Watch the video above and talk about it with a friend or mentor.
Typically, evangelical Christians relate to Mormons either by avoiding them or attacking them. We need to think more deeply about how to engage Latter-day Saint friends and neighbors with biblical truth. It will take more reflection and finesses, but we have great news to share with Latter-day Saints.
Why Mormons believe unbelievable things
Christians often wonder why Mormons believe such an incredible system: golden tablets translated with “magic glasses,” an advanced society of ancient American Indian Israelites who left behind no archaeological evidence at all, a “revelation” of polygamy that was reversed when Utah needed to do so for statehood, a “revelation” barring black Mormons from the priesthood that was reversed after the triumph of the civil rights movement, an eternity of godhood producing spirit babies, and special protective underwear.
What we must understand is that Latter-day Saints (LDS) believe these things for the same reason that people everywhere believe the things they do: they want to believe them. Very few Mormon converts become convinced by rational arguments of the prophetic office of Joseph Smith. Indeed, Mormon missionaries don’t ask one to do so; instead relying on a “burning in the bosom” that the claims of Smith are true.
Latter-day Saints love their religion
To understand the draw of Mormonism, evangelicals should read the works of Latter-day Saints who explain why they love their religion.
Coke Newell, a convert to the LDS church in his late teens, lays out why a drug culture vegetarian would find the LDS church compelling. In so doing, he glories in the ancient mysteries of Mormon cosmology and eschatology: from a God and a Goddess who produce offspring to a future in which deified humans rule a vast cosmos. Newell makes clear that he isn’t simply convinced by Smith’s claims; he is convinced because he loves the picture of reality they portray.
The power of beliefs
This should come as no surprise to Christians who have read the Apostle Paul’s revelation of the roots of human idolatry in the first chapter of Romans. Fallen humans have affections and inclinations that they then prop up with beliefs, convincing themselves that their systems are true. With this the case, evangelicals should take more than a scattershot approach to knocking down Mormon claims (although this is necessary). We must also present a counter-story to the Mormon story: one that resonates with the beauty of truth and holiness.
Evangelical “how-to” sermons are not going to reach our LDS neighbors. Neither are anti-theological churches that major on Christian experience and piety disconnected from doctrinal content. Instead, we must present the gospel the way the apostles did in the aftermath of Pentecost: as a “mystery” that now explains everything in terms of God’s purposes in Jesus Christ.
The power of a grand vision
For an example of how to proclaim the gospel to Mormons, we should pay attention to Paul’s proclamation of the gospel to a cultural milieu that closely resembled that of Salt Lake City: the pagan enclave of Ephesus. Paul presented Jesus as the key to understanding God’s cosmic plan, as the reason for human existence, human worship, human fatherhood, even human sexuality. Paul did not shy away from speaking of what we intuitively seem to know is true: that there is an ancient warfare of which the affairs of human beings are only a part.
The apostle understood that for the Ephesians, and for the Mormons, and indeed for all of us outside of Christ, the allure of falsehood is because falsehood is parasitic on the truth. We need not just ask whether Mormons believe things that are untrue and dangerous; they do. We must ask also why they believe these things, and counter them with the revealed truth.
Rational arguments alone aren’t enough
Latter-day Saints do not need an unbiblical and unsatisfying vision of Christian hope that is not much more than an eternal choir practice. Instead, our LDS neighbors (and all of us) need to hear of the biblical glory of a restored universe in which human beings will rule with Christ over all things, a universe in which nature itself is freed from the curse and in which human friendship, love, and community continue and grow forever. LDS families don’t just need to hear that we are pro-family. They need to understand that we are pro-family because the family reflects the Fatherhood of God (Eph 3:14), a Fatherhood that finds its meaning not in pre-mortal spirit babies but in the sonship of Jesus Christ (Rom 8:15).
Yes, we need apologetics directed toward Mormons. And, whatever some evangelical leaders may say, we must not back away from the sad reality that Mormonism is not even remotely Christian. But we must remember that we will not convince Mormons with rational arguments alone.
This means we can’t rely on piecemeal attempts to point out discrepancies in the Book of Mormon, or archeological proofs against the Nephite civilization, or philosophical holes in Mormon cosmology. All of these things are important, but we must remember that, deep within their hearts, Mormons fear that Joseph Smith is wrong. They, like we before conversion, are “suppressing the truth” (Rom 1:18).
Present the big picture of Scripture
The Spirit can conquer this kind of deception, and he does so through the word of truth. This doesn’t mean proof-text argumentation, necessarily. It does mean presenting the big picture of Scripture, tying it together in the pinnacle of all truth, Jesus of Nazareth. This is not the subjective, irrational “burning in the bosom” of our Mormon missionary friends. But let’s remember where they found the “burning in the bosom” language.
When Jesus was walking with the dejected disciples to Emmaus, he took them through all of the Scriptures, showing them how the Christ was the focus of them all. After he left them, they said to one another: “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32).
This was not, and is not, the anti-propositional relativism of postmodern epistemology, nor is it the irrational mysticism of New Age occultism. It is the human heart created in the image of God, freed by the Spirit, resonating with the truth. This is what the apostle John means when he writes that we know the spirit of truth from the spirit of error because the one who is from God “listens to us,” the prophetic-apostolic instruments of divine revelation (1 John 4:6).
God’s great story is good news
We must remember this when we welcome our LDS neighbors over for dinner, or when we lovingly spend an evening with diligent Mormon missionaries. When divine revelation is presented in all of its Christocentric glory, there is a longing within us for this story. That’s because it is true. And more than that, it is the truth, and the way, and the life. That is good news for Latter-day Saints, and for old-time sinners like us.
Find the original article by Russell D. Moore here.
[Related Topic: How Would Jesus Relate to Mormons?]
[Related Topic: Mormonism’s Language Barrier]
- Why Mormons Believe Unbelievable Things
- Latter-day Saints Love Their Religion
- The Power of Beliefs
- The Power of Grand Vision
- Rational Arguments Alone Aren’t Enough
- Present the Big Picture of Scripture
- God’s Great Story Is Good News
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- Watch the video together or invite someone to summarize the topic.
- What is your initial reaction to this video? Do you disagree with any of it? What jumped out at you?
- Why do people believe things that might seem to others to be irrational?
- Why will Mormons not be convinced by rational arguments alone?
- The article says, “We must also present a counter-story to the Mormon story.” Do you agree or disagree, and why?
- Try to explain the Christian message, not as a mere set of facts, but as a story that gives meaning to everything.
- Write a personal action step based on this conversation.