A Reply To Brother Weldon
Paul Owen responds to John Weldon's
Since the opportunity has been offered, I have decided it may be prudent to give a reply to Brother Weldon's response to the article written by Carl Mosser and myself, entitled: "Mormon Scholarship, Apologetics, and Evangelical Neglect: Losing the Battle and Not Knowing It?" Without intending to sound dismissive, I must confess that Mr. Weldon's response seems to me to have provided a text-book example of the problem which Mr. Mosser and I attempted to address in our paper. Most of Mr. Weldon's lengthy response is frankly irrelevant; so I will limit the substance of my reply to appendices 1 and 6, with some brief comments on appendix 8 and Brother Weldon's enlightening response to Dr. Daniel C. Peterson. Mr. Weldon's reply drones on and on and on, and I was honestly seeing two computer screens in front of me by the time I finished it. He could easily have cut short the infinite progress of his response by making the following statement: "We don't need to refute FARMS scholarship because Mormonism is a false religion. End of argument." That, in essence, is what Brother Weldon had to say. There is only one little problem with that stunning insight: There are over 10 million living, breathing, intelligent members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who don't agree with the premise that Mormonism is a false religion. ["Darnit!," says Brother Weldon. "I knew there was a hole in my argument somewhere!"] But on to my comments.
I note at the beginning of appendix 1 that Mr. Weldon writes: "The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) publishes literature in defense of Mormonism, especially the Book of Mormon ." This statement is a factual error, not in terms of what is stated, but what goes conspicuously unstated. As Carl Mosser and I have extensively documented, FARMS does far more than simply defend the Book of Mormon: They are actively engaged in "Ancient Research." They are not FMS; they are FARMS. Why is this important? Because, by ignoring FARMS involvement in the wider field of academic historical research, Mr. Weldon hides from his readers (most of whom probably have little exposure to FARMS) the fact that many of the scholars associated with this organization are respected experts in fields directly pertinent to LDS apologetic claims; fields such as Second Temple Judaism, Ancient Near Eastern literature, the Dead Sea Scrolls and Egyptology. By contrast, no researcher currently involved in apologetic responses to LDS scholarship has any acknowledged expertise in such areas. THIS IS A BIG PROBLEM, WHICH IS NOT GOING TO GO AWAY, NO MATTER HOW LONG WE HIDE OUR HEADS IN THE SAND. How on earth can our pastors, most of whom have at best a M.Div. level seminary training, be expected to give their flocks substantive replies to the FARMS literature which is increasingly being used in LDS proselytizing activities? How can our laypeople successfully convince their Mormon friends of the superior plausibility of the truth claims of orthodox Christianity when our researchers in the apologetics community have no better arguments to offer than: FARMS scholarship is obviously wrong, because we already know Mormonism is a false religion? Put yourself in the Mormon's shoes. Would you find that to be a convincing argument?
I found myself quite puzzled when Mr. Weldon wrote: "While FARMS may have the appearance of scholarship, its agenda forces it to defend Mormonism at the cost of true scholarship." As proof we are offered three articles which can be found on James White's web-site. The first example is White's reply to L. Ara Norwood's review of Letters to a Mormon Elder . Norwood sometimes does book reviews for FARMS, but he has no advanced degrees in theology or ancient studies; and he is the first to admit that he is not a formal "scholar." The second example is White's reply to Darrell Barksdale's review of Is the Mormon My Brother? Barksdale also is the first to admit that he is not a scholar, and he has no association with FARMS whatsoever . Brother Weldon's examples aren't holding up very well so far. The third example is more to the point. This is White's critique of the book by Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks, Offenders for a Word . Here I would agree that White raises a number of good criticisms of the arguments of Drs. Peterson and Ricks; but let's not lose perspective. Basically, White exposes some weaknesses in Peterson and Ricks' use of the Church Fathers in support of the doctrine of theosis , and the practice of esoteric rituals in ancient Christianity. I happen to think many of White's criticisms are valid. At the same time, I think White overstates at points what exactly it is Peterson and Ricks were proposing to establish, giving the impression that they were claiming precise parallels rather than more general patterns of belief and practice. But that is neither here nor there. The fact of the matter is: WHITE HAS POINTED OUT SOME WEAKNESSES IN ONE FARMS PUBLICATION. Anyone who has read the article by Mr. Mosser and myself should know that just as Rome was not built in a day, the refutation of some of the arguments in one publication by no means refutes LDS scholarship in general. That Mr. Weldon would cite these three examples as evidence that FARMS scholarship isn't worth the expenditure of further time and resources is a highly revealing indication of just how out of touch Brother Weldon is with the current state of affairs.
I will not comment on Brother Weldon's "more detailed analysis" of Offenders for a Word , other than to say that it struck me as sophomoric and rather surface-level. He seems to think that the essence of winning an argument is to quote Bible verses, all the while assuming that his opponents ought to agree with the Christian paradigm assumptions he brings to the texts (which paradigm assumptions, I might add, I would wholeheartedly endorse).
The heart of the problem is Mr. Weldon's refusal to seriously engage LDS scholarship; and this comes to the surface again under the heading Needless Concerns . Brother Weldon tells us: "But at another level, the alleged new evidence for Mormonism isn't impressive--and it never will be when it comes to defending the truth claims of Mormonism." The intellectual narrow-mindedness displayed here is astounding. Of course, such evidence will fail to convince Brother Weldon; but it sure does seem impressive to folks in the LDS Church! In case Brother Weldon has forgotten, THEY are the ones that we Christians are supposed to be talking to. THEY are the ones who need to be shown why FARMS scholarship does not establish the historical and theological truth claims of the Mormon religion. And they are sure as shootin' going to find FARMS scholarship a lot more "impressive" than the frighteningly lame argument: "In a similar fashion, Mormonism is so clearly false on doctrinal grounds, one need not worry their scholarship could ever prove much of anything." My goodness, does Brother Weldon realize how utterly pathetic that must sound to a Mormon's ears? Does he care?!
But I must move on to appendix 6. I find it highly revealing that Mr. Weldon makes two admissions with regard to the complaints raised by Carl Mosser and myself. He cites us to the following effect: "The authors [Ankerberg and Weldon] constantly belittle their opponents---always questioning either their intelligence or integrity." Notice Brother Weldon's admissions: "It's hardly that we constantly questioned the intelligence of all Mormons, but we did question the intelligence of Mormon leaders, apologists, writers, and scholars at points of defending Mormonism. Because we do not think it is intelligent to defend Mormonism." Also: "We did not constantly belittle our opponents, as Mosser and Owen charge, but it is true we did belittle them at places." Again, the intellectual arrogance displayed here is astounding. Since Mormonism is wrong, therefore, those who defend Mormonism are not intelligent. But once again, over 10 million perfectly intelligent people all over the world reject Mr. Weldon's premise: They don't agree that Mormonism is a false religion! And their scholars are defending their truth claims on historical grounds; whereas Brother Weldon would have us refuse to engage them on an intellectual level, and simply declare them unintelligent for defending what is assumed to be untrue. To quote again: "Frankly, this is our view of Mormon theology and apologetics. The truth about Mormon apologetics is that its scholarship in defense of Mormonism is unimportant and of little value." Who on earth does Mr. Weldon expect to convince with a question-begging, exclusion by definition employing, and I must say, thoroughly unchristian argument like that?! Was that the tactic used by St. Paul against the Jews? Was that the tactic used by Apologists like Irenaeus against the gnostics, and Justin against the pagan philosophers? Was that the way J. Gresham Machen and B. B. Warfield argued against German liberals? My goodness, I'm sure thankful that David didn't use that approach against Goliath! You Philistines are pagans, therefore Goliath is so obviously a powder-puff that I need not bother tossing any rocks at him. I'll just get back to minding my little flock of sheep.
Just a brief word about the criticism Carl Mosser and I raised with regard to Ankerberg and Weldon's heavy reliance upon the Tanners, and Brent Lee Metcalfe's anthology, New Approaches to the Book of Mormon . Let's not cloud the issues here. Our complaint is not that the Tanners writings were cited and used. Of course that would be valid. Rather, our complaint was the simple fact that Ankerberg and Weldon did not take the time to familiarize themselves personally with scholarly LDS literature . And in this latest reply, Mr. Weldon continues to demonstrate that he has not familiarized himself with LDS scholarship, nor does he seem to acknowledge the need to do so. With regard to the Metcalfe volume, our point was not that the writers in that book made no genuine points of criticism. Of course they did, and it is valid to cite them. But it is not valid for Evangelicals to rely solely upon the research of liberal Mormons in engaging FARMS scholarship. Why not? Because at best, such literature might convince a Mormon to abandon traditional LDS perspectives; but it is not going to bring the LDS one step closer to embracing orthodox Christianity. The goal is not just to get these folks out of the LDS Church; the goal is to get these folks into the orthodox Christian faith. Metcalfe's volume just won't accomplish this end, which is why it disturbs us to see Evangelical researchers depending on liberal Mormon scholarship in the task of refuting FARMS.
Mr. Weldon asks: "Considering how thoroughly anti-Christian Mormonism actually is, why Mosser and Owen should be as favorable to Mormon scholarship as they are, when it proves nothing substantial---and never can---or as distrustful of evangelical scholarship as they are---is a mystery." The mystery is how Brother Weldon arrived at the conclusion that Mosser and Owen are "distrustful" of evangelical scholarship. We have all the confidence in the world in evangelical scholarship. Our point is that practically no evangelical scholarship has been involved in the apologetic task of responding to FARMS and LDS intellectuals in general. Again, there are a very few exceptions: Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Frank Beckwith and Stephen Parrish, and the late Wesley Walters. That is pretty much it. Little else of evangelical apologetic replies to Mormonism would deserve the label "scholarship." The academic quality of the "research" most Evangelicals are putting out there in response to Mormonism is simply pathetic.
A few brief comments about appendix 8 and Dr. Hugh Nibley. I would like to ask Mr. Weldon a blunt question: How many of Dr. Nibley's books has he actually read? My guess would be: Zero. Brother Weldon somehow thinks he has proven that Dr. Nibley is not a good scholar by citing several others who have written critical things about him. I would be the last person in the world to defend the veracity of Dr. Nibley's defenses of Mormonism. After all, I am not a Mormon. However, as Mr. Mosser and I demonstrated in our paper, Dr. Nibley is widely acknowledged both within and outwith the LDS Church as a top rate scholar. On top of the evidence we documented in our paper, I have personally asked two internationally known scholars what they thought of Dr. Hugh Nibley. Dr. James H. Charlesworth, of Princeton Theological Seminary, told me he regards Nibley as a "linguistic genius." Dr. David F. Wright, one of the world's top church historians, and professor of church history at the University of Edinburgh, commented to me after reading some of Nibley's materials: "It's clear that he [Dr. Nibley] has a thorough knowledge of the Church Fathers." Joseph Fitzmyer, S.J., professor emeritus of biblical studies at the Catholic University of America, remarked to Carl Mosser and myself when we were speaking at a dinner engagement that Dr. Nibley was a very capable scholar. Their testimony, compared to folks such as Brother Weldon and our friend James White, is something along the lines of a full house matched up to a joker and a 2 in a game of poker.
Finally, some brief words about Mr. Weldon's reply to Dr. Daniel C. Peterson. First of all, I completely agree with Dr. Peterson's charge that Ankerberg and Weldon failed to interact with the more formidable LDS scholars and theologians. There is no substantial interaction with Stephen Robinson, nor B. H. Roberts, nor Hugh Nibley, nor Orson Pratt. Mr. Weldon admits this: "In fact, we did read something of Pratt, Taylor, Roberts and Nibley, but we did not cite them except in passing." Regarding Dr. Stephen Robinson, he quickly notes three points of doctrine and asks, "what else is needed to disprove Robinson's claim that Mormonism is Christian?" How about a detailed interaction with Robinson's arguments? Might that not be needed? How about something more than pointing out the obvious fact that Mormons are not Christian in the sense that Protestants, Orthodox, and Roman Catholics would define "Christian"? Dr. Robinson's whole argument (which I by no means agree with) is that such definitions are meaningless when one goes back to the pre-Nicene period. Why is Robinson wrong? Mere assertions have absolutely no evidentiary value. Stephen Robinson didn't just make assertions. He offered arguments. Are we honoring God by refusing to do the same, as does Brother Weldon when he writes: "We discussed in our encyclopedia why we don't cite FARMS, and for the same reason we did not cite these authors. When it comes to proving Mormonism, the data, the hard facts, are nonexistent, and thus the research into the data is at best speculative and tentative. . . . Nothing in the above work offers a better defense of Mormonism than what we cited, so we chose works we felt were most likely to be known by lay Mormons." Excuse me, Brother Weldon, but these things need to be demonstrated , not just asserted. And you can't demonstrate that an argument is wrong without taking the time to interact intelligently with it. How convenient it is to take the "Keep It Simple Stupid" (KISS) approach. That way, whenever someone points out that you have neglected important scholarly arguments against your position, you can just say that you were more interested in communicating to the "simple laypeople."
A second point relates to Mr. Weldon's lack of familiarity with academic scholarship in general. Dr. Peterson made the quite valid observation that it was naïve in the extreme for Ankerberg and Weldon to claim that the "general consensus of informed biblical scholarship" attests that the New Testament "accurately records what Jesus and the apostles taught and did." Peterson pointed out that nobody who participates in scholarly guilds such as the Society of Biblical Literature, or is familiar with academic journals like Catholic Biblical Quarterly or Journal of Biblical Literature would make such a sweeping claim. How does Brother Weldon respond: "Given the Biblical claims for itself, and the evidence to substantiate those claims, we do not think such societies and periodicals are properly informed." I see. I would like to see Brother Weldon try using that argument in an academic setting where people other than conservative evangelical Christians are in attendance.
Let me make something clear. I am an evangelical, born-again Christian. I believe in the Virgin Birth, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, the Trinity, salvation by grace through faith only, and the inerrancy and verbal, plenary inspiration of the Bible. But to respond to Dr. Peterson's entirely valid point by simply excluding non-evangelical biblical scholarship from the realm of "properly informed" scholarship is once again to commit intellectual suicide. Liberal Bible scholars think Evangelicals are the ones not properly informed! So who wins the argument if things don't progress beyond this level? I dare say that the heart of the matter here is that Brother Weldon just doesn't have any serious acquaintance with mainstream biblical scholarship. And this highlights another problem which comes up in the debate between Dr. Peterson and Brother Weldon: Ankerberg and Weldon do not have legitimate doctoral degrees. They have degrees from unaccredited correspondence schools. And unaccredited correspondence schools do not require their students to seriously engage non-evangelical biblical scholarship. So Brother Weldon responds to this situation in the same way that he does to the truth claims of Mormonism. He simply dismisses liberal scholarship as "uninformed."
This again highlights the point which Carl Mosser and I have been raising. There is a desperate need for Evangelical Bible scholars, theologians, philosophers, and historians to get involved in the battle. It will not do to follow the advice of those who would have us hide our heads in the sand, and refuse to engage the serious scholarship which is put forth by opposing viewpoints. Just as J. Gresham Machen and B. B. Warfield were willing to step into the ring and take on the formidable proponents of German higher-criticism in their day, so we need Evangelical scholars today who will not shrink back from the task of providing an informed, scholarly response to FARMS and LDS academic scholarship in general.