My Correspondence with Paul Owen and Carl Mosser

The first letter has a date stamp on the file of November 29, 1996

Gentlemen:

I am in receipt of your letter dated November 19th, 1996, in which you take myself and Luke Wilson to task for our “uninformed and highly misleading” as well as “unscholarly” articles that recently appeared in the CRI Journal.  Unfortunately, the letter is ambiguous and does not document its rather strident claims.  Instead, it is said that “This is not the place to examine in detail the issues which White and Wilson unsuccessfully attempted to address.”  Such criticism is, of course, next to impossible to respond to, since it does not go beyond the mere statement, “We could have done better.”

A few points right off the bat.  For some reason, you feel I have not read FARMS literature.  You are in error.  I not only own a large number of FARMS publications, but I am a member of FARMS, and have been collecting their monographs since the late 1980s.  As my article noted, I have debated Dr. Peterson and Dr. Hamblin on the air in Salt Lake City, and have corresponded with various scholars who are associated with FARMS as well.

I would suggest, gentlemen, that you might wish to be a little slower in your criticisms, at least until you have some background in the field.  I have never seen you doing missions work at any of the past twenty-five consecutive General Conferences of the LDS Church in Salt Lake City.  I have never seen you witnessing to Mormons at the Easter Pageant in Mesa, Arizona—at least not over the past thirteen years when I’ve been there each evening.  I’ve not met you at KTKK radio in Salt Lake City doing radio programs with Van Hale or Martin Tanner, taking calls live on the air from LDS all over the Salt Lake Valley.  Perhaps you’ve been doing all these things, and I’ve just missed you.  But if you haven’t done these things, then the possibility exists that you have examined the challenges of FARMS in a vacuum.

There is another thing to keep in mind as well, gentlemen.  Your letter of criticism can be criticized because it is vague and unsubstantiated.  But, of course, you might say, “Well, that’s because we had to keep it short.”  And you would be right.  Space limitations, audience, considerations, etc., all impact the detail of one’s writings.  What I would like to ask you to do for me would be to present to me an article, in 4700 words or less, wherein you introduce an audience that has no background whatsoever in LDS apologetics, to FARMS—what they are about, what they do, etc., and in the process, critique the group, present some of the more obvious flaws in their armor, so to speak, and make sure to be fair in the process.  Remember, you can’t lose your audience—you have to communicate with laypeople so that they will be edified by your work.  An article for a journal to be read by nobody but fellow theologians would take on a very different character.  In point of fact, that kind of article is easier to write than one that remains accurate and yet communicates with laypeople. That is one of the things that makes the CRI Journal so unique: it attempts to bridge the gap left by most “scholarly” journals, which do not seek to edify the saints, but only the scholars.

Now gentlemen, I would very much appreciate it if you would take the time to explain to me just where I was “unsuccessful” in discussing any of the issues I included in my article on FARMS.  I’d like to know what you mean by “unsuccessful.”  I’d also like to find out how that term “unsuccessful” is influenced by this quotation from your letter, “When will the evangelical Church rise to the occasion and respond at the level to which we have been challenged?”  Are you saying that articles in the CRI Journal should be as obtuse and unintelligible as some of Nibley’s defenses of the Book of Abraham? That we should simply imitate some of the stuffiness of an S.D. Ricks article on some obscure element of Meso-American archaeology?  I have long preached the need for scholarship and fairness in dealing with Mormonism, and have directly criticized the most blatant examples of sub-standard argumentation.  Most of the time I’ve been criticized for being too scholarly in my approach!  It’s strange to find myself being criticized from the other side of that fence.

I am going to assume, in light of the fact that you did not (to my knowledge) attempt to contact me prior to desiring to publish a letter that would have been repeatedly printed in FARMS publications for years to come, I assure you, that you have read my book, Letters to a Mormon Elder.  I am also going to assume that you have taken the time to read my rebuttal of the LDS use of the patristic doctrine of theosis (often cited by Peterson and Ricks in Offenders for a Word) as well as my rebuttal of Nibley’s elementary Greek errors regarding Matthew 16:18-19 as well.  Possibly you were even so thorough as to obtain a copy of my radio debate with Peterson and Hamblin, mentioned in the article?  Since you must have done all these things, I would very much like to learn from you where I have “missed the boat” so to speak.  If you have new insights into how to successfully minister to Mormons and respond to LDS apologists, I would like to learn from you.  I would like to read your published works, whether they be books, articles, or whatever.  I would like to observe your missions work as well.  Since I continue to find my way to Salt Lake every six months, I would like to learn how to be more effective in sharing the gospel up there as well.  Please direct me to your work, and explain to me where I’ve been failing in how I respond to the LDS issue.  I confess that of late I have been far more focused upon Roman Catholicism, study of the patristic sources, public debates, etc., than upon Mormonism.  Perhaps your insights will help me even in that work as well.

One other question, if I might.  Could you please comment on the scholarship repeatedly demonstrated in the FARMS Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, especially L. Ara Norwood’s critique of my own book?

In closing, you seem to think that I do not believe LDS scholars are just that—scholars.  You err if that is the case.  They are scholars—lost scholars, men willing to use their minds in the service of a lie, but they are scholars all the same.  I don’t know where you got the idea from my article that I do not believe they are scholars.  There are Islamic scholars who deny the crucifixion and resurrection, atheistic scholars who deny creation—you name it.  I never said they were not scholars, but I did say that they use their scholarship as a cover for some egregiously illogical thinking and to obscure tons of unsubstantiated claims.  If you can provide me with better examples of this, I would be most grateful.  But if your main criticism is that my article would not have been fitting in a graduate journal, I can assure you it was not intended for that audience.

I can most easily be contacted by e-mail: Orthopodeo@aol.com.

Sincerely,

James White

This second letter is date-stamped December 30, 1996.  It is “mosser2.doc” in my archive files.  But there is also a “mosser2a.doc” as well, dated the next day.  A number of years have passed since I wrote these, so I am uncertain as to why this situation exists.  It looks like I sent 2a, not 2, but just to provide full documentation, I include both below.

Gentlemen:

I am in receipt of your lengthy letter of December 23rd.  I have taken the time to scan the letter and include its text in my response.  Possibly I have been deeply damaged by years of communicating by BBS and now by the Internet, but it is simply easier for me to respond in this manner.  By the way, your letter, including endnotes, was over 8,000 words: 3,300 words longer than the maximum limitation on my own article for the CRI Journal.  I find it ironic that you took more space to tell me how I failed than I had to work with in the first place!

We have received and carefully read your letter of 11/29/96. We must admit that we were somewhat surprised by its tone. It is difficult to understand why you would be so visibly upset simply because fellow Evangelicals were disappointed with your article. Let us begin by clarifying a few points.

I confess that I find myself in a lose/lose situation with your letter and your response.  It doesn’t seem that we are playing on a level field.  As I have read through your letter, I have constantly been struck by thoughts like, “But that’s not what I was writing about” and “This is tremendously unfair.”  Yet, at the same time, I find you bending over backwards to put the best spin possible on anything FARMS has ever written or produced.  I knew, when I responded to your letter to CRI, that I was putting myself in a dangerous position.  Since I could only respond to what was found in a short letter, I could not protect myself against comebacks such as this, wherein you interpret my letter to indicate that I am “visibly upset.”  For some reason, you have chosen to read anything I write in the worst possible light.  I don’t know why—perhaps it is because I did not get back to you quickly enough last Summer, or because you feel you have “egg on your face,” I do not know.  But one thing is for certain: you are not even slightly fair in your evaluation of my article, or my letter in response.  I leave it to you to determine why that is.

First, our disappointment with your article does not mean that we do not appreciate anything you have written, nor does it mean that we disagree with your basic conclusions. We were disappointed because this article does not reflect the quality of research you are capable of doing. We have read your book on the King James Only controversy and are currently making our way through your book on Roman Catholicism and appreciate both. Furthermore, the rebuttal you wrote taking Nibley to task for his erroneous identification of the pronoun auth” as a partitive genitive was also well done. Having read these, as well as others of your works (see endnote), we were anticipating a much more substantive and accurate article from you on FARMS.

Throughout this letter I will be repeating the same theme, so I might as well state it right at the beginning: any article must be judged on the basis of what it was meant to be, not what you hoped it would be.  I had 4700 words in which to fulfill the mandate provided to me (I note that I did not contact CRI seeking to write this, they contacted me).  I was asked to write an article introducing FARMS’ apologetic work (not work on Dead Sea Scrolls, or any of the other topics you raise in your letter) and to provide examples of some of the more glaring errors in FARMS presentations.  Gentlemen, that was all I was asked to do. I was not asked to write an 8000 word essay on the leading role being taken by LDS scholars in research in this area or that.  I was not asked to provide a summary of how many LDS people have been involved in writing articles on historical issues in this journal or that.  To criticize me for not writing what I wasn’t asked to write is unfair, and I again wonder as to why you are so intent upon pursuing that course.

In July, in a lunch conversation with Dan Peterson, John Tvedtnes, Steve Ricks and others, the topic of your writings came up. At that time we spoke very highly of you. Peterson asked us what we expected from your forthcoming article in the CR1 Journal. We told him that we expected it to be much better than what other Evangelicals have written. Peterson expressed the same sentiment as well. Stating his own respect for your work, he clearly was looking forward to the article. Since the topic of the meeting was the inadequacies of previous Evangelical criticisms of Mormonism, and since you were the only good example mentioned by either side, it was natural for the discussion to end on this note.

May I ask why you met with these gentlemen?  Some of your comments later in your letter honestly lead me to wonder about some of your claims.  I ask for information only, but I confess that there are items in your letter that raise suspicions in my mind.  I remind you that L. Ara Norwood was not honest in his research into my ministry and writings.  I have been contacted by many in the past who claimed to be one thing, but were in fact something else.  The strength of your complaints seems to indicate motivations beyond those mentioned in your letter.

After reading your article we were quite disappointed and felt like we had egg on our face after what we had told Peterson. The quality of your article was far below our expectations. We considered writing a letter to the editor at that time but refrained. However, after Luke Wilson’s article was published in the next issue of the Journal, we felt compelled to write to the editor. Neither your article, nor Wilson’s, gives an adequate reflection of how LDS scholars are currently defending their faith. Both of you gave your readers a misleading impression of Mormon apologetics and research. We will provide specific examples later in this letter.

Is your concern because you think you have “egg on your face”?  Is this what motivates the strong, and often sarcastic, language you use in writing to others?

Second, let us clarify our intentions and background. In light of the clear statement we made about our Evangelical commitments, you must have surely wondered what would possess us to write such a harsh letter (unless you thought we were possessed). We criticized your article precisely because we thought it was misleading and uninformed.

Sadly, not a thing in your entire letter indicates why it was either misleading or uninformed, at least not from a rational perspective.  It was not what you would like to have seen written, but that does not make it either misleading or uninformed.

We were not accusing you of dishonesty, nor do we think you were purposely trying to deceive people (what FARMS may conclude is another matter). Don’t think that we are some sort of crypto-Mormons who were trying to cause havoc.

To be honest with you both, I would more lean that direction after reading your letter than I ever would have before. I will note those places that make me wonder as we progress.

< snip >

Our intentions in writing the letter were completely sincere, honest, and we hope Christ honoring. We simply want to see the best possible work done on Mormonism. If an article is second rate, uninformed or inaccurate that fact needs to be noted so a better job can be done in the future. We both have a high degree of frustration from being repeatedly embarrassed by fellow Evangelicals who make unexcusable mistakes. This frustration purposely came out in our letter. If our angering you causes you to do a better job in the future then we praise God and make no apology.

Of course, we have yet to establish that there are “unexcusable” mistakes in the article, that it is “second rate” or “uninformed” or “inaccurate.”  All of these terms, seemingly, in your thinking, are synonymous with “I think you should have taken a different approach.”

In your letter we are chided because you have not seen us at General Conference, at the Mesa Easter Pageant, or on KTKK radio.

Chided?  I asked you if you have been to such events, or if  you are involved in missions work.  Why?  Because that is where one encounters the apologetic use of FARMS materials, which was, whether you wish to believe it or not, part and parcel of what I was speaking about in the CRI article.  The fact that you refuse to allow the article to exist in the context in which it was written is beyond my control, of course.  You provided an endnote here, which I provide:

2.If being at any specific place or function would qualify one to write about FARMS it would be attending FARM sponsored events. Whereas you did not see us at any of the non-FARMS events you listed, neither did we see you at the FARMS hosted 1996 Inter­national Conference on the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Since at the time you had an article about FARMS in preparation it would have been an appropriate conference to attend.  If you had been there you could not have made the statement you did saying, “FARMS wants the acceptance of the scholarly community outside of Mormonism, and therefore every effort short of acknowledging Mormonism’s deficiencies is made to establish scholarly credibility” (p. 33). Sir, FARMS (and Mormon scholars in general) has established scholarly credibility and has had it for quite some time!  Since you say that you have a large library of FARMS material and are a member of FARMS (as we ourselves are) we will assume that what follows in the rest of this letter is only a reminder.  But just in case something about FARMS has slipped past you we will continue to write anyway (though we could not possibly inform you about anything of real significance)

You again miss the point, and that badly (and given your obvious intelligence, I am again forced to wonder why). Please try to keep my comments in their context.  Why would I attend a conference on the Dead Sea Scrolls when my article wasn’t on the Dead Sea Scrolls, nor FARMS involvement in researching them?  My article was on their apologetic attempts to defend Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, so why would I attend such a conference, may I ask?  And as to the desperate attempt to gain scholarly acceptance on the part of FARMS, are you seriously suggesting that FARMS has such acceptance in the realm of Book of Mormon studies (which was the context of my article)?  You are quite correct: most of the rest of your letter was unnecessary, since it is so plainly obvious that we are talking past each other here.  For some strange reason both of you think that my article was supposed to be some exhaustive exposé on FARMS, replete with full discussions of everything FARMS is into these days.  Obviously, that isn’t what I was asked to write, and that isn’t what I intended to write.  There is almost nothing in your entire letter that criticizes my article for what it was intended to be. This is a common failing of most rebuttals I receive, but what makes this situation rather distressing is that it is coming from those that I would expect, accepting your claims, to be more generous.

You say that if we have not done these things that “the possibility exists that you have examined the challenges of FARMS in a vacuum.” How these things make one particularly qualified to examine the challenges of FARMS is beyond us.2 If however, you are saying that one ought to have practical experience sharing the Gospel with Mormons, we would agree. You seem to assume that we are ivory tower observers with no such background. You are in error.

“You seem to assume.”  I asked a question.  Again, I am in a lose/lose situation: I responded to a very short letter, which gives you all sorts of room to maneuver and impugn my motivations.

Both of us were raised in separate Mormon communities in southeastern Idaho.3 We have spent countless hours witnessing to LDS family, friends, co-workers and teachers. We have been engaged in such activities since our teenage years and have continued to do so. Furthermore, Mr. Owen spent thirteen years in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and has spoken and written for Ex-Mormons for Jesus (now Concerned Christians and Former Mormons) on numerous occasions. We have much more than an ivory tower acquaintance with Mormonism.

Could you forward me some articles you have written?

Nevertheless, these things do not make one qualified to respond to FARMS. Simply because one may have been a Mormon, or knows Mormons, or has been actively engaged in ministry to Mormons does not make one qualified to respond to the challenge of FARMS and other LDS scholars. What qualifies one for this task? It is not one’s publishing record, the number of times one has been to Salt Lake City or the number of Mormons witnessed to.4 These are irrelevant.

You provide an endnote:

4.We find that people involved in counter-cult ministries who have witnessed to large numbers of Mormons as you have will try to discredit us by asking just how many Mormons we have witnessed to.  We have never bothered to count.  The number is probably not as high as yours but we would guess that we have lived in close proximity to and had lasting associations with quite a large number.  In both Letters to a Mormon Elder and “A Study in FARMS Behavior” you mention that you have witnessed to more than 1200(1400 in the book’s newer edition) Latter-day Saints.  We do not doubt, like L. Ara Norwood, that you have in fact witnessed to this number of Mormons.  Nor do we doubt that this exposure to Mormonism has given you many valuable insights into how the average Mormon thinks (as our own experience with Latter-day Saints has given us) .  But it must be remembered that the scholars at FARMS are not your average Mormons.  Nor does contact with average Mormons equip one to take on FARMS.

I would think the relevance of having encountered FARMS materials “on the front lines” so to speak, so as to know how they are being used and applied by missionaries and the like, would be a valuable asset in evaluating FARMS as an apologetic organization, would it not?  And let me remind you what my article said:

The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (F.A.R.M.S.), based out of Brigham Young University, is the leading LDS apologetics organization today.  While focusing primarily upon a defense of the Book of Mormon as a historical document, F.A.R.M.S. publications often go beyond that narrow focus so as to provide a wider apologetic for Mormonism.  Since the principle contributors to the effort of F.A.R.M.S. are among the leading LDS scholars, the materials carry an air of scholarly authority and acumen.  Many of the publications are highly technical, and an impressive range of hard-bound, high-quality books adds to the perception that F.A.R.M.S. is providing a truly scholarly, researched response to the critics of the Mormon faith in general, and the Book of Mormon in particular.

And later:

F.A.R.M.S. is pretty much alone in the field of scholarly apologetic defense of Mormonism, and this fact has led to what many feel is an attitude of smugness.

Now gentlemen, please ask yourselves the question: what am I discussing in the previous statements?  Am I talking about FARMS’ role on the campus of BYU?  Am I talking about the Dead Sea Scrolls?  No, I’m talking about the apologetics work of FARMS, period. To judge what I said by closing your eyes to the context I provided for my own article is to show a bias that is simply beyond my understanding.

Now, there is one sentence above that is most troubling:  “We find that people involved in counter-cult ministries who have witnessed to large numbers of Mormons as you have will try to discredit us by asking just how many Mormons we have witnessed to.”  I am at a loss as to how I can interpret this passage without coming to the conclusion that I am not the first Evangelical scholar or teacher who has found himself on the pointed end of your pen (or word processor, as the case may be!  J ).  The defensiveness exemplified in this sentence, and the “us against them” mentality it bespeaks, causes me great concern, and is one of those passages that I mentioned earlier that makes me “wonder.”  Why would Evangelical leaders be trying to “discredit” you (plural)?  Why do you think I was trying to “discredit” you in my letter to you?

As to your statement that exposure to “every day” Mormons does not qualify a person to take on FARMS, you are correct.  It doesn’t.  But it does tell you how FARMS’ materials are being utilized in the every-day witnessing situation.  Gentlemen, let me make something clear: I didn’t write this article to challenge Dan Peterson or Bill Hamblin.  I wrote the article to help the average Christian who is trying to witness to Mormons and who keeps running into this stuff from some group called “FARMS.”  Your review of my work would have been much more useful if you had kept that idea in mind.

Why you would mention them, as if they were significant qualifications, is quite puzzling. One is qualified only with an intimate knowledge of what FARMS and other Latter-day Saints have written (which you have not demonstrated).

Are you saying that Letters to a Mormon Elder and the files available, for example, on our web page, do not demonstrate any intimate knowledge of LDS apologetic writings and theology?

One is qualified only by a broad knowledge of advanced biblical, theological, historical, cultural and linguistic scholarship.

Do you claim this expertise for yourself?  And what is more, do you make the same assertion regarding the apologetic works of FARMS?

One is qualified only by an up to date familiarity with current LDS doctrinal articulation.6

6.Harping on the Mormonism of a hundred or even fifty years ago will not do.  While it is right to point out the inconsistencies between contemporary Mormonism and its past, what must be ad­dressed is the Mormonism of today.  Contemporary LDS articulation of beliefs are different from and sometimes contrary to their forefathers’ .  But what is articulated and sincerely believed today is what must be dealt with because these are the beliefs that block the path to eternal life.

I am reminded of Dan Peterson’s comment at this point (you may have drunk a bit too deeply at the well of FARMS viewpoints).  When I pointed out to him that Offenders for a Word was way off base on the issue of the paternity of Jesus Christ, and provided citation after citation proving the viewpoint of the LDS leadership from the beginning, he wrote back and said, “Well, I don’t do much reading in 19th century Mormon literature.”

One is qualified only by a Christian attitude of excellence in all their work. That means that one must be careful to represent one’s opponent at his/her best (not their worst).

You are preaching to the choir.  I’ve publicly chided Ed Decker, Bob Larson, and others, for this very problem.  If you would but allow my article to stand upon its own context, that of the apologetic work of FARMS, you would not have a whole lot to be critical about.

One must focus criticism on the best examples of LDS apologetics, argumentation, research and theological expression. One must be exhaustive in research. You have not done this in anything we have read thus far; nor has any other Evangelical (with the notable exception of Beckwith and Parrish). Your critique of Nibley concerning Matthew 16:18-19 was a step in the right direction; but this exegetical blunder is hardly an example of his best work.

Let me see if I get you correctly: unless I write an exhaustive, in-depth refutation of the entirety of LDS theology, nothing else I have to say is relevant?  Might you forward to me your exhaustive, in-depth refutation of Mormonism, please?  What’s more, are you seriously suggesting as well that there is no place for a work such as Letters to a Mormon Elder, wherein one attempts to minister to someone other than the intelligentsia?  Or must one first write an exhaustive, scholarly tome, and then write the more popular treatment?  Can you point to substantive error in my representation of LDS beliefs in Letters?

If some protest that these qualifications are too stringent let us remind them that we are serving the cause of Christ and Christ deserves our very best. We do not expect Christians to write “stuffy”, “obtuse” or “unintelligible” responses to Mormonism. Rather, we expect Christians to respond in the tradition of excellence characterized by Irenaeus’ attack on gnosticism, Athanasius’ rebuttal of Arianism, Augustine’s refutation of Pelagianism, John Calvin’s opposition to Roman Catholicism, John Owen’s critique of Arminianism, and Machen and Warfield’s remonstrance to liberalism. We expect detail, substance and accuracy, Mr. White.

And I expect fairness in reviewing written materials, gentlemen.  The level of detail and substance one can place within a 4700 word article is determined by one’s goal, one’s audience, and the simple mathematics of space.

We want to see documentation of ones assertions. We expect to see citation of primary literature and interaction with the important secondary literature.

Indeed: you want a journal article that is about four times longer, at minimum, than what was available.  You clearly prove by such statements that your primary objection to my article is that it just wasn’t what youwanted to see.  Well, my friends, in all honesty, when you take over Mr. Miller’s job, you will be able to set editorial policy.  Till then, I have to go with what I’m told by those in charge.  J

If the CR1 Journal is not willing to include such “details” in its articles, then the “R” should be taken out of CRI.7 And please do not object that such a task cannot be done in a format intelligible to laymen. This is not true.8 It simply will not do to respond to detailed research with vague and undocumented assertions.

Thankfully, of course, I didn’t do that.  But again, your words betray your true objection: if it doesn’t meet our standards and our fancy, it’s just not good enough.  That is pretty much the impression I got from the first letter you sent CRI.  And what about all those folks who would never even bother to read an article that would be four times longer, and a thousand times dryer?  I have to wonder.  When you teach Bible studies, gentlemen, do you provide this same level of citation and research?  Or do you tailor your presentation to your audience?  You noted in your eighth footnote:

To bridge the gap left by scholarly books and journals without sacrificing scholarship is not an overly difficult task. Many examples of this come to mind.  Philip Johnson accomplishes this in his books on Darwinism (a fairly complex issue) and the authors of Jesus Under Fire do the same in their rebuttal to the Jesus Seminar (a group of renowned scholars defending a lie) Both of these were well received in the lay community and continue to sell well in book stores (one of us works in a Christian book store and can testify to this)

As the author of The King James Only Controversy, I well know the issue.  But it has nothing to do with my article, or, if you think it does, you have so far failed to demonstrate the grounds of your objections.

Because of a vague statement in your letter Elliot Miller was contacted and asked if CRI was going to publish our letter. In that phone conversation Miller indicated that he was not going to publish our letter “by any means.” When asked for reasons he offered two. His second reason was that our letter was not specific enough to allow the authors to respond. As far as specificity, we were specific in our criticisms. Because it was a letter to the editor, we did not offer illustrations of our criticisms. However, since the letter was to appear in a comment column titled “Response” this was perfectly appropriate. In light of all of the truly vague and unspecific letters printed in the Journal we cannot believe that this second “reason was anything more than a mere excuse. Was the letter by L. Ara Norwood in the last issue any more specific than ours? There are no “specifics” in his letter, yet it was printed. What then was the real reason our letter was not published? We believe that Miller’s first off the cuff reason (which you mention in your letter) is the one and only reason our letter was not printed. That is, you are afraid that the Mormons would like it too much. You are afraid that they would print it for years to come as an illustration of Evangelicals making complaints similar to their own. You are afraid that the Mormons would look at this as validation for what they are doing. You think that our letter would make Evangelicals look bad and the Mormons look good. It is too late for that. Evangelicals involved in the counter-cult movement have already embarrassed themselves with shoddy, inaccurate “scholarship” and unexcusable misrepresentations of Mormonism.

And here we have some more of the “it makes you wonder” material to which I referred before.  First, I can’t answer for Elliot Miller (though it almost seems as if the last few sentences were aimed at him, not me).  I have no control over what CRI does, or does not, print.  But if you would care to sit back and re-read that paragraph, you would realize that from my perspective, it could easily have been written by a Mormon.  It strikes me as being in the same vein as Norwood, personally.  There is more of the “us vs. them” mentality.  You speak as an outsider, and your accusations are broad and sweeping.  I can only assume that you include me under “shoddy, inaccurate scholarship” (though I’ve yet to encounter your substantiation of these charges), as well as under the “unexcusable misrepresentations of Mormonism.”  Again, nothing has been documented to substantiate such claims.

Basically our criticisms of your article fall under four categories: 1) First of all there are some significant facts about FARMS which should have been mentioned in order to give an accurate picture to your reading audience.

From your point of view, rejecting the topic and direction given to me by CRI.  Hence, “We don’t like your article because you didn’t do it the way we would like it to be done.”

2)      Some of the specific claims you made were simply inaccurate and misleading (especially about their scholarship).

As we shall see, you have had to rip my statements from their context to make such an accusation.

3)      Other points of your work were generally accurate; but you failed to document the assertions you made.

I.e., I did not invest precious type space in documenting things to the level you would like to see.

4) There are several miscellaneous items that are also deserving of criticism.

Can’t forget those miscellaneous items!  J

The significant deficiencies of your article make us wonder if it isn’t you, Mr. White, who have examined the challenges of FARMS in a vacuum- the vacuum of your own limited experience with the organization. We find little evidence that you have the detailed knowledge needed to adequately describe and critique FARMS. We do not dispute that you know more about FARMS than most Evangelicals. But, seeing that neither of us are “in the field” and yet know as much about FARMS as we do, it is not unreasonable that a professional like yourself should know far more. Your knowledge of FARMS seems to be more limited than you realize.

Or, if there was any bent on your part to fairness, you might say, “Obviously you focused only upon certain elements of FARMS activities, due to the direction of your article.”

There are at least three things that were not mentioned in your article that should be mentioned in any piece aiming to accurately describe the work of FARMS.

Aiming to accurately describe the APOLOGETIC work of FARMS, if you will be so kind as to read what I wrote, as I cited it above.

+ FARMS does much more than Mormon studies (which was not at all indicated by your article).

I’m not sure what article you are reading, but I did point that out.  But I did not emphasize it for a simple reason: it wasn’t the topic of the article.

You then provided a number of paragraphs documenting what FARMS is up to these days.  You provided 914 words describing FARMS programs.  That’s 20% of the entire space I had for my article.  And may I note something, gentlemen?  The 4700 word limit includes endnotes. As you may have noticed, I like putting more technical discussions in endnotes in my books.  I can get away with some pretty long ones without taking up a lot of space that way.  But that doesn’t work here.  An endnote “counts” against the total just as much as anything in the text.  So, if we take the 550 words I used to give a brief background on FARMS, and add the 914 you suggest, we now have 31% of our article, not including abstract, introduction, and that pesky little problem of critiquing the apologetic methodology of FARMS.  Space is running out real fast here.

We are not saying that all of the details listed above (or the many more we could list) need mention. But any article on FARMS that does not give some description of the work they do other than defending the Book of Mormon is in the least unexcusably uninformed and possibly misleading.

Your accusation falls flat, and hopefully by now, you realize why.  This is the main substance of your complaint, and I for one find it to be tremendously shallow.  You throw about terms like “unexcusably (it’s inexcusably, by the way) uninformed” when in point of fact all you are pointing to is the fact that the article wasn’t about anything other than FARMS’ apologetic defense of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, and the Book of Mormon.  Why is it “uninformed” to not waste precious space with unnecessary information?  If you were given 4700 words in which to introduce a lay audience to FARMS, and then present at least three of their major errors in apologetic presentations, would you invest the first third of your article talking about Dead Sea Scroll conferences?  And can’t you see that it is hardly logical to accuse someone of being uninformed and possibly even being misleading simply because they knew better than you the parameters in which they were to write?

One who knows about FARMS might even think that there is some intentional deception going on. We choose to assume that you simply did not do your homework resear­ching FARMS.

Option #3: I know all that, and didn’t choose to include it, because it wasn’t relevant.

Otherwise we cannot possibly imagine why these or similar examples were not offered in your article.

One might try imagining the purpose for which the article was written.

Nevertheless, for you not to mention these things is unexcusable because many of them were mentioned in Insights and in the FARMS Catalog which you say you subscribe to “in order to monitor the publications and activities of the group.” Additionally, these are things which the Christian community needs to know about FARMS if they are to have an adequate understanding of what Mormon scholars are up to.

If my article was to just get the “Christian community” up to speed on what “Mormon scholars” are up to, I would not have written the article I did.  But that wasn’t what I was asked to do.  You might consider what it means to me that you didn’t bother to determine what my task was before applying your own standards to the article.

Hence, the first objection is seen to be irrelevant.  We move on to the second:

  1. The LDS “Veneer” of Scholarship:

In the above section quite a bit was said about LDS scholars working on the Dead Sea Scrolls. From what little we have written we hope that you can see that Latter-day Saints are on the cutting edge of this important field of research. We would like to devote the next section to LDS scholarship in general (that is to scholarly fields pertinent to the issues that separate Evangelicals and Mormons, not scholarship generally). We do so because of the repeated pejoratives used in your article to describe LDS scholarship.

Again, I have to wonder why you are so intent upon reading my article so poorly. I said, and maintain, that the use of scholarship in the defense of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon is a misuse of scholarship.  The defenses offered by FARMS of the glaring errors of Joseph Smith are not “scholarly” in any meaningful sense of the word.  Nibley’s long ramblings in defense of the Book of Abraham, for example, are classicexamples of the kind of FARMS apologetic that is offered, and that I critiqued.  Do you think his defense of the BoA is in any sense “scholarly”?  If so, we use the term in very different ways.  Do you think trying to read the Nephites and Lamanites into ancient America is likewise a “scholarly” pursuit?

By the way you describe LDS scholars and scholarship you committed the same sins you accuse Tom Nibley, Dan Peterson, Bill Hamblin and Ara Norwood of committing. Perhaps you did not do so to the same degree as they (we didn’t notice any acrostics saying FARMS IS BUTTHEAD). But the belittling manner in which you describe their work misleads the reader.

Apples and oranges, of course.  I am amazed you could even make the parallel.

For example, you constantly describe the research of FARMS as if it were unscholarly and easy to refute.

Such as?  Examples please?  I pointed out how Hamblin’s attempt to find swords is of such a character as to be easily refuted by mere common sense, that is true.  Don’t you agree?  But you err in expanding myattack upon apologetic works into “the research of FARMS.”

You do not deny that Mormon scholars are scholars, but your certainly do deny that the work of these scholars is “scholarly.”

In defense of Joseph Smith, yes, I most certainly do.

Here are the quotes from your article that we have in mind: “the materials carry an air of scholarly authority and acumen” (p.30), “the perception that FARMS is providing a scholarly, researched response. . . “(30),

Context is such a lovely thing:

Since the principle contributors to the effort of F.A.R.M.S. are among the leading LDS scholars, the materials carry an air of scholarly authority and acumen.  Many of the publications are highly technical, and an impressive range of hard-bound, high-quality books adds to the perception that F.A.R.M.S. is providing a truly scholarly, researched response to the critics of the Mormon faith in general, and the Book of Mormon in particular.

Is there something you would like to point out in these statements that is factually untrue?  I remember clearly speaking with a missionary one evening on the phone.  When I began talking about the BoA, he referred to a FARMS publication.  When I pressed him on it, he said, “Well, I didn’t really understand what Dr. Nibley wrote, but it sure sounded impressive.”  Do you deny that FARMS specifically, purposefully, uses its association with “scholarly” topics and research to lend credence to its strained, and at times incredible, defenses of Joseph Smith?

“FARMS regularly promotes an image of scholarship” (33), “seemingly scholarly defenses” (34), “veneer of scholarly acumen” (35). Did you really expect your readers to come away with the impression that there is anything serious about FARMS’ research after reading such descriptions? And if you do not think that FARMS is doing serious research then you certainly are uninformed.

At this point I was somewhat surprised.  I had opened my article as another file in my word processor so as to be able to cut and paste.  I could not find any of these citations in my file.  So, I dug out the magazine, and discovered that each of these was an editorial change from what I had originally submitted.  Specifically, I had originally written, “But the primary problems with F.A.R.M.S. materials can be seen when they attempt to defend specific and unique elements of the claims of Mormonism.”  This was changed to “FARMS regularly promotes an image of scholarship” (which itself is a true statement).  Next, in the abstract on page 34, I had originally written, “F.A.R.M.S. is presenting the most scholarly and wide-read defenses of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith available in Mormonism today.”  This was changed to “seemingly scholarly defenses.”  And finally, where the article reads, “veneer of scholarly acumen,” I had originally written something just the opposite, really:  “No amount of scholarly acumen can make a culture appear in history that was not, in fact, there.”  Now, first, I think you will agree that the original form of my statements is far less objectionable to you.  In fact, twice I make reference to the true scholarship of FARMS leaders in those statements.  However, I must take responsibility even for the editorial changes, since a final copy was sent to me for review.  I confess that I simply looked over the article, looking for major changes.  I did not sit down with the original and examine every line in comparison with the original.  I do not recall seeing these changes marked anywhere in the process, but that is my problem, not anyone else’s.

You then took the time to note that Mormons have valid degrees.  I never said, intimated, or suggested otherwise.  I said that their defenses of the BoM have not received general and widespread acceptance in the scholarly community, and I stand by that statement.

As a professional researcher you should have known many of the things we have written about.

I did.

It did not take FARMS or any Mormon to inform us of these matters. We found all of these things out on our own through careful reading, a few trips to the LDS book store, and looking things up in the library.

That’s generally how its done.

Further, we found all of these things in the sparsity of our spare time. And spare time is something we certainly haven’t had much of between working and a full load in school (and we’re not getting degrees in Mormon Studies!). But then perhaps you did know all of these things and simply decided not to mention any of them in your article.

Correct.

Perhaps we have just been deceived into thinking that this stuff is scholarly when it really is not.

Or, you’ve been rather near-sighted in your criticism.  It happens.

You may be correct. It just might all be a bunch of insignificant articles, books and accomplishments that simply “promotes an image of scholarship.” Maybe our eyes have been blinded by this “veneer of scholarly acumen.” But then again, maybe you didn’t know and you did give a misleading impression with your article.

While I didn’t use the phrase “veneer of scholarly acumen,” and in fact originally indicated their true scholarship, you have over-reacted, unfairly ignored the context of my article, and hence engage in little more than ad-hominem ridicule at this point.  It is beneath you.

Of course, all the scholarship in the world isn’t going to make the Book of Mormon historical or Joseph Smith a prophet, but you did misrepresent FARMS and the level of LDS scholarship.

I didn’t, and you haven’t shown where I did.

Scholarship can’t make Nephite cultures rise out of the jungle floors, but it can make our apologetic task much harder by confirming Mormons in their faith. Mormon scholars may not be able to convince you or us of their claims, but they are able to convince a lot of others.’6 And this is where it is so vitally important that the Evangelical community have a comprehensive and accurate understanding of these issues. Though this knowledge may shock many into cardiac arrest, the Evangelical world needs that shock. If Evangelicals do not make some significant improvements in the way they deal with Mormonism they may find themselves too far behind to catch up on the issues.

You are preaching to the choir yet once again.

Perhaps it would be helpful to provide two specific examples of the research that scholars associated with FARMS are doing in the world of “mainstream scholarship.” Take for example Stephen D. Ricks. His writings regularly appear in FARMS publications, he is the editor of The Journal of Book of Mormon Studies and is on the board of FARMS.  Ricks is a world-class scholar in Judaic and Islamic studies. He has co-edited with William M. Brinner (non-LDS) several volumes of the Brown Judaic Studies senes. He is also a lexicographer. His Lexiconot Inscriptional Qatabanian was published by the Pontificio Instituto Biblico and is the standard lexicon of the language. E. Mellen has published his works Western Language Literature on Pre-Islamic Central Arabia: An Annotated Bibliography and A Bibliography on Temples of the Ancient Near East and Mediterranean World (co-edited with D. Parry). He has contributed articles in the Anchor Bible Dictionary, the before mentioned chapter in R.K. Harrison’s festschrift, and regularly contributes to edited non-LDS works (for example, “The Magician as Outsider: The Evidence of the Hebrew Bible” in New Perspectives on Ancient Judaism in the University Press of America’s Studies in Judaism Series).

Congratulations on your research.  Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with my statements.  My problem with Ricks is not that he isn’t a scholar: it’s that he uses his scholarship in the service of a lie.  And when he turns to matters that separate Mormons from Christianity, he is no longer a scholar, but a deceiver.  His work with Peterson in Offenders for a Word is horrible, wouldn’t you agree?  Does it not engage in egregious leaps of logic, horrific errors of exegesis, and the like?  Will you answer this question for me, gentlemen?  Wouldn’t you agree with this assessment of his apologetic work?

Here it is also worth mentioning how far outside “mainstream scholarship” the “obtuse and unintelligible” Hugh Nibley is. As much as Evangelicals and liberal Mormons like to dismiss Nibley as a scholarly “fraud” (as one Evangelical writer kindly informed us), the world of mainstream scholarship has a different perspective. The former dean of the Harvard Divinity School, George MacRae, once lamented while listening to Nibley lecture, “It is obscene for a man to know that much!”

Could you tell me from what source you draw this?  I’ve heard so many “Nibley myths” that I have wonder how critically you are appraising some of this.  Be that as it may, are you prepared to say that Nibley’s apologetic defenses of Joseph Smith have gained wide acceptance in the scholarly community?  Are you alleging that his defense of the BoA is likewise accepted by Egyptologists in the non-LDS community?

You might respond to all of this information by saying, “So what if they do all sorts of research in these various areas. So what if the scholarly mainstream respects their non-apologetic research. That does not mean that their apologetic research carries the same level of respectability.” There are several problems with this mind-set. First, scholars of the calibre of these men do not suddenly become “unscholarly” when they engage in apologetics.

Surely you jest!

To make such a claim would probably reveal a bias on one’s own part.

A bias, or recognition of a simple fact?

Second, the fields of study that these scholars specialize in are all pertinent to LDS apologetic research. If you cannot see why Judaic studies, chiastic structures in ancient texts, Semitic languages, Egyptology, temples, Arabic language and culture, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Early Christian history, and the Jewish/Christian Pseudepigrapha (all research interests of the scholars we have been mentioning) are relevant to what FARMS is up to, then you truly are clueless concerning the work of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies.

I get the strong feeling that you truly feel that I am clueless, and a passage such as this goes a bit beyond the “it makes me wonder” level.  It is very difficult not to hear a very strong pro-Mormon voice in such rhetoric.  Let’s put it this way: if a Mormon wanted to masquerade as a Christian long enough to derive lots of juicy “quotes” from someone, they would write exactly like that.  In fact, think about this: would you ever make such statements to a Mormon?  I doubt it.  So why make such statements to a Christian, a “fellow believer”?

If you fail to grasp the relevance of all this, then you simply do not understand the issues at stake. And if one fails to understand these issues, he will miss the points the Mormons are attempting to make with their apologetic writings. And if you fail to see the points they are making you are certainly in no position to offer an informed critique. A third problem with this mindset is that it underestimates the power which the “appeal to authority” has among the masses. Fallacy or not, when experts in particular fields make certain claims, those claims cannot be summarily dismissed. They must be critiqued with thorough research– something you simply did not do in your article (and again, if the CRI Journal is not the place for it, then take out the “R”!).

This is little more than rhetoric, of course.

Your discussion about swords of course comes to the correct conclusion. No swords fitting the BoM descriptions have been found from pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. With this we have no qualms. However, we do not understand why you did not document any of your claims.

Since you are not an expert in Mesoamerican studies (as far as we know), you are obligated to cite experts in the field to support your assertions. In contrast to this, when LDS scholars talk about the macuahuitl and related issues, they always cite the relevant sources. This makes you look bad and them good. We have already seen the review of your article that is forthcoming from the FARMS Review of Books and Matthew Roper certainly does this.

Why did you not at least reference Deanne G. Matheny’s study “Does the Shoe Fit?” in New Approaches to the Book of Mormon? On pages 292-297 Matheny thoroughly refutes Hamblin’s attempt to identify the macuahuitl with the BoM sword. She reveals several specific problems with Hamblin’s thesis (in contrast to your general criticisms). While you do interact with the BoM description of swords and quote from Hamblin’s study, you do not supply support for your claims about the macuahuitl. For instance, your article would have been much stronger if you would have mentioned that Hamblin’s examples of early depictions of this weapon are all of the war-club type rather than the broadsword type (Matheny, 294). Furthermore, Matheny points out that the references to “sword-like Aztec weapons and to others similar to them in use” do not even date from the proper time period to be relevant (293-94). Matheny also points out that it is unclear whether “the macuahuitl was in use in the proper area of Meso america at any time” (297). These and other points made by Matheny are devastating to Hamblin’s proposal and would have been very appropriate to mention in your piece.

I don’t understand why, if you are truly coming from the perspective you claim, you can’t see what is so obvious.  I began my article with a personal story.  It is a true story, and the dialogue is taken directly from the tapes of the encounter.  Hamblin raised the issue of the swords, not I.  Hamblin handed me his book, I didn’t ask for it.  Now, I used the story to introduce the readers to the topic in a friendly way.  You may not realize it, but it’s rather important to write in such a way as to bring the reader along, and keep a maximum number of people interested in what you are saying.  I used the story as an opener, and then closed with my refutation of his point.

You ask why I didn’t city Matheny.  Easy: I hadn’t read it.  I researched Hamblin’s assertions myself, and found them incredible.  In point of fact, that is why I chose that particular instance: anyone—including the layperson in the pew—can see, on a simple basis of common sense, that here a “scholar” is allowing his “scholarship” to run amuck.  There was no reason to belabor the point, and in fact, not only would the addition of all the things you mention (200 words worth!) put me well beyond my limits, but it would have done nothing but obscure the weight of the point being made.  Isn’t it possible, gentlemen, that you have become so enamored with “scholarship” that at times you get lost in the maze of citations and miss the obvious?  Truth doesn’t necessarily have to be footnoted, you know.  Sometimes plain old common sense must be allowed to prevail.

Now, it seems rather strange to me that you would be privy to an article prior to its publication.  The mysterious “we” comes back yet again, and again makes me scratch my hair-challenged head and go, “hmmm.”  It’s common FARMS procedure to run the article by people other than the person who is about to be harpooned, and it is common procedure to have someone contact that person to do some “fishing” as well, under some other guise.  At least, that’s how it has worked in the past.

We have a further question, Mr. White. Is Hamblin’s study on the macuahuitl really “a classic example of the apologetic methodology of FARMS”? From our perspective this is one of FARMS’ worst attempts.

Hmm, so, pray tell, why did Hamblin use it as his main point in demonstrating my errors?  Remember, hebrought it up, not I.

We would suggest to them they drop the point and simply propose that perhaps more metallurgy was going on in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica than we are currently aware of; which is basically what Sorenson does in his attempted rebuttal of Matheny.17 FARMS offers many other studies which would have provided far better examples of their apologetic methodology. You have chosen one of their weakest.

This amazing “we” arises again.  You are suggesting apologetic improvements for FARMS?  This is quite strange.  Anyway, you’ll have to bring that up with Hamblin.  He raised the issue, he published the book, and he obviously disagrees with you.

Besides the criticisms above we have some more miscellaneous gripes with your article that don’t really fit in the above sections of this letter. You state that “one will find a tremendous amount of efforts being put into the citation of non-LDS scholars…. Unfortunately, the untrained reader will think that this indicates a wider historical and scholarly support for specific and unique LDS beliefs or claims than actually exists” (33).

Of course a reading of the sources cited will not reveal support from outside the LDS community for the historicity of the Book of Mormon or the Book of Abraham.

Yeah, a statement kept in context!  I can breathe a deep sigh of relief!  That was, of course, my entire point.  I’m glad that came across.

In fact, this is exactly what you do. You fault the FARMS writers for their mutual citation. Sadly, you do not even describe this accurately. You state that “Robinson will cite Sorenson.” When has Robinson ever done this? You state that “Sorenson will cite Hamblin and Ricks.” Do you have specific examples of this? We have never seen Sorenson cite these men.1 g Now perhaps you will respond by saying that you were just offering hypothetical examples. But if you have read so much of their material, would it have been so difficult to offer some accurate examples?19

You already know my responses before I give them—which makes me wonder, yet again.  Of course they are hypothetical.  Is there something wrong with that?

We will offer one final point of criticism before closing this letter. In your letter to us you point out that you were limited to 4700 words or less. You indicate that you were trying to write an article to introduce an “audience that has no background whatsoever in LDS apologetics, to FARMS.” You say that you wanted to describe what they are about, what they do, and in the process critique the group.

Let’s try to sneak that little term “apologetics” in there someplace.

Why then did you waste a full page of material talking about “FARMS Out of Control” (pg. 32)?

One man’s waste is another man’s treasure, I guess.  Why would you feel that such is not a valid criticism?  An Evangelical would recognize that this reflects upon their use of scholarship and their attitudes.

Is this really vital information? Why did you use three columns (pgs. 28-30) giving so much attention to your debate with Drs. Peterson and Hamblin? Were you interested in giving the Evangelical community an accurate and informed description and critique of FARMS or were you taking the opportunity to “settle the score” with Dr. Hamblin? At any rate, you could have been much more effective within a 4700 word limit.

So you say.  May the Lord keep me from ever saying that I have done my “best” on any particular project: I hope to keep growing and improving.  But since you didn’t provide me with your attempt to meet the editorial demands that I met, I will simply say that it’s pretty easy to throw stones when you don’t have to do the same kind of work.  Let me address just one other issue, found in an endnote:

Among scholars the name of Roger Keller comes to mind (we will assume that you are familiar with his book Reformed Christians and Mormon Christians: Let’s Talk).  Keller earned a Ph.D. in Biblical studies from Duke and spent ten years as a Presbyterian pastor.  Keller has told us that he and his wife became dissatisfied with liberal Presbyterianism and came to a crisis point in their faith and decided to convert to something else. Keller made his choice between what he thinks are the two best contenders for the one true Faith: Evangelicalism and Mormonism. It is telling that he chose Mormonism over Evangelicalism after examining the claims of each.

It is telling indeed.  Roger Keller I know.  I’ve met with him. I find it most fascinating that a group of two individuals who are not even studying Mormonism would have met with so many folks, including Roger Keller.  His book is a mish-mash of misrepresentations and poor argumentation.  I have heard him speak (in a Methodist Church, no less), and was amazed at the number of blatant untruths he presented.  When I confronted him with them, he had no answers.  Yes, he’s made his choice.  But you make it sound as if it were some kind of unbiased, “scholarly” examination.  It was not.  And if you think that is why people make choices such as the one he did, well, I have to question, deeply, your understanding of the position you claim to hold.  By the way, Keller was strongly pro-Mormon for years before he made the switch, even as a “Presbyterian pastor.”

Gentlemen, if I had confidence that you are in fact what you claim to be (and there is so much in this letter that indicates to me otherwise that I confess a very strong suspicion that you are not), I would have much to say to you about how you approach others, ministry, and the like.  But I cannot bring myself to address such issues, so great is my doubt concerning your current beliefs.  If you are in point of fact involved with Evangelicalism at the moment, I fear that you will not be for long.  The words that you use, the phrases that come out in those times when true emotions are being displayed, all betray some kind of attachment to the subject that is simply unnatural for a true believer.  You may not even recognize this, but I hope my pointing these instances out might be of some assistance.  If I find elements of this letter appearing in print here or there, I’ll have the answer to my doubts, to be sure.  In any case, I shall head home this very late evening, and lay down, secure in knowing that my God well knows my heart, and well knows my motivations, and while men may do their best to misinterpret and be unfair, He never does.

In His service,

James White

This letter is dated the next day (see above).

Gentlemen:

I am in receipt of your lengthy letter of December 23rd.  Yesterday I invested about three hours in responding to your letter rather fully, not leaving the office until 11PM.  However, this morning, I decided I could not send that letter to you.  The reason is quite simple: as I worked on that reply, I kept coming across statement after statement in your letter that lit up bright red warning lights, and I feel those statements must be addressed before I can feel comfortable replying to your main criticisms.

When I first read your letter to CRI, I simply assumed you were students at Biola who felt that you could have written a better article on FARMS than I did.  However, upon reading your lengthy response, I admit that I am no longer certain of that thesis.  The farther and farther I got into your letter, the less and less sure I became of my “audience,” so to speak.  A number of passages simply don’t sound to me like they come from the lips, or the pen, of an “Evangelical.”  So I wish to clarify these points first, and then we can move on with more substantive issues.  Allow me to pull from the letter I wrote the quotations that bothered me and raised doubts in my mind, and the responses I wrote to those sections last evening.

In July, in a lunch conversation with Dan Peterson, John Tvedtnes, Steve Ricks and others, the topic of your writings came up. At that time we spoke very highly of you. Peterson asked us what we expected from your forthcoming article in the CR1 Journal. We told him that we expected it to be much better than what other Evangelicals have written. Peterson expressed the same sentiment as well. Stating his own respect for your work, he clearly was looking forward to the article. Since the topic of the meeting was the inadequacies of previous Evangelical criticisms of Mormonism, and since you were the only good example mentioned by either side, it was natural for the discussion to end on this note.

May I ask why you met with these gentlemen?  Some of your comments later in your letter honestly lead me to wonder about some of your claims.  I ask for information only, but I confess that there are items in your letter that raise suspicions in my mind.  I remind you that L. Ara Norwood was not honest in his research into my ministry and writings.  I have been contacted by many in the past who claimed to be one thing, but were in fact something else.  The strength of your complaints seems to indicate motivations beyond those mentioned in your letter.

We were not accusing you of dishonesty, nor do we think you were purposely trying to deceive people (what FARMS may conclude is another matter). Don’t think that we are some sort of crypto-Mormons who were trying to cause havoc.

4.We find that people involved in counter-cult ministries who have witnessed to large numbers of Mormons as you have will try to discredit us by asking just how many Mormons we have witnessed to.  We have never bothered to count.  The number is probably not as high as yours but we would guess that we have lived in close proximity to and had lasting associations with quite a large number.  In both Letters to a Mormon Elder and “A Study in FARMS Behavior” you mention that you have witnessed to more than 1200(1400 in the book’s newer edition) Latter-day Saints.  We do not doubt, like L. Ara Norwood, that you have in fact witnessed to this number of Mormons.  Nor do we doubt that this exposure to Mormonism has given you many valuable insights into how the average Mormon thinks (as our own experience with Latter-day Saints has given us) .  But it must be remembered that the scholars at FARMS are not your average Mormons.  Nor does contact with average Mormons equip one to take on FARMS.

Now, there is one sentence above that is most troubling:  “We find that people involved in counter-cult ministries who have witnessed to large numbers of Mormons as you have will try to discredit us by asking just how many Mormons we have witnessed to.”  I am at a loss as to how I can interpret this passage without coming to the conclusion that I am not the first Evangelical scholar or teacher who has found himself on the pointed end of your pen (or word processor, as the case may be!  J ).  The defensiveness exemplified in this sentence, and the “us against them” mentality it bespeaks, causes me great concern.  Why would Evangelical leaders be trying to “discredit” you (plural)?  Why do you think I was trying to “discredit” you in my letter to you?

Because of a vague statement in your letter Elliot Miller was contacted and asked if CRI was going to publish our letter. In that phone conversation Miller indicated that he was not going to publish our letter “by any means.” When asked for reasons he offered two. His second reason was that our letter was not specific enough to allow the authors to respond. As far as specificity, we were specific in our criticisms. Because it was a letter to the editor, we did not offer illustrations of our criticisms. However, since the letter was to appear in a comment column titled “Response” this was perfectly appropriate. In light of all of the truly vague and unspecific letters printed in the Journal we cannot believe that this second “reason was anything more than a mere excuse. Was the letter by L. Ara Norwood in the last issue any more specific than ours? There are no “specifics” in his letter, yet it was printed. What then was the real reason our letter was not published? We believe that Miller’s first off the cuff reason (which you mention in your letter) is the one and only reason our letter was not printed. That is, you are afraid that the Mormons would like it too much. You are afraid that they would print it for years to come as an illustration of Evangelicals making complaints similar to their own. You are afraid that the Mormons would look at this as validation for what they are doing. You think that our letter would make Evangelicals look bad and the Mormons look good. It is too late for that. Evangelicals involved in the counter-cult movement have already embarrassed themselves with shoddy, inaccurate “scholarship” and unexcusable misrepresentations of Mormonism.

First, I can’t answer for Elliot Miller (though it almost seems as if the last few sentences were aimed at him, not me).  I have no control over what CRI does, or does not, print.  But if you would care to sit back and re-read that paragraph, you would realize that from my perspective, it could easily have been written by a Mormon.  It strikes me as being in the same vein as Norwood, personally.  There is more of the “us vs. them” mentality.  You speak as an outsider, and your accusations are broad and sweeping.  I can only assume that you include me under “shoddy, inaccurate scholarship” (though I’ve yet to encounter your substantiation of these charges), as well as under the “unexcusable misrepresentations of Mormonism.”  Again, nothing has been documented to substantiate such claims.  But the quotations continue to mount that simply do not sit right with the description of two self-professed Evangelical students.

Second, the fields of study that these scholars specialize in are all pertinent to LDS apologetic research. If you cannot see why Judaic studies, chiastic structures in ancient texts, Semitic languages, Egyptology, temples, Arabic language and culture, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Early Christian history, and the Jewish/Christian Pseudepigrapha (all research interests of the scholars we have been mentioning) are relevant to what FARMS is up to, then you truly are clueless concerning the work of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies.

I get the strong feeling that you truly feel that I am clueless, and a passage such as this goes a bit beyond the “it makes me wonder” level.  It is very difficult not to hear a very strong pro-Mormon voice in such rhetoric.  Let’s put it this way: if a Mormon wanted to masquerade as a Christian long enough to derive lots of juicy “quotes” from someone, they would write exactly like that.  In fact, think about this: would you ever make such statements to a Mormon?  I doubt it.  So why make such statements to a Christian, a “fellow believer”?

Since you are not an expert in Mesoamerican studies (as far as we know), you are obligated to cite experts in the field to support your assertions. In contrast to this, when LDS scholars talk about the macuahuitl and related issues, they always cite the relevant sources. This makes you look bad and them good. We have already seen the review of your article that is forthcoming from the FARMS Review of Books and Matthew Roper certainly does this.

Why did you not at least reference Deanne G. Matheny’s study “Does the Shoe Fit?” in New Approaches to the Book of Mormon? On pages 292-297 Matheny thoroughly refutes Hamblin’s attempt to identify the macuahuitl with the BoM sword. She reveals several specific problems with Hamblin’s thesis (in contrast to your general criticisms). While you do interact with the BoM description of swords and quote from Hamblin’s study, you do not supply support for your claims about the macuahuitl. For instance, your article would have been much stronger if you would have mentioned that Hamblin’s examples of early depictions of this weapon are all of the war-club type rather than the broadsword type (Matheny, 294). Furthermore, Matheny points out that the references to “sword-like Aztec weapons and to others similar to them in use” do not even date from the proper time period to be relevant (293-94). Matheny also points out that it is unclear whether “the macuahuitl was in use in the proper area of Meso america at any time” (297). These and other points made by Matheny are devastating to Hamblin’s proposal and would have been very appropriate to mention in your piece.

I don’t understand why, if you are truly coming from the perspective you claim, you can’t see what is so obvious.  I began my article with a personal story.  It is a true story, and the dialogue is taken directly from the tapes of the encounter.  Hamblin raised the issue of the swords, not I.  Hamblin handed me his book, I didn’t ask for it.  Now, I used the story to introduce the readers to the topic in a friendly way.  You may not realize it, but it’s rather important to write in such a way as to bring the reader along, and keep a maximum number of people interested in what you are saying.  I used the story as an opener, and then closed with my refutation of his point.

You ask why I didn’t city Matheny.  Easy: I hadn’t read it.  I researched Hamblin’s assertions myself, and found them incredible.  In point of fact, that is why I chose that particular instance: anyone—including the layperson in the pew—can see, on a simple basis of common sense, that here a “scholar” is allowing his “scholarship” to run amuck.  There was no reason to belabor the point, and in fact, not only would the addition of all the things you mention (200 words worth!) put me well beyond my limits, but it would have done nothing but obscure the weight of the point being made.  Isn’t it possible, gentlemen, that you have become so enamored with “scholarship” that at times you get lost in the maze of citations and miss the obvious?  Truth doesn’t necessarily have to be footnoted, you know.  Sometimes plain old common sense must be allowed to prevail.

Now, it seems rather strange to me that you would be privy to an article prior to its publication.  The mysterious “we” comes back yet again, and again makes me scratch my hair-challenged head and go, “hmmm.”  It’s common FARMS procedure to run the article by people other than the person who is about to be harpooned, and it is common procedure to have someone contact that person to do some “fishing” as well, under some other guise.  At least, that’s how it has worked in the past.

We would suggest to them they drop the point and simply propose that perhaps more metallurgy was going on in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica than we are currently aware of; which is basically what Sorenson does in his attempted rebuttal of Matheny.17 FARMS offers many other studies which would have provided far better examples of their apologetic methodology. You have chosen one of their weakest.

This amazing “we” arises again.  You are suggesting apologetic improvements for FARMS?  This is quite strange.  Anyway, you’ll have to bring that up with Hamblin.  He raised the issue, he published the book, and he obviously disagrees with you.

In fact, this is exactly what you do. You fault the FARMS writers for their mutual citation. Sadly, you do not even describe this accurately. You state that “Robinson will cite Sorenson.” When has Robinson ever done this? You state that “Sorenson will cite Hamblin and Ricks.” Do you have specific examples of this? We have never seen Sorenson cite these men.1 g Now perhaps you will respond by saying that you were just offering hypothetical examples. But if you have read so much of their material, would it have been so difficult to offer some accurate examples?19

You already know my responses before I give them—which makes me wonder, yet again.  Of course they are hypothetical.  Is there something wrong with that?

Among scholars the name of Roger Keller comes to mind (we will assume that you are familiar with his book Reformed Christians and Mormon Christians: Let’s Talk).  Keller earned a Ph.D. in Biblical studies from Duke and spent ten years as a Presbyterian pastor.  Keller has told us that he and his wife became dissatisfied with liberal Presbyterianism and came to a crisis point in their faith and decided to convert to something else. Keller made his choice between what he thinks are the two best contenders for the one true Faith: Evangelicalism and Mormonism. It is telling that he chose Mormonism over Evangelicalism after examining the claims of each.

It is telling indeed.  Roger Keller I know.  I’ve met with him. I find it most fascinating that a group of two individuals who are not even studying Mormonism would have met with so many folks, including Roger Keller, and that only in their “spare time”!  His book is a mish-mash of misrepresentations and poor argumentation.  I have heard him speak (in a Methodist Church, no less), and was amazed at the number of blatant untruths he presented.  When I confronted him with them, he had no answers.  Yes, he’s made his choice.  But you make it sound as if it were some kind of unbiased, “scholarly” examination.  It was not.  And if you think that is why people make choices such as the one he did, well, I have to question, deeply, your understanding of the position you claim to hold.  By the way, Keller was strongly pro-Mormon for yearsbefore he made the switch, even as a “Presbyterian pastor.”

Gentlemen, these statements, and the over-all tone of the letter, raise the very real possibility in my mind that this is something of a “fishing expedition,” much like that engaged in by L. Ara Norwood a few years ago, or of the style of Steven Mayfield.  Hence, I am very hesitant to invest more time and effort in dialogue on the other issues you raise, since I lack any trust that such information would be useful.  Can you explain why you would speak to a “fellow Evangelical” in terms you’d never use when speaking to a Mormon scholar?  Can you explain why, throughout the letter, you consistently assume the worst about me, and all Evangelicals as a whole, and always assume the best about Mormon scholars?

There were two other items I wanted to bring over from the tome I wrote last evening.  One was sort of a “thesis statement” paragraph, that went like this:

Throughout this letter I will be repeating the same theme, so I might as well state it right at the beginning: any article must be judged on the basis of what it was meant to be, not what you hoped it would be.  I had 4700 words in which to fulfill the mandate provided to me (I note that I did not contact CRI seeking to write this, they contacted me).  I was asked to write an article introducing FARMS’ apologetic work (not work on Dead Sea Scrolls, or any of the other topics you raise in your letter) and to provide examples of some of the more glaring errors in FARMS presentations.  Gentlemen, that was all I was asked to do. I was not asked to write an 8000 word essay on the leading role being taken by LDS scholars in research in this area or that.  I was not asked to provide a summary of how many LDS people have been involved in writing articles on historical issues in this journal or that.  To criticize me for not writing what I wasn’t asked to write is unfair, and I again wonder as to why you are so intent upon pursuing that course.

Secondly, I discovered something from reading your letter that I’m sure you’ll find interesting.

“FARMS regularly promotes an image of scholarship” (33), “seemingly scholarly defenses” (34), “veneer of scholarly acumen” (35). Did you really expect your readers to come away with the impression that there is anything serious about FARMS’ research after reading such descriptions? And if you do not think that FARMS is doing serious research then you certainly are uninformed.

At this point I was somewhat surprised.  I had opened my article as another file in my word processor so as to be able to cut and paste.  I could not find any of these citations in my file.  So, I dug out the magazine, and discovered that each of these was an editorial change from what I had originally submitted.  Specifically, I had originally written, “But the primary problems with F.A.R.M.S. materials can be seen when they attempt to defend specific and unique elements of the claims of Mormonism.”  This was changed to “FARMS regularly promotes an image of scholarship” (which itself is a true statement).  Next, in the abstract on page 34, I had originally written, “F.A.R.M.S. is presenting the most scholarly and wide-read defenses of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith available in Mormonism today.”  This was changed to “seemingly scholarly defenses.”  And finally, where the article reads, “veneer of scholarly acumen,” I had originally written something just the opposite, really:  “No amount of scholarly acumen can make a culture appear in history that was not, in fact, there.”  Now, first, I think you will agree that the original form of my statements is far less objectionable to you.  In fact, twice I make reference to the true scholarship of FARMS leaders in those statements.  However, I must take responsibility even for the editorial changes, since a final copy wassent to me for review.  I confess that I simply looked over the article, looking for major changes and errors.  I did not sit down and examine every line in comparison with the original.  I do not recall seeing these changes marked anywhere in the process, but that is my problem, not anyone else’s.  I am truly sorry if my neglect has caused personal offense.

To sum up, it was not my intention in any way to deny that Mormons have scholars, nor that the FARMS members are not scholars in their fields.  They are.  My intention was to say that Mormon apologetics as practiced by FARMS is not scholarly; that LDS scholars are inconsistent in the standards they use in non-contested fields as compared to their defenses of Joseph Smith and the BoM.  I wish I had noticed the editorial changes that were made.  I understand the concern they express, but they also give credence to your concern that the article purposefully intended to put down LDS scholars as scholars.  It did not.  I stand firmly, however, behind the statement that the apologetic materials produced by FARMS (which was my only concern) partake of a completely different tenor than the scholarly works produced by FARMS members in other areas.

In His service,

James White

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply