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Learning From Mormons

Last Friday I invited a local Mormon leader to speak to my 11th grade theology class. This is the first time I have ever done this. Typically I take my students on trips to visit other people, but some students don’t go on those trips so I wanted them all to hear from a Mormon firsthand. He was thoughtful, kind, prepared, and very articulate. In fact, I was very impressed by how well he knew his stuff and how confidently he portrayed it. He even quoted from C.S. Lewis, although he took him out of context. I wish more Christians had his poise and confidence.

I learned a couple things from this encounter that Christians may consider taking to heart.

First, the higher degree of education a Mormon receives the higher is his/her participation in the church. And yet the exact opposite is true for evangelicals. Even though the Mormon faith is essentially built on a subjective experience (see Moroni 10:4), Mormons have come to value the intellect and education. Mitt Romney and Glenn Beck are good examples of leading Mormon intellectuals who are having a positive impact on culture. Why is it that a faith built on subjective experience produces many leading thinkers?

In contrast to Mormonism, there is compelling evidence for the claims of Christianity. There are reliable eyewitness claims of the miracles of Jesus, archaeological support, and early manuscripts verifying the biblical accounts. My father and I lay out the basic evidence for the historical Jesus in our book, More Than a Carpenter. Yet none of these exist for the events, people, and lands mentioned in the book of Mormon—none.

My visitor pointed to the finding of the city of “Nahom” as confirmation of 1 Nephi 16. But as many Mormon scholars admit, this is the only possible find corroborating Mormonism, and it is highly suspect. See here for the whole story. Simply put, there is not a single credible archaeological find for Mormonism. Amazingly, a religion based on subjective experience encourages education. And yet evangelical Christianity, which really does have compelling objective evidence, downplays education and the development of the mind. Why is this so?

Second, my guest was very appreciative that we treated him with kindness. I spent about thirty minutes prepping my students to ensure they treated him lovingly and respectfully, as 1 Peter 3:15 instructs. I didn’t want them rolling their eyes, laughing, or asking uninformed questions. Yet this does not mean we held back the tough questions. In fact, to his credit, he encouraged us to ask tough questions! And we did. How many of us to go people of other faiths and invite tough questions? We asked him about his views of the trinity, the Mormon view of works-based salvation, and the evidence for Joseph Smith truly being a prophet of God. We had a lively yet cordial dialogue.

He thanked me afterwards for being a gracious host. He shared how a large church in southern California (which will remain unnamed) brings students to his Mormon church for regular visits. According to him, they quote their “anti-Mormon” literature and simply criticize him and the Mormon Church without taking the time to understand. This saddened me, because I often role-play as an atheist to Christian students and am amazed how they often care more about winning an argument than genuinely listening, clarifying, and treating someone with love. There is nothing wrong with raising objections to Mormonism, or any other religion, but we must do a heart-check as to our motivations. Is it to win an argument? Or is it truly to help lead someone to the truth?

According to my guest, Mormons often feel hated by evangelicals. If so, this certainly isn’t going to encourage them to seriously consider what we believe. Paul said if we speak truth but don’t have love then our words are worthless (1 Cor. 13). We must never back down from speaking truth to our Mormon friends. After all, they knock on doors attempting to persuade people to their beliefs. But we must see them as human beings made in the image of God who are just in need of the saving grace of Jesus as anyone else.

Comments

Happily I also know some wonderful Mormons who do not share Sean's enthusiasm for Glenn Beck, much less as a "leading Mormon intellectual."

I do not understand the assertion that evangelical Christianity "downplays education and the development of the mind." This is an unnecessarily provocative and obviously baseless overstatement, as there is obviously substantial evidence to the contrary. Having graduated from an evangelical Christian high school with an extremely rigorous college preparatory program, and earning Bachelors and Masters degrees from well-known and highly academic evangelical Christian universities, I beg to differ with the statement. There are obviously pockets of evangelical Christianity where education or academic rigor are not particularly important, as there are similar pockets within Mormonism, secularism, no religion, etc. If what you assert is the case, I may need to rethink paying more than $10K per year to send my child to a Christian school. Finally, you may want to take a look (if you can get your hands on one) at the Mormon missionary training manuals and skills they expect their "missionaries" to have in turning discussions around to make the non-Mormon feel guilty, uninformed, off-balance and embarrassed. The manuals encourage them to not allow the non-Mormon to think, by continuing to pepper them with questions which accomplish the above. While your guest may have been superficially polite, the comments about Christians supposedly "hating" Mormons, criticizing them and "not taking the time to understand" seems suspect, and an example of the guilt-inducing strategy discussed above to make Christians feel that their faith is not genuine. Were your guest to be honest, he would agree that there are enormous numbers of Mormons who negatively represent their group, just as there are Christians who do likewise. I absolutely agree with your comment that we as Christians need to demonstrate Jesus' love to Mormons, just as we must with everyone--Jewish people, Muslims, atheists, etc. But the answer needs to be the same when we hear comments about "bad" examples of Christians--"I'm so sorry that you experienced this treatment from a Christian. There will always be examples of disobedience we can point to, but there are also many examples of beautiful, sacrifical, Christlike obedience. In every case, good or bad, my focus is on Christ, not on people. People will always disappoint eventually, but Jesus never does."

I agree very much with you Mr. McDowell. Two years ago on a educational/missions trip to the Salt Lake Valley, I was able to learn a lot about the religion/culture of Mormonism. The group I was with included my group from Minnesota and a group from Masters College of California. We totaled 7 people. In our week their we visited a new temple (very interesting), Weber State religion classes and Ward, and also made friends with some students from Ogden, Utah where we were staying.
We went bowling, had meals, and were invited to Ward activities. After the Ward's Family Night ( which I loved, and wished more churches shared their lives like this), Mormons and high ranking Mormons were amazed to here we were Evangelicals who didn't judge them or go there to "prove them wrong". I know deep down Mormonism is a false, cultic religion. But, I also understand it is a culture, life, and family. It is to me probably one of the harder things to break away from.
I quote Mr. Francis Chan in saying "only love can expel all evil". I loved the friends I made there. They took us out for a going away party and appreciated all of our questions of Mormonism and were happy to answer them. I learned a lot of their culture and have a deep, deep, love for Mormons. It always saddens me to hear from a Mormon that they have been treated with such hatred and evil words. I know for a fact one of the girls we met that week had her life impacted by the love our group showed them.
One more note, my father in law teaches religions at my college and every year he has local Mormon missionaries come in and meet with us. We do the same and respect them and ask informed questions. Then my dad in law takes them to breakfast. My class we had 8 missionaries come and then some us played basketball and it was a good time to get to know them.
All I ask of people is to get to know these missionaries, because they are away from family for 2 years and a little extra love from Jesus wouldn't hurt them : ).

Thanks for this good article. I have quite consistently had the same experience in my contact with Mormons as Sean McDowell's experience in the classroom.

I hope the following isn't too shocking, but I believe we can give credit to God for their thoughtfulness, kindness, patience, and the excellence with which they succeed in life. I believe that a large percentage of them are actually our brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe we are amiss if we give the devil credit for their integrity.

I'd also like to say that while there may not be compelling archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon, there are other impressive evidences such as chiasmus (a-b-c-c-b-a patterns).

The biggest evidence I discovered many years ago when I became brave enough to try reading it was that it not only is in agreement with the Bible, but it has an uplifting, faith-building anointing on it that causes me to rank it as the most anointed book I have ever read other than the Bible!

Don't get me wrong, I'm not going to become a Mormon. I know that the authority of the church of Jesus Christ was already in operation on the earth before Joseph Smith came into the world---although certainly not like it should have been.

The LDS does believe that Christ died on a cross for our sins, that faith is necessary for salvation---not just good deeds---and that Jesus is the unique Son of God, the King of the world, and he is the only Lord and Savior that they serve. The essentials as the Bible defines them are all intact! See http://EvangelicalsandMormonsforJesus.com/fastfacts for more. (Excuse me for the ad!)
Thanks!

While I was interested in where you were going with Mormons value education more than Christians, you lost me with "...and Glenn Beck are good examples of leading Mormon intellectuals who are having a positive impact on culture." Really? Positive and Glen Beck in the same sentence?" Glen Beck, like that little church in Kansas, is one of the most vitriolic, divisive posterboys for "hatespeak". Seems ironic that you would use him as a positive example while cautioning your students to treat another with an different viewpoint with love and respect.

I Love It! Very Loving and very open minded. As we see above some of our Christian brethern already have their panties in a wad. My Pastor loves to say "This is going to offend many of you Christian folk!" I love it every time he does that!

Whiny Liberals In Da House!

How nice of the last two commentators to confirm Ms. Braun's observation.

Patti--while I certainly disagree with Glenn Beck's mormonism, I can't find a single thing in his well-researched observations and information regarding current Administration policies, etc., which is historically or factually incorrect. While you may disagree with his position, why is it that whenever a conservative talk show host provides his or her position, it is immediately, in knee-jerk fashion, labeled as "hatespeak"? If what he says is accurate, how is it hatespeak? When Bill Maher, the MSNBC talking heads, and others on the left spout their actually hate-drenched comments against conservatives, Christians and anyone else who disagrees with them, where are the cries of "hatespeak" with them?? Just because someone passionately gives their opinion or position does not make them a vitriolic or divisive person. By the way, have you read Matthew 23 lately? How's that for some passionate speech? By your standards, Jesus would be labeled a "vitriolic, divisive posterboy." Remember that He also said, "Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division." Luke 12:51. Some things are worth taking a stand over, like the truth, righteousness, etc., whether that be Glenn Beck, or whoever.

I like the comment by the guest.

"I can't find a single thing in [Glenn Beck's] well-researched observations and information regarding current Administration policies, etc., which is historically or factually incorrect."

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/10/18/101018fa_fact_wilentz

http://mediamatters.org/search/index?qstring=glenn+beck&from=&to=&tags=g...

http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Glenn_Beck

I think I have to take issue with your blithe characterization of Christianity having "archeological evidence" and Mormonism having none.

First off, I read the article you linked to from Mormonism Research Ministries. MRM is a ministry dedicated to debunking the LDS Church, and is a wholly partisan source. Bill McKeever, the author, makes his living off of contending against the LDS Church.

As to his article, I would point out that Hebrew often doesn't make use of vowels. So finding the letters "NHM" in exactly the right spot on the Arabian trade routes (which the Book of Mormon account has an uncanny knack for following almost exactly), where the book speaks of "Nahom." Well... it's highly significant. We've also located likely spots for the river and valley that Lehi named after his sons, and we've located the spot that is almost certainly the "Bountiful" mentioned in the Book of Mormon. All spots that it would have been incredible for 1830s Joseph Smith to have known about. After a while, the "lucky guesses" seem to add up a bit too much.

I'm also not seeing in McKeever's article where he states that "many Mormon scholars admit" to the Nahom assertion being "highly suspect." Where did McKeever say that "many" Mormon scholars think this is problematic? I'm not seeing it.

And anyway, I'm pretty familiar with the Mormon scholarship on the Nahom question, and I'm not aware of ANY of them who would consider it "highly suspect." Sounds to me like simply more rhetoric from the Evangelical party-line. But since you have linked to a highly biased Evangelical counter-cult website, I think it only fair that I link to an article published on FAIR's website - an organization devoted to defending the LDS Church. Here is an article from scholar Professor Kent Brown on Nahom:

http://www.fairlds.org/FAIR_Conferences/2001_Arabia_and_the_Book_of_Morm...

I also reject your assertion that the Bible has been "proven" in any way that religiously matters by archeology. The archeological evidence of places like Jerusalem and the birthplace of Jesus no more proves the RELIGIOUS claims of the Bible, than the archeological evidence about Troy proves the existence of the god Zeus or Poseidon. The Bible's theological FAITH claims remain utterly unproven by archeology - as do the Book of Mormon's. Both books are to be made matters of faith.

Final point - Evangelical assertions that no evidence has been found backing up the Book of Mormon in the New World are misleading - since there are actually volumes of research done by Mormon scholars drawing parallels between the Book of Mormon and the known historical-archeological record of the New World. You can read some of them at the FAIR website I mentioned.

But I've found that much of Mormon scholarship tends to be either misrepresented or ignored in the Evangelical counter-cult industry. Mostly they make their living recycling old arguments against Mormonism that have been in circulation since the 1800s - whether they've been debunked or not.

One poster at MDDB (Mormon apologetics forum) made the following criticisms over NHM:

---

1. The LDS church has not endorsed any proposed location. Until then, claims made by apologists remain personal opinion and speculative.
2. The proposed link between Nahom and the Nihm tribe and altar inscriptions are based on linguistic assumptions:
"The exact equivalency of the root letters cannot be assured. It is probable that the term Nahom was spelled with the rasped or fricative Hebrew letter for "h" (het or chet) whereas the name Nihm, both in modern Arabic and in the ancient Sabaean dialect, is spelled with a softer, less audible h sound... One has to assume, it seems to me, that when the members of Lehi's party heard the local name for "the place that was called Nahom" they associated the sound of that local name with the term *Nahom, a Hebrew word that was familiar to and had meaning for them." (S. Kent Brown, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies: Vol.8, Iss.1, pp.66-68)
3. A linguistic link to Hebrew is also an assumption, as the Book of Mormon was written in Reformed Egyptian.
4. The name of a tribe does not give us a place
a. Today the Nihm tribe reside about 25 miles north of Sana'a, Yemen. This is not evidence that a location named NHM existed in 600 B.C.
b. The 7th-6th century altar inscription that reads: son of Naw'an the Nihmite is also not evidence that there was a place called NHM in 600 B.C. We have to make another assumption that the tribe was predominant at the time to have its area of residence called after itself and that is was in line with Lehi's travel.
There is no confirmed 600 B.C. placed called NHM.
5. 1 Ne. 17:4 informs us that the journey from Jerusalem to Bountiful took 8 years. The men took wives in the valley of Lemuel (1 Ne. 16:6-7). The women gave birth around Nahom (1 Ne. 17:1). For this reason, in the Journey of Faith DVD, S. Kent Brown deduces that it took them 1 year to reach Nahom from Jerusalem. This means Lehi and company spent the next 7 years crossing the Rub' al Khali nearly eastward to reach Bountiful. If there were a group of Jews traveling down the Arabian peninsula, it's preposterous that they would have abandoned the watering holes of the Frankincense Trail to cross the Empty Quarter. That's suicide, and is a fatal flaw to the Nahom/Bountiful model ignored by apologists.

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Mormons are people who you can truly trust. I have to admit that until making this new friend who is a mormon, I have some sort of skepticism towards them. But after getting to know them, you can easily see that they are just like us, but much more religious. He gave me some great balancing tips to put some order in my life.

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About
Sean McDowell is a teacher, author, speaker, husband and father. He is an avid fan of college basketball, ping-pong, and his favorite superhero is the Amazing Spiderman.