Monday, March 31, 2014

Letter to a Mormon Friend

M---, my friend, thank you for your response, and I understand why you think so highly of Mormonism and the temples of Mormonism. I see where you are coming from.

However, my deep concern is that I'm afraid you have jumped-the-gun religiously. That is, as a Mormon (and this is true of basically every single Mormon that I have ever met) you have a very strong conviction about Christianity and Mormonism before you have actually understood what Christianity is on its own terms. You haven't truly wrestled with the Bible on its own terms - not through the lens of Joseph Smith and Mormonism, but rather handling it fairly for what it is in itself. You have to appreciate and grasp the problem before you can honestly have the solution. You have to know the question before you can truthfully have the answer. But the Mormons I know don't know their Bibles. They don't know the Old and New Testaments. Yes, they have read them, but they haven't reckoned with them. They have read them as Mormon apologists, not as Biblical disciples. Mormons have shortcut their way to Mormonism with "Moroni's Challenge" (Moroni 10:4): pray about the Book of Mormon and you will receive a personal revelation that Mormonism is true. I know many Mormons who have done this and they obtained a conviction that Mormonism was true even before they knew what was in the Book of Mormon itself, let alone the Bible! But how can one be sure of the correctness and legitimacy of "Moroni's Challenge" if one doesn't even know what is at stake Scripturally, nor what one is dealing with historically? What if God forbade or gave qualified warnings about such challenges, and a person is ignorant of the prohibition and warnings? How would such a person have the tools to examine the claims of Mormonism - or even know how he should, and that he should, examine them - unless he was aware of and understood what God had already revealed? Without reckoning with the past we are totally unprepared for the present. The past simply cannot be skipped over for the sake of such "challenges". I'm afraid that Mormonism underestimates the danger of ignorance.

I, too, am interested in revelation, M---, but I am not interested in ignoring the critical inquiry into what God has already revealed in the past in order to skip ahead and presume to ask God to reveal things directly to me in the present. This method, of course, is deeply ingrained in the Mormon way of thinking and it is difficult for Mormons to think outside of it. You must see that this method is taught by Mormonism, and so to accept this method at the outset is to gullibly buy into Mormonism even before uttering a single prayer. You are uncritically believing Mormonism that the method is legitimate, simply because it seems right. But has God said anything about this? This question is the befitting first question, for if we really want to hear from God, then the first inquiry should not be "God, I want to hear from you so speak to me now", but "God, I want to hear from you, have you said anything already?" The former is presumptuous and self-centered; the latter is sober and requires humility. Furthermore, only a person who is ignorant of God's past revelation would even entertain such a thing as "Moroni's Challenge", because anyone who has cut their teeth on the Bible will see right away that that is not the method God endorses. In the Bible, historical revelation is never to be set aside for immediate personal revelation; historical revelation is to be jealously sought for, scrupulously guarded and preserved, and passed down by parents to their children and their grandchildren. God does not plan on uttering the Ten Commandments again; He has already uttered His voice. It is the responsibility of those who heard His voice to pass this revelation on to those who didn't hear it, and it is the responsibility of those who didn't hear it themselves to learn from their elders and inquire about the past, and they are held accountable for what they have been taught. There is another crucial issue that is at stake here as well. It is by God's past revelation that later revelations are to be judged and evaluated (Deut. 13:1-5, Is. 8:20, Jer. 23:16-18). Bypass the past and you are a defenseless prey for false teachers (which is precisely what has happened to Mormons). Quoting James 1:5 as proof for such a challenge is not seriously reckoning with the Bible on its own terms. Asking of God can also mean inquiring into the Scriptures. Yet if one does ask of God by prayer, one is never to do so by ignoring or bypassing what God has already revealed. James would turn in his grave if he saw how Mormons are using his encouragement. Remember, M---, I am one who rejects Mormonism, not because I reject the idea of personal revelation whatsoever, but because I am convinced that the content of Mormonism contradicts what God has already revealed. This conviction is based upon my taking seriously past revelation. I believe past revelation is trustworthy and that Mormon teaching is not in harmony with it. Put yourself in my shoes and you will appreciate why I don't believe in Mormonism, and why "Moroni's Challenge" is useless and suspect to me as well as to everyone who takes to heart the past revelation of God. The only way I could ever believe in Mormonism is if one of two things happened: one, if I lost confidence in the trustworthiness of the past revelation of God; or two, if I came to see that Mormonism's teaching is not in disharmony with the past revelation of God. This is the true challenge facing Mormons if they want to honestly convince others to join Mormonism.

Mormons either do not believe God's past revelation is trustworthy, or else they believe that the teachings of Mormonism are not in disharmony with it. My point in this letter is that these two convictions gain root because Mormons are not reckoning seriously with the Bible. These two convictions jump-the-gun. Consider, for instance, that Mormons believe that the past revelation of God is not trustworthy because Joseph's Smith's later revelations told them that they were not trustworthy (1 Nephi 13). This conviction is not based upon any sound investigation of the evidence. Attempts to discredit the Bible's trustworthiness by appealing to history and evidence have in the past only served to confirm our confidence in the Bible. Consider the fact that Dr. Bart Ehrman, perhaps the most vocal critic of the New Testament in our day, has himself admitted that the New Testament we possess today has preserved the essential message of its ancient original (Misquoting Jesus, p. 207). So again we see that Mormonism isn't based upon an honest reckoning with the Bible at all, but is based on the word of Joseph Smith. There is reason not to believe Smith when he tells us that the Bible has been corrupted and that we simply need to pray about Mormonism. Smith's words are also in disharmony with God's past revelation, for Jesus said that it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for God's Word to pass away (or is this one of those corrupt passages? According to what? Any evidence? No, Smith!).

This issue of harmony and disharmony is my biggest concern. The Mormons I have met have a superficial knowledge of the Bible. They haven't begun to seriously wrestle with the Bible on its own terms - not through the lens of Mormonism, but as it is in itself. I know you are not an unintelligent person, M---, nor am I in any way suggesting that Mormons are unintelligent, but I am arguing that the Mormons I have met haven't used their God-given intelligence in a God-honoring way. We are commanded to love God with all our minds (Deut. 6:5) which means grappling with the real questions no matter how difficult and unnerving. Have you ever noticed that in the LDS tradition there are virtually no commentaries on Biblical Scripture? I don't mean lesson manuals and the devotional volumes you can buy at Desert Book. Recently a professor at BYU actually admitted to me that this was true, that there are virtually no commentaries on Biblical Scripture in Mormonism which seriously grapple with the text of Scripture and engage with current scholarship. Most Mormons I know don't even know what a commentary really is. If you compare the immense labor that the Christian tradition has put into wrestling with and understanding the Scriptures next to the Mormon tradition it will appear like the Himalayan mountains next to a flat plain. The reason for this is simply that Christians believe the Bible is God's inspired Word that is trustworthy. They are reckoning with it deeply (and have been doing so for the last two thousand years). Mormonism, on the other hand, starts off with the idea from Joseph Smith's that it's not worth your time - or your faith! - to seriously study it. But it is essential that we understand the past if we want to understand the present and the future. You've got to know where you are in the story; you've got to know what people have thought before you came along; you've got to appreciate and sink your teeth into the wealth of hard work that has gone into understanding the Bible if you want to seriously address the situation. Mormons are late-comers to a conversation who nevertheless seem to have all sorts of opinions to voice but who haven't even paused to listen and hear what has been said in the conversation already. If you take what has been said already in the conversation seriously, you would never say the things that you now are saying.

M---, I am begging you to wrestle with the past and not just believe Joseph Smith. Skipping ahead and asking God for present revelation is in fact hypocrisy, because if you really want to hear from God the first thing you will ask is whether God has said anything already. An honest evaluation of what God has already said will reveal to you more than you can possibly imagine. You will learn that God has said a lot. Past revelation is a treasure-trove just waiting to mined. You will see that the Scriptures which have been passed down to us are the truth as well as your only defense against false teaching. I want you to know and experience the true love and grace of Jesus Christ, and to know the one true God of Israel. You think you are free but you are not. You haven't yet tasted freedom and life. You haven't yet drunk from the true fountain of living waters, because those waters are found in Christ, the true Christ of history, and received by true faith. But how could you know any different unless you inquired?

"Because my people have forgotten me, they make offerings to false gods; they made them stumble in their ways, from the ancient roads, and to walk into side roads, not the highway." (Jer. 18:15)

Your friend,

No comments: