Guest Review: Unveiling Grace by Lynn K. Wilder

[This per-release review by Jared Jenkins originally appeared on 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.

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

What Evangelicals Can Learn From Mormons

By Peculiar Light at en.wikipedia. Later version(s) were uploaded by Gh5046 at en.wikipedia. [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (], from Wikimedia CommonsWe Evangelicals can learn a lot about ourselves by observing those around us.  This is not to say that we simply look at what others are doing and replicate their behavior; but instead, we aught to examine others and evaluate strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats in what we see.  We should be able to look with a critical eye for the positives and negatives and what the outcomes of a particular behavior or belief may be if carried out to its logical conclusion.  And of course we must be able to stand any believe or practice against biblical teaching.  Then, once we have engaged in this examination, we should be able to apply our findings to ourselves.  How do we stack up against the same critical evaluation?

The advantage of starting our observation with others and then bringing ourselves under the same microscope is that this methodology allows us to determine what the standards should be without tainting our study with our own biases and desired outcomes.  Of course we will still have biases and preconceived ideas, but they are often easier to identify when they are not as close to home.    

Jared Jenkins ( has engaged in just such a study, posted under the topical title, "What Evangelicals Can Learn From Mormons." I highly recommend you have a look.  In addition to Jared's written examination, we have recorded a Salty Believer Unscripted series that runs parallel to his posts, for the most part.  I would like to invite you to join us in an unscripted conversation about what Evangelicals Can Learn From Mormons.  And based on the opening paragraphs of this post, it may not be what you think. 
What Evangelicals Can Learn From Mormons
-- What Evangelicals Can Learn From Mormons: Introduction audio
-- What Evangelicals Can Learn From Mormons: Weakness audio
-- What Evangelicals Can Learn From Mormons: Family audio 
-- What Evangelicals Can Learn From Mormons: Missions (Part 1) audio
-- What Evangelicals Can Learn From Mormons: Missions (Part 2) audio
-- What Evangelicals Can Learn From Mormons: The Franchise audio
-- What Evangelicals Can Learn From Mormons: Moralism audio 
If you are LDS and feel we have misrepresented your beliefs or practice, we highly encourage you to contact us and let us know.  We are happy to chat with you and would like to be as fair as we are able.  You can contact me here.

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*Photo by Peculiar Light is registered under a Creative Commons license and used by permission.

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!  

Good Friday: Oh, The Suffering Servant!

Good Friday.  The day Christians all over the world celebrate the crucifixion of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  "But why should this be a celebration?" many may ask; "It sounds like an awful and horrific slaughter."  They're right, it was a slaughter--the final, sufficient, and perfect sacrifice to reunite God with his sinful creation that could only be achieved by Jesus.  This we celebrate; however, this is not the totality of our remembrance, gratitude, and celebration.  For if we only had Friday, today would be a mournful funeral-like day of silence. But we have Sunday!  On Sunday, Easter, we will celebrate Jesus' victory over death as he walked out of the tomb, alive!  He is the first of the resurrection that we hope and long for.

Nearly 700 years before Jesus went to the cross, a prophet named Isaiah wrote of this event.  He declared that the Messiah would bring victory over the oppression of death.  The Messiah, standing as the perfect and final passover lamb, was to be a suffering servant.  His book proclaimed something amazing that the world had never seen before nor would ever see again.  Jesus, as the Gospels proclaim, is the Messiah, the Savior that Isaiah was longing for and the fulfillment of the claims made by his book.  

Only hours before going to the cross, Jesus provided his closest disciples with a picture of servanthood.  As they were arguing over who was the greatest among them, Jesus shed his garments and dawned the attire of a lowly servant.  Taking a bowl of water, he then shocked his disciples by washing their dirty feet.  They were flabbergasted!  Peter, initially would have no part of it.  It seems that none of them could bare the thought that Jesus, the King of Kings and Creator of the Universe, would do such a thing.  We still react the exact same way today.

Nearly 2,000 years after Jesus went to the cross, we find Christians engaging in foot-washing services.  They do this in a symbolic effort to understand and demonstrate servanthood and there's really nothing wrong with it.  But if we are to really see this in its proper context we should have house cleaning services where we put on a maid's apron and clean people's homes.  Or maybe we should pick up trash along the highways.  Or make fast-food french fries.  Or pump out overflowing porta-toilets after the state fair.  Who has ever seen a pastor cleaning the hospital bedpan of one of his flock?  Too often, these are the servant jobs we choose not to see. 

Take for example a common experience for many Americans--the office trash can.  We are more than content to believe that our trash magically disappears rather than thinking that a person comes in at night and empties our trash can.  We are fine assuming that once an item has made it into the can, we need not think of it or the many servants who will deal with it again.  Therefore, we are okay filling our garbage cans with half full coffee cups and sodas which drip everywhere when the liner is emptied.  Or we clean out our file cabinets and book shelves, leaving 60 or more pounds of paper in the can which the janitorial servant can hardly lift as she watches the liner rip apart.  Maybe we clean out the break room, filling the 50 gallon can to the brim with outdated mustard and canned goods and two-week old fish tacos and who knows what else, only to create an immovable block of rotten, smelly food and nastiness.  How about stacking all the outdated phone books twice as high as the can itself?  Have you ever tossed something into a liner-less bathroom trash bin that you knew should have had a liner?   Did you give any thought to the guy who would have to pick all of your trash out by hand before he could resupply the missing liner?

If Jesus were to show up and pump out your septic tank, or bus your table, or drive your cab, you (and I), like the disciples having their feet washed, would be flabbergasted.  Yet, Jesus did so much more than these, and his great service required humility beyond words.  Ironically, in his perfect and humble servanthood, he did something we are totally incapable of doing for ourselves--Jesus bore the sins of our transgressions. 

Jesus, the ultimate servant, said that to have salvation we must repent and believe.  He alone dealt with our sin and he did it on the cross.  He served us and yet it seems that too often we don't think about his service with the gratitude that it truly demands--gratitude that goes far beyond words, gratitude that calls us to completely surrender our own lives to him.  This gratitude should compel us to worship the King and Creator who serves his people!

When we fail to embrace Christ's work on the cross for what is it, we go one of three incorrect directions.  First, there are people who simply reject the servant-Jesus all together.  That is, they either reject that Jesus is who he claimed to be or they refuse to see that he is the perfect example of servanthood.  And when they miss the reality that Jesus humbled himself as a servant, they fail to operate in the way that Christ calls his servants.  They become finger-pointers and self-righteous zealots.  The second direction some people go is to the false elevation of service and Jesus' servanthood.  They will either mistakenly see Christ-like service as a way to salvation instead of an act out of the outpouring Christ's life in us, or they will argue that the Christian need not serve his neighbor at all because Jesus is only a servant and in the name of grace we can demand his services.  So they make service their god or they neglect it all together.  And finally, there are those who will willingly alter their view of Jesus' service on the cross in an effort to hide what they view as shameful or embarrassing--their savior humbling himself even unto death.  For example, one twisted view is to argue that the atonement for sin was complete in the Garden of Gethsemane.  The cross meant very little if anything, which greatly overlooks what the Bible has to say about it.  And in altering their view, the cross and Jesus' sacrifice upon it becomes a symbol that offends them rather than compelling them.  They refuse to see it for what it is.  It is like the son who lies to his friends about what his mother does for a living because she is a housekeeper and he is embarrassed.  The question however, is how does this boy view the roof over his head, his snack food, and his video games--all provided by the very thing that embarrasses him? 

So I would like to encourage you this Good Friday to read the Gospel accounts of Christ's crucifixion.  Think about the Suffering Servant.  Dig deep to find words that reflect your gratitude, if you can.  Attend a Good Friday service and worship Jesus with other Christians.  Pray.  Celebrate Jesus.  Honor Jesus.  Be grateful.  Praise your Savior! 

Then on Easter Sunday, celebrate that death was not the end.  No, not at all.  Jesus holds the keys of death so death no longer has a hold on those who belong to Christ Jesus! 

*The painting, "Mary Magdalene weeping" by Pethrus is used by permission and is licensed under a Creative Commons License.  

Mission Field: Utah

After a trip to New Mexico, I've been reflecting on what it is to be a Christian in Utah.  I've captured some of these thoughts about missionary work and church planting in this short cell-phone video:

As I've already stated, the above video was made on my cell phone. It was posted via free services, and embedded on this website. It was created by a production team of one.  (I held the camera, shot the video, wrote the content as I was shooting, and edited the footage.)  Most churches in Utah don't have amazing resources to make videos like churches in other parts of the country.  And if we are to be really honest, there are some church video production teams that have much bigger budgets than the total annual budgets of most churches in Salt Lake.  However, that shouldn't stop us in Utah from trying to reach our communities, to include those who first seek us out on-line. 

I bring this up because I keep hearing about one or two week mission trips to exotic, far-off lands.  There is nothing wrong with these missions if the intentions are rooted in the right place.  I wonder, however, how many of those people would be excited to come on a mission trip to Utah?  I'm curious how many churches would be thrilled to support a church plant in Salt Lake, Provo, or Logan.  How many churches are willing to fund a college campus missionary or church planting pastor?  How many big churches would be willing to give just 1 or 2% of their budgets to support the harvesters in the much dryer parts of the vineyard?  Even if it is Utah. . . .

Not too long ago, I was blessed with the opportunity to take lunches to a bunch of kids from California, New Mexico, and elsewhere who came for World Changers.  They came to put roofs on houses and care for the less fortunate in my town.  They came to be missionaries to Utah.  They came to help us out here.  And while it wasn't sexy or exotic, it was ministry.  They prayed with families and we joined them.  They were the hands and feet of Jesus here, for all the right reasons.

Utah is a mission field.  While Utah has a very high rate of people who regularly attend a religious service, only 3.3% of them attend one that is Christian, according to ARDA. (By Christian, I mean those who hold to a trinitarian view of the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit; believe that salvation is by grace alone, and confirm that the 66 books of the Bible are the Word of God and the only source of scriptural divine authority.)  Compare that to Texas at 32.2% or Alabama at 50.4%.  The national average is 23.5%.  Utah County, which includes the city of Provo records only 0.82% Christians and there are three counties in Utah that are so low they are statistically reported at 0%.  If Utah were its own nation, the number of Christians per capita would rank below China (8.2%), and the United Arab Emirates (12.6%).

Therefore, it is my hope that churches will recognize Utah as a mission field.  Nobody has to eat bugs, there is a great airport, and there's hardly any language barrier.  The cost to come to Utah is significantly less expensive than flying overseas and there's no passport required.  Send your missionaries and church planters.  Send resources and support.  And please, be praying for Utah.

This video and others like it are available in the Resources section of this website. Please check it out regularly as more content will be added often.

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* While there may be some overlap, the content of the Video and Audio Podcasts are not the same. 

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.

Into Hildale-Colorado City: Reaching Unreached People Groups

Depicted in the film, Peace Child, Don and Carol Richardson ventured deep into the jungles of New Guinea to share the gospel with a small cannibalistic tribe that placed treachery as its highest value.1 The year was 1962 and few people could have imagined the success that the Richardson’s would experience. Seminary and Bible college students viewing this film today in comfortable classrooms, nestled safely in American communities, probably see missions of this caliber as only available to those who wish to canoe up piranha-filled rivers to visit tribal people who speak an unknown language, where they will have to eat insects, risk malaria, and translate the New Testament. These students do not likely imagine that pockets of unreached people groups exist in America; but the reality is they do. One such group is the Fundamental Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS), a polygamist community situated on the Utah-Arizona border. On the Utah side is the smaller community of Hildale; its larger counterpart is Colorado City, Arizona. This totalitarian community—recently famed by the media’s coverage if its leader’s legal troubles, Warren Jeffs—is a community basically void of any Christians. Hildale/Colorado City is essentially a community of polygamists and nothing else. It is an unreached people group within the United States.

Few missionary efforts to reach an unreached people group could be done with so little time and travel expenses as a mission to Hildale/Colorado City. Certainly reaching and evangelizing to a group such as the polygamists is no less important than the Richardson’s efforts in the jungle, but this mission comes without a language barrier, bugs, or cannibalism. There are nearby Christian churches in neighboring towns, likely ready to offer support. And there happens to be a small group of former polygamists that could serve as an access point in understanding the theology and culture, even provide a bridge to opportunities. In what follows, this post will offer a background of the Hildale/Colorado Community, a brief survey of the mission work or lack there of already being done, and a proposal for a mission to this American unreached people group.

 Located on in Washington County along the southern border of Utah, Hildale is the smaller northern portion of the Hildale/Colorado City community. The 2000 Census reports that Hildale’s population was 1,895 people. It is a small town, covering only 2.9 square miles.2 Considering that in 1970, the population was reported at only 480 people, this town has experienced a consistent growth with each new census.3 Just over the Arizona border—which cuts through the northern third of the community—is Colorado City. Originally named Short Creek, the town remained a small cattle rancher gathering, until approximately 1930 when “a group of religious fundamentalists came from Utah seeking refuge and played a major part in pioneering the community to the thriving little city that it is today.”4 They renamed the town Colorado City, and in 2008, the Arizona Department of Commerce and the US Census Bureau listed its population at 4,042. Krakauer however, argues that this joint Utah-Arizona community has nearly 9,000 inhabitants, and “all but a handful of the town’s residents are Mormon Fundamentalists.”5 At least three Mormon Fundamentalist or polygamist sects call Hildale/Colorado City home according to Krakauer; one of them being the world’s largest and most well known sects, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, also know as the United Effort Plan or simply FLDS.6 “They live in this patch of desert” Krakauer writes, “in the hope of being left alone to follow the sacred principle of plural marriage without interference from government authorities or the LDS Church.”7 

The Primer, a guidebook by the Attorneys General of Utah and Arizona, written for those working with Fundamentalist Mormon families states, “there are approximately 37,000 people (residing primarily in the Rocky Mountain region) who consider themselves to be Fundamentalist Mormons. This means they adhere to the religious doctrines of early Mormonism which include polygamy or ‘plural marriage’, sometimes called ‘The Principle’.”8 As McConkie explains, “In the early days of this dispensation, as part of the promised restitution of all things, the Lord revealed the principle of plural marriage to the Prophet [Joseph Smith]. Later the Prophet and leading brethren were commanded to enter into enter into the practice, which they did in all virtue and purity of heart despite the consequent animosity and prejudices of worldly people.”9 Brigham Young, the next LDS prophet, continued teaching the ordinance of plural marriage, which was openly practiced among Mormons in Utah until 1890 despite outside pressure. McConkie writes, “At that time conditions were such that the Lord by revelation withdrew the command to continue the practice, and President Wilford Woodruff issued the Manifesto directing that it cease.”10 But this did not end the practice of plural marriage among Mormons. Krakauer argues, “For the next two decades members of the Mormon First Presidency privately advised Saints that polygamy should be continued, albeit discreetly, and top leaders of the church secretly preformed numerous plural marriages.”11 In 1910—after the Salt Lake Tribune cast light on the underground practice, and under tremendous pressure, the LDS Church finally ended plural marriage among its members. However, “a significant number of dedicated Saints,” writes Krakaur, “were convinced that Wilford Woodruff had been grievously mistaken when he’d issued the Manifesto, and that heeding it ran counter to the religion’s most sacred principles.”12 Holding to the prophecy of Joseph Smith, this group of entrenched Mormons eventually came to proudly call themselves Mormon Fundamentalists. With the exception of plural marriage, the Fundamentalists initially shared in the faith and practice of the mainline LDS; but over time, shifts in theology and practice, along with splinters in leadership birthed not only many different sects of Fundamentalists Mormons, it also caused a divergence from the mainline Mormon religion.

Today, Fundamental Mormon residents of Hildale/Colorado City are highly shaped by the direction and teaching of their prophet-leaders and the actions of the outside world beyond their city lines. It is probably not easy for the residents to forget 100 police officers raiding Hildale/Colorado City, arresting the men and bussing frightened women and children to southern Arizona, even if it was 1953. And although not in the same community, recent raids in Texas have likely stirred the memories of those living in Hildale/Colorado City. “These events have resulted in deep scars among Fundamentalist Mormons” states The Primer, “and helped to foster a fear of government agencies and a distrust of ‘outsiders’.”13 There is a high likelihood of mistrust of anything with the appearance of a government agency and the polygamist group tends to prefer “non-traditional therapies, including herbs, reflexology, massage, homeopathy, naturopathy, spiritual healing and lay midwifery.”14

The influence of religious control might be shocking to many Americans. Most of the land is owned by a trust called the United Effort Plan, which until recently, was ran by Warren Jeffs and five other leaders of the FLDS organization. A strong influence over the local government agencies also tends to keep the community homogenized. The Primer states, 
The community values obedience to leaders. For many years, church members have occupied roles in most phases of civil government in the twin towns. This has led to some criticism that opposing voices have little opportunity for influence. It has been alleged that the FLDS Church controls the police force, city council, city government, and elected officials.15

The grip of church leadership also holds strong control over the community’s ability to receive outside information. Members of the FLDS, at least in Hildale/Colorado City “are forbidden to watch television or read magazines or newspapers.”16 The Primer continues, stating,
Those who have left the community have reported that popular music, radios and television are considered “worldly” and are thus inappropriate and forbidden in this community. Children are usually home-schooled or attend a church school until junior high, after which time they are assigned “work missions” or they get married. Former members state that they did not receive sex education, they were taught the Holocaust never occurred and that the government fabricated the story of man’s landing on the moon.17

Few members of the FLDS leave Hildale/Colorado City voluntarily; and if they do, family and friends are forbidden from communicating with them, they often lose their land, and are excommunicated from their church.18 “Former members say that leaving is seen as a terrible sin,” reports The Primer, “and may incur the most severe punishment and divine condemnation.”19 Wives may even be reassigned to other men in the community.20 Disagreements with leadership or leaving the dominant religion may result evection from the community. And for whatever reason, the community has forced hundreds of boys and girls between the ages of 13 and 17 (dubbed “The Lost Boys”) to leave Hildale/Colorado City without any support.21

Women dress with a distinct appearance, very modest, covered from neck to toe. Their hair is kept long, but styled in such a way that it is not free flowing. Long pants and collared long sleeve shirts are typical of the men.22 Jewelry is unthinkable. Clothing is about function, not fashion, but then, there is little reason to create an impression with apparel. “Dating or courting are forbidden” and the women tend to marry very young—often to older men—and children bearing begins immediately.23 Author Elissa Wall paints a chilling picture in her book, Stolen Innocence, narrating how she was forced to marry her 19-year-old first cousin at age 14.24

Fundamentalist Mormons may use Christian terminology but they have altered the definitions. They are not, by all standards of doctrinal orthodoxy, Christian. Those living in Hildale/Colorado City are not only geographically isolated in the middle of the desert, they are imprisoned by their own religious culture. Converting to Christianity may likely result in a complete separation from family and friends, termination of employment, removal of all property, and potentially banishment from the city. And without much of an education and a mysterious upbringing void of social norms like the Internet, television, and magazines, leaving the city is likely a frightening proposition. For those who have never lived outside Hildale/Colorado City, there is a good possibility of never having heard the gospel. This is a mission field no less significant than Don and Carol Richardson’s jungles of New Guinea.

While there is a small number of secular organizations publicly reaching out to the people of Hildale/Colorado City, it is difficult to determine what the missional work of the Christian Church might be. Because of the reluctance to trust outsiders, and because the state of Utah is already a population grossly short of Christians25 (making the entire state a potential mission field), the Christian mission efforts to evangelize Hildale/Colorado City are few and generally kept out of the public awareness.

Presently, there are no local and openly public Christian churches located in Hildale/Colorado City. Being substantially removed from any other Arizona cities, the closest reasonable churches are located 25 miles north in Hurricane, Utah; but even then, there are a couple small Christian churches within the neighboring community—First Southern Baptist and Northbridge Chapel. St. Paul Catholic Center is also located in Hurricane. Approximately ten miles to the north of Hurricane (which is a total of about 35 miles from Hildale/Colorado City), is La Verkin, home to a single Christian church called Mountain View Bible Church. Ten miles to the southwest of Hurricane is St. George, the largest city in Washington County. There are just under a dozen or so Christian churches located in St. George, which includes the Catholic assemblies.

Examining Washington County—of which most of its population resides in St. George—the Association of Religious Data Archives reports that in 2000, only about 2.4% of the population were either evangelical or mainline Christians.26 This number is nearly half that of the entire state of Utah (which is only 4.3%), both being substantially lower than the national figure of 46.7%.27 Because Utah has such a low number of mainline and evangelical Christians within its boards, the churches that are working to evangelize their communities are already facing a large mission field on limited resources. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that the few Christians living in St. George and Hurricane are working to reach their immediate neighboring cities and have little time to venture into the neighboring, untrusting community of Hildale/Colorado City. This is not to say, however, that there is no Christian mission work targeted at Hildale/Colorado City.

Various secular cooperative groups such as Safety Net and Tapestry Against Polygamy are working to eliminate the atrocities that can arise in polygamist families, but these groups do not generally focus on theology or spiritual matters. Additionally, many Christian churches are working with organizations such as Holding out Help, which provides housing for women and children that flee polygamy. And some churches have even developed ministries targeted specially to Fundamentalist Mormons living throughout Utah. One such ministry, A Shield and Refuge, produces a local television show that seeks to answers the questions of polygamists. Main Street Church of Brigham City supports it. Other ministries work to generate awareness about Mormonism and Fundamental Mormonism and occasionally conduct evangelism efforts directed at these groups. These ministries include Standing Together, Mormon Research Ministries, and Utah Lighthouse Ministries. But secular or not, this author is aware of no recent Christian organizations to have directed efforts into the geographic area and people group of Hildale/Colorado City.

The overarching purpose of any mission strategy should be the fulfillment of Jesus’ command commonly known as the Great Commission. Jesus told his disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”28 Mark’s writing of this commission might be more encouraging to missionaries headed to Hildale/Colorado City. It simply reads, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.”29 Therefore, a strategy must be developed in order that the gospel is proclaimed to the people of Hildale/Colorado City.

While the purpose of evangelism into any community is to share and proclaim the saving gospel of Jesus, some special consideration is necessary for Hildale/Colorado City. The community is not only an enclave of Fundamentalist Mormons, it is a totalitarian city with a specific design to exclude and persecute those not of the same faith as well as those no longer submitting to the authority of the FLDS. As The Primer indicates, those leaving the faith may face immediate needs and challenges to include “no means of transportation, no income (no food, clothing or household goods), no housing arrangements (in some cases for numerous children), no education arrangements, incomplete birth or Social Security records, no family or friends for support, an uncooperative or combative relationship with an ex-partner, legal custody conflicts, fear of reprisals, no knowledge of how to seek social services assistance, and ostracism from the former faith or congregation.”30 Therefore, any Christian effort in Hildale/Colorado City must also be prepared to help overcome these difficulties. That may be in the form of direct help or guiding the individual or family to other agencies that may be of assistance in specific trouble areas.

Being willing to go into the Hildale/Colorado City community and realizing the magnitude of need that may arise upon conversion, the first and most important step is prayer. “In prayer” writes Grudem, “God allows us as creatures to be involved in activities that are eternally important. When we pray, the work of the kingdom is advanced. In this way, prayer gives us opportunity to be involved in a significant way in the word of the kingdom an this gives expression to our greatness as creatures made in God’s image.”31 An example of the early Church praying before mission work is found in Acts 13:1-3. Here, the Holy Spirit set apart Barnabas and Saul for missionary work and then the disciples still prayed some more before sending them. And not only will prayer among those venturing into Hildale/Colorado City be important, it will be necessary that the missionaries have a support network regularly entering into prayer for the community and the missionary work.

The next step of the mission strategy is investigation and reconnoiter. In order to get an understanding of the area, it will be important for the missionary or missionaries32 to journey to Hildale/Colorado City for short mission trip simply to look around and get a “feel” for the community. There are no lodging options so the missionaries will need to find a hotel in Hurricane or St. George. It may be beneficial to visit with the local churches of Hurricane and St. George to find out if they are engaged in any missionary work in Hildale/Colorado City, and if not, determine what kind of support they may be able to offer, if any. Then as much time as possible should be spent in Hildale/Colorado City. Meals should be eaten in the few restaurants such as Mary Wives, the lone sit-down restaurant on the Hildale side of the border, and at The Border Store, the highway gas station. If possible, purchases should be made at the single grocery in town. A visit to the city park might also be in order. If asked, missionaries should be honest about the reason for their visit, saying, “We are followers of Jesus Christ and have been praying for your community. We wanted to come here to see if we might be able to serve you in some way, pray for you, and share the love of Jesus Christ with you.” Missionaries should be prepared for any reaction. In addition, the missionaries should use this time to ask if there is anything they might pray for the person.  Also, the missionaries should try to make time to pray for the Holy Spirit’s work in the city, and they should engage in some prayer walking. While this trip is primarily for the missionaries, they should also have material to leave with residents if the opportunity arises.  However, this material should not be argumentative-style tracts. 

Following this initial trip, the missionaries should continue to pray about this mission. They should also use any preparation time to read and learn as much history of the FLDS and their theology as possible. Materials that can be left for people in the community should be selected, such as Bibles and other helpful guides in understanding the gospel. These materials should be small enough that the curious polygamists can easily hide them and prevent any unwanted trouble. Support from churches and fellow believers should be well established so the missionaries are able to afford food and housing for a long-term mission. Housing should be secured in Hurricane or St. George until the missionaries have established enough acceptance to be granted housing in Hildale/Colorado City. Likely, the missionaries will never be accepted as part of the community. And the missionaries should have transportation reliable enough to travel back and forth between Hurricane and Hildale/Colorado City.

Before starting a long-term mission, the missionaries and supporting churches should determine if they know any former polygamists who have converted to Christianity but may still have family members living in Hildale/Colorado City. If so (and if the former polygamists are willing), they should meet with the missionaries to share their backgrounds, conversion stories, present situation, magnitude of Christ’s influence in their lives, and anything else they may wish to share with their family still entrenched in Mormon Fundamentalism. The missionaries should ask the former polygamists to commit to regular prayer for the FLDS community, family members, the missionaries, and the mission efforts. The former polygamists should also be encouraged to send e-mails, letters, and photos to the missionaries. Additionally, a system should be instituted so that in the event that the Holy Spirit creates opportunities, the missionaries can act as an underground communication vehicle between disconnected family members willing to break the command of no communication. (Hopefully, this small rebellion directed at learning about a loved one could prove to be a critical relationship opportunity for the missionaries.) It might also be helpful for the missionaries to have a small digital camera so they may take photos to send back to the former polygamist.

Finally, the missionaries should familiarize themselves with the various programs that offer assistance to fleeing polygamists. They should introduce themselves and make a small list of contact numbers and information they can give out if necessary.

Once the missionaries have their support in place, it is time to move to Hurricane. While the option of finding employment is an easy possibility in Hurricane or St. George, they should refrain from working unless they can find employment in Hildale/Colorado City; and even then, employment should only be seen as a way to get close to people in the mission field. Regular routines of life should be established. They should try to eat every meal in the few public places, becoming “regulars” at every place possible. In doing so, they should not only remain accessible, they should be intentional about initiating natural conversation with the other patrons and staff. Asking about the specials or what the waiter likes best could be good starter questions. The missionaries should also determine if one of these locations might be appropriate to engage in a short Bible study together. Eventually as the missionaries develop routines, they will understand those of the staff and community and potentially have the opportunity to notice when something has changed in the routines of others. This opens the door for personal questions, such as “I missed you on Wednesday; were you on vacation or out sick, or was it something else? It’s not the same around here without you.” Missionaries should also attend events that are open to the public such as town meetings. And they should start a regular routine of prayer walking.

Another possibility (as determined by the missionaries) might be to turn back to open-air style preaching from time to time. In the early years of American history when entertainment was sparse, people attended tent meetings for something to do. This may be a possibility, but not at the cost of other missional efforts in the community. If a missionary is musically gifted, this kind of entertainment might also be tried. But again, this is only after the missionaries have been in the community long enough to determine how effective it may be and whether or not it is appropriate.

It is possible that the Holy Spirit will act quickly and results could be surprising; however, it is likely that missionaries will see little success and few open opportunities for a long time, potentially even years. The significant key however, is sticking with the mission over a great duration. Therefore, the missionaries should establish routines and rhythms of work and rest that will prevent discouragement and burnout. This should include daily Bible reading and study as well as ample prayer throughout the day. They should seek opportunities to worship God.

As missionaries are able to establish relationships and proclaim the gospel, hope should be held that entire families are saved and wish to remain in the community rather than flee. Should this occur, an effort to set up worship gatherings and services with the believers must take place. On the other hand, should converts desire to leave the community, the missionaries should be ready to connect the new believers with any services they may need and a good Christian community wherever they my desire to go.

No piranhas can be found on Highway 59 between Hurricane and Hildale/Colorado City. The FLDS are not cannibals. Everybody involved speaks English. And the mission field is in the United States. But as Bible college and seminary graduates are getting fired up about gallivanting into tropical rainforests to take the gospel to unreached people groups, they should not overlook Hildale/Colorado City. Sure, the residents might frequently use the name of Jesus, but they do not know him and have never heard his gospel, the real gospel of the Bible. There are potentially 8,000 to 9,000 unreached people only 5 hours away from Salt Lake City, only 3 hours from Las Vegas, and under 6 from Phoenix. There is no language barrier. Nobody eats bugs. And still, this people group is waiting to hear the gospel, waiting to meet Jesus. It is the hope and prayer of this author that the unreached people group of Hildale/Colorado City are no longer unreached, but reached, and gloriously praising the Lord, Jesus Christ.

Association of Religious Data Archives. “County Membership Report: Washington County, Utah.” (accessed October 13, 2010).

Association of Religious Data Archives. “State Membership Report: Utah.” (accessed October 13, 2010).

Association of Religious Data Archives. “U.S. Membership Report.” (accessed October 13, 2010). “Colorado City.” A “Community Profile” listed under “Community Profile Index.” (accessed October 11, 2010).

Krakauer, Jon. Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith. New York: Anchor Books, 2004.

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

Multnomah University. Peace Child, DVD. Directed by Rolf Forsberg. Worshester, PA: Vision Video, 1972

Offices of the Utah and Arizona Attorneys General. The Primer: A Guidebook for Law Enforcement and Human Services Agencies who offer Assistance to Fundamentalist Mormon Families. Updated August 2009. “Census 2000: 235 Utah Cities Ranked by Land Area and Population Density” under “Documents.” (accessed October 11, 2010). “Office of the Attorney General: Mark Shurtleff.” “The ‘Lost Boys’ Law” under “Press Releases.” (accessed October 12, 2010). “Utah Municipalities / Census Designated Places” under “Documents.” (accessed October 11, 2010).

1.  Multnomah University, Peace Child, DVD, Directed by Rolf Forsberg (Worcester, PA: Vision Video, 1972).
2., “Census 2000: 235 Utah Cities Ranked by Land Area and Population Density” under “Documents,” (accessed October 11, 2010), 2.
3., “Utah Municipalities / Census Designated Places” under “Documents,” (accessed October 11, 2010), 5.
4., “Colorado City,” a “Community Profile” under “Community Profile Index,” (accessed October 11, 2010).
5. Jon Krakauer, Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith (New York: Anchor Books, 2004), 18.
6.  Krakauer, 18.
7. Krakuaer, 18.
8. Offices of the Utah and Arizona Attorneys General, The Primer: A Guidebook for Law Enforcement and Human Services Agencies who offer Assistance to Fundamentalist Mormon Families, Updated August 2009,, 7.
9. Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine (Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1966), 578.
10. McConkie, 578.
11. Krakauer, 255.
12. Krakauer, 255.
13 The Primer, 8.
14. The Primer, 6.
15. The Primer, 18.
16. Krakauer, 11.
17. The Primer, 19.
18 The Primer, 18.
19. The Primer, 18.
20. The Primer, 18.
21., “Office of the Attorney General: Mark Shurtleff,” “The ‘Lost Boys’ Law” under “Press Releases,” (accessed October 12, 2010).
22. The Primer, 19.
23. The Primer, 19.
24. Elissa Wall, and Lisa Beth Pulitzer, Stolen Innocence: My Story of Growing Up in a Polygamous Sect, Becoming a Teenage Bride, and Breaking Free of Warren Jeffs (New York, NY: William Morrow, 2008).
25. When members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are excluded from the definition of Christian.
26. Association of Religious Data Archives, “County Membership Report: Washington County, Utah,” (accessed October 13, 2010).
27. Association of Religious Data Archives, “State Membership Report: Utah,” (accessed October 13, 2010), and Association of Religious Data Archives, “U.S. Membership Report,” (accessed October 13, 2010).
28. Matthew 28:19-20, ESV.
29. Mark 16:15, ESV.
30. The Primer, 5.
31. Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 377.
32. No indication of how many missionaries should go will be given in this paper. It should remain in the hands of those willing and able as well as those sent by the Holy Spirit. While this author believes there should be no less than two, it will be assumed that this strategy is for multiple missionaries.

* Photo is registered under a creative commons license.
** 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. 

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,”
internationalData/countries/Country_51_2.asp [accessed July 8, 2010].

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

Association of Religious Data Archives, “United States: Denominational Groups, 2000,” [accessed July 7, 2010].

Association of Religious Data Archives, “Utah: Denominational Groups, 2000,” [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,” [accessed July 7, 2010]. 
4 Association of Religious Data Archives, “United States: Denominational Groups, 2000,” [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,” [accessed July 8, 2010]. 
7 Association of Religious Data Archives, “United Arab Emirates,” [accessed July 8, 2010]. 
8 Association of Religious Data Archives, “Utah: Denominational Groups, 2000,” [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, [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 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.

Are All Christians Believers?

It seems that we too often associate the term "Christian" with one who believes that Jesus was fully God and fully man, was executed on a cross, taking the punishment for our sin as our substitute, who rose again to life on the third day and ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God.  We think a Christian believes that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

But today, this definition is not necessarily the meaning of "Christian" any more than the definition of "student" is someone who willing desires to learn and grow in knowledge through study and discipline.  How many students can you think of that went (or are presently going) to school only to party all night and miss classes all day?  How many students like being in college for the social aspects.  How many Christians do you know that identify with Christianity as a social club, but either don't believe that Jesus is who he claimed he was, or  don't understand the gospel enough to make a decision either way?  And what of the groups that insist in calling themselves Christian but profess doctrine that is clearly not inline with the Bible, like the LDS?  Or how about those "Christians" that show little or no life evidence of faith?  You may know someone like this.  Or what about a "Christian" church like the Westboro Baptist Church?

When I think about this, John 6:47-66 comes to mind.  In this passage, Jesus explains that he is the bread of life.  Using graphic symbolism, Jesus teaches that those who eat his flesh and drink his blood will have eternal life.  Misunderstanding, many of the disciples question this teaching, really struggling with Jesus' instruction.  And John 6:66 says, "After this, many disciples turned back and no longer walked with him" (ESV).  Here Jesus had many followers hanging on his every word.  He had just fed thousands.  Yet an earlier passage in chapter 6 tells us that they were only in it for the miracles.  They wanted to see amazing things or be healed.  Some were just hanging around for the entertainment.   So it is with some "Christians" today.

It could be that there are some "Christians" sitting next to you in church that are not believers in Christ.  Many people on Facebook claim "Christian" as their faith but clearly don't believe the doctrines of Christ.  Many wear crosses but do not know the God-man who died on one for them.  And there are those that see Christianity as a moral code or way of life, an ethic or politic.

I remember recently reading a man calling himself a Christian who claimed that the there was no intelligent designer of the earth of life, that life and all things are just a chance happenstance, and that God has no influence over creation (because it was not his creation in the first place).  I'm not sure how that position can fit within Christian teaching because it can't.  It just can't.  I know of people that call themselves Christians but deny that Jesus is exclusively the way to heaven, something Jesus himself clearly taught. 

Therefore, we must take caution when assuming the meaning of the word, "Christian."  Christian originally was not an adjective, like Christian music or Christian books; it was a person who held a confession in Christ.  However, today, it is really a self-identified membership into a social identity.   There are some that are trying to avoid using the word all together, often substituting it with "Christ-follower," but this doesn't really change anything.  And there are some who are diligently trying to reclaim the meaning of the word, but Webster's doesn't have word police.  So what we really ought to do is keep in mind what a Christian is or is not.  We should bear in mind that a person calling him or herself a Christian may be an ambassador for  Christ's Kingdom, or not.

On non-Christian Prayer

I was recently asked what I think about "non-Christian prayer."  I thought that discussion might be valuable to share here.  But before we can address non-Christian prayer, I think some terms and ideas need defined and understood. 

For starters, what is prayer?  People all over the world pray.  I would think prayer, at the simplest level, is the communication of a person or group of people to an entity, higher power, being or group of beings, or some other object of worship or faith.  In addition, I think the person or group offering the communication believe that in at least some way the communication will yield a result.

The Triune God of the Bible, that is, the Old and New Testaments, is living and engaged with his creation (for clarity he may also be identified as Yahweh).  He is omnipresent and therefore hears and knows all communication--in speech, thought, and action--of all people, whether they believe and worship him or not.  He is sovereign over his response and personal revelation and can choose to communicate with the person praying or not; he can take action or not, whether they are intentionally praying to him or not. 

For the purposes of this post, I will call Christian-prayers those communication attempts made by Christians to communicate with the Triune God.  Christian prayers are generally understood as being made through, and in the name of Jesus Christ.  The person praying a Christian-prayer professes Jesus as Lord and Savior; fully human and fully God; concieved of the Holy Spirit; crucified, dead, and risen as a propitiation of our sins; and part of the Triune God; however, there is some room for a person to not fully understand these aspects of Jesus and the Triune God, but they may not deny them.

Many people offering prayers are attempting to communicate with Yahweh even if they do not know or believe in Jesus, especially the Jewish people.  These prayers are not specifically Christian prayers, but this does not mean that God does not hear them, and potentially even answer them.  Before a person believes in Jesus, he or she may pray for greater faith to believe or for help understanding the Scriptures.  God, in his sovereign ways may very well answer these non-Christian prayers by his common grace and love for mankind.  The man who for the first time cries out to Jesus, "Lord, I can do nothing; save me," was not a Christian when his cry started but in fact was regenerated to new life, through grace, by the very act of this "non-Christian" prayer.  

However, when a person prays to anything or anyone other than Yahweh (which includes Jesus), he or she is praying to a false god or false idol.  God still hears these prayers but they are not pleasing to him considering that throughout the Bible we are warned not to worship false idols.  In fact, Paul warns in 1 Corinthians 10:19-21 that food sacrificed to false idols is actually being sacrificed to demons.  Prayer to false idols could, like the sacrifices, be made to demons. 

In the case of public prayers or invocations, it is not absolutely necessary that specific names be mentioned, but it is a better witness if the prayer is clearly addressed to the God of the Bible and absolutely prayed in Jesus' name.  This cannot always be the case given our society.  God will know the intentions and hearts of those saying, engaging, or agreeing with the prayer.  Now, a prayer that is vague in name is one thing, a prayer made to a false idol is another.  Never, should a prayer be made to a false idol or an incorrect identification of God.   

To provide some practical application, I have some in-laws that are LDS (Mormon).  To be clear, I do not believe that the LDS god is the God of the Bible, therefore, he is a false idol.  I do not believe that their understanding of Jesus is inline with what the Bible teaches about Jesus (and it's really all about Jesus!); therefore, the "Jesus" they understand is not the same as the Jesus of the Bible. However, when we are together for a meal, a prayer is offered before we dig in.  When one of them prays to their "heavenly father," I can pray in my heart to Jesus or my Heavenly Father, and that is okay.  Or I can pray a different prayer in my mind.  But I am always intentional about the object of my prayers--Jesus the Living God.  And when I am asked to pray (which is almost never), I have two options.  The first option is that I can choose to cause a problem by intentionally praying in such a way that becomes offensive to them.  This could hurt my future witness with them and make for poor family relationships.  [I understand that should one of them read this post, there will be challenges to their faith, but they won't be made in front of the rest of their children or the rest of the family.  If I am challenging your faith, I am always happy to discuss this with you.] The second option is that I can choose to pray in such a way that affords them the opportunity to join in my prayer to God or--as much as I want otherwise--they can place their false idol as the object of their prayer.  This is not to say that I am compromising and praying in some way that is not correct to God.  For example, they believe that addressing their deity as "god" is taking their lord's name in vain.  They do not even do it this their prayers.  While I am okay to address God with the title "God," I am also okay to call God "Heavenly Father" or "Lord."  These latter two terms are not offensive to them, which makes these titles a more appropriate choice.  They pray using King James language, feeling it holds greater reverence.  I do not do this because I am not practiced in this vocabulary and will probably unknowingly make up incorrect King James words. But more importantly, it is because I feel that coming before God as something other than myself is fake.  I believe God knows us better than we know ourselves, is approachable, and loves us as his children; therefore, I will not pray as if I am trying to appease him or superficially respect him with my language. (In many ways, how I pray with these LDS in-laws can be a witness of my love-relationship with my Creator.) 

In conclusion, I must say that I believe all prayer should be Christian prayer.  Jesus is the Way the Truth and the Life, creating the only bridge to the Father.  Any other prayer to any other god, higher power, or anything else is a waste of time and offers no hope of salvation.  The Bible declares this to be true, and in this I am certain.

*This photo is by David Shankbone and is registered under a Creative Commons License. 
**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. 

Deseret Book Stops Printing Mormon Doctrine

First printed in 1958, Mormon Doctrine by Bruce R. McConkie was (and maybe still is) a staple of the LDS Church.  It is used and quoted in many of the instructional books and teaching manuals.  But now it is being taken out of print.  The publisher, Deseret Book, claims that it's not selling.  However, KUTV 2News in Utah reports that sales are not low and that something else might be behind letting the book's printing life coming to an end.

The KUTV reporter went to a number of book stores in the Salt Lake area, including Sam Weller's and Barnes & Noble, and learned that the book is still a strong seller.  They can't seem to keep it stocked and at Sam Weller's, there is a waiting list for the title.  But the sales of a few local bookstores doesn't say much for overall sales.  Maybe it is just that the book is not selling well in Deseret Book stores?  Aaron Shafovaloff, author of the blog Mormon Coffee is arguing that Amazon sales rankings show the book in a higher position than many other popular LDS books.   Sandra Tanner of Lighthouse Ministries believes removing the book from print is more likely about the various controversies behind the book.  She feels it could be about the LDS Church "trying to have a better control on how their message goes out to the world."

In the KUTV news report, Deseret Book says there is a life cycle to every book and Mormon Doctrine's life cycle is up.  Speaking to an employee in the corporate offices of Deseret Book, I was told that they take books out of print all the time, this is not an unusual practice.  But I wonder, if it is only about sales, would it be a problem for Deseret Book if another publisher started publishing the title? I'm sure there are a few publisher's that would jump at the chance. Could it be that it is not sales that are a problem but content?

Another argument is that the book is simply outdated and that many books like this one are replaced as new titles become more popular.  One could make the argument for many older Christian titles on theology and doctrine, like the Scofield Study Bible and Christian Doctrine by Berkoff--both, I might add, are still in print.  In fact, printing presses are still churning out many older, unpopular titles.  But, if ta title has so fallen out of favor that there is no longer a market to sell the title, they are often made available on-line for free to serve has a historical reference.  All thought I doubt it will happen, I hope that is the case for Mormon Doctrine, a popular (and selling) book now claimed to be not worth the effort to print.

* I have no material connection to the book mentioned in this post.

Liberty, Why Glenn Beck?

May 15, 2010
First, please allow me to congratulate all the Liberty University graduates this year (especially those in the seminary).   I pray that in this challenging economy you all find gainful, rewarding employment or are able to continue in an advanced degree program (or both).

Now, about the commencement speakers.  Joining Dr. Paige Patterson, the President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, is Glenn Beck.  Upfront, I should say I don't feel Beck is a good choice. What is Liberty thinking?

According to the News and Events release on Liberty's website, both men were chosen for their, "positive impacts on society in all walks of life."  And Beck, "one of the few courageous voices in the national media standing up for the principles upon which this nation was founded," was selected, it seems, because of his media  popularity. "Beck's radio show, 'The Glenn Beck Program,' is currently the third-highest rated radio program in the U.S.; his new television show, 'Glenn Beck,' is one of the most successful shows on FOX News." 

There have been many objections to Beck speaking at Liberty.  The first is because he is LDS (Mormon).  Of all the objections, this one is by far the least compelling.  Yes, there are some serious differences in theology between the LDS and Liberty University, and there is the possibility that an LDS speaker at an Evangelical school could be used by the LDS  to further their mainstreaming efforts; however, to this issue, the news release from Liberty stated,
“The baccalaureate ceremony always includes a gospel message brought by someone who is in complete theological alignment with the university,” Falwell said. “Commencement, however, has always featured leaders from all walks of life and all faiths who share the university’s social values and traditional family values. Commencement speakers have included representatives from the following faiths: Roman Catholicism, Judaism, mainline Protestant denominations such as the Episcopal Church, and even some speakers with no religious affiliation at all.” (Emphasis added.)
Asking a person of a different faith system to speak should not be too problematic for an Evangelical student body that should be fairly grounded in their beliefs.  Ben Stein (Jewish) delivered a commencement address in 2009.  Karl Rove, who has also addressed the student body at graduation is, as best as I can tell, an agnostic Episcopalian.

Another objection is the message Liberty broadcasts by hosting a politically motivated speaker, and a conservative one at that.  I understand this objection, but I don't think it should come as a shock that a conservative Republican who is highly engaged in the political realm is asked to speak at Liberty.  As I previously mentioned, Karl Rove has delivered a commencement speech, as well as John McCain.

Still another objection is that Beck is not an academic.  I don't believe he holds any degree, but I may be mistaken.  Karl Rove dropped out of the University of Utah.  I'd also like to remind you that a number of other innovators, movers, and shakers who do not hold degrees are often invited to speak at schools all across the country.  "But he's just an entertainer" some might say.  Again, many entertainers speak an commencement ceremonies all across the country.  Chuck Norris and Ben Stein--both selected to offer commencement speeches at Liberty--are entertainers.  And some students of the media and broadcast fields might see Glenn Beck as a success story in their field, just as theater, film, creative writing, and music majors might see many other entertainers.  In addition, having a popular speaker might serve to draw in a larger audience, creating a boisterous feel at the ceremony.  (Although I realize Glenn Beck is the type of person that could very well keep people away, including myself, but this may not be a factor in Lynchburg, VA.) 

And yet another objection is Glenn Beck's polarizing personality.  There is no question that Beck creates an unhealthy, unhelpful us-vs-them atmosphere.  He's emotionally charged and divisive, recently encouraging people to flee churches engaging in any issues of social justice. He's disrespectful to those in political office with which he disagrees.  He does what he does and says what he says to drive up ratings on his television and radio shows.  It's how he earns his paycheck, no different than Howard Stern.  To this, I can offer no defense.  I do not see that Glenn Beck has made a positive impact on society in any walk of life. This is the reason I feel Glenn Beck is a poor choice as the politically conservative entertaining draw for the graduation ceremony.  Beck's icky reputation is now entangled with the already challenged reputation of Liberty University.

I don't know if Liberty extended invitations to others who turned them down; it's possible that Beck was an alternative choice. It seems that there are so many other options.  For example, if the school was looking for a Republican Mormon, I know Mitt Romney is on tour promoting his book right now. He was a businessman, a governor, and did run for president.  That's a fairly respectable resume for a commencement speaker if the objection is not his faith.  And I'm sure there's a small number of politically conservative actors that might have been willing to speak.  A politically popular conservative (but less divisive) person could have been found.  And given some of the connections of the seminary, a popular Christian author, such as Dr. Norm Geisler might have been on option, although he is probably not political enough.  This is where I have concern.  I'm not so sure this is the best list of credentials: politically conservative and popular.    

If the responsibility fell to me to invite the commencement speakers, I'd like to believe that I would keep politics and popularity out of the decision as much as is possible.  I would look for a positive example of  someone who has excelled in his or her chosen field, can deliver an encouraging, thought-provoking speech, and can foster an attitude of honor fitting of  a university graduation.  Attendance draw and press coverage really are irrelevant.  Isn't graduation about the students?  If not, shouldn't it be?

Congratulations Liberty University graduates of 2010!  

[Follow up, 5/17/2010.  Rather than speaking on politics, Beck spoke mostly about faith through a lens of poor theology.]

[Glenn Becks' commencement speech at Liberty University, 5/15/2010.  I admit, this is the most I've ever forced myself to watch of Glenn Beck.]

*Photo of Glenn Beck, taken by Gage Skidmore; used by permission.

Tongues: A Spiritual Gift for Today?

            Since Christ’s ascension, theological differences tend to weaken the unity of the Church.  However, through the differences intense study is birthed, debate and discussion flow, and Christians come together to find solid ground.  Historically, councils have been called to determine which view would stand as orthodox and which would be deemed heretical.  In some cases, the differing views were decidedly nonessential and allowed to co-exist.  While present-day Christians rarely see ecumenical councils called to rule upon new theological ideas, we do find that differences thrive still to this day.  Often, these differences are weighed out in the court of common practice.  At present, the North American Church is divided on its stance regarding miraculous spiritual gifts, most notably, the activity commonly referred to as ‘speaking in tongues’ or simply just ‘tongues.’  After an examination of this gift of the Spirit, this post will argue against both the cessationist viewpoint and the hyper-Spirit-filled stance in favor of the adoption of an open, but still cautious approach to tongues.[1]  In making this argument, attempts will be made to answer some important questions on this matter: Were tongues of the New Testament a known language, an unknown language, both, or not a language at all?  If indeed tongues exist today, can it be expected that today’s tongues should look like the examples found in Acts, or like the teaching in Corinthians (if indeed they are different), or like something else?  Is speaking in tongues a necessary proof that one is born again or filled with the Holy Spirit?  Does this gift come through a second conversion experience, commonly referred by hyper-Spirit-filled Christians to as a ‘baptism of/in the Holy Spirit’?  Have these miraculous spiritual gifts (specifically tongues) ceased, or is it possible that they might be manifested today?

Before examining the various experiences of tongues that appear to be from a source other than the Holy Spirit, those from Christians of the early Church, and the tongues experiences as recorded in the New Testament, an understanding from where the word and activity are derived, and what it means, is necessary. 
‘Tongues’ commonly comes from the Greek word, glossa, meaning either ‘tongue’ or ‘language,’ although Strong suggests that it “sometimes refers to the supernatural gift of tongues.”[2]  Perschbacher expands on this meaning, adding that in reference to Acts 2:11, 1 Corinthians 13:1, and elsewhere, glossa might be thought of as, “a language not proper to a speaker, a gift or faculty of such language.”[3]  On the other hand, Samarin, a linguist, defines glossa as “a single continuous act of glossolalia,” compounding the simple definition previously provided.[4]  Under this definition, what then is glossolalia?  It is worth noting that a cursory search of the Greek New Testament for the Greek word glossolalia—the combination of the Greek words glossa and lalia, meaning “speech” or “way of speaking”—turns up no usage.[5]  Glossolalia, as defined by Samarin, is first, “a vocal act believed by the speaker to be a language showing rudimentary language-like structure but no consistent word-meaning correspondences recognizable by either the speaker or hearers; (in Christianity) speech attributed to the Holy Spirit in languages unknown to the speaker and incomprehensible without divinely inspired interpretation”; and second, “(loosely) unintelligible speech, gibberish.”[6]  While glossa is the word most often used in association of the Spirit gift of tongues recorded in the Bible, glossolalia is the activity generally thought of when understanding ‘speaking in tongues’ today. 
In seeking to define ‘speaking in tongues,’ Grudem states, “Speaking in tongues is prayer or praise in syllables not understood by the speaker.”[7]  Grudem’s definition however, does not leave room for the other activities spoken in tongues as seen in Acts and Corinthians, such as actual communication to foreign listeners.  It also raises a question of control of the audible message if the speaker does not understand what is being vocalized.  Neither Grudem’s definition, nor Samarin’s first definition, address whether true speaking in tongues as gifted by the Holy Spirit is only a practice of Christians and not any other form of religious nor non-religious exercise.

Tongues Not Associated With The Holy Spirit.  The practice of speaking in unintelligible utterances is not proprietary to Christianity.  As Osborne explains, “In the ancient world, ecstatic utterances, trances, and frenzied behaviors were commonly associated with pagan prophets.”[8]  Examples are numerous.  In the Eleventh-century B.C., Egypt documented ecstatic speech resembling speaking in tongues.[9]  This behavior was “believed to be revelations from the gods, made up of foreign words and senseless noises,” states May.  “The more mysterious and incomprehensible these formulas were, the greater their power was thought to be.”[10]  May also holds that it is probable (but not entirely convincing) that India may also have had instances of ecstatic speech or glossolalia at that same time.[11]  Both the Prophetess of Delphi and the Sibylline Priestess of the Hellenistic era spoke in unknown utterances.[12]  A trance-like state and speaking in tongues were part of the Dionysian rituals.[13]  In South America, there are illustrations of rudimentary glossolalia suggesting that Incans, Toltecs, and Aztecs may also have practiced speaking in tongues in their ceremonies.[14]
            The Taisho Tripitaka records the 196 A.D. an instance of the wife of Ting-in who would become ill and speak in foreign languages she had not previously known.  Asking for a writing instrument, she would write down what she had spoken, only later to learn from a monk that she had written a sutra.[15]  In 1892, an American woman given the pseudonym case-name “Helene Smith,” apparently would fall into trances and speak what those around her called “Martian language.”  When studied by Flournoy, it was determined that her speech was grammatically dependent upon the French language and showed a connection to Sanskrit.[16]  In the 1840s, the Quakers spoke in tongues.[17]  According to May, “Joseph Smith instructed the early Mormons to rise upon their feet and to speak in tongues.”[18]  The Doctrine and Covenants records that Joseph Smith received a revelation on March 8, 1831 giving instruction for the unified patterns for the conducting of church services.[19]  Part of this instruction includes that the members ask for spiritual gifts, of which the subsequent list features “speaking in tongues.”[20]  The shaman of the Semang pygmies speaks in what they call “celestial spirits.”[21]  The Gusi cult in North Borneo prays in a language they believe is only known by the spirits.[22]  And the Eskimo spiritual leaders of the Hudson Bay, Chukchee, Koryak, Asiatic, Lapps, Yakuts, Tangus, and Samoyeds all adhere to the use of a spirit language.[23]
            While this non-exhaustive survey demonstrates that the behavior of speaking in tongues is not exclusive to the New Testament Christian Church, it is important for one to realize that the existence of these other glossolalia experiences does not discredit tongues in the Church, nor does it lend greater support for biblical tongues.  To use these examples in any argument other than to show that glossolalia has been (and still is) practiced outside the Christian faith is spurious and akin to comparing the consumption of bread and wine during a business meeting to the practice of celebrating of Holy Communion.  Indeed, the specific nature of these examples is difficult to determine, and the large scope of experiences does little to help define the biblical understanding of tongues that are causing division in the Church.  To narrow the focus, I will now briefly examine some historical use of tongues in the post-New Testament Church.

Tongues After The New Testament.  Around 172 A.D., a prophetic movement surfaced in Phrygia, what is now Turkey.  It was lead and named after Montanus, a new convert to Christianity, and featured prophecies spoken in Spirit led utterances.[24]  Other leaders of the group included two prophetesses—Pricilla and Maximilla—who presumably also spoke in tongues.[25]  The group’s most noteworthy adherent was Tertullian, who also spoke favorable of the practice of speaking in tongues.[26]  Although the Montanism lasted well into the Third Century, the synods of bishops in Asia, as well as church leaders in other areas, condemned it.[27] 
            The topic of tongues, especially in his later years, also appears in the work of Origen.  He held that glossa is a reference to known world languages (often drawing references back to the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11), and Paul, Origen believed, through the gifting of the Spirit, spoke nearly all the languages of the world.[28]  Irenaeus also spoke highly of tongues.[29]  But despite the positions of some early Church Fathers, the practice in the Western Church was nearly non-existent by the Fourth Century.[30]  According to Osborne, “Chrysotom was quite negative, and Augustine declared it had been given only for the NT times.”[31]  However, the practice may have continued in the Eastern Church well into the Middle Ages.[32]  “Luther and Calvin both spoke positively of the gift,” writes Osborne, “and some believe Luther actually had had such experiences.”[33]  However, Mill (rightly) suggests that this is highly debatable.[34]  For over a decade in the 1730s, a group known as the Huguenots on Southern France experienced speaking in tongues, as did a group of Catholic pietists around the same time.[35]  In the 1830s, the Methodists experienced glossolalia.[36]  And in 1850s Russia, a Pentecostal-type movement was born and is reported to have lasted almost 100 years.[37]
            The opening of the Twentieth-Century saw the origin of what is dividing the Church today.  In 1901 at the Bethel Bible School in Topeka, Kansas, it is reported that Charles Parham laid hands on a woman named Agnes Ozman and prayed that she receive the “baptism of the Holy Spirit.”  Ozman then spoke Chinese for three days, unable to speak in English.  Twelve other students are also reported to have received this second experience baptism.[38]  Parham concluded that this gift was a sign that the end-time was at hand.  He also believed glossolalia was a gift of known world languages.  “Spirit-filled believers,” records Burgess, “could fan out and preach the gospel message without the painstaking process of learning a new language.”[39]  The students held that their experiences were the same as that seen in Acts 2 and served as “indisputable proof of the end-time Holy Spirit baptism.”[40]  While this was the start of the Pentecostal movement, it did not pick up steam until 1906 when W. J. Seymour lead a glossolalia movement now named the “Azusa Street Revival” in Los Angeles, California.  The fervor lasted two years and brought much attention to the Pentecostal movement.[41]  Similar outbreaks of revival glossolalia have occurred throughout the Twentieth-Century, such as the ‘Toronto Blessing’ in 1994, but the one most worth noting occurred in 1967.  Laurentin reports that in a variety of locations across America, Catholics—mainly professors and laymen, but also some priests—experienced speaking in tongues.  Many of the occurrences were separate from the others and hardly any were aware of each other.[42]
            While these speaking in tongues experiences are thought provoking, Christians should follow the advice of Paul: “test everything; hold fast to what is good.”[43]  It is at this point that my examination of the gift of tongues will turn to the New Testament.

Tongues in the New Testament.  Luke records biblical examples of speaking in tongues in the second, tenth, and nineteenth chapters of the book of Acts.  These are descriptive stories that might prove helpful in understanding this behavior.  In addition, Paul teaches on this topic in his first letter to the Corinthians.  Chapters 12 through 14 cover a wide breadth of material but are primarily focused on the gifts of the Spirit.  However, it is important to note that Paul is specifically addressing the church in Corinth.  It may very well be that the experiences recorded in Acts and the experiences addressed in First Corinthians are historical events and do not serve as a normative instruction for the gift of tongues today.  On the other hand, if we are to treat both Acts and Paul’s letter to the Corinthians as nothing but historical documents, what value are they for the Church today? 
            Because Luke records the first instance of speaking in tongues, we will begin with the narrative found in the second chapter of Acts.  In verses 1-3, Luke records that on the day of Pentecost, 120 people were together in the Upper Room when the sound like rushing wind filled the house.  What looked like fiery tongues came down and rested on them.  Calvin suggests that the wind and visible tongues served as a way to “stir up the disciples” (and for us, “awake all our senses”) so there would be no mistake that the Spirit had come as Christ promised.[44]  Of the three accounts recorded in Acts where people speak in tongues, this is the only occurrence that is preceded by noise or a visual sign.  Verse 4 reads, “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.”[45]  Here, we see that “all” were filled; and Lea and Black argue that in this instance, “The filling of the Holy Spirit appears to be a state in which a person is controlled by the Holy Spirit for service.”[46]  It is also seen that before the word ‘tongues,’ is the word ‘other,’ in the Greek, heteros, meaning “other” but also “another’s,” “altered,” or “strange.”[47]  As the passage continues it becomes apparent that these “other tongues” can be understood (with out the need for an interpreter) by a large variety of foreigners, each hearing in his native language.[48]  Most were perplexed but some accused the speakers of being drunk.[49]  While it is clear that tongues in this event were a known language, it is unclear why some in the crowd would mockingly say that the speakers were drunk.  To what aspect of this event were the mockers addressing?  Bruce does not clear up this question, but he does draw a parallel between these mockers and Paul’s idea of visitors to the church in Corinth.  He writes, “Paul, who had the gift of glossolalia himself, had to warn the Corinthian Christians that a stranger entering one of their meetings when they were all ‘speaking with tongues’ would certainly conclude that they were mad (1 Cor. 14:23).  So on this occasion there were some in the crowd who dismissed the strange event with a jibe.”[50]  The event at Pentecost was not only the first experience where speaking in tongues is recorded, it served to signal that the Spirit was now with the people as Jesus had promised.  Duffield and Van Cleave write, “The manifestation of the Spirit of the Day of Pentecost was the original outpouring of the empowerment of the Church.”[51]  But given that Acts records other instances of the falling of the Holy Spirit on people groups, and subsequently those people speaking in tongues (which will be examined shortly), how should the other events be seen if this event at Pentecost was merely a sign?  Are the other events also signs of specific occurrences or are they an explanation of a normative experience for all believers?  Only after more of the biblical material is examined can an attempt be made to answer this question.
            The next event comes in Chapter ten.  Acts 10:44-48 records Peter’s experience as he preached to Cornelius, a Gentile, and Cornelius’ household.  In this case, the Holy Spirit fell upon people who were not previously believers or baptized with water, so it was not a second experience, but a first.[52]  Verse 46 records that they (meaning Peter and the circumcised believers that came with him) witnessed the new believers speaking in tongues.  This time there is no mention of ‘other,’ and nothing is recorded to indicate that the speakers could be understood or that the language they were speaking was a known world language.  As previously stated, there is no mention of the sound of wind or tongues of fire coming down.  However, when Peter explained this event to the church in Jerusalem, he said, “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning.”[53]  Therefore, it is safe to assume that these two events were alike in at least some very important ways that Peter and the others understood.  If the purpose of the event at Pentecost was to ring in a new area of the Holy Spirit, what then was the purpose for this event at Cornelius’ house?  In speaking first about Pentecost, Wade writes,
The purpose of this miracle seems to have been to serve as credentials for the message they were about to bring.  The miracle in the house of Cornelius served a similar purpose.  It convinced Cornelius and his household that the message brought by Peter was indeed from God.  But, more importantly, it convinced Peter and his Jewish companions that the gospel should also be made available to the Gentiles.”[54]

Wade, it seems, believes this event was specifically for Peter and Cornelius, and not much of an instruction for us today.
            Acts 19:1-7 is the final recorded tongues event in Luke’s book; but it is significant because it involves Paul, who outlines instructions about the gift of tongues to the church in Corinth.  Here, Paul finds twelve disciples who were baptized into John’s baptism (that is, the baptism of repentance) but had not received the Holy Spirit when they believed.[55]  Considering John baptized them, they had to have been baptized before Pentecost.  It seems that these believers might not have known much of Christ or the gospel at all.  Verse 5 tells us they were baptized in the name of Jesus, but were unaware of the Holy Spirit.  When Paul laid his hands on them, “the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.”[56]  Like the event in Chapter 10, there is no mention of noise or visible tongues of fire.  There is also no way to know if what they were speaking was an earthly language or not.  While this passage is frequently used in support of second experiences after Pentecost, note that Paul asks if they received the Spirit “when you believed?”[57]  It is as if Paul is suggesting that is when it should have happened.  However, Maclaren argues, “this question suggests that the possession of the Holy Spirit is the normal condition of all believers”; however, “the outer methods of His bestowment vary: sometimes He is given after baptism, and sometimes, as to Cornelius before it; sometimes by laying on of Apostolic hands, sometimes without it.”[58]
            If the instances recorded in Acts were the only instances of speaking in tongues available to us, some clear conclusions could be drawn.  First, because in all of Acts there is only examples of  132 people plus all those at Cornelius’ home speaking in tongues, it might be thought that speaking in tongues was not such a significant event that it served as proof of being filled with the Spirit.  Paul is never recorded in the book of Acts speaking in tongues even though in his letter to the Corinthians he speaks in tongues more than all of them.  Second, it is clear enough from the first recorded event that the tongues were a known language (but previously unknown to the speaker).  It is likely that at the second event, being just like the first, known languages were also spoken.  And there is really no way to tell from what is recorded about the third event.  And third, it would seem that receiving the Spirit can, and most likely, happens for us today when we believe, but only if what is recorded in Acts is normative.  However, Acts is not the only New Testament source for information on tongues.
            Carson and Moo explain that the church in Corinth was experiencing some problems.  It was not as if they were going back to their pagan faith, instead, they were learning what it was to be Christian.  Not fully grasping the meaning of salvation, or how to live in the shadow of the cross, they engaged in one-upmanship.  Those with more knowledge began to use it to crush the weaker Christians.  And in this environment, according to Carson and Moo, “Which charismatic gift they have becomes far more important than whether or not they love brothers and sisters in Christ.”[59]  Therefore, the letter to the Corinthians should be recognized, in part, as a letter of instruction to a church that is grossly misusing the spiritual gift of tongues, rather than one that serves as a model for all the Church for all time.
            Starting in Chapter 12 of First Corinthians, Paul explains to the church the proper attitude and use of the spiritual gifts.  He teaches that they, including tongues, are given to each person for the common good.[60]  But although all gifts are needed in the body, all do not receive the same gift, including the gift of “various kinds of tongues.”[61]  Specifically, Paul writes rhetorically, “Do all speak with tongues?”[62]  And Paul calls this church to “earnestly desire the higher gifts” so he can show them a “better way.”[63]  At this point, it would seem obvious that at least some in the church might have the gift of tongues, but that is merely speculation. 
            Chapter 13 opens with a rather complex statement.  Paul says whether he “speaks in tongues of men and of angels” but is without love, his is a noisy gong.[64]  What does Paul mean by ‘tongues of angles’?  Barclay argues it is just poetic language and the greater point is that no matter how amazing a person might be, he is still nothing without love.[65]  On the other hand, Thrall contends that Paul is referring to “the inspired outpouring of ecstatic but unintelligible speech.”[66]  Duffield and Van Cleave argue that some tongues, like what was seen at Pentecost, are earthly languages, used for the benefit of spreading the Gospel; but, as Paul indicates, the language of angles is the “new tongue” referenced in Mark 16:17, which is used for praise and prayer through love.  They call this a “prayer language.”[67]  I believes it is this passage, more than any of the others on tongues, that has caused such a division in today’s Church.  Too often this passage is used (potentially incorrectly) as a lens of interpretation for all the other related passages.
             After encouraging the church to love one another, Paul moves to some instruction on prophecy, tongues, and orderly worship.  The meaning of these instructions generally require an understanding of the nature of New Testament tongues; however, Paul does provide some valuable guidelines.  Unlike what was seen in Acts, the idea of an interpreter of tongues is present.  If there is not an interpreter, a person speaking in tongues has no benefit to the congregation, but only to himself.  Paul does indicate however, that the speaker is still speaking to God.[68]  But this is not presented in a bad light because Paul still wants his readers to speak in tongues (and even more so, prophesy).[69]  There is an indication that Paul believes these tongues are language, not just meaningless utterances, but this does not eliminate the possibility of an angle language.[70]  If one does speak in a tongue but there is nobody to interpret, Paul suggests that person prays for the gift of interpretation, clearly indicating that the speaker does not know what is being said by his own mouth.[71]  This is made more apparent as Paul argues about praying in a tongue and praying in his mind.  While one has the ability to be silent if there are already two people speaking in a tongue, there is a hint that the speaker has no control over the message.[72]  Finally, Paul says,
In the Law it is written, “By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.”  Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers.  If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds?  But if all prophesy and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.[73]

By this passage, it would seem that the tongues in Corinth did not serve as a sign like those at Pentecost, possibly because there was no foreign unbelievers in Corinth to hear the message spoken though the tongue.

            As the church looks at tongues today, a spectrum of ideas is generated.  On the one side, is a group that not only is practicing some form of glossolalia, but also holds that it is proof of a second experience of conversion and, in fact, is the initial evidence that the Holy Spirit has taken up residents within the believer.  On the other side is the idea that tongues are not to be practiced because the gift ceased in, or shortly after, the First Century.  These ideas, from one side of the spectrum to the other (and everything in between) often appear in doctrinal statements of belief, some times articulated plainly, sometimes coded.  In the North American Church, various positions are hotly debated, sometimes splitting churches, often dividing unity.  Who is right?   

The Hyper-Spirit-Filled Position.  While charismatic church groups are often called Pentecostal, this is not their technical name unless they follow their history back to the Bethel School events in 1901, according to Gundry.  He argues that in addition to the historical connection, Pentecostals hold to “the following doctrines: (1) All the gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in the New Testament are intended for today; (2) baptism in the Holy Spirit is an empowering experience subsequent to conversion and should be sought by Christians today; and (3) when baptism in the Holy Spirit occurs, people will speak in tongues as a ‘sign’ that they have received this experience.”[74]  Charismatic groups are very much like Pentecostals except for the unshared history.  They tie their history to the charismatic renewal movement of the 1960 and 1970s; however, they do not all hold to the same unified doctrines like the Pentecostals.[75]  The Third Wave’s historical roots go back only to the 1980s.  They contend that tongues do exist and that rather than serving as a second experience, the baptism of the Spirit occurs at conversion; the subsequent signs are merely “fillings.”[76]  For the purposes of this paper, these three groups have been collectively assigned the name ‘hyper-Spirit-filled.’
            Referring to Acts 2:19, Oss, a hyper-Spirit-filled Christian, says, “the last days are characterized by ‘wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below.”[77]  He and many other hyper-Spirit-filled Christians believe that speaking in tongues (and the other miraculous gifts) are these very signs.  Oss also argues that receiving the baptism of Holy Spirit is a “necessary empowerment” to witness and to be of service. [78]  He does not go so far as to say it is necessary for salvation; although, it is a second and distinct experience, whether it happens at the same time as conversion or later.[79]  Duffield and Van Cleave state that giving utterances as directed by the Spirit is the initial and immediate evidence that one is filled with the Spirit.  They claim that this experience will always be accompanied by glossolalia.[80]  When challenged with the conversion events that do not record evidences of speaking in tongues, Duffield and Van Cleave argue, “It is true that three accounts say nothing of tongues, but the omission is due to the brevity of those accounts.”[81]

 The Cessationist Position.  The cessationist holds that the miraculous gifts, including speaking in tongues, ended either at the death of the apostles or after the canonization of Scripture.[82]  The gifts were used to establish the church but are no longer needed today.[83]  Many cessationists look for support in First Corinthians 13:8-13.[84]  In part, Paul writes, “Love never ends.  As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease, as for knowledge, it will pass away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.”[85]  But rather than turning to this argument, Graffin instead suggests that these signs were the “mark of the apostles” and if we can agree that there are no apostles today, then we should be able to accept that there are also no tongues.[86]  He argues that the apostles made a “deposit,” that is the cannon, at which point there was no longer a need of the signs to establish their credibility.[87]  He further contends that having any revelation from tongues or prophecy would allow the church to place them above the authority of scripture.[88]  And most cessationists would agree with Gaffin’s statement, “Pentecost belongs to the history of salvation, not the order of salvation.”[89] Cessationists, it would seem, feel the passages on tongues in Acts and First Corinthians are descriptive, not normative.

            As both the biblical and extra-biblical evidence surrounding speaking in tongues is examined, one thing is clear.  Neither the hyper-Spirit-fill nor the cessationist position is correct.  The hyper-Spirit-filled position seems to run into problems on numerous levels.  While the claims of the 1901 Bethel School event indicated that the recipients were speaking earthly languages (I am not arguing that this was not the case here), the present-day hyper-Spirit-filled churches seek a “prayer language,” or as Paul put it, tongues of angels.  This prayer language does not appear to be supported in the book of Acts, leaving only a small selection of scripture—potentially only part of one verse—among the body of evidence from which to find support.  Paul’s letter to the Corinthians makes it clear that not all will receive the gift of tongues, yet the hyper-Spirit-filled position demands that speaking in tongues is the immediate indicator that one has the Spirit dwelling within, and has had a second and “necessary” baptism experience.  To the issue of initial evidence, Synan writes, “In reading the New Testament, one cannot find a statement which specifically names glossolalia as the one ‘initial evidence’ of the baptism in the Holy Spirit.”[90]  And to the idea of two separate baptism events, Erickson says, “Baptism by the Spirit appears to be, if not the equivalent to conversion and new birth, at least simultaneous with them.”[91]  He further argues that the cases in Acts where the events were not simultaneous were because that time was a transition period between Christ and the Holy Spirit.[92]
            The cessationist position is not as complicated.  Where they argue that the hyper-Spirit-filled position has built up the Scriptures to mean more than they say, the cessationist has stripped away too much meaning from the Scriptures.  It seems they are unwilling to allow for the miraculous sovereign power of God to manifest itself today.  In addressing the cessationist position, Saucy writes, “The New Testament does not explicitly teach the cessation of certain gifts at a particular point in the experience of the church.  It is therefore impossible to say on the basis of biblical teaching, that certain gifts cannot occur at any given time according to God’s sovereign purpose.”[93]  And in light of Mark 3:22-30, one should approach the cessationist view cautiously.  Erickson says, “One cannot rule in a priori and categorical fashion that a claim of glossolalia is spurious.  In fact, it may be downright dangerous, in the light of Jesus’ warnings regarding blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, to attribute specific phenomena to demonic activity.”[94]  What than are we to do? 
I am arguing that we must remain open to the possibility of the gift of tongues as given by the Holy Spirit, but also remain cautious. It is not the exercise of tongues that raises concern; it is the teaching that tongues is somehow a requirement of a faithful Christian life. Also alarming is the excessive over-emotional use of glossolalia in some churches and the absolute silence of any working of the Holy Spirit in others.  To react by saying that tongues cannot happen today, as do the cessationists, nearly rejects the power and wonder of God.  I find both of these positions unacceptable.  As a community, and as individuals, we must constantly test what we see against the Scriptures, and we should commit this specific theological difficulty to prayer.  In time, God may reveal concrete answers to his people.  Is this a cop-out?  No, it is responsible approach to Scripture.
The issue of tongues is a difficult one in the Church today.  By no means has this post resolved the issue, given that most of the problem comes from the interpretation of the same pool of scriptures and this is but one interpretation.  Certainty, more exegesis is needed; more conversation is necessary; more prayer required, so that one at some point, the Church will no longer be divided by tongues, but instead united in love.  This should be our prayer; it is mine. 

Barclay, William. The Letters to the Corinthians. The Daily study Bible series. Philadelphia:
     Westminster Press, 1975.
Bruce, F. F. Commentary on the Book of the Acts. The New international commentary on the
     New Testament. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1973.
Burgess, Stanley M., Gary B. McGee, and Patrick H. Alexander. Dictionary of Pentecostal and
     Charismatic Movements. Grand Rapids, Mich: Regency Reference Library, 1988.
Calvin, John. Calvin’s Commentaries, vol. 18. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2009.
Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City, Utah:
     The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981.
Duffield, Guy P., and Nathaniel M. Van Cleave. Foundations of Pentecostal Theology. Los
     Angles, Calif: Foursquare Media, 2008.
Elwell, Walter A., ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Baker reference library. Grand
     Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2001.
Grudem, Wayne A. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids:
     Mich, Zondervan, 1994.
Gundry, Stanley N., ed. Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?: Four Views. Grand Rapids, Mich:
     Zondervan Pub, 1996.
Lea, Thomas D., and David Alan Black. The New Testament: Its Background and Message.
     Nashville, Tenn: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003.
Maclaren, Alexander. Expositions of Holy Scripture, vol. 12. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House,
Mills, Watson E., ed. Speaking in Tongues: A Guide to Research on Glossolalia. Grand Rapids,
     Mich: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 1986.
Perschbacher, Wesley J., and George V. Wigram. The New Analytical Greek Lexicon. Peabody,
     Mass: Hendrickson, 1990.
Robeck, Cecil M. Charismatic Experiences in History. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers,
Samarin, William J. Tongues of Men and Angels: The Religious Language of Pentecostalism.
     New York: Macmillan, 1972.
Strong, James, John R. Kohlenberger, and James A. Swanson. The Strongest Strong's Exhaustive
     Concordance of the Bible. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2001.
Wilson, Mark W, ed. Spirit and Renewal: Essays in Honor of J. Rodman Williams. Journal of
     Pentecostal Theology, 5. Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994.

     [1] Gundry argues that there is not a solidified name behind the large group of Evangelicals that take this position and has opted to name the group “open but caution.”  This paper will follow this example.  Stanley N. Gundry, ed, Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?: Four Views (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan Pub, 1996), 13.   
     [2] James Strong, John R. Kohlenberger, and James A. Swanson, The Strongest Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2001), 1599.
     [3] Wesley J. Perschbacher, and George V. Wigram, The New Analytical Greek Lexicon (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson, 1990), 81.
     [4] William J. Samarin, Tongues of Men and Angles: The Religious Language of Pentecostalism (New York: Macmillan, 1972), xvii.  
     [5] Strong, 1623.
     [6] Samarin, xvii.
      [7] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Mich, Zondervan, 1994), 1070.
     [8] Walter A. Elwell, ed., Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Baker reference library (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2001), 1206.
     [9] Elwell, 1206.
     [10] Watson E. Mills, ed., Speaking in Tongues: A Guide to Research on Glossolalia (Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 1986), 54.
     [11] Mills, 54.
     [12] Elwell, 1206. 
     [13] Elwell, 1206. 
     [14] Mills, 64.
     [15] Mills, 66.
     [16] Mills, 55. 
     [17] Mills, 54.  While it is not this author’s intention to engage in a debate weather Quakers are Christian, some hold to a universalism that is in conflicts of some of the general doctrines of Christianity. 
     [18] Mills, 54.  Many Mormons argue that they are Christians; however, the Mormons of the 1800s just as the LDS today, do not subscribe to many of the doctrines of Christianity that orthodox Christianity hold as essential. 
     [19] This author is unsure if this practice is still a part of the LDS church services or in the private lives of Mormons today.
     [20] Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981), Sec 46:13-26. 
     [21] Mills, 59. 
     [22] Mills, 59-60. 
     [23] Mills, 59. 
     [24] Elwell, 790.
     [25] Colin Brown, The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan Pub. House, 1975), 89.
     [26] Elwell, 1207.
     [27] Elwell, 790.
     [28] Cecil M. Robeck, Charismatic Experiences in History (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 1985), 119-122.  
     [29] Elwell, 2017
     [30] Elwell, 2017.
     [31] Elwell, 1208.
     [32] Elwell, 1208.
     [33] Elwell, 1208. 
     [34] Mills, 184-186.
     [35] Mills, 184-186. 
     [36] Mills, 184-186. 
     [37] Mills, 184-186. 
     [38] Stanley M. Burgess, Gary B. McGee, and Patrick H. Alexander, Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements (Grand Rapids, Mich: Regency Reference Library, 1988), 850.
     [39] Burgess, 850. 
     [40] Burgess, 850. 
     [41] Mills, 244-259. 
     [42] Mills, 235-242.
     [43] 1Thes 5:21 (ESV).
     [44] John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, vol. 18 (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2009), 74.
     [45] Acts 2:4 (ESV).
     [46] Thomas D. Lea, Thomas and David Alan Black, The New Testament: Its Background and Message (Nashville, Tenn: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003), 292.  
     [47] Strong, 1612. 
     [48] Acts 2:5-11.
     [49] Acts 2:12-13. 
     [50] F. F. Bruce, Commentary on the Book of the Acts, The New international commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1973), 65.  
     [51] Guy P. Duffield and Nathaniel M. Van Cleave, Foundations of Pentecostal Theology (Los Angles, Calif: Foursquare Media, 2008), 324.  
     [52] Acts 10:47-48.
     [53] Acts 11:15 (ESV).
     [54] John William Wade, Acts: Unlocking the Scriptures for You, Standard Bible studies (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Pub, 1987), 23.
     [55] Acts 19:1-7. 
     [56] Acts 19:6 (ESV).
     [57] Acts 19:2 (ESV). 
     [58] Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1974), 170.
     [59] D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2005), 428.      
     [60] I Cor 12:7.
     [61] 1 Cor 12:8-11.
     [62] 1 Cor 12:30 (ESV). 
     [63] 1 Cor 12:31 (ESV).
     [64] 1 Cor 13:1 (ESV). 
     [65] William Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians, The Daily study Bible series. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975), 119-119.
     [66] Margaret Eleanor Thrall, The First and the Second Letters of Paul to the Corinthians, The Cambridge Bible commentary (Cambridge: Univ. Press, 1965), 92.  
     [67] Duffield, 341-344.
     [68] 1 Cor 14:2, 6-10. 
     [69] 1 Cor 14:5.
     [70] 1 Cor 14:10-11. 
     [71] 1 Cor 14:13.
     [72] 1 Cor 14:13-19, 27-28.
     [73] 1 Cor 14:21-25 (ESV).
     [74] Gundry, 11.
     [75] Gundry, 11. 
     [76] Gundry, 11. 
     [77] Gundry, 266. 
     [78] Gundry, 242.
     [79] Gundry, 240-244.
     [80] Duffield, 324-325. 
     [81] Duffield, 325. 
     [82] Grudem, 1031-1037.
     [83] Gundry, 10.
     [84] Grudem, 1032. 
     [85] 1 Cor 13:8-10 (ESV). 
     [86] Gundry, 25-60.
     [87] Gundry, 61.
     [88] Gundry, 47. 
     [89] Gundry, 31.
     [90] Mark W. Wilson, ed, Spirit and Renewal: Essays in Honor of J. Rodman Williams (Journal of Pentecostal Theology, 5. Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994), 69.
     [91] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Book House, 1998), 895.  
     [92] Erickson, 895-896.
     [93] Gundry, 100. 
     [94] Erickson, 896.

 *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 of ~1810 Greek painting found in the Greek Catholic Cathedral of Hajdúdorog, Hungary, is licensed under a Creative Commons License and a GNU Free Documentation License.  It is available for review at, taken and uploaded by "jojojoe," a user and contributor of Wikimedia Commons.

An Analysis of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormonism)

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—whose members are commonly called Mormons—is one of, if not the fastest growing religion in the world.[1]  In 2007, the LDS church claimed nearly 13 million members.[2]  Mormons are gaining a mainstream foothold in common culture, having active members in all levels of politics, entertainment, authorship, and academia.  Therefore, this post will attempt to examine the LDS religion; first offering a brief overview of the religion and its early history, then an analysis, followed by one approach for Christians to share their beliefs with Mormons.  This author resides in Salt Lake City, Utah—the headquarters of the LDS church—so in addition to the sources provided here, some insight will come from personal observation.

A Brief Overview of the Mormon Religion
A Religion is Born: Its Early History.  Generally, the accounts of the early beginnings of the Mormon church start in 1820 with a fourteen-year-old boy struggling to decide which Christian denomination to join, mainly of the Methodists, Presbyterians, and Baptists.[3]  After reading James 1:5, Smith heads into a grove of trees and prays about these religions.[4]  Both God the Father and Jesus both appear together and in bodily form.  As James Walker explains,
Smith later reported that Christ warned him to join none of the churches because they were all wrong, their creeds were an abomination in God’s sight, and those who profess these religions are all corrupt. Smith said that he later discovered that there had been a “total apostasy” shortly after the death of the original apostles in the first century. Thus, there had been no true Christianity on the earth for 1,700 years. No church had the true authority to act for God or perform essential, sacred ordinances. Rather than joining any of these apostate churches, Joseph Smith believed that he must restore true Christianity to the earth.[5]
However, Fawn Brodie argues that court records and newspaper accounts suggest that Smith was already gravitating to the “revival hysteria and channeled into a life of mysticism and exhortation.”[6]  She further reminds her readers of the vast amounts of biographical data on Smith and the early birth of the LDS Church, “for Joseph Smith dared to found a new religion in the age of printing.”[7]
            On September 21, 1823, after years of “suffering severe persecution” for his vision, Smith received another vision from an angel named Moroni.  Moroni showed Smith where to dig up the golden plates that contained the stories of two nations of people in the Americas and Jesus’ appearing to them.[8]  Smith translated these plates into what is known as The Book of Mormon.  Smith’s revelations as the Prophet for the church were written down, as were the revelations of subsequent Prophet-heads of the church, into a document called the Doctrine and Covenants, with the most recent addition on September 30, 1978.[9]  The Pearl of Great Price and the King James Version of the Bible make up their cannon.  (Concerning the Bible, the eighth Article of faith states that the Bible is acceptable “as far as it is translated correctly.”[10])  The cannon remains open for the addition of further revelation.  The LDS Church is headed by a Prophet, a council of apostles (two advisers and the Prophet make up the “First Presidency,” and 12 elder men for the “Quorum of the Twelve”), and the “Quorum of the Seventy” (all elder men).  This group of leaders oversee local leaders of various jurisdictions down to the local level called the ward.  The ward is lead by a Bishop.  Mormons believe this is the exact structure originally installed by Jesus when he was on the earth.
            Basic Doctrines and Tenants.[11]  While many volumes are available on Mormon Doctrine—produced by both Mormons and non-Mormons—this post will not even scratch the surface.  In the simplest of overviews, Mormons do not hold to a Trinitarian view of God, but instead believe that God was once a man, just as we are today, who worked to become a god and then had many spirit children with “Heavenly Mother.”  Jesus and Lucifer (who later became Satan) were among these spirit children.  Both Jesus and Lucifer suggested a plan of salvation to the Father, who selected Jesus’ plan.  Lucifer rebelled and was cast out of heaven along with 1/3 of the other spirit children who supported his rebellion.  Incidentally, the spirit children are synonymous with angels and demons. 

            There are three levels of heaven, with the third level containing an additional three levels.  The best of these levels allows those accepted to become gods and repeat the entire process on another world of their creation.  However, in order to enter any heavenly level, a spirit child must first come to earth to obtain a physical body and work through various ordinances, including entering one of more than 120 Mormon temples to perform baptisms for the dead, be sealed to a spouse and family for all time and eternity, and receive the right to wear special undergarments.  In order to enter the temple, Mormons must be “worthy, which includes among other practices, abstaining from coffee, tea, tobacco, and sex prior to marriage.  Mormons must also give a “full tithe” or 10% of their total gross income.”[12]  The temple is closed to all but fully practicing, “temple worthy” members.  Mormons hold that salvation comes through grace, only “after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23).  They practice sacrementalism and subsequently, sacerdotalism.  In addition, the LDS church has many other minor doctrines, including the more infamous that deal with matters of polygamy and the priesthood (which will be addressed in the next section of this post).  

Analysis of the Mormon Religion
            A Shaky Foundation: Inconsistency of Doctrine.  To an outside observer, it would seem that an open cannon has allowed for convenient changes to doctrines and practices.  For example, Brodie chronicles many incidents of Smith’s behavior with other women prior to his 1831 ‘revelation’ authorizing the practice of polygamy, recorded in Section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants in 1843.[13]  It might also appear that this revelation helped solved the problem of remarriage after the death of a wife to which a man was already married and sealed.  Ironically, Parley Pratt, a close friend to Smith, just so happened to be dealing with this problem.  Through revelation, polygamy was allowed and practiced in the Mormon church.  However, in 1890, facing political pressure, the inability for Utah to obtain statehood, and even the possibility of criminal charges, the Prophet Wilford Woodruff received a timely revelation’ that the practice was to stop.[14]  In a similar situation, facing political pressure, Spencer Kimball received a revelation allowing Blacks to receive the priesthood, thus, giving them the ability to enter the temple to perform temple ordinances to potentially become gods, something they were prohibited from obtaining prior to September 30, 1978[15].  Before 1978, it was thought that colored skin was the mark of unrepentant sin.  In hindsight, one outside the LDS Church might suggest this ‘revelation’ would not have come had it not been for the Civil Rights Acts.

            But the open cannon is not the only mechanism allowing for shifting doctrine.  A Prophet might teach a doctrine that a subsequent Prophet can reverse or allow to fall out of practice.  The “Adam-God Doctrine” is one such example.  Walker states, “Young [the Prophet at the time] preached from the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City that the first man, Adam, ‘is our father and god the only god with whom we have to do’ (Journal of Discourses, vol. I, p. 50).”[16]  Jerald Tanner and Sandra Tanner also provide a number of photographed journal entries, articles, and printed statements by Young that demonstrate many other instances when Young taught this doctrine.[17]  However, “this doctrine was quickly repudiated by the LDS church after Young’s death.”[18]

And in addition to subsequent Prophets changing doctrine, the Book of Mormon has been changed 3,913 times as documented by Tanner and Tanner.[19]  This should cause one to ask, If Joseph was given the tools to correctly translate the golden plates (the autograph), why the need for the changes?  Could it be that English words have already shifted in their meaning?  Maybe.  However, this cannot account for many of the documented changes.  For example, early printings of 2 Nephi 30:6 indicate that if a dark skinned person were to repent, he would be turned “white and delightsome,” but later printings state “pure and delightsome.”[20]

            The Name Game: Christians who Reject Christian Doctrine?  This author has noticed in recent years, a tremendous effort by members of the LDS church to identify themselves as “Christians.”  Stephen Robinson provides Mormons with a ready-made argument to the question, “Are Mormons Christian?” on the LDS website; “Why would anyone say otherwise” writes Robinson.[21]  And there seems to be a strong desire to connect with Evangelical Christians in the voting booth.  Even the LDS Church logo was changed before the 2002 Winter Olympics, making the name of Jesus Christ much larger.  When challenged, Mormons will resort to saying, “What’s the name of our church?  See if it’s in our name, then we are Christian.”  First, the name might be the same but it is not the same Jesus.  To this, Walker writes,
Evangelicals should be aware, however, that the LDS have a “different gospel” and a different Jesus than theirs (2 Corinthians 11:3-4). In 1998, the Mormon prophet Gordon B. Hinckley confessed that he believed in a different Jesus than the “traditional Christ” worshiped by those outside of the LDS Church.[22]
Second, one should ask, Why do Mormons want to be included under the Christian umbrella when their doctrine states that there was a great apostasy and no true Christianity in the world, that no churches were right when Smith was seeking one?  Or could it be that the Mormons simply want to redefine the term, “Christianity” and then claim it exclusively as their own?

How Should Christians Share Their Beliefs With Mormons?
            In his book, I Love Mormons, Dr. Rowe, a former professor at Salt Lake Theological Seminary writes, “My prayer, my dream, is that you, the reader, would come to understand Latter-day Saints and their culture and wed this understanding to a profound love and respect for them that they will sense as you relate to them.  This is how bridges for the biblical gospel will be built into their world, their lives, and even their worldwide church.”[23]  The key idea, as it might be in all apologetics and evangelism, is to build a bridge.  Historically, Mormons have suffered persecution and they tend to be somewhat sensitive about any criticism of their faith.  Therefore, going on the offensive, or even pointing out flaws in their religion might cause them to raise their guard.  (Admittedly, this post will likely produce this result.)  But in every case this author is aware of, people who left Mormonism did so after a season of questioning their own religion.  Being a safe source for answers is possibly the best way to build the bridge Dr. Rowe mentions.

            However, if one desires to approach an active Mormon in an effort to present the gospel, there are some basic tips of which to be mindful.  First, do not dance around the idea that there are some serious differences between Mormon and Christian doctrine.  These differences are real; address them honestly and respectfully.  Second, Mormons are strong supporters of a “personal testimony” so present the gospel from your personal perspective, using a positive approach rather than trying to "chip away" at their beliefs.  Present a positive example of God’s love and grace.  Of course, use Scripture, but remember that the Mormon can always fall back on his or her belief that the Bible is not correctly translated.  Often, a “correct” translation of a passage cannot be provided because this is simply a defense against biblical truth.  Understand that Mormonism is an all-encompassing lifestyle, so a person, if he or she were to convert to Christianity, is not just leaving a religion, but an entire culture.  Try to avoid bashing on that culture.  If you do feel the need to point the Mormon to specific Mormon material, use material he or she might be (or should be familiar with as a typical Mormon) instead of some obscure quote from fifty or one-hundred years ago.  (I admit that I have resorted to a long forgotten doctrine when discussing shifting doctrine; however, it was by choice that I did not use a present doctrine as an example.)  Often, the best source for LDS material is the Doctrine and Covenants; but again, only if you feel you absolutely must.  This will do far more to start the season of questioning than quoting an unknown sermon by say, Brigham Young. (It is easy to fall back on historical quotes, even has this post has done, but this is not often the most effective way to discuss the differences in Mormonism and Christianity when chatting with a member of the LDS faith.)  Try to ask many questions but do not demand an answer on the spot; allow the questions to work in the person’s mind so the Holy Spirit might drive the answers deep into the Mormon’s heart.  And above all, pray continually for the Mormon.  Pray.      

Brodie, Fawn McKay. No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.
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.
Rowe, David L. I Love Mormons: A New Way to Share Christ with Latter-Day Saints. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2005.
Smith, Joseph. The Pearl of Great Price. Extracts from the History of Joseph Smith, the Prophet. History of the Church, Vol. 1, Chapters 1-5. Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter –day Saints, 1981.
Tanner, Jerald and Sandra Tanner. Mormonsim: Shadow or Reality?. Utah Lighthouse Ministry, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1987.

     [1] Walter Elwell. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Baker reference library, Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2001), 792.
     [2] Edward E. Hindson and Ergun Mehmet Caner, The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics (Eugene, Or: Harvest House Publishers, 2008), 360.
     [3] Joseph Smith, The Peal of Great Price, Extracts from the History of Joseph Smith, the Prophet, History of the Church, Vol. 1, Chapters 1-5 (Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter –day Saints, 1981), 47, 1:5.
     [4] Smith, 48, 1:11-15.
     [5] Hindson, 358.
     [6] Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet (New York: Vintage Books, 1995), 16.
     [7] Brodie, vii.
     [8] Smith, 51-55, 1:27-55.
     [9] Doctrine and Covenants (Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter –day Saints, 1981) 294, Declaration 2.
     [10] Smith, 60, The Articles of Faith 8.
     [11] This entire section comes from both personal observation and Hindson, 360-361.
     [12] Hindson, 360-361.
     [13] Brodie, 297-308, 334-347.  The Doctrine and Covenants introduction to Section 132 seems to suggest that Brodie may be correct, including, “Although the revelation was recorded in 1843, it is evident from the historical records that the doctrines and principles involved in this revelation had been known by the Prophet since 1831” 266.
     [14] Declaration 1 of the Doctrine and Covenants, added on October 6, 1890, records Woodruff’s statements on this matter.
     [15] Declaration 2 of the Doctrine and Covenants.
     [16] Hindson, 359.
     [17] Jerald Tanner and Sandra Tanner, Mormonsim: Shadow or Reality? 5th ed. (Utah Lighthouse Ministry, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1987), 174-178D
     [18] Hindson, 359.
     [19] Tanner, 89.
     [20] Hindson, 360.
     [21] Stephen E. Robinson, “Are Mormons Christians?”, [Accessed December 6, 2009].
     [22] Hindson, 362.
     [23] David L. Rowe, I Love Mormons: A New Way to Share Christ with Latter-Day Saints (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2005), 9. 

*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.  I have no material connection to the books recommended in this post. 
** Photo of Statue is registered under a Creative Commons License: / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. Photo of  Street Preacher is registered under a Creative Commons License: / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

SLC Church Planter Shares his Story with Central Christian Church

January 18, 2010
Pastor Kyle Costello, born in Provo Utah, raised in Ely, Nevada, is leading a team of church planters headed to Salt Lake City, Utah.  Kyle was on staff with a large church in Las Vegas as wells as at Imago Dei in Portland, Oregon.  He and his wife have purchased a house in SLC and will move in around the end of January.

On January 3, he told his story to Central Christian Church in Phoenix, Arizona. Watch the video here.  You can also read the stories of some of the team, stay aware of what's happening with the blogs, and get connected through Facebook and Twitter by visiting

Mainstreaming Mormonism

I recently wrote a a short subsection for a Burnside Writer's Collective piece on the trends and events of the past decade in American Christianity.  My contribution was on the issue of the mainstreaming of the LDS Church.  I'm expanding on the discussion with this post. 

The last decade has seen a continued growth of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS, Mormons), especially in South America.  In 2000, there were over 11-million members and nearly 61,000 missionaries, according to the LDS Church.  In 2008, there were 13.5-million members in a decade where many Christian denominations saw flat growth or even decline.  Living in Salt Lake City, I often Mormons argue that this fast growth support the LDS church's validity as the one and only "true church." This is a flawed argument, but the church records do seem to show explosive growth.  However, we need to remember that these statistics do not reflect the number of members who have gone inactive or left the Church without removing their names from the records.

While very challenging to document, their growth might be, in part, a result of the mainstreaming of the Mormon faith.  What do I mean by mainstreaming?  Basically, there's an effort, intentional or not, to bring the Mormon Church under the umbrella of orthodox Christianity.  In the past ten years, more Mormons have raised to public positions of prominence than ever before.  This decade, Mormons have followed the Osmonds into the entertainment spotlight, appearing on nearly every reality television show in prime time, landing on best-selling author’s lists, and singing to the masses.  Sixteen Mormons presently serve in the US Congress, including the Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid from Nevada, and Orin Hatch who ran for the Republican nomination for the US Presidency in the 2000 election.  Mitt Romney, one of a good-sized handful of Mormon Governors, also ran for the US Presidency, thrusting the LDS Church into the public eye even further.  And let’s not forget conservative talk show host Glenn Beck.       

In 2002, Salt Lake City, the international headquarters of the LDS Church, hosted the world during the Olympic Winter Games.  Before the coming of the all the cameras and attention, the Church adjusted its logo so “Jesus Christ” is larger and more prominently displayed.  And the Mormon members were discouraged from calling themselves Mormons, in favor of “members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

Slowly, the LDS Church is working to slip into the term “Christian” without sharing in much of the same theology.  Many Mormon Facebook users list their religion as “Christian,” and they often take offense when challenged on the issue.  Mormons are doing more to give out a King James Bible with a Book of Mormon now.  And the missionary discussions place greater focus on Jesus, albeit many (including the late LDS Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley), argue that Mormons do not view Jesus the same way Evangelicals do.  Two of the three Evangelicals ever to speak in the Mormon Tabernacle, two did so in the latter half of the decade.  Ravi Zacharias and Nic Vijucic were guests of Standing Together, a Christian organization attempting to bridge the divide by focusing on the similarities.  Other Christian groups, such as Mormon Research Ministries are opposed to such mainstreaming without centering the discussions on the differences in theology.   While those who want to focus on the simularities say it reaching out to Mormons in love, others suggest that it leaves Mormons no reason to leave the faith.  Additionally, the LDS can use the bridge efforts to further the mainstreaming.  Both approaches make some valid points, but the best Christian apologetic efforts might be best to settle somewhere between these too positions.

The LDS Church appears to greatly want to be included in the evangelical voting block and be seen as part of the Christian family.  But as long as the LDS missionaries continue to try to convert Christians, they continue to show the world where they really stand on this issue.

Only time will tell of the mainstreaming efforts will favor the Mormons.  They had less full-time missionaries in the field in 2008 than in 2000, down to about 52,400.  The new convert rate has remained flat over the past decade, around 265,000 per year, with the remaining growth coming from births.  More recently, the LDS Church almost seemed surprised that many Evangelicals opposed Mitt Romney for the Presidency.  And the backlash of California’s Prop 8 is lingering with little sign of letting up.