Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Guessing About God: Mormonism's Inability to Resist the Onslaught of Modernistic Skepticism (Part 6)
04/29/2011 - James White
Another consideration is the legitimacy of his criteria for defining Christianity for those who lived before the development of the specific doctrines he touts as foundational. There was no such thing as a Trinitarian prior to the fourth century CE. James may argue that it is biblical in origin, but no one prior to Nicea ever expressed the notion as James understands it. Were they Christians?
It is absurd, of course, to say that there was “no such thing as a Trinitarian prior to the fourth century CE.” I would find it doubtful that Mr. McClellan would have read The Forgotten Trinity, but as I argued there, the Apostles themselves were experiential Trinitarians. Peter had heard the Father speak on the Mount of Transfiguration, he had walked with the Son, he was then indwelt by the Spirit. This is why the Trinity is the matrix from which the New Testament writings speak. The Trinity is not so much a revelation found in those documents as the ground and air out of which they speak, the revelation itself having taken place before the first word of the New Testament was penned. The revelation of the Trinity is to be found in the incarnation of the Son and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and these events took place intertestamentally. No one has put it better than Warfield:
We cannot speak of the doctrine of the Trinity, therefore, if we study exactness of speech, as revealed in the New Testament, any more than we can speak of it as revealed in the Old Testament. The Old Testament was written before its revelation; the New Testament after it. The revelation itself was made not in word but in deed. It was made in the incarnation of God the Son, and the outpouring of God the Holy Spirit. The relation of the two Testaments to this revelation is in the one case that of preparation for it, and in the other that of product of it. The revelation itself is embodied just in Christ and the Holy Spirit. This is as much to say that the revelation of the Trinity was incidental to, and the inevitable effect of, the accomplishment of redemption. It was in the coming of the Son of God in the likeness of sinful flesh to offer Himself a sacrifice for sin; and in the coming of the Holy Spirit to convict the world of sin, of righteousness and of judgment, that the Trinity of Persons in the Unity of the Godhead was once for all revealed to men. (B.B. Warfield, “The Biblical Doctrine of the Trinity,” The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981), II:144.
And he went on to say,
We may understand also, however, from the same central fact, why it is that the doctrine of the Trinity lies in the New Testament rather in the form of allusions than in express teaching, why it is rather everywhere presupposed, coming only here and there into incidental expression, than formally inculcated. It is because the revelation, having been made in the actual occurrences of redemption, was already the common property of all Christian hearts (ibid., p. 145).
As a result, we find the writings of the early church reflecting this Trinitarian understanding, speaking easily of the existence of one true God, while likewise speaking of the deity of persons clearly differentiated in the thinking of the writer. Note how Ignatius of Antioch, writing around AD 108, speaks as a Trinitarian:
My spirit is but an offscouring of the cross, which is a scandal to the unbelieving, but to us it is salvation and life eternal. Where is the wise man? Where is the disputer? Where is the boasting of those who are called understanding? For our God, Jesus the Christ, was conceived by Mary according to a dispensation of God, from the seed of David, yes, but of the Holy Spirit as well. (Ephesians 18)
Here we have a full recognition of the deity of Christ, yet a reference to “God” (evidently the Father), and the Holy Spirit, just as we have in New Testament passages. This is seen even more clearly in another famous text from the martyr bishop:
…you being stones of a temple, prepared before as a building of God the Father, being raised up to the heights through the mechanism of Jesus Christ, which is the cross, and using as a rope the Holy Spirit….(Ephesians 9)....
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Guessing About God: Mormonism's Inability to Resist the Onslaught of Modernistic Skepticism (Part 5)
04/27/2011 - James WhiteI am continuing with my response to LDS writer Daniel McClellan’s blog article from April 8, 2011, found here. I note as well that Mr. McClellan has already begun replying to me, resulting in a very, and I mean very, large amount of text. My intention is to finish this initial response, comment briefly on anything I find helpful or necessary in his replies, and move on. I simply do not have time for this kind of extended, exponentially growing give and take. At least, my publisher says I do not.
Unfortunately for James’ position, self-identity is widely recognized as the most important criterion in religious identification, and virtually all Mormons self-identify as Christians (those that don’t do so only in reaction to arguments like James’).
Such an argument is again highly problematic for a Mormon apologist. The vast majority of polygamists living in Southern Utah “self-identify” as Mormons, but, that doesn’t keep the Salt Lake leadership from excommunicating them, does it? When Mr. McClellan says “self-identity is widely recognized as the most important criterion” does he tell us “by whom” this is recognized? Find out the answer to that, and you have his ultimate authority. Of course, once again, this assumes the parameters of the Christian faith are determined by current social norms or standards, or by studies done by “experts.” Such has never been the means of identifying the faith, and of course, never will be.
There is little evidentiary value in the observation that modern Mormonism claims to be “Christian.” That is not up for debate. The millions of followers of Jehovah’s Witnesses likewise believe their religious devotion is the “true” representation of Christ’s truth on earth today. The number of sects and groups making this claim is legion. And they all “self-identify,” too. So? If that is all we have as a criterion for what is, and what is not, “Christian,” we are left with the specter seen in Bart Ehrman’s conglomeration of groups making up the “early Christian movement,” so that the resultant mass of self-contradiction and irrationality is taken as the best argument against the divine nature of the faith ever offered. If this is the direction Mr. McClellan wishes to go, is he willing to embrace the necessary results of such a view, results that would assuredly denigrate the very claims to ultimate and final authority vested in the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? ...
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Guessing About God: Mormonism's Inability to Resist the Onslaught of Modernistic Skepticism (Part 4)
04/25/2011 - James White[continued from Part 3]
Additionally, given that Christianity must be allowed to define itself (as James asserts), in any objective approach to the question, Mormonism must be allowed to participate in that process of definition. To preclude Mormonism from Christianity’s self-definition is, again, begging the question. It assumes the conclusion in setting up the premise. Would it be begging the question in the opposite direction to allow Mormonism to contribute to the definition of Christianity? No. Mormonism claims to be Christian just like James claims to be Christian, and according to many Christians, Mormonism meets the criteria.
It is hard to see this argument as anything more than, “Do too!” How can Mormonism, a religion that began by condemning all of Christianity while claiming itself to be the One True Church, seriously look us all in the eye today and say, “Well, hey, we began April 6, 1830, but, we get to participate in the definition of Christianity.” Really? A religion that speaks of God living on a planet that circles a star named Kolob that arose more than 650,000 days after the founding of Christianity is relevant to the defining of that faith? So if someone proclaims himself a prophet today, and starts a new religion that speaks of new gods from new planets, that fellow gets to have a seat at the table too, as long as he claims to be “Christian”? The term “audacious” comes to mind when one considers the reality of such an argument.
This kind of argument forces us to consider the basis upon which any faith is to be defined, and in particular, the basis upon which the Christian faith is to be defined. Some religions would have to give anyone who came along a “seat at the table” by their very nature. But Christianity speaks of objective truth, eternal truth. And our Scriptures speak of the τῇ ἅπαξ παραδοθείσῃ τοῖς ἁγίοις πίστει, the “once-for-all delivered to the saints faith” (Jude 3). One does not have to close one’s eyes to the controversies of the following centuries to continue to believe that God delivered His truth to His people, and then safeguarded those truths by working a heart-felt faithfulness to the whole counsel of God in the Scriptures in the lives and minds of the elect. It is just this ability on God’s part (or willingness on His part) that is denied by Mormonism with its doctrine of “total apostasy,” wherein the LDS Church teaches that even if God had delivered the faith originally, He allowed it to disappear from the earth, necessitating not a reformation, but a restoration. As Mormon Apostle Bruce R. McConkie put it,
Has no one read the promises made of old that the Lord Jesus cannot return "except there come a falling away first" (2Thess.2:1-12); that before that day, "darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people" (Isa.60:2; D&C 112:23-24); that the whole earth "is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant" (Isa.24:5)? Does anyone really suppose that the sects of modern Christendom-with their silks and robes and rituals; with their notions of a salvation without works and by grace alone; with neither signs, nor miracles, nor apostles, nor prophets, nor revelation-does anyone really believe such a Christianity is the same as that of Jesus and Peter and Paul? (The Mortal Messiah, 3:436-37) TLDP:30...
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Guessing About God: Mormonism's Inability to Resist the Onslaught of Modernistic Skepticism (Part 3)
04/22/2011 - James WhiteI have been responding to an article by Daniel O. McClellan regarding the status of Mormonism and its claims to be a Christian religion. I continue my response in this, the third part.
These are peculiar fundamental defining issues, as every single one is a direct response to an ostensibly LDS ideology. If the above are the fundamental defining issues of Christianity, then we must conclude that Christianity is fundamentally defined by its distinction from Mormonism. James, no doubt, does not mean to imply that Christianity only exists and has an identity insofar as it opposes Mormonism. He’s just not paying attention to his methodologies, and his conclusion is more important in crafting his argument than having a good argument. His definition of Christianity must be easily contrasted with Mormonism and must focus exclusively on those aspects of his brand of Christianity which distinguish it. It must be crafted with the goal of differentiation in mind. Defining Christianity in preparation for tackling the question of whether or not Mormonism is Christian by explaining how Christianity is distinguished from Mormonism is a textbook example of begging the question. James’ conclusion is assumed in his premise. His definition of Christianity is invalid if he hopes to assert any logical or academic basis for his argument.
Over the past century and a half, once the outlines of Joseph Smith’s final doctrine of God became known outside the narrow confines of LDS activity (the first responses to Mormonism did not note a fundamental issue with Smith’s doctrine of God simply because the entire First Vision story is a later accretion, a development unknown to the first critics of Mormonism), the consistent rejection of Mormonism as a Christian religion by the entire spectrum of Christian churches has been based, first and foremost, upon the doctrine of God. Consider Christian history. When Arius presented a Christ who was not fully God, a Jesus who was “heteroousios,” of another substance from the Father, his views were branded heretical, for Arianism, despite its willingness to refer to Jesus in divine categories, was fundamentally sub-biblical. Before this, in the East, the error of modalism, a confusion of the divine Persons, had been examined, and rejected. Fundamental to all of these discussions was the overwhelming testimony of the divinely inspired Scriptures, that is, Yahweh is the eternal creator of all things, and there is no God other than Him. Monotheism is not a negotiable for the Christian faith, and it never has been. This is why I began the video as I did: as long as Christianity is allowed to define itself, the answer to the question of Mormonism is not difficult. It is only when the divine inspiration and consistency of the Bible is denied (as Mormonism does), and the consistency of belief of the Christian people on the fact that there is only one true God is made to be only as relevant as the views of a religious sect from the Intermountain West that arose 1800 years after the founding of the Christian faith, that the question can be made difficult or complex. ...
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Guessing About God: Mormonism's Inability to Resist the Onslaught of Modernistic Skepticism (Part 2)
04/20/2011 - James WhiteIn Response to Mr. McClellan
I would like to respond point by point to Mr. McClellan’s claims in his article. I am uncertain as to the source of his familiarity with me, as we have, to my knowledge, never met, but it is possible that in modern Mormon homes, using someone’s first name, even if they are older than you are, and unknown to you, has become the standard. He will forgive me if I do not address him as “Dan” or the like. After linking to my video and that of Elder Holland, he notes, “In doing so he tries to paint a picture of a shifting and manipulative Mormonism working to hide its disparity from Christianity in the interest of seducing converts.” You will not find this kind of language in my original video, of course. What I noted was Mormonism’s seeking to “mainline,” and the resultant shifts in emphasis and presentation. There is no doubt about that, of course. Evidently, this is simply how Mr. McClellan “hears” criticisms of the modern LDS presentation of itself.
Now, I will not take the time here to reiterate the scathing attacks upon “traditional Christianity” that are part of the historical record of Mormonism. I cannot assume, however, that Mr. McClellan is familiar with them. I say this because I have observed a very distinct historical blindness on the part of certain LDS apologists associated with BYU. For example, I included an entire chapter documenting the consistency of teaching over time by the LDS General Authorities on the subject of the human parentage of Jesus in response to the attempt on the part of Daniel C. Peterson and Steven D. Ricks to dismiss this teaching as mere 19th century speculation. So if Mr. McClellan represents the first generation fully raised in the new era where Bruce R. McConkie was not giving firesides that blasted “new views,” he may well have an interesting and less-than-full view of his own history. So for his sake, I will remind us of just a few of the statements that can be collected from the early years of Mormonism wherein it is Mormonism itself seeking to “decouple” (his term) itself from Christianity. Here is just such a brief collection.
He then writes, “The two primary issues which seem to define Christianity for James, at least as it relates to Mormonism, are monotheism and the atonement.” Well, these are two of the fundamental differences between Christianity and Mormonism, yes, but I was truly taken aback by the level of confusion on Mr. McClellan’s part relating to this first, and most important, element of my presentation. He will argue, as we will soon see, that I am “begging the question” by how I stated it, and that in the process I make Mormonism the normative standard by which I define Christianity! This is absurd, of course, so he concludes that I have not approached the question properly. In fact, he even argues that Mormonism should be given a voice in defining Christianity. Think about this for a moment: that which has existed for nearly two millennia should be defined on the basis of that which came into existence April 6, 1830. No, logically, that which comes into existence April 6, 1830 is to be judged on the basis of what had existed long before it came along. But that is disastrous for the modern Mormon who is attempting to make room in the Christian faith for a belief that is fundamentally “other.” ...
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Guessing About God: Mormonism's Inability to Resist the Onslaught of Modernistic Skepticism (Part 1)
04/18/2011 - James WhiteI was recently referred to a blog article by a young Mormon writer and scholar, Daniel McClellan. He seems like a bright, intelligent young man, though, sadly, he has clearly been influenced by the less-than-mature behavioral ticks of his mentors at BYU, men like Daniel C. Peterson and William Hamblin. We will note how this mars his otherwise interesting article below.
I would like to use Mr. McClellan’s discussion in two ways. First, I wish to use it as a lens through which to view the rapidly changing landscape within Mormonism. Secondly, I would like to respond to his claims and demonstrate that the current forms of Mormon apologetic are incoherent and self-referentially destructive (let alone just bad examples of apologetic argumentation in defense of Joseph Smith’s religion).
It might be best to provide the context first. I had been sent a link to a promotional video featuring Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, speaking at the General Conference of the LDS Church. It was actually an edited version, with background music and the like. Mr. McClellan linked to the actual talk, or, at least a longer section of the talk. Let’s listen to what this Apostle of the LDS Church had to say:
There are many things that can and should be said in response to this assertion. You will note that, ironically, Holland engages in the very activity McClellan will accuse me of, only, this time, he is really doing it for the very “sectarian” purposes McClellan attributes to me. Specifically, he makes a confusing and unclear presentation of the Christian position relating to the Bible’s teaching about God’s nature (monotheism, the existence of three divine Persons, the equality of those Persons), and uses the context-less “strangeness” of the resultant presentation as a “sectarian” argument against the historic position of Christians relating to the Trinity. The Christian with an understanding of his faith quickly realizes that Holland either does not understand Christian beliefs, or is misrepresenting them. In either case, the presentation called for some kind of response. The version I saw was different, however. I’m pretty certain this is the one I had seen:
This is the response I recorded:
The New Mormon Apologists
Anyone who has spent time reading in the early LDS sources (in such compilations as the Journal of Discourses, or in works such as Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, etc.) knows that there is a deep and pervasive anti-establishment mindset in the thinking of Smith and his early compatriots. The reason is obvious, of course: though the First Vision was not actually a part of the earliest apologetic of the LDS movement (indeed, evidence shows it to be a later accretion, coming toward the end of Smith’s life, and is not contemporary with the founding of the LDS Church in 1830), the movement was still very “restorationist” and hence anti-establishment in its outlook. Almost all charismatic, prophet-led movements of the day emphasized the direct spiritual nature of its leaders so as to give it a foundation to move away from the established churches. Mormonism was no different, but that emphasis remained central even after the relative isolation of the religion in the inter-mountain West. Mormons even to recent times were well known for eschewing “human wisdom” and the authority of “scholarship.” ...
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My How Things Have Changed: A Brief Contemplation of Joseph Smith's Perversion of Romans 4
04/15/2011 - James WhiteI've told the story a number of times. Young college kid...19 years old, poor as a church mouse, riding a Suzuki GS750L home from school. Newly married. Stops at the LDS bookstore because he's studying this strange religion so as to witness to Mormons. He's been seeing a source cited over and over again in the books he is reading. It is called The Journal of Discourses. So he asks the nice lady behind the counter if they have this resource. "Why yes," she kindly replies (her name is Mary), right up there on that shelf." She points behind him, and he looks. There on the top shelf is a 26 volume set of paperback books, with an index, in a cardboard slip cover. Cost? $69.00. That's $69 in 1982 dollars. That's more than 1/3 of his total take-home pay for the week. And he's been married only a few months. And he has to get this 26-volume set of books onto the back of a motorcycle using bungie cords. But, he bought them anyway, and over the next number of years, they were extremely helpful in doing research and study into the teachings of the LDS church.
Fast forward to today. Over the past six or seven years I have really moved away from the two major areas that began this ministry, specifically, interacting with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. We haven't simply abandoned those areas, but they are not in the forefront of my study and thought. So today as I was working on a response to this article on the web, I had to do some looking around, some checking of sources. I had noticed over the past few years a number of books coming out that contained information that we had only heard rumors of back in the 1980s. Books that would have been major resources in the work we were doing then. And I have been keeping my LDS Scriptures programs up to date on my Droid and on my iPad as well. But I started looking around and discovered that not only could I put that entire 26-volume set of books I once paid $69 for on my iPad in fully searchable form, but anyone can now access them on the web, here. All the old paper sources we used to lug around photocopies of (I dug out the HUGE three ring binder I used to carry around just to leaf through it today) are now available in portable, fully searchable versions. When I think of the bags I used to carry in Salt Lake a Mesa, filled with Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith and the like, well, now all I'd need would be my Droid or my iPod/iPad. Things change.
Here is one interesting thing I noted after installing the free LDS Scriptures app from the Mormon Church. They include the JST, the Joseph Smith Translation. I feel like putting quotes around "Translation" because, obviously, it is anything but an actual translation. Smith could no more read Greek and Hebrew than he could read "Reformed Egyptian Hieroglyphics." A quick glance at the Book of Abraham proves that. But in any case, if you click on the JST in this app, and look at Romans 4, this is all you see. Now, being away from the specific area of Mormonism for a while may have given me a little perspective, as I've been dealing with Islam, textual issues relating to the Qur'an, as well as doing more apologetic work in textual criticism of the NT (debating men like John Dominic Crossan, Bart Ehrman, and Robert Price). And as I look at this screen shot from my iPad2, I am struck at the inanity of Smith's "inspired" changes to the text. These are not corruptions of the text to be imputed to scribal carelessness. How did the rest of the chapter escape unscathed? No, these are doctrinal changes flowing directly out of the furtive mind of Joseph Smith, who never understood grace. Look at the most notorious of his changes, where he inserts "not" into the text, so that God is no longer the one who justifies the ungodly, but the one who does not justify the ungodly! In one fell swoop Smith turns Paul's entire argument on its head, all because he did not understand it, and held to a basically Pelagian view of man's nature. That's what happens when someone claims to be a "prophet" who is, in fact, little more than a charlatan with a charismatic persona. This is also why Mormonism cannot produce a meaningful, thoroughly LDS, commentary on Scripture. Its beginning presuppositions are so far removed from the Bible that it just isn't possible to bridge the gap without thoroughly compromising one's commitment to Smith as a prophet. This is surely the challenge that lies before the pioneers of the New Mormonism today.
In any case, things sure have changed a lot since the "old days." If you are active in witnessing to Mormons, avail yourself of the resources now available, and may the Lord bring ever more out of darkness to the marvelous light of the gospel.