John Weldon's Response To Mosser/Owen and FARMS
Note: This is an initial response to the paper "Mormon Scholarship, Apologetics, and Evangelical Neglect: Losing the Battle and Not Knowing It?" by Carl Mosser and Paul Owen. This response may be modified or expanded within the near future. These appendices are part of a larger response included in Encyclopedia of Cults & New Religions (John Weldon and John Ankerberg, Harvest House, July, 1999).
Appendix 1: F.A.R.M.S. -- Is Mormon Scholarship A Threat To Christianity,
Or Is It Evangelical Neglect?
Appendix 2: FARMS Review of Books
Appendix 3: The Evangelical Response
Appendix 4: Reinventing Mormonism
Appendix 5: Are Christians Anti-Mormon and is Criticism a sin?
Appendix 6: An Intelligent Defense of Mormonism?
Appendix 7: Signature Books
Appendix 8: Hugh Nibley
Another Study in F.A.R.M.S. Behavior: A Brief Response to Mormon Scholar Dr. Daniel
Among Latter-day Saints, his [Mormon president Gordon B. Hinkley's] interviews are also known for his ability to gloss over potentially unpopular church teachings to the point that some Saints have wondered, as President Hinkley admitted in a general conference, whether he in fact understands church doctrine.
("On the Record," Sunstone: Mormon Experience, Scholarship, Issues and Art, December 1998 p. 70)
The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) publishes literature in defense of Mormonism, especially the Book of Mormon. It describes its work in the following manner:
The work of the Foundation rests on the premise that the Book of Mormon and other [Mormon] scriptures were written by prophets of God. Belief in this premise -- in the divinity of -- scripture -- is a matter of faith. Religious truths require divine witness to establish the faith of the believer. While scholarly research cannot replace that witness, such studies may reinforce and encourage individual testimonies by fostering understanding and appreciation of the scriptures.
(FARMS website, "About Farms")
FARMS has over 100 Brigham Young University scholars working on its projects and a multi-million dollar budget to pursue its goals: "They strongly believe that no other organization on earth can compete with their knowledge of the Book of Mormon. They are convinced that as far as human wisdom is concerned they are the ultimate experts on the subject. Consequently, they are very offended if anyone ignores or his ignorance of the research emanating from FARMS." (Jerald and Sandra Tanner, "Mormon FARMS: Battling the AntiMormonoids," Utah Lighthouse Ministry website printout, page 8) Although this is clearly the most scholarly venue of Mormon apologetics, unfortunately for FARMS, its first ten years indicate the horse has stumbled at the gate and is close to dying. FARMS cannot defend what does not exist. FARMS literature may appear persuasive, but so does the literature of evolutionary scientists. Evolution seems persuasive to those with naturalistic spectacles because their assumptions cause them to ignore or misinterpret factual data they might otherwise accept; in a similar fashion, FARMS materials seem persuasive to those with Mormon spectacles because their assumptions cause them to ignore or misinterpret factual data they might otherwise accept. Let's give an illustration. The ABC Evening News of June 2,1998 reported upon a thorough investigation into the reason why the CIA failed so completely to ascertain that India was going to test explode nuclear bombs. It was not because the intelligence data was poor. The intelligence data was actually very clear -- satellite images unmistakably showed the preparations underway for India's nuclear tests. The real problem was one of preexisting beliefs, and, perhaps, naivete. The CIA was so convinced India would not explode a nuclear device, it was actually incapacitated from properly interpreting the evidence. The evidence was there, plainly in front of them. But it was not seen. As a result, the evidence that was there was missed or had to be interpreted otherwise. In a similar manner, anti-biblical religions like Mormonism are so convinced of the truth of their religion they are literally incapacitated when it comes to seeing and properly interpreting the evidence right before them, in the scriptures, that discredits their beliefs. When the basic arguments are examined critically in either case, whether of evolution or Mormonism, they simply do not stand. In fact, in neither case do they even have the possibility of standing. Naturalistic evolution was disproved the day Moses penned Genesis under divine inspiration. It was disproved on the basis of the authority of scripture and, as we documented in Darwin's Leap of Faith (Harvest House, 1998) and elsewhere, has always been disproved by the philosophical, common sense and scientific arguments against it and those for creation. In a similar fashion, Mormonism was disproved the day Joseph Smith wrote down and published his initial theology. Mormonism was disproved on the basis of the authority of scripture that proves it false and on the basis of the historical evidence against it and that for Christianity. FARMS thus has an impossible job because it attempts an impossible task: successfully answering critics and "proving" Mormonism true. Of course FARMS does not directly claim to prove Mormonism, since the only real "proof" in Mormonism is the subjective "witness" of the "Holy Spirit" to the alleged divine origin of the Book of Mormon (Moroni 10:3-5). FARMS recognizes it has little hard evidence, which probably explains why it spends so much time attacking critics of Mormonism and "correcting" their endless "errors." Nevertheless, in claiming to reinforce individual Mormon testimonies, etc., through scholarly means, it does suggest its work contributes to the evidential verification of Mormonism. Unfortunately, in making legitimate criticism and disproof of Mormonism look bad, rather than offering convincing evidence for Mormonism, it has established a track record that will be difficult to live down.
Sadly, there is more than meets the eye here. As a matter of routine, Mormonism claims: 1) to be Christian, 2) to uphold the true teachings of Jesus, 3) to present the true gospel, 4) to be biblically based in doctrine and ethics, and 5) to believe in, offer, and honor the one true God. But in each instance, these claims are false. So how is a researcher to accurately classify the claims of LDS? The Oxford American Dictionary defines fraud as "a person (or thing) that is not what he (it) seems or pretends to be." In the sense of this definition, both Mormonism and FARMS are fraudulent. By claiming to be Christian, etc., Mormonism is not what it seems or pretends to be. In a similar fashion, FARMS claims, or certainly implies, that its research has genuinely helped in the defense of Mormonism as the one true religion. This too is false. FARMS is not what it seems or pretends to be. Again, from the perspective of Christian revelation, Mormonism permanently revealed itself a fraud when its scriptures were first published in the 1830s. Nothing FARMS, LDS authorities, or Brigham Young University scholars have done, or will do, can change that fact. And in the end, despite its apparent scholarship, FARMS will be proven as fraudulent as the anti-Christian religion it defends-- because it implies scholarly support for the truth of Mormonism when it has none. As Dr. James White wrote in, "Of Cities and Swords: the Impossible Task of Mormon Apologetics":
"FARMS regularly promotes an image of scholarship, but serious problems with FARMS scholarship readily appear when they attempt to defend specific and unique elements of the claims of Mormonism.... No veneer of scholarly acumen can make a culture appear in history that was not, in fact, there. And no amount of work by FARMS can make Joseph Smith something he was not: a prophet of God."
(Christian Research Journal Summer 1996 pp. 33,35)Scholarship is defined as a "standard of academic work" and "the systematized knowledge of a learned person, exhibiting accuracy, critical ability, and thoroughness." Involved in the concepts of accuracy and critical ability, one assumes, is the power of judging rightly and then following the soundest conclusion allowable by an evaluation of the relevant data. Scholarship may not be officially defined as involving ethical considerations, but scholarship without ethics and objectivity is a blight on learning. Unfortunately, Mormon scholars who believe the LDS scriptures are a divine revelation and Joseph Smith a true prophet of God find it difficult to look objectively upon relevant factual data. Indeed, intentionally or not, they often distort it, and thus appear unethical. Why? Because they are forced to interpret the data in light of Mormon scripture and tradition rather than letting the data speak for itself. While it is true some Mormon apologists are trained in ancient languages and are skilled in intellectual investigation, this is not the issue. When academic skills, however formidable, are pressed into the service of distortion, one finds it difficult to maintain the term scholarly. When distortion occurs in science and history, this is bad enough, but when it occurs in what is arguably the most important subject of all, theology, it is reprehensible. While FARMS may have the appearance of scholarship, its agenda forces it to defend Mormonism at the cost of true scholarship. Any who doubt this need only read, for example, Dr. James White's website replies to reviews of his own scholarly material on Mormonism. These include,1)"A Study in FARMS Behavior," which is a review of L. Ara Norwood's review of White's Letters to a Mormon Elder, 2) White's reply to D.L. Barksdale's review of White's Is the Mormon My Brother? 3) White's analysis of Drs. Peterson and Ricks Offenders For a Word in A Test Case of Scholarship. (Alpha and Omega Ministries: http://www.aomin.org). (Jerald and Sandra Tanner's three volume response to FARMS, Answering Mormon Scholars is also relevant.) Even some Mormon scholars agree that Mormon scholarship in defense of Mormonism is generally untrustworthy. As Karl C. Sandberg, DeWitt Wallace professor of French and Humanities, emeritus, Macalester, College, St. Paul, MN, wrote in "Whither (Mormon) Scholarship?"--there are Mormons who do scholarship in lots of areas, but not in Mormonism:
"There are Mormons who do scholarship in all the various disciplines--they play by the same rules as everyone else, they participate in the same dynamics, and they produce the same kind of knowledge. Such is not the case, however, when Mormons do scholarship about Mormonism or directly related subjects ... .Whenever a claim is raised that differs from the official view (the icon) the first duty, the immediate and only duty, is to defend the icon."
(Sunstone, December, 1998,p.10)Another example of FARMS scholarship can be seen in Drs. Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks, Offenders for a Word: How Anti-Mormons Play Word Games to Attack the latter-day Saints (Aspen 1992; FARMS 1998). Dr. Peterson is chairman of the Board of Trustees for FARMS, and Dr. Ricks is a Board of Trustees member. Much of their book attempts to document the Mormon claim that the closer one gets to the alleged apostasy of the Christian church, the more evidence for "original" Christianity -- i.e. Mormonism -- will be found. Peterson and Ricks cite the church Fathers extensively. They allege e.g., the early Church Fathers taught secret doctrines/rituals and believed in what is called the "deification" of man (theosis). They argue that this supports the Mormon doctrines of, respectively, secret temple ceremonies and exaltation, the doctrine that men can become Gods. In the introduction they claim that their conclusions concerning early Christian materials "are fully justified by the evidence as well as by reason." (p.xiii) But this is false. In the material that follows we will first supply a few of the comments of Dr. James White concerning their claims about early Christianity and then proceed with our own analysis in different areas. It is significant that Dr. White set aside the time to personally check their citations of the Fathers by comparing them in their original context. As we will see, he shows how wrong Peterson and Ricks are and how often these Mormon scholars take quotations out of context merely to support their views. First, theosis was a term used in a relative sense to explain man's creation in the image of God, giving him a spiritual nature, and that he could, by grace, attain union with God. Those who used the term never intended by it the Mormon doctrine of exaltation, or anything similar--i.e., that men could become Gods and that the God of the Bible was once a man who progressed into Godhood by good works and righteous character. The Church Fathers would have been horrified by such ideas. As to acceptance of alleged secret rituals in the Fathers, Peterson And Ricks miscite, misinterpret or fail to document their claims with Jeremias, Ignatius of Antioch, Tertullian, Origen, etc. For Example, "Even a brief reading immediately communicates that Tertullian is, in fact, arguing directly against the position attributed to him by the misleading form of citation found in Offenders." (James White, "A Test Case of Scholarship," unprinted paginated Internet copy, p.14, emphasis added) Dr. White then remarks,
"All of us make mistakes. Sometimes we hurry, have deadlines, etc. One major error, such as the above, doesn't prove much. However, if a pattern of such misuse of sources can be discerned and documented, we have cause to wonder. And just such a pattern can, indeed, be found."
(Ibid., p. 15, emphasis added)After citing additional examples of misquotation, White remarks,
"Any person desirous of honestly representing the beliefs of the early Fathers could not possibly ignore the context of the passages cited, yet, this is exactly what we find in Peterson and Ricks, and in the earlier work by [Stephen] Robinson [Are Mormons Christian?]. Again we have to ask how this kind of a-contextual citation can end up in print, and, in fact, be reprinted by FARMS seven years later, without any correction or emendation, despite it having been pointed out in Is the Mormon My Brother? Scholarship means honestly dealing with historical facts, and quoting items fairly, and in context. How can these scholars present this kind of material? There are, however, many more examples of this kind of lack of concern for accurately handling the words of past Christian writers."
(Ibid, p. 17)White also points out, "On an even more basic and fundamental level of error, Peterson and Ricks show no familiarity at all with the standard works on Old Testament canonization, such as Beckwith (1985), Bruce (1988), or Sundberg (1964)." (Ibid., p.19) We now proceed to a more detailed analysis. The extent of Peterson and Ricks ignorance of Christianity and lack of sound scholarship can be seen in more particularity in the following citations and discussion. This illustrates that, unfortunately, their analysis is flawed throughout with numerous errors, poor reasoning and misrepresentation. First, consider a few of their errors:
In order for Peterson and Ricks to make Mormonism Christian, the term Christian has to be redefined or made so mercurial that it can incorporate Mormon beliefs. As a result, the most fundamental misunderstandings of Christianity and biblical/historical theology can be seen in the following citations by Drs. Peterson and Ricks. The embarrassing thing is that Peterson and Ricks condemn themselves by proceeding to redefine Christianity to incorporate Mormonism even after stating:
"there exists a fairly coherent basic meaning to the term 'Christian'...Since this meaning is well-established, latecomers have only a very limited ability to alter it,...To use the word 'Christian' in a new and different sense is to limit communication -- or even mislead -- until outsiders are able to decode and understand that new and different usage. We...shall argue that the historic meaning of the term is clearly broad enough to include The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,..."
(P. 17)Here are their arguments:
To give a second illustration of the character of FARMS work, consider the text, New Approaches to the Book of Mormon.(Signature Books) This is authored by a group of Mormon and other scholars critical of the official Mormon story concerning Mormon origins, the Book of Mormon, and certain other Mormon beliefs. This book was reviewed by John Wm. Maddox in "A Listing of Points and Counterpoints" in Review of Books on the Book of Mormon (RBBM) Vol. 8 No.1 (1996). In his review, Maddox attempts to show that the arguments allegedly refuting New Approaches published in RBBM's 566-page critique were legitimate criticisms. As he argues:
"Shortly after the Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, vol. 6, no. 1, was published, containing over 566 pages of responses to arguments raised in Brent L. Metcalfe's, New Approaches to the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1993), a few people were heard to say that the FARMS publication had failed to address any substantive issues head on. That assessment did not seem to me to describe the contents of the Review that I had read. So I began going through both books to see how many substantive issues had been raised and addressed. ... . I identified about 170 arguments raised in New Approaches that find responses in vol. 6, no. 1, or in subsequent issues of the Review ... . I found the responses of the reviewers to be cogent and sufficiently persuasive."But it all depends on what one finds convincing. Maddox may be convinced, but this does not change the fact that, clearly, FARMS has not dealt adequately with the material in New Approaches. Below, we offer verbatim illustrations without comment. The term, "Critics claim:" summarizes the criticism given in New Approaches; the term "FARMS response:" refers to the response by FARMS authors. In every case, the FARMS response is either wrong or irrelevant. (Abbreviated documentary references have been deleted for ease of reading; also, the responses given often incorporate multiple authors) Critics Claim: The Book of Mormon reflects Trinitarianism.
FARMS Response: The Book of Mormon testifies of Jesus' Godhood. It does not fully explain the Godhead. Trinitarianism cannot be found in the Book of Mormon or the Bible. Critics Claim: Sabellianism would explain Nephite belief in Jesus and the Father as two different manifestations of the same being.
FARMS Response: Sabellianism is only found by citing a few verses and ignoring the rest of the Book of Mormon. Critics Claim: If the Book of Mormon repeats the mistakes of the KJV, we can rule out coincidence.
FARMS Response: One cannot prove that the so-called mistakes are actual mistakes. Critics Claim: Comparing 3 Nephi and Matthew can help determine the historicity of the Book of Mormon.
FARMS Response: Nobody knows what was and was not in the original Greek. Critics Claim: Eight mistranslations in the KJV are repeated in the Book of Mormon.
FARMS Response: The alleged mistranslations involve insubstantial differences. The differences are insignificant, especially in a nineteenth-century context. Critics Claim: The Book of Mormon account of the sermon of Jesus is plagiarized from the KJV.
FARMS Response: This argument is neither proved nor disproved. Blind plagiarism cannot explain the complexity of the Book of Mormon account. Critics Claim: Sperry said that if the Book of Mormon copied the errors of the KJV, then it should be rejected.
FARMS Response: Sperry viewed the Book of Mormon as an independent ancient text. Critics Claim: The New Testament Jesus never claims to be the Father as in the Book of Mormon.
FARMS Response: The Old Testament and early Christian writers speak of Jesus as the Father. Critics Claim: The New Testament never claims that Jesus was the god whom the Israelites in the Old Testament worshipped as Jehovah, as in the Book of Mormon.
FARMS Response: The Book of Mormon validates the Bible, not the other way around. Exegesis of Greek and Hebrew Bible texts refutes this hypothesis. Critics Claim: The Book of Mormon must be allowed to speak for itself.
FARMS Response: Objectivity is noble but impossible. Narrative theory denies that anyone is free from ideology. The text yields different data depending on the paradigm the reader begins with. Critics Claim: Speculations about Book of Mormon geography are faulty because the geographers accept the Book of Mormon as true before they examine the evidence they write about.
FARMS Response: This is a straw man argument. What this criticism means is that the geographers' paradigms are different from the claimant's own. Assuming historicity allows one to more easily see historically consistent phenomena. Critics Claim: The cardinal directions in the Book of Mormon must be the same as ours.
FARMS Response: Directional concepts are accidents of culture and history. Critics Claim: The traditional Latter-day Saint view is that all people in the Book of Mormon descended from Mulek or Lehi.
FARMS Response: The traditional view is not held officially by the Church. Critics Claim: The traditional view is supported by the Book of Mormon text itself.
FARMS Response: This is not a careful reading of the text. Some passages from the Book of Mormon discredit this claim. Some FARMS scholars themselves, despite their attempt to bolster Mormonism, have issued warnings about the tentative nature of their research-- and all Book of Mormon research. This is commendable, but is this ever what Christians must do with standard apologetics? Do typical Christian apologetic works begin with the warning that the "chief source of evidence" for the truth of the Bible and Christianity is subjectively based? Or that research is preliminary and conclusions may later be discarded? David Rolph Seely stated the following in his review of Reexploring the Book of Mormon: The F.A.R.M.S. Updates. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and F.A.R.M.S., 1992) in the FARMS Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 5 (1993):
"this volume represents and typifies a decade of F.A.R.M.S. research and vividly demonstrates how F.A.R.M.S. has stimulated, consolidated, and communicated thestudy of the Book of Mormon both to the scholarly and the general audience ... . The editor of this volume, John Welch, clearly delineates in his preface the intended purpose of the authors of the articles in this volume. Quoting from B. H. Roberts, he reminds us of the importance of the Holy Ghost as the "chief source of evidence for the truth of the Book of Mormon." And yet, following Roberts, "Secondary evidences in support of truth, like secondary causes in natural phenomena, may be of first-rate importance, and mighty factors in the achievement of God's purposes" (pp. xiii-xiv) ... . But it should be read with caution. Book of Mormon studies are still in their infancy. The editor and authors constantly remind us of the preliminary nature of most of these studies. ... There is still much to be done, much to be discussed, and many of these preliminary conclusions will be discarded, modified, and enlarged in the years to come."Perhaps the quality of LDS scholarship is also hinted at by the June 13, 1998 vote of the delegates of the 84th annual meeting of the American Association of University Professors which voted to censure Brigham Young University's administration citing, "infringements on academic freedom [that are] distressingly common at the university and a "climate for academic freedom [that is]distressingly poor." (Bryan Watterman, "Policing ‘The Lord's University': The AAUP and BYU, 1995-1998" Sunstone, December, 1998, p.22) In other words, the Church tends to run academic matters for its own interests. In fact, the churches response was simply to ignore the censure. (ibid., p.36) In conclusion, FARMS may claim scholarship, but the truth lies elsewhere for precisely the reasons given earlier.The ‘defense' of myths and falsehoods as genuine history is difficult to command as a scholarly endeavor by definition. If no historical facts exist, what is there to prove through scholarly analysis?
Unfortunately, there are a few evangelical scholars who, for whatever reason, have recently published questionable or compromising books and articles on Mormonism. Citing FARMS research, they have claimed that Mormon scholars are marshalling truly able defenses of Mormonism, and that Mormons have answered most of the standard evangelical criticisms. They have stated that nearly or virtually all evangelical responses to Mormonism are inadequate, flawed or even reprehensible. They have implied or claimed that Mormonism is not as opposed to Christianity as commonly thought. But one can only ask how either Christians or Mormons can defend the indefensible? How can evangelical critics of Mormonism be wrong when they uphold Christian orthodoxy by declaring that a false religion with occult origins, one that has soundly opposed Christianity doctrinally from the beginning could never have solid evidence for its teachings? Whatever contradicts an independently established truth cannot be true by and in itself. Or, how can Mormonism believe in the same monotheistic God and concept of salvation by faith alone that Christianity accepts when Mormonism is a thoroughgoing polytheistic faith teaching salvation by works--something God declares is under His eternal curse? (Gal. 1:6-8) Carl Mosser and Paul Owen wrote the article, "Mormon Scholarship, Apologetic and Evangelical Neglect: Losing the Battle and Not Knowing It?" published in the Fall 1998 Trinity Journal. They claim the following:
"currently there are, as far as we are aware, no books from an evangelical perspective that responsibly interact with contemporary LDS scholarly and apologetics writings.... at the academic level evangelicals are losing the debate with the Mormons."
(Pp. 2-3, Internet copy)They proceed to discuss how they believe current Mormon scholarship is defending Mormonism, claiming that Mormons are making significant headway in defending their faith: "In what intellectually plausible ways are they supporting their unique scriptural canon and doctrinal system? The main body of this paper is devoted to illustrating the answer to this question." They further claim, "Mormons have the training and skills to produce robust defenses of their faith." (Pp. 4,7) Finally, "There are many more studies which could be mentioned, but this should suffice to demonstrate that LDS academians are producing serious research which desperately needs to be critically examined from an informed evangelical perspective." (P. 10, emphasis theirs).
What disquiets us about this article is not that Mormon apologists/scholars have improved their learning in the last generation or are attempting to more forcefully defend their faith. As they noted, "For many years, [Hugh] Nibley may have been conservative Mormonism's only reputable scholar." (p. 6) (However, not everyone agrees Nibley was a reputable scholar; see appendix 8 of this paper) What concerns us is that articles like this are academic red herrings. Mosser and Owen think evangelicals are losing the battle to Mormon scholarship, but it is a needless worry. Whenever Mormon scholars may be able to prove, they can never prove the truth of Mormonism. Period. At one level, it could perhaps be argued that, "The need is great for trained evangelical biblical scholars, theologians, philosophers and historians to examine and answer the growing body of literature produced by traditional LDS scholars and apologists." 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. If Mormon scholarship has improved, it is only in the depth of its knowledge and sophistication of its arguments, not in proving the truth of its conclusions. Again, we can find a parallel situation in evolutionary literature over the last century. Or, consider an analogy to atheism. Granted, at one level, it may be important to answer the important technical arguments of philosophical atheists, but at its most basic level, this form of atheism needs no refutation since it is so clearly false on evidential grounds and common sense. God has placed an innate knowledge of himself in all men and thus far, probably less than 1/10,000 of 1% of the world is atheistic on strictly philosophical grounds. In a similar fashion, Mormonism is so clearly false on doctrinal grounds, one need not worry their scholarship could ever prove much of anything. Most of what they are producing isn't that important or relevant anyway. Not only is the new evidence cited not persuasive, even if some historical evidence existed for the Book of Mormon and were conclusively established, this would change nothing since it could never prove Mormon doctrine true when it has already been established as false. While it is possible, in theory, for some historical evidence to be discovered that would substantiate aspects of Book of Mormon history, this could never substantiate Mormon theology. As we said earlier, biblical teaching disproved Mormon teaching the day LDS doctrines were first written. So, is it truly relevant when Mosser and Owen point out that gnostic, apocryphal and Kabalistic literature provides some support for Mormonism? So what-- what does this have to do with anything? On what basis do the writings of non-Christians, occultists and pagans determine the truth of biblical Christianity? And what if a few church Fathers may have held beliefs similar to Mormonism at certain points? Does that prove Mormonism true and Christianity false? Mosser and Owen criticize evangelicals for allegedly failing to deal adequately with Mormon scholarship. As they said of James White's article, allegedly, "This article failed on all three points." (p. 23) But maybe evangelicals do not think what Mormons are producing is worth much of a response. Mosser and Owen claimed in their article that they would illustrate how Mormon scholarship was supporting its "unique scriptural canon and doctrinal system" in "intellectually plausible ways" and that "Mormons [had] the training and skills to produce robust defenses of their faith." But they failed on both points. To support means "to corroborate, to bring facts to confirm" and plausible is defined as "seeming to be reasonable or probable, but not proved." The Mormon scholarship they cited has not made a case for Mormonism. Indeed, they themselves are aware of the problem:
"In response to the topics we have been discussing one might assert that they are simply irrelevant to the issue at hand. After all, if Mormons cannot ground their beliefs in the Bible it does not matter whether or not they find support for them among the Dead Sea Scrolls, pseudepigrapha, or church history. Without the Bible it does not matter whether they are using their expertise in Near Eastern history, cultures and languages to defend a possible Near Eastern background for the Book of Mormon. We agree that there is truth in this objection."
(P. 20, emphasis added)Indeed, there is a great deal of truth in this objection. The topics Mosser and Owen discussed "are simply irrelevant to the issue at hand." For proving Mormonism, the Mormon scholarship they cite proves nothing. However, they go on to state, "But, the issues are not so simple that they can be dismissed in this way." Mosser and Owen argue that Mormons are now building an effective LDS contextual superstructure: "necessary for a proper interpretation of the Bible, particularly the New Testament. They are arranging the evidence in a manner that will, if flaws are not demonstrated, warrant an interpretation of the New Testament that is both historically-culturally based and at odds with evangelicals theology." (p. 21) In other words, they believe Mormons are now laying the groundwork for an interpretation of the Bible that may effectively support Mormon beliefs. This is nonsense. Mormons are indeed "arranging the evidence"-- but hardly in an objective or credible fashion. Liberals like those in the "Jesus Seminar" have also tried to do this and failed, despite all their scholarship, as we indicated in The Facts on False Views of Jesus: the Truth about the Jesus Seminar (Harvest House, 1997). First, the flaws are already demonstrated in this kind of approach because the accepted historical, grammatical interpretation of the New Testament establishes Christian doctrine, not Mormon doctrine or liberal conclusions about Jesus. Second, because Christian doctrine is beyond dispute on this very basis, all Mormon attempts to establish their interpretive superstructure, at least for any objective analysis/interpretation of scripture, are doomed to failure.
But one would not know this from reading How Wide the Divide? A Mormon and an Evangelical in Conversation (InterVarsity, 1997). In 1992, we warned that there was an effort underway to reach and/or use evangelicals to make Mormonism seem Christian, even evangelical, by emphasizing alleged areas of common ground. (We have also seen this with Catholics in the "Evangelical and Catholics together" statement, Unification Church members in their Evangelical/Unification church dialogues, and with others.) Besides the above title, a number of additional books have recently been written claiming that Mormonism and Christianity are not so opposed as commonly believed by members of both faiths. These including Stephen E. Robinson's, Are Mormons Christian? (1991) and Richard R. Hopkins? Biblical Mormonism (1994), both of which add greatly to the confusion among the uninformed-- and also fail to accomplish their goal of showing how Christian Mormonism really is. In their book, evangelical Christian scholar Dr. Craig Blomberg of Denver seminary and Mormon scholar Dr. Stephen Robinson of Brigham Young university attempt a dialogue to show areas of agreement and difference. As I, John Weldon, spent the first hour reading this book, I also heard not one but two nationally televised ads of the Mormon Church attempting to draw in unsuspecting converts. I thought it ironic. Here I was reading a book by a "progressive" evangelical--(one wonders what that term even means anymore?)--a book that confuses eternal issues, and simultaneously thousands of people were responding to Mormon TV ads making them susceptible to a 'gospel' that would damn them forever. That's the point no dialogue will ever get beyond. Nevertheless, consider some of the claims and declarations of agreement Dr. Robinson, author of Are Mormons Christians? and Believing Christ argues that,
"Yes, Latter-day Saints believe things that Evangelicals do not, but the huge amount of doctrinal and scriptural overlap and agreement between us is much greater than the disagreement."
(P. 60)Later, he declares,
"As the Saints have returned to careful study of the Scriptures, we have been reminded of the importance of what we share with mainline Christians: Christ-centered living, the doctrine of the atonement, grace, justification by faith, and sanctification by the Spirit."
(Ibid. p. 67)Dr. Blomberg and Dr. Robinson conclude together on the topic of scripture that there was "more agreement between us than we had expected to find." (Ibid p. 75) Their joint conclusion on God is that "both Evangelicals and Latter-day Saints believe in an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, infinite, eternal and unchangeable God." (Ibid p. 109-110) Their joint conclusion on Christ and the Trinity is, "Both sides accept the biblical data about Christ and the Trinity, but interpret them by different extrabiblical standards (the ancient creeds for Evangelicals, the modern revelations of Joseph Smith for Mormons)." (Ibid. p. 142) The joint declaration of Dr. Robinson and Blomberg on salvation concludes with the following:
"Both Mormons and evangelicals trust that they will be brought into a right relationship with God by Jesus Christ, who is both the Son of God and God the Son. Both believed in the substitutionary atonement of Christ, justification by faith in Christ, and salvation by grace."
(1997, pp. 186-87)Later they emphasize,
"In fact, adjusted for differences in terminology, the LDS doctrines of justification by faith and salvation by grace are not as different from Evangelical definitions as many on either side believe."
(p.193)Indeed, 12 "foundational propositions of the Christian gospel as we both understand it" are jointly affirmed on p. 195! Their conclusion on the atonement of Christ is that, "We jointly affirm that his death on the cross completed an infinite, vicarious atonement that paid for the sins of the world and reconciled God and humanity." (Ibid, p. 142) Unfortunately, Robinson did not accurately portray or represent Mormonism, so Blomberg was taken in by deception. (Anyone who reads Stephen F. Canon's review of this book in The October-December, 1997 Quarterly Journal or the response by Mormon Dave Combe in "Truth-Telling And Shifting Theologies: An Analytical Look At How Wide The Divide?" from Salt Lake City Sunstone Thursday, 7 August 1997 Session 166, 3:30 - 4:30 p.m., or Dr. John Whites review in the November-December,1997 Christian Research Journal, many other reviews by evangelicals, will see, once again, why evangelicals should never trust Mormons: the deception never ends.) As Cannon points out, and as the Tanners have documented in numerous volumes,
"If the LDS/MGS [magisterium] hadn't, through the years, engaged in publicly denying what has been privately believed and then trying to rewrite history to cover it all up, there wouldn't be the need to evaluate closely every word that proceeds from LDS church headquarters."
(The Quarterly Journal, Volume 17 No. 4 P. 17)One can only wonder what the real outcome of this unfortunate dialogue will be. The stated intent was to clarify, regrettably, it will only confuse -- both Mormons and Christians. Worse, uninformed churches and Christians who take the authors advice at the end of the book may leave themselves open to deception: "Might we look forward to the day when youth groups or adults Sunday-school classes from Mormon and Evangelical churches in the same neighborhoods would gather periodically to share their beliefs with each other in love and for the sake of understanding, not proselytizing? (This has already happened in some places.)" (ibid. p. 191) If, as the authors concluded, "LDS doctrines of justification by faith and salvation by grace are not as different from Evangelical definitions as many on either side believe," (Ibid p. 193) how many young or uninformed Christians might just be open to accepting the Mormon church or even joining it? The Mormons are certainly never going to stop converting everyone they can to their faith. And one can bet the highest heaven that the LDS church will take advantage of every opportunity presented to convert Christians to Mormonism. That's part of their new agenda. So, once again, we see the Christian church taken in by deception. Not surprisingly, L. Ara Norwood of FARMS extolled "their landmark book" in his characteristically slanted review of Kurt Van Gorden's Mormonism, praising the authors for "demonstrat[ing] a mastery of openness and inquiry." To be frank, when someone as biased as Norwood (see below) praises a book on Christian/Mormon dialogue, one can be certain that evangelical Christianity has not been the winner. We think evangelicals should seriously reconsider this 'new' approach to dialogue with Mormons. What is actually indefensible is seeming to or even partially coming to the defense of Mormonism. As James White concluded in his review of How Wide the Divide? :
"The most troubling issue raised by this book is not its inaccurate portrayal of Mormonism, nor even the confusion that that portrayal will inevitably cause many who read it. The most troubling issue is this: are we to be seeking this kind of dialogue?....Where, biblically, are we encouraged to lay out our areas of "agreement" with false teachers? Did Paul seek to minimize the gulf between himself and the false teachers in Galatia, or the gnostics in Colossae, by focusing on similarities?.... The result is that the massive gulf that separates orthodox Christians and Mormons is in danger of being seen as a mere interpretational gap, rather than the canyon that yawns between those who worship the one eternal God and those who promote the exalted man-become-God of Joseph Smith."
(Christian Research Journal November-December 1997 p. 51)They also argue, "If we do not receive one another in full spiritual fellowship, can we not at least become allies in the service of God in temporal affairs?" (P. 192) But did the Apostles Paul or John work together with the Gnostics to oppose the injustices of Rome? Social work is fine, especially when led of God, but temporal earthly issues should never eclipse or confuse eternal heavenly ones. No doubt the motives are good in this kind of dialogue, but they always are. What is often not considered beforehand in endeavors of this type is the damage that is done. The average Christian, not infrequently confused as to the true nature of Mormonism by lack of theological study and fraudulent Mormon claims, is now even further confirmed in their uncertainty or errors by well-meaning evangelicals who argue that Mormon scholarship is credible or that Mormonism and Christianity are compatible in key doctrinal points. As we documented in depth in Behind the Mask of Mormonism, Mormonism is one of the most thoroughgoing anti-Christian cults in the world. And we do not use the term anti-Christian casually. Mormonism is not neutral toward Christianity--it actively opposes it. Because Mormonism is anti-Christian, to compromise with it can neither be considered a faithful defense of the gospel, nor something conducive to the salvation of souls.
The Consequences of Confusion
To illustrate, some Christians are even calling some Mormons "evangelical Christians" and apparently, 26% of Mormons now claim to be "born-again" Christians. This figure was reported in Sunstone magazine for August, 1998, p. 21; it further reported LDS worldwide growth rate from 1978-93 at 156%, U.S growth rate at 82% and Africa's growth rate at an unbelievable 963%--almost 1000%! This is hardly the time, then, to confuse theologies. If a poll were conducted to determine how many Christians currently believe Mormons are Christian, we would not be surprised if the figure were embarrassingly high. Even former President and Southern Baptist Jimmy Carter illustrates our concerns at this point. According to The Quarterly Journal Volume 18 No. 2 p. 3 Carter
"Has denounced leaders of his denomination for declaring that professing members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are non-Christians.... the former U.S. President also told the Mormon-owned Deseret News that his church's leaders were 'narrow in their definition of what is a proper Christian or certainly even a proper Baptist.' The newspaper also declared that Carter had misgivings about 'Christians trying to convert other Christians' [i.e., Mormons]."With confusion like this, Christians obviously need to be better informed on Mormonism.