therefore Jesus Christ has come to break the power of Satan and to show us the path we are to follow in our return to our spiritual home. Furthermore, since the Devil is no more than a spirit like ours, and since God is love, in the end even Satan will be saved, and the entire creation will return to its original state, where everything was pure spirit. However, since these spirits will still be free, there is nothing to guarantee that there will not be a new fall, a new material world, and a new history, and that the cycle of fall, restoration, and fall will not go on forever.5

But before you’re baptized into the Mormon Church…
So, given all that, are you ready to be baptized into the Mormon Church? Sounds like a convincing case that Mormonism is teaching restored Christianity, doesn’t it? Well, Mr. Gonzalez certainly doesn’t think so. He immediately continues as follows:

In evaluating all of this, one has to begin by marveling at the width of Origen’s mental scope. For this reason, he has had fervent admirers at various times throughout the history of the church. One must also remember that Origen proposes all of this, not as truths to be generally accepted, nor as something that will supersede the doctrines of the church, but as his own tentative speculations, which ought not to be compared with the authoritative teaching of the church.

However, once this has been said, it is also important to note that on many points Origen is more Platonist than Christian. Thus, for instance, Origen rejects the doctrines of Marcion and of the Gnostics, that the world is the creation of an inferior being; but then he comes to the conclusion that the existence of the physical world—as well as of history—is the result of sin. At this point there is a marked difference with Irenaeus, for whom the existence of history was part of the eternal purpose of God. And when it comes to the preexistence of souls, and to the eternal cycle of fall and restoration, there is no doubt that Origen strays from what Christianity has usually taught.6

And Mr. Welborn concurs. As he correctly points out regarding the Mormon use of Patristic sources:

In using patristic sources, Mormons have scoured unorthodox as well as orthodox Christian writings. Many of these Mormon scholars are competent in their various fields, but their constant motive to validate Mormonism often distorts the conclusions of their study of this period…

Certain conclusions of Mormon scholars concerning the patristic period are accurate and helpful. Their sectarian motive of trying to justify the belief that the Mormon Church is the true church, however, has led them to examine the field in an incomplete, patchwork manner. Further, in order to support their theology, Mormons sometimes have interpreted patristic works in ways that force meanings onto the texts that the authors never intended and distort the authors’ intended meanings. In such circumstances, these Mormons are predisposed to drawing faulty conclusions.7

origen

An icon of a young Origen of Alexandria holding a communion chalice containing Christ’s body and blood.

A Heretic By Any Other Name …
What Mormon scholars also often fail to consider is that even if their cherry-picked sources taught the same doctrine that modern Mormonism does, that doesn’t make it normative for that time or orthodox today. Unlike Mormonism, which tends to skew strongly toward Ex-Cathedra,8 Protestants are Prima Scriptura.9 Therefore, any Patristic teachings that contradict, or exceed, the words of canonized scripture are not authoritative, period. This is especially important because as Reformed Theologian, James R. White has often pointed out, Patristic writings are just like today’s Christian Bookstore where the works of heretics like Joel Osteen and Benny Hinn sit next to the works of Luther, Calvin, and Spurgeon. In other words, just because it’s there, that doesn’t make it true or reflective of Biblical orthodoxy. As Justo L. Gonzalez observes:

The many converts who joined the early church came from a wide variety of backgrounds. This variety enriched the church and gave witness to the universality of its message. But it also resulted in widely differing interpretations of that message. Such different interpretations should not surprise us, for at the time Christianity was still ill-defined—to the point that it would probably be better to speak of “Christianities,” in the plural. There certainly were in it varying views and emphases, as any reader of the New Testament can still see when comparing, for instance, the Gospel of Mark with John, Romans, and Revelation. But, were all the existing views and interpretations equally valid or acceptable? Was there not the danger that, within the still undefined limits of Christianity, there would be interpretations that would threaten its integrity? The danger was increased by the syncretism of the time, which sought truth, not by adhering to a single system of doctrine, but by taking bits and pieces from various systems. The result was that, while many claimed the name of Christ, some interpreted that name in a manner that others felt obscured or even denied the very core of his message. In response to such threats, what would become known as orthodox Christianity began to define itself by reaffirming such elements of its Jewish heritage as the doctrines of creation, of the positive value of the created world, of the rule of God over all of history, of the resurrection of the body—a doctrine learned from the Pharisees—and a coming final reign of God. In order to reaffirm such doctrines, it developed a series of instruments—creeds, the canon of scripture, apostolic succession—that would set limits on orthodoxy and would long remain central themes in Christian life and teaching. Thus, even those whose views were eventually rejected by the church at large, and came to be known as heretics, left their mark on the church and the way it understood itself.10

Thus many of Origen’s views were controversial in their day – heterodox to be exact11 – and very correctly declared fully heretical later. As one commentator points out:

Some of Origen’s ideas were unorthodox and put him at odds with fellow believers. For instance, Origen believed in the pre-existence of souls and that one’s status in the present world was proportional to one’s commitment to God during this pre-existence. His negative attitude toward the material world wasn’t much different than that of the Gnostics he so strongly opposed. He also considered the Trinity a ranking, not an equality, and believed that everyone, even demons, would one day be forgiven and purified by God. These claims were key to his being declared a heretic by various councils in the centuries after his death.12

He’s sure preaching somethin’… 
Of course, Origen was able to hold to heterodoxy because the type of top-down religious hierarchy that one sees in today’s Mormon Church simply didn’t exist. The Christian Churches of Origen’s day were decentralized, local, and autonomous. There was no First Presidency, Quorum of the 12 Apostles, Quorums of the Seventy, Stakes, or Wards guarding, maintaining, and enforcing orthodoxy. That very Roman Catholic invention came much, much, much later. So Origen (and other Patristic Fathers) could hold to – and even publicly preach – unorthodox views and oddball personal opinions without much, if any consequence.

Further, weakening the Mormon Apologist’s case is the fact that the Patristic Fathers were the very Church Leaders that Mormonism condemns as those who lead the pure and pristine Christian Church into apostasy after the death of the original Apostles and the end of their apostolic period. Consider this from Mormon Apostle, James Talmage:

We affirm that with the passing of the apostolic period the Church drifted into a condition of apostasy, whereby succession in the Holy Priesthood was broken; and that the Church as an earthly organization operating under Divine direction and having authority to officiate in spiritual ordinances ceased to exist among men.13

And an official, correlated LdS Church manual agrees with him:

One by one, the Apostles were killed or otherwise taken from the earth. Because of wickedness and apostasy, the apostolic authority and priesthood keys were also taken from the earth. The organization that Jesus Christ had established no longer existed, and confusion resulted. More and more error crept into Church doctrine, and soon the dissolution of the Church was complete. The period of time when the true Church no longer existed on earth is called the Great Apostasy. Soon pagan beliefs dominated the thinking of those called Christians.14

… but it sure ain’t Christianity or Mormonism!
It is both illogical and irrational to cite from the very men that according to Mormon dogma were instruments of Satan in leading Christ’s Church into apostasy as proof that your church isn’t apostate, isn’t it? After all, as the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, said so well, “Nothing less than a complete apostasy from the Christian religion would warrant the establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints” (Joseph Smith, Jr., as quoted in B.H. Roberts, History of the Church 1:XL)

So in the end, agenda-driven, confirmation bias fueled, Mormon Apologists can cite and argue from cherry-picked Patristic sources and writings all they like, it proves absolutely nothing. Further, since these Patristic sources didn’t preach modern Mormonism, by doing so they are actually undermining and discrediting it, aren’t they?

A modern icon of Origen of Alexandria teaching the Saints throughout the ages.

NOTES
1 Wikipedia, “Patristics”.
2 Chris Welborn, “Mormons and Patristic Study: How Mormons Use The Church Fathers to Defend Mormonism”;
3 Ibid.
4 LdS Church, “Preach My Gospel: A Guide To Missionary Service” (2003 edition), p. 35.
5 Justo L. Gonzalez, “The Story of Christianity: Volume 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation”, pp. 94-95. HarperOne. Kindle Edition.
6 Ibid.
7 Welborn, Op Cit.
8 A Latin term meaning “from the chair” and the basis of the Roman Catholic concept of Papal Infallibility, whereby the voice of the Pope seated on his Papal throne is the ultimate authority for defining orthodoxy for Christ’s Church on earth. The Wikipedia article is a good primer for those new to this concept: Wikipedia, “Papal infallibility”.
9Prima scriptura is the Christian doctrine that canonized scripture is “first” or “above all” other sources of divine revelation. Implicitly, this view acknowledges that, besides canonical scripture, there are other guides for what a believer should believe and how he should live, such as the created order, traditions, charismatic gifts, mystical insight, angelic visitations, conscience, common sense, the views of experts, the spirit of the times or something else. Prima scriptura suggests that ways of knowing or understanding God and his will that do not originate from canonized scripture are perhaps helpful in interpreting that scripture, but testable by the canon and correctable by it, if they seem to contradict the scriptures.” (see “Prima Scriptura”, Wikipedia)  
10 Justo L. Gonzalez, Op Cit, pp. 69-70.
11Heterodoxy in a religious sense means ‘any opinions or doctrines at variance with an official or orthodox position’. Under this definition, heterodoxy is similar to unorthodoxy, while the adjective ‘heterodox’ could be applied to a dissident.
Heterodoxy is also an ecclesiastical term of art, defined in various ways by different religions and churches. For example, in the Apostolic Churches (the Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of the East, the Anglican Communion, and the Non-Chalcedonian or Oriental Churches), heterodoxy may describe beliefs that differ from strictly orthodox views, but that fall short either of formal or of material heresy.  (see Heterodoxy”, Wikipedia)
12 GotQuestions website, “Who was Origen of Alexandria?”.
13 James Talmage, “The Vitality of Mormonism”, pp. 109-110.
14
Official LdS Church manual, “Gospel Principles” (2009 edition), p. 92.

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void.” (Genesis 1:1-2 KJV)

Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace,
whose mind is stayed on thee:
because he trusteth in thee.
Trust ye in the Lord for ever:
for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength:
(Isa 26:3-4 KJV)

by Paul Nurnberg
The Great Prologue
A pastor friend of mine has a favorite axiom that he coined: “Truth is discovered, not downloaded.” By this, he means something akin to what American novelist and Presbyterian minister, Frederick Buechner meant when he said, “All theology is biography.” In another clip, Buechner spoke of the sense we have:

That life is a plot, yes, the sense you have sometimes that life is trying to take you someplace, it’s not just — it is random events — I mean, who knows why things happen the way they happen? And you could say it’s just a sort of a farce, a black comedy, that all, that everything ends in death and dissolution. But once in a while, the sense that it was not entirely by accident that you found yourself wandering into a church at Madison Avenue and 74th Street where there was a man named Butrick who brought tears to your eyes and changed your life. You know that somehow or other something is at work in the world to take you someplace or show you some thing… Just a sense of a plot, of a shape to life.
(Frederick Buechner, “Life as a plot”, transcribed from YouTube video, Published Nov 26, 2012) 

There are several stanzas from William Kistler’s poem America February that move me deeply. It is a poem about visiting his father’s grave in middle age. Kistler writes of World War I:

Thousands are plunging through the open
door of death in fear and shock,
their souls and furthest memory lost
to the life of their bodies and falling
back across time suddenly and without harmony
as automatic weapons fire World War One lead
at uncontrollable rates. Picasso, Cocteau,
Satie and Massine are creating the forms
for the movement of the new century
in the towers and walking typewriters
of the jazz, cubist, dance-ballet, Parade.

They are gone now, the framers of the pure line
and the moving geometry of the twentieth century.

He is gone too. And though they spoke for him
in a way he did not understand and though
he lived in a commerce they could not accept
they were of the same urban, individual,
democratic freedom. Grain to our grain, but
darker more determined in their discovering
of the hidden shapes of the spirit . . . [4]

Kistler draws starkly contrasting images here; bodies — round and fully shaped — falling, cut down, while every numinous part of them, their souls and memories, are lost. They are also captive to the life of their bodies, though “they” would, perhaps, do differently? They die and fall back across time without harmony — that singing harmony of which Buechner spoke — the sense that “life is trying to take you someplace.” And of course, by “life” is meant “God.” What a place for those young men to be taken! It’s no wonder that WWI made unbelievers of so many.

“and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:2 KJV)

Kistler juxtaposes that imagery with the “pure line” sought by the Cubists. With their themes of mechanization and modern life, the Cubists nevertheless are “darker more determined in their discovering of the hidden shapes of the spirit.” It is that line and that word that I used — numinous — that now gives shape to my conception of God. It’s not lost on me that a word that conveys non-materiality gives shape to my faith. That’s the beauty. The mystery.

When I was younger, my Evangelical uncle sent our family a wall hanging. It contained a print of a painting of Jesus, after the resurrection, revealing himself to Mary Magdalene, and the text of the Great Prologue from the first chapter of John’s gospel.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
(John 1:1-14 ESV)

And the Word was God. [ . . . ] And the Word became flesh. If I were to speak hyperbolically, I might say, “Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again [ . . . ].”[5] The wall hanging was placed in our home where I saw it often. I read those lines over and over. I puzzled and puzzled until my puzzler was sore. I’d been raised on the God of Joseph Smith’s First Vision [the canonized 1838 version], which aligns well with Smith’s later teachings of an embodied God.[6] I’d imbibed at my mother’s knee the arc of the LDS Plan of Salvation that makes gods in embryo of humanity — an eternal progression from intelligences to spirit children to mortals, and finally after much obedience to gods and goddesses. This same arc it has been said was passed through by the Son of God, and the Father himself. I believed it because Lorenzo Snow’s couplet told me so. On this view, God is embodied, material, tangible — and became such as part of the necessary eternal progression to exaltation.

On John’s view, the Word was already God before the Incarnation. I wondered at such a claim. It didn’t fit the path laid before me by LDS scripture and doctrine. Later, when I was graduating high school and LDS Seminary, my stake president gave to each graduate a hardcover gift copy of The Lectures on Faith with our names gold-embossed on the front cover. As I read the teachings there about God, I became even more flummoxed in my mental efforts to reconcile John 1:1 with D&C 130:22. Lecture Fifth: The Godhead contains statements clearly demarcating a difference between the Father and the Son — The Father being “a personage of spirit, glory, and power” and the Son being “a personage of tabernacle.”[7]

The confusion was especially acute because the Publisher’s Preface in my edition says that the Lectures “consist of seven theological and doctrinal treatises prepared chiefly by the Prophet Joseph Smith (with perhaps some assistance from other brethren)…”[8] I didn’t yet know that The Lectures had once been the “doctrine” part of the Doctrine and Covenants, or that the extent of Smith’s direct influence on their content has been contested. I recognize in the Lectures now, as I do in the Book of Mormon, the Campbellite doctrine of Sidney Rigdon, an individual, with his theological training, more likely to have written the type of structured theological treatises found in the Lectures, than the unlearned farm boy who we are told could hardly compose a letter. But all of that encapsulates a decade and more of study and wrestling through my theology. Still, the Christology of the Lectures aligns better with traditional Trinitarian doctrine than with later LDS doctrine on the nature of God and man. It makes more sense of John 1:1-14.

earth-from-space

“And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” (Genesis 1:2-3 KJV)

God is Love
During late spring and summer of 1998, I was a Mormon missionary laboring in the southern part of Budapest, on the Pest side of the Danube River. I had been on a mission for over a year and had anxiety about not being a fruitful missionary. Success was measured in obedience and baptisms. The obedience part, I was certain, I had locked down, mostly. We worked hard and followed mission rules, but baptisms hadn’t come. I was doing my part! Why wasn’t God leading us to humble people who would join the LDS Church? In my prayers, I bargained with God. I set unrealistic and arbitrary goals for the number of baptisms I wanted to realize before the two years were up. I wanted converts, but not for their sake. I felt the pressure of not wanting to return to Utah without having baptized many members. That would be a failure. I didn’t want to disappoint my family or the good people in my congregation back home. Mostly, I didn’t want to dissatisfy God. When I didn’t see results from my work, I looked for reasons. If a contact ceased meeting with us, I wondered if it was because I’d hit the snooze button once before I got up and showered. I put a lot of pressure on myself, and I was sure God did as well.

My companion and I had a standing Monday night appointment with the Mission Leader in the small branch in which we served. I was a senior companion for the first time, so it fell to me to prepare a message to share with this couple. On one Monday I was preparing my message on the bus ride out to their house. I had a red pocket-sized New Testament — the kind printed for members of the military. I thumbed through the topical guide looking for passages about God’s love — I needed that message — and hit on 1 John 4:7-12. As I read through the passage, I was struck by the grammar: “God is love.” My LDS mind spun trying to understand the implications of that. It didn’t say, God has love, God loves, or God is loving. It said, “God is love.”

Partway through the trip, we had to transfer to another bus. This couple lived several kilometers to the south, and well outside the city. As we sat waiting at a bus stop, I watched people pass by on bicycles or in Trabants, and let my mind roll over that statement. How can a God who exercises judgment and wrath be love itself? The passage worked on my heart. It was a key to something I couldn’t yet grasp. My view of God at that time, though I presumed to serve Him, was not a pretty picture. I was terrified of God. Not because I had a healthy view of God’s holiness. Rather, I viewed God as eager to punish, and I worried that I fell far short of the demands my religion taught me he levied.

When I was a kid, my mom showed my siblings and me a science project with a bowl of water, black pepper, and Ivory soap. We had to check the results, so we replicated the experiment far more times than our family’s pepper and soap budget — and our mom’s patience — could bear. We would shake the pepper into the bowl until the surface of the water was covered with a black film. Then we would place a corner of the bar of soap into the water and watch as it repelled the pepper towards the side of the bowl. The way this passage of Scripture worked on me was like that — pushing aside black shadows that held my mind and heart bound to a false view of God.

As I shared 1 John 4:7-12 with that couple that night, one verse, in particular, stuck in my mind. “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” My Mormon upbringing had placed a heavy emphasis on another Johannine passage: “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15), and it is true that love of God and of Jesus leads to obedience, but the way that this was taught then in Mormon life and culture gave the impression that obedience proved our love to God.

That night south of Budapest, as the sun set, my mind was racing. We sat in their small kitchen, having eaten an amazing meal of pot roast and potatoes. Synapses and connections were firing in my mind that were radically shifting my conception of God. The translation in my Hungarian Bible was more direct than the KJV (“Herein is love, not that we loved God . . .”). The Hungarian reads something more like, “Love is not in the fact that we love God, but rather . . .” I spoke rapid Hungarian, trying to convey to my audience the new understanding I was seeing in this passage. The man and his wife could tell that I was animated, and listened patiently, but something was getting lost in translation. After several minutes of me trying to explain how this passage was moving me, the man said, “Well, I’ve never seen it that way, but it is interesting.” Then he keyed in on the first sentence of verse 12 and asked how that could be the case given Joseph Smith . . .

“And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.” (Genesis 1:4-5 KJV)

A Moral Pain and Loss
Recently, I sat speaking with a pastor who has served me as a mentor and friend. We were discussing a major upheaval that has flipped my life upside down and inside out. It is the result of moral evil; the kind that made me crave cold justice and sent my religious mind careening jarringly against the barriers of mercy. It represents pain and loss so severe that I have been left completely adrift and in free fall — in that darkest of silences within the hiddenness of God where theology rings hollow, but light, glorious light, is not overcome. Since the last time I had spoken with my friend, I’d been to an apologetics conference in Louisville, Kentucky. Dr. Frank Turek had been one of the speakers. I confessed to my friend over coffee and eggs that I had watched many videos on YouTube of Dr. Turek speaking at similar conferences, and had judged him to be arrogant and unfeeling, but that I recognized that my impression was likely colored by the click-bait style tags appended to the videos (e.g. “Frank Turek Destroys Atheist!”).

My friend listened as I recounted how I was pleased to find my impression to be misguided. Dr. Turek had told a story about a man and his sons who had questioned him at a conference in Michigan the year before. The tenderness with which Dr. Turek spoke of this man and his sons, and the backstory for their wrestling the angel showed me that he understands those who have deep and painful and legitimate reasons to ask, “If God, why evil?” In our breakfast conversation, my friend and I spoke of the Gordian Knot of determinism — either theological or material — and the implications for who is culpable for moral evil (such things to discuss over breakfast!). My friend alluded to the story I’d told him and then said something that I’ve been rolling over in my mind in myriad ways since. He said, “I don’t let God off the hook.”

Batter My Heart
A favorite band of mine, Jars of Clay, recognize that we are all culpable for evil. The lyrics to their song Oh My God nail every one of us to the cross. All are placed on equal footing in that song with regards to causing injustices — and needing relief from them. After making that point by reference to different groups of people representative of all of humanity, Dan Haseltine sings: “saviors always say” — noting that even Jesus himself cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” At 4:18, the song moves into the climax, which I find to be among the most convicting and powerful in music. Haseltine sings of the recognition that he is among the fallen while the other members of the band lift their voices in mournful, soulful praise-singing from the depths of broken, wounded, guilty souls.

Sometimes I cannot forgive
These days mercy cuts so deep
If the world was how it should be
Maybe I could get some sleep

While I lay, I dream we’re better
Scales were gone and faces lighter
When we wake, we hate our brother
We still move to hurt each other

Sometimes I can close my eyes
And all the fear that keeps me silent
Falls below my heavy breathing
What makes me so badly bent?

We all have a chance to murder
We all feel the need through wonder
We still want to be reminded
That the pain is worth the plunder

Sometimes when I lose my grip
I wonder what to make of Heaven
All the times I thought to reach up
All the times I had to give up

Babies underneath their beds
Hospitals that cannot treat them
All the wounds that money causes
All the comforts of cathedrals

All the cries of thirsty children
This is our inheritance
All the rage of watching mothers
This is our greatest offense.[9]

The questions. O, my God! The questions. I don’t have simple answers. In the face of both natural evil and moral evil, I have desired not answers, but presence. That is the beauty and the mystery of the Incarnation. Buechner said in one clip, “I used to think, as a minister, you know, you’re supposed to know the answers. That you go to somebody who’s going through a terrible time and you tell them something that’s going to make them feel better or give them something to hold onto. I’ve decided since that’s the least of what you do. You go and simply are with them.” The mystery of the Incarnation. God with us! The very concept of mystery in relation to the nature of God was neutered in the LDS teachings I received as a child and young man. I find in the Trinity and the Incarnation a beautiful mystery — the way in which God did not let even Himself off the hook. In Holy Sonnet 14, John Donne pleads, “Batter my heart, three-person’d God.” I’ve come to see the longing inherent in that line to be the key.

I love God, because he first loved me.

“And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31 KJV)

NOTES
[4] Kistler, William, “America February,” America February (Tulsa: Council Oak Books, 1991), 25.

[5] Joseph Smith — History 1:12a-c.

[6] See Doctrine and Covenants 130:22.

[7] “Lecture Fifth: The Godhead,” Lectures on Faith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1985), 59. Available online here: http://lecturesonfaith.com/.

[8] Ibid. v.;

[9] Songwriters: Charlie Lowell / Dan Haseltine / Matt Odmark / Stephen Daniel Mason; Oh My God lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, Capitol Christian Music Group.