Tag Archives: mormons

Debate recap: Introduction.

On July 24th I had the pleasure of joining Jeremy Goff, a popular LDS lifestyle blogger, in a moderated public discussion of the question “Who is God?” Dr. Wallace Marshall moderated for us, which was a real treat, as his past debates have always been very interesting. We had a decent turn out, and I managed to get some video of the event, although technical difficulties prevented us from capturing the whole thing.

While I’ll be taking up a number of topics from the debate, I wanted to take this first post to reflect on how the debate went overall. Here we go.

We followed a pretty standard format with opening statements, rebuttals, cross-examination, closing statements, and then audience questions. I’ve uploaded a copy of my opening statement here if you want to read it. We had flipped a coin earlier in the week and God willed that I go first, so I kicked things off and we went from there.

I have to say, over all, I was satisfied with how things went. I certainly had a good time, and I think Jeremy did as well. We got some good questions from the audience at the end which showed they had been paying attention, and I had some interesting conversations with people after the event.

I wish Jeremy had engaged more with my opening statement, but he did come at it from essentially the angle I was expecting. My argument was, roughly, that if you believe Jesus is raised from the dead you should also trust the Scriptures, and that the Scriptures teach the doctrine of the Trinity. He didn’t engage with my exegesis of John 1 at all, nor did he take up Isaiah 43:10. Instead he kept asserting that God is our literal Father and that the Bible had been tampered with by men.

For my own part, my first response should have spent less time pointing out how Dan Brown-esque Jeremy’s understanding of church history was and more time demonstrating why his points didn’t touch my initial argument. My feet got out from under me and I spent way too long talking about what Gnosticism does and doesn’t teach. I’ve got to be more concise in further engagements, and really tether myself to the topic.

The cross-ex was a lot of fun. Jeremy failed to produce sources for any of his claims there, which was unfortunate because that left him with just assertions. This really showed a lack of authority, from my perspective. Anyone can say “such and such happened,” but as the late Hitch was wont to say, “that which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” Since Jeremy provided no evidences for his claims, his earlier plausible sounding story really fell apart. I wish I’d pinned him down more on the nature of God, though, but he kept side-stepping questions.

All in all, it was quite interesting to hear “straight from the horses mouth” what a lay-LDS member believes about church history, philosophy, the Bible, and the rest. I had a really good time, and I think that for two first-time debaters the event went very well. I’d love to go at it again sometime!

Like I said, a number of interesting points came up during the debate. I’ll be exploring them over the next few weeks, hopefully with video clips from the debate to provide some context. I hope you keep reading! If you want updates you can get them via email/Wordpress (above right) or via my Facebook page.

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Filed under Apologetics, Mormonism Mondays, Theology

Conversations with Latter Day Saints.

You’ve seen them before: Two young men, dressed in black slacks and a white button down, faces shaven (or likely still bare with youth) and shining with excitement. They introduce themselves as Elders, despite the fact that they are at least 3 years your junior, and ask how they can help you today. They talk about Jesus, and our Heavenly Father, and the Plan of Salvation.

Mormon missionaries are a mission field to themselves. They show up on your doorstep, often without warning, offering another gospel to you, ostensibly shared by an angel from heaven. Of course you’ve read Galatians 1 and remember Paul’s prophetic warning against the followers of Joseph Smith. The question of how to engage Mormon missionaries is a tough one.

One of our primary goals when talking with Latter Day Saints should be to establish a shared epistemology. Epistemology is a fancy word for “how we know what we know.” So in plain English, we must both agree to a way to find out if a claim is true. Unfortunately, Mormons insist that their subjective experience is the way to know truth. They will ask you to read the Book of Mormon and pray about it. I encourage you to ask them what the spirit feels like some time — they will describe (much like Pentecostals and Charismatics) a feeling of peace, warmth, love, happiness, or joy. Of course these are all good things, but they are not proof of the truth or falsity of a particular proposition. Many things which are untruthful may, in fact, make you happy. For instance, we have all shared the elation of a well executed movie, as the rising action climaxes and the story resolves. The story was a good one; it was not necessarily a factual one, and in many cases may be counterfactual. Many more examples could follow, but for the purposes of our discussion here, this will suffice.

So we must not be fooled into thinking that a good feeling is a truth-telling feeling; after all, our hearts are desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9), and from them all manner of evil flows forth (Matt.15:19). But the truth is found in God’s Word, for His Word is truth (John 17:17). How then do we communicate this to our Mormon friends and neighbors in a way that is winsome, charitable, and convincing? I have found that the best way to do this is by having them do it for you.

When I sit down with some missionaries, I try to get to know them. I learn about their lives before their mission, where they’re from, and what they do for fun. As we talk things inevitably turn to spiritual subjects — after all, you’re both there evangelizing. The killer question to ask: “What is the best way to learn spiritual truths?” Missionaries invariably respond something like “pray about it.” This is a good place to ask them what the spirit feels like, as I mentioned earlier. Allow them to share, and genuinely listen. Get them to clarify that they think prayer is the best way to understand what God wants from us.

The next question is something along the lines of “Should I pray about whether or not to commit murder?” You can substitute “break the law,” “cheat on my wife,” “lie to my husband,” or any other sin that you know they will not affirm. If they don’t outright say it’s wrong to do whatever you ask about, make them clarify why it’s wrong. Often their response will be something along the lines of “Because God revealed it to us; we don’t need further guidance about that.” If they say this, of course, they are overthrowing their own emotionally-driven epistemology for a Scripturally-driven one — they’re moving from feeling alone toward the truth of God’s Word. At this point it’s a simple matter to clarify: “If God reveals something in His Word, we don’t need to pray for further guidance about it, right?

Turn with them then to Isaiah 43:10; this is probably the most important verse in Scripture to share with missionaries. A great way to introduce it is to say “God revealed His testimony about Himself through the Prophet Isaiah.” Have one of them read what God says about Himself there. Then remind them that they just said if God reveals something in His Word, we don’t need to pray about it. We already know that anyone or anything that contradicts God’s testimony of Himself is wrong. From this point on in the conversation, any time they try to contradict the Scriptures, they have contradicted themselves.

This is not a cheap shot to win an argument. This is a powerful tool to overturn a worldview and to set people on the path away from error. You have planted a seed of truth: God’s Word trumps all else. When you part ways invite them over for a free meal. Ask them to bring answers to your questions. Build a relationship with them. And above all pray for them fervently.

I hope that this example helps you communicate the truth in love to the next pair of missionaries you run into. For more information about the LDS church, check out http://www.mrm.org. If you have questions, please comment with them! I’d love to talk more about the subject. Also, please leave your favorite question to ask missionaries below!

May God strengthen and keep you in the true faith, once delivered for all the saints! Amen.

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Filed under Apologetics, Evangelism, Theology