F.A.R.M.S., the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, based out of BYU, is the leading Mormon apologetics organization. They publish numerous works and provide the majority of the current apologetics information used by Mormon missionaries and others.
In 1993 F.A.R.M.S. reviewed my book, Letters to a Mormon Elder in their book, Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 5. The review was written by L. Ara Norwood.
The first section of this file provides the basic text of the first part of my response which appeared in our publication, Pros Apologia, late in 1993. It was my intention to continue my refutation, but other demands put off the completion of the review. In point of fact, there was little response to the issue, and little demand for information on Norwood’s article.
Since that time, Mr. Norwood has contacted me repeatedly, seeking to goad me into finishing my response (see cited letters later in the file). I here provide a brief response to the rest of the review, along with further information that demonstrates the kind of behavior undertaken by the F.A.R.M.S. reviewer, L. Ara Norwood.
And the Other Shoe Fell: Finally
A Review and Rebuttal of L. Ara Norwood’s “Ignoratio Elenchi: The Dialogue that Never Was” (Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 5 (1993) published by F.A.R.M.S.).
It’s not that I didn’t expect it. I knew that Letters to a Mormon Elder was sufficiently different from most works on Mormonism that, eventually, it would draw the attention of someone in the LDS Church. And so it did. I had always wondered who would be the first to respond to it, and how they would approach a book that presents not only a different message than most (there are few unabashedly Reformed works available on Mormonism), but one that does so in a very different, and I think unique, way.
My answer came via a long-time acquaintance in Salt Lake City, Alma Allred. Mr. Allred and I have been corresponding for years, first via the “old fashioned route,” that being through the U.S. Mail, and later by computer. We had met on the sidewalk outside the South Gate of the LDS Temple in Salt Lake during General Conference. Alma posted a section from the review in the 1993 edition of the F.A.R.M.S. (Foundation for Ancient American Research and Mormon Studies) publication Review of Books on the Book of Mormon on the National Mormon Echo, then moderated by Malin Jacobs. As soon as I saw Mr. Allred’s post, I called F.A.R.M.S. and ordered the book (I am a member of F.A.R.M.S., not because I support it’s purpose, but because I wish to stay abreast of developments in LDS methods of defending the Book of Mormon). No one had mentioned that a review was forthcoming, and, as we shall see, though the author of the review had indeed contacted us, he had done so under less than open circumstances.
I was excited that a review had finally been written, and the fact that it was being published by F.A.R.M.S. led me to hope that it would at the very least carry a scholarly tone and content. F.A.R.M.S. is an interesting organization. It is based primarily out of BYU, and presents the writings of most of the conservative scholars of Mormonism, those who seek to find an historical, factual basis for LDS belief in history, philosophy, and science. For years F.A.R.M.S. materials have been heavily slanted toward one writer: Dr. Hugh Nibley of BYU. But a new group of LDS scholars are entering the picture with the passing of the “Niblian Age,” one might say. John Sorenson, Daniel C. Peterson, Stephen Ricks, and William Hamblin all have articles and books appearing under the F.A.R.M.S. label. Most non-professional LDS apologists (that’s about everyone) rely heavily upon Nibley and the F.A.R.M.S. materials as their scholarly “backing.” Though I had never heard of the author of my review, I hoped that I would finally get to hear a well thought-out review of Letters to a Mormon Elder.
Unfortunately, I was quite disappointed a few days later as I put the book down upon my desk, having finished reading the review. I had honestly seen more in-depth, meaningful responses on the National Mormon Echo. True, none had been so long as this (38 pages), but on each of the three topics addressed by L. Ara Norwood, my reviewer, individuals such as Elden Watson, Alma Allred, and Malin Jacobs (all participants on the Mormon Echo, and all referenced by Norwood in his review) had provided what seemed to me to be much more meaningful objections and counter-proposals.
Yet, the review exists, and I must undertake the task of replying to Mr. Norwood. I shall do so in the following manner. First, I shall provide the reader with some interesting background as to how Mr. Norwood proceed ed in reviewing my book and in handling his contacts with myself and Alpha and Omega Ministries. Then I shall address each of the three areas Mr. Norwood chose to address, though not in the same order in which he presented them. I shall begin with the question of Biblical authority, and then move to his critique of the Reformed doctrine of salvation. Then I will take the time to respond rather fully to his critique of my comments on the Book of Mormon, going beyond the level of Mr. Norwood’s article due to the fact that he relied primarily upon the simple citation of LDS scholars such as Sorenson and Hamblin for his demonstration of my alleged errors or ignorance. This necessitates my providing some replies to the works of such men, though, obviously, in brief, and not in full. Finally, as Mr. Norwood’s article was filled with ad-hominem, character assassination, and mind-reading, I will respond to his personal comments in a concluding section.
Mannix, I-Spy, Mission Impossible, and Get Smart
In February of 1993 we received a phone call on our Christian Information System, requesting that we return a call to an 800 number. Rich Pierce, the President of Alpha and Omega Ministries, takes care of the every-day managing of our affairs (i.e., administration), and he returned the call. He spoke with a man with an unusual first name, “Ara.” I was in the office when Rich spoke with this gentleman. Rich reported that this man represented a printing firm in Southern California, and that he had seen the book Letters to a Mormon Elder, and was calling to inquire about the book, our publishing resources, other books we have available, etc. I found this mildly interesting, as I’m always intrigued about those who read my books and how they respond to them. A few days later a package of materials arrived from “Ara,” and Rich filed them away for future reference. We thought nothing more about it.
In early August I read a message posted by Alma Allred in the MORMON Echo. In it he reproduced a paragraph from a review of my book that had been published by F.A.R.M.S. This was the first I had ever heard of the review. No one had contacted me, talked with me, or in any other way solicited my input for the review, though I would certainly have been happy to have cooperated had someone decided to speak with me. I checked with the local LDS bookstores, but none of them had the publication as yet. So, as I subscribe to the F.A.R.M.S. newsletter, I called to see if I could order the book. It seems the gentleman who took my order remembered the call, as I heard about it months later from some friends of his.
Even before the volume itself arrived from F.A.R.M.S., I contacted Sandra Tanner to inquire about the author of the article, L. Ara Norwood. Sandra was familiar with Mr. Norwood, having been the object of his editorial reviews in the past. At this time the name did not ring any bells with me.
As soon as I received the full text of the review, I discovered that a number of participants on the MORMON echo had been part of the research and review process, though without a word being said to me about it. In speaking with those who worked with the author, I discovered some interesting things. First, the initial draft had been written very early in the year, one individual receiving his copy as early as January. I was informed that if I thought the final draft could be described as “nasty,” the initial one would have truly shocked me. I also learned that there had been some discussion about informing me of the review, and the author had decided that such would not be a good idea. Hence the secrecy.
Then, in speaking with one of those who reviewed the article for Norwood, mention was made of the fact that Norwood himself had spoken of having contacted our ministry about publishing my book. At first I couldn’t recall any such contact, and then I remembered the call from the fellow with the strange name back in February. I contacted Rich Pierce and asked him if he still had the information that had been sent from California, and he indicated that he did. I asked him if he could recall the name of the man with whom he had spoken. He remembered that it was unusual, but could not recall the name. I asked him, “Could it have been `Ara.'”? He wasn’t sure. That afternoon Rich tracked down the information, and imagine our surprise to discover a letter, written on his employer’s letterhead, dated February 25th, signed by none other than L. Ara Norwood, the author of the F.A.R.M.S. review, soliciting our business in printing no other book than Letters to a Mormon Elder!
In his letter, Norwood included the following paragraph:
Now, on a related note, you asked me how I became aware of your ministry. I replied that I received a copy of your book, Letters to a Mormon Elder, and that I had read the book. You didn’t seem interested in pursuing that so I didn’t take it any further. But you might be interested in knowing that I am a Mormon elder, and although I am very interested in servicing you as a business man, I also have a personal interest in the material I read. I have no problem whatsoever giving you the very best service possible, in spite of the purpose of your publishing efforts. But I think it is only fair that I give you fair notice of my religious commitments so that you can decide if your working with a Latter-day Saint is an issue. I’ll assume it isn’t unless I hear otherwise.
It certainly struck me as strange, of course, that Mr. Norwood would contact us about printing Letters to a Mormon Elder a month after he had already written a scathing review of it! While he informed us in his letter that he was LDS, he certainly made no mention of the fact that he had not only read the book, but was writing a review of it for a F.A.R.M.S. publication.
So why did Mr. Norwood contact us and seek printing rights for Letters? Before I theorize on that, let me provide one other aspect of this strange saga. When I received the review, I contacted Mr. Norwood, and invited him (as I am want to do) to engage in a public dialogue or debate on the subjects raised in his article. Specifically, I mentioned that I would be appearing on some radio programs in Salt Lake during Conference weekend in October. Would Mr. Norwood be interested in being on these programs with me? No, he wouldn’t. He had, as he put in his reply letter, “bigger fish to fry.”
I appeared on KTKK on Sunday evening of Conference weekend on Martin Tanner’s program, Religion on the Line. Martin had two other guests: Dr. Daniel C. Peterson and Dr. William Hamblin, both of Brigham Young University (apparently they didn’t have bigger fish to fry). Rich and I arrived at the station very early, as I had forgotten the exact time of the program, and everyone who knows me knows how I hate to be late. As the air-conditioning had gone out in the studio, Rich and I stood by the front door, listening to the first hour of Martin’s program on a speaker just outside the door, while attempting to get some of the cool early-evening air into the building. About 45 minutes before we were to go on the air, a car pulled up, and two middle-aged men got out. However, rather than walking into the building, they walked down the driveway and out of sight. I was pretty certain that this was Peterson and Hamblin. A few minutes later a van arrived with two younger men. They walked right past Rich and me and into the building. We had no idea who they were or why they were there. Finally the two older men came back and walked right past us into the building. They went to a back office where they sat talking with the two young men. Eventually they emerged, and Drs. Peterson and Hamblin introduced themselves. The younger men, however, were not introduced.
After the program was over, I stood in the parking lot speaking first with Dr. Hamblin, and then with he and Dr. Peterson. The two younger men stood to my left, listening to the conversation as it went back and forth, occasionally throwing in some comments. Eventually both Rich Pierce (who had remained inside to share the gospel with an employee of the station who had some questions) and Martin Tanner joined us in the parking lot. We spoke for a good hour. Eventually Martin Tanner made an off-hand comment that caught my attention. “Yes,” he said, “and Ara here came all the way from California.” He was referring to one of the two young men who was standing right next to me on my left. I turned to this gentleman and said, “Ara what?” He grinned and said, “Ara Norwood.”
I honestly believe that Mr. Norwood would have allowed me to get in my car and leave without ever introducing himself to me. I can’t imagine writing a review of someone’s book and then standing there in anonymity, listening to a conversation between the author and others. And that after indicating that he would not come on the air, for he had “bigger fish to fry.” Of course, I can understand why Mr. Norwood would be reluctant to introduce himself prior to the program: I would have undoubtedly invited him to be on the program to attempt to give a defense of his article. But there might be another reason for his silence.
It seems that the reason that Mr. Norwood contacted us about Letters to a Mormon Elder even after writing a negative review of it is consistent with his reasons for silently observing me at the radio station. It seems that Mr. Norwood likes to “gather information,” secretly, if need be. I believe that was why he contacted us in February. He was able to ask many questions about our books, our ministry, and our plans for the future. At KTKK he was able to listen to me discussing various issues with the BYU professors. In both instances I believe Mr. Norwood was “digging” so to speak. In speaking with others who have encountered Mr. Norwood, I find this to be a common trait. Of course, this involves Mr. Norwood in using his position at his place of employment to engage in private “research,” but it seems that this is preferable to thinking that Mr. Norwood is so greedy that he would seek to promote a book that he himself says is authored by a man who is “merely an anti-Mormon clone, maintaining the same shape of bigotry and shallowness that inevitably come from the anti-Mormon cookie-cutter that produces such phenomena.”
In either case, it has been at the very least entertaining to follow the saga of how Mr. Norwood approached writing his review of my book. Surely the questionable actions of Mr. Norwood provide no defense against the criticisms he levels in his article. I shall not make the error of thinking that providing this information in any way releases me from my duty to respond to the substantive issues he raises, despite what I may think about how he went about his task. But it surely makes one wonder about the role of honesty in Mr. Norwood’s approach. Some people think I have the tact of a baseball bat, but I think that’s better than being downright sneaky. Better open and honest than secretive and sly.
Sola Scriptura Under Attack–Again
Mr. Norwood begins his 38-page review of Letters to a Mormon Elder with a nearly 4-page introduction in which he questions my honesty, misrepresents my beliefs, attacks my character, wastes space in an effort to take digs at others, and engages in little more than pure (and false) ad-hominem. It was less than an auspicious start. He soon moved past this material, however, and moved into the first formal section of his review, that which deals with his objections to the Protestant doctrine of Scripture.
The first obvious error Mr. Norwood makes is that of saying that I am merely putting forward my own interpretation of Scripture as the final and sole authority by which all things, including spiritual experiences, must be tested. I did not do such a thing in the book, nor do I do so in any other venue. Whenever I present an objection against the LDS position, I cite Scripture and provide sound exegesis of the passage itself. Mr. Norwood seems to dismiss the ultimate authority of Scripture over against human feelings, for when discussing my citation of such passages as Proverbs 30:5-6, 13:13, Isaiah 40:8, and Matthew 24:35, he says that I am attempting to equate the phrase “word of God” with my “late twentieth-century interpretation of this sixty-six book Protestant Bible.” Of course this is simply untrue, and it would seem that it would be much better for Mr. Norwood to provide us with an alternative interpretation of the passages cited, one that does a better job interpreting them in their own context and in their own language. But we get no such interpretation. Instead, we get this:
Of course, all this line of reasoning really demonstrates is that–according to Mr. White–since there are not true prophets receiving revelation in his church, there must not be–nay, cannot be–true prophets receiving revelation in any church.
How Mr. Norwood comes to this conclusion is hard to say. In Letters I merely asserted that which the Bible makes plain so often: that since Scripture is God-breathed, it must function as our highest source of authority in all things, including the area of knowledge itself. Our feelings, no matter how strong they may be, must be tested by that which God has already said, and that in Scripture. If there were indeed “true prophets” today, they would speak in accordance with what God has already said in Scripture. That the apostles were so quick to point out the consistency of their preaching of the gospel and the revelation of God in the Old Testament is striking confirmation of the propriety of my position. In the same way, I challenged the LDS reader to compare the teachings of his alleged prophets and apostles against that which was taught by the prophets and apostles of old. If indeed they are led by the Spirit of truth, then their teaching will accord perfectly with that of Paul or John or Peter. If there are contradictions, we can safely conclude that they are not speaking by the same Spirit who carried Christ’s apostles along as they spoke for God (2 Peter 1:20-21). This is the very conclusion to which we come in examining the teachings of the LDS faith in Letters to a Mormon Elder.
- Norwood, Ignoratio Elenchi: The Dialogue That Never Was in Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, Volume 5, 1993 (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies), p. 321.
- Norwood, p. 317, spends considerable time questioning how I could possibly have spoken with over 1200 LDS missionaries and an equal number of non-missionaries, concluding that it’s simply unbelievable. Of course, Mr. Norwood has never, to my knowledge, stood outside the South Gate of the LDS Temple in Salt Lake during Conference and spoken with groups of anywhere from two to 20, nor has he spent four to six hours a night each night of the Easter Pageant in Mesa, Arizona, passing out tracts and dealing with groups even larger than those in Salt Lake.
- This is a common element of Norwood’s article, even though he often alleges that it is I who does not understand the LDS position. In attacking Wes Walter’s short foreword to my book, he writes, “Both men truly believe that the arguments presented are utterly devastating to the Mormon position, that all `honest’ Mormons will make a mass exodus from their faith upon reading the book, and that those who choose to remain Mormons are simply biased or less than honest. This world view seems to maintain that logical argument alone wins converts, in contrast with the Latter-day Saint view, which maintains that it is the workings of the Holy Spirit that bring about conversion” (p. 318). It is amazing that Mr. Norwood could read my very strongly Reformed book and make such a statement. Wes Walters was a Presbyterian, and hence neither Wes nor myself would ever think that “logical argument alone wins converts.” Men are dead in sin, and hence must be regenerated before they can understand spiritual things. My book was very plain on this very topic (pages 260-265 in the Bethany House edition). Norwood is simply ignorant of the position espoused by both myself and Wes Walters, though he has no excuse for this. He later mentions reading my posts from the MORMON echo, and if anything is plain from my writings in that venue, I do not hold the position Norwood ascribes to me.
- In describing the format of my book, Norwood writes, “These fictional letters are written from the perspective of James White, champion of Calvinism, defender of the evangelical reformed version of Protestant Christianity, as he corresponds with a character known as `Elder Hahn’…” (pp. 317-318). Does Mr. Norwood mean this in a complimentary fashion? Hardly, for he later writes, “Having studied the rather lively exchanges between Mr. White and various Latter-day Saints on the MORMON echo, I can quickly discern that the cool, mature, polite character that he portrays himself to be in his book is just that: a character. His postings in the MORMON echo betray his true colors: a desparado who needs to win every argument at any cost, no matter how trivial” (pp. 319-320).
- It seems that Mr. Norwood loves to multiply footnotes, as if this indicated thoroughness on his part as a researcher and writer. Hence the third footnote of his paper reads, “I was happy to see that the Reverend Walters attached his name to a `foreword’ and not to a “forward,” as he did in Charles Larson’s work on the book of Abraham; see Charles M. Larson,…By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus (Grand Rapids: MI: Institute for Religious Research, 1992), 5″ (p. 318). One has to wonder if Mr. Norwood voted against Dan Quayle.
- As cited above, Norwood calls me an “anti-Mormon clone” coming from the “anti-Mormon cooker-cutter.” We shall examine these charges below.
Thus the material stood until November of 1995. In a letter of December 20, 1994, Mr. Norwood wrote to me:
I think your decision to not respond to my F.A.R.M.S. review-essay is itself a response of sorts. It tells me and many others who are aware of your involvement with the Book of Mormon that you are not equipped to handle criticism of your work. Even more so, you are not prepared to deal in any serious way with Book of Mormon studies. Thanks for confirming what I already sensed: the Book of Mormon is way over your head, and until you humble yourself and make the Book of Mormon a matter of prayer, you will remain outside the pale of grace and truth, a mere puppet in the great and spacious building that makes a lot of noise but has no foundation.
Then, in a letter dated October 18, 1995, Mr. Norwood wrote:
On Monday the 16th, I happened to tune into the Bible Answer Man radio program. I enjoyed listening to your exchange with that fellow from Catholic Answers (I believe his first name was James.) [Mr. Norwood is referring to my discussion with James Akin of Catholic Answers 10/12, 13, and 16]. I thought you did a pretty good job defending and articulating your respective positions. I actually had started to be somewhat impressed with your savvy — that is until I heard the comment you made about your “Mormon friends.” I believe you said, in effect, “My Mormon friends say the reason they know the Book of Mormon is the Word of God is that the Church tells them it is.” I found your comment rather telling. And then I remembered your book, Letters to a Mormon Elder. And my review cam to mind (which you promised to respond to but never did adequately.) All the things I said in the F.A.R.M.S. review are apparently still very true; you come off sounding rather informed and competent up until the time that you try to deal with Mormon things (at which time you come across like a buffoon.) Why is that, I wonder? Given your Calvinistic mindset, perhaps such things were simply predetermined. But back to your comment on the radio. I just wanted you to know that I know. . . .
This is how the letter ended in the original. Even this would have been insufficient to cause me to take even a few hours to provide Mr. Norwood any further enjoyment of his extremely poor review of my book. However, since I received a request for my response from a Mormon who has never acted in the way Norwood has, and since I had a few hours between major projects (including a book project), I decided to briefly touch on the points that I had intended to spend time on much earlier. Hopefully, with the advent of the World Wide Web and our own home page, this information will be useful to many others.
The most daunting task facing me is the sheer volume of errors of understanding, logic and reason that are packed into the few pages of Mr. Norwood’s review. He attempts to cover so many items that his errors on each make a coherent response somewhat difficult to organize. While frequently claiming that I have misunderstood Mormon theology, it is he who demonstrates a tremendously surface-level familiarity with my own theological beliefs (exacerbated by his refusal to contact me and hence obtain other books I had written that would have cleared up many of his misunderstandings). Hence, it is next to impossible to document all the problems and respond to them each fully, though I am also aware that if I skip over the less important ones, Mr. Norwood will then say I am admitting he was right, at least on those issues. As the saying goes, one can’t win.
On page 322, while still addressing the issue of the Bible, Mr. Norwood attempts to refute the doctrine of sola scriptura and the sole authority of the Bible by reference to the authors of Scripture who did not abide by sola scriptura. Since the doctrine does not speak to the time periods in which Scripture was being written, his objection is rather quaint. All through the article Mr. Norwood attempts to bring in citations from historical or scholarly sources, but only rarely does he manage to do so in context. For example, he cites Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to the Philadelphians 8:2) as if Ignatius’ words were in the least bit relevant to my chapter on the authority of Scripture and a biblical epistemology. Unfortunately, while the citation looks nice, it has no relevance to what I said in my book.
Next Mr. Norwood goes to Hans K€ng for a citation against the Protestant concept of the sufficiency of Scripture. We surely shouldn’t be too surprised that a Roman Catholic would deny the Protestant doctrine, of course, but Norwood concludes with the citation, “the New Testament Scriptures nowhere claim to have fallen directly from heaven; rather they often quite unself-consciously stress their human origin.” Interestingly Norwood agrees with the statement. Peter had a different understanding:
(2 Pet 1:20-21 NIV) Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation.  For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Norwood then attempts to connect a statement from patristic scholar Robert Grant, giving Irenaeus’ position on the doctrine of God, with his citations from K€ng. Mixing contexts badly, Norwood demonstrates that a patristic scholar he is not. This is followed, as if Norwood is seeking to get as wide a variety of quotes as possible, with a citation from James Charlesworth in which he says God continued speaking after the canonical books were written. Having collected a Roman Catholic, an irrelevant patristic citation, and the ruminations of Charlesworth, we are, I can only suppose, to abandon the sufficiency of Scripture and the doctrine of sola scriptura. What is more, Norwood writes,
Thus, it is hoped that Mr. White is not under the illusion that his assumptions about the inadequacies of prayer, the impotency of God to communicate with man in extrabiblical ways, or the dismissal of all spiritual experiences had by Mormons and others as nothing more than mere “feelings” void of any influence by the Spirit are by any means the consensus of all Christian believers or thinkers.
This is a classic example of straw-man argumentation. I never indicated prayer is inadequate: I said prayer is not the God ordained means of coming to know His truth: His word is that means. I never said God is impotent to communicate with man in any way He wishes: I simply said God was powerful enough to “get it right” the first time in the Scriptures, and He has indicated He does not need to add to what He revealed in Christ. I did not dismiss all spiritual experiences, but insisted that all spiritual experiences must be subject to the God-breathed Scriptures. Mr. Norwood then sounded like a Catholic Answers staffer in presenting the classic argument against sola scriptura:
What Mr. White fails to grasp is the danger inherent in trying to settle all disputes about truth-claims by going to the Bible alone for the answer. If the Bible were perfectly unamibiguous, there would not be numerous Protestant denominations in existence—all different in one way or another, yet all claiming a system of belief derived solely from the Bible.
I refer the reader to my paper, “Catholic Answers: Myth or Reality?” for a full discussion of this very claim, so commonly made by Roman apologists. For now I simply repeat a post I wrote in response to the use of this argument by Roman Catholic apologist James Akin:
On one point I certainly agree with Mr. Akin: Catholic apologist
often DO use this argument. But is it a valid argument? Let’s examine
it. First, and very briefly, it seems to me to be an inconsistent
argument; that is, it refutes the position of the one using it. It
presupposes the idea that if (in the case of Protestantism) the
Scriptures are meant to be the sole infallible rule of faith for the
Church, then it must follow that the Scriptures will produce an
external, visible unity of doctrine on all fronts. As Patrick Madrid
put it, Presbyterians and Baptists would not be in disagreement about
infant baptism if the Bible were able to function as the sole rule
of faith for the Church. I say this is an inconsistent argument
because the solution offered to us by Rome–namely, the teaching
Magisterium of the Roman Church, replete with oral tradition and papal
infallibility–has not brought about the desired unity amongst Roman
Catholics. I have personally spoken with and corresponded with Roman
Catholics, individuals actively involved in their parishes, regular
attendees at Mass, etc., who have held to a WIDE range of beliefs on
a WIDE range of topics. One need only read the pages of “This Rock”
magazine to know that you have conflicts with traditionalists over
every conceivable topic, from the Latin Mass to modernism in Rome.
I’ve been witness to debates between Catholics on canon laws and
excommunications and Father Feeney and other items that rival any
debates I’ve seen amongst Protestants. And I haven’t even gotten
to the liberals in the Roman fold! Obviously I don’t need to do
that, as the point is made. If sola scriptura is disproven by the
resultant disagreements amongst people outside of Rome, then
Roman claims regarding the Magisterium are equally disproven by the
very same argument.
But my main reason for addressing the common argument made by Roman
apologists is that it reveals something important about Rome’s vie
w of man himself. Dr. Cornelius Van Til often commented on the errors
of Rome regarding their view of man, and how these errors impacted
every aspect of their theology, and he was quite right. We see an
illustration right here. Rome’s semi-Pelagianism (I am talking to
a Roman Catholic right now in another venue who makes Pelagius look
like a raving Calvinist) leads her to overlook what seems to me to be
a very fundamental issue. Let me give you an illustration: Let’s say
James Akin writes the PERFECT textbook on logic. It is completely
perspicuous: it is fully illustrated, completely consistent, and it
provides answers to all the tough questions in plain, understandable
terminology. It covers all the bases. Now, would it follow, then,
that every person who consulted this textbook would agree with every
other person who consulted this textbook on matters of logic? Well,
of course not. Some folks might just read one chapter, and not the
rest. Others might read too quickly, and not really listen to Mr.
Akin’s fine explanations. Others might have read other
less-well-written textbooks, and they might import their
understandings into Mr. Akin’s words, resulting in misunderstandings.
Most often, people might just lack the mental capacity to follow all
the arguments, no matter how well they are expressed, and end up
clueless about the entire subject, despite having read the entire work.
Now the question I have to ask is this: is there something wrong with
Mr. Akin’s textbook if it does not produce complete unanimity on
questions logical? Is the problem in the textbook or in the people
using the textbook? In the real world it is often a combination of
both: a lack of clarity on the part of the textbook and a problem in
understanding on the part of the reader. But if the perfect textbook
existed, would it result in absolute unanimity of opinion? No,
because any textbook must be read, interpreted, and understood. Let’s
say the Bible is perspicuous, in the sense that Westminster said,
that is, that “those things which are necessary to be known, believed
and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some
place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the
unlearned, in a due use of ordinary means, may attain to a sufficient
understanding of them.” Does it follow, then, that there must be a
unanimity of opinion on, say, infant baptism? Does the above even say
that there will be a unanimity of opinion on the very items that “are
necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation”? No,
obviously, it does not. And why? Because people, sinful people,
people with agendas, people who want to find something in the Bible
that isn’t really there, people approach Scripture, and no matter how
perfect Scripture is, people remain people Now, Roman apologists may
well say, “See, you’ve proven our point! You need an infallible
interpreter to tell you what the Bible says because you are a sinful
person, and hence you need a sinless, perfect guide to tell you what
to believe!” Aside from the fact that such a concept itself is
absent from Scripture, and is in fact countermanded by Scripture (did
not the Lord Jesus hold men accountable for what GOD said to THEM in
SCRIPTURE?), we need to observe that Rome is not solving the problem
of fallible people. Once Rome “speaks” the fallible person must still
interpret the supposed infallible interpretation. The element of error
remains, no matter how much Rome might wish to think it has been
removed. Indeed, beyond the problem of interpreting the infallible
interpreter, you still have the fallible decision of following
Rome’s absolute authority rather than, say, Brooklyn’s, or Salt
Lake’s, or Mecca’s, or whoever’s. That remains a fallible decision,
and hence the longing for that “infallible fuzzy” that comes from
turning your responsibilities over to an “infallible guide” remains
as unfulfilled as ever. Finally, the argument put forth (plainly
seen in the arguments used by Karl Keating in Catholicism and
Fundamentalism) is even more pernicious, in that it attacks the
sufficiency of Scripture itself. We are seemingly told that the
Holy Spirit did such a poor job in producing Scripture that while
the Psalmist thought it was a lamp to his feet and a light to his
path, he (the Psalmist) was in fact quite deluded, and was treading very
dangerously. Instead of the glorious words of God spoken of in
Psalm 119, we are told that such basic truths as the nature of God,
including the deity of Christ or the personality of the Holy Spirit,
cannot be derived solely from Scripture, but require external
witnesses. And why are we told this? Well, it is alleged that
arguments can be made against these doctrines on the basis of
Scripture passages. Of course, one could argue against ANYTHING if
one is willing to sacrifice context, language, consistency, etc.
But are we really to believe the Bible is so self-contradictory
and unclear that we cannot arrive at the truth through a
whole-hearted effort at honestly examining the biblical evidence?
That seems to be what those across the Tiber are trying to tell
us. But it is obvious that just because the Scriptures can be
misused it does not follow that they are insufficient to lead
one to the truth. Such is a flawed argument (no matter how often
it is repeated). The real reason Rome tells us the Bible is
insufficient is so that we can be convinced to abandon the
God-given standard of Scripture while embracing Rome’s ultimate
But we hasten on. On page 325 we read, “Mr. White is very much against the idea that prayer can be a means toward learning truth.” No, Mr. White is very much against making prayer the primary means of learning truth, and Mr. White is very much against putting prayer in the place of the Scriptures as God’s primary means of learning truth. There is, of course, a vast difference. Mr. Norwood, having misrepresented my position and book yet again, then cites a number of passages on prayer and laments that they “are not cited even once in his book.”
Next we find a citation from LDS author Richard Anderson regarding the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 (yes, Mr. Norwood was working very hard to find anything relevant to say at this point). Part of Anderson’s quotation says, “Conservatives today search the Bible for answers, but had the apostles done this, they would have required circumcision for the Gentiles, since it is commanded in the Bible.” Unfortunately we see that even Dr. Anderson is unfamiliar with the doctrine of sola scriptura, and what is more, the Apostles did search the Scriptures, and quoted from them in giving their response (Acts 15:15). Norwood closes this section on page 326 with what he says would be my rewrite of the Eighth Article of Faith:
I believe all that God has revealed in my interpretation of the Protestant Bible, I do not believe he is revealing anything at all today, and I do not believe he will ever reveal anything great or important in the future that is not already in my interpretation of the Protestant Bible.
Mr. Norwood did a lot of mind reading in his review, and as with his other attempts, he didn’t do a very good job. Allow me my own rewrite:
I believe all that God has revealed in the God-inspired Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:16); I believe that the Scriptures are self-consistent because their author is self-consistent, and hence I believe a full reading of those Scriptures will yield only one consistent teaching and truth; I believe God has spoken with finality in Jesus Christ, and that the old ways of prophets has been eclipsed by the final and full revelation of the Son (Hebrews 1:1-3).
Hopefully the reader can see the large difference between the two presentations.
L. Ara Norwood: Defender of the Book of Mormon
The next section of Mr. Norwood’s review is, seemingly in his mind, the “strongest” section. Almost anything would be stronger than the first section, that is for certain, but here Mr. Norwood feels he is at home, for here he addresses the Book of Mormon. He pulls no punches in saying he feels I am utterly out of my league here. For example, he writes:
I was so appalled at the sophomoric analysis he rendered . . . that I wondered if he had not farmed out the assignment of writing it to someone else . . . and it took the entire book to whole new levels of ineptitude.
One would think that such strong words would be followed with strong arguments and documentation. They are not. I am faulted primarily for not falling all over myself in admiration of the writings of Hugh Nibley, John Sorenson, Stephen Ricks and William Hamblin. Mr. Norwood’s “rebuttal” is tremendously shallow, strained to a tremendous degree, and I feel highly educational.
The first topic addressed has to do with the “testimony” of the Book of Mormon. He misses my entire point with reference to my asking a Mormon, “Would you pray about the Satanic Bible?” The question is obvious in its implications: we do not pray about those things that we know are, by their very nature, untrue and contrary to God’s revelation. This point must be established before anything else can be accomplished, and while Mr. Norwood might be surprised to learn it, I have had more than one LDS person say, “Why, of course I’d pray about it. Why not?”
Mr. Norwood then ignores the fact that I labored hard to present why I believe the Book of Mormon is in error (i.e., it’s opposition to biblical teaching) by asking how I know this; yet, by the next paragraph he gets to his own answer, “Now we get to the heart of the matter; he is of the opinion that the Book of Mormon is opposed to biblical teaching.” Mr. Norwood wastes time getting to this “heart of the matter,” and then wastes time thereafter, engaging in more “mind reading” about what I’d do if it were proven to me that the Bible and the Book of Mormon are consistent. He finally gets around to listing (p. 328) my five reasons for not praying about the Book of Mormon. Interestingly enough, having listed them (they are: 1) The BoM is historically inaccurate, 2) it contains false doctrine, 3) it was given by a false prophet, 4) it has grave textual problems, and 5) is has been edited in thousands of places), he then writes,
Do these “reasons” display enough reason, sound logic, and acuity to justify not following the one formula that would help him ascertain the book’s validity? Let us see. (One would do well to consult the words of Paul to gain an understanding of the limits of the “rational, logical, human reasoning” method when trying to comprehend things of the Spirit; see 1 Corinthians 2:11-14).
I noted in my copy of the article, “Is the BoM’s nature as an alleged historical document a `spiritual thing'”? Surely such topics as false doctrine are spiritual in nature, but the issue of the BoM being historically inaccurate, and the changes in the text of the BoM, are not “spiritual” in nature. You can pray all day long to get a “feeling” that 2 + 2 = 5, and you may well get the feeling, but that won’t change the reality of mathematics. In the same way, you can pray all day long, or all your life, for that matter, in an attempt to get a “feeling” that white Nephites battled dark-skinned Lamanites in this hemisphere and left a written record on golden tablets in a hillside near Joseph Smith’s home, but all the prayer in the world won’t make that a historical reality.
Mr. Norwood seems to smart quite a bit over the statements of Dr. Michael Coe as they first appeared in “Dialogue” back in 1973. He really doesn’t seem to like what Coe had to say, nor does he like the fact that twenty years of research have not changed the truthfulness of his observations from 1973. My citation ended with these words:
The bare facts of the matter are that nothing, absolutely nothing, has ever shown up in any New World excavation which would suggest to the dispassionate observer that the Book of Mormon, as claimed by Joseph Smith, is a historical document relating to the history of the early migrants to our hemisphere.
These words remain true. Let any person pick up the most popular F.A.R.M.S. materials and ask themselves a question: would the argumentation presented herein carry weight with me if I was not already committed to the LDS perspective? The current situation in the world of archaeology clearly indicates the answer, for F.A.R.M.S. has yet to convince the scholarly world—including Christian scholars who believe in the supernatural—that the BoM has anything at all to do with the early history of this hemisphere. The same scholars who will readily admit that the Bible has a great deal to do with the history of Palestine find no reason to believe Joseph Smith’s story. Indeed, the prerequisite of finding in the ruins of Central America anything relevant to Joseph Smith’s story seems to be a pre-commitment to Joseph Smith. And, of course, once you are committed to the prophethood of Joseph Smith, you are reasoning in circles to speak to the issue of his greatest literary work, the BoM.
Mr. Norwood then falls into the common ploy of Hugh Nibley and other Mormon apologists: “Very few, if any, competent scholars today see archaeology as an objective science any more than history is an objective science.” What is this supposed to mean? This is the first step in trying to explain the miserable failure of LDS scholars to find convincing physical evidence of the Nephites and Lamanites. You must “dumb down” the expectations of people so that the weak arguments of LDS apologists will look stronger. So, you state an obvious thing: archaeology is not as objective as, say, chemistry. But then again, who ever said otherwise? This is followed with pure deception on Mr. Norwood’s part. He writes, “To say that absolutely nothing has ever shown up in any New World excavation which might vindicate the Book of Mormon is to make a rather misleading statement.” Neither I, nor Dr. Coe, made such a statement. Dr. Coe said that nothing has turned up that would lead a “dispassionate observer” to believe the BoM AS CLAIMED BY JOSEPH SMITH is an historical record. There is a big difference. First, Mr. Norwood is not a dispassionate observer; he is a desperate defender of Joseph Smith as a prophet. Second, one can well point out that the presentation of the BoM being made by certain F.A.R.M.S. writers today is quite different than that presented by Joseph Smith himself. We will address this in just a moment.
Next we find what is a most common element of F.A.R.M.S. materials: mutual citation. Norwood writes, “To begin with, John Sorenson’s work on the subject certainly gives plausible archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon’s truth claims.” I dispute the very statement, but the point is that F.A.R.M.S. folks like to cite . . . other F.A.R.M.S. folks. It becomes a vicious (and rather small) circle: everybody cites Nibley, who, I am hardly alone in asserting, has never once cared about the contextual accuracy of anything he’s ever cited. But then Sorenson cites Nibley, and Hamblin cites Sorenson, and Peterson and Ricks cite Sorenson and Hamblin and Nibley, and round and round it goes. It sure looks good on paper, but it doesn’t mean a whole lot. It is rather reminiscent of the King James Only advocates who cite each other over and over again: such hardly represents a wide spectrum of the scholarly community.
Next, in an attempt to answer why there is not more support in non-LDS areas for the BoM as a book of history, Norwood says, “After all, how many agnostic or atheistic archaeologists are convinced by evidence that turns up in Middle East excavations which Bible-believing Christians find remarkably confirmatory and faith-promoting.” The error of logic here is astounding. Note how Norwood replaces the historical nature of the BoM with a full-blown belief in Christianity as a result of believing the message of the Bible. If Norwood were to argue correctly, he would have to admit that there is a tremendous amount of testimony to the HISTORICAL NATURE of the Bible, and the fact that the Bible DOES come from the ancient world of Palestine, and that this fact is clearly admitted by all people involved, even by atheists and agnostics. The historical nature of a work is one thing; belief in the religious system presented by that book is another. I can admit the historical nature of many of the Greek works of mythology, but I don’t worship Zeus. In the same way, if there was evidence of the historicity of the BoM, one could say, “Yes, this is a historical document” without saying “and I accept its religious teachings.” The problem for Norwood is, there isn’t any such historical evidence. He is mixing categories, and that badly. Agnostics and atheists have to admit the fact that the Bible has been proven to have come from the context it claims to have come from—their rejection of its teachings does not invalidate the historical data. The BoM can make no such claim, as the context that it provides for itself simply did not exist in Mesoamerica during the time frame claimed by the book itself.
In footnote 22 on page 330, Norwood continues to ply the old excuses for the failure of expedition after expedition into Mesoamerica. We are told that biblical archaeology has been around longer, so we shouldn’t be too surprised that it has more results. Again, it’s not a matter of how much evidence, but of the total lack of any evidence that is the problem. Then Norwood really falls into a problem when he rather glibly asks, “Besides, do the critics expect to see a Nephite roadsign reading, `You are now leaving Zarahemla’?” Well, it sure would be nice! We have similar such items identifying biblical cities, why not the BoM? But what is more, Norwood seems to be avoiding the fact that the view of the BoM most often promoted in F.A.R.M.S. literature is startlingly different than that presented by the early Mormons, and by Joseph Smith himself. In other words, the BoM “as claimed by Joseph Smith” would lead one to believe that one would find such a roadsign. Rather than the extremely limited geography of a John Sorenson, it is obvious the early Mormons believed the BoM story took place all across the United States. Note the words of the Documentary History of the Church, as well as those of Joseph Fielding Smith, regarding the well-known incident of the finding of “Zelph, the White Lamanite.”
On the top of the mound were stones which presented the appearance of three altars having been erected one above the other, according to the ancient order; and the remains of bones were strewn over the surface of the ground. The brethren procured a shovel and a hoe, and removing the earth to the depth of about one foot, discovered the skeleton of a man, almost entire, and between his ribs the stone point of a Lamanitish arrow, which evidently produced his death. Elder Burr Riggs retained the arrow. The contemplation of the scenery around us produced peculiar sensations in our bosoms: and subsequently the visions of the past being opened to my understanding by the Spirit of the Almighty, I discovered that the person whose skeleton was before us was a white Lamanite, a large, thick-set man, and a man of God. His name was Zelph. He was a warrior and chieftain under the great prophet Onandagus, who was known from the Hill Cumorah, or eastern sea to the Rocky mountains. The curse was taken from Zelph, or, at least, in part–one of his thigh bones was broken by a stone flung from a sling, while in battle, years before his death. He was killed in battle by the arrow found among his ribs, during the last great struggle of the Lamanites and Nephites. Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., Doctrines of Salvation, Vol.3, Pg.240 In the Book of Mormon story the Lamanites were constantly crowding the Nephites back towards the north and east. If the battles in which Zelph took part were fought in the country traversed by the Zion’s Camp, then we have every reason to believe from what is written in the Book of Mormon, that the Nephites were forced farther and farther to the north and east until they found themselves in the land of Ripliancum, which both Ether and Mormon declare to us was the land of Ramah or Cumorah, a land of “many waters,” which “by interpretation, is large, or to exceed all.” Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., Doctrines of Salvation, Vol.3, Pg.239
NEPHITE AND JAREDITE WARS IN WESTERN NEW YORK. In the face of this evidence coming from the Prophet Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer, we cannot say that the Nephites and Lamanites did not possess the territory of the United States and that the Hill Cumorah is in Central America. Neither can we say that the great struggle which resulted in the destruction of the Nephites took place in Central America. If Zelph, a righteous man, was fighting under a great prophet-general in the last battles between the Nephites and Lamanites; if that great prophet-general was known from the Rocky Mountains to “the Hill Cumorah or eastern sea,” then some of those battles, and evidently the final battles did take place within the borders of what is now the United States.
If early Mormon leaders could uncover direct physical evidence of the Lamanites and Nephites while out walking, and that with only a shovel and a hoe, why are Mormon archaeologists unable to find Mr. Norwood’s roadsign? This is all the more interesting in light of Mr. Norwood’s own admission on page 331, “Besides, when did the Book of Mormon ever claim to be a viable tool for achaeologists?” Well, the Bible does not make such a claim, though it is such a viable tool, DUE TO ITS HISTORICITY. Why is the BoM not such a viable tool? Well, of course, due to its LACK of historicity.
The bad argumentation continues unabated in the next paragraph (p. 331), where Norwood notes my citation of LDS archaeologists concerning “amateurish and overstated” publications by Mormons on BoM archaeology. He misses the point but takes the opportunity of taking shots at various discredited Christian ministers (producing two more irrelevant footnotes in the process).
Upon citing my assertion that the description of the Nephites and Lamanites provided by Joseph Smith is obviously based upon an Old World paradigm rather than one relevant to the New World, Mr. Norwood retorts, “Is Mr. White trying to say that Nephi and Laman, having come from an `Old World culture,’ would have arrived in Mesoamerica and instantly lost any and all traces of their Old World heritage, and just as instantly adopted their Mesoamerican traditions, mannerisms, and customs in perfect totality?” No, Mr. White is trying to say that the culture of the Book of Mormon—from beginning to end—is vastly different than the culture we now know existed (but Joseph Smith did not) in Mesoamerica and elsewhere during the same time period. Only special pleading allows Mormon apologists to get around this obvious problem. Mr. Norwood assumes the very thing that is disputed: the existence of Nephi, Laman, and their descendants. No, I would not expect such men, had they existed, to have immediately abandoned their culture and customs. I would expect that evidence of their culture and customs, as presented in the BoM, would survive to this day. And that is just where the BoM fails the test.
Upon noting various elements of the material culture of the inhabitants of Mesoamerica during the alleged BoM period that are general knowledge and are yet contrary to the BoM story, Mr. Norwood can only respond with, “How does Mr. White know this? Is he a trained anthropologist? Why does he not back up his claims with references?” No, I am not a trained anthropologist—just as Mr. Norwood is not a trained anthropologist. Dr. Michael Coe is the recognized leader in that field, but Mr. Norwood had no problem dismissing him, I note, hence, it doesn’t seem to matter if one is, or is not, a trained anthropologist. Norwood again engages in the “cite the F.A.R.M.S. guys” syndrome, thinking that just citing his mentors is sufficient to end the issue (it is not). But it is most instructive to note one of Norwood’s citations, as it relates to my radio debate with Dr. Peterson and Dr. Hamblin on KTKK radio in Salt Lake. My opponents brought up the same passage from my book, and confidently asserted that I was just ignorant of the facts, and that the ancient inhabitants of the hemisphere did have swords. Dr. Hamblin, who had recently co-authored a book titled Warfare in the Book of Mormon, gave me a signed copy of the book right there in the studio. It was indeed unfortunate that I had not yet seen the book, as the resulting discussion would have been most interesting.
Hamblin writes an article with Merrill that appears on pages 329 through 351 of the book. The authors struggle mightily to find some parallel in known Mesoamerican culture to the swords described in the BoM. The BoM is mercilessly plain: the book describes Laban’s sword (1 Nephi 4:9) saying, “And I beheld his sword, and I drew it forth from the sheath thereof; and the hilt thereof was of pure gold, and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine, and I saw that the blade thereof was of the most precious steel.” No problem here, for the context is still Old World. But, we read in 2 Nephi 5:14-15 (which moves the context to the New World):
And I, Nephi, did take the sword of Laban, and after the manner of it did make many swords, lest by any means the people who were now called Lamanites should come upon us and destroy us; . . . And I did teach my people to build buildings, and to work in all manner of wood, and of iron, and of copper, and of brass, and of steel, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious ores, which were in great abundance.
Now we have steel-bladed, sheathed swords in the New World, according to the BoM. In fact, we have lots of them, made for defense against the Lamanites. Why do I emphasize this? Well, Hamblin said on the air on KTKK that they have found swords in the New World, but he was engaging in the most egregious re-definition of terms in so doing. As anyone can see by reading Warfare in the Book of Mormon, Hamblin’s means of rescuing Joseph Smith is to attempt to draw a parallel between the clearly Old Word sword of Laban, and hence of the Nephites, with the Aztec “macuahuitl” or “macana.” Hamblin describes it:
The “macuahuitl” was constructed from a long staff or large paddle-shaped piece of wood. Sharp obsidian flakes were fixed into the edges of the wooden blade, giving it a deadly cutting edge.
Here Hamblin tries to tell us that what the BoM is really talking about is a war club with sharp rocks embedded in it! He then has to work very hard to explain how such a club could scalp someone “with the point of his sword,” why the BoM refers to the “hilt” of these swords (the macuahuitl doesn’t have a hilt,) how such a war-club can be “drawn” from a “sheath” (!), how such swords could be spoken of as having been made “bright” (Alma 24:12), and what Nephi was talking about when he said he made their swords after the pattern of Laban’s sword. I simply direct the reader to this chapter: there can be no greater evidence of the strained, twisted, and down-right incredible lengths to which people will go to defend a myth. And, not surprisingly, when Mr. Norwood wishes to take a shot at me about my statement about swords, he cites this very discussion.
The same thing happens when I note the lack of horses, so prominent in the BoM, in the material cultures of the day. Mr. Norwood’s response is, “Mr. White is simply ill-informed.” He footnotes Sorenson’s attempt in his book, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, to provide some basis of horses in the ancient New World. Norwood specifically cites pages 295 through 296 of Sorenson’s book. Does Sorenson help me with my being ill-informed? Hardly. In carefully crafted language Sorenson tries to suggest the possibility that maybe some horses did survive, as there might be a place here or there where a horse bone was found that would date to something near the BoM period. He suggests that the topic of the horse being extinct by the BoM period is not completely closed. But, this is followed with the brave mention of a few representations in art of someone riding a deer, as if this might fill in for the “horse” of the BoM. But he recognizes how lame all of this is in light of the simple fact that horses in the BoM were involved in pulling chariots and hence were involved in warfare. Such language as used in the BoM does not allow us to find much solace in one or two horse bones in a questionable dig, or in a picture of someone riding a deer! Sorenson says, “Thus, we simply do not understand what might have been the nature of the `chariot’ mentioned in the Book of Mormon in connection with `horses.'” I may well be ill-informed, as Mr. Norwood says, but I don’t mind being ill-informed about such wild speculations and strained explanations.
We should remember that Mr. Norwood closes this part of his discussion of my “sophomoric” discussion of the BoM with these words: “. . . the foregoing should be adequate to demonstrate that Mr. White’s approach to historical criticism relative to the Book of Mormon is to select issues he knows little or nothing about, to make broad generalizations without backing them up with documentation of any kind, to fail to research the issues in appropriate works, (!) and then to draw wrong conclusions at each and every turn.” It is obvious that for Mr. Norwood, to know something about the topic is to believe that the F.A.R.M.S. writers are infallible; to research appropriate works is not to read Coe or the general archaeological or anthropological spectrum, but to read F.A.R.M.S. books, and to draw right conclusions at every turn is to buy into the twisted reasoning we have already seen above!
But before we finish this section we need to note Norwood’s attempt to get around the embarrassing question of “coins” in the BoM. Once again we find Joseph Smith attempting to make the New World into the Old Word. In Alma chapter 11 we find a description of the Nephite system of coinage. Orson Pratt, an apostle of the LDS Church, described these as “coins” in the chapter heading that remains in the BoM to this day. There is good reason for Pratt’s terminology: anyone who reads the chapter can see what is being referred to. Yet, BoM apologists have worked overtime, as Norwood’s footnote shows, to try to make these “pieces” of gold, silver, etc., anything but coins. And why is this? Because coins are conspicuous by their absence from the material culture of the New World. The inhabitants of Mesoamerica did not use a coinage system, nor did they find gold and silver nearly as precious as Old World cultures (they preferred jade and cocoa beans, two items that are not to be found in the BoM). Hence, since coins are the most lasting elements of a society (I personally have coins dating back to the time of the BoM from the Old World), the fact that we can’t find any of these items in the New World is a telling objection to the historicity of the BoM account. Norwood’s response does nothing more than repeat the wild attempts to get around this embarrassing mistake.
Next Norwood brushes aside the tremendously important issue of Ethan Smith’s View of the Hebrews, an issue that B.H. Roberts himself thought was worthy of note (we can only assume Norwood is a better expert on the topic than Roberts was). But most significantly Norwood shoots himself in the foot in his concluding remark: “As to the charge that there are parallels between the two books, yes, there are parallels. Yet, the majority of them are insignificant, especially when compared to the unparallels that exist between the two works.” It is wonderful to see that Mr. Norwood recognizes that the existence of some parallels is negated by the existence of what he calls “unparallels.” While I disagree with the application of this true concept to the View of the Hebrews, I have to point out that Norwood has here capsulized the most telling criticism of the entire effort of F.A.R.M.S. to come up with any kind of meaningful defense of the Book of Mormon in a historical setting: the few, strained, “parallels” that they have produced are more than completely negated by the vast mountain of “unparallels” that any person could note upon the most basic examination of the material cultures of ancient Mesoamerica. The fact that Norwood can see this in other instances, but fails to see how it undermines his entire position on the BoM, is quite telling.
Our writer then transitions into dealing with my assertion that the BoM contains false doctrine, focusing upon my assertion that 2 Nephi 25:23 (and Moroni 10:32) contradict the Bible’s teaching of salvation by grace through faith. Norwood asserts that I misunderstand LDS doctrine at this point (p. 335), but in the process demonstrates that he is more than willing to pick and choose who will define his particular view of LDS doctrine (and anyone who thinks that there is just “one” view has not spoken to very many LDS folks of late). Ignoring the fact that I cited official LDS writings to substantiate my point (pp. 142-143, 269-271 of Letters), Mr. Norwood turns not to a General Authoriy of the LDS Church but to a BYU professor to demonstrate that I don’t understand the proper interpretation of 2 Nephi 25:23. He cites Stephen Robinson’s book, Are Mormons Christians? wherein he says, “The sense is that apart from all we can do, it is ultimately by the grace of Christ that we are saved. This meaning is apparent from the fact that none of us actually does all he can do.” Unfortunately, Norwood ignores the fact that in presenting this problem in the teaching of the BoM, I cited directly from the LDS Bible Dictionary (a little more “official” source than a BYU professor)—though Norwood forgets to mention this to his readers. All Norwood does by ignoring the official explanation and citing Robinson is to point out the contradictory positions taken by the “official” leaders and BYU scholars.
More wasted space is to be found in Norwood’s review of my comments on the modalistic teaching of the BoM in Mosiah 15:1-4. First we find another footnote castigating me for not “tend[ing] to [my] own flock” due to the fact that many Christians unknowingly embrace modalistic concepts of the Trinity. I am well aware that this is the case, and even said in the text that this is a common misconception of untaught persons. But this does not excuse Joseph Smith’s insertion of the concept into the BoM. Without providing anything more than a reference note to some commentary sources, Norwood brushes aside the problem and says, “Again, Mr. White demonstrates a talent for jumping to faulty conclusions after feeble analysis.” My analysis was brief, not feeble; feeble is a better term for Norwood’s reply.
The third reason I gave not to pray about the BoM was that it was given by a false prophet. Having already spent many pages (109-117) on this very topic, I simply noted this and said, “I have already provided my reasons for believing this in our previous correspondence. Smith qualified as a false prophet under both of the tests set forth by the Bible, and therefore a book of “scripture” that he would introduce to the world would not come from God” (p. 144). Norwood pretends otherwise by saying, “This third reason is shamefully incomplete. In a mere three sentences, Mr. White dismisses the Book of Mormon because he dismisses Joseph Smith. This is an example of a priori reasoning; White decides in advance that nothing good can come from Joseph Smith, therefore the Book of Mormon, having come through Joseph Smith, cannot be good.” Anyone who reads the book, however, knows that Norwood is doing nothing but blowing smoke and ignoring what was actually said in the book.
Next Norwood again seems to bank upon his readers not reading the book, for anyone who has would wonder how he could be so dishonest in his misrepresentations. Again beginning with ad hominem argumentation (“Once again, Mr. White is feeding us pablum”), he labors diligently to avoid getting the point of my entire discussion of the textual problems in the BoM. I worked hard to represent a number of the viewpoints on the inspiration and translation of the BoM in my discussion in Letters (pp. 144-149). By mixing up elements of this discussion (citing from three different pages through the use of ellipses) and utterly ignoring the citations provided in the text itself from various LDS sources, Norwood provides us with a completely useless response to the discussion. He provides us with four paragraphs of irrelevant verbiage that does not even begin to address what is written in the book. Yet, he has the intestinal fortitude to conclude his obfuscational activities with the line, “I have to wonder how he can treat a subject so carelessly, come off so confidently, and still maintain a degree of intellectual responsibility.” A mirror might help Mr. Norwood out at this point.
The next reason I gave had to do with the changes in the text of the BoM. Mr. Norwood proves to us that he owns a number of “anti-Mormon” books by providing a 20-line footnote citing similar discussions of such changes in a wide variety of books, and then thinks this is sufficient basis to reiterate his previous comment about “the anti-Mormon cookie cutter.” The fact that there are such changes in the text of the BoM makes the discussion of the topic in books dedicated to an examination of the truth claims of Mormonism a foregone conclusion, of course. Any discussion of the BoM that would not mention such editing would be incomplete.
Norwood uses anachronism to avoid the problems presented by the changes in the BoM at 1 Nephi 11:18, 21-22, saying the addition of the phrase “the Son of” in these passages is a mere clarification “so that the reader would realize it is the second person of the Godhead being referred to, and not the first person of the Godhead.” He ignores the fact that I have already pointed out that Mosiah 15 presents an obviously modalistic view of the godhead that would find no problem with the original reading of these passages; Joseph Smith’s theology evolved radically after this time-period, resulting in the edits. Norwood assumes what he has yet to prove, and again completely misses the point of the significance of the change.
Three entire pages are then dedicated to attempting to rescue Joseph Smith from the problem created by the change at Mosiah 21:28 regarding Benjamin and Mosiah. Obviously I struck a nerve, for Norwood labors hard to come up with some kind of meaningful answer for this change. I leave it to the reader to discover if he is successful or not.
With this we come to the end of Norwood’s comments on the BoM materials in Letters to a Mormon Elder. The reader is reminded of the fact that in the letters sent to me after the publication of his review Mr. Norwood has consistently asserted that I am unable to deal with BoM issues, and that I in fact look like a “buffoon” (letter of 10/18/95) when I attempt to do so. Yet, as the preceding pages illustrate, Mr. Norwood has grievously over-estimated his own prowess as a writer and expert on such things. In fact, it is quite obvious to me that Mr. Norwood is trying desperately to act and look like one of the “big boys,” when in point of fact I have encountered FAR more substantive responses from other LDS who make none of the pretentious claims made by Mr. Norwood. Perhaps he should work a bit more on his materials before he starts calling people “buffoons.”
Norwood on the Gospel
The final section of the review addresses the gospel and the Reformed understanding presented throughout the final chapters of Letters to a Mormon Elder.
As the first section of this response noted, Mr. Norwood did not avail himself of the opportunity of speaking with me prior to the writing of his review of my book. Had he done so, I could have rescued him from many of the problems that plague his review. At the very least I could have sent him copies of my others books, available at the time he wrote his review. Had he had these works, most of the material found in the final section of his review would have either not appeared or it would have taken a very different form. Two of my books, God’s Sovereign Grace and Drawn by the Father, would have been most useful to Mr. Norwood at this point in explaining and defending the Reformed position on the gospel of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.
In point of fact there is little reason to spend much time on Mr. Norwood’s comments here. He has no idea what the Reformed position is; he misrepresents it at every turn; and he showed no interest in really finding out what I believe about these things, as seen in his not referencing, or even obtaining, my books on this very subject. Hence, the vast majority of the criticisms he raises are either irrelevant to the topic, or have been fully answered in my other works (or at times in Letters itself!). Mr. Norwood asks a number of questions in this section, all of which are answered fully in my other works on the topic! While I demonstrated a wide reading of LDS works and cited from a broad spectrum of sources, Mr. Norwood shows no interest in such things, and as a result provides us with little of material substance in the last few pages of his review. [We are at least thankful that Norwood’s comments are a cut above the single worst recent LDS attempt in this area, that being Richard Hopkins’ Biblical Mormonism.] While it would be “easy” to point out error after error and misrepresentation after misrepresentation in this section, we will allow the reader to compare Mr. Norwood’s words with the materials presented in Letters and other works such as Justification by Faith, Drawn by the Father, and God’s Sovereign Grace.
Finally, one could spend (waste?) a great deal of time noting the dozens of snide remarks, insults, and generally childish comments sprinkled throughout Norwood’s review. At times one has to wonder how such things made it past the editors, but then again, this is a F.A.R.M.S. production, and that is the same group that has allowed its very leaders to engage in the very same kind of activity (the famous “Metcalfe is Butthead” incident comes to mind). Hence, in reality, Norwood’s attitude is “par for the course” for F.A.R.M.S., not something unusual. He is merely mimicking the actions of those he is attempting to impress, nothing more.
Around the same time the F.A.R.M.S. review appeared a horrendously inaccurate article appeared in the Roman Catholic magazine “This Rock” titled “The White Man’s Burden.” This article pretended to review a debate between myself and the article’s author, Patrick Madrid. There are many similarities in the attitude and tone of the works of Madrid and Norwood, but there is one major similarity that is most heartening. Anyone who either attended, or listens to the tapes of, the debate between myself and Madrid will find his article unbelievable, and will be forced to wonder why the author had to go to such great lengths to twist the truth. And in the same way, anyone who reads Letters to a Mormon Elder and then reads Mr. Norwood’s review will have to wonder why the leading LDS apologetics organization could not find something more substantive to put in the thirty-six pages dedicated to the book. There might just be a good reason for that . . . .