Archive for the ‘Recovery from Mormonism’ Category

by Michael Flournoy
In my book, “A Biblical Defense of Mormonism”, I tried to downplay the importance of Joseph Smith. I wrote:

“Joseph Smith’s story is a remarkable one. It’s one which Mormon missionaries never fail to teach their investigators. Furthermore, opponents of the Church never tire of attacking Joseph’s character, and members of the Church usually feel obligated to defend him. I think it’s a waste of time.

If I went to my mother’s house for her famous green bean casserole, I wouldn’t denounce her or her specialty if I found out she used canned, instead of fresh green beans. Similarly, Joseph Smith is just a technical detail of the broader picture. A mortal man who is dead was never our central message; God becoming man and rising from the dead is our central message, along with the fact that His bride, the Church, has been restored to her former glory. We’re talking about a wedding here! Heaven forbid one of the guests should get all the attention!

I’m not trying to minimize Joseph since he played an essential role in the restoration of the gospel. Salt is an essential ingredient in bread too, but many a loaf’s been ruined because too much salt was added.”
(Michael Flournoy, “A Biblical Defense of Mormonism”, p.53)

Looking back, I see a frightened young Mormon who suspected that Joseph was involved in distasteful activities, but suppressed the truth in unrighteousness. I tried to create a choke point by defining what was and what wasn’t important to the debate.

To put things in perspective, Joseph isn’t a guest at the LDS wedding. He’s the best man. In fact, when the bride ran away last time, he’s the one who brought her back. He’s the reason the wedding is even happening. In Mormonism, Christ wasn’t appealing enough to win the bride by Himself, much less keep her from divorcing Him. He required a wingman. And this is the worst kind of wingman there is, because not only are the bride’s eyes on the Groom, they constantly glance back at Joseph. Jesus may have her hand, but Joseph has her heart.

I tried to shield Joseph from attack the same way a chess player tucks away his king. I pointed to other “weasels” in the Biblical narrative. There was Judas Iscariot, who Jesus handpicked as an apostle. There was Jonah who fled from his duty, and Aaron who built a molten calf for Israel to worship. If these men could be called of God despite their evil deeds, then God could use anyone. Arguments against the character of Joseph were irrelevant. In fact, it was preposterous to think someone had to be good to work for God.

Okay, Past Self, hold your horses. While God can use evil men to accomplish his work, that’s a far cry from what the LDS Church teaches about Joseph. He is proclaimed a prophet and must be worthy not only to receive revelation from God but to hold the priesthood keys necessary for governing the Church. The Bible makes it very clear that the works of the flesh are evil, but those who follow the Spirit will exemplify a holier set of traits. It reads:

“But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
(Galatians 5:18-23 ESV)

Simply stated, it’s erroneous to sweep Joseph’s traits under the rug and only look to The Book of Mormon as his fruit. Jesus said,

Jesus said,

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are   ravenous wolves.  You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?  So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.  A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.”
(Matthew 7:15-18 ESV)

Notice what He didn’t say. Christ didn’t say to sweep a prophet’s misdeeds under the rug. He didn’t say to ignore them when they speak heresy because they’re fallible men. And He certainly didn’t say it was wrong to criticize them even if the criticism is true. Rather, we are to call their works into question.

Granted, all believers are still sinners, and even Biblical prophets made mistakes. But if we look at the accusations against Joseph, we see someone who was anything but a saint. He was charged with treason and conspiracy to murder a former governor. He was arrested 42 times. He was charged with banking fraud and destroying a press that criticized him. He sent men on missions and married their wives in their absence. He lied about his polygamy in public and in private to his wife Emma.

Latter-day Saints denounce these claims as anti-Mormon fabrications designed to ruin Joseph’s reputation. However, the sources for this evidence are all Mormon or Mormon friendly – up to and including Joseph Smith himself in “The History of the Church” (see the online edition of  “The History of the Church” archived at BYU)

Since I didn’t argue for the character of Joseph in my pro-LDS book, it’s not my goal to argue against it here. I did argue that the First vision itself was evidence of Joseph’s prophetic calling. I wrote:

But what about 2 Corinthians 11:14 which says Satan is transformed into an angel of light? If the devil is capable of such trickery, how can we be sure Joseph wasn’t visited by Satan disguised as God? Everyone who’s served a mission has probably heard someone argue along these lines. However, the argument is Biblically unsound. In the New Testament when Jesus casts out demons, the Pharisees accuse him of casting out demons through Beelzebub, the prince of the devils. To this Christ replies, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand: and if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand?’ (Matthew 12:25-26 KJV)

Joseph Smith said when he prayed he was first set upon by a dark force before being delivered by God. Since neither God nor Satan is divided, we are left with only two options: first, that God attacked Joseph, but was abolished by Satan, or second, that Smith’s account is true and he was delivered by God.”
(Michael Flournoy, “A Biblical Defense of Mormonism”, p.57)

This is a classic false dichotomy. This whole argument assumes that Joseph was telling the truth about what happened. It’s a cleverly constructed house that lacks a foundation. The simplest explanation is the First Vision never happened. The whole event was fabricated. Joseph never saw God and was never called to restore Christianity from apostasy. In fact, Jesus promised the gates of hell would not prevail against the church (see Matthew 16:18).

My LDS self believed that the most important fruits to look at were The Book of Mormon and the restored gospel. In this series of articles, I will examine these fruits and show that Joseph brought forth false scripture, a false god, and a false gospel. But the rotten fruit of his life bears witness that Joseph Smith was not a prophet of God. It speaks for itself, despite how any Mormon Apologist or stack of books from Mormon Apologist may try to spin.

Joseph Smith was not only not God’s Prophet, according to the Matthew 7 “Fruit Test” he was clearly a False Prophet.1 And he is one of many reasons that I, once a staunch Mormon Apologist, am now an Ex-Mormon Apologist.


1 For those looking for a short, succinct, summary of the bad fruit of Joseph Smith, Fred W. Anson’s, Beggar’s Bread article on the subject: “The Fruit of Joseph Smith” is recommended.

A Position Statement by the XM-Christians Administrators

First, let’s define terms. From Wikipedia: 

“As a form of Western esotericism, the New Age drew heavily upon a number of older esoteric traditions, in particular, those that emerged from the occultist current that developed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Such prominent occultist influences include the work of Emanuel Swedenborg and Franz Mesmer, as well as the ideas of Spiritualism, New Thought, and Theosophy… The exact origins of the phenomenon remain contested, but there is general agreement that it became a major movement in the 1970s, at which time it was centered largely in the United Kingdom. It expanded and grew largely in the 1980s and 1990s, in particular within the United States.”
(see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Age

Since its inception of the Ex-Mormon Christians Facebook group (aka “XM-Christians”) back in 2015, a recurring pattern emerged with former Latter-day Saints preaching, teaching, advocating for, and asking questions about New Age teachings and practices in the group. This should have come as no surprise to us given how deeply embedded New Age doctrine and practice is in Mormonism, but it did. Perhaps we should have paid better attention when Harold Bloom, a self-styled Jewish Gnostic, explained:

“The God of Joseph Smith is a daring revival of the God of some of the Kabbalists and Gnostics, prophetic sages who, like Smith himself, asserted that they had returned to the true religion… Mormonism is a purely American Gnosis, for which Joseph Smith was and is a far more crucial figure than Jesus could be. Smith is not just ‘a’ prophet, another prophet, but he is the essential prophet of these latter days, leading into the end time, whenever it comes.”
(Harold Bloom, “The American Religion” (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), pp.99;123

To this thesis, Gnostic author Lance S. Owens noted: 

“Harold Bloom’s coupling of Joseph Smith to the Gnostic tradition has aroused animated disagreement among students of Mormonism and Gnosticism alike. Several questions crucial to modern Gnostic studies are raised by this emerging dialogue: What is the relationship of later “Gnostic” movements to classical Gnosticism? Were rudiments of the tradition conveyed to post-classical groups by historical links (oral transmissions, myths and texts); was it instead the independent product of a recurrent type of creative vision? Or are dual forces of historical transmission and primary Gnostic experience generally interdependent, even occultly linked? While Joseph Smith had historical connection with late remnants of Gnosticism conveyed by Renaissance Hermeticism and Kabbalah, his religious creation nonetheless clearly derived in large part from a personal experience.”
(Lance S. Owens, “Joseph Smith: America’s Hermetic Prophet”; Gnosis: A Journal of Western Inner Traditions, Spring 1995)

The bottom line is that New Ageism in the form of classic Gnosticism has been and is a part of Mormon from its very inception. But the question is this: How is any of this in any way “Christian”? And the answer is, it’s not. The Bible is quite clear that the type of divination, transcendentalism, and pagan rituals that we see in both the classic Gnosticism of Joseph Smith, as well as its current manifestation in the modern New Age movement, is pagan, not Judeo-Christian. In fact, God denounces these teachings and practices in the strongest terms possible: 

“There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord…”
(Deuteronomy 18:10-12, ESV, bolding added for emphasis. Also, see Leviticus 19:31; Leviticus 20:6; Leviticus 20:27, and;  Isaiah 8:19)

Consider this: Even the Book of Mormon, the very keystone of the Mormon faith, was brought forth via the occult practice of “scrying”: 

‘Scrying, also known by various names such as “seeing” or “peeping”, is the practice of looking into a suitable medium in the hope of detecting significant messages or visions. The objective might be personal guidance, prophecy, revelation, or inspiration, but down the ages, scrying in various forms also has been a prominent means of divination or fortune-telling. It remains popular in occult circles, discussed in many media, both modern and centuries old.’
(see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scrying

This is the exact type of “peeping” divination that is explicitly condemned in the Bible by name: 

“And when they [false prophets and brethren] say to you, “Seek those who are mediums and wizards, who whisper and mutter,” should not a people seek their God? Should they seek the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”
(Isaiah 8:19-20 NKJV, bracketed text based on context)

And for 4,000 plus years of Judeo-Christian History, God’s covenant people have been unanimous in their condemnation of these occult practices. Yet despite this, New Ageism has started to creep into our culture, up to and included the Christian Church:

“New Age practices have made their way into almost every area of the culture – sociology, psychology, medicine, the government, ecology, science, arts, the business community, the media, entertainment, sports, education, and even the church. Christians and non-Christians alike have been seduced to accept practices and beliefs that are clearly based on anti-Christian doctrines.

Historically, the New Age Movement can be seen as the modern revival of ancient religious traditions and practices. Its actual original roots are found in the Garden of Eden, as described in Genesis 3:4-5

‘And the serpent said unto the woman, you shall not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’

In the original lie, Satan questions God’s word and authority and, disputes that death results from disobedience, and claims that through the acquisition of secret or Gnostic wisdom man can be enlightened and can be like God. Over the centuries, this lie resulted in a variety of religious traditions and occult practices, which were already strongly condemned in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 18:9-17; Isaiah 47:9-15) but nevertheless developed in the pagan cultures. It continues to its ultimate state of development and will be revealed as Satan’s one-world system at the end of the age (Revelation 17-18).”
(“What the Cults believe”; Sunday School Notes Tabernacle Baptist Church, Ithaca, NY 14850, Summer 1999

This was reflected in a recent Pew Research that survey shows a majority of Americans now holding to varying degrees of New Age belief: 

“Most American adults self-identify as Christians. But many Christians also hold what are sometimes characterized as “New Age” beliefs – including belief in reincarnation, astrology, psychics and the presence of spiritual energy in physical objects like mountains or trees. Many Americans who are religiously unaffiliated also have these beliefs.

Overall, roughly six-in-ten American adults accept at least one of these New Age beliefs. Specifically, four-in-ten believe in psychics and that spiritual energy can be found in physical objects, while somewhat smaller shares express belief in reincarnation (33%) and astrology (29%).”
(“‘New Age’ beliefs common among both religious and nonreligious Americans”, Pew Research website, October 18, 2018)

So yes, it’s pervasive – far more pervasive than we Admins first realized back in the day. And yes it’s become and is becoming increasingly common in Mormonism. We get that now too. And yes, we have come to understand well that those Ex-Mormons coming from a New Age background can often point to their own, often dramatic, experiences in making their case for their beliefs and practices. We get that as well. But as well-known Charismatic Christian Bible Teacher, the late Derek Prince, pointed out poignantly all this is nothing but denial and self-deception: 

“Deception—not sickness, poverty, or persecution—is the greatest single danger in the end of the age. Anyone who denies his vulnerability to deception is already deceived, for Jesus has foretold it and He does not err. Our hearts are incapable of discerning truth on their own. Proverbs 28:26 teaches, “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool.” “We must not be fools by trusting our hearts. Whatever our hearts tell us is unreliable, as on their own. Proverbs 28:26 teaches, “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool.” We must not be fools by trusting our hearts. Whatever our hearts tell us is unreliable, as Jeremiah 17:9 attests: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” In Hebrew, the word deceitful is active rather than passive. The heart is not deceived; rather, the heart is a deceiver, leading you astray. 

It is also important to realize that signs and wonders neither guarantee nor determine truth. Truth is established and unchanging; it is the Word of God. In John 17:17, Jesus prayed to the Father, “Your word is truth.” The psalmist declared, “Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven” (Psalm 119:89). No event on earth, whether natural or supernatural, can change the slightest sign or letter in the Word of God. 

True signs attest the truth; lying signs attest lies. Many Christians assume that every supernatural sign must be from God, forgetting that Satan, or the devil, is completely capable of performing supernatural signs and wonders. As Paul wrote in his second epistle to the Thessalonians, 

‘The coming of the lawless one [the Antichrist] is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.’ (2 Thessalonians 2:9–12)”
(Derek Prince, “Protection from Deception”, locations 79-91, Whitaker House, Kindle Edition)

In other words, while all of us are most certainly entitled to our personal feelings, personal experiences, and personal opinions, the real question for truly Biblical Christians is always the same: What does the Bible say? For the true Christian, God’s Word is always the ultimate standard for all matters of Christian faith and life, isn’t it? 

Not our personal feelings.
Not our personal experiences. 
And not our personal opinions. 

This is just as the Apostle Paul pointedly challenges us in God’s Word: 

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
(Romans 12:1-2; 21 NKJV)

Friend, this stuff has eternal consequences, if we claim Jesus as Lord, then Jesus is either Lord, or He isn’t, right? After all, wasn’t Christ Himself clear in the Book of Revelation when He warned us about engaging in several often taught and used New Age practices: 

‘And He [Christ] said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. 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 21:6-8 NKJV) 

In end, the Got Questions website summed things up nicely when they concluded: 

“The New Age movement is a counterfeit philosophy that appeals to the feelings of individuals, leading them to think that they are God and can enhance their lives through their own person. The reality is that we are born, grow up, live a while on planet Earth, and die. Humans are finite. We can never be God. We need someone greater than we who can provide us forgiveness and life eternal. Praise the Lord for the God-man, Jesus Christ. Through His death and bodily resurrection, He has won for us what we desperately need: forgiveness from God, a life of purpose and meaning in this life, and eternal life beyond the grave. Don’t miss out on who Jesus Christ is and what He has done for you. Read John chapter 3. Ask Christ to be your Savior. Your life will be transformed, and you will know who you are, why you are here, and where you are going.”
(“What is the New Age movement?”)

So while the XM-Christians Admins are empathetic and sympathetic to the confusion that the LdS Church has created within its membership by relabeling and redefining New Ageism as “Christian”, a transition from that type of obfuscation into historic, Biblical Christianity is the goal and purpose of this group. Therefore, while we understand the inner turmoil and misunderstanding a firm affirmation of the biblical stance on these things might cause with Ex-Mormons who were heavily into Mormon New Age practices and teachings when they were members, we will, nonetheless, remain firm. And this is the boundary and stance that we will maintain in this group. 

Thank you.

The XM-Christian Admin Team

Amy Fuller
Michael Stevens
Jackie Davidson
Matthew Eklund
Rachel Miller 
Russ East
Barb Griffith
Fred W. Anson

“Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves.” (Jesus Christ, Matthew 7:15 NLT)

Recommended Reading: 
“Deceived No More: How Jesus Led Me out of the New Age and into His Word”, by Doreen Virtue
(this is the book that the recovered former New Agers in the XM-Christians group seem to recommend above all others)

“What’s New with the New Age? Why Christians Need to Remain on Guard against the Threat of New Age Spirituality” by Phil Johnson
(a good short primer on the subject)

“A Christian Response to the New Age” by John A. Saliba
(a good short primer on the subject that’s more scholarly than the Phil Johnson article)

‘Jesus Christ The Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian reflection on the “New Age”’, The Vatican
(a six-year study by the Roman Catholic Church on the New Age movement)

“New Age Beliefs Aren’t Christian, Vatican Finds”, Larry B. Stammer, LA Times, February 8, 2003
(a good synopsis of the above Roman Catholic study that is easier and quicker to read)

“Inside the box was security and safety. Inside the box was reality.”

I was first exposed to this parable via Chad Spjut’s Exmormon Foundation 2010 Conference Presidential Greeting.  I offer it to you now  in the hope that this powerful, articulate, and poignant expression of the life experience of so many resonates as deeply for you as it did for me.

by Anonymous Utahan
There once was a boy who lived all his life with a cardboard box over his head. His parents taught him that he should never take the box off, for doing so was dangerous and foolish. The box protected him from the scary world outside of it.

On the inside of the box, he could make out some letters, and he could see the outlines of the box around him. His world was brown cardboard. His parents taught him to study the inside of the box carefully, for in it was all the wisdom he needed to navigate life. Inside the box was security and safety. Inside the box was reality.

Some of his friends told him that they had taken off the box and life was much better, but he didn’t believe them. His parents made sure he stayed away from these people, who clearly wanted only to hurt their boy.

But as he grew older, he found that he kept bumping into sharp and painful objects that he couldn’t see because of the box. His parents told him that those things weren’t real, that he was safest and happiest inside the box. But each day brought more injury as he seemed to constantly run into painful things.

“Just take the box off so you can see where you’re going”, said his friends.

“No! You can’t! You’ll hurt yourself, and you might even die!” warned his parents.

After too many painful days, he made up his mind to see what was out there on the other side of the box. The light hurt his eyes briefly, but after a moment, he could see colors, and trees, and sky. It was more beautiful than anything he had ever imagined.

He looked around and saw his friends, who smiled at him and welcomed him to a better world.

And then he saw them. His parents and friends came groping toward him, boxes on their heads.

He called out to them, “Take the boxes off! You’ll see that there’s so much more out here! Trust me!”

But his parents told him sadly, “We have failed as parents. All we ever wanted was for you to be happy, and now you’ve rejected us and everything we hold dear. Please, son, put the box back on, for us. You’ll see that we know what’s best”

“But Mom, Dad, it’s so beautiful out here, and the world is full of possibilities. Can’t you just lift the box, if only for a moment? You’ll see that I’m telling you the truth.”

His parents turned sadly and told their friends, “We have lost our son. Let this be a lesson to you. This is what happens when you take off the box.”

And, turning, they groped their way slowly – away from the shining sun.

“Take the boxes off! You’ll see that there’s so much more out here! Trust me!”

(As originally published on the Mormon Expression Blogs website on July 26, 2011)

BACK TO TOP

An appeal to the translation shamers of Eugene Peterson’s “The Message”

by Fred W. Anson
For years I’ve watched as well-meaning but largely uninformed Christians have torn into Eugene Peterson’s highly vernacular translation of the Bible, “The Message”. I’m old enough to have been around when he was just beginning his work on this unique translation and loved it from the first time I saw his very first translations of the Psalms published in Christianity Today back in the day (I even clipped the very first article and tucked it away in one of my many Bibles, I liked it that much). So from before even the very first imprints rolled off the presses and hit the shelves at Christian bookstores I “got” what Peterson was trying to do – after all, he never made it any secret.

However, a whole lotta folks never seem to have bothered to try to understand, let alone listen to what Mr. Peterson himself said about the translation. The term that he frequently used to describe it is that it’s a “Pastoral Translation” of the Bible that’s intended to speak to the reader in a way that more literal, formal translations can’t and don’t. Thus, it was intended to be more a devotional Bible than anything else.

And nowhere did he express his intentions, translation philosophy, or goals better than in the Preface – you know, the one that no one ever bothers to actually read because they’re either too busy blissfully loving and benefiting from The Message or misunderstanding and publicly shaming and bashing it – typically, out of uninformed ignorance.

To use an imperfect analogy, one need only read that preface to will see that what the latter group is doing is condemning The Message for not being a Mercedes Benz when it was never intended or meant to be one. Rather, it was meant to be a Volkswagen – that is, steadfast, simple, direct, approachable, readily available, and uncomplicated. And like a Volkswagen, it was never intended to replace or compete with a Mercedes Benz, it’s only meant to complement them and fill a niche that they can’t or won’t.

Thus, whenever someone compares The Message to the many excellent tighter more formal word-for-word translations of the Bible it’s very much the same. But however you slice it, both a Mercedes Benz and a Volkswagen will get you to your destination even though the ride may be very different. Both serve a function and a niche in the market. They are designed to serve their particular audience well, and they do.  And, to stretch this analogy even further, if you’re older, more mature, and more established in life (like this author is) while your current car might be a Mercedes, is it really a problem if your first car was a Volkswagen? Your Mercedes meets you where you are today, just as the Volkwagen did back in the day.

So then, tell me, given all this why is it that well-meaning but misguided, more mature and established Christians so often translation shame fragile new Christians – like those coming out of controlling Churches, like the former members of the LdS Church that this author specializes in –  for using the Message? Why do they use insensitive language like, “You really should be using a good translation, you know!” Friend, can you feel the condescension and arrogance just dripping like acid in those words? Well, guess what, so can these often struggling baby Christians who just trying to find an English translation of the Bible that speaks to them and meets them where they’re at! They’re trying to figure out this new Christian thing that they’ve gotten themselves into and instead, they’re being Bible translation shamed by their elder siblings. No one likes being “should” on, and given where they’re at and given where they came from these folks are particularly sensitive to it. I see it all the time – and it makes me cringe all the time.

So older, more mature, and more established in the Christian faith friends, I appeal to you – no, I plead with you in Jesus’ Name – if The Message connects with someone and helps them in their walk with Jesus, please, please, please just let them be. Please!

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t recommend that they also get a more literal, word-for-word translation for meetings and Bible Studies (since The Message isn’t designed for or a good choice for those functions) but if they like the Message for devotional and other personal reading (which is specifically what it was designed for an how it was intended to be used); if they find that it meets them where they; and if they find that they’re growing in the faith through The Message in private outside of meetings, then why oh, why can’t you just let them be?  Can you find it in your heart to have a little empathy for these dear new ones in Christ, please? Be the older, wiser, more compassionate brother or sister in Christ, not the shaming, judgmental, intolerant Church Lady.

So with that introduction, it’s my hope by republishing the Preface to “The Message” in its entirety (and sharing it whenever I encounter a “The Message” basher – of which there are many these days) perhaps I can do my own small part in bringing some peace and understanding to this increasingly ridiculous situation. Friends, if you’re going to criticize something don’t you think that you should first make at least some attempt at understanding it first? And when it comes to “The Message” all you have to do to gain that understanding is simply read the preface – it’s all right there.

“The Daily Message” is the one year devotional Bible that Eugene Peterson produced using The Message as a basis. (click to zoom images)

Preface
TO THE READER
If there is anything distinctive about The Message, perhaps it is because the text is shaped by the hand of a working pastor. For most adult life I have been given a primary responsibility for getting the message of the Bible into the lives of the men and women with whom I worked. I did it from pulpit and lectern, in home Bible studies and at mountain retreats, through conversations in hospitals and nursing homes, over coffee in kitchens and while strolling on an ocean beach. The Message grew from the soil of forty years of pastoral work.

As I worked at this task, this Word of God, which forms and transforms human lives, did form and transform human lives. Planted in the soil of my congregation and community the seed words of the Bible germinated and grew and matured. When it came time to do the work that is now The Message, I often felt that I was walking through an orchard at harvest time, plucking fully formed apples and peaches and plums from laden branches. There’s hardly a page in the Bible I did not see lived in some way or other by the men and women, saints and sinners, to whom I was pastor — and then verified in my nation and culture.

I didn’t start out as a pastor. I began my vocational life as a teacher and for several years taught the biblical languages of Hebrew and Greek in a theological seminary. I expected to live the rest of my life as a professor and scholar, teaching and writing and studying. But then my life took a sudden vocational turn to pastoring in a congregation.

I was now plunged into quite a different world. The first noticeable difference was that nobody seemed to care much about the Bible, which so recently people had been paying me to teach them. Many of the people I worked with now knew virtually nothing about it, had never read it, and weren’t interested in learning. Many others had spent years reading it but for them it had gone flat through familiarity, reduced to clichés. Bored, they dropped it. And there weren’t many people in between. Very few were interested in what I considered my primary work, getting the words of the Bible into their heads and hearts, getting the message lived. They found newspapers and magazines, videos and pulp fiction more to their taste.

Meanwhile I had taken on as my life work the responsibility of getting these very people to listen, really listen, to the message in this book. I knew I had my work cut out for me.I lived in two language worlds, the world of the Bible and the world of Today. I had always assumed they were the same world. But these people didn’t see it that way. So out of necessity I became a “translator” (although I wouldn’t have called it that then), daily standing on the border between two worlds, getting the language of the Bible that God uses to create and save us, heal and bless us, judge and rule over us, into the language of Today that we use to gossip and tell stories, give directions and do business, sing songs and talk to our children.

And all the time those old biblical languages, those powerful and vivid Hebrew and Greek originals, kept working their way underground in my speech, giving energy and sharpness to words and phrases, expanding the imagination of the people with whom I was working to hear the language of the Bible in the language of Today and the language of Today in the language of the Bible.

I did that for thirty years in one congregation. And then one day (it was April 30, 1990) I got a letter from an editor asking me to work on a new version of the Bible along the lines of what I had been doing as a pastor. I agreed. The next ten years was harvest time. The Message is the result.

The Message is a reading Bible. It is not intended to replace the excellent study Bibles that are available. My intent here (as it was earlier in my congregation and community) is simply to get people reading it who don’t know that the Bible is read-able at all, at least by them, and to get people who long ago lost interest in the Bible to read it again. But I haven’t tried to make it easy — there is much in the Bible that is hard to understand. So at some point along the way, soon or late, it will be important to get a standard study Bible to facilitate further study. Meanwhile, read in order to live, praying as you read, “God, let it be with me just as you say.”
(Eugene Peterson, “The Daily Message”, Preface, Navpress. Kindle Edition)

In the foreword to “The Message Devotional Bible” Peterson continued that same Pastoral approach to scripture:

Our conversations with each other are sacred. Those that take place in the parking lot after Sunday worship are as much a part of the formation of Christian character as the preaching from the sanctuary pulpit. The small talk that happens around the ritual of putting children to sleep for the night is as sacred as the most solemn of Eucharistic liturgies.

But conversation, as such, though honored by our ancestors, is much neglected today as a form of Christian discourse. If we’re to be in touch with all the parts of our lives and all the dimensions of the gospel, conversation requires equal billing (although not equal authority) with preaching and teaching.

The conversations I would like to have with you are more casual than formal—the kinds of conversations we would have if we walked through the mountains together, stopping here and there to catch our breath. We’ll travel a lot of terrain together, some of it breathtakingly scenic, some of it ploddingly plain, and some of it precariously uncertain. Here and there along the way I’ll point out details in the biblical landscape, drawing attention to a particular word, pointing out a pertinent piece of historical background, pausing a moment to talk with you and to lead you in prayer.

With that in mind, it’s my personal joy to come alongside you in the wondrous and perilous journey that is your life and my pastoral privilege to walk with you through the Scriptures. I come as a guide as well as a fellow traveler.

Traveling mercies for us both.

Eugene H. Peterson
(Eugene H. Peterson, “The Message Devotional Bible: featuring notes & reflections from Eugene H. Peterson . The Navigators”)

And this is the reason why I love The Message, why I use it, and why I will continue to include it in my devotions – period. My “default setting” is to analyze and study scripture rather than enter into a conversation with God through scripture in my devotions. My natural tendency is to go deep into the text rather than just let God speak through the text.

So, I was challenged by a good, discerning Pastor to stop doing this during my daily devotions and simply start reading scripture experientially rather than intellectually – after all, goodness knows, that I do enough of the latter in my Religious Studies work. Reading a more literal, formal translation (such as the New American Standard Bible, the English Standard Bible, or my beloved New King James) tends to keep in that “default setting”. However, reading a high vernacular translation like J.B. Phillip’s New Testament, The New Living Translation, or The Message tends to push me out of my default setting and approach the biblical text like a conversation rather than a textbook – it skews me into a more visceral mode that for guys like me that like to live in their head can be very balancing. It works, try it.

Oh, and by the way, my Pastor was 100% right, treating my daily devotions strictly like my daily devotions, and nothing more has changed my life for the better.  We all need both bible study and daily devotions and my spiritual life was suffering from a full experience of the latter. I cycle through all good translations as I read the Bible each time through in my devotions – that means both formal and vernacular translations, and that includes The Message.

The bottom line to all this is this: The Message, though not a tight, formal translation of the Bible serves a purpose: personal devotional Bible reading. Just like a Volkswagen if it’s used within its role, limits, and purpose it’s a great resource. Yes, outside of those boundaries, it’s no longer an appropriate resource – and like a Volkswagen, The Message can and will be abused from time to time – we have all seen that. Regardless, Bible Translation shaming someone for using The Message and hating on it because it’s a Volkswagen rather than a Mercedes Benz not only makes no sense, it’s rude, insensitive, and inappropriate behavior. The very antithesis of what Jesus would do.

Perhaps no version of The Message captures the purpose, intention, and role of The Message like the Devotional Bible edition. It’s here where Eugene Peterson’s vision of the translation as “Pastoral” and “devotional” come together. (click images to zoom)

Why the Mormon god is a Seven-Point Failure

Tim Enthoven, The New York Times, November 24, 2018 (after Gustave Dore’)

by Michael Flournoy
The God of Christianity is a flawless Being of perfect righteousness. If there is one unholy speck in His countenance or one fallibility, He does not qualify as God. After all, didn’t Christ Himself say, “You, therefore, must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48 ESV)? Therefore, and again, any imperfection immediately disqualifies God from being God, doesn’t it? 

It only takes one.

This is unfortunate for Latter-day Saints, as their God has not one, but seven weaknesses that disqualify him from being the deity described in the Bible. The seven failings of the Mormon god are as follows:

One: He can Fall from Godhood
The Book of Mormon states that if God changes, he will cease to be God: 

And if there were miracles wrought then, why has God ceased to be a God of miracles and yet be an unchangeable Being? And behold, I say unto you he changeth not; if so he would cease to be God; and he ceaseth not to be God, and is a God of miracles.
— Mormon 9:19

And in Alma it then goes on to explain that if God’s justice is destroyed, He will stop being God: 

Therefore, according to justice, the plan of redemption could not be brought about, only on conditions of repentance of men in this probationary state, yea, this preparatory state; for except it were for these conditions, mercy could not take effect except it should destroy the work of justice. Now the work of justice could not be destroyed; if so, God would cease to be God.
— Alma 42:13

From the Latter-day Saint (LDS) perspective, this is only logical. After all, God was a man who earned his Godhood, and any position you earn can be taken away. When you take a possibility and spread it through eternity, it becomes a certainty. In other words, it isn’t a question of whether the Mormon god will fall, but when. 

This is not something a true believer needs to worry about. The God of Christianity has always existed as God. He is not under the authority of a “Grandfather God” or a universal law that can demote Him. Because He is secure in His position, we are secure in his promises. 

Based on a few of the weaknesses I’ll be describing, the god of Mormonism has fallen from his exaltation already. 

Two: He Sent an Unworthy Sacrifice for Sin
I expect Latter-day Saints to take offense at this charge. After all, Jesus lived a perfect life as an unblemished lamb, right?

However, in Mormon theology, Jesus didn’t just atone for our sins, he came to earn his own exaltation. They are quick to point out that Jesus never referred to himself as perfect, or complete, until after his resurrection. The implications are staggering. A being who was working out his own salvation was not qualified to work out ours. Do the math. A finite being cannot perform an infinite atonement.

Again, this isn’t a problem for Christians because Jesus was complete before, during, and after mortality. If Mormonism were true, we might have expected Jesus to say, “I am finished” instead of “It is finished.”

Three: He’s a God of Confusion
If there’s one religion that should have all the answers, it’s Mormonism. It has additional scripture besides the Bible and a prophet who receives direct revelation from God. If that’s not enough, every member is capable of hearing from God. It looks great on paper, but too many truth sources cause confusion. One might wonder why scripture and/or a living prophet are necessary at all since God talks to everyone. 

The common LDS answer is a chain of command. Yes, we all receive revelation, but only fathers can get it for their families and only prophets get it for the church. But what happens when sources of truth contradict?

What if the Bible says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (Mark 13:31 ESV) but The Book of Mormon says “…they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away.” (1 Nephi 13:26)? What if the Book of Mormon says, “Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord.” (Jacob 2:24), but Doctrine and Covenants condones it like this?

David also received many wives and concubines, and also Solomon and Moses my servants, as also many others of my servants, from the beginning of creation until this time; and in nothing did they sin save in those things which they received not of me. David’s wives and concubines were given unto him of me, by the hand of Nathan, my servant, and others of the prophets who had the keys of this power; and in none of these things did he sin against me save in the case of Uriah and his wife; and, therefore he hath fallen from his exaltation, and received his portion; and he shall not inherit them out of the world, for I gave them unto another, saith the Lord.
— D&C 132:38-39

What if the living prophet received a revelation in 2015 that homosexuals were apostates…

The newly added Handbook provisions affirm that adults who choose to enter into a same-gender marriage or similar relationship commit sin that warrants a Church disciplinary council.
(“First Presidency Clarifies Church Handbook Changes”, November 13, 2015, Official LDS Church website) 

… and in 2019 he received another revelation that they weren’t? 

… the Church will no longer characterize same-gender marriage by a Church member as “apostasy” for purposes of Church discipline, although it is still considered “a serious transgression.”
(“Policy Changes Announced for Members in Gay Marriages, Children of LGBT Parents”, April 4, 2019, Official LDS Church website) 

It almost feels like two opposing entities are fighting to control Latter-day Saint doctrine. That, or maybe humans are so incapable of interpreting revelation, that no truth sources are reliable. Perhaps God simply changes his mind from time to time. 

None of these options bode well for the LDS faith.

Four: He’s a Liar
The current LDS Church Gospel Principles manual, which is both official and correlated, has this to say about honesty in Chapter 31:

Lying is intentionally deceiving others. Bearing false witness is one form of lying. The Lord gave this commandment to the children of Israel: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour” (Exodus 20:16). Jesus also taught this when He was on earth (see Matthew 19:18). There are many other forms of lying. When we speak untruths, we are guilty of lying. We can also intentionally deceive others by a gesture or a look, by silence, or by telling only part of the truth. Whenever we lead people in any way to believe something that is not true, we are not being honest.”
(“Honesty” in Gospel Principles, 2011 edition)

The manual is absolutely right, and it condemns the god of Mormonism. According to the Pearl of Great Price, the Lord spoke to Abraham as he journeyed into Egypt.

The Book of Abraham conveys the conversation:

And it came to pass when I [Abraham] was come near to enter into Egypt, the Lord said unto me: Behold, Sarai, thy wife, is a very fair woman to look upon; Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see her, they will say—She is his wife; and they will kill you, but they will save her alive; therefore see that ye do on this wise: Let her say unto the Egyptians, she is thy sister, and thy soul shall live.
— Abraham 3:22-24 (bracketed text added to clarify context)

Technically, the statement was partly true. Sarai was Abraham’s half-sister. But the Gospel Principles manual makes it clear that a half-truth is still a lie. The LDS scriptures portray God as purposely deceiving the Egyptians into thinking Sarai was not Abraham’s wife. 

This seems like an odd thing for the most powerful Being in the universe to do. Why not promise to protect Abraham instead? Typically, we resort to lying when we feel powerless. So maybe the god of Mormonism couldn’t protect him. 

This instance with Abraham pales in comparison to the Mormon god’s Eden deception. In the garden, he told Adam not to eat the forbidden fruit lest he die. He left out the fact that he couldn’t procreate without doing so, and that by obeying he would frustrate the whole plan of salvation. 

The New Testament says:

So that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.
— Hebrews 6:18 (ESV)

If God lies, we have no reason to trust His promises. After all, you can never really know if a liar is telling the truth or not, can you? 

Wenceslas Hollar, “Abimelech Rebuking Abraham”.
An illustration of the biblical story of King Abimelech rebuking Abraham for lying to him about Sarah being his sister rather than his wife (see Genesis 20:1-16)

Five: He’s a Slave
In the gospels Jesus asks:

How can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house.
— Matthew 12:29 (ESV)

In context, Jesus is explaining that he casts out demons through the Spirit of God. The point being made is in order to subdue a strong man, a stronger man must bind him. Jesus is that stronger man. 

Here’s where things get dicey. In Doctrine and Covenants we read: I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise. (Doctrine and Covenants 82:10). In other words, we can bind God through our obedience, thus removing his ability to condemn us. The Book of Mormon states plainly that God can’t save us in our sins:

Now Amulek saith again unto him: Behold thou hast lied, for thou sayest that I spake as though I had authority to command God because I said he shall not save his people in their sins. And I say unto you again that he cannot save them in their sins; for I cannot deny his word, and he hath said that no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore, how can ye be saved, except ye inherit the kingdom of heaven? Therefore, ye cannot be saved in your sins.
— Alma 11:36-37

So whether we are good or evil, we bind God and force him to save or condemn us. If men have the power to bind God, we, mere mortal men, must be His superior. 

Six: He Relies on Evil to Exist
The Book of Mormon in 2 Nephi explains that there must be opposition in all things. Verse 13 is of particular interest:

And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin. If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not there is no God. And if there is no God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon; wherefore, all things must have vanished away.
— 2 Nephi 2:13

To summarize, if there is no sin and misery, then there is no God. This puts a whole new twist to the problem of evil where God creates evil because he needs it. We can conclude that our sins enable God to exist. And since the existence of God outweighs whatever bad things we do, we’re actually performing righteousness. However, instead of thanking us, God punishes us for sinning. Given this line of logic isn’t the LDS god is actually the evil one? 

Seven: He is Unjust
The Book of Mormon is clear that an unjust deity ceases to be God: 

Therefore, according to justice, the plan of redemption could not be brought about, only on conditions of repentance of men in this probationary state, yea, this preparatory state; for except it were for these conditions, mercy could not take effect except it should destroy the work of justice. Now the work of justice could not be destroyed; if so, God would cease to be God.
— Alma 42:13

This verse states that if mercy extends beyond repentance in this life, it destroys justice. Despite this warning, Mormonism emphatically teaches that repentance can occur in the Spirit World.

This isn’t the only way Mormon god fails the justice test. Doctrine and Covenants tells us:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, if a man marry a wife according to my word, and they are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, according to mine appointment, and he or she shall commit any sin or transgression of the new and everlasting covenant whatever, and all manner of blasphemies, and if they commit no murder wherein they shed innocent blood, yet they shall come forth in the first resurrection, and enter into their exaltation; but they shall be destroyed in the flesh, and shall be delivered unto the buffetings of Satan unto the day of redemption, saith the Lord God.
— D&C 132:26

This passage is referring to an ordinance called the second anointing where a Mormon’s “calling and election” is made sure. In this condition, mercy completely overrides justice. The anointed person can commit all kinds of sin. They can rape, steal, and deceive as much as they want, as long as they don’t kill anyone. And a world where people can participate in human trafficking and still enter the Celestial Kingdom is a world where God’s justice has been destroyed, isn’t it? 

Only the Christian view makes sense of a God who justifies the ungodly just as Paul plainly stated when he said, And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” (Romans 4:5). Our position is that Jesus was obedient on our behalf, and his righteousness is imputed to our account. Mormonism does not have the luxury of an imputation doctrine.

This leaves Mormonism’s god in a rough spot. Not only is he an enslaved liar whose sustenance is wickedness he’s also unjust. He is simply not worthy of our worship. 

Conclusion
Clearly, this is a much different god than the God of the Bible. Yet Latter-day Saints will point to spiritual experiences – such as their Mormon Testimony that’s rooted and grounded in the infamous “burning in the bosom” phenomenon as a kind of “trump card” for the above evidence that the Mormon god is a failed imposter and stay unmoved. And in doing so – even though it may be a real and legitimate spiritual experience – they fail the test that God stated clearly He would use to prove them:  To know whether they love the only true and living Lord God revealed in the Bible with all their heart and with all their soul by not departing from Him despite any experience that a seducing False Prophet might be able to manufacture or produce: 

If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, And the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Ye shall walk after the Lord your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him, and cleave unto him.
– Deuteronomy 13:1-4 (KJV, bold italics added for emphasis)

So Mormon friends, I’m here to warn you – which means that I must respectfully but firmly inform you, that if you are following this failed Mormon god, you too have failed. Stated plainly, if you are following the god of Mormonism, you have failed God’s test. You have been drawn into following another god. 

A false god. And it breaks my heart.

More than that, it breaks God’s heart too.

Gustave Dore’, “The Saintly Throng in the Shape of a Rose”
(colorized illustration from the Dore’ 1868 edition of Dante’s “Inferno”)

 

Following Jesus After Mormonism

“But there’s bear traps lying in those woods. Most of ’em already been used” (Steve Taylor, “I Just Wanna Know”)

by Fred W. Anson
This presentation, given as part of the Faith After Mormonism Conference on September 26, 2020, via webcast (due to the ongoing COVID-16 crisis) is based on the actual, real-life experience of a cross-section of Ex-Mormons who have successfully transitioned into mainstream Christianity. This is a map of where the post-Mormon bear traps lie based on their stated hard-won, real-world experience.

It also contains a treasure trove of wisdom borne out of their (often painful) Post-Mormon life experiences. The design and intent of this section isn’t to replace the Ex-Mormon’s old Mormon To-Do List with a new Evangelical version, but to invite them to learn from those who have gone before them.  This content also demonstrates clearly how while abiding in Christ may be as natural as eating, drinking, walking, and breathing, it’s not always passive.

Click the above image for the video recording of this presentation from the Faith After Mormonism Conference.

Accompanying PowerPoint Presentation

Click the above image for the PowerPoint Presentation and here for the handout. 

Supplemental Content
This is a grass-catcher collection of content that was compiled, “just in case” for the Q&A portion of the main presentation. This presentation, combined with the Main Presentation, represents a kind of mini-crash course or road map of resources and reference materials to assist in helping the Ex-Mormon successfully make a full transition into mainstream historic Christianity.

Click the above image for the PowerPoint Presentation and here for the handout. 

Bonus Content
Prior to this event, the presenter was interviewed by Russ East of KUTR “Truth Radio” on his “Passion For Christ” program. This interview touched on content that wasn’t covered in the Faith After Mormonism conference presentation and that may be of interest to transitioning Ex-Mormons.
Click here to listen to Part 1
Click here to listen to Part 2

About the Presenter
Fred W. Anson (Lake Forest, California) is the founder and publishing editor of the Beggar’s Bread website, which features a rich potpourri of articles on Christianity with a recurring emphasis on Mormon studies. Fred is also the administrator of several Internet discussion groups and communities, including several Mormon-centric groups, including two Facebook Support Groups for Ex-Mormons (Ex-Mormon Christians, and Ex-Mormon Christians Manhood Quorum).  

About the Conference
Our purpose is to provide hope and wisdom for people leaving Mormonism to explore a new faith home in historic, biblical Christianity. Through speakers, workshops, exhibitors, and individual interactions,
you will receive helpful resources and meet others on a similar journey.

The Presenter would like to acknowledge and thank the following people for their assistance in producing this presentation (in no particular order): Michael and Briana Flournoy; Tina Edgar; the Admins of the Ex-Mormon Christians Facebook Group (Jackie Davidson, Amy Fuller, Barb Griffin, and Michael Stevens); Charlotte Pardee and the Ex-Mormons for Jesus, Orange, California chapter; Ross Anderson for making all this possible; and as always, I thank my wonderful wife Sue, who not only keeps me honest and humble but even-keeled to boot!

But above all else: Soli Deo Gloria.
Thank you, Jesus, for saving a wretch like me from my own worst enemy – myself.

“And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
–Matthew 22:37 (NKJV)

by Paul Nurnberg
An Application of Textual Criticism
The year before I left the LDS Church, I received as a gift Royal Skousen’s The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text, published by Yale University Press. That first night, I read the introduction in which Skousen describes his decades of research aimed at reconstructing the earliest English text of the Book of Mormon by comparing the various early manuscripts and stripping away changes made by Smith’s scribes and later editors. It had only been a couple years since I’d been introduced to the science and purpose of Textual Criticism. Here, I was seeing it applied to a Mormon text for the first time. While I was eager to get to the resultant textual reconstruction to see what insights Skousen’s work had uncovered, I re-read the 35 pages of Introduction and Editor’s Preface that first night. It had unlocked in my mind several questions that had been sitting on the shelf of my mind for a few years, and now weren’t going to let go.

  • All of that work to arrive at the earliest English text, but to what end?
  • Aren’t there still cultural and time gaps between modern readers and the supposed ancient authors that can never be bridged due to the fact that the golden plates aren’t extant?
  • On what basis were subsequent changes to the English text of the Book of Mormon made, if they weren’t original, and there is no recourse to an original language manuscript?

As I’ve engaged with Latter-day Saints on these questions, answers have varied, but mostly those I’ve encountered have held to the idea that original language manuscripts for the Book of Mormon aren’t needed, because Skousen’s work gets us as close to the source of Joseph Smith’s inspired translation as we’re going to get. This raises a couple related questions:

  • Who was inspired, the supposed ancient authors of the Book of Mormon or Joseph Smith?
  • If both, then does Joseph Smith’s original manuscript also contain errors?

Approaching Inerrancy
Like my view of Scripture, my understanding of the concept of Biblical inerrancy was informed by my upbringing in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The title page to the Book of Mormon, which Joseph Smith said was translated from the last leaf of the golden plates, contains a statement and a warning about mistakes in the text. It reads, “And now if there are faults, they are the mistakes of men; wherefore condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment seat of Christ.”[i] Not only did the Book of Mormon’s supposed ancient authors predict how its detractors would react to it (“A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible.”[ii]), but also predicted that it would be put under scrutiny for errors and warned against rejecting it on that basis. The passage about how “gentiles” would react to the Book of Mormon had struck me as the manipulative, self-serving justification of a modern author trying to foist his own work on the world as ancient Scripture since that notion had unlocked in my mind sometime in early 1999 when I was sitting on a bed in an apartment in Budapest, but I’d pushed it aside. The title page warning now struck me as similar.

When asked why the eighth Article of Faith doesn’t contain a disclaimer for the Book of Mormon like it does for the Bible (“as far as it is translated correctly”), Latter-day Saints will often argue that it’s not needed because the Book of Mormon was translated “by the gift and power of God” so its resulting translation is perfect and exactly as God wants it. That aligns with Skousen’s work to try to identify the earliest text. Presumably, the closer Skousen gets to the original English text, the closer he gets to the perfect English text—but not to the ancient version of the text, if such were indeed to exist.

Ostensibly, both the ancient authors of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith in translating it, were inspired in what they wrote. Skousen’s entire exercise would be futile without that assumption! Why, then, does the title page contain the escape hatch it does? It suggests that despite God’s involvement if humans are involved in the production of Scripture (either in writing the original texts or in translating them with God’s help) there will unavoidably be errors.

The translation process as described by David Whitmer suggests that Smith put his face in a hat and the translation of the characters on the plates was shown to him on his seer stone in the hat, one character from the plates and its interpretation at a time, and that the next character’s interpretation would not appear until the scribe had recorded it correctly.[iii] Such a verbally inspired translation process should not have resulted in any errors needing correction by later editors, but that is not what we have with the Book of Mormon, necessitating Skousen’s work to arrive at the earliest text.[iv]

Where Christians can logically reason to the inerrancy of Scripture from God’s perfection, Mormon Theology seems to lack a robust concept of inspiration powerful enough to overcome human frailty, else Latter-day Saints would also reason to a position of scriptural inerrancy, but even the supposed inspired translation of the title page of the Book of Mormon prevents them from doing so. The Book of Mormon, from the title page to the supposed worries of its ancient prophet Moroni is rife with the concerns of a mind seeking to convince the world that what he is producing is Scripture on par with the Bible.[v]

The Helaman 1–15-16 manuscript from the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon known as “O”. The “O” manuscript contains the transcriber’s handwritten record of what Joseph Smith dictated via the infamous peep stone in the hat “translation” technique.

Flunking Inerrancy
In the first article in this series, I affirmed a belief in the inerrancy of the Bible.[vi] A friend with whom I served on the LDS Mission wrote to me to share his thoughts on my article. One of his statements reminds me of a sentiment I have seen often from Latter-day Saints. He said, “I don’t think I can ever conceive of anything as ‘God’s inerrant word.’”

As I transitioned out of the LDS Church and continued to discuss religion with others online, I found that Latter-day Saints often reacted with incredulity to the concept of Biblical inerrancy. I think this stems somewhat from what is stated in the eighth Article of Faith: “We believe the Bible to be the Word of God as far as it is translated correctly. We also believe the Book of Mormon to be the Word of God.” This ties the reliability of the Bible with the reliability of the translation, in some ways confusing what Christians are affirming when they hold to the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy. I also think it stems from the idea that human involvement in the production of Scripture necessarily entails error because as the title page of the Book of Mormon suggests, to “err is human.”[vii] Latter-day Saints come by a misunderstanding of the doctrine of inerrancy honestly.[viii]

One thing that discussing the concept of Biblical inerrancy with Mormons online circa 2010-11 taught me is that I didn’t have a firm grasp of the concept of Biblical inerrancy myself. I knew that it was something that many Evangelical Christians affirm, but as Latter-day Saints (at least one of them a Biblical scholar not just laypersons) presented me with their arguments against the concept, I often found myself either agreeing with them or flummoxed as to how to respond.

It wasn’t until I began attending a Christian Seminary, studying for an M.Div. in Biblical Studies that I encountered two clarifications that gave me solid footing for understanding the concept of Biblical inerrancy, and could see that many of the arguments made against the concept are rooted in a misunderstanding of what is being affirmed.[ix] Two clarifications that helped me to have a better grasp of what an affirmation of inerrancy entails are:

  • Infallibility (the idea that the Bible is incapable of failing) is the stronger concept than inerrancy
  • Inerrancy (the idea that the Bible contains no errors) applies only to the original text, not to later copies or translations

I affirm both the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible. Here’s why.

  • The Bible teaches that God’s word is truth (free from error)
  • The utter reliability of God’s Word has been the consistent teaching of the Church from the earliest times
    • “You have studied the Holy Scriptures, which are true and inspired by the Holy Spirit. You know that nothing contrary to justice or truth has been written in them.” – Clement of Rome, Letter to the Corinthians (between 70 – 96 CE)[x]
    • “[. . .] the Scriptures are indeed perfect since they were spoken by the Word of God and His Spirit [. . .] – Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book II, Chapter 28 (between 174 and 189 CE)
    • “For I confess to your Charity that I have learned to yield this respect and honor only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error.” – Augustine Letter From Augustine to Jerome (405 CE)

An elegant argument can be made for the infallibility and inerrancy of the Biblical autographs. One of my theology professors lays out the argument for the inerrancy of the Bible as a logical syllogism supported by the Bible’s own teachings:

  • Premise A: Every word of God is true (Titus 1:2; John 17:17; 2 Cor 6:7; Col 1:5; 2 Tim 2:15; James 1:18)
  • Premise B: The Bible is the Word of God (2 Tim 3:16; Mt 15:6; Mk 7:13; Rom 9:6; Psalm 119:105; Rom 3:2
  • Conclusion: The Bible is inerrant[xi]

Another of my favorite theologians, R. C. Sproul, puts that syllogism this way:

  • Premise A: The Bible is the infallible Word of God.
  • Premise B: The Bible attests to its own infallibility.
  • Premise C: The self-attestation of Scripture is an infallible attestation.
  • Conclusion: The Bible is the infallible Word of God[xii]

However, Sproul rightly notes that the syllogism as structured above leads to the charge of circular reasoning. The conclusion is contained within the first premise. This pre-suppositional method of argumentation is wholly a theological enterprise, and I don’t have any problems with it and can affirm it on those grounds. But it doesn’t describe how I came to trust the Bible as infallible and inerrant.

A portion of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

This, and all I have laid out in this article about the historical reliability of the Bible when compared with the Book of Mormon, is why I hold to the classical approach to Biblical infallibility and inerrancy. It also can be structured as a logical syllogism:

  • Premise A: The Bible is a basically reliable and trustworthy document.
  • Premise B: On the basis of this reliable document we have sufficient evidence to believe confidently that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
  • Premise C: Jesus Christ being the Son of God is an infallible authority.
  • Jesus Christ teaches that the Bible is more than generally trustworthy: it is the very Word of God.
  • Premise D: That the word, in that it comes from God, is utterly trustworthy because God is utterly trustworthy.
  • Conclusion: On the basis of the infallible authority of Jesus Christ, the Church believes the Bible to be utterly trustworthy, i.e. infallible[xiii]

The first premise allows for the study and wrestling that I’ve done with regard to the historical reliability of texts claimed to be Scripture. The rest of the premises argue from that to various theological positions leading to the conclusion. This classical structure marries the two facets of my religious experience: mind and heart. I can love God with my mind and be justified in loving God with my heart. It leaves room for the work of the Holy Spirit in me through my studies. It escapes base fideism and allows for the evaluation of evidence and reasoning to play its part in my religious convictions. Historicity matters!

NOTES
[i] Times and Seasons, Vol. III, No. 24, “Truth Will Prevail” accessed from http://www.centerplace.org/history/ts/v3n24.htm#943
[ii] 2 Nephi 29:3
[iii] See David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ
[iv] This problem was also identified by LDS Scholars David L. Paulsen and R, Dennis Potter in their response to Owen and Mosser’s review of How Wide the Divide: A Mormon & An Evangelical in Conversation. See their discussion of the issue as handled by Stephen Robinson on pp. 231-235 https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1408&context=msr
[v] Ether 12:23-29
[vi] Continuing the Tragic Quest https://beggarsbread.org/2019/03/03/12289/
[vii] Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism, accessed from https://www.poetryfoundation.org/articles/69379/an-essay-on-criticism
[viii] The Gospel Topics entry on Bible, Inerrancy Of states the following:

Latter-day Saints revere the Bible. They study it and believe it to be the word of God. However, they do not believe the Bible, as it is currently available, is without error.

Joseph Smith commented, “I believe the Bible as it read when it came from the pen of the original writers” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, chapter 17)…

As the Bible was compiled, organized, translated, and transcribed, many errors entered the text. The existence of such errors becomes apparent when one considers the numerous and often conflicting translations of the Bible in existence today.

So while Joseph Smith, as quoted here, explicated a view that is close to what Christians mean by inerrancy, the view argued against in this brief article from the LDS Church’s website is a straw-man. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics/bible-inerrancy-of?lang=eng
[ix] Hat tip to my theology professor and the Dean of the Seminary while I was there, Dr. Johnny Pressley, for the clarity with which he (and Dr. Cottrell) presented theological concepts. They both achieved within me a clarity of thought and enunciation of theological concepts for which I will forever be grateful and which I will forever be chasing.
[x] Most scholars date this writing to the last three decades of the first century CE.
[xi] Jack Cottrell, Solid: The Authority of God’s Word, College Press Publishing Company, Joplin, MO 1991, 40-41.
[xii] R. C. Sproul, Scripture Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine, P&R Publishing, Philipsburg, NJ, 2005, 69.
[xiii] Ibid. 72-73.

“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”
–2 Timothy 3:16

By Paul Nurnberg
Finding Hidden Books
Recently, I listened to an Episode of Mike Licona’s Risen Jesus Podcast. He was discussing three methods of approaching ancient texts that he defined as follows:

  • Methodological Credulity – One comes to the text assuming that it is reliable, that it is reporting truth until one is shown otherwise. The default position is: this text is true.
  • Methodological Neutrality – One approaches the text with an attitude of neutrality, not assuming it to be true or false. The default position is: openness to the text being true or false.
  • Methodological Skepticism – One approaches the text with the attitude that one has to be convinced that it is true. The default position is: this text is false.[1]

Having been born into a Mormon family, by default I inherited a certain view of what constitutes Scripture. More specifically, I inherited a set of books that the LDS Church holds as its “standard works” or canon. Chief among these was the Book of Mormon. That was the book that had been, according to the narrative, preserved by God, prophesied by Old Testament prophets (Isaiah 29:4; Ezekiel 37:16), and had been brought forth in the last days to convince Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ and that Joseph Smith was a prophet, like those of old.

The story — that Joseph Smith was visited by an angel and led to find a set of golden plates in a hill near his home in upstate New York — always seemed audacious to me. When I was growing up, I accepted this narrative as true — that actual metal plates had been buried in a hill which contained the history of an ancient American civilization, which had its origins in a family who left Jerusalem during the reign of King Zedekiah, and whose patriarch, Lehi, had been a contemporary of the Biblical prophet Jeremiah; and that these plates had been delivered to Joseph Smith after four years of testing his resilience, sincerity, and obedience, and that he translated the writings on the plates into English from a language called in the text “Reformed Egyptian.” I believed that the Book of Mormon published to the world in 1830 was, in fact, the Word of God — delivered by a prophet to prepare the way for Jesus’ return. Smith’s explanation for why the source text — the plates themselves — were no longer extant, seemed equally incredible to me.

I said that the story seemed farfetched to me. It did! Smith’s claims are recognizable as bold, even for one predisposed by upbringing to take an approach to them of methodological credulity. But I didn’t have any reasons when I was young to seriously doubt the narrative. Everywhere I turned there were adults I knew, loved, respected, and trusted who believed whole-heartedly in that story and the resultant text. I didn’t see compelling reasons to take a different approach than to believe what was presented. My mother believed it and her family had roots in the LDS Church that went back to the 1860s and included the leaving behind of home and family in Denmark to cross the American plains pulling a handcart — dedication to the cause. My father believed it, and he had left the Lutheran Church to join the LDS Church, subjecting himself to a lifetime of serious and sometimes heated discussions with his born-again-Christian brother. These played out over the phone and I recall often eavesdropping on my dad’s side of their conversations.

I’ve been a bibliophile from a young age. I come by it honestly. My parents built a large library of books in our home. My dad’s bookshelves had two shelves at the bottom that were behind closed doors that latched magnetically, and three shelves above that were open to view. One night while perusing his library, I found among the books that were behind closed doors, a book titled “The Book of Mormon on Trial” by J. Milton Rich. Curious, I flipped through this comic book style Mormon apologetic work. I don’t know how my dad came to have the book, but the titles of the other books that were stashed away with it in the bottom shelves taught me early the meaning of “putting something on the shelf.” I am not suggesting that the possession of books that present a defense of one’s beliefs automatically suggests that one’s faith is unreasonable or indefensible. Rather, I am describing what I learned from this experience — that faith entails reasoning through the arguments both for and against one’s beliefs.

Inside the Shrine of the Book in West Jerusalem. This museum houses the famous Isaiah scroll and other Dead Sea Scroll manuscripts dating back to 150BC.

Out of the Dust
Once when I was a teenager, during a particularly boring Sunday service, both I and my older sister ducked out to “go to the bathroom” and ended up sitting together on a sofa in the foyer. I was leafing through my quad (one thick volume that contained all of the LDS canon) and looking at the maps. The Bible had maps of the Mediterranean showing where the Apostle Paul had journeyed, but the Book of Mormon didn’t have maps. My sister told me about the conversation they’d had in Seminary about whether the Nephites inhabited all of North and South America or just a small portion. Her High School Seminary teacher always brought the goods!

My mom did family history research for others, spending long days at the Family History Library downtown Salt Lake City. During the dog days of summer, when boredom with suburban life would set in, and I’d pine for the regimen of school, and I’d often go with her. I’d walk the stacks, looking through books or drawers of microfilm, or I would find the picture books with coats of arms and practice drawing the one for Nürnberg, with its black eagle on a yellow background and red bands[2]. As a teenager, I geeked out on that historical connection to my family name. I was excited by history in general. Many of those summer days, I would go next door to the Church History Museum or walk up the hill by the Deseret Gym, past the spot where I later learned Mark Hofmann nearly blew himself into eternity, to the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers Museum.

The museums enthralled me. In the exhibits, I could see artifacts from the lives of the founders of the LDS Church and of the Mormon pioneers. Among the tangible relics, I saw the pocket watch that saved John Taylor’s life in the firefight at the Carthage Jail in Illinois, where Joseph Smith was murdered by a mob. The exhibits there connected me with my heritage in a way that both grounded me to my people and to my story.

In March of 1997, as I was preparing to leave on a mission for the LDS Church. BYU was hosting the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit, and I went to Provo to see it. As I stood in front of a long display case that held the traveling reproduction of the Great Isaiah Scroll, I listened to the self-guided tour cassette on a Walkman describe this ancient text. I learned of the import the Dead Sea Scrolls held for Biblical Scholarship because they pushed the dating for the oldest surviving manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible back by nearly a millennium. The Biblical record was indeed ancient.

Standing there on the campus of BYU, I had what I would describe as a first brush with methodological skepticism towards the Book of Mormon. I thought of the missing plates contrasted with the Great Isaiah Scroll. It was a jarring juxtaposition because the Book of Mormon uses Isaiah 29 in 2 Nephi 27 to suggest that Isaiah was prophesying the coming forth of the Book of Mormon “out of the dust.” But there I was, standing before an ancient text that actually had come forth out of the dust. It wasn’t sealed. Scholars actually could read it and compare it to the other known manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible. Differences though there may be, the process of Textual Criticism could be applied. The Book of Mormon plates were nowhere to be found, and according to the narrative, shouldn’t be expected to be discovered. Scholars could not read them.

Despite that first encounter with methodological skepticism, with my mission approaching, I knew that a spiritual witness of the book is what my church leaders prescribed. So I settled into an attitude of methodological neutrality and studied the book extensively. I didn’t then concern myself with scholarly, critical approaches to the Book of Mormon. Rather, I approached it like I hoped those I met on my mission would, I read it and prayed to know if it was true.

On a hot summer day in 1998, as a Mormon missionary knocking doors in Szeged, a beautiful university city in southeastern Hungary. One man spoke with us from his front window, seemingly uninterested. When we told him about Joseph Smith and the golden plates, he suddenly became enthusiastic and asked, “Do you want to read a real book pulled from the dust of the earth?”

My companion and I exchanged puzzled glances and the man disappeared into his house and returned a few moments later with a stack of paper. He handed it to me and said, “I got this from a friend. You can borrow it if you promise to bring it back tomorrow.”

Never one to miss the opportunity to bargain, I told him I would read his stack of papers if he would take a copy of the Book of Mormon and read it. He agreed. That night I sat on our balcony reading. The packet of photocopied material he had lent me was a translation of the “The War Scroll,” found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Each page was bisected with Hebrew script on one side and the English translation on the other. I was mesmerized by the description of the eschatological war between the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness. The packet lacked a contextual description of the work, and I was so steeped in Mormon cosmology, that I tried to make sense of what I was reading as a description of a primordial War in Heaven. The dots weren’t connecting, but I stayed up late trying to make it fit. Reading that non-canonical work from the Second Temple period was a formative experience. It helped me to see that even the evidence for a small Jewish sect could be unearthed and provide valuable historical and cultural insights into their beliefs and practices—evidence of their existence.

Throughout my two-years in Hungary, I studied the LDS Standard Works (Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, and the King James Bible). I used the LDS Institute manuals, designed as curriculum for Mormon college students, as study aids. While studying the Old and New Testaments, I was fascinated by the cultural insights the manuals provided that helped to illuminate the context of the Biblical narrative. Even the manual for the Doctrine and Covenants provided valuable 19th-century cultural context for each section in that book. As I studied through the Book of Mormon and Pearl of Great Price, however, I was troubled by the paltry size of those manuals. They contained only summaries of the narratives and teachings of each book supplemented by quotes from LDS General Authorities.

The Pearl of Great Price is only 61 pages long. It makes sense that the commentary for such a brief work would be less substantial than for the Bible. The Book of Mormon, on the other hand, claims to be an epic covering roughly a millennium of history—more when you count the Jaredite narrative—and fills 531 pages. The cultural commentary for that book should have been weighty. But it wasn’t.

By the end of my mission, I would sit on my bed during morning personal study, and daydream about becoming an archaeologist and finding the evidence that would vindicate the Book of Mormon as ancient history. When I returned from my mission, I subscribed to the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, then published by the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS). With each issue, I was dismayed as the articles would walk back from premature claims made by previous generations of Mormon archaeologists about ancient Mesoamerican artifacts such as Izapa Stela 5. While I was glad for the forthright dedication to accuracy, I began to have serious doubts about the Book of Mormon as a historical narrative about real people who existed in the ancient past.

Photo Credit: British Library

The Codex Sinaiticus was handwritten well over 1600 years ago. This manuscript contains the entire Christian Bible in Greek, including the oldest complete copy of the New Testament.

Fast forward about a decade to 2007 and I was finishing up a business degree at a small Catholic college near my home in northern Kentucky. One of the requirements for graduation was to complete a religion class. I signed up for Intro to the New Testament. The class was taught by a priest who rekindled in me the fire I had felt years before when studying the New Testament. We used “Understanding the New Testament and Its Message: An Introduction” by Vincent P. Branick as our course text. Beyond providing a cultural framework for understanding the New Testament, Branick discusses the textual issues: oral tradition and two-source theory, the “Synoptic Problem,” as well as Text, Form, and Source Criticism. I was fascinated! Why? Because the New Testament can be studied as history and as a historical text. Unbelievers argue that Jesus’ miracles, resurrection, and other supernatural elements of the narrative are hagiography, but all but the most skeptical scholars agree that the New Testament is focused on the historical figure, Jesus of Nazareth.

Taking that class was the nail in the coffin of my belief in the historicity of the Book of Mormon. One simply cannot study the Book of Mormon in historical and cultural context the way one can the Bible.[3] Although I have been charged with “trusting in the arm of flesh” because I have sought to understand the Word of God as history, and have rejected works that do not display the same traits as the Bible, the very point of the Gospel is that God acted in history to accomplish His plan of salvation.

I know in whom I have trusted to lead me in my studies. I thank God for my mind that has ever sought Him, and the Holy Spirit for teaching me in the way that He knew would be convincing to me and prepare me for the gift of a new heart. I praise Jesus, my Savior, forevermore. I can never go back. As Peter testified, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16 ESV). Historicity matters!

NOTES
[1] Risen Jesus Podcast S3E5 Methods of Approaching Ancient Text
[2] https://www.heraldry-wiki.com/heraldrywiki/index.php?title=N%C3%BCrnberg
[3] I am not convinced by Brandt Gardner’s arguments in Traditions of the Fathers: The Book of Mormon as History.

Yeah . . . that’s how the receiving end often feels to we Theists.

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 first three parts 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 Three.

2) “There’s no evidence that Jesus ever existed – it’s all just a myth like the Book of Mormon.”
Well, my atheist friends, I must tell you that scholarly consensus and the historical record both discredit this assertion – and I’m talking about hostile, extra-biblical sources and scholars. Consider, for example, agnostic Bart Ehrmann: In a National Public Radio interview for his 2012 book, “Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth” he summarized the issue like this:

I wanted to approach this question as an historian to see whether that’s right or not,” Ehrman tells weekends on “All Things Considered” host Guy Raz.

The answer is straightforward and widely accepted among scholars of all faiths, but Ehrman says there is a large contingent of people claiming that Jesus never did exist. These people are also known as mythicists.

“It was a surprise to me to see how influential these mythicists are,” Ehrman says. “Historically, they’ve been significant and in the Soviet Union, in fact, the mythicist view was the dominant view, and even today, in some parts of the West – in parts of Scandinavia — it is a dominant view that Jesus never existed,” he says…

In his book, Ehrman marshals all of the evidence proving the existence of Jesus, including the writings of the apostle Paul.

“Paul knew Jesus’ brother, James, and he knew his closest disciple, Peter, and he tells us that he did,” Ehrman says. “If Jesus didn’t exist, you would think his brother would know about it, so I think Paul is probably pretty good evidence that Jesus at least existed,” he says.

In [his book] Did Jesus Exist?, Ehrman builds a technical argument and shows that one of the reasons for knowing that Jesus existed is that if someone invented Jesus, they would not have created a messiah who was so easily overcome.

“The Messiah was supposed to overthrow the enemies – and so if you’re going to make up a messiah, you’d make up a powerful messiah,” he says. “You wouldn’t make up somebody who was humiliated, tortured and the killed by the enemies.”
(“Did Jesus Exist?’ A Historian Makes His Case”, All Things Considered, Radio Broadcast, April 1, 2012

Then there is the historical record outside of the Bible from hostile sources:1

Tacitus (55/56–c. 118 C.E.)
[N]either human effort nor the emperor’s generosity nor the placating of the gods ended the scandalous belief that the fire had been ordered [by Nero]. Therefore, to put down the rumor, Nero substituted as culprits and punished in the most unusual ways those hated for their shameful acts … whom the crowd called “Chrestians.” The founder of this name, Christ [Christus in Latin], had been executed in the reign of Tiberius by the procurator Pontius Pilate … Suppressed for a time, the deadly superstition erupted again not only in Judea, the origin of this evil, but also in the city [Rome], where all things horrible and shameful from everywhere come together and become popular.
(Tacitus, “Annals”, XV.44, Written c. 116–117 C.E., as translated in Robert E. Van Voorst, “Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence (Studying the Historical Jesus)”, pp. 42–43)

Josephus (37-c.100 C.E.)
“Being therefore this kind of person [i.e., a heartless Sadducee], Ananus, thinking that he had a favorable opportunity because Festus had died and Albinus was still on his way, called a meeting [literally, “sanhedrin”] of judges and brought into it the brother of Jesus-who-is-called-Messiah … James by name, and some others. He made the accusation that they had transgressed the law, and he handed them over to be stoned.”
(Josephus, “Jewish Antiquities”, XX.9.1. Written c. 93-94 C.E.)

“Around this time there lived Jesus, a wise man. For he was one who did surprising deeds, and a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing among us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who in the first place came to love him did not give up their affection for him. And the tribe of Christians, so called after him, have still to this day not died out.”
(Josephus, “Jewish Antiquities”, XVIII.63–64 (in Whiston’s translation: XVIII.3.3); this redacted version of The Testimonium Flavianum is from, Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz, “Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide”, pp. 65–66, after deleting the apparent, later, Christian additions to the original text.)

Lucian of Samosata (c. 115–200 C.E.)
“It was then that he learned the marvelous wisdom of the Christians, by associating with their priests and scribes in Palestine. And— what else?—in short order he made them look like children, for he was a prophet, cult leader, head of the congregation and everything, all by himself. He interpreted and explained some of their books, and wrote many himself. They revered him as a god, used him as a lawgiver, and set him down as a protector—to be sure, after that other whom they still worship, the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world…

For having convinced themselves that they are going to be immortal and live forever, the poor wretches despise death and most even willingly give themselves up. Furthermore, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they are all brothers of one another after they have transgressed once for all by denying the Greek gods and by worshiping that crucified sophist himself and living according to his laws.”
(Lucian, Passing of Peregrinus, §11, as translated in Craig A. Evans, “Jesus in Non-Christian Sources,” in Bruce Chilton and Craig A. Evans, eds., “Studying the Historical Jesus: Evaluations of the State of Current Research, 2nd impression, New Testament Tools and Studies, vol. 6”, Boston: Brill, 1998, 1994, p. 462)

Celsus (c. 176) as quoted by Origen:
“Next he makes the charge of the savior that it was by magic that he was able to do the miracles which he appeared to have done, and foreseeing that others also, having learned the same lessons and being haughty to act with the power of God, are about to do the same thing, such persons Jesus would drive away from his own society.

For he says, “He was brought up in secret and hired himself out as a workman in Egypt, and having tried his hand at certain magical powers he returned from there, and on account of those powers gave himself the title of God”’
(Origen, “Against Celsus”, 1.6, 38, as translated in Evans, Ibid, “Jesus in Non-Christian Sources,” p.460)

Pliny (c. 61–113 C.E.)
“They [the Christians] assured me that the sum total of their error consisted in the fact that that they regularly assembled on a certain day before daybreak. They recited a hymn antiphonally to Christus as to a god and bound themselves with an oath not to commit any crime, but to abstain from theft, robbery, adultery, breach of faith, and embezzlement of property entrusted to them. After this, it was their custom to separate, and then to come together again to partake of a meal, but an ordinary and innocent one.”
(Pliny, “Epistles”, X.96, as cited in Evans, Ibid, “Jesus in Non-Christian Sources,” p. 459)

Mara bar Serapion (c. 73 C.E.)
“For what advantage did the Athenians gain by the murder of Socrates, the recompense of which they received in famine and pestilence? Or the people of Samos by the burning of Pythagoras, because in one hour their country was entirely covered in sand? Or the Jews by the death of their wise king, because from that same time their kingdom was taken away? God justly avenged these three wise men: the Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea; the Jews, ruined and driven from their land, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates did not die for good; he lived on in the teaching of Plato. Pythagoras did not die for good; he lived on in the statue of Hera. Nor did the wise king die for good; he lived on in the teaching which he had given.”
(Mara bar Serapion, “Letter to His Son”, (cited in Evans, Ibid, “Jesus in Non-Christian Sources,” pp. 455–456). The phrase “death of their [the Jews] wise king” is believed to refer to Christ.) 

If you still have any lingering doubt on this matter, perhaps you’ll find the modern opinion of famous Jewish scientist, Albert Einstein on this question of some value. When answered the question, do you accept Jesus as a historical figure? This his reply: “Absolutely! No one can read the Gospels without feeling Jesus’ presence. His character lives in every word. No legend is full of such life… No one can deny the fact that Jesus existed, or that His words were enlightened. Even if some of His sayings were said before, no one expressed them in such Godly way like He did.” (Walter Isaacson, “Einstein: His Life and Universe”, p.386)

I think that it’s fair to say given the broad consensus among scholars as well as the compelling body of evidence outside of the Bible that Jesus Christ most certainly did exist as a real, historical figure. So to claim that His existence is as fatuous as comparing the Book of Mormon people to Plato and claiming that they’re equivalent.

Click the above link to see a brief explanation from Bart Ehrman as to why Jesus Christ was indeed a real, historical figure. 

1) “You’re just stupid and ignorant. Once you’re enlightened you’ll be an atheist too!”
Wow! I think that I’ve just had a flashback or have just stepped through a time warp: I’m hearing echoes of my Atheist self from bygone days. Yes, my Atheist friends, you read that right, I am a former Atheist. And I’m not alone. So, at the risk of being accused of a Gish Galloping bandwagon fallacy, you have to admit that I have some pretty prestigious (and in some cases notorious) company:2

  • Steve Beren – former member of the Socialist Workers Party (United States) who became a Christian conservative politician
  • Kirk Cameron – actor noted for his role in Growing Pains
  • Francis Collins – physician-geneticist, noted for his landmark discoveries of disease genes; director of the National Human Genome Research Institute; former atheist
  • Ray Comfort – evangelist and author.
  • Bo Giertz – Swedish Confessional Lutheran Bishop, theologian, and writer
  • Simon Greenleaf – one of the main founders of Harvard Law School
  • Keir Hardie – raised atheist and became a Christian Socialist
  • Paul Jones – musician, of Manfred Mann; previously atheist; in 1967 he argued with Cliff Richard about religion on a TV show
  • Kang Kek Iew (also known as Comrade Duch) – Cambodian director of Phnom Penh’s infamous Tuol Sleng detention center
  • Akiane Kramarik (and family) – American poet and child prodigy raised as an atheist and converted to Christianity
  • Jonny Lang – blues and rock singer who professed to once “hating” Christianity, before later claiming to have a supernatural encounter with Jesus Christ which led to his conversion
  • Chai Ling – Chinese student leader of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989; converted to evangelical Christianity in 2009
  • John Warwick Montgomery – renowned Christian apologist, Lutheran theologian, and barrister; as a philosophy major in college, he investigated the claims of Christianity “to preserve intellectual integrity” and converted
  • William J. Murray  – author and son of atheist activist Madalyn Murray O’Hair
  • Marvin Olasky – former Marxist turned Christian conservative; edits the Christian World magazine
  • George R. Price – geneticist who became an Evangelical Christian and wrote about the New Testament; later he moderated his evangelistic tendencies and switched from religious writing to working with the homeless
  • Mira Sorvino – Academy Award-winning actress who had been on Humanist lists
  • Lee Strobel – former avowed atheist and journalist for the Chicago Tribune; was converted by his own journalistic research intended to test the veracity of scriptural claims concerning Jesus; author of such apologetic books as The Case for Faith and The Case for Christ
  • Lacey Sturm – musician, former vocalist and lyricist for alternative metal band Flyleaf
  • Emir Kusturica – filmmaker, actor, and musician; although of Muslim ancestry, his father was atheist; took the name “Nemanja” on conversion in 2005
  • Seraphim Rose – Hieromonk and religious writer; in early adulthood he considered non-theist ideas of God and the Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche that God is dead; became Russian Orthodox in 1962
  • Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – Nobel Prize-winning dissident author who converted to Russian Orthodoxy
  • Mortimer J. Adler – American philosopher, educator, and popular author; converted to Catholicism from agnosticism, after decades of interest in Thomism
  • G. E. M. Anscombe – analytic philosopher, Thomist, literary executor for Ludwig Wittgenstein, and author of Modern Moral Philosophy; converted to Catholicism as a result of her extensive reading
  • Benedict Ashley – raised humanist; former Communist; became a noted theologian associated with River Forest Thomism
  • Maurice Baring – English author who converted to Catholicism in his thirties
  • Mark Bauerlein – English professor at Emory University and the author of 2008 book The Dumbest Generation, which won at the Nautilus Book Awards
  • Léon Bloy – French author who led to several notable conversions and was himself a convert from agnosticism
  • Paul Bourget – French author who became agnostic and positivist at 15, but returned to Catholicism at 35
  • Alexis Carrel – French surgeon and biologist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1912
  • Alfred Döblin, German novelist, essayist and doctor, a former convert from Judaism to atheism
  • Avery Dulles – Jesuit priest, theologian, and cardinal in the Catholic Church; was raised Presbyterian, but was an agnostic before his conversion to Catholic Christianity
  • Alice Thomas Ellis – born Anna Haycraft, raised in Auguste Comte‘s atheistic “church of humanity”, but became a conservative Catholic in adulthood known as Alice Thomas Ellis
  • Edward Feser – Christian philosopher and author, wrote The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism
  • André Frossard – French journalist and essayist
  • Maggie Gallagher – conservative activist and a founder of the National Organization for Marriage
  • Eugene D. Genovese – historian who went from Stalinist to Catholicism
  • Dawn Eden Goldstein – rock journalist of Jewish ethnicity; went from an agnostic to a Catholic, who was particularly concerned with the moral values of chastity
  • Bill Hayden – The 21st Governor-General of Australia. In 1996 he was recognised as the Australian Humanist of the Year by the Council of Australian Humanist Societies. Baptized September 2018.
  • Mary Karr – author of The Liars’ Club; Guggenheim Fellow; once described herself as an “undiluted agnostic”, but converted to a self-acknowledged “Cafeteria Catholicism” who embraces Pro-Choice views, amongst others
  • Ignace Lepp – French psychiatrist whose parents were freethinkers and who joined the Communist party at age fifteen; broke with the party in 1937 and eventually became a Catholic priest
  • Leah Libresco – popular (former) atheist blogger; her search for a foundation for her sense of morality led her to Christianity; she continues her blog under a new name, Unequally Yoked. Her blog readership has increased significantly since her conversion.
  • Arnold Lunn – skier, mountaineer, and writer; as an agnostic he wrote Roman Converts, which took a critical view of Catholicism and the converts to it; later converted to Catholicism due to debating with converts, and became an apologist for the faith, although he retained a few criticisms of it
  • Gabriel Marcel – leading Christian existentialist; his upbringing was agnostic
  • Claude McKay – bisexual Jamaican poet who went from Communist-leaning atheist to an active Catholic Christian after a stroke
  • Vittorio Messori – Italian journalist and writer called the “most translated Catholic writer in the world” by Sandro Magister; before his conversion in 1964 he had a “perspective as a secularist and agnostic”
  • Czesław Miłosz – poet, prose writer, translator and diplomat; was awarded the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, and in 1980 the Nobel Prize in Literature
  • Malcolm Muggeridge – British journalist and author who went from agnosticism to the Catholic Church
  • Bernard Nathanson – medical doctor who was a founding member of NARAL, later becoming a pro-life proponent
  • Fulton Oursler – writer who was raised Baptist, but spent decades as an agnostic before converting; The Greatest Story Ever Told is based on one of his works
  • Giovanni Papini – went from pragmatic atheism to Catholicism, also a Fascist
  • Joseph Pearce – anti-Catholic and agnostic British National Front member who became a devoted Catholic writer with a series on EWTN
  • Charles Péguy – French poet, essayist, and editor; went from agnostic humanist to a pro-Republic Catholic
  • Sally Read – Eric Gregory Award-winning poet who converted to Catholicism
  • E. F. Schumacher – economic thinker known for Small Is Beautiful; his A Guide for the Perplexed criticizes what he termed “materialistic scientism;” went from atheism to Buddhism to Catholicism
  • Peter Steele – lead singer of Type O Negative
  • Edith Stein – Phenomenologist philosopher who converted to Catholicism and became a Discalced Carmelite nun; declared a saint by Pope John Paul II
  • John Lawson Stoddard – divinity student who became an agnostic and “scientific humanist;” later he converted to Catholicism; his son Lothrop Stoddard remained agnostic and would be significant to scientific racism
  • R. J. Stove – raised atheist, converted to Catholicism
  • Allen Tate – American poet, essayist and social commentator; Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress
  • Victor Turner – A British cultural anthropologist best known for his work on symbols, rituals and rites of passage.
  • Sigrid Undset – Norwegian Nobel laureate who converted to Catholicism from agnosticism
  • Evelyn Waugh – British novelist who converted to Catholicism from agnosticism
  • John C. Wright – science fiction author who went from atheist to Catholic; Chapter 1 of the book “Atheist to Catholic: 11 Stories of Conversion”, edited by Rebecca Vitz Cherico, is by him
  • Joy Davidman – poet and wife of C. S. Lewis
  • Tamsin Greig – British actress raised as an atheist; converted at 30
  • Nicky Gumbel – Anglican priest known for the Alpha course; from atheism
  • Peter Hitchens – journalist who went from Trotskyism to Traditionalist conservatism; estranged brother of the late outspoken anti-theist and Vanity Fair writer Christopher Hitchens
  • C. E. M. Joad – English philosopher whose arguing against Christianity, from an agnostic perspective, earned him criticism from T. S. Eliot; turned toward religion later, writing The Recovery of Belief a year before he died and returning to Christianity
  • C. S. Lewis – Oxford professor and writer; well known for The Chronicles of Narnia series, and for his apologetic Mere Christianity
  • Alister McGrath – biochemist and Christian theologian’ founder of “scientific theology” and critic of Richard Dawkins in his book Dawkins’ God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life
  • Enoch Powell – Conservative Party (UK) member who converted to Anglicanism
  • Michael Reiss – British bioethicist, educator, journalist, and Anglican priest; agnostic/secular upbringing
  • Dame Cicely Saunders – Templeton Prize and Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize-winning nurse known for palliative care; converted to Christianity as a young woman
  • Fay Weldon – British novelist and feminist
  • Peter Baltes – former heavy metal musician, member of Accept
  • Anders Borg  – Sweden’s Minister for Finance
  • Julie Burchill – British journalist and feminist
  • Nicole Cliffe – writer and journalist who co-founded The Toast
  • Jeffery Dahmer – serial killer and convict who was baptized by Churches of Christ minister Roy Ratcliff
  • Bruce Cockburn – Canadian folk/rock guitarist and singer/songwriter (former agnostic)
  • Karl Dallas – British music journalist, author and political activist
  • Larry Darby – former Holocaust denier and former member of the American Atheists
  • Terry A. Davis – American computer programmer who created and designed an entire operating system, TempleOS, by himself. Davis grew up Catholic and was an atheist before experiencing a self-described “revelation”. He described the experience as seeming “a lot like mental illness … I felt guilty for being such a technology-advocate atheist … It would sound polite if you said I scared myself thinking about quantum computers.”
  • Andrew Klavan – Jewish-American writer who went from atheist to agnostic to Christian.
  • Nina Karin Monsen – Norwegian moral philosopher and author who grew up in a humanist family, but later converted to Christianity through philosophic thinking
  • Rosalind Picard – Director of the Affective computing Research Group at the MIT Media Lab; raised atheist, but converted to Christianity in her teens
  • Vladimir Putin – current President of the Russian Federation
  • Allan Sandage – prolific astronomer; converted to Christianity later in his life, stating, “I could not live a life full of cynicism. I chose to believe, and a peace of mind came over me.”
  • Rodney Stark – a formerly agnostic sociologist of religion.
  • A. N. Wilson – biographer and novelist who entered the theological St Stephen’s House, Oxford before proclaiming himself an atheist and writing against religion; announced his return to Christianity in 2009

So there it is. It’s quite a list, isn’t it? Further, given the background of many of the personalities on this list, how it is reasonable or credible to claim that true enlightenment – not to mention logic, reason, and evidence – always leads to Atheism? Are we to believe that all the personalities represented here were the type of irrational, fanatical, confirmation bias driven, evidence denying, culturally ensnared dullards that many Ex-Mormon Atheists are so quick to label all theists as? Or could it be that the body of evidence and human experience can and will reasonably lead somewhere else than Atheism?

Click above to watch former Atheist Ray Comfort’s answer to his former worldview and belief system.

Speaking only for myself, that initial rush of Atheist liberation after growing up in what I perceived as oppressive, irrational religious fanaticism (is this sounding familiar my Ex-Mormon Atheist friends?) eventually faded. And I soon found the relativism and worship of one’s own perceptions and opinions, unfulfilling, and unsatisfying. Atheism, at least for me, was like ordering a pizza and eating the box that it came in rather than the pizza itself. The rational Christianity that I chose (or perhaps better said, “choose me”) after Atheism only keeps getting richer, deeper, more satisfying, more fulfilling, more nuanced, and, yes, more rational.

The gaping hole that I found in Atheism was the lack of recognition for transcendence, wonder, or mystery in life. I knew that there had to be more than just pure, raw, logic, reason, and evidence interspersed with moments of pleasure-seeking. This was especially apparent when I experienced true romantic love and knew that it was more than just some kind of evolutionary impulse to mate bond in order to create a stable society so that the species could survive – as the atheist voices that I heard claimed. It was far deeper and far more profound than that! It was, simply stated, transcendent, even spiritual.

Thus, and stated plainly, not everything can be entirely explained by empiricism, logic, and reason – which is why, I think, many hardcore Atheists are just as likely to buy into whacky non-theistic schemes and conspiracy theories – as the Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, “Look Who’s Irrational Now”, The Wall Street Journal article cited way back in Part One of this series documented so nicely. But perhaps Atheist cum Evangelical Christian and renowned physician-geneticist, Francis Collins said it best when he said of hardcore, militant Atheism:

I think strong atheism, of the kind that says, “I know there is no God,” suffers from two major logical flaws. And the awareness of those flaws might be reassuring to believers who are somehow afraid that these guys may actually have a point.

The first of those is the idea that anyone could use science at all as a conversation-stopper, as an argument-ender in terms of the question of God. If God has any meaning at all, God is at least in part outside of nature (unless you’re a pantheist). Science is limited in that its tools are only appropriate for the exploration of nature. Science can therefore certainly never discount the possibility of something outside of nature. To do so is a category error, basically using the wrong tools to ask the question.

Secondly, I think the logical error that atheists of the strong variety commit is what English writer G.K. Chesterton calls the most daring dogma of the universal negative. I often use a visual analogy to explain this. Suppose you were asked to draw a circle that contains all the information, all the knowledge that exists or ever will exist, inside or outside the universe – all knowledge. Well, that would be a pretty enormous circle. Now, suppose on that same scale, you were asked to draw what you know at the present time. Even the most assertive person will draw a rather tiny circle. Now, suppose that the knowledge that demonstrates that God exists is outside your little circle today. That seems pretty plausible, doesn’t it, considering the relative scale? How then – given that argument – would it be reasonable for any person to say, “I know there is no God”? That is clearly going outside of the evidence.
(David Masci, “The ’Evidence for Belief’: An Interview with Francis Collins”, Pew Research Center website, April 17, 2008)

Amen Brother Collins, amen!

Click on the link above to watch Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health, former Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, describe his personal journey from atheism to Christianity when he was a young doctor and an aspiring academic.

NOTES
1 An important primary source for this section was Purdue Bible Scholar Lawrence Mykytiuk’s superb article, “Did Jesus Exist? Searching for Evidence Beyond the Bible”,  Biblical Archaeology Review, January/February 2015. For those interested in a more comprehensive treatise on this subject than was possible in a short article, I highly recommend considering this primary source – especially the endnotes which add much-needed depth and nuance to the cited historical sources and their provenance. Mr. Mykytiuk’s final answer to the question of Christ’s existence is wonderfully understated, but yet pointed, in regard to the evidence deniers: “As a final observation: In New Testament scholarship generally, a number of specialists consider the question of whether Jesus existed to have been finally and conclusively settled in the affirmative. A few vocal scholars, however, still deny that he ever lived.”

2 Wikipedia, “List of converts to Christianity from nontheism”

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 Three.

 

An Ex-Mormon Turned Pastor Responds to A Letter From the Mormon Church To Be Truthful About What Church He Actually Belongs To

The Mormon Temple in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

I grew up Mormon, and left the church while in college. Many years later I found Jesus (or Jesus found me) and today I pastor a small church my family helped start in SWFL [Southwest Florida]. Recently I received a letter from the Mormon Church instructing me to “be truthful by telling others that I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints“.

Well — I want to obviously be truthful. So below is both the letter I received from the Mormon church, and my full and detailed response.

Letter from Mormon Church

Dear Brother Culbertson,

As your new bishop, I want to start by wishing you a happy Christmas season and letting you know that I send the love of the ward to you and your family.

I am writing because it is my understanding that for some years now you have been a pastor at a church you helped found called Refuge Church. I’ve visited your website and can appreciate what you do to help bring people closer to Jesus Christ and your service to the community. On Refuge’s website you say that you “grew up mormon” and then “left all religion behind,” publicly suggesting that you no longer identify as a member of the Restored Church. Unless and until you have your name removed, if friends or neighbors ask you what church you belong to, please be truthful be telling them that you are a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am attaching a copy of your membership record. In the Restored Church of Jesus Christ what is bound on earth in heaven (See Matthew 16:19). Please understand that name removal cancels the effects of baptism and confirmation, withdraws the priesthood held by a male member (in your case, the Aaronic priesthood), and revokes the temple blessings of the member. Once your name is removed you can be readmitted to the Church by baptism and confirmation but only after a preparation process including a thorough interview.

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, if a member formally joins another church and advocates its teachings, name removal may be necessary if formal membership in the other church is not ended after counseling and encouragement. I know that members of the church have tried to reach out to you many times over the years and that your own brother is the bishop of another ward in our stake. I think at this point it is appropriate for me to invite you to send me a letter letting me know whether you want your name remove from Church records. If I do not hear from you within a few weeks I will assume you wish to remain on church records, in which case I’ll be following a different – and mandatory – procedure for these very circumstances. Please make your decision on name removal and let me know it unequivocally, in writing (a verbal request is invalid, per Church policy). Meanwhile, please let me know if there is anything that I or your ward can do for you.

My Letter in Response

This letter is my formal resignation from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and it is effective immediately. I hereby withdraw my consent to being treated as a member and I withdraw my consent to being subject to church rules, policies, beliefs and ‘discipline.’ Please remove my name permanently and completely from your membership rolls.

I walked away from the LDS church in the mid 1990’s due to considerable consideration and study.  I had been taught from birth that the LDS Church was the “one true restored church”.  I had been taught because we had a prophet, in Joseph Smith, and a prophet today, that we would be guided in “these later days”.

With the advent of the internet, I was able to read church documents and records dating back to Brigham Young and through the modern generation, documenting change after change to this “restored true and perfect church”.

These documents I read and researched were not propaganda books or documents pushed by “anti-Mormon” groups, they were archived church teachings and writings from the Prophets.  From Polygamy, to views on race in the priesthood, to changes to temple ceremonies and scriptural translations, the church was still evolving its beliefs, even though it had supposedly been perfectly restored by Joseph Smith.  This is what led to my initial walking away from the LDS church.

As time progressed, jaded now against all religion, thinking of it simply as a coping mechanism for death for naïve people, I didn’t give my personal faith much thought.  Then one day, around 2003, I begrudgingly visited a local church here in SWFL.  My wife and I (and new daughter) were new to town and thought maybe we could at least make some “nice” friends.

As the pastor spoke, I debated everything he said, using what I’d been taught in Mormonism.  I still knew all the come backs.  All the reasons the Christians were wrong.  I still felt that sense of arrogance.  Of how “cheap” the grace he taught about seemed.

Over the course of the next year though, I continued to go, listen … and MOST importantly, I finally opened the Bible and began to read it for myself.  As I read through books like the Gospel of John, I found a different Jesus than the one I’d been exposed to through Mormonism.  That Jesus was with God in beginning, and we were not. That there is ONE GOD, in three persons, Father, Son, Holy Spirit.

I discovered that grace didn’t come “after all we could do”, but grace upon grace was available.  That there was nothing we could do to save ourselves.  That there is no ladder we needed to climb to God.  That John teaches about God’s descension to us, not our ascension to him.

I learned that Jesus destroyed the temple and rebuilt it.  He did not rebuild it as one of those beautiful buildings the LDS uses today and calls Temples, but that when we are born again (as Jesus refers to our being remade process in John 3), we become the residing place of God.  We become His temple.  We no longer needed a prophet.  We no longer needed temples.

I read through the Epistles, in particular Paul’s letter to the Romans and found a new kind of appreciation for the depth of my (and all of humanities) depravity and our inability to do ANYTHING about it.  Yet I found hope beyond hope, that for those in Christ there is no condemnation.  That Jesus set us free.  Free from striving, and working, and temple recommends, and dress codes.  Free from wearing masks.

I read Galatians, that made is so clear that what Joseph Smith did was a twisting and perversion of the gospel just like Paul warned about.  That anytime we add works on top of the finished work of Jesus Christ, it is not the Gospel.  That we are made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law, or gotten married in a temple, or received the Melchizedek priesthood.

I read the Old Testament (which is still hard to read), but I began to see that even those hard, difficult stories pointed us to Jesus.  That the Bible isn’t about me, and what I must do … but about God and what He has done.

I write to you today, and I bear you my testimony, that I believe, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the Mormon church is a perversion of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.  That the Book of Mormon is a fraud.  That Joseph Smith was never a prophet of God.

I believe that there is this ONE infinite, Holy, perfect, almighty, creator God in three persons that created ALL things for His glory.  I believe human beings, have all sinned against God, fall far short of his glory. I believe that the wage of that sin is death.

I believe God, being just and right and Holy, cannot stand for sin.  That we cannot enter His presence in our corrupted state.  Yet He desires to be with us; to reconcile with us.

I believe He sent Christ in the flesh to pay for our sin, to take the punishment we deserved.  He suffered.  He died.  I believe God raised him to life, and now being rich in mercy, because of His great love for us, makes us alive together with Christ, saving us by grace through faith alone.

I believe in the admonition of Paul that says  …If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, YOU WILL BE SAVED.  (Rm 10:9)

That’s my testimony.  I can’t imagine the cost of the Gospel. I can’t fathom the cost of our sin.  The cost of God saving me, Brian Culbertson.  It’s so high. That’s why I also can’t fathom an All-Knowing, All-Powerful God, who would pay that cost … and then allow the truth to be removed from the earth for 1700+ years, only to then finally be “restored”.

As I studied the Bible and came to understand that it wasn’t a book about me, rather a book about the true hero (Jesus), I gave my life to Him in 2005 and became a child of God.

I remember as a kid singing that primary song “I am a child of God, and so my needs are great.  Help me to understand his words, before it grows to late.  Lead me, guide me, walk beside me, help me find the way. Teach me all that I must do, to live with him someday.”  

The list of “all that I must do” was pretty long as I remember in the Mormon Church.  But I had missed that all I must do was REST.  Rest in the arms of a Savior; put my life, my hope, my eternity into the hands of the one who already did EVERYTHING.

Today, I am the full-time lead pastor at Refuge.Church in Fort Myers (www.refuge.church).  I do this for no pay.  I do it out of no obligation.  I do it only because I’ve FINALLY found the one true pearl of great price and I want to share it with anyone who will listen.

My encouragement to you, and to others (Christian, Mormon, Atheist, etc) read your Bible.  Read it like a child reading it for the first time. Allow God to speak to you.  Remove your filters.  Stop using it as a tool to justify what you already believe. Instead, read it to see what it actually says.  Be honest with yourself.  Be honest with God.  Seek the truth.  Then Jesus says “and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you FREE.”  (John 8:32)

I understand what you consider the ‘seriousness’ and the ‘consequences’ of my actions. I am aware that the Church Handbook says that my resignation “cancels the effects of baptism and confirmation…and revokes temple blessings.”

My resignation should be processed immediately, without any ‘waiting periods.’ I am not going to be dissuaded or change my mind.  I would like a letter of confirmation so that I know that I am no longer listed as a member of your church.

Lastly, I pray that this letter begins a new search in your heart Daniel.  You will be in my continued prayers.  If you have a free Saturday night, feel free to drop by Refuge for a visit.  You’ll always be welcome and loved.

About the Author
Brian Culbertson is a Teaching Pastor of Refuge Church in Fort Meyers, Florida. His full autobiography from the church website can be found by clicking here

This article was originally published on the Refuge.Church website on January 27, 2019. It has been republished here with the kind permission of the author and Refuge.Church.