Email Conversation w… on Email Conversation with a Latt…
Every apologist, every witness for Christ, who is faithful to the message of Christian Gospel will most certainly encounter the question “So, do you think I am going to hell?” or some variation of it. It is a question we must all be prepared to answer. When you are making the case to a non-believer that the Christian worldview is true, most of them will bring up some form of this question. It will either be relating to their own situation, or it may be in the form of “so you think that everyone in the world who is not a Christian is going to hell?”. They want to pin you down on this question and use this to impugn your character (and God’s character) and show how intolerant that view is.
The answer I normally give to this question is not to initially focus on hell, but rather to focus on the nature of heaven. Heaven is the home of God and of Jesus (who is God). So, the question is, why would a person, who spends the ~80 years they have on this planet trying to avoid God – not going to church, not praying, not reading the Bible – why would that type of person want to go to heaven? Going to heaven means to be in the presence of God for all of eternity. Going to heaven would be hell for that person. So, the only other choice for an eternal destination is separation from God. To the people who’ve lived their lives trying to stay away from God and His people, this doesn’t sound like such a bad deal. However, what they don’t realize is that everything good comes from God (James 1:17). Therefore, separation from God means separation from everything good, which is what we call hell. Hell is described as a place of outer darkness – it will not be a party with all the other unbelievers.
This earth is the closest thing to heaven a non-believer will ever experience. The reason is “common grace”. Jesus said the Father “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Mat 5:45) This is the common grace we experience in this present world. But once you’ve made your decision about God here, your decision is ratified for eternity (Heb 9:27). If you decide you want to be excluded from God, He will respect your decision and give you what you want. Someone once said “To reject God you have to love your sin so much that you are willing to spend eternity in hell in order to hold onto it”.
Another thing that I normally talk about is an analogy that we can all relate to. Let’s say that you and your family have been thrown out of your house for some reason (maybe foreclosure) and you decide to pack up all your belongings and go up to the biggest mansion in your town with the intention of moving in with the owners. You go up to the door and say, “Hi, we’re here to move in with you. We have all our belongings out in the car.” What do you think the owner of that mansion will say? Of course they’re going to say “Whaaaaat? I don’t even know you!” Suppose you reply, “yeah, but I’ve been a really good person”. They still refuse: “Well, that’s really nice that you think think you’ve been a very good person, but that doesn’t change the fact that I don’t know you. Sorry, you can’t move in with me.” Then they shut the door. In the same way God is not going to allow someone into heaven that has spent their whole life trying to avoid Him. As Jesus said in Matthew 7:21-23 -
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
Everyone knows the words that Jesus spoke in John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His One and Only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life“. But not many people know that He also defined “eternal life” while praying to the Father in John 17:3:
Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
So, I think the answer to question the unbeliever asks is yes. But it helps to be able to explain it in a way that makes sense to them and that does not portray God as being an arbitrary and vindictive judge.
To the challenge the late Christopher Hitchens raised “Name one moral action performed by a believer that could not have been done by a nonbeliever”, I would answer this. The very first command given by Jesus while He was on planet earth was recorded in Mark 1:15:
“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”
Could a nonbeliever do this? Would he not at that very moment cease to be a nonbeliever? And the second command Jesus gave is recorded 2 verses later in Mark 1:17:
“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.”
Likewise, a nonbeliever could not perform this moral action (following Jesus). This action would involve denial of self and yielding to and following the only truly good One who ever was. They may disagree that these are to be classified as moral actions. As a Christian, these are viewed as commands from the Creator God, which by definition are moral obligations to be fulfilled.
As I think about these 2 verses from the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, I can’t help but see that these 4 commands:
- Repent (v15)
- Believe the Gospel (v15)
- Follow Jesus (v17)
- Bring others to Christ – become “fishers of men” (v17)
These really define what it is to be a Christian!
This is a continuation of a conversation. The first part can be read here.
Friend (response): Please consider Peter’s declaration of Christ’s divinity “Thou are the Christ, the Son of the living God” from Matthew 14 I believe.
How much of Peter’s testimony is based on physical evidence? Would I be too bold by saying NONE of his testimony came from the observable physical evidence Peter was subjected to on a daily basis. In fact, God gives us a more sure way of knowing truth. I know you know this. I know you know the power of the Holy Spirit bearing witness of truth and because you know that I am concerned that you believe this (the truth or untruth of the Book of Mormon) to be outside the realm of the Holy Spirit.
In fact, I would suggest that the rock upon which the church is built is “flesh and blood hath not revealed this but my Father which is in Heaven” or in other words, the rock upon which His church is built is truth distilled upon the minds of believers and non-believers by the power of the Holy Spirit. No other explanation makes sense as the power of Satan over men makes it a simple matter to pervert the correct ways of the Lord. Only revelation through the Spirit can prevail against the gates of hell (see Matt 14). This is how Peter knew who Jesus really was, it’s how you know the Bible to be true and how you know Jesus is the Savior. The physical evidence is not your primary source of truth (I hope) but only serves to support that which has been revealed to you by the Spirit of God.
No man knows the things of God because they are spiritually discerned (I Corinthians 2:14). “But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit” (I Corinthians 2:10).
“… when the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come” (John 16:12-13).
Do you suppose that if the Book of Mormon were true that there would be no opposition to it or to discredit its origin? How often were prophets rejected? I am not making the argument that any person claiming to be a prophet is a true prophet if he is rejected but I am saying that almost all true prophets are rejected.
The interesting thing about history is that it is written by people and people have perceptions and perceptions tend to bend the truth to suit our agendas. We have discussed this many times with respect to things both you and I believe but others do not.
You mentioned the Kinderhook plates. In your mind they are yet another brick in the wall of evidence that proves Joseph Smith was a false prophet. What is the truth surrounding this and does the truth even matter if your mind is made up? Jesus healed on the Sabbath. That is a fact. He was therefore in violation of the law of Moses (also a fact). I could dismiss Him because of the evidence (prophets do not break God’s laws, this man broke God’s law therefore He is not prophet) or I could seek greater enlightenment and then make a decision.
Why did the individual who claimed to plant the Kinderhhook plates wait until both Joseph and his co-conspirators had died before revealing that he planted them in an attempt to reveal Joseph as a fraud? If Joseph truly did declare the plates to be genuine then wouldn’t that be the time to reveal him an imposter? Or could William Clayton’s journal entry (the only recorded evidence of Joseph’s thoughts regarding the Kinderhook plates) be in error? If Joseph thought them to be real, when did he not pursue them as he had with the Abraham papyri? Either Joseph thought them to be real or he did not. If he thought them real why did he dismiss them (by his actions)? Bricks of evidence tend get thinner under objective scrutiny. I also have perceptions that are different from your perceptions when it comes to Joseph Smith. You see a malevolent man set on disrupting Christianity and seeking his own desires. The same was said about Jesus and every other prophet I’m sure. I am not saying Jesus was a only a prophet by the way.
If you only associated with people like Saul and Caiphas and the Sanhedrin, then you would have some fantastic evidence about how evil the man Jesus was. I think you are more like Peter rather than Paul. Don’t be the guy that has to see to believe. There are richer blessings for those who do not have to see the physical evidence and yet believe.
All I am saying is if the fruit is good then don’t dismiss the source because it doesn’t fit into your world view. Jesus healed on the Sabbath – that is some very good fruit even though it may not fit my perception of what a man calling Himself the Son of God would do.
To be clear I am not suggesting that you accept anything based on my word or any other person’s word. The Book of Mormon is the evidence. If Joseph Smith was a false prophet then the Book of Mormon is false. That seems to be your argument based on the assumption that Joseph Smith is the evidence. But he cannot be the evidence because he was hated or loved depending on who you talk to. No he cannot be the evidence you submit to God for an answer. The Book of Mormon is the evidence. If it is true then Joseph Smith is a prophet. That is the only way to get past the smoke and mirrors of history.
You are my friend and I only hope for you to realize what God has promised you and your family. Why do you need to know if the Book of Mormon is true? Why does it matter? In matters because if it is true the the following is also true:
Families are eternal units and you can continue to enjoy familial relationships beyond mortality
God has once again dispensed His Holy priesthood to benefit His children and you can receive that priesthood or authority to bless others
God continues to lead us with prophets and apostles
The nature of God is not a mystery. He is our literal Father (of our spirits), Jesus is His son and they are separate and distinct individuals. Jesus is a God with the Father and He is our elder brother (I know the idea of a plurality of Gods somehow violates your worldview but it is scriptural as you know – Eloheim is of course a plurality).
These and many other truths are revealed in our time for our benefit. This is why it matters. Does rejecting the Book of Mormon jeopardize your salvation? Absolutely not. But if true, you are living well beneath your ability with respect to who you really are and what God intends for you to become. Salvation describes a range of inheritances. I know that in your view it has only two options – saved or unsaved and that is true. But in the realm of the saved there is much much more to understand. So if you base the importance of what I have written on whether it will impact you salvation then the answer is no. But I submit that the thief on the cross receives a different inheritance than Peter.
As I have often stated in our discussions, what you believe is not nearly as important as who you have become. Ghandi, for example, when he sees His savior will recognize Him and worship at His feet and there will be very little distance between who Ghandi has become by how he has lived and who he has to be to live eternally with our Savior. At that point, Ghandi, an imperfect being who has separated himself from God by sin as we all have, can accept the redeeming love of his Savior and be redeemed from his sin. He and all the children of God who have not known the Savior can have their sins redeemed. The problem is for those who have only confessed with their mouth but not brought forth fruit worthy of their salvation (and I am not referring to salvation by works). These are people who have not become meek, humble and submissive to God as a child is to his parent. Even though they have professed the Savior even all their lives and are recipients of salvation offered, they will not have the same inheritance as Peter or Ghandi (assuming Ghandi to be a man who tried to live by the same kind of principles taught by Jesus).
So I have written many things here and I know much of it is abrasive to your worldview. The Book of Mormon is the evidence and you must look at it if you want to know the truth of it. Joseph Smith was a man, not a perfect man but a flawed man like all men are. You can focus on and amplify those flaws and see someone very different that who he really was. Others have done the same with Jesus and concluded He was not God. I will not speak any more of this matter unless you want to. I only want what is good for you and of course I know you wish the same for me. We are at bridge and I am beckoning you to follow me across that bridge. Not because if you stay where you are you will be destroyed but because I know life on this side of the bridge is more fulfilling. However, from you perspective, my side of the bridge leads you away from the truth you already know. Look at everyone you know on this side of the bridge, do they produce evil fruit? We love the Savior. We know the pain He suffered for us. We know we have a debt of gratitude for which we can never repay. We know we must travel the road He traveled which is lonely at times but worth the journey. You also love the Savior. So if we never cross the bridge until the Savior reveals Himself to us personally then I know we are both on the right general path and that is enough for me to know our friendship will endure beyond the grave.
Me: Wow, that was a BIG email. You know there are a couple times in there where it seemed like you thought that you were in danger of offending me. You don’t have to worry about that – I promise you! I don’t take any of your writing as abrasive. And I know right off the bat that we have many things that we disagree about, so that in and of itself would never offend me. You are a great friend and as I stated before, I love talking about these issues with you. In fact, I think there is no more important thing we could be talking about. As I’ve said in our conversations before, if I’m going to die on any hill in battle, it would be the hill of Jesus Christ!
So… Regarding your first point about Peter. That is a really great point and has certainly caused me to think carefully. It is true that Jesus said in Mat 16:17 “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” Now as I look at this statement, He is not saying that evidence did not play any role at all in Peter coming to the conclusion that He was the Christ, but simply that no person on earth revealed it to him, but rather the Father in heaven. In fact in the 3 gospels where this statement is recorded, 2 of them record miracles in the chapter (Mark 8 – feeding of 4000 and the healing of the blind man at Bethsaida, Luke 9 – Feeding of the 5000, the transfiguration and the healing of the boy with an evil spirit) and 1 both predicts and reminds the disciples of miracles in the chapter (Mat 16 – predicts the sign of Jonah [v4 - the resurrection] and His death and resurrection [v21], and reminded them about both the feeding of the 4000 and 5000 [v9-10]), so we can surmise that Jesus was certainly doing a lot of miracles right around that time. So, I look at Peter, a guy who met Jesus maybe 2 years earlier, walking around with Him, eating with Him, living with Him on the road (homeless) seeing Him do all these miracles and it definitely makes sense that the revelation he was receiving from the Father in heaven lined up with what he was seeing with his eyes. If he had thought his Father in heaven was instead revealing Matthew (Levi) the tax collector as the Christ, I think he would’ve questioned the revelation as maybe a bad burrito the night before. I think the only reason that Peter made that profession of faith was that the spiritual revelation he had was in accordance with what he’d experienced. Peter had personal experience with Jesus. He knew Jesus – intimately as a member of his inner circle. He saw all the miracles first hand. He was putting it all together. I believe Jesus when He said that the Father revealed it to him, but I also believe Peter would not have made the profession if the profession did not line up with what he was personally experiencing.
Your quotation of 1 Cor 2:14 is absolutely appropriate and so is 1 Cor 1:18 “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Now as I said in my last email “belief is not even a natural condition for sinful man without the intervention of God”, so I agree with you there. God must intervene to open our eyes so that we can evaluate the evidence fairly. But that doesn’t mean that once we have our eyes open we instantly just believe. It just means that we no longer have that enmity against God. J. Warner Wallace has a great analogy he gives about anchovies on pizza. He said that he hates anchovies, but if God were to remove that hatred for anchovies, it is not like he’d immediately go around seeking to find an anchovy pizza, but the next time he went to a restaurant and saw a menu with anchovies as an option we would be able to freely choose the anchovies because the hatred against anchovies had been removed. He would still have to see that as an option on a menu or someone eating them to even consider ordering anchovies. In the same way, once our eyes have been opened, someone still needs to present the gospel to us and then we would be able to freely choose to say yes. Again, though, that presentation of the gospel should be backed by evidence. No one is going to receive the flying spaghetti monster as lord because there’s no evidence to back it/him up.
Unfortunately, it’s time to go to work, so I’ll have to stop here. I’ll reply on the rest of the points (hopefully) tomorrow.
Continuing on from yesterday… Here is my concern. When you say that the Book of Mormon is the evidence, not Joseph Smith, I believe that I understand what you are saying. I hear you saying – evaluate the text in and of itself, don’t evaluate the man who wrote it down, because he is just a fallen human being like the rest of us. But the Book of Mormon is 100% linked to the integrity of this single man – Joseph Smith. This is nothing like the Bible, which was written by 40 authors over 1500 years and has plenty of historical and archeological evidence to back it up (not requiring blind faith to believe it). Joseph Smith is the only one who had the vision. He is the only one who claimed to translate these plates (which were not even present during the translation process). No one else could verify it. He is the only one who translated the ancient Egyptian scrolls that became the Book of Abraham. The complete system relies on his integrity. There is no way for anyone else to verify that what he said/wrote was not just an elaborate hoax. He used the same ‘technology’ (the seer stone) to do the translation that he’d used in his former treasure digging (resulting in fraud charges against him and a trial in 1826). He is the one who started an “anti-bank” in Kirtland Ohio that failed (resulting in lawsuits and arrests). He was the one who claimed that polygamy was ordained by God after he was caught in an adulterous affair with Fanny Alger. You may talk about the 3 witnesses (or 8 witnesses) as verifying what Joseph wrote down and seeing the golden plates. In fact some LDS missionaries stopped by my house the other day and brought up the witnesses as evidence. But here is some information that contradicts the [3 or 8] witnesses reliability:
“Oliver Cowdery was eventually excommunicated from the Church after exposing Smith’s first polygamous relationship to Fanny Alger. Smith described Cowdery as a thief, liar, perjurer, counterfeiter, adulterer and leader of “scoundrels of the deepest degree”. Cowdery later became a Methodist and denied the Book of Mormon altogether and publicly confessed his “sorrow and Shame” for having any connection with Mormonism.
Martin Harris was a member of 5 different religious groups before becoming a Mormon, and he was part of eight different groups after leaving Mormonism. He was also excommunicated from the Mormon Church and later reported that he did not see the plates as Smith described, but only saw the plates three days after Cowdery and Whitmer and then only in a spiritual sense:
“I never saw the gold plates, only in a visionary or entranced state. …In about three days I went into the woods to pray that I might see the plates. While praying I passed into a state of entrancement, and in that state I saw the angel and the plates.” (Anthony Metcalf, Ten Years Before the Mast, n.d., microfilm copy, p. 70-71).
David Whitmer was also excommunicated from the Church and later declared that he was himself a prophet of the New Church of Christ. Joseph called him a “dumb beast to ride” and an “ass to bray out coursings instead of blessings”. Whitmer later admitted that he saw the plates “by the eye of faith” rather than with his physical eyes and he waffled between three varying accounts of how he saw the plates.
Eventually, Smith decided that this group of three “witnesses” was insufficient; he involved eight additional men and recruited them as potential eyewitnesses, forming a group of eleven total witnesses to the golden plates. Smith limited his choices to men that were close friends and relatives. He first involved four brothers of David Whitmer. Smith next recruited his own father, two of his brothers and Hiram Page (who was married to David Whitmer’s sister, Catherine). Even though Smith limited his choices to close friends and relatives, these men also had trouble staying true to the faith founded on the golden plates they claimed to see. Two of these eight men apostatsized and left the Church altogether. Another was excommunicated. Of the eleven men who claimed to see the golden plates, only five remained faithful to Mormonism. Three of these five men were blood relatives of Joseph Smith. Martin Harris later reported that these additional eight witnesses also observed the plates in a vision and never saw the plates with their “natural eyes”.
After the translation of the plates, Smith claimed that they were returned to the angel and were no longer available for examination. For this reason, no other witnesses were ever present to authenticate the golden plates.”
Why are people who were excommunicated from the Church listed in the front of the Book of Mormon as witnesses?
Regarding Jesus healing on the Sabbath – Jesus said in Mark 2 that the Sabbath made for man and that He is the Lord of the Sabbath. Jesus is God and He is our Sabbath rest. The Sabbath is a picture … a type. There is a pretty decent little article here that talks about this topic. So, it was the legalistic Pharisees who accused Him of this violation of the law. Since Jesus is God and the Sabbath was made for man, it could be argued that #1, the Pharisees misunderstood the Sabbath and were wrong in accusing Jesus of violating it and #2, Jesus didn’t need to follow the Sabbath since it was for humanity, #3 Jesus created the Sabbath and knows the purpose of it better than the Pharisees and they are wrong, not Him. So, I don’t believe Jesus violated that law. So, you are correct in not dismissing Jesus because of this. But Jesus has infinitely more in the way of credentials and trustworthiness than any other prophet (including Joseph Smith).
Regarding a plurality of Gods. There is one God – scripture is clear about that. See the following references (Rom 3:30, Isaiah 42:8, 43:10-11, 44:6-8, 45:21-24, 46:9-10, Neh 9:6, Deut 32:39, Hosea 13:4, [the shema] Deut 6:4 and Mk 12:29. 1 Cor 8:4, 1 Tim 2:5, James 2:19). Many more can be given. So, I don’t think it is possible for a Christian to believe that there can be more than 1 God. However, that one God is revealed in Scripture as 3 co-eternal, co-equal persons: The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit. Each of the persons revealed in the godhead are described with the attributes of deity and described with personal male pronouns (He). I don’t have the time to list all the references supporting this, but trust me, there are many (you can use the Nuggets app and look at the tags ‘Deity of Jesus Christ’, ‘Holy Spirit’ and ‘trinity’). So, since both things are true (there is 1 God and in Scripture He is revealed in 3 persons) we can’t just throw one of them out and say there are 3 Gods which clearly contradicts Scripture. Just because our finite human minds can’t fully comprehend the nature of God, doesn’t mean we can’t trust Him on His revelation of Himself. I would not expect to be able fully comprehend (in this mortal life) everything about the God that made the enormous universe and everything in it.
I know there are a lot of other things I’ve yet to address from your last email, but I need to chunk this response bit by bit.
Thanks for listening…
It is amazing that you’ve got me responding a 3rd day in a row! And it may go beyond that J A lot of great content in your email… Let’s get to it.
First off, I’ve been meaning to ask this and I keep forgetting… When I talk to you (and even when the Mormon missionaries stopped by this past Saturday), it seems like there is always a suggestion to read the Book of Mormon and pray to God about it to inquire as to whether it is true. I have 2 questions:
- I don’t have any idea how many religions there are in the world, but are we supposed to read all of their holy books and pray about them too, or just the Book of Mormon?
- I’m pretty sure the answer to this question is no, but I’ll ask it anyway: have you read the Qur’an and prayed to God to see if it is true? If not, why not?
The statement that if the Book of Mormon is true, then families are eternal units is at odds with Jesus, who said “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” (Matt 22:29-30)
Regarding someone like Ghandi, I would not want to give him or anyone like him any false assurance that they would have any chance after this life to accept Christ. Paul says “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others.” (2 Cor 5:10-11b) and the author of Hebrews says “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment”. (Heb 9:27) Again, I would look at all the verses about repentance and salvation in Nuggets. The verse that I think you’ve referred to in the past about Jesus going to preach to the prisoners (1 Peter 3:19), I understand to mean that Christ was proclaiming victory, not offering salvation to those already physically dead.
As I’m re-reading through the bottom half of your last email, I see the plea for me to follow you “across the bridge” where life is more fulfilling and if I don’t, I won’t be destroyed. I hear what you’re saying. I can’t help but be reminded by Pascal’s wager – the classic argument typically used in the context of Christian vs. Atheist. But I’m seeing it as classical Christianity vs. LDS. Typically the argument with Atheists goes something like this (Christian speaking to the Atheist and phrased in my own wording):
- If my worldview is right and there is a God and a judgment/reward, then when I die, I’ve avoided judgment and have hit the jackpot – I get eternal life of bliss and joy in heaven with Christ forever!
- If my worldview is wrong and there is no God, no afterlife, then when I die, we are both in the same position – dead – nothingness. I’ve still lived a good life ~80 years, having a hope in a God who happened not to be there. I was happy but deceived.
- If your worldview is right, then you die just like me, we end up in the same state (worm food), all you’ve gained is ~80 years of the pleasures of life on earth and have had the “freedom” to live how you wanted (which only leads to emptiness).
- If your worldview is wrong, you end up with eternal torment in hell separated from God and everything that is good, the worst of all possible situations.
So, the argument goes that you have more to gain and less to lose when you choose to believe in God. The risk is too great and the benefit too small not to believe in God.
In a similar way, we could cast the argument in terms of our worldviews:
- If classical Christianity is true and the Book of Mormon and other LDS scriptures are just the words of a man (and therefore whatever is taught in them that contradicts the Bible amounts to another religion/God), then when I die, I’ve avoided judgment and have hit the jackpot – I get eternal life of bliss and joy in heaven with Christ forever!
- If the LDS view of the world is correct and the book of Mormon is true, as I understand it, being a Christian will not get me thrown into hell, but rather, only the first level of heaven, which I believe Joseph Smith said if you could get a glimpse of it, you’d want to commit suicide to get there since it is so wonderful. So, my end state is still REALLY good if I don’t become a Mormon.
- If the LDS view of the world is correct, then you will go to the celestial kingdom/level of heaven and have a much greater eternal reward than me. I know there are many other points/benefits you’d add here…
- If the LDS view of the world is NOT correct, then you are risking having spent your life believing/following the words of a man who claimed to be speaking for God and was not – a false prophet. What that means for you in the afterlife, I’m not sure… Heaven, hell? I’m not totally sure about that.
So, taking the same argument, I would phrase it as: you have more to gain and less to lose when you choose to believe the classical Christianity view of the world (the Bible is the word of God and the LDS scriptures are not). The risk is too great and the benefit too small to commit to the LDS view of the world. Using that logic, it would not be wise for me to switch, but it would be wise for you to switch.
Jesus said that “unless you believe that I AM HE, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24). As I understand, the word “HE” is not in the Greek, so, really He was using the phrase “I AM” from Exodus 3:14, where God met Moses at the burning bush. Jesus said both directly and indirectly that there is one God (Mark 12:29) and that He is that God (John 14:6, John 8:58, John 10:30-33) and that one God is also revealed in 3 co-equal, co-eternal persons (John 14:26, Matthew 28:18-20). All the New Testament authors agree. If there is any doctrine of the LDS faith that views God in ways that are not biblical, then it would seem to be that the LDS faith describes and worships a different God (idolatry/polytheism).
So, I appreciate your offer to “walk across the bridge”, but I would say the risk is too great (because the circumstantial case against the author of the LDS scriptures is too great). But I would like to offer to you to walk back across the bridge (before any of the planks fall out) and join me on this side. We have great friendship, but we could really have biblical fellowship (i.e. Acts 2:42)! I am concerned of course about your eternal destiny. As I said, I don’t know what God holds in store in the afterlife for those on your side of the bridge, but I would not want you to take any chances.
This is an actual email conversation between me (an ‘evangelical’ Christian) and my friend (a Latter Day Saint). It has been “sanitized” to remove personal names and references to other things we did not want to share. My friend has agreed with the idea of me posting this and we thought it may help someone reading it.
Me (initial email): Hopefully all is going well… I thought this was a good little blurb by Greg Koukl off of his STR app:
By: Greg Koukl
Whenever you hear someone say, “I am personally against abortion, but I don’t think you should pass any laws against it,” one question should immediately be on your lips: “Tell me, why are you personally against abortion?” What you’ll almost always hear is, “I’m personally against abortion because I think it kills an innocent human being, but that’s my personal belief. I don’t think I should force this belief on others.”
Follow up with this comment: “Let me see if I understand you correctly. You actually believe that abortion takes the life of an innocent human child, but mothers should still be allowed to do that to their own children.” Then pause and let the logic of his comment sink in.
When I asked this question of one person he quickly responded, “Well, when you put it that way…”
I said, “Put it what way? That’s your view, unless I’ve misunderstood you. Please correct me if I have. As I understand it, that’s precisely what you believe.
This isn’t a trick. It’s not clever ‘spin.’ I merely repeated what he’d just told me. That was his view. It just didn’t sound so good coming back at him.
Friend: Yes – It always bothers me when someone tries to sound like they are taking the “high road” in thinking when they say that. Like they have no right to judge the actions of others but because they don’t support it for themselves then they have done their due diligence and can put the issue to rest in their own mind. That is such a cop-out. It only serves to make them somehow feel better about murder of innocent human babies. Love how Mr Koukl handles that reasoning.
My study of Intelligent Design vs Evolution over the past few years has caused me great interest in cellular biology. I am fascinated at the amazing complexity and function of cells. As I learn how wonderfully these microscopic units that comprise all life are made I am in awe of God’s wisdom and power. It is similar to how you feel when you understand the enormity and endless realm of God’s universe. From the micro to the macro and everything in between there is order and purpose. I am reminded of a Book of Mormon prophet named Alma who was confronted by a non-believer who was successful at turning many away from the gospel of Jesus Christ. Alma says to Korihor, “And now what evidence have ye that there is no God when you have all things as a testimony – yea all things denote there is a God”. Ignore the fact that it comes from the Book of Mormon and focus on the truth of Alma’s words. I know we can agree that “all things denote that there is a God!“.
I miss our discussions and am always grateful to have you as a friend.
Me: Likewise – always grateful to have you as a friend. I always wonder what people think when they see us being such good friends. No one has ever asked me about it… Most people in our profession are pretty astute and I’m sure they were well aware during the last election cycle (with Mitt Romney being the Republican candidate) over the “tension” between the LDS community and (in particular) evangelicals, or at the minimum, the fact that there are differences in our views. I think it was great for those who think a lot of bad things come from “religion”, to see us getting along and agreeing on many topics, though we have differences – I think we handled those calmly and responsibly. Unfortunately, with the continual news coverage of religiously motivated violence in the Middle East (e.g. current sectarian conflict in Syria), that just empowers those opposed to “religion” to take measures to make sure that faith is banned from the public square. I really think these are all important worldview issues and we ought to all be able to discuss them as adults without it resulting in strife, malice, etc. I certainly enjoyed your company and all of our conversations as well as your boldness with the secularists among us and how you engaged them in a winsome way. I will always remember that and take inspiration from that. I thought you might be interested in some objections posed to me by a skeptic:
- The language of the Bible is “antiquated”
- Christianity is too simple
- God – an old man with a beard
- Jesus – what does he matter to me (just a guy that lived 2000 years ago)
- Doesn’t understand why Jesus is the only way, why not Buddha or some other religious leader
- Doesn’t believe in hell – thinks hell is only something that Christians use to scare people.
- Doesn’t believe in sin
- Doesn’t believe fornication is a sin
- How can it be fair – we’ve never been told the commandments and now we’re supposed to understand we’ve broken them?
- What if you search for God and Jesus and can’t find them?
- Doesn’t believe that Jesus was sinless
- Had a problem with original sin
- If it is true that we are born sinful, why wasn’t Jesus sinful
- Are all other religions wrong? That’s arrogant.
- Believes he’s a good person
- Why doesn’t God just let everyone into heaven?
- Jesus isn’t God
- Who was Jesus paying when he paid for our sins? Wasn’t it just God paying God – God paying himself?
- Doesn’t believe that Jesus existed
- If Jesus did exist, he doesn’t think he was resurrected – resurrections are impossible – come on Steve, you are logically minded.
- Thinks there is some kind of God, but not the Christian God.
- Even if there is a God who created the universe, doesn’t believe that a miracle like a resurrection is possible – just wishful thinking.
- His boss was a hypocrite – wanted to pray at lunch and tell him about Jesus, but then was telling him about the $20,000 boat he was going to buy – shouldn’t he be giving that money to the poor?
I haven’t documented my answers, but definitely it was an interesting conversation…
By the way, the next 2 weeks, I’m going to be visiting another church in the area (Chandler Christian Church) because they are holding a 6 week apologetics series – on the second week, Frank Turek will be there, so I really want to be there to hear him speak. Here are the topics that will be covered:
September 7-8 You can trust your Bible!
Kickoff celebration–Wear your favorite football team jersey
Too often, without even looking at the evidence, people conclude that God’s Word cannot be trusted. But what if you took a second look? When you do, you’ll discover that after further review, there is more than enough evidence to trust God’s Word.
September 14-15 Atheism is a leap of faith!
Guest speaker Frank Turek, author of “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist”
A lot of people object to faith in God because they believe that science makes Christianity a leap of faith. However, you don’t have to set aside reason in order to believe. There is compelling evidence for the existence of God if we just slow it down and take a closer look. In this message, we examine the evidence and will find that after further review, there is sufficient evidence for God and atheism is a leap of faith.
September 21-22 Life is hard but God is good!
Guest speaker Gary Bates of Creation Ministry International
Many non-believers question how someone could believe in a good God who allows so much suffering in this world. But if we look at the Bible’s history we learn that God never intended the world to be this way and He has done something about all the death and suffering in the world. In this message, we will see that after further review, life is hard but God is good!
September 28-29 Skeptics can believe!
Guest speaker Jeff Vines, author of “Dinner with Skeptics” & “Unbroken” and pastor of Christ Church of the Valley, San Dimas, CA
Most people don’t feel comfortable voicing their skepticism or doubts inside the church. We are told to “just believe” without question. But oftentimes we can’t grow in our faith until we learn to question what we believe. In this message, we will explore the answers to a skeptics questions and find that after further review, skeptics can believe.
October 5-6 There is only one true faith!
Many people object to faith in God because believing that there’s only one way sounds too narrow and intolerant. But what if it’s really true? What if there is really one way to God? After exploring the reasons to follow Christ, you will find that after further review, there is just one true way to God.
October 12-13 You Make the Call!
For the last five weeks, we’ve reviewed the solid, rational evidence for our faith. Even for referees some decisions are easy to see. But if they don’t share the news…if they don’t inform the public, they bring the game to a standstill! Since we have the Truth, we must make the call and tell others the Good News! This weekend we will talk about just how we can “make the call.”
I may be starting up an apologetics ministry at our church too…
Are you coming back to the valley anytime soon? If so, I’d like to go to lunch.
P.S. In case you’re wondering how I’m able to write all this, I’m off work today!
Friend: haha – I was wondering how you wrote so much… You are a fast typist.
I’d love to attend the conference as well. Oh well… I really like Frank Turek’s ministry. He does a lot of good work. Most evangelicals do. They should refrain from mis-characterizing other Christians as they sometimes like to do. I so enjoy watching them but the occasional “unless you’re a Mormon then you believe this or that haha” is really a downer when you are on a spiritual high with them. I understand their perspective but there is a degree of ignorance in it. We have so much we agree on and that should be our focus. The world needs unity in the body of Christ. That kind of thing unnecessarily adds fuel to the fire. My wife became a convert to the LDS faith in her late teens. Her grandparent’s church regularly taught the “evils of Mormonism” and fortunately she saw this as unchristian-like behavior. Show how much you love God by your life (individually and as a group) and people will follow the example. Talking about other religions (particularly Christians) in a demeaning way is simply church sanctioned gossip. I know you are probably of the same opinion as I am on this.
Thanks for the list of objections. Those are very good questions we should be able to give good answers to. In fact, I think if you could give answers to those questions they address 90% of the criticism non-believers typically give. I will spend some time with them myself to see what I can come up with. I am thinking of a lecture by Ken Ham (I believe) where he reminds us as Christians to be careful pointing to the world as evidence of God’s existence and His love for us. For many people, the world represents suffering, death, inequity, lifelong struggles and difficulty. He suggests always qualifying our references to the creation as a “Fallen” creation so we need to explain that the imperfection others tend to focus on is part of God’s plan and fulfills His purpose. Now there is a challenge in doing this because non-believers will often cite extreme examples of injustice that no loving God would allow. So I guess the answers to these objections are sometimes not a simple sentence or two but our goal should be to be able to answer in a sentence or two. Not a complete answer but one that opens a door of doubt (or hope depending on perspective).
Me: You’re right, we agree on a lot, and we should rejoice in that. But, as you and I have talked before, we have a big barrier in the way. And that is the LDS Scriptures – Book of Mormon, Doctrines and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. Really, in my opinion, that is the only thing in the way of “classical Christianity” fully accepting LDS believers. The reason I think that is because I believe our doctrinal differences would largely disappear if LDS believers did not have their own Scriptures, at least to the point where it would just be considered another protestant denomination (e.g. Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, etc.). Of course, then, there would be no point in calling them LDS believers! I think on ethical/moral issues, we largely agree (e.g. moral/ethical teaching of Jesus). I think we differ in doctrinal and sometimes historical issues. Remember, the Reformation in which the Protestants split from the Roman Catholics was based on the 5 “solas”: sola fide (by faith alone), sola scriptura (by Scripture alone), sola gratia (by grace alone), solus Christus (by Christ alone), soli Deo gloria (Glory to God alone). A big part of that is “sola Scriptura”, which to the reformers (Martin Luther, John Calvin, etc) definitely meant that the Bible alone is sufficient to be the final authority for Christian Doctrine. So, I don’t think “classical Christianity” will ever be able to fully embrace a faith system that does not hold to the reformers principal of “sola Scriptura”.
While I don’t ever think we (classical Christianity) should be condescending or mean or unloving or mis-characterizing or “joking”, I certainly think we should continue to acknowledge the issues and our differences and talk openly about them (as you and I have many times). And I’m so thankful that you and I can talk openly and calmly about our differences – really think that is truly remarkable! However, I think LDS and “classical Christianity” are separate for a reason. We are not close enough in doctrine to be considered the “same religion”. In fact, as you certainly know, LDS started by rejecting all the current Christian denominations at the time and calling them the great apostasy, saying their creeds were an abomination in God’s sight and claiming to be a restoration of the true faith (correct me if I have the wording or concepts wrong). In fact that one CD you gave me to listen to a while back even said that – (I can’t remember the guy’s name) he was talking about the history of the church and how it got corrupted over the centuries and so forth. So, LDS started by wanting to be separate from (or to restore) “classical Christianity” for a reason. If there was nothing to “restore”, Joseph would’ve just picked one of the existing denominations (I think he was leaning toward Methodist, even though his family was Presbyterian) and you and I might be worshiping in the same church today!
So, like you, I’m certainly grieved about a church that would regularly teach about “evils of Mormonism”. I would never do that. The church that I attend does not do that and I’m not aware of any church that does (nor have I attended any that do). I really like LDS people – they are certainly some of the nicest and most devout people I’ve ever met (and I’ve met a lot of them, having lived in Salt Lake). That being said, I see no problem with a church teaching the type of information that I gave to you in the form of the Jim Wallace CDs on the concerns surrounding Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham. That is just preparing people with information to help them to interact with LDS believers (“speaking the truth in love” – Eph 4:15 and knowing how to give an answer to everyone – Col 4:5-6, 1 Peter 3:15-16). I can love someone as a person and not agree with their beliefs and maybe even believe they are deceived. I can be respectful and not quarrelsome or demeaning and still be able to challenge their theology, pre-suppositions (see 2 Tim 2:23-26. 4:1-4).
One thing I miss about you being gone, is that we can’t have these types of conversations face to face (like it used to be). And I think face to face is the way these types of conversation are most effective. It is really hard to achieve the standard of “speaking the truth in love” when it is over email or some other digital form. The good thing is that you and I have history together and I think you know that any challenges I bring to you come from a heart of love and concern. None of this is new, we’ve talked about it all before…
Thanks for listening.
Friend: Thanks for a thoughtful reply. I clearly understand your position and would expect a disciple of Christ to behave in the manner you do behave with respect to other religions. You are nothing but respectful and knowledgeable. I do not think it reasonable for anyone LDS to expect non-LDS Christians to dismiss our differences. In fact, I (we) want you to understand our differences although I do wish your understanding were more balanced but even so, you, at least, have invested some degree of effort to arrive at what you esteem to be the truth. How can I find fault with a sincere search for truth? I cannot. I only wish you would have included some study of the Book of Mormon itself and sincere prayer about its source. But having said that, I also recognize that there is nothing I can say that you haven’t already considered. So I decided a long time ago that because both you and I love the gospel of Jesus Christ and the principles of truth it contains, we can enjoy the Holy Spirit’s presence when we talk of the things we both know to be true. On many occasions I have felt the Spirit in our discussions and I really miss that.
However, I do believe that there are precious gems in LDS scripture that are not objectionable to you. If the Koran were to testify of the divinity of Christ in a beautiful or thought provoking way, I think both of us would embrace the truth in it regardless of the source. I do not believe the adversary is capable of testifying of the divinity of Christ in any manner – even to deceive. So, because of that I do from time to time reference a verse from LDS scripture in my communication with you. When I do that, I do not have the expectation that you will immediately have some epiphany and embrace a revealed religion. I simply find some verses appropriate to our discussion. I know you well enough to know that this doesn’t offend you and you can appreciate the truth in the statement just as you might a statement from C.S. Lewis or Frank Turek.
Me: Thanks for the reply [Name], this is great conversation! How I long for those days when we were able to talk about this stuff in person…
I have a hypothetical situation for you. Let’s say this month, in 2013, a 14 – 20 year old young man makes the claim that he’s had a vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ and they tell him that both current Latter Day Saints as well as all other Christian denominations are corrupt and have “apostasized”. Furthermore, this young man claims that an angel buried plates and revealed the location to him, from which he located them and translated a book, which he claims is the “most correct of any book on earth “. So, this book that he translates is claimed to supersede both the Bible and the current Book of Mormon and other LDS Scriptures in authority. Considering this hypothetical situation, LDS believers would be put in the same situation that Christians were put in when Joseph had his vision in ~1820 and later translated the Book of Mormon. I’m just trying to give you a modern example to make you see why I might not have a reason to study the Book of Mormon or to believe Joseph Smith.
If I had been around in let’s say 1830 in Palmira and was a Christian like I am now, I wouldn’t have considered Joseph’s claims as credible. I would’ve known that I have the Bible, that this cannon of Scripture has been in place for over 1600 years (considering the Muratorian fragment ~ 170 AD). I would’ve known that the Bible contains early eyewitness testimony about the life, teachings of Jesus and the way of salvation. I really would’ve had have no reason to believe someone who says he claims to have had a vision and to know more about Jesus, who lived 1800 years ago than the eyewitnesses who ate, lived and walked around with Him for 3 years. Additionally, the ‘solo’ nature of this vision and subsequent revelation to Joseph is what would’ve made me very suspicious. When comparing to the new testament, where we have 9 authors writing 27 separate books/letters over a period of 30-60 years within the life-times of the eyewitnesses, each corroborating the others’ work, and who (all but 1) were martyred for what they were proclaiming when a recantation would’ve saved them, I don’t think the Book of Mormon comes anywhere close to standing up evidentially to what we have in the new testament. So that’s how I look at it – why even start to consider it? I know people quote this verse all the time regarding LDS, but I do think its relevant when it speaks of an angel preaching a different gospel (Gal 1:8). It really seems that what’s spoken of in this verse actually happened to Joseph. So, because of this, if I had been around in 1830 in Palmira, I’d have had biblical reasons to “not even go there” (besides the other evidential suspicions I would’ve had).
Another thought just occurred too – if I’m living in the year 3801 and I wanted to get the accurate information about what happened during the terror attacks on September 11th 2001 (1800 years prior), do you think I should be looking at what is being written about the people and the event by authors writing in the year 3801? Or should I rather look at the material that was written/recorded as close to the event as possible (at least within 50 years of the event)? I think the answer is obvious. The closer to the events, the more accurate and reliable the information will be.
Those are the reasons why I don’t think it is reasonable for me to investigate the Book of Mormon or pray about it.
And your comment about truth in other religions or outside the Bible is an accurate one. All truth is God’s truth. When religions other than Christianity claim that you are to love your neighbor or help the poor, they are at that specific point credible and accurate. When the Qur’an claims that Jesus existed, His birth was announced by angels, was born of a virgin, performed miracles and was without sin, it is accurate. However when it says that He was not actually crucified and that there was a substitute on the cross, it is not accurate.
Nice hearing from you again!
Friend: I agree – this is a great discussion.
Good analogy. If I may, I would like to present what I see as the same scenario but one that actually happened.
Imagine you are an Israelite (from the tribe of Levi) living in Egypt prior to the Exodus. A known murderer by the name of Moses (also a Levite) claims God appeared to him in the form of a burning bush and, as a consequence of that experience now knows the “true” account of the creation, the “correct” history and heavenly interactions with Adam, Eve, father Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He produces a written history (we call Genesis) which he claims to be the most correct of all the stories handed down from generation to generation. Of course, you and your Levite brothers are concerned because not only does this mortally flawed man claim God appeared to him but he is also claiming that your traditions are incomplete and in some cases “apostate” and that is a slap in the face to you and your brothers of the Levitical priesthood. He introduces a new law as revealed from the exchange he had with God which becomes known as the Law of Moses (“Moses’ law or God’s Law?” you and your brothers say among yourselves). You consider yourself a devout Levite and follower of the sacred traditions. This man Moses must surely be an imposter. A faker trying to regain his lost status but this time among the Israelite slaves because his grand deception of who he really is has been discovered by the Egyptians. It is obvious to you and others that Moses is not what God would use as a prophet. He surely is not the stature of the men who preceded him like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob or Noah. No – Moses is a phony and so is his so called revelations from a “burning bush” of all things. How silly, if you’re making up a story at least make God something more respectable than a bush. The more likely explanation you and your other well-meaning friends agree on is that Moses is a master of deception following the order of the master of deception – Satan himself.
Now I imagine you are probably saying to yourself that I am ignoring a very important difference. Moses performed many miracles which were observed by many. This begs the question “do miracles make a difference in what humans want to believe?” I submit the answer is NO. Even after crossing the Red Sea on dry ground the Israelites were not convinced of Moses’ calling. Their lack of faith in spite of miracles led them to worship false gods.
To cite an even more important example – Even after the many witnesses of the miracles of Jesus, the chant of the crowd (who were Jews) was “Let Barabbas go but Crucify Him”.
You are an honest man Steve and I do not often refer to others that way. I would challenge you to also insert yourself in the place of the hypothetical Levite priest and ask yourself if you would reject Moses and his writings had he not led you to freedom. Once you characterize a man and associate with others who do the same, it is difficult to be objective. You, though well-meaning, and your associates (some not so well-meaning) have done so with Joseph Smith.
I have thought about how best to address the claim that the Bible is the only and final authority. I have come up with several reasons why it is not. But when I read the following, I concluded that there is no better way to say it than how God Himself has said it. Of course, in your mind these are not the words of God but the words of an evil man or if not evil then a lunatic. Please read them and ask if they sound like the words of your creator or the words of a false prophet. Open yourself to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and reflect on God’s love for you and your family. Do you want to know the truth or would you rather travel the road that is comfortable? You are a good man and whether you embrace the idea of God revealing Himself as he has throughout history or that the heavens are mostly closed and the Bible is all you’re willing to accept, I believe you are becoming what God intends for us to become and that is a very good thing. But, I know He has more in store for you and your family. I know that God’s plan for you on this earth is far greater than you imagine.
And because my words shall hiss forth—many of the Gentiles shall say: A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible.
But thus saith the Lord God: O fools, they shall have a Bible; and it shall proceed forth from the Jews, mine ancient covenant people. And what thank they the Jews for the Bible which they receive from them? Yea, what do the Gentiles mean? Do they remember the travails, and the labors, and the pains of the Jews, and their diligence unto me, in bringing forth salvation unto the Gentiles?
O ye Gentiles, have ye remembered the Jews, mine ancient covenant people? Nay; but ye have cursed them, and have hated them, and have not sought to recover them. But behold, I will return all these things upon your own heads; for I the Lord have not forgotten my people.
Thou fool, that shall say: A Bible, we have got a Bible, and we need no more Bible. Have ye obtained a Bible save it were by the Jews?
Know ye not that there are more nations than one? Know ye not that I, the Lord your God, have created all men, and that I remember those who are upon the isles of the sea; and that I rule in the heavens above and in the earth beneath; and I bring forth my word unto the children of men, yea, even upon all the nations of the earth?
Wherefore murmur ye, because that ye shall receive more of my word? Know ye not that the testimony of two nations is a witness unto you that I am God, that I remember one nation like unto another? Wherefore, I speak the same words unto one nation like unto another. And when the two nations shall run together the testimony of the two nations shall run together also.
And I do this that I may prove unto many that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and that I speak forth my words according to mine own pleasure. And because that I have spoken one word ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another; for my work is not yet finished; neither shall it be until the end of man, neither from that time henceforth and forever.
Wherefore, because that ye have a Bible ye need not suppose that it contains all my words; neither need ye suppose that I have not caused more to be written.
For I command all men, both in the east and in the west, and in the north, and in the south, and in the islands of the sea, that they shall write the words which I speak unto them; for out of the books which shall be written I will judge the world, every man according to their works, according to that which is written.
For behold, I shall speak unto the Jews and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the Nephites and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the other tribes of the house of Israel, which I have led away, and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto all nations of the earth and they shall write it.
And it shall come to pass that the Jews shall have the words of the Nephites, and the Nephites shall have the words of the Jews; and the Nephites and the Jews shall have the words of the lost tribes of Israel; and the lost tribes of Israel shall have the words of the Nephites and the Jews.
And it shall come to pass that my people, which are of the house of Israel, shall be gathered home unto the lands of their possessions; and my word also shall be gathered in one. And I will show unto them that fight against my word and against my people, who are of the house of Israel, that I am God, and that I covenanted with Abraham that I would remember his seed forever.
And finally from the book of Revelation which is prophetic and describes events to come after Jesus’ mortal ministry.
And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people.
The Bible IS the word of God. Neither I or any who believe in the Book of Mormon will say nor believe otherwise. We only say it is not all God has to reveal. The Bible is the inspired word of God preserved for the benefit of His children. It is beautiful in revealing the gospel of Jesus the Christ. The Bible doesn’t lose any credibility from our perspective but is superseded by the Book of Mormon only because it has not been influenced by the interpretations of man. Whether the Book of Mormon is a product of a man is the underlying question that we can only resolve by an appeal to the Holy Spirit. If Pharaoh would have appealed to God instead of his magicians, the evidence he saw would have been interpreted very differently. Where should you make your appeal?
As always Steve – our friendship is more important to me that our differences.
Me: The only reason I’m holding this email conversation is because I know that our friendship is more important than our differences and all of the arguments and counter arguments do nothing to change that. I typically don’t like to have email (or any other digitally based) conversations, because they tend to be impersonal and result in “ill-will”, but because we have history together, I think it works. I just need to make sure I’m always “writing with a smile”. Please let me know if I’m not…
Regarding your first several paragraphs: I think in our conversations previously, I’ve admitted this to you. I would probably not believe the much of the Old Testament ‘independently’. The reason I believe the Old Testament is because of the New Testament (and specifically what Jesus said, along with what the apostles said). So, I guess the answer to your question is that if I were in the place of that hypothetical Levite priest, I would probably have rejected Moses (unless I’d personally witnessed the miracles or knew others who I trusted who had and they could convince me evidentially). As you know, I’m an evidentialist… The argument laid out in the book “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist” makes a lot of sense to me (especially points 6-12):
- Truth about reality is knowable.
- The opposite of true is false.
- It is true that the theistic God exists. This is evidenced by the: Beginning of the universe (Cosmological Argument), Design of the universe (Teleological Argument / Anthropic Principle), Design of life (Teleological Argument), Moral Law (Moral Argument)
- If God exists, then miracles are possible.
- Miracles can be used to confirm a message from God (i.e., as acts of God to confirm a word from God).
- The New Testament is historically reliable. This is evidenced by: Early testimony, Eyewitness testimony, Un-invented (authentic) testimony, Eyewitnesses who were not deceived
- The New Testament says Jesus claimed to be God
- Jesus’ claim to be God was miraculously confirmed by: His fulfillment of many prophecies about himself, His sinless life and miraculous deeds, His prediction and accomplishment of his resurrection
- Therefore Jesus is God.
- Whatever Jesus (who is God) teaches is true.
- Jesus taught that the Bible is the Word of God.
- Therefore, it is true that the Bible is the Word of God (and anything opposed to it is false).
I don’t believe the accounts about Moses because Moses wrote them down and claims that its true. I believe the accounts of Moses because Jesus referred to them as the word of God and said they were true. For example in John 5:46-47, Jesus says that it is actually important that we believe what Moses wrote: “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?” Additionally, Jesus referred to a lot of the old testament as if it was historically accurate. For example, He authenticated the story of Jonah (Matt 12:40) and a literal Adam and Eve at the beginning of creation (Mat 19:4). Would I believe these stories independently? Probably not, but when the Creator of the universe says that these stories written down by Moses and Jonah > thousand years earlier are actually true history, I must believe it.
And yes, I do believe that men do not believe even in the face of evidence. In fact John 12:37 says “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him.” There are 3 reasons that people do not believe: intellectual, emotional and volitional. The 2nd and 3rd one are potentially disbelief in the face of compelling evidence. The Bible also says that we are born spiritually dead (Rom 5:12,6:13,8:7) and that it is only by grace we are saved (Eph 2:1-10; Titus 3:4-7; Rom 9:15-16). God is the one who opens our eyes and removes the enmity we have toward Him (John 6:37,44,65, 8:47; Luke 10:22; Rom 11:29; 2 Tim 2:25; Isaiah 65:1). So, belief is not even a natural condition for sinful man without the intervention of God.
Even though all that is true, the apostle John goes on later in his gospel to record the reason he wrote it:
John 20:30-31 – Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Likewise, Luke records the reason, he wrote his gospel:
Luke 1:1-4 – Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
In fact the Bible is filled with statements about evidence and the role of logic and apologetics in faith. If written a blog some time ago on the fact that Christianity is an evidential faith (http://galatians2v20.wordpress.com/2011/08/12/evidential-christianity-yes-you-heard-me-right-its-in-the-bible/). So, I still stand by my statement biblically that I’m justified through faith and that faith is based on good evidence.
Regarding the Book of Mormon passage: those are nice, poetic words. Even though, as I’ve said before, I don’t like King James English, since it is not the language I speak daily. This actually makes me think about a problem I have that I think I relayed to you previously. Why is the Book of Mormon written in King James English when it was written at a time when King James English was not being spoken in America? I know the text is supposed to refer to events written in Old Testament times and that the during the translation process, Joseph looked through the seer stone into the dark hat and saw each sentence, then he spoke it and one of the people sitting with him (Oliver C, Emma, etc) wrote it down. If that is the case, why did God give him the Book of Mormon in a “dialect” not being spoken in the present day? When I look at that text specifically, the first sentence jumps out at me: “A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible”. At the time of the events this records (somewhere in OT period?), as I’m sure you’re aware, there was no “bible”. That wasn’t compiled until much later. I think the earliest list we have is the Muratorian fragment (~ 170 AD) and from what I remember, that specific word does not even start to get used until much later in history, so the use of the word “bible” is an anachronism, of which there are many that I’ve heard about in the Book of Mormon. Now, I understand that this is supposed to be “prophetic”, so is this to be understood as a prophecy that people will say in later days that we’ve already got a bible? Even so, Scripture is always written to speak to those that were alive at the time, and the people in OT times would not have understood the term bible.
I understand that passage in Revelation to be referring to the time of Christ’s second return and those who are living on the earth at that time. So, I don’t think that would relate to Joseph or any of his visions.
When you say “Whether the Book of Mormon is a product of a man is the underlying question that we can only resolve by an appeal to the Holy Spirit”, I’m sorry, I don’t agree with that statement. I don’t see the New Testament communicating that type of approach to determining truth. Again, I would refer you to my blog showing that Christianity is an evidential faith. Paul clearly stated before Festus and Agrippa that his faith was “true and reasonable” and based on evidence of things “not done in a corner” (Acts 26:24-29). So, I prefer to stick with the approach that the apostles and Jesus had.
My original issues brought up still remain – why would I even go there? I haven’t even brought up the Book of Abraham or the Kinderhook plates or any of the other many issues that I have that prevent me from even considering anything originating with Joseph Smith. No matter how nice it sounds, I do not see any reason for attributing any credibility to it.
It has been a long time writing and I need to get ready to leave for work, but there is a lot more I’d like to say. I appreciate your heart of concern for me and as I’m sure you know, I have a heart of concern for you as well. I don’t know what the afterlife holds in store for LDS believers, but I think that we should all exercise great caution in determining what sources we should trust in our quest to seek and know God. May your quest result in you finding the truth!