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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

"Mormonism 101" (Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson)

TITLE: Mormonism 101: Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints
AUTHOR: Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2015, (336 pages).

Brigham Young University is owned by the LDS Church. The majority of the population in the state of Utah belongs to the LDS. It is the fourth largest "Christian denomination" in the United States. Popular persons who are also mormons include Donny and Marie Osmond, Stephanie Meyer, Katherine Heigl, John Beck, and many others. Not too long ago, Billy Graham was reported to have endorsed Mitt Romney's campaign to be President of the United States. Romney is a Mormon. Following the wide political coverage, there were subsequent confusion among Christians on whether Mormonism and Christianity have more similarities than differences. Is Billy Graham's endorsement of Romney a statement of similarity? Or is there more than meets the eye? When Mormons tell evangelicals that they share the same Christian faith, what do they actually mean? How can evangelicals respond to the truth claims of LDS adherents?

First published in 2000, this book has been revised and expanded based on the authors' combined total of 70 years experience studying the Mormon religion. Their method is to take the chief claims of the Latter-Day Saints (LDS) and to subject them to tests and scrutiny of the Bible. Only through that can one start to make a determination on whether Mormonism is more Christian, less, or not at all. After making some disclaimers that the book is not against Mormon people but against some of the claims of Mormonism, the authors affirm their love and respectfulness to people holding LDS beliefs. Each chapter can stand on its own. The authors' concerns are:
  • Testing: We need to be equipped to test everything we hear or see
  • Authority: Establish the basis of authority
  • Truth: Discern the truth from the rest
  • Contrast: Provide a fair comparison and contrast

Beginning with a short history of Mormonism, readers learn how it all began on December 23rd, 1805 in Palmyra, New York, where Joseph Smith testified about an angelic visit to him, how he was chosen to be prophet in order to restore true Christianity. This did not go well with non-LDS members there. Following a series of scuffles and violence, the new movement settled in Salt Lake City in 1847, which became the headquarters of the LDS Church. Violent struggles put a dent in the reputation of the LDS Church right from the start. This book looks at six major doctrinal areas in which Christianity differs from the LDS faith.

1) God
Mormons believe that God was previously human who became God, giving mankind a model to follow in order to become gods. In other words, God is not immutable (or changes). God is not transcendent, not omnipresent, and not divine as the way Christians understand. For the LDS, God is nothing more than simply a "glorified human being." On Jesus, the LDS believes that Jesus is literally an offspring of God, meaning Jesus is born like every human being was born. This is different from the Christian concept of the Virgin Birth where Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and through Mary, Jesus entered the world, not created but always existed from the beginning. The belief in a biological process makes Jesus less than what He says He is. They even justify polygamy by saying God and Jesus were practicing polygamists! There is no need to really seek Jesus because we can all become like Jesus through performing a series of activities. On the Trinity, Mormons think it is a myth and they reject the Triune God as a pagan idea.

2) Humankind
The LDS believes that the Bible does not say much about humans before creation. Thus, there is a teaching of human life in three stages. The first estate is that of pre-existence where all persons were spirits with God. The second estate is mortality where humans are given a chance to test their obedience to God. The final estate is that of postmortality in which there are eternal existence in three levels of glory. All through the teaching, there is a common focus: we get what we work for. With the Fall of Adam and Eve, the founder of the LDS, Joseph Smith even praised Eve for tempting Adam, otherwise, we would all still be stuck in the Garden of Eden! Wow. The LDS version of sin is even more stark. Instead of sin, the LDS uses the word "transgression" to say that man will not die and the punishment is not as severe as Christians point them out to be. LDS believes that only the LDS Church bear the authority of God to conduct the ordinances.

3) Scripture
The LDS insists on the King James Version as the officially accepted translation of the Bible. On top of that, rather than to use a textual comparison between biblical texts, they use the Book of Mormon as a comparison text with the Bible. They believe there are errors in the Bible. Thus, when they are in doubt, they would use the Book of Mormon as a final arbiter.

4) Salvation
According to Mormonism, the atonement is about freeing people from the fall, while Christians believe it reconciles man to God. They emphasize the Garden of Gethsemane while Christians look to the Cross. On grace and works, Mormons insist on works because members can never have the assurance that all of their sins are forgiven. Obedience is paramount to celestial glory. All of these beliefs run counter to the Christian understanding of justification, sanctification, and glorification, which are all anchored completely on the grace of God. On Heaven and Hell, the differences are stark. Upon death, Mormons believe that people go to a temporary state before arriving at the final states: the "three kingdoms of glory, the celetial, the terrestrial, and the telestial kingdoms. About one-third of all people will be cast away from the kingdom together with Satan.

5) Ordinances
On the Baptism and Communion, LDS doctrine differs from Christianity in purpose and in importance. LDS believe baptism is "essential" for salvation, and only LDS priests are allowed to conduct the sacraments. Christians believe it is Christ who saves and Christian baptism is a one-time ritual to usher members into the church. There is also a health code called "Word of Wisdom" that Mormons observe, where members strictly follow instructions about tobacco, meat, beverages, where even coffee is a no-no, though there has been controversies over this. The problem is the LDS leadership has not been consistent with their "Word of wisdom." LDS members go to temples while Christians go to Church. LDS members are rather secretive about what goes on in the temple.

6) Revelation
There are priesthood bans for people from an African heritage, justifications for polygamy, and other doctrines that are foreign to Christianity. The authors spend a chapter talking about Joseph Smith, the man who started it all. The leadership of the LDS hierarchy is a tightly held power center.

I am amazed by the depth of coverage from McKeever and Johnson, both members of Mormonism Research Ministry, a missionary/apologetic organization set up to highlight the differences between Mormonism and Christianity. Recognizing the confusion that comes about by Mormons who claim that they are no different from Christianity, the MRM spends lots of time to research, to study, and to share their findings. This book is one such initiative. There is a lot of material in this book. I am thankful for the way the authors have put up front the Mormon glossary so that readers can understand what they mean. We need books like this to help us know the uniqueness as well as the differences of LDS vs the rest. McKeever and Johnson have provided us a flashlight to see our way whenever we cross paths with LDS people.

There are three suggestions I have regarding the use of this book. First, use this book as a way to understand what the LDS believe, and not use it as some weapon. Christians are to speak the truth in love. Like the Scriptures say, knowledge puffs up but love builds up. Engage people in the spirit of love. Second, may this book challenge us to know our Bibles. There is no substitute for knowing our own faith in the first place. The best way to distinguish truth from fiction is to know the truth as thoroughly as possible. Third, love people regardless of their beliefs. If we feel that we cannot engage the LDS people at a theological level, leave it to the experts. Our Christlikeness will be a better witness.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Baker Books and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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