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Mosser and Owen Address Some Concerns

The following messages were posted to AR-vent, the companion list to AR-talk. (While AR-talk is meant for the sharing of apologetics research resources, AR-vent allows for extended discussions.)

These messages are part of a thread on how some Mormons misuse the paper by Mosser and Owen to discredit certain authors.

Paul Owen and Carl Mosser addressed these and others concerns.

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Subject: [ar-vent] Re: Mosser and Owen
From: webmaster@apologeticsindex.org (Anton Hein)
To: "An extended discussion area for AR-talk members."
Date: Tue, 01 Dec 1998 18:05:44 GMT

On Tue, 1 Dec 1998 10:09:25 +0000 Paul OWEN wrote:

>go. But he fails to complete the picture by interacting with more
>scholarly and carefully stated presentations of the Mormon doctrine
>of God; and he tends to present LDS theism in a monolithic way,
>failing to recognize the genuine theological diversity which a largely
>non-creedal religion such as Mormonism allows for.

Paul and Carl:

I audit the Walter Martin mailing list and see your paper "Mormon Apologetic, Scholarship and Evangelical Neglect: Losing the Battle and Not Knowing It?" being (mis)used to discredit a number of authors and books. This is taking place on other mailing lists as well. Thus, while I see replies from some very competent lay apologists, what is happening reminds me of when the Israelites had to make bricks without straw...

In one representative message I just checked, a Mormon cites comments from your paper regarding the Tanners, James White, John Ankerberg and John Weldon.

He includes the part where you describe one book by saying:

This book, in our estimation is among the ugliest, most unchristian, and misleading polemics in print.

and he concludes with this quote:

A third conclusion we have come to is that currently there are, as far as we are aware, no books from an evangelical perspective that reasonably interact with contemporary LDS scholarly and apologetic writings. In a survey of twenty recent evangelical books criticizing Mormonism we found that none interact with this growing body of literature. Only a handful demonstrate any awareness of pertinent works. Many of the authors promote criticisms that have long been refuted; some are sensationalistic while others are simply ridiculous. A number of books claim to be 'the definitive" book on the matter. That they make no attempt to interact with contemporary LDS scholarship is a stain upon the authors' integrity and causes one to wonder about their credibility.

Therefore I have some questions:

1) Will you be writing and publishing the kind of book you have not been able to find?

2) If not - or in the meantime - what advice do have for lay apologists who interact with Mormons? What books should they read? Where should they go for material that answers contemporary LDS scholarship? How can they find out which criticisms have been refuted, and which ones are yet to be answered?

3) How would you answer those who use your paper to discredit authors many lay apologists rely on? (I realize that some of these guys argue along the lines of 'Walter Martin wore the wrong kind of socks, so you can't trust his books.')

4) Have you considered answering some of the Mormons who use your paper yourselves. A good place to do so is the Walter Martin list:

To "subscribe" send an email message to majordomo@list.serve.com with the words "subscribe waltermartin" in the body of the message.

I am not looking for a discussion on the merits of the authors and books mentioned. What I am concerned about is this: when you tell someone he is using the wrong tools, it would be helpful if you showed him which tools to use instead...

Blessings,

Anton


Subject: [ar-vent] Re: Mosser and Owen
From: "Paul OWEN" <9753633@bute.sms.ed.ac.uk>
To: "An extended discussion area for AR-talk members."
Date: Tue, 1 Dec 1998 18:47:06 +0000

> 1) Will you be writing and publishing the kind of book you have not been > able to find?

We hope that several such works will be forthcoming in the next few years. In the meanwhile, I would refer you to Carl and my critique of How Wide the Divide?, which will be published in the next issue of the FARMS Review of Books. It provides a model of the sort of interaction we are calling for.

> 2) If not - or in the meantime - what advice do have for lay apologists
> who interact with Mormons? What books should they read? Where should
> they go for material that answers contemporary LDS scholarship?

My advice for most lay apologists is that they spend more time and money in LDS bookstores, buying Mormon material. If you want to know how Mormons defend their faith, and what they believe, you need to read LDS literature. As it is, there are very few Christian authors I would recommend, apart from the Tanners, the late Wesley Walters, and Beckwith and Parrish.

> 3) How would you answer those who use your paper to discredit authors
> many lay apologists rely on?

For the most part, I wouldn't answer much at all. Many of the authors you probably have in mind have already discredited themselves through their sloppy research, straw-man argumentation, and lousy attitudes.

> 4) Have you considered answering some of the Mormons who use your paper
> yourselves.

Carl and I have already done this on a few occasions. But for the most part we just ignore them.

>when you tell someone he is
> using the wrong tools, it would be helpful if you showed him which tools
> to use instead...

A point well taken. I only wish there were more reliable tools we could recommend.

Paul Owen


Subject: [ar-vent] Re: Mosser and Owen
From: webmaster@apologeticsindex.org (Anton Hein)
To: "An extended discussion area for AR-talk members."
Date: Thu, 03 Dec 1998 18:34:08 GMT

On Tue, 1 Dec 1998 18:47:06 +0000 Paul OWEN wrote:

>We hope that several such works will be forthcoming in the next
>few years. In the meanwhile, I would refer you to Carl and my
>critique of How Wide the Divide?, which will be published in the
>next issue of the FARMS Review of Books. It provides a model of
>the sort of interaction we are calling for.

I look forward to any books you and Carl will publish.

I'm not quite looking for a review, though, but for indepth material that lay apologists can use when interacting with Mormons.

As an aside: what is the reason that your review is being published by FARMS instead of a Christian publisher?

>My advice for most lay apologists is that they spend more time and
>money in LDS bookstores, buying Mormon material. If you want to
>know how Mormons defend their faith, and what they believe, you
>need to read LDS literature. As it is, there are very few Christian

This I agree with. That's one reason why in Apologetics Index I link to pro- and contra sites.

Problem is, there are lots of lay apologists who have more drive than ability (or, perhaps, discipline). My are just starting to learn about apologetics and counter-cult ministry, and need good teachers whose work they can rely on.

>authors I would recommend, apart from the Tanners, the late
>Wesley Walters, and Beckwith and Parrish.

Then again, one Mormon quoted this from your paper:

The Tanners are keen students to Mormon history, but do not have the skills necessary for a full scale rebuttal of Mormon scholarship.

You and Carl may know exactly what you intend to communicate there, but Mormons jump on this and say things like 'Look, Mosser and Owen say the Tanners don't quite cut it.'

And *is* there anyone who has the skills necessary for a full scale rebuttal of Mormon scholarship? (Not to speak of other movements...).

>> 3) How would you answer those who use your paper to discredit authors
>> many lay apologists rely on?
>
>For the most part, I wouldn't answer much at all. Many of the
>authors you probably have in mind have already discredited
>themselves through their sloppy research, straw-man
>argumentation, and lousy attitudes.

That wasn't quite what I had in mind. What I am looking for are qualifications along the lines of your message to Robert Weiss. There you make it clear you dislike one author's recent article, while also saying his books "contain some good theological argumentation, and are largely accurate so far as they go."

Again, without such perspectives, people use your paper to say things like 'Owen and Mosser don't like author X. Therefore, don't counter anything I say by quoting anything at all by author X.'

Magazines sometimes publish letters to the editor regarding certain articles, and give the author space to clarify, defend, or otherwise respond. Given the way your paper is used by Mormons to counter critics, I think some official clarifying statements from you and Carl may help put things in perspective.

>> 4) Have you considered answering some of the Mormons who use your paper
>> yourselves.
>
>Carl and I have already done this on a few occasions. But for the
>most part we just ignore them.

Yikes. That's a lot like ignoring the cute little dashboard light with the picture of an oil can.

I realize, of course, that there are limits to your time and energy. That is why an open statement, clarifying some of the issues presented in your paper, would be helpful. Something along the line of 'We disagree with author Y there, but agree with author Y here.' (Unless you want people to respond to Mormons with "Just wait till Mosser and Owen's book comes out.") :)

>A point well taken. I only wish there were more reliable tools we
>could recommend.

Here's one situation often seen on religion mailing lists:

1) A Christian (lay) apologist makes a statement about Mormonism.
2) A Mormon (lay) apologist counters it - often with material from FARMS.
3) The Christian apologist quotes a 10-year old text file.
4) The Mormon counters it.
5) The Christian quotes from a book on Mormonism
6) The Mormon discredits the author by quoting from FARMS or from your
paper.
7) The Christian posts another text file.
8) Go back to 4.

(Everyone) Regarding tools: In today's online world, waiting for a book or journal article can be somewhat like waiting for the rapture. Isn't it possible for Christian apologetics and counter-cult ministries to put *much* more information online? What I am looking for is quality and quantity.

Blessings,

Anton


Subject: [ar-vent] Re: Mosser and Owen
From: Carl.Mosser@bubbs.biola.edu (Carl Mosser)
To: "An extended discussion area for AR-talk members."
Date: Thu, 3 Dec 1998 12:25:39 -0800

Anton,

I thank you for your two recent posts about Paul's and my paper. I understand your frustration. I will try to address some of your points below. I will also try to show some of the reason to what may perceive as our madness.

webmaster@apologeticsindex.org writes:

>Problem is, there are lots of lay apologists who have more drive than
>ability (or, perhaps, discipline). My are just starting to learn about
>apologetics and counter-cult ministry, and need good teachers whose work
>they can rely on.

I fully agree with you here. That is why it is a travesty that there is so little reliable and responsible material dealing with LDS scholarly apologetics. Time and again I have been told by Christian apologists who are supposed to be specialists on Mormonism: "Hey, its a waste of time to spend your life chasing down FARMS footnotes and interacting with LDS scholarship. All that matters is what the General Authorities teach and we are adequately dealing with that." Perhaps the GAs are adequately critiqued, that is not a hard thing to do. But what ends up happening is that we have no higher level resources to give people who are confronted with well-read and sharp thinking Mormons or with FARMS material.

Frankly, I think that those who have spent years doing apologetics against Mormonism are culpable for this state of affairs. I am not saying that they have done wrong by not becoming academic scholars. But, it is wrong that they have not given their readers an accurate portrayal of the level of sophistication to which LDS arguments have risen. It is wrong that they have pridefully insisted that they can handle it all by themselves and don't need the academic ivory tower theologians' help. It is wrong that they have not asked for help from reputable evangelical scholars.

If Paul and I have sometimes come across as a little bitter its because we are angry that things have been allowed to get so out of hand. There is no reason for things to be the way they are. There *should* be good books out there dealing with this stuff; there are none. Since we became aware of the need we have been doing our darndest to do what we can to remedy this situation. But this is a process and takes time.

We began by familiarizing ourselves intimately with the LDS literature and with articulate LDS theology and philosophy. We wrote the paper you refer to as an attempt to sound the alarm to our own scholars and make them aware that there skills are needed. Our intended audience for that paper was never lay Mormon apologists or lay Christians. Consonant with our purpose we presented it at a regional ETS meeting and are publishing it in Trinity Journal, an academic publication.

Continuing our efforts to make Christian scholars aware of the need I recently wrote a second paper entitled "Why Evangelical Scholars Need to Takes the New Mormon Scholarship Seriously" and presented it at the national meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. Following my presentation I had organized a panel discussion to talk about the issues I raised (panelists: Frank Beckwith, Paul Owen, Rob Bowman, Craig Hazen). The eminent New Testament scholar D.A. Carson moderated for us. Among those who participated from the audience were J.P. Moreland and Craig Blomberg. I think everyone there agreed with my main point and some of the scholars who were present have committed to writing critiques of Mormonism in their filed of expertise. It will take some time before we start seeing them, but they are on the way.

At ETS we were able to see some of the first fruits of our labors. Partly as a result of the issues raised in our first paper members of ETS formally organized the Society for the Study of Alternative Religions (SSAR) to provide a forum for presenting academic critiques of cults and NRMs. Also as a result of our efforts Tom Finley, an Old Testament professor at Talbot, presented a paper critiquing Hugh Nibley's arguments for the Book of Mormon from parallels with the Lachish Letters. Finley's paper was the first of the sorts of things we are trying to get scholars to write and make available to apologists and lay people. Tom is looking to publish the paper and spoke with Luke Wilson about putting it on the web.

Finally, we are currently in the planning stages for a few other things that will bear the kind of fruit you would like to see. All I can say is be patient and supportive. It may feel like an eternity till the harvest, but a harvest is coming. I understand that in the mean time our side may get some bruises, and that partly as a result of our first paper. I wish it were not so. The way things turned out that paper has been slow getting to the people it was intended for but has managed to get into just about everybody elses hands.

>I'm not quite looking for a review, though, but for indepth material
>that lay apologists can use when interacting with Mormons.

The "review" Paul referenced is really much more than a book review. It is long enough that it could have been published as a short book in itself. The galley sheets were over 100 pages long. Also, it is not your average "comment on the author" kind of review. It is really an interaction with some of Mormonism's best thinkers via Stephen Robinson's contribution to HWTD. In this case "book review" is really something of a misnomer.

>As an aside: what is the reason that your review is being published by
>FARMS instead of a Christian publisher?

When HWTD came out I called Dan Peterson at FARMS and asked if he would be interested in publishing an evangelical review of HWTD alongside LDS reviews. He agreed. I thought this would be an excellent way to get an evangelical critique of Robinson and a good exposition of Christian theology into the hands of Latter-day Saints. Unlike many who write on Mormonism, I see Mormons as my primary target audience, not fellow Christians.

It has been delayed in coming out for a number of reasons (we submitted the manuscript over a year ago). One of them is that my initial idea has evolved into a special issue of the FARMS Review of Books dedicated to HWTD. There will be at least two LDS reviews of the book, our review and two (possibly three) responses to our review by LDS scholars. Craig Blomberg told me that he would also like to participate and I think Robinson will be approached as well. I also suggested that they get another evangelical scholar to contribute and they are looking into that. We are hoping that it will be out this spring.

>>authors I would recommend, apart from the Tanners, the late
>>Wesley Walters, and Beckwith and Parrish.

>Then again, one Mormon quoted this from your paper:

>    "The Tanners are keen students to Mormon history, but do not have the
>    skills necessary for a full scale rebuttal of Mormon scholarship."

>You and Carl may know exactly what you intend to communicate there, but
>Mormons jump on this and say things like 'Look, Mosser and Owen say the
>Tanners don't quite cut it.'

The Tanners are as good as they come in their area. But, they simply do not have the training, specialization and skills to mount a full scale rebuttal of LDS scholarship. If someone says that the Tanners don't cut it in the academic area of scholarship, then that is accurate, they are not academic scholars. If we are being quoted to discredit the Tanners in all areas, then that is to read into our comments things that can't possibly be read out. I suppose it is these kind of poor reading skills that leads people to misinterpret the Bible so badly.

>And *is* there anyone who has the skills necessary for a full scale
>rebuttal of Mormon scholarship? (Not to speak of other movements...).

No. There is no one person who can do it. This is going to require a team effort. The Mormons have a number of scholars with expertise in a variety of disciplines. A full scale rebuttal will require the help of specialists in Old Testament, New Testament, Ancient Near Eastern Cultures, church history, American history, philosophy, theology, archeology and others. However, I think that a pretty decent job could be done by people from a few of these disciplines who put their skills and knowledge together. Perhaps this would suffice for the short term.

>>> 3) How would you answer those who use your paper to discredit
>authors
>>> many lay apologists rely on?
>>
>>For the most part, I wouldn't answer much at all. Many of the
>>authors you probably have in mind have already discredited
>>themselves through their sloppy research, straw-man
>>argumentation, and lousy attitudes.

>That wasn't quite what I had in mind. What I am looking for are
>qualifications along the lines of your message to Robert Weiss. There
>you make it clear you dislike one author's recent article, while also saying
>his books "contain some good theological argumentation, and are largely
>accurate so far as they go."

>Again, without such perspectives, people use your paper to say things
>like 'Owen and Mosser don't like author X. Therefore, don't counter
>anything I say by quoting anything at all by author X.'

They can't be using our paper to discredit too many authors. In it we have one footnote that mentions the Tanners and it is not critical of them (you quoted it above). We have one paragraph critical of James White's CRI article and one footnote that is complimentary of another paper he wrote. We have two paragraphs critical of John Ankerberg and John Weldon's book. We have a footnote complimentary to Beckwith and Parrish's book and one commending an article by Wesley Walters. That is the sum total of all the comments we made about specific Christian writers in our paper. The rest of the paper describes the work of over thirty different LDS scholars.

The argument you cite is fallacious at several levels. I'm not sure that telling the Mormons the things we like about individual counter-cult apologists is really the thing to do. Rather, it should be pointed out that this is a fallacious line of reasoning.

>Magazines sometimes publish letters to the editor regarding certain
>articles, and give the author space to clarify, defend, or otherwise
>respond. Given the way your paper is used by Mormons to counter
>critics, I think some official clarifying statements from you and Carl may help
>put things in perspective.

I will consider wring something like this up. If I do I will let you know and allow you to distribute it however you wish.

>>> 4) Have you considered answering some of the Mormons who use your
>paper
>>> yourselves.
>>
>>Carl and I have already done this on a few occasions. But for the
>>most part we just ignore them.

>Yikes. That's a lot like ignoring the cute little dashboard light with
>the picture of an oil can.

>I realize, of course, that there are limits to your time and energy.
>That is why an open statement, clarifying some of the issues presented in
>your paper, would be helpful. Something along the line of 'We disagree with
>author Y there, but agree with author Y here.' (Unless you want people
>to >respond to Mormons with "Just wait till Mosser and Owen's book comes
>out.") :)

Paul should have said it like this: Carl has done this on a few occasions, Paul usually ignores them. I have written letters to the LDS web sites that I have seen misuse our paper. In each case the web pages were changed as a result. As for how the paper is used in discussion groups or mailing lists, I have not seen any of it except what you have brought to my attention. I am on three LDS lists and the AR lists and they generate all the email I can handle. I do not frequent chat rooms or anything of the like. I am willing to offer what correction I can, but I cannot spend my days playing hermeneutics police. I'd think that the Christians who have read the paper would counter the LDS who misuse it. They can do so just as well as its authors can.

>>A point well taken. I only wish there were more reliable tools we
>>could recommend.

>Here's one situation often seen on religion mailing lists:

>1) A Christian (lay) apologist makes a statement about Mormonism.
>2) A Mormon (lay) apologist counters it - often with material from
>FARMS.
>3) The Christian apologist quotes a 10-year old text file.
>4) The Mormon counters it.
>5) The Christian quotes from a book on Mormonism
>6) The Mormon discredits the author by quoting from FARMS or from your
> paper.
>7) The Christian posts another text file.
>8) Go back to 4.

This is a result of the phenomenon I described above. Because counter-cult apologists have refused to interact with LDS scholarship and have failed to make Christian scholars aware, there are no resources to help break this vicious cycle. There should be some good books on par with, no better than, the FARMS material that the Christian can quote from.

Why aren't any of the Christians using the paper to their advantage? At least two things can be. 1) We say that currently evangelicals are *needlessly* losing this battle. The Mormons have an advantage only because of evangelical neglect, not because their arguments are compelling. 2) It should be obvious that we have read as much of this stuff as anyone, probably more than even most Mormons have, and we remain unconvinced. This ought to be a little troubling to the Latter-day Saint who looks to FARMS for inspiration. We have read a good chunk of their best scholarship as charitably as we can and remain unpersuaded.

>(Everyone) Regarding tools: In today's online world, waiting for a
>book >or journal article can be somewhat like waiting for the rapture. Isn't
>it >possible for Christian apologetics and counter-cult ministries to put
>*much* more information online? What I am looking for is quality and
>quantity.

I understand. I still prefer the old fashioned slow way of getting peer review, passing the editorial hurdles, etc.. The web makes everyman a publisher and most of what's published should not have been. There are no quality controls on the web. I agree that it would be useful to have more online, but someway needs to be devised to ensure the quality part.

>Blessings,

>Anton
>--

Thank you for your concerns.

--Carl



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