What is "Winning the Debate"?

They were set to debate the existence of God through the problem of evil.  The setting was Weber State University.  Dr. Robert Fudge, Associate Professor of Philosophy, would argue against the existence of God while Dr. Travis Kerns, NAMB Send City Coordinator and former professor, was to argue for the existence of God.

You know how these debates go. Two people on stage argue past each other while their various supporters rally them on.  Nobody's mind gets changed at these things, right? But could they?

A group of friends piled into my van and we drove north to Weber State University for the debate. We didn't know what to expect.  If nothing else, we could rally on Dr. Kerns (who, I should point out, is my friend) and stop for a shake at In-and-Out on the way home.  We set ourselves to pray before and during the event, hopingthat it wouldn't be like so many debates of the same nature.  Maybe someone would be convinced, convicted even, preferably toward God through Dr. Kerns arguing his position.

What we found was a little different than the typical debate involving religion and faith.  What we witnessed was far from my expectations.   As we sat and watched, we saw Dr. Fudge argue for his side, and frankly, debate his position better as far is debate is concerned.  He presented arguments.  He made statements of logic and reason.  He made his best effort to answer the issues and level claims toward his opponent.  Clearly his goal was to present a convincing argument in that moment that would address the existence of God and excite his supporters.  It is safe to say he won that debate, whatever winning a debate means.

Dr. Kerns on the other hand didn't appear to be seeking to win a debate that evening, but presented a need for faith in the God of the Bible.  He seemed rather comfortable allowing the audience to give a 'win' to Dr. Fudge, all the while making a stellar argument for faith and planting gospel seeds for the audience to think about.  (Some of these seeds were biblical chapters that he didn't actually quote but instead invited the audience to investigate themselves.)  If Dr. Kerns believes as I do (and I think he does), his actions and statements are based on his belief that the Bible is completely true and trustworthy.  Furthermore, if the Bible is true and trustworthy, than God will, through the actions of the Holy Spirit, work in hearts of man so that they may turn from their rebellion and place their faith in Christ.  As Kerns argues, this faith does look irrational in man's eyes but it is right and better in God's eyes.

A great lesson can be learned from the way Dr. Kerns debated Dr. Fudge.  He used the "Yup Defense" and was totally comfortable with it.  He was after a bigger prize than a debate 'win.'  He was after lives saved and redeemed to God.  If you're unfamiliar with the "Yup Defense" you can hear more about that here: 

"How to Share the Gospel and the 'Yup' Defense."

During the debate, I pulled out my phone and microphone that we use to record Salty Believer Unscripted and recorded the event so I could listen through the arguments again later.  It's not the best recording, but it's certainly good enough to hear what was said.  I've asked Bobby Wood, the pastor of Redemption Church and moderator of the debate if I could share my recording here and he granted me my request.  (I do not include the Question and Answer segment because I am unsure how the questioners would feel if their questions were aired here.)

If you missed this debate, you can listen to it here:

Dr. Fudge vs. Dr. Kerns: Does God Exist

I highly encourage that you listen and think about both what was said, but also how Dr. Travis Kerns presented his argument. Much can be learned here about sharing the gospel in difficult circumstances as well as a good way to engage in apologetics.

*Photo taken by Mike O'Dowd is registered under a creative commons license.

Lessons from Church History

In the forward to 131 Christians Everyone Should Know (Holman Reference), J.I. Packer says, Both the processes and characters of history have a vast amount to teach us; studying them matures our judgment and frees us from blind submission to present-day prejudices" (XI, 2000).  In short, history is important.  Christian history then, is even more important considering the depth, weight, and magnitude of the our relationship with God through the ages. 

The Bible is a written history, either of the individual's words or a narrative, or both.  Even the book of Revelation which is often thought only to be a book about the things to come is history.  Revelation 1:1-2 provides an introduction that something suggests something happened and John wrote it down.  Like the history of book of Revelation, Christian history (with includes John and his books) holds lessons and instruction for the present and future as well as a look into the past. This is precisely the point of Hebrews 11 and the fantastic picture and instruction provided in Hebrews 12. 

Truly believing that we can learn much and be greatly encouraged by the history of Jesus' Church, Jared Jenkins, Benjamin Pierce, and I recorded a series of podcasts about lessons we can learn from Church history.   In each podcast, we briefly examine a person or event from history and then discuss lessons or encouragements we've learned.   Our heroes of Church history come from the patristic age all the way forward to the mid-1900s and include both men and women.  We selected apologists, scholars, pastors, preachers, missionaries, martyrs, politicians, pioneers, and front runners in social justice. 

If you're interested, you can subscribe to "Salty Believer Unscripted" on iTunes or listen here:

Lessons from Church History
-- Athanasius and Lady Jane Gray (Part 1) audio 
-- Patrick and the Puritans (Part 2) audio
-- Jan Hus and Charles Spurgeon (Part 3) audio
-- Conrad Grabel, George Blourock, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Part 4) audio
-- Polycarp and John Chrysostom (Part 5) audio

*Photo of Natural History Museum of London, England was taken by Geof Wilson and is registered under a creative commons license.

Reformation Day!

On October 31, 1517 a German monk nailed a list of 95 grievances against the Roman Catholic Church on the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Saxony. The monk was Martin Luther, the grievances are technically called The Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences, and October 31, 1517 (Reformation Day) often marks the opening bell of the Protestant Reformation.

Why was the monk so concerned? First, it should be said that he was also a professor and did a great deal of study.  He studied the Bible in a time when Scripture was often unavailable.  And second, he grew concerned about what he saw because he read his Bible. Studying God's Word, it became clear to Luther that Pope Leo X had steered the Catholic Church far from the doctrines taught in the Bible. For example, ideas of salvation and grace were dependent upon the mercy of Pope Leo X rather than Jesus Christ and his resurrection. We see the error of this false teaching in 1 Timothy 2:5-6, which reads,

“For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.”

It should probably be said that at the university where Luther taught, it was actually a common practice to nail a thesis for discussion to the large door.  This was a way to signal an intellectual discussion or academic debate.  It is believed that Luther was not originally intending to fire such a bullet but instead start a conversation.  However, the thesis launched much more conversation than Luther intended, possibly because the printing press had recently been invented and allowed a publisher to remove the thesis from the door, print it, and distribute it to a wider audience than the university.   Regardless of the intention, The 95 Thesis launched a discussion that still lives today. 

On this, the 495th anniversary of the 1st Reformation Day, take a moment to ask yourself, first, is Jesus Christ your mediator before God or are you depending upon another (or maybe some specific works)?  Also ask yourself, are you studying God’s Word, reading the Bible like that German Monk who took a step of faith and changed the world?

Happy Reformation Day! 

*The famous 1529 oil painting by Lucus Cranch der Altere is in the public domain. 

Guest Review: Unveiling Grace by Lynn K. Wilder

[This per-release review by Jared Jenkins originally appeared on www.EntrustedWithTheGospel.com and is re-published here in conjunction with the partnership with Entrusted With The Gospel.] 

Matt Wilder in Unveiling Grace is quoted as saying he “prefer[s] to dwell on the positive aspects that brought [him] closer to Christ rather than the negative things that drew [him] away from Mormonism.  But for [him] to fully come to Christ, [he] first had to realize and accept that [he] had been deceived” (220).  The balance between learning positive Christian truth and seeing lifelong deception is the knife-edge that must be walked when anyone comes to Christ out of Mormonism.  To keep this scale from teetering too far in either direction it takes the master plan of a sovereign God working through His “Dancer of grace” (314) and speaking through His Word the Bible.  Lynn Wilder has written a tremendous testimony of God’s power to do exactly that; save her and her family, extended family, and friends out of the deception of Mormonism by the Blood of Christ as revealed in the Bible.  This book is Lynn’s personal testimony of the way in which God has kept the scale in balance, unveiling truth through his word where needed and opening Lynn’s eyes to deception when appropriate; all this over a five year process of coming out of Mormonism to a saving faith in Christ.

As I (Jared Jenkins) began Lynn’s book, I was skeptical of where it might go or what her message might be.  Many books about Mormonism tend to land very heavily in the apologetics side of the scale, leaving the reader with a negative, almost sterile feeling in their heart about the way people are saved from Mormonism.  In fact, after reading most books concerning Mormonism, all you want to do is just stay away from its deception at all costs!  Lynn however has been able to skillfully reveal apologetic differences between Mormonism and Christianity by weaving what she learned into her story of salvation.  Instead of pages and pages of information on the differences between Mormonism and Christianity the reader gets the story of a person fully living Mormonism and little by little coming to believe in the God of the Bible.  As this story unfolds Lynn teaches about Mormon and Christian belief throughout in a way that is personal and heartfelt.  Readers get a great picture of real Mormonism; a culturally enmeshed belief system that leaves little room for critical thought stranding its adherents in Zion, blissfully blind.  Readers also get a real picture of the one true God found in Christianity; able to save anyone out of their situation through the truth about Christ found in the Bible as revealed to individuals by the “Dancer of grace” (314).

Particularly, I like Lynn’s radical focus on the ability of God to speak through His word.  Over and over again Lynn credits God speaking through His word the Bible for bringing her and her family to a saving knowledge in Christ.  Lynn’s message is a great challenge for the Mormon that may read this book to pick up their New Testament and read and see if God does not speak to them about truth and the real Biblical Christ.  In addition, it is a good challenge to Christians.  So often Christians discount God’s ability to speak through His Word.  Lynn challenges Christians to know their Bible and know it well because this is the only place anyone will find a way to truth, life, and Christ.  God speaking through His word not only saved Lynn and her family, but it has also safeguarded them from error and provided a sure guide for the future.  Praise be to the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob that still speaks to us through His Word!

Another very important aspect of Lynn’s book is the way in which she draws a very strong distinction between Mormonism and Christianity through terminology.  She repeated uses phrases like “the God of Mormonism” (49) set against “the God of the Bible” (214), or explaining the differences between the Mormon “Holy Ghost” (323) and the “Holy Spirit of the Bible” (324), and in continually referring to the “the Mormon Jesus” or the “Biblical Jesus” (329).  The reader will undoubtedly clearly see that Mormonism and Biblical Christianity are not compatible.  In fact, Lynn includes a great quote from a former LDS prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley, which boils the differences between Mormons and Christians down to a fundamental point; we don’t believe in the same Jesus!  Hinckley says, “The traditional Christ of whom they [Christians] speak is not the Christ of whom I speak” (315).  To draw these distinctions between Mormonism and Christianity is so important today when the world and many armchair theologians are claiming these two faiths are the same.  I challenge anyone that has thought Mormonism to be Christian to read Lynn’s work.

Finally, Lynn invents a term to describe the deception that Mormonism uses to suck people into its fold that I really like.  I live, work, and minister in Salt Lake City as a Christian pastor and people are always asking me, “How do I effectively ministry to my Mormon friends and neighbors?”  Of course the first piece of advice I give people for effectively ministering to Mormons is to love them as people in a pattern after Christ’s love for all sinners, and the second piece of advice is to define theological terms when you talk with your Mormon friends.  Questions like, Who is Jesus? Who is God?  Lynn masterfully redefines what the Mormons do with Christian terms by giving it a new name, “twistiology” (217). Twistiology in Lynn’s words means “Mormonism takes elements of truth and twists them into something very confusing” (219).  In fact Lynn goes further to point out that because there is so much discontinuity within Mormon scriptures themselves, Mormons are able to argue both sides of the same theological issue (219)!  This can be very confusing if you are ministering to a Mormon friend.  Lynn calls us to know what we believe from the Bible and to measure Mormon beliefs against what the Bible says.  Lynn has included at the end of her book a short, helpful guide to Mormon terminology, a quick doctrinal comparison between Mormonism and Christianity, and a list of ministries that minister particularly to Mormons for further study.  These guides are concise, easy to read, hitting a perfect balance in Lynn’s book focusing on the positive truths of Christ while adequately revealing deception inherent to Mormonism.

Critical theological readers may take exception to some of the seemingly folk theological pieces of Lynn’s conversion that came by the “Dancer of grace” through dreams, impressions, and seemingly coincidental encounters.  But Lynn has not placed her faith in these things or flighty emotion; rather she shows how she has learned to “test feelings [and spiritual experiences] against a true source that [she] trust[s] – the Bible” (321-322).   Through testing her experiences against the Bible she is able to see what was truly from the “Dancer of grace” and what was from the father of lies.  I only wish that many of my own congregants could learn to do the same.  Lynn’s conversion as it unfolds in UnveilingGrace, is a great reminder to extend mercy and grace to our friends, family, and neighbors as they are finding Christ.  Lynn at times believes wrongly (judging by Christian standards) and at other times is being both Mormon and Christian at the same time.  Lynn’s testimony helps the reader to place their trust in God’s ability to save someone, which gives them the freedom to extend people grace while they walk the path of salvation. 

Unveiling Grace is not just about Mormon and Christian Doctrine.  It is the story of a BYU professor and her LDS high priest husband and family leaving the LDS church because God revealed the Biblical Christ to them through his Word and saved them.  This book is personal and shows the battle, the carnage, and the joys of coming out of a cult and finding real truth.  I was deeply moved by Lynn’s work to renew my commitment to pray for and engage my Mormon friends and neighbors with the Gospel.  This book will become the first book I encourage people to read if they want to learn about Mormonism because of the way it presents doctrine in the context of life and experience.  I highly encourage Mormons, Christians, and pagans alike to read this book and hear about just how great the God of the Bible is.

Lynn witnesses to the fact that He can even save you.

Lynn K. Wilder, Unveiling Grace: The Story of How We Found Our Way Out of The Mormon Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013. 367pp. $15.99. 

Lynn’s book is not yet published and will go on sale 8/20/2103.  I highly encourage you to pre-order a copy from Amazon HERE.  Page numbers and quotes above may change by the time of printing.

Several weeks ago Bryan Catherman of Salty Believer and I were priviledged to do an interview on our podcast Salty Believer Unscripted with Lynn concerning her book and ministry to Mormons.  Our interview with Lynn far exceeded our expectations and I highly encourage you to listen.  You can read Bryan’s review of our conversation HERE and listen to the podcasts below.

Listen to an Interview with Unveiling Grace 
author Lynn K. Wilder
-Unveiling Grace (Part 1) audio
-Unveiling Grace (Part 2) audio

Unveiling Grace by Lynn K. Wilder

My friend and colleague, Jared Jenkins was sent a review copy of the book Unveiling Grace: The Story of How We Found Our Way Out of the Mormon Church (Zondervan, 2013).  Additionally, we had the opportunity to interview the book's author, Lynn K. Wilder.  Lynn is articulate and sharp.  It's enjoyable to hear her speak about her story as well as her practical, experience-tested ways to converse with your Mormon neighbors.  And I must say, it was one of the best podcasts we've had on Salty Believer Unscripted.

Lynn was a professor at BYU and both she and her husband were highly involved in the LDS church; that is, until God got her attention.  She's written a book about her testimony as well as the testimonies of 11 other former LDS people. She was on the road with the band Adam's Road when we interviewed her by phone.

You can listen to the podcast interviews here:
Unveiling Grace with Lynn K. Wilder 
-- Unveiling Grace (Part 1) audio
-- Unveiling Grace (Part 2) audio

Walk on the Wilder Side: Another Discussion with Lynn Wilder  
-- Walk on the Wilder Side (Part 1) audio
-- Walk on the Wilder Side (Part 2) audio

Here's the book trailer:

After conducting the interview with Lynn, hearing from Jared, and watching this trailer, I'm curious about the book and will likely read it soon.

Subscribe to the Salty Believer Unscripted Podcasts:
iTunes  | Non iTunes

* I have no connection to this book, financial or otherwise nor did I receive anything in exchange for the discussion of this book on SaltyBeliever.com 

Mission: Utah 2013

May 28, 2013.

Join us for Mission: Utah 2013!  Mission: Utah is both a week-long mission trip and training as well as a weekend conference.

Week-Long Mission Trip:
We already have a few churches from around the country making their way to Utah July 17-24, 2013 to learn about Utah and how we're working to reach the communities around us.  These groups will work alongside other local teams during this week of training, service, and evangelism in Salt Lake City and the surrounding suburbs.  As the week begins, we'll be learning about the LDS culture, polygamy, the outdoor-worshiping pagans, church planting in this part of the Lord's Vineyard, and much more.

From touring the heart of Mormondom at Temple Square to rock climbing some of Utah's most beautiful views to working alongside former polygamists on ministry homes to fellowshipping with other believers from around the country to engaging in a variety of evangelism on Pioneer Day (a Utah holiday more popular than the 4th of July), this should be a full, interesting, and informative week.  Youth, college, and adult groups are already slated to sleep at the Risen Life Church building and there's still room or you can obtain your own housing.  Apart from your transportation and food, the only cost is $15 for the weekend conference (which includes lunch on Saturday and Sunday as well as a goodie bag) explained in more detail below.

Here's more info on the Week-Long Mission and Conference:  

Weekend Conference: 
But if you can't make it for the week, right in the middle of the Week-Long Mission trip is a Weekend Conference. Whether you will be traveling or you're local, this is a great weekend opportunity.  Saturday will start with a panel on Mormonism and the LDS Culture.  Guest speakers include Sandra Tanner (Utah Lighthouse Ministries), Ross Anderson (Alpine Church),  Dr. David Rowe (The Vine Institute), and Randy Sweet (Mormonism Research Ministry). Following the panel, each of our speakers will host a break-out session from which to choose.

Lunch will be provided and afterwards we'll have 6 church planters in various stages of Utah church planting discussing what it takes to plant a church in Utah and reach this community for the gospel.  The planters include Ross Anderson (Alpine Church), Adam Madden (Christ Fellowship), Bobby Wood (Redemption Church), Shawn Bagley (Gateway Community Church), Brent Captain (Salt Christian Church), and Jason Benson (Real Life Church).  Each of these planter will host a break-out session as well.  We'll break for dinner and reconvene for a worship service hosted by Robert Marshall.

On Sunday, you'll be encouraged to worship with us at Risen Life Church and/or with one of the 6 churches represented by the planters.  Then on Sunday afternoon, we'll spill out all over the valley to engage in front-yard barbeques, where missionaries engaging in the Week-Long Mission will have already made contact with the neighborhood. The total cost of the Mission: Utah Weekend Conference is only $15 and includes lunch on Saturday and Sunday.

Here's more info on the Weekend Conference:

Bonus:  If you have Pioneer Day (July 24th) off work, we'll be out in the community and you're invited to join us!  

Post Church?

Revisiting a group of writer-friends and their affiliated publication, I was reminded of the growing group of jaded Christians who no longer worship in any kind of church setting.  They call themselves "post-Church" as if they have somehow evolved beyond Christ's institution for his people.  "The Nones" is another name they like, taking it from the check box they would self-identify to the question of religious affiliation on a census questionnaire-- None. 

This post-Church crowd will argue that they just weren't getting what they wanted or needed from their local church community.  It wasn't a satisfying experience and the church leaders weren't providing them with the faith journey they desired.  So, they divorced their community for a different mistress, maybe a group who shares their affinity for popular issues of social justice, artistic expression, politics, dietary fads, some kind of on-line connection, or a gang with similar level of anger toward Christ's Bride.  Interestingly, these post-Christians don't seek a different local church community where they might find opportunities to connect with, grow in, and serve Christ, but instead cast off Church, big-C Church all together.  They would argue that they are still part of the Church but just hate local church.  They "love Jesus, just hate Christians."  But the truth is Jesus indwells his people and the local church is a part of the big-C Church; therefore, Jesus and his Church get tossed out too.

I've read of these new post-church communities meeting in coffee shops or homes for shared meals where a communal fellowship is touted but there is decidedly a void of any worship, teaching, Bible reading, or anything that may look like "church."  Jesus is typically intentionally or unintentionally uninvited.  Some of these gatherings will pray, but that's often the extent of it. (I wonder how God might receive the prayer of those who reject God's people as well as the institution he set up for them?)  I am familiar with a single group that sits on the post-church precipice which does, on occasion, discuss Scripture, but generally is void of any deeper study or application because in fact, they are lacking any kind of shepherd.

Indeed there is a time to divorce a fellowship.  When irreconcilable differences surface in the essential theological matters one should talk with the leaders to consider if finding a different local church, breaking fellowship, or some kind of further study may be appropriate.  Cases of egregious unrepentant sin among the leadership may also be a time to break fellowship, after the appropriate course of action has taken place.  (See Matthew 18:15-18.)    False teaching too.  But to toss up your hands and say your are done with any kind of Christian gathering only to trade it in for a cult community of your own making because you don't prefer what's offered is a very different thing.

Nowhere does the Bible speak of a Christian who rejects Christ's Bride, the Church.  It's quite the opposite in fact.

For example, Paul opens his letter to the Philippians as follows: "To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons" (Philippians 1:1b, ESV, italics added for emphasis.) Paul says these saints are with the leaders and servants, not consumers of the goods and services the leaders provide or members of their social club.  The saints are in community together.  Many of Paul's letters open with this picture of community centered around the gospel called the local church.  He also talks about the necessity of being part of the body, one body with many parts.  His explanation of communion and his rebuke for the local church that shows favoritism toward the rich show Paul's concern and care for community within the local church.  John's third letter is to an individual and yet it still seems to suggest that Gaius is part of a larger community.  John's second letter is also to an individual and here he's calling this lady to hold fast to the teaching of Christ.  Christ didn't ever tell anybody to be a solitary loaner or gather in a community that is held together with bonds other than the love of Christ.  Christ is building his Church and the local churches are a part if they hold to Christ and his teachings.  Christ is so serious about the Church that we often see the Church called the Bride of Christ, that is, Christ's special love.  Men are called to love their wives as Christ loves the Church, the Church Jesus died for (Ephesians 5:25).  There are many accounts of the believers eating and praying together, and being sanctified into Christ's likeness through those with whom they are in community.  And these groups don't appear to be splinter groups rejecting the Church.  

This post-Church movement raises a number of questions. 

Were these disgruntled individuals actually Christians, or were they simply members of a social club for social reasons?  Or maybe they were moralists and what they walked away from is not what they think they rejected because they were never truly a part of the Body in the first place?

Do these "post-Church" gatherings bring about sanctification and Christ-likeness or are these groups more about filling the community void?

How much does a member of the Nones hear from God and speak to him, read from his Word, worship, and grow?  The Bible is the only book that reads us.  From within it's pages we should experience transformation and sometimes that transformation is difficult and even painful.  Is the post-Church experience bringing about gospel-centered change or is it all just a happy bed of roses that eventually leads to self-worship?

Is the exodus from the local church about pride?  Is there a lack of humility?  Is there fear to talk with with leadership about a problem?  If the leadership did not listen, was there any self-reflection to see if personal repentance was necessary? And if personal repentance or pride are not the issue and it may be a legitimate time to break fellowship, is there a fear or laziness or cowardice to find the healthy local church body God may be calling them to?

What is the end result of the post-Church movement?  Is it drawing people closer to Christ or further away?

If you are reading this because you are post-Church, call yourself a None, or are concerned about a friend or family member, I know that there are local churches that hurt people, and that is tragic!  If you have been hurt by fellow Christians, I'd like to recommend a book called The Exquisite Agony (originally titled Crucified by Christians) by Gene Edwards.  I hope that at some point you can find healing from this pain as well as find a fantastic body of believers with which to fellowship and grow.  If it is not about a hurt, might it be about pride?  If so, is this pride really helping you or is it self destructive?  If you do still call yourself a Christian but struggle with the local church, pray about where to connect.  Ask Jesus to show you his Bride in a new way.  And by all means, don't give up!  God has a great fellowship of believers out there for you.  Hang in there and keep praying!

If this article connected with you in any way, encouraged you, or made you angry, you are more than welcome to contact me to share your story, ask questions, complain, or seek help finding a local body.  Or if you don't call yourself a Christian but would like to find out more about becoming one, you can contact me too.  Click here

Your Cell Phone and God's Call

Set your cell phone or MacBook or latest electronic gadget on the table in front of you.  Look at it closely.  Imagine you were a person from 1950 looking at your gizmo today.  An iPad might be too much for 1950-man, so lets say it's a cell phone.  What could you know about it?  It's not lit up or making noise.  It's just sitting on the table.

If you stop and think about it, you could probably deduce that the device is something that has been intentionally created; that is, it wasn't accidentally assembled after a tornado ripped through computer plant.  You might also come to the conclusion that the device did not create itself.  There was a designer or a team of designers and they probably had a plan to build the phone.  A purpose for the object was probably also something the builders had in mind.  And the simple reality that someone else built the phone should lead you to believe that the builder deserves much more credit for the phone's existence than the phone itself.  

Like your cell phone, we can think about the creation of the world in much the same way.  The technical term for this is teleological thinking.  As we look at the created world, we can see a creator.  There is order and organization and harmony and design.  All this world came from somewhere and the credit belongs to the creator.  A funny thing happens however--throughout history people look at the world and worship creation, that is, they give ultimate credit to the created things rather than the creator.  This would be like crediting the plastic power button on your phone for the phone's creation and then worshiping the power button.  Of if they don't worship a physical part of creation, they worship an idea.  It's like saying all this world came about by accident and random chance gets all the credit and worship.  But when they say this, what they are really saying is, "I know best and the object of my worship is myself because of my own ideas."  The phone aught not think of itself better than its creator, yet so many people do this regarding their own creation and their creator.  How silly.

Looking at the world and seeing a creator happens because the Creator has designed in some markers into his creation.  This called general revelation.  General revelation is, “The knowledge of God’s existence, character, and moral law, which comes through creation to all humanity. […] General revelation comes through observing nature, through seeing God’s directing influence in history, and through an inner sense of God’s existence and his laws that he has placed inside every person.”[1] (A biblical picture of general revelation is available in Romans 1:18-2:29 and Psalm 19:1-6 for example.)

God has appointed all of his creation to point back to himself.  He has placed his trademark on all he has created just as Apple has a recognized symbol on all their products.  Yet even looking at an iPhone, iPad, or iMac, you don't need the Apple icon to know the item was created by Apple.  There's just something about an Apple products that screams, "I'm made by Apple!"

Interestingly enough, general revelation can demonstrate our sinful ways.  We can see that we've misplaced our worship and that's called idolatry.  Romans 1:16-2:11 provides a solid explanation that man is without excuse--we should know and believe that there is a God apart from creation and we are not that God.  In the book of Acts, the Apostles Barnabas and Paul go into Lystra to proclaim the good news of Christ.  The people there are so amazed, they begin worshiping Barnabas and Paul.  The Apostles respond by showing the people that they themselves are simply parts of the creation and not the Creator.  They go on to say that God has not left himself without a witness because his trademark is on his creation but that they should also listen to the message God has sent them to share. 

God uses the pinnacle of his creation, man, to share the good news of salvation found only through Christ.  This is what Barnabas and Paul were doing.  This is kind of like what the manufacturer of your cell phone does with press releases.  People stand up and tell you about the product and the manufacturer.  Even if you were not at the original press release meeting, you may learn of this information because someone wrote it down.  God has even commissioned his people to tell his story (and he appointed others to write it down).  The most famous of these instructions is found at the end of Matthew 28.  This telling of God's story is called special revelation and the instruction in Matthew 28:16-21 is called the Great Commission. 

Special revelation is, “God’s words addressed to specific people, such as the words of the Bible, the words of the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles, and the words of God spoken in personal address, such as a Mount Sinai or the baptism of Jesus.”[2]

Now again imagine you are looking at your cell phone and it's an Apple product.  A guy walks up and says, "That phone is an Apple iPhone, designed by Steve Jobs."  You can choose to believe the guy or not.  God had many of his people telling the world about himself.  They were often called prophets in the Old Testament.  They told people about God and they themselves served as a mechanism for God's special revelation.  They often wrote stuff down too.  But the people rejected them and sometimes even killed them.

Now imagine that after the cell phone guy walks away, another man shows up.  While he's standing there the phone rings.  You answer it and the voice on the other end says "My name is Steve Jobs.  I created the phone you are holding in your hand."  You look up and the man speaking to you over the phone is the same man standing before you in person.  Again, you could believe or not. 

God has done this too when he said of Jesus at his baptism, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:15.)   You to have a choice.  Look at the world like you looked at your cell phone.  That's God's general revelation speaking to you.  Then open the Bible or talk with Christians telling God's story.  That's God's special revelation and he's speaking to you!


1. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 1994), 122-123.

2. Ibid., 123. 

* Both the photo of Steve Jobs introducing the Mac Air in 2008 and Michelangelo's "Creation of Adam" are registered under a creative commons license and are used with permission.  

Difficult Matters for the Church

As the Salty Believer Unscripted podcast has grown, Jared Jenkins and I have determined that it's time we take on difficult topics that address questions people are actually asking.  The new series is called "Difficult Matters for the Church" and it will address challenging passages of the Bible and areas of disagreement within the Church, as well as the controversial and spicy issues between the Church and the larger society.  Topics like same-sex marriage, women in ministry, the Christian's role in politics, Mormonism, creationism, environmentalism, social justice, election and free will, egalitarianism, the charismatic gifts, and any other suggestions we receive will not be off the table because nothing is off limits.

To help us, we've enlisted some other pastors.  Sean Patrick (Risen Life Church) and Adam Madden (Christ Fellowship)--two pastors who have previously been on the podcast--have returned and Jason Benson (Real Life Church) has joined us for the first time.  In addition, we have a new podcast intern: Ben Peirce. (We're not sure what a podcast intern does, but we're working on that.)

We'd love to hear your suggestions for this series.  Please don't hesitate to contact us and share your thoughts and questions.  We hope this series will be fruitful as well as enjoyable.

As always, thanks for visiting SaltyBeliever.com and thanks for subscribing to Salty Believer Unscripted.

Subscribe to the Salty Believer iTunes Podcasts: Video | Audio
(Non iTunes: Video | Audio)
* While there may be some overlap, the content of the Video and Audio Podcasts are not the same. 

Soli Deo gloria!
Bryan Catherman   

*Photo by flikr.com user dkshots is registered under a creative commons license and us used by permission.  

New Series on Exegesis and Hermeneutics

Whether you are studying on your own, leading and teaching your family, or teaching in a formal setting, it is extremely helpful to understand how to read and teach the Bible.  There are some fancy words for it (exegesis and hermeneutics) but it doesn't have to be hard.  All good seminaries teach extremely helpful tools and techniques for studying and teaching the Bible, but by no means are these required to properly understand and communicate what God's Word, the Bible says.  The Bible is communicated in such a way that a person can hear and learn from God without an advanced degree in seminary or some kind of secret magic that is only held by top cult leaders.  However, if done poorly, the application will be wrong or misleading.  The adage is true, junk in-junk out.  On the other hand, if careful exegesis is conduced and then proper hermeneutics are applied, a person will come to proper application at least 95% of the time.

The overall idea here is to approach the Bible with the proper process.  Basically:
1. What did the Bible say then?
2. What is the timeless meaning or principles. 
3.  What's the application for me today. 
If you use this process, you'll do well nearly every time.  But how do we get to what the Bible said when it was written?  That's the exegetical work.  And how do we extract the timeless meaning or principles?  That's hermeneutics.   You can employ all kinds of tools; or with a couple simple, tools (even preparing sermons in the mountains for a camp) you can study and teach the Bible well.

Jared Jenkins (EntrustedWithTheGospel.com) and I have finally set out on a series to help Average Joe study and teach the Bible well.  We're excited about this because we believe it's important.  And it maybe that it's a way for us to take great material we received (and payed for) in seminary and give it to you for free.

I wish I could provide you with the name of this series, but as of yet, we can't think of one.  I guess we're just not very creative.  Listen to the introduction in the first Salty Believer Unscripted podcast of this new series and give us some feed back.  Tell us what you think.  And by all means, help us come up with a name!  (You can contact us here.)

You can find the podcasts in the Resources section of this website, download it here, or subscribe via iTunes

It is our greatest hope and desire that you grow in your walk with Christ and in that, you know God better and love him more.

Soli Deo gloria!
Bryan Catherman

 Subscribe to the Salty Believer iTunes Podcasts: Video | Audio
(Non iTunes: Video | Audio)
* While there may be some overlap, the content of the Video and Audio Podcasts are not the same. 

Recently Discovered New Testament Manuscripts

The gospels and letters that make up the New Testament were authored in the latter half of the First Century, between roughly AD42-98.  Finding manuscripts like P52, a papyri fragment of the book of John containing chapter 18:31-33, is a really big deal.  It was discovered in 1920 and greatly changed the way scholars think about the book of John and the New Testament. P52 (pictured to the right), is a Second Century manuscript dated roughly to AD125-150 and  is presently considered the oldest known fragment of the New Testament--but that may be soon to change.  Dr. Dan Wallace claims to have discovered a manuscript of the book of Mark that he and others say dates to the First Century! 

Conservative biblical scholars date the authorship to Mark between the mid-AD40 and 60.  This would mean that at most, this newly discovered manuscript is no more than 60 years older than the autograph, but it may be less.  The Institute for New Testament Textual Research (INTF) located in Münster, Germany has cataloged over 5,750 New Testament manuscripts.  Some of these are very close to the autographs (originals, which have yet to be found), but none as close as what Wallace is claiming of his team's discovery.

Apparently, the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM) was granted access to a national archive in Albania to photograph 13 manuscripts.  The country has previously denied western scholars access to these documents.  When the CSNTM team arrived, they learned that there were more manuscripts at the archive and some of them are remarkable!

Besides the manuscripts they expected to photograph, they discovered seven more manuscripts never-before seen or cataloged by western scholars.  Most notable is the Mark papyri as well as an early Second Century Luke fragment and four manuscripts from Paul (and the author of Hebrews) that date to late Second Century or early Third Century.  Details are slowly being released as the scholars are exercising caution in how they present this new find.

In the video below, Dr. Mike Licona introduces Dr. Dan Wallace who discusses this fascinating discovery in a more detail:

Buzz about these manuscripts is present, but you have to look for it.  They will have a significant impact on scholarship but it's highly unlikely that these manuscripts will change our understanding of the gospel message.  Even when more details are published, most people will hear little about this discovery (if anything) and that's okay.  For us theology geeks, it's exciting to add 7 more manuscripts to the INTF catalog, especially the really early ones.  It's also thrilling to think about the possibility of finding even earlier manuscripts and getting closer to the originals; but in the bigger picture, the gospel as we have understood it for 2,000 years will continue marching forward as we faithfully serve God toward the advancement of his Kingdom.  Indeed we must remember, the manuscript collection does not bring saving transformation--the message contained within the manuscripts is what must really excite us.

*Photo of the Rylands Papyri, also know as P52, is in the public domain. 

The Wrong Savior

I find it amazing how many people watch this video (or videos much like this one) and see the ideas contained within it as their salvation.  I have even had people calling themselves Christians say to me that this video is Christianity.  If that's true, than their flavor of Christianity seems to be missing the most important part of the Bible--Jesus, the Savior of the world, the one and only source of our salvation.

We often hear this kind of message from Hollywood and the music industry.  There are shelves of books that push this same story.  Sure, we get excited and hopeful because we want to live in a perfect world.  We are wired to want more than our depraved nature can offer. 

Watch this video.  It's the message the world provides for hope, but notice what's missing.  Notice what is provided as the substitute for the salvation presented in the Good News of the Bible. 

I can see how we would all desire such a thing, but this idea seeks a false solution because it offers a false savior; the idea of this video is the worship of an idol, a false god.  And as we look at this presentation, we must ask ourselves if this idea has ever been achieve in the past and if it can really ever be achieved in the future apart from Christ.  Can greed really be eliminated from our existence when its very existence is so apparent even among babies who are unwilling to share their toys?

Scriptures to Know

A couple of my Bibles have notes written inside the covers. These notes are reference lists of Scriptures to know and seek in times of discussion and need. I have decided to consolidate these lists in once source that is easy to access and easy to continually add upon. I also believe it is a list that should be shared. I have only just begun to organize and add verses to this this list and I pray that it will become a fantastic "work in progress" that I and others are able to turn to as necessary as we learn, study, and memorize God's Word.

Click here to download a copy of the list, "Scriptures to Know". This list will be growing and developing over time, so occasionally check back and download it again.

* Other resources, includes reading lists and videos are available here.

Film: Unveiling Grace

Over the course of an hour, eight people share their testimonies of how they came to know Jesus Christ. Previously they were all LDS, but as they began to study the Bible and ask questions in an effort to seek the Truth of God, something changed in them.  Most of them set out to prove the truth of Mormonism but found themselves following truth in an unexpected direction.

As these eight share their personal testimonies, there is no doubt that Mormons may find some of the statements offensive; but not because the statements are intended to be offensive.  Instead, it will likely be because it's a normal part of human nature to take offense at statements that disagree with how we live our lives.  Think about the initial reaction of the sinner (which is all of us) his or her beloved actions are defined as sin.  Think about the first reaction to the idea of submission to something other than ourselves.  However, if we are honest about seeking out what is true, then we must be willing to go where that journey will lead us, regardless of where we have been.

I don't suspect that many members of the LDS faith will watch this video to its conclusion, which is no different than Christians being unwilling to read (or watch) LDS material.  But if one is honest about knowing the Truth of God, than there should be no fear in engaging in material from other faith groups and beliefs.  If a belief is true and of God, than it should have little trouble standing up against false claims.

I have tremendous respect for anyone who honestly and earnestly is seeking to find the Truth of God. And I'm happy to join in this journey with you.  Please don't hesitate to contact me.

Scientism 101

What is scientism?  People will differ on the answers; but generally, it's an ideology that the natural sciences (or some mutation of them, which I will discuss momentarily) can and does provide the answers to any and all questions about any and all topics.  Unlike philosophy, theology, or mathematics for example, scientism is characteristically unwilling to submit to other methods or schools of thought.  Of those who practice scientism, there tends to be an attitude of extreme superiority of this single method of thought.  Atheists often come to their positions through the use of scientism.  And scientism is often treated like a religion to be worshiped by those who hold to its methods (although they would never call it "worship" or "religion").  A notable practitioner of sceintism is Stephen Hawking.

Some will mistake scientism for science because scientism masquerades as science.  But please do not confuse science and scientism; their methods and objectives are completely different.  Also, I need to say that science and Christianity are not at odds with one another, what-so-ever.

In my undergraduate studies in behavioral science (at the University of Utah), I engaged in a number of classes focused on research design.  These classes emphasized scientific principles and even the scientific method.  I also took a number of natural science courses that re-enforced the same principles.

This is science. The first step of the scientific method is to ask a question, typically based on some kind of observation. This question should be structured in some way as to take a measurement and correctly gather data.  At the point of simply asking the question, it should be free of any definitive answers, at least at any point before the research is concluded.  An open mind is necessary.  Next one should survey the body of knowledge to gain an idea of what work has been done to answer the question.  From here, a testable hypothesis should be formed.  The objective from this point forward is to prove or disprove the hypothesis. In order to accomplish this, testing with experiments must be employed.  This can be laboratory work or organized methods to arrange data in a useful way, or even some other way to test a hypothesis.  Sometimes it is only a matter of collecting data and running it through a statistical formula.  Other times elaborate and lengthy tests must be conduced.  Once complete, the data must be analyzed.  It is here that answers are forming (and not until this step).  Then the answers are to be reported.

Scientific practice often requires that the testing is repeatable.  Also, academic scientists are highly encouraged to use language that suggests they do not hold definitive answers.  As more and more testing and reporting provides more and more evidence, people will tend to lean in the direction of the evidence.  There is hardly ever a "smoking gun" or "absolute" proofs.  Instead, as more and more research is completed the evidence becomes more and more compelling.  In addition, unsuccessful attempts to disprove the reports will also lend credibility to the answers.      

Scientism on the other hand starts with an answer.  It then uses a mutant science to develop the question in order to get back to the desired answer.  Plus, you will often find that scientism reports definitive answers and demands total proof of positions in which they do not agree.  For example, a worshiper of scientism will demand complete and total proof that God exists but they themselves cannot prove by the same standard that God does not exists.  This is because the approach is flawed.  We should be weighing evidence.  Scientism does not however, because it has already started with a position that God does not exist.

Take this article by Stephen Hawking for example:  "Why God did not create the universe."  You might notice the lack of cautious scientific language.  You may also see that Hawking makes amazing observations, that when weighed against other evidence, such at the Bible, or other people's personal observation could suggest a creator.  A scientist should remain open to all options until disproved.  However, lines like "Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going" suggest a predetermined objective and lack of academic caution.  It is perfectly okay that he makes these claims; however, it is not okay that he masks them behind science.  (He would be better off making claims such as this one in the realm of philosophy.)  And this is where I run into problems with sceintism.      

*Photo of a young Stephen Hawking provided by NASA and is in the public domain.

Year One of SaltyBeliever.com

A year ago I decided to start SaltyBeliever.com.  Looking at the site one year later, I find it interesting to reflect on what's here.

I had a number of reasons for starting the website.  The first was to have an easy place to provide links and resources that I could point people to as the need surfaced.  Second, after the first year of seminary, I saw a lot of my studies being filed away for no future use or benefit to anybody.  What a waste. Why not post parts of this work on-line so maybe someone else could get something from them. . . even if only one person.  And the third reason was to demonstrate to other ministries how simple and inexpensive it is to have a presence on the Internet.

About the time of the birth of this website, I was looking at the websites of a few churches in the Salt Lake valley.  I saw some very good websites and some very poor ones.  What really shocked me was how many churches had (and still have) no site on the Internet.  So I set out on a little experiment to see how even the smallest church with the smallest budget could get on-line.  I've spent a total of $10 to register SaltyBeliever.com for the year (although I also registered the .org domain too, but that's not necessary).  I set up Google Analytics account to keep an eye on traffic numbers.  I use FeedBurner.com for the RSS feed, podcast help, and e-mail subscription.  The blog is a blogger run site and I use Archive.org to store the few podcasts I've done.  The widgets like the search box are free and simple to use and set up.   In fact, all of the website was free with the exception of registering the domain.  I don't have any server space and I'm not a very web-technical guy.  And yet, the first year seems to have been a good one.  (Churches, if you don't have a website at all, this is a simple way to do at least something!)   

By the Numbers:
Just under 550,000 words were published in the first year of SaltyBeliever.com, comprising a total of 131 posts.  151 photos were uploaded--all free, all obtained and used legally.  40 books of the Bible were quoted or cited at least once, but some much more than that.

Google Analytics reports that from 7,000 unique visitors, SaltyBeliever.com had nearly 9,700 visits, resulting in almost 15,500 total page views (my visits are removed from this tracking).  311 countries are represented among the visitors of the website; but the majority of visitors came from the United States, followed by the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia.  Surprisingly, Utah ranked third in the states with the most visits, behind Texas and Virgina.

The most popular post over the course of the year was Knowing Jesus Through The Old Testament By Christopher J.H. Wright. It seems that many of the posts that saw the highest repeat traffic were from portions of seminary papers, especially the book reviews.  However, the posts that generated the highest single-day traffic were the ones dealing with current events, such as the discussions on Ergun Caner and Glenn Beck.

I received over 100 comments or questions via the Contact Me form, mostly positive but not all. I've also connected with a couple dozen people on Facebook and Twitter specifically through this website.

Heading into Year Two:
I wish I had a clear idea what the second year of this website is going to look like, but the truth is, I don't know.  The site is more academic that I had originally hoped.  That being said, I don't want to make any reductions in content, but I do want to make the material more accessible.  I want to make complicated things easy, not the other way around.  I also want to add more content, more often, and not just seminary work.  I'm thinking about more issues from current events and maybe more apologetic work.  But most importantly, I want to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit in what is posted here and how this site is used.  If I do that, it really won't matter what the second year of SaltyBeliever.com looks like because it will be what it is intended to be.

Thank you for reading!

My God bless you,

Subscribe to the Salty Believer iTunes Podcasts: Video | Audio
(Non iTunes: Video | Audio)
* While there may be some overlap, the content of the Video and Audio Podcasts are not the same. 

Culture's Role in Gospel Communication


Foolish is the evangelist, missionary, or church planter who overlooks or brushes aside the role of culture upon gospel communication. Just as Jesus entered into a specific community and taught his gospel through the context of the culture in which he physically walked, today’s gospel communicator should share the gospel in cultural context. This requires an understanding of the aspects of culture upon a community and the opportunities or obstacles they may present. No two cultures or communities are alike. Therefore, in an attempt to understand culture’s role on gospel communication, this post will examine the question by analyzing one specific culture (and its subcultures).

Often, studies of cross-cultural evangelism address the complex ME-3 issues, that is, evangelism that involves communicating the gospel to an entirely different language and culture.1 However, in our zeal to reach the world, the American church has neglected many nearby American communities. McRaney says, “The church in America is failing to impact the pool of people who do not claim to possess a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”2 Could this failure be due to the poor communication of the gospel within the subtle cultural differences between neighbors? Utah is a prime example. According to the Association of Religious Data Archives, in 2000, only 7.8% of the population of Utah held a Trinitarian belief of the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, that is, the God of the Bible.3 If you include the believe that the Bible is comprised of 66 books, this number drops to 3.2%. This compares to a national average of 44.9% over the same period.4 If Utah were its own nation, the number of Christians5 per capita would rank below China (8.2%),6 and the United Arab Emirates (12.6%).7

Utah is highly populated by Mormons, more appropriately called ‘Latter-day Saints’ (LDS). In 2000, 66.8% were officially members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; and those with similar cultural backgrounds belonging to cults and offshoots of the LDS church (such as the FLDS and other polygamists groups) as well as the non-Christian ex-Mormons were likely counted as “unclaimed” or unchurched.8 Through the community’s history, the LDS church’s doctrines, and development of LDS people in Utah, this specific culture is unlike any other in the United States and offers a good case study for evangelism in a subtle, cross-cultural environment. By dealing with specific examples rather than abstract ideas, one should be able to glean principles of cultural understanding and gospel communication that may be applied to other subtle cultural differences.

Every person on earth exists within a culture and understands the world through a lens tinted or shaped by one particular culture or another. Dyrness defines culture as, “the total pattern of a people’s behavior.”9 In his use of the word ‘total,’ Dyrness leaves no aspect of communication outside of culture’s reach. “Culture,” continues Dyrness, “includes all behavior that is learned and transmitted by the symbols (rites, artifacts, language, etc) of a particular group and that grows out of certain ideas or assumptions that we call a worldview.”10 Rowe offers a detailed definition of culture, suggesting that culture is structured, writing, “Culture is not random but orderly, it occurs in sets of patterns.”11 Rowe further states that culture is social, meaning it happens in groups.12 “The basic aspects of culture,” according to Rowe, “seem invariably to include, in some form, beliefs, values, and behaviors (or customs).”13 And arguing what he feels is most important of culture, Rowe quotes the Willowbank Report’s definition, stating, “culture gives the people group ‘a sense of identity, dignity, security, and continuity.’”14

Culture is not entirely based on geographical area, as is often stereotyped, but adopted as a way of identification within a collection of people. As evangelists, missionaries, and church planters prepare to enter a culture that is drastically different than their own—like Russia, Swaziland, or China for example—they might reasonably focus on the great cultural differences. However, when the gospel communicator is entering an area with a similar culture, potentially a bordering state, the subtlety of cultural differences becomes more apparent. In arguing the role of government in cultural management, Kymlicka suggest that in any given society where freedom of expression is allowed, there is actually a marketplace of cultures. As individuals unconsciously select a subculture, the overarching culture of the community shifts, ebbs, and flows toward what the majority of individuals see as preferable cultural option.15 The Willowbank Report also suggests that more than one culture can exist in a geographic area but warns that rather than a grocery-style marketplace for the selection of culture, subcultures may actually war against one another. The report states, “Culture implies a measure of homogeneity. But if the unit is larger than the clan or small tribe, a culture will include within itself a number of subcultures, and subcultures of subcultures, within which a wide variety of diversity is possible. If the variations go beyond a certain limit, a counterculture will have come into being, and this may prove a destructive process.”16

Finally, Hesselgrave articulates that culture has layers. “At the core is worldview.”17 The closest layer to the core is the layer of values, specifically the value system of the community. “Then comes the institutional layer—education, law, marriage, and so forth,” writes Hesselgrave.18 The outer layer, as Hesselgrave explains, is the observable layer made up of artifacts and behaviors.19 Based on this definition, the core, that is, the worldview forms the curvature of all the other layers. Like an onion, the layers tightly hug the center; they are shaped by the inner most parts. Therefore, if one is seeking to communicate the gospel within the context of culture, one must address the core, the worldview.

Examining Utah, specifically the large LDS community, it is easy to see the outer layer. Sunday morning means the man puts on a white shirt and tie, maybe a suit jacket; his boys mirror his look. The women wear dresses. In the summer, they may walk to church because it is just around the corner. Many avoid the coffee pot at work. During the commute on the bus or train, many LDS faithful use the time to read the Book of Mormon, sometimes the Doctrine in Covenants, rarely the Bible. There are large families and high expectations that all the children will be baptized at age eight and the men will go on a two-year mission for their church when they turn nineteen. The Mormon has duties in the church and those who are considered worthy do regular work in LDS Temples. “Temple Square, the biggest tourist attraction in Salt Lake City,” writes Rowe, “not only serves as the symbolic center of the LDS Church (its equivalent of the Vatican or the worship center in Mecca) but also sits at the center of the city street system.”20 (The streets are number in all four directions according to their distance from the Temple with the Temple itself serving as 0. This patter is replicated in many other Utah cities, only the Stake Center often serves as ground zero.) July 24th is a holiday celebrated with more enthusiasm than the 4th of July. Ice cream is consumed in epic proportions, most boys are boy scouts, and tattoos and piercing are not as vogue as they are in the rest of the country. The local news often reports that Utah tops the charts for the most breast augmentation, prescription drug abuse, and depressed homemakers; but even if these statistics are not true, few Utahans seem to doubt the claims.21

Often, welling-meaning missionaries come to Utah for a short-term mission trip and evangelize to the observable outer layer with little success. But while a gospel communicator can discuss these aspects of life in Utah, gospel communication that addresses these layers does not reach the core of the culture. To get to the core, one must understand the Mormon worldview.

To some, the title of his section may seem almost silly, but to LDS members in and around Utah, there is a clear understanding that the Mormon living in Utah is somehow different than the Mormon living elsewhere. It has nothing to do with religious practice or doctrine. Instead, it is due to culture. Because there is a dominant community of people holding to an extremely similar worldview, the layers are able to grow large without influence from warring subcultures. Essentially, the zeal and expressive nature of the cultural majority is enjoyed more openly than by Utah-Mormons than those distant Mormons who might otherwise not fit as well within the layers of another cultural onion.

The core of the Utah-Mormon culture has to do with the blending of LDS doctrine and LDS history. This hybrid shapes the worldview. To effectively communicate the gospel in the culture of the Utah-Mormon culture, one does not necessarily have to master every tenant of Mormon doctrine or every significant Mormon event of the past two hundred years. One must simply understand the driving force behind the Mormon worldview. However, too often evangelistic materials will attempt to show Mormon doctrine in contrast with the Bible. McKeever and Johnson for example, write, “Many have sought a resource that compares the teaching of Mormon leaders, both past and present, with those of the Bible. We believe this book you hold in your hands [Mormonism 101: Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints] will meet this need.”22 McKeever and Johnson then offer eight pages of LDS history followed by nearly 300 pages of excellent theological comparisons. But regardless of the theological quality, the communication is still lost without an understanding of the culture. The gospel communicator is too often dismissed as “Bible bashing” as Rowe identifies it.23 To summarize Rowe, the Bible bash is the engaging in a comparative theological discussion. However, what a Christian might see as conversation, the Mormon sees as hostile attack. Why?

There are a number of reasons for the Mormon’s uneasiness with gospel communication. First, the in their early history, Mormons endured difficult persecution at the hands of Bible-believing Christians.24 This persecution left a “profound feeling of ‘We are a persecuted people’ in the bones of Latter-day Saints.”25 Consequently, there is still sensitivity in this area. Rowe warns, “Conversations that include any element of questioning by a non-Mormon, disparaging remarks, jokes that slight them—almost always these will be perceived as a form of attack on them for their faith, as just one more persecution, whether intended or not.”26 The second reason for the uneasiness has to do with the Mormon’s understanding of the Bible. While the LDS canon includes the Bible, it is not a trusted document. The 8th statement of the LDS Articles of Faith reads, “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the world of God.”27 In addition, McConkie taught that the present day Christian is likely to be of the “Church of the Devil,” and this church has corrupted the Bible. He writes, “this church took away from the gospel of the Lamb many covenants and many plain and precious parts; that it perverted the right ways of the Lord; that it deleted many teachings from the Bible; that it was ‘the mother of harlots.”28 McConkie draws his support from the Mormon book of First Nephi 13:24-42, a passage contained within the Book of Mormon. So one should be able to see the root of the uneasiness a Mormon feels when a Christian tries to argue against Mormonism with the Bible. This is one example of getting to the core of the culture.

Cutting through the various layers of culture—in order to reach the core—is not often an easy task in Utah. An examination of the doctrine is a useful start, as well as a review of LDS history; but it is not always so easy. A question must be asked: ‘Why?’ and the evangelists, missionary, or church planter must continually ask this question of the Mormon culture, removing layer after layer. At times, the Mormon will not even know the answer.

Utah’s fascination with bees serves as a good example. Beehives emblazon the highway signs. Salt Lake City’s baseball team is named the ‘Bees.’ Brigham Young, the 2nd LDS leader and man who brought the Mormons to Utah named his home the ‘Beehive House’ and the doorknobs of the Salt Lake Temple are shaped like hives. The original name of the territory was ‘Deseret,’ derived from the Book of Mormon (Ether 2:3), meaning, “honey bee.”29 Of the two daily newspapers, the LDS owned one is titled the ‘Deseret News.’ There is a beehive depicted on the state flag. So the observant gospel communicator should ask, “Why?” Simply asking a Utahan will usually yield some kind of answer about Utahans being an industrious people. Rowe observes that Utahans value a solid work ethic. He writes, “LDS folks become from childhood very responsible, entrepreneurial, industrious people. They seize opportunities and do not fear hard work, both in Church life and in the marketplace.”30 At this point, a value of the Utah culture has been identified—a strong work ethic. But a value is not at the core, it only closely wraps around it. The next question then is “Why is this a value of this culture?” Digging a little deeper, two answers surface and they are from the worldview ingredients of LDS history and doctrine. Turning to an LDS teaching guide titled, “Brigham Young: Building the Kingdom by Righteous Works,” which is still in use today, one learns that Young selected they symbol of the bee and the beehive to remind the pioneers and settlers that they would have to work hard in order to survive the harsh conditions. This lesson also asks question about God’s and “our own work,” with the answer being “To bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” 31 And as one starts to understand the LDS religion, one will see that there are many works required in an effort to obtain righteousness. On this doctrine, McConkie writes, “By believing the truths of salvation, repenting of his sins, and being baptized in water and of the Spirit, the seeker after salvation places himself on the strait an narrow path which leads to eternal live. (2 Ne. 31.) Thereafter his progress up the path is achieved by the performance of good works.”32 From an obsession with beehives to insight to a worldview issue, questioning helps remove the more shallow layers of culture to get to the core. With this now in mind, the gospel communicator has a better understanding of one aspect of the Mormon’s worldview. And understanding the cultural aspect at its core will make the communicator far more effective in bring his or her message.

In looking at another example, one can observe that Mormons do not drink coffee, tea, and alcoholic beverages, and they do not smoke. What is observed is behavior, an outer layer aspect of culture. Living in Utah, one will notice a strict regulation of alcoholic beverages and smoking. The grocery stores only sell beer under 3.2% ABV. Higher gravity beer, wine, and spirits must be purchased in state owned and operated liquor stores, which are few. The question is “why?” It could be that as one works though the question, he or she learns that health is a value driven by some aspect of the Mormon worldview. However, health is not the case this time. As it turns out, Doctrine and Covenants 89 prohibits, the use of tobacco and the drinking of hot drinks, wine, and strong drink. The promise of this passage is that one will find wisdom and greater physical health. But there is more behind D & C 89. McConkie outlines that this passage requires LDS members to “abstain from tea, coffee, tobacco, and liquor.”33 He further states, “Abstinence from these four things has been accepted by the Church as a measuring rod to determine in part the personal worthiness of church members. When decisions are made relative to the granting of temple recommends or approving brethren for church positions or ordinations, inquiry is made relative to these four items.”34 A recommend is required to enter the Temple. Temple ceremonies are required for a family to be married and together for eternity—one of the highest and most valuable aspects of Mormonism for its adherents. Being married in the temple and “sealed” to family for all eternity is also a requirement to enter the highest and most sought after level of heaven. In light of this doctrine, it is much easer to see the driving force behind the action of abstinence of coffee, tea, tobacco, and alcohol. (Incidentally, giving a full tithe is also required to obtain a Temple recommend.) Once again, the worldview aspect driving the other aspects of culture has to do with a works based religion. The Mormon is placed on a path but must work to reach salvation (or so he or she believes). In this case, coffee, tea, tobacco, and alcohol in-and-of-themselves are seen as an evil or sin with the ability to bar one from heaven, and therefore these items are heavily regulated with the Utah community.

While only a few specific aspects of the Utah-Mormon culture were examined here, the methodology should be apparent. The steps are to make observations and ask “Why?” The key is to continue to pull back layers until the worldview is reached. Once the worldview is understood, the gospel communicator can share the gospel message within the context of culture and with a clear understanding of the worldview held by the culture.

Once the evangelist, missionary, or church planter has asked the “Why?” question and pealed back the surface layers, it is time to communicate the gospel message to the Utah-Mormon culture. This culture is likely carries subtle differences from which the communicator was sent. What should this look like? While each instance of communication is going to be different depending upon aspects of the worldview, the personalities involved, and the work of the Holy Spirit, only basic guidelines will be offered here.

First, as already indicated, the “Bible bash” is ineffective. The gospel communicator will only run headlong into deeply held convictions shaped by worldview when he or she attempts to share the gospel message with a Utah-Mormon by demonstrating where Mormon doctrine is in disagreement with the Bible. “This problem occurs,” says Rowe, “when we view Mormons as two-dimensional information processors who simply need to have their bad information replaced by our good information.”35 Instead, the evangelist, missionary, and church planter should pray for opportunities to show the truthfulness and reliability of the Bible in positive manor and in consideration of the worldview that shapes the culture’s ideas of the Bible. And when these opportunities surface, the information should be shared to people, with layered culture, not ‘two-dimensional information processors.’

Once the brakes have been put on the typical American approach to evangelizing the Mormon culture, the second step in communicating the gospel in the cultural dominated by Mormonism, is to treat the effort as if one has entered into a cross-culture mission. Elmer’s cross-cultural servanthood model offers an excellent guide. Elmer teaches that first step is openness. “Openness with people of another culture,” writes Elmer, “requires that you are willing to step out of your comfort zone to initiate and sustain relationships in a context of cultural differences.”36 Too often missionaries and church planters come to Utah hoping to change the community but they greatly lack this openness. From openness, according to Elmer, grows acceptance. This is not an acceptance of the culture’s worldview or beliefs about God, but instead that the Mormon feels welcome and safe around the gospel communicator.37 Next comes trust. At some point after acceptance, the Mormon may start to trust the communicator and feel that the communicator actually values him or her as person.38 The next step is learning, and it is here where the evangelist, missionary, and church planter need to continually be asking “why?” It is at this stage that the gospel communicator begins to really peal back the layers to get to the core of the culture. And in doing the hard work of learning what shapes the culture, the communicator will achieve the next step of cross-culture servanthood—understanding. Of understanding Elmer writes, “You can’t understand another person until you have learned from them and, eventually, with them. A learning attitude signals humility and a willingness to identify with the people.”39 No longer will the Utah-Mormon be seen as an information processor with bad information; no longer will the subtleties of the culture seem so subtle. Now, the entire shape of the culture will make sense. Pathways will present themselves to communicate in a manner that is not offensive or abrasive to the culture. Bridges will begin to fall in place so the communicator can address the issues at the core and engage them with the gospel. This kind of gospel communication will actually bring transformation to the outer layers of the culture. And at this point, when an understanding is gained, true Christ-like servanthood will come naturally.

Achieving the first step is fast; it is just a matter of putting a halt to a communication method that actually does more harm to the Utah-Mormon culture than good. Yet, on any day of the week there are men and woman standing around Temple Square with signs and tracts. They shout Scripture and try to tell passersby that their top religious leader is a liar. Nobody stops to listen. Still, busloads of teenagers pour into Salt Lake ready to place DVD movies about the Bible verses the Book of Mormon on front doors, material that usually goes straight into the trash as anti-Mormon material from the “Church of the Devil.” These Christians come to communicate the gospel with good intentions, but they do not understand the second step of this communication; and therefore, they are much less effective in their effort to share the gospel. If they would take the time and do the hard work to understand the culture and it subtle differences, they would be able to share the gospel in a context within the culture, not against it.

For most evangelists, missionaries, and church planters, reaching into the Utah-Mormon culture for Christ means living with and among the people for long periods. It means working and playing along side Mormons. It is about getting to know Mormons and establishing trust and acceptance. It is about taking the time and doing the work to understand the Utah-Mormon culture. And it living among the people as servants, the gospel communicators begin to see just how the culture communicates in meaningful way. Part of the worldview (which has not been addressed in this post) is a strong respect for personal testimony and shared experience. As the cultural layers are pulled back, the communicator begins to see the significant of personal testimony and the ‘Mormonese’ in which it is shared. The gospel communicator begins to grow comfortable with this language just as a missionary in a foreign country does with the non-English language. Over time, the gospel communicator develops a healthy since of need to reach the core of the culture beyond the desire to count the numbers of souls saved, and than he or she prays for opportunities to communicate the message of life-changing hope and Truth deep into the center of the culture.

It is the desire of this author to share the gospel with the Utah-Mormon culture. I have lived in Utah for eleven years and am only now starting to develop the necessary understanding of the core of this culture, its worldview. Acceptance is just beginning to happen. Although Utah is one of the fifty states, and it looks like every other state with its corporate businesses and typical American bustle, just under the surface is a foreign subculture deeply in need of the transformation of gospel of Jesus.

The examination of the Utah-Mormon culture in this post only scratches the surface; entire volumes could and should be written on the topic. However, it is my hope that the methodology of understanding subculture differences was presented in such a way that they may be applied not only in Utah, but also in any other effort to communicating the gospel with people of similar cultures. While this post is not intended to be an exhaustive discussion on the matter, I hope it encourages readers to continue to study the methodology of effective cross-cultural and subcultural evangelism and servanthood. It is also my prayer that God will call more harvesters to Utah, a dry part of the vineyard, not to come for a week and ignorantly shout and the lost, but instead to live and work among them, understand them and be accepted by them, so that the gospel may be communicated to the very heart of the culture, so some may be saved.

Association of Religious Data Archives, “China-Tibet,” http://www.thearda.com/
internationalData/countries/Country_51_2.asp [accessed July 8, 2010].

Association of Religious Data Archives, “United Arab Emirates,” http://www.thearda.com/
internationalData/countries/Country_232_2.asp [accessed July 8, 2010].

Association of Religious Data Archives, “United States: Denominational Groups, 2000,”
http://www.thearda.com/mapsReports/reports/US_2000.asp [accessed July 7, 2010].

Association of Religious Data Archives, “Utah: Denominational Groups, 2000,”
http://www.thearda.com/mapsReports/reports/state/49_2000.asp [accessed July 7, 2010].

The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. Index. Salt Lake City: The Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “Brigham Young: Building the Kingdom by
Righteous Works.” Gospel Library Lessons,
1000004d82620aRCRD [accessed July 8, 2010].

Elmer, Duane. Cross-Cultural Servanthood: Serving the World in Christlike Humility. Downers
Grove, Ill: IVP Books, 2006.

Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Baker reference library. Grand Rapids,
Mich: Baker Academic, 2001.

Hindson, Edward E., and Ergun Mehmet Caner. The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics.
Eugene, Or: Harvest House Publishers, 2008.

Hesselgrave, David J. Planting Churches Cross-Culturally: North America and Beyond. Grand
Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2000.

Kymlicka, Will. Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Introduction. Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2002.

Lausanne Occasional Paper 2. “The Willowbank Report: Consultation on Gospel and Culture.”
Lausanne Committee for World Evangelication. 1978

McKeever, Bill, and Eric Johnson. Mormonism 101: Examining the Religion of the Latter-Day
Saints. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2000.

McConkie, Bruce R. Mormon Doctrine. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966.

McRaney, Will. The Art of Personal Evangelism: Sharing Jesus in a Changing Culture.
Nashville, Tenn: Broadman & Holman, 2003.

Rowe, David L. I [Love] Mormons: A New Way to Share Christ with Latter-Day Saints. Grand
Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2005.

1  David Hesselgrave, Planting Churches Cross-Culturally: North America and Beyond (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2000), 28-29. 
2 Will McRaney, The Art of Personal Evangelism: Sharing Jesus in a Changing Culture (Nashville, Tenn: Broadman & Holman, 2003), 5. 
3 Association of Religious Data Archives, “Utah: Denominational Groups, 2000,” http://www.thearda.com/mapsReports/reports/state/49_2000.asp [accessed July 7, 2010]. 
4 Association of Religious Data Archives, “United States: Denominational Groups, 2000,” http://www.thearda.com/mapsReports/reports/US_2000.asp [accessed July 7, 2010]. 
5 Although the LDS church argues that their faith is “Christian,” for the purposes of this post, the term “Christian” will apply to all faith structures that hold to a Trinitarian view of the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit and believe that Jesus is the exclusive Savior of the world. 
6 Association of Religious Data Archives, “China-Tibet,” http://www.thearda.com/internationalData/countries/Country_51_2.asp [accessed July 8, 2010]. 
7 Association of Religious Data Archives, “United Arab Emirates,” http://www.thearda.com/internationalData/countries/Country_232_2.asp [accessed July 8, 2010]. 
8 Association of Religious Data Archives, “Utah: Denominational Groups, 2000,” http://www.thearda.com/mapsReports/reports/state/49_2000.asp [accessed July 7, 2010]. 
9 Walter Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Baker reference library. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2001), 227. 
10 Elwell, 227. 
11 David Rowe, I [Love] Mormons: A New Way to Share Christ with Latter-Day Saints (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2005), 25. 
12 Rowe, 25. 
13 Rowe, 26. 
14 Rowe, 26. 
15 Will Kymlicka, Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 244-252. 
16 Lausanne Occasional Paper 2. “The Willowbank Report: Consultation on Gospel and Culture,” (Lausanne Committee for World Evangelication, 1978), 4/50. 
17 Hesselgrave, 145. 
18 Hesselgrave, 145. 
19 Hesselgrave, 145. 
20 Rowe, 30-31. 
21 This author’s observations of Utah’s culture come from personal observation living in and around Salt Lake City for eleven years. 
22 Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, Mormonism 101: Examining the Religion of the Latter-Day Saints (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2000), 9. 
23 Rowe, 17-22. 
24 Rowe, 43-47. 
25 Rowe, 44. 
26 Rowe, 44. 
27 The Articles of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, from History of the Church, Vol. 4, pp. 535-541, verse 8, (emphasis added). 
28 Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), 138. 
29 The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, Index (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981), 78. 
30 Rowe, 33. 
31 Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Brigham Young: Building the Kingdom by Righteous Works,” Gospel Library Lessons, http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?hideNav=1&locale=0&sourceId=63eb767978c20110VgnVCM100000176f620a____&vgnextoid=32c41b08f338c010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD [accessed July 8, 2010]. 
32 McConkie, 328. 
33 McConkie, 845. 
34 McConkie, 845. 
35 Rowe, 80. 
36 Duane Elmer, Cross-Cultural Servanthood: Serving the World in Christlike Humility (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Books, 2006), 151. 
37 Elmer, 151. 
38 Elmer, 151. 
39 Elmer, 150-151. 

*This post was, in its entirety or in part, originally written in seminary in partial fulfillment of a M.Div. It may have been redacted or modified for this website.  
** Photo by flickr.com user alh1 is registered under a Creative Commons license. 

42% of Protestants Say Mormons are Christian?

September 24, 2010
LDS friends:  I realize the content below may have an upsetting potential.  Before reading, you might guess that this as an "anti-Mormon" attack of some sort.  If this is the case, or you're already uneasy about the topic, I ask that you please continue reading.  Then, if after you've read this post you feel the same as now, please feel free to e-mail me, call me, or get in touch with me here.  Let's chat.  Come over for dinner; even bring some LDS missionaries if you'd like.  Clearly we have some theological differences, but let's have a friendly conversation about them.   
The Pew Research Center recently released an article titled, "Glenn Beck, Christians and Mormons" that reported that 42% of Protestants say that Mormons--that is, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS)--are Christians.  52% of Catholics agree.  What's interesting is how quickly the argument will center on inclusion in Christianity before any effort is made to agree upon the meaning of the word "Christian."

When a word can mean anything, it means nothing.

In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis argued that the word "Christian" was becoming a meaningless word.  "Now, " wrote Lewis, "if once we allow people to start spiritualising and refining, or as they might say 'deepening', the sense of the word Christian, it too will speedily become a useless word."(1)  He first made this argument in a radio broadcast in 1943; how true his statement remains in 2010.

It doesn't really matter if Mormons are identified as Christian if we can't even determine the meaning of the word today.  Therefore, I believe it might prove beneficial to discuss who is and is not a Christian.  Then, we can see if the LDS theology falls inside our outside the definition.

 The word "Christian" comes from the Greek word, Christianos.  Its first appearance in the biblical narrative is found in Acts 11:26.  Acts 11:25-26 reads: "So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians" (ESV).

Later, Paul was sharing his faith and theology with King Agrippa and Agrippa's response to Paul was, "In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?" (Acts 26:28, ESV).  While this passage does not exactly tell us what a Christian is, it does demonstrate that the term being used in Antioch was used wide enough that Agrippa knew it.

Some say that at the point we read the name Christian in the Bible, it was used by non-Christians as a derogatory term.  Correct or not, Peter not only uses the term, he instructs his readers not to be ashamed of the name if they are suffering as a Christian (1 Peter 4:16).

At this point, I could work through about 1,950 years of Church history and belief, but instead I'll simply leave it at this:  The early church wrote many confessions and creeds to determine what beliefs were required in order to be Christian.  They studied and debated and studied some more.  They discussed and prayed and fasted and discussed the issues some more.  Theologians wrote books.  My LDS friends might try to argue that this all happened after the Apostles and therefore happened in what they call an "apostate" time.  However, this conversation started with Jesus, and we see it get much more serious with the Apostles.

At one point, John approached Jesus and said, "Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us" (Mark 9:38, ESV).  John's concern seems to be that someone outside the Twelve (not hanging around with them and Jesus) was using the name of Jesus.  Jesus responds by saying, "Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us" (Mark 9:38-39, ESV).  It is here that the Mormon is quick to point out that Jesus is part of the name of their church, and also that they invoke the name of Jesus in their religious practices.  This is a fari point; however, we must also remain mindful of Jesus' words in Matthew 7:21-23, which in the ESV translation reads,
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?'And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'"
In Acts 11 and 15, and in Galatians, we read that there was a group of people who felt that in order to be Christian, one had to practice the Jewish covenant rite of circumcision.  An argument was played out by the Apostles.  Was circumcision to be a requirement of Christianity?  What practice is in and what is out?  Who is in and who is out?  What belief is required.  Who are the Christians?  Often Paul has to defend himself as a Christian and Apostle because there we some that didn't see him as a such.

This issue is not new.

These arguments serve to help us understand and define boundaries.  If there is no line, there is no in or out.  The Mormons understand this well because they have 13 Articles of Faith that build boundaries.  Because I do not believe that the Book of Mormon is the word of God (from the 8th Article), I cannot call myself Mormon.  It would be wrong for me to do so.

Therefore, by all of the discussions, arguments, and studies among the Christian Church over the past 2,000 years, below is what is generally understood as minimum requirements for Christianity.  I argue with Church history and say that being unable to accept all of these statements as they are written places a person out of bounds.  At a minimum, can Mormons agree with these boundaries?   Can we even come to agreement on the definition?  (What even further complicates the matter is that between Mormons and traditionally accepted Christians, the words in these boundaries and definitions also need definitions and agreement in order to come to an understanding.) 
1. A Christian must understand that the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit were never created or ever had a beginning, nor will they ever have an end.

2. A Christian must understand that all things other than the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit were created by God (which is the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit), thus mankind has a beginning and a Creator.  
3. A Christian must accept that he or she is a sinner and that God will not permit anyone who has ever sinned (which is all of mankind) to enter into an eternal life in heaven with him apart from the saving work done for us by Jesus Christ. 

4. A Christian must understand that Jesus was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, was crucified in our place (taking on punishment due to all of the sins of the world, across all time), was buried, rose again to physical life three days later, and after 40 days, ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God. 

5. A Christian must understand that in order to have eternal life with Jesus in heaven, the Christian must repent of his or her sins and believe in Jesus Christ as he is written about and revealed in the Bible.

6. A Christian must understand that there is no other way to enter heaven but through repentance and belief in Jesus Christ, because of his absolutely completed and sufficient work. 

7.  A Christian cannot deny that Jesus was and is both fully deity and fully man.

8. A Christian cannot deny the Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, all equal and of the same substance.
I speculate that most Mormons do not agree with some of these statements.  I hope I am wrong, but I'm also guessing they will not even agree that this is the definition of what beliefs are necessary to be called Christian.

Bruce McConkie, a prominent Mormon, wrote of Christianity in his book Mormon Doctrine, saying, "True and acceptable Christianity is found among the saints who have the fullness of the gospel [referring to those who accept the Book of Mormon as the word of God], and a perverted Christianity holds sway among the so-called Christians of apostate Christendom."(2)  McConkie defines Christendom as "That portion of the world in which so-called Christianity prevails [...]. The term also applies to the whole body of supposed Christian believers; as now constituted this body is properly termed apostate Christendom."(3) If Mormons agree with McConkie, who seems to claim that Mormons are the only Christians and all others are not, then Mormons will likely still not be under the tent of traditionally accepted Christianity.

If you would like to discuss any of this in greater detail or if you are interested in learning more about Christ or Christianity, please feel free to contact me.

Related Articles:
"What is Mormon Doctrine?"
"It Doesn't Matter Which God?"
"Are All Christians Believers?"
"Mainstreaming Mormonism"
"An Analysis of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormonism)"

1. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: NY, HarperCollins, 1980), XIV. 
2.  Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, Salt Lake City, UT: Publishers Press, 1993), 132.
3. Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, Salt Lake City, UT: Publishers Press, 1993), 131. 

*Photo by Phillip Ingham is registered under a creative commons license.

What is the Mormon Doctrine?

Recently, Glenn Beck and his Washington DC rally has prompted some talk about Christianity and Mormonism.  Similar discussions surfaced when Mitt Romney ran for the Republican Presidential nomination.  At the same time, there have been conversations among my fellow seminarians about Liberty University's connection to Beck.  (I fully admit, I am not comfortable with Beck.)  New videos have surfaced trying to show viewers that Mormons are normal people, seemingly, just like everybody else--just like Christians.  And LDS members frequently identify themselves as Christian.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) desperately seems to desire inclusion within orthodox Christianity. Some have argued that Christianity and Mormonism are the same or at least, "close enough."  More recently, some think that it shouldn't matter as long as Glenn Beck can manipulate American religion in such a way to conform to his political bent.  Others however, are deeply concerned with Beck's beliefs and actions.  Although Glenn Beck is a essentially a rating-hounding shock-jock, the more meaningful conversations center around the similarities and differences between the Mormon and Christian theologies or doctrines.

What tends to happen with the conversation surrounding Mormonism is a focus on the minor issues.  I confess that I have got mired down in this mess in conversations with Mormon friends and missionaries. But the minor issues are meaningless without first addressing the major matters of the LDS religion and Christian theology.  I suggest that we within (generally accepted) Christianity need to better understand the major tenants of the Mormon doctrine, while Mormons need to understand the major tenants generally required to carry the title, Christian.  I also feel it is important that we attempt to settle on some agreed definitions.  All too often we are using the same words but they hold different meanings.  Only after we address the major doctrines and vocabulary will we be able to get to the heart of the matter.

There is no doubt in my mind that many of us (including me) understand only a caricature of the other's beliefs.  This is not to say that once we get a better understanding of the opposing position Mormons will stop sending missionaries to Christian's homes and Christians will consider Mormons inside the traditionally accepted walls of the orthodox tent; but at least our conversations will be more accurate.  If indeed there are differences that mean some of us are outside salvation, then it is only expected that we would want to share a gospel that brings about salvation.  On the other hand, if we find we share enough that we will all be together in God's Kingdom (and I admit that at the moment, I do not feel this is the case), than we are really just wasting our time arguing over meaninglessness.

Glenn Beck is Pat Robertson?

Few would argue with me when I say Glenn Beck is divisive.  He's a lightning bolt between Conservatives and Liberals, Democrats and Republicans, Republicans and Republicans, Evangelicals, and, as Felicia Sonmez of the Washington Post suggests, Mormons.  It seems that there are many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS, Mormons) saying that Beck does not speak for their organization.  So it would seem that while many Evangelicals take issue with his theology,  so do some Mormons.  How interesting.

I am only speculating, but I wonder if those that take no issue with the theology of Glenn Beck--be it Christian or Mormon--actually don't care because they are more drawn to his politics?

It is interesting to note some of the Mormon statements made in Felicia Sonmez' blog article "Is Glenn Beck's rise good for Mormonism?"  It seems that Glenn Beck is to Mormonism as Pat Robertson is to Christianity.  This could become a tremendous open door for Evangelicals and Mormons to discuss the more significant matters of theology.  It could finally be time that we move away from discussing life-styles and moral behavior and actually get to discussing matters of salvation, the nature and person of Christ, and various other essential factors of the respective faith systems.

*Photo by Luke Martin is registered under a Creative Commons License.