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Tuesday, February 6, 2018

"Leaving Mormonism" (Corey Miller, Lynn K. Wilder, Vince Eccles, and Latayne C. Scott)

TITLE: Leaving Mormonism: Why Four Scholars Changed their Minds
AUTHOR: Corey Miller, Lynn K. Wilder, Vince Eccles, and Latayne C. Scott
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2017, (320 pages).

Mormonism has been in the news in the recent past. Some years ago, a presidential hopeful garnered the support of many evangelicals, even though he was a Mormon. Some say that his faith is just another denomination. Others prefer to call it a cult, or some other name to dissociate it from Christianity. With arguments flowing back and forth, it is easy to accuse people who are not Mormons to shut up until they know what they are talking about. While it is one thing to know the theologies,  it is yet another to experience it. In order to have some measure of credibility, a few criteria would need to be met.
  • They have deep knowledge of Mormon doctrines and practices at an academic level. (Knowledge)
  • They have experienced what it means to be a Mormon at a personal level. (Experience)
  • They have critically, passionately, and lovingly engaged the faith and are able to explain rationally why they left Mormonism. (Truth in love)
  • They have voices from both "left-brained" and "right-brained" perspectives. (Diversity)
  • A bonus would be all of them hold academic PhDs!

This book brings together four ex-Mormon scholars who are all of the above. It is probably the first book of its kind. They share testimonies of how they had been blessed when they were members of the Mormon heritage. They admit that while Mormonism share many similar traits as Christianity, there are major differences that cannot be ignored. They have written this book for Mormons as well as people who are interested to know how to dialogue with Mormons. Many evangelicals have tried to bridge the divide, but doing it from the outside has its unique challenges. Bridging it from the inside out overcomes the challenges in very powerful ways. All the four contributors have either been students or professors at BYU, a famous Mormon University in Utah. They seek truth more than anything else, and in this spirit offer this volume for our consideration. They have seen both sides of the Mormon-Christianity divide and made their decisions based on critical scholarship, family love, historical facts, and personal experience.

Miller begins with an overall view of the book. This introduction is a must-read for us to understand the way the book has been structured. Along the way, he affirms the teachings of well-known Mormon leaders such as Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and John Taylor for an openness toward seeking truth and honest investigations. He kicks start the discussion with a description of what it means to search for the good life. He explores the purpose and the pursuit of happiness. From that, he shares about how the move from human life to the good life in LDS terms has lots of problems. Before he launches into these reasons, he gives us an inside look at Mormon history and his family links with the Mormon Church. He admits that one big reason for his withdrawal from Mormonisn was due to rejection. The bigger reason was that he encountered the gospel at a youth camp.  At the same time, he repeatedly asserts that his conversion is both emotional and rational, that "Mormonism is false." He tackles two foundational Mormon assumptions about a "Great Apostasy" and the need to accept Joseph Smith to have the gospel restored. With constant reference to Mormon teachings, he presents his knowledge of some of the most salient parts of Mormonism to assure Mormon readers that he knows what Mormons stand for. For Christians, it is a fascinating inside look at what Mormonism is all about. Gently, Miller gives an apologetic about why he believes Christianity is the true faith.

Latayne Scott shares about how she became a Mormon at a tender age of 11, and how truly enjoyed being among the community. This is especially so after experiencing a turbulent childhood in her earlier years. Mormon missionaries assured her that her "real parents" were elsewhere, enabling her to be hopeful even as she was grappling with disappointment in her parents' trouble marriage. Mormonism gives her a sense of bliss and hope of a world far better than the present. Plus, the Mormon Church organization really has a wide-ranging number of youth activities. All was going well for her and there was no reason for her to leave the faith.Until one day, she was moved by a story of how a man in the Book of Mormon was able to see Christ because of his great faith. She shared about her brief vision of Christ and believed wholeheartedly in the Book of Mormon. She met a Christian named Dan Scott who unlike most people who had read the Book of Mormon, were unconvinced about Mormonism. What won her over was Dan's firm confidence in the Bible; his faithful prayer for her; and his love. Gradually, she starts to see Mormon doctrines with new eyes. Knowing that her relationship with Dan alone could not make her leave Mormonism, she embarked upon a search for truth beyond Mormonism. Her departure from the Mormon Church was not easy. She experienced discouragement and deception. She put many of her thoughts in "The Mormon Mirage" which details her departure from Mormonism and how she embraces Christianity. Of particular interest is her take on truth, and how Mormon truth tends to be more human in origin. Following her personal stories, she details an academic and apologetic on what traditional Christianity stood for and why she believed it.

Lynn Wilder takes a "social consequences" approach to reflect upon what it means to leave the Mormon Church. Her story is an interesting look at how she converted from Christianity to Mormonism, and back to Christianity again. Her academic brilliance led her to become faculty member at BYU. Some of the faculty members who interviewed here were thrilled that she was not from Utah; not schooled in BYU; and a firm believer in Mormonism. Life was good as a BYU faculty member. She was well remunerated and well traveled, with all expenses paid trips for research and conferences. Yet, some of the Mormon teachings that troubled her include racism, polygamy, and how her third son, Micah bucked the family practice to become a Christian. Learning how difficult it was for Mormons to leave their faith, she seeks to bring support to this group.

The last contributor, James Vincent Eccles was the first in his family to leave the Mormon faith and to embrace Christianity. He tells of his inquisitive youth, and embraced a scientific approach in his search for truth. Even after rejecting Mormon doctrines and teachings, he also found Christianity hard to accept. That was because his trust in the Bible had disappeared. Until he came across some rational defense of God by reputed scholars such as F.F. Bruce and William Albright. Unlike the previous three contributors, Eccles spends time describing his struggles with both Mormonism and Christianity with regard to the conflicts between science and conservative religions. Some religious fundamentalists from both sides make it hard for him to rationally interact with. What turns him off is the arrogance of some of these people who were overly self-righteous. He shares about his descend into spiritual despondence and his subsequent ascent to faith and hope. Out of this crucible, he came out stronger and more convicted of the reasons for Christianity.

The concluding chapter by Corey Miller and Lynn Wilder is an apologetic to help Mormons understand Christianity, and how Christians could better dialogue with Mormons more intelligibly. If the earlier four chapters are testimonies and reasons for faith from the perspectives of the four ex-Mormons, this final chapter should be a bit more general reading. They tackle the three arguments from the New Atheists. They highlight some of the Mormon truth-claims which are untrue in the first place. They handle the problem of evil; the Bible, reason, and science; Historical Trustworthiness of the Bible.

Three Thoughts
A book like this is extremely rare. Let me offer three thoughts. First, I am touched by the deep honesty by each author about their upbringing, their family backgrounds, and their difficult journey to faith. It takes a lot of courage to be able to share about one's broken family and the hurts. It often takes a healed person to be able to open up with such openness. Who would go around so freely sharing about broken marriages, embarrassing family backgrounds, and so on, let alone publish a book about it? By putting out their thoughts in the open, they are also inviting Mormons to pick apart their arguments one by one. Like all papers, we must all be open to critiques. If they are fair, accept them. If not, let our arguments stand on their own feet. Most of all, if something is true, it remains true.

Second, each author is able to rationally outline their reasons for faith. They are trained scholars and know what it means to bring out a reasonable argument. With academic PhDs, they do come with credible qualifications, having done their research and understanding of both sides of the faith. Kudos to Kregel Publications for being able to put this project together. The stories and the reasons for faith work so well together that makes this book a gripping read and an educational experience.

Third, I would caution the general Christian reader from lifting this book's material wholesale and apply it to their Mormon friends. The biggest selling point in this book is that it is a book written by ex-Mormons who were well-trained academically, brought up in a Mormon environment, and are people who had deeply encountered the living Christ. Unless readers have similar backgrounds, it would be best to remain as observers on the side. Having said that, we could use some of the materials to add on to any religious conversations with Mormons or ex-Mormons.

Mormonism is not Christianity. It is not compatible at all. Let this book convince you of that.

Great book!

Dr Corey Miller is President/CEO of Ratio Christi and is a 6th generation Mormon. He turned to Christ in 1988 and has been serving in Cru as well as being an Adjunct Professor at Indiana University-Kokomo where he teaches philosophy and comparative religions.

Dr Latayne C. Scott is a well published author of about two dozen books and has won the Distinguished Christian Service Award by Pepperdine University for "Creative Christian Writing." She even has a website that dedicates 365 reasons why people, especially ex-Mormons wouldn't return to Mormonism.

Dr Lynn K. Wilder was also an ex-Mormon who had a stable and tenured life as a Professor at Brigham Young University. Her path to evangelical Christianity began when her third son, Micah became a Christian during his LDS mission trip. Instead of focusing on works for salvation, she found a new purpose to know the Christ of the Bible.

Dr James Vincent Eccles was born to Mormon parents. Persuaded by his father's boldness to question Mormon dogmatists, he also sought to find reasonable answers to life, something that he could not find in the LDS faith. He was the first in the Eccles family to leave Mormonism in 1975.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Kregel Academic without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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