Saturday, February 16, 2013

Should evangelism always suit a 21st century culture?

 On Ash Wednesday, several Episcopalian priests from the San Diego, CA area went onto local street corners, putting ashes onto the heads of pedestrians. According to the article I read, this event was created so people who were too busy to go to church could participate in this rite. Some even stuck their heads out of car windows while waiting at the red light to have the service done! They advertised the event on a large sandwich board stationed on the sidewalk, with a prominent LGBT rainbow flag attached to it.
On my Facebook account, I shared the news story. I explained that I knew it was Ash Wednesday, but I had never heard of religious leaders applying ashes to random people’s foreheads. (It might not be the same, but would they do this with baptism? With communion?) On my Facebook page, I questioned the whole affair and added that I wasn’t sure why the rainbow flag was displayed, especially since there were no other flags. If the priests were catering to others besides homosexuals, perhaps a U.S. or Christian flag would have been good to add in. Or, since this area of town has a large homosexual population, was this rainbow flag intended to show that the ashes were only meant for homosexuals and no one else? If there was such a thing as a “straight flag” and it was displayed by itself, what would the reaction have been? Would the priests have been called “homophobes”? To me, the whole affair was every confusing.
Several  friends responded on my page, criticizing my “narrow-mindedness. “One person who says she is a Christian wrote: “Perhaps the pastor isn't endorsing anything by holding signs, and being on a street corner. Perhaps he's just spreading good news and love to ALL people. The Jesus I know loves people of ALL faiths, ALL walks of life, ALL colors, and ALL orientations equally. He calls them to him and embraces them always with loving open arms! I want no part of making that call in judging people; that is God's job, not ours.”
It is the kind of comment we get on a regular basis from many who criticize us at MRM. After all, they ask, what gives us the right to tell others that their others’ views are wrong? I wrote back:
“Not to argue, but let me ask some questions to make my point. This Jesus you speak about, doesn't He say in John 7:24 to ‘make a right judgment’? And was Jesus never judgmental? (See Matt 23:27-28, John 8:44, and there's a host of others I could quote.)”
I also trotted Paul out. After all, didn’t the apostle judge the Corinthians (see 1 Corinthians 5:1ff)? In this passage, he told the believers to “expel the immoral brother.” The man in question was apparently having sexual relations with his father’s wife. “And you are proud!” Paul retorted. “Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this?” He added, “I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present.”
I’m just not sure why these priests who call themselves “Christian” want to participate in what is, for them at least, a religious rite with a group of people who may or may not call themselves Christian and who are proudly sexually immoral. Paul explained in 1 Corinthians 5:11 that “you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.” These are tough words, but Paul was serious about what he was saying.
Letters to the seven churches are listed in Revelation chapters two and three. The first letter is addressed to the church of Ephesus. After the church is initially criticized, Jesus gives some positive words in verse 6: “But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” (The Nicolaitans are also referred to in the next letter to Pergamum.) What were those practices? The Nicolaitans were well known for practicing spiritual liberty that they felt gave them the ability to practice idolatry and immorality. And according to these words, Jesus hates idolatry and immorality.  
But wait, doesn’t’ Jesus love all people? There is no doubt that God does have a love for all humankind, a general benevolence that allows the rain to fall on both the just and the unjust. But He hates worship and practices that don’t give honor to Him. In this 21st century that has become filled with political correctness, Christians who have a zeal to share truth with the unsaved are told to pipe down and mind their own business. We must be careful, we are told, because we just don’t want others to be offended. It might make them feel bad about themselves.
I disagree with this way of thinking. While we do what we do with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:16), it behooves us to share the honest truth with everyone. I believe that homosexuality and Mormonism are not unforgiveable sins, but I believe that homosexuality can be equated with immorality and Mormonism with idolatry. It is possible to let others know, from a biblical point of view, that these ways are not God’s ways, while at the same time not resort to ad hominem (against the man) attacks. I don’t hate Mormons or homosexuals, but I certainly don’t agree with their practices.
Indeed, we all fall short of God’s expectations; every person comes to the throne of grace imperfect and in need of forgiveness.  However, when we arrive to the point where we say that “I want no part of making that call in judging people, that is God's job, not ours,” the gospel becomes the Biggest Loser. Will we become like those Christians in Nazi Germany who decided to bite their lips and just go with the flow as people were sent to concentration camps? Or because Mormons are such a moral people, will we be satisfied in letting them go to hell because, quite frankly, we don’t want to experience what Walter Martin called “Rockaboatis”?  
We are commanded to be ambassadors of light and point to truth in a loving way. Jesus commanded it! And the example can be seen throughout the New Testament. Christian, let’s not be intimidated, even when people don’t want us to stand for truth.



Monday, January 14, 2013

Why Can't They See?

If you are like me, one of the most frustrating things in sharing your Christian faith is having the message rejected, sometimes even “in your face.” Recently I had a pair of Mormon missionaries come over to my house, unannounced. We had a very good one-hour conversation. The elder who had been on the field longer wanted to leave after 15 minutes, but the new elder expressed his desire of staying and engaging. It was a friendly dialogue. As they left, the junior elder (who, at 21, had admitted that he had just received his testimony earlier that year) shook my hand. He looked me in the eyes and said that no matter what anyone said, nobody was going to be able to convince him that his testimony was not true.

Talk about frustration. This missionary had no answers as to how he “knew” that Joseph Smith was a true prophet. He couldn’t explain why he “knew” the Book of Mormon was true except he had a good feeling. And how did he “know” that his testimony was valid? Well, he just did. How is it even possible to communicate in an intelligent manner with someone who holds fideism so close to his heart?

The answer to my frustration is found, very clearly I might say, in the first two chapters of 1 Corinthians. Consider what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:18, 21, 25 (NIV):
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. . . . For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him; God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. . . . For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.”

According to the original Greek text, the word for “foolishness” is where we get the English word “moron.” Interesting choice of words, wouldn’t you say? According to the Bible, people left in their natural state are “morons.” Now, I’m not saying Mormons are morons. (Have you ever slipped on your computer and written “moron” instead of “Mormon”? The spell checker just won’t catch the mistake!) However, left to the unbeliever’s natural state, the cross and the heart of Christianity’s message will be rejected 100% of the time as being foolish. It just doesn’t make sense to them. This has been confirmed by the many conversations I’ve had with dozens of missionaries and thousands of other Latter-day Saints.

Paul goes on. He says in verses 27-30 that “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.”

On the surface, the cross isn’t very exciting to those who believe that, somehow, their good works must be added to the payment owed due to sin. Even though Christ has paid it all, we naturally believe that somehow we must make our contribution, even if it just ends up being 1% of the total. But desiring to make a “contribution” means that a person has not fully grasped the idea that nothing more is owed once the gift has been accepted! Notice, Christ is “our righteousness, holiness and redemption.” It’s His work, not ours, that is needed. The debt is fully paid yet there is nothing you did to earn it.

In chapter 2, Paul explains that it wasn’t through earthly wisdom that he shared the gospel with the Corinthians, but rather “with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power.” Why? In verse 5, he explains “so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.” Otherwise, the individual would have room to boast on his or her own accomplishments. (See Ephesians 2:8-9.)

Be careful, because Paul is not saying that we should walk up to Mormons, touch them with a spiritual magic—no words necessary—and all of a sudden they will grasp the true gospel. This concept is certainly not supported in how he shared the gospel in Jewish synagogues or at Mars Hill in Acts 17. Verse 7 is important here in explaining “God’s secret wisdom,” which “has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.” In the Greek, the word “predestined” is used here. Translate it as you will, but understand that God’s sovereignty is the key for people to be able to know God. “God’s secret wisdom” will remain hidden unless, as verse 10 says, “God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.”

Do you grasp this? It’s hard, isn’t it? After all, if I had my way, every missionary and Latter-day Saint with whom I come into contact would comprehend the message of Truth that I’m trying to share. But Paul says I wasn’t ever supposed to understand how this all works. He said that just as no person can understand his own thoughts like the person himself, so “no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (v. 11).

For verse 13, let me quote the Contemporary English Version, for I think it grasps the concept of what Paul was communicating better than the KJV, NIV, and NASB: “Every word we speak was taught to us by God’s Spirit, not by human wisdom. And the same Spirit helps us teach spiritual things to spiritual people.” In order to be able to understand, those recipients must have wisdom—spiritual and not earthly. As verse 6 says, a person must be spiritually “mature” to understand the wisdom of God. Spiritual wisdom, not natural wisdom, is needed to fully understand this incredible message.

Finally, the killer point comes in verse 14: “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

How many ex-Mormons have you met who have said something like this: “For all those years, I just didn’t understand the gospel. Then (blank) happened and all of a sudden it made sense. How did I not see this before?” The answer, my friend, is found in these first two chapters of 1 Corinthians. The Holy Spirit is in charge of “secret wisdom.” The key to unlocking that secret wisdom involves more than just verbally sharing your Christian faith. Prayer on our part, both during and after the evangelistic encounter, will go a long way! After all, we’re not involved in a conflict of flesh and blood but with things involving the spiritual realm. (See Ephesians 6:12.)

I have to say, as the missionaries walked away, I silently admitted to God that I was frustrated. But as my friend Bill McKeever likes to say, “We’re only in sales. God is in production.” When presenting the gospel, some of us are involved in planting seeds and others are in charge of watering, “but God made it grow” (1 Cor. 3:6). I have been commissioned to present truth to the lost, however that might be, but I must always remember that it’s the Holy Spirit’s job to bring people to Him. I encourage you to continue sharing your faith and don’t let rejection affect you personally. You just never know who God is going to touch next, even if it’s not in your presence!





Friday, September 14, 2012

Responding to Negative Comments: Brigham City Outreach

On Wednesday, September 12, 2012, I was interviewed by two different television stations in front of the Mormon temple. (If you would like to see the stories, you can see them here.)

I happened to read the comments left by viewers from the first link. KSL Channel 5  is owned by the LDS Church, so we would expect more of a Mormon audience. About 80-90% of the more than 80 comments were against the lawsuit and, ultimately, angry with “protestors” like me.

To show you the great amount of anger folks have against us, I have clipped a half dozen comments along with a short response to each. I find the argumentation both humorous yet disturbing. I have left the spelling/grammar the same of the original writers—many obviously came from Utah’s public schools.

Jim B: It is amazing to see these people dedicate their whole life to try and get people to believe what they believe to be true. What if these people spent their life doing good for people (helping in soup kitchen, volunteer in their communities, etc) Instead they waste their entire life trying to get people to follow them. Freedom of speech is very important....but what about freedom of religion?? Mr. Johnson, I would suggest you worry about your own salvation and not try to bring others down with you. This lawsuit is between ACLU and Brigham City, NOT the LDS church. The LDS church did not close the sidewalks, Brigham City did.

Let me get this straight, Jim. As a Mormon, is it not your job to spend your whole life helping others to see what you believe is true? In the September 2012 issue of the Ensign magazine, consider some of the feature articles:

·         Page 18: “Sharing the Gospel by Sharing You.” The teaser reads, “As we become personally converted, we can share the gospel through the way we live.” So, in essence, a Mormon is supposed to use his life’s example in an evangelistic way.
·         Page 22: “Senior Missionaries: Responding to the Prophet’s Call.” Its teaser says, “Overcoming obstacles to missionary service takes faith but brings great rewards.” Even old people should get involved by volunteering their service at their own expense.
·         Page 28: “Ye are the Light of the World.” “As followers of Christ, we are to let our light shine by doing full-time and member missionary work.” Both the elders and sisters as well as regular members need to be the light of the world.

In that same issue, an article titled “Restoring Morality & Religious Freedom” (page 39) says that Mormon leaders have called the US Constitution “divinely inspired, declaring that America by divine design was prepared as the place for the Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ. The freedoms and protections enumerated in the Constitution—including freedom of speech, assembly, and religion—made the Restoration possible.”

While our suit is technically against Brigham City, consider the facts: 1) The church broke ground for its temple on July 28, 2010. 2) The city’s ordinance in question was introduced on September 2, 2010. Question: Was this really a coincidence? Did the three leaders named in the suit make this law for anyone but the Mormon Church, certainly at their request, in order to keep the First Amendment from being practiced?

At this point, consider an editorial titled “Orwellian Free Speech” printed in the local paper (the Standard Examiner) on September 25, 2010. The editorial called for a challenge to this unconstitutional law. It ended: “The American Civil Liberties Union, or some other group, needs to challenge Brigham City's restriction of speech. Speech thievery cannot be tolerated.”  Needless to say, we did call in the ACLU—a liberal group, yes, but one not scared to challenge the deep pockets of the Mormon Church—and they have responded. See it at

Next, the issue of feeding the poor/donating to soup kitchens is brought up.  My question for Jim is will you get your church to quit sending 60,000 missionaries out into the world when their main motivation is to convert people? After all, couldn’t they use this money used in the missionary program to do humanitarian good as well? (Wait a minute, is there even a soup kitchen for the public operated by the LDS Church?) Doesn’t such an attitude sound like Judas who wanted the perfume to be sold so the money could be donated to the poor?  Yes, the Mormons are great with their welfare program, but this is meant mainly for their own members. How about giving food away to everyone without strings attached? (Isn’t it fun to tell other people how they ought to spend their money?)

As far as the last comment about the suit between the ACLU and the city, that is correct. But do you really want me to believe that the LDS Church did not have anything to do with this ordinance?

Cinsains: If Mr. Johnson has truly spent 20 years, as he states, blocking the pathways of new LDS temples in an effort to harass and intimidate open-house visitors by handing out anti-mormon fliers, it's obvious he has bigoted feelings and a spiteful agenda against those who quietly and respectfully follow their religion or want to learn about temples. I am hopeful he can get some psychological or spiritual help to 'move on' with his life and worship how, when, or what he pleases. Heaven forbid, I stand on his try to make him feel bad about his life-choices. If re-directed, we all would be amazed at the 'good' people like Mr. Johnson could do, if their negative actions reflected service and love for others rather than disrespect and hate.

I never said I spent 20 years doing temple openings. The reporter asked how long I had been doing temple openings. I responded since 1993, when the San Diego temple opened its doors. Cinsains makes it appear this is all I (we) do. No, we only do this when there is an open house, which is anywhere from 2-4 weeks. Once completed, we are done. Loaded words like “bigoted feelings” and “spiteful agenda” versus those who “quietly and respectfully follow their religion” is silly. This is not the issue. Rather, the issue is whether or not we allow free speech on public property, regardless if someone doesn’t like what is said. As far as learning about temples, this was a silent tour. There was absolutely no instruction going on. In the refreshment room at the end, only two missionaries man the booth at a time. It’s strange, because you would expect them to have more missionaries there to answer questions. Regardless, the information given during the open house is minimal, as the church hopes that investigators will invite missionaries to their homes. Finally, I find it humorous that Cinsains mentions disrespect and hate. Doesn’t it seem like there is plenty of this coming from the writer?

Zonoz: I think Mr. Johnson should find something constructive to do with his time instead of infringe upon the rights of people to worship as they please. His sign says God forgives you. Why does Mr. Johnson think LDS members need forgiveness any more than any other denomination? And after 20 of protesting LDS Temples I think Mr. Johnson should give it up as church membership has done nothing but grow in the last 20 years. I wonder how Mr. Johnson's church is doing? Freedom of speech is for everyone, how about freedom of harassment as well. Mr. Johnson and his sort may legally be able to pass out leaflets and shout at Temple goers but their behavior is certainly not Christlike.

What if I wrote, “I think Zonoz should find something constructive to do with his/her time instead of infringe upon the rights of people to share their opinion as they please”? If we take the advice of the previous writer, couldn’t Zonoz have spent this time more constructively in the soup kitchen? As far as the sign, it did not say “God forgives you.” Instead, it said God only forgives those who desire forgiveness and have a biblical belief in Him (Acts 16:31, Rom. 10:9,10). Because I don’t meet Mormons who believe they are forgiven of their sins, I want to tell others about God’s free gift through Jesus Christ.  As far as church membership growing, since we began doing these temple outreaches in 1993, church membership growth has declined from 4 percent a year to under 2 percent. Obviously, this religion is not growing like it once did.

Meanwhile, freedom of speech is a right we have as Americans. Freedom from harassment? Who says Mormons are going to be harassed. In fact, we’ve had a wonderful relationship with the security, police, and volunteers throughout this outreach. I have had lengthy conversations with dozens of folks who have agreed I have the right to practice “free agency.” They would not agree that our behavior in passing out the newspapers is unChristlike.

ShanWhit: A true christian wouldnt be bothering others during their religous practices and rights. A true christain wouldnt file a lawsuit. A true christian would attend this open house as well as others becuase a true christian would want to see for himself why so many come. Just another hater, hating on something he doesnt fully understand.

First off, this is an open house event and is open to the public. There are no “religious practices” going on inside the temple at that time. Two, if the only way to get your rights is to file a lawsuit, so be it. The city had plenty of opportunity to correct this illegal law, even as late as last Monday, Sept. 10. They refused us all the way. The lawsuit was the only way to get their attention. Notice, this is not about money. Otherwise, why is the suit only requesting $1 from three people? Third, I attended the open house…does this make me a “true Christian”? There was nothing wrong to attending the open house. We just wanted to do was allow those who attended a chance to practice their “free agency,” a concept clearly taught within Mormonism. (It would be akin to me saying “true Christians use spell checkers.” Oh yeah, support it!) As far as being a “hater,” why does ShanWhit hate me when she doesn’t fully understand the issues or my motivation?

Nortellio: For the record I am not LDS. But the LDS people have welcomed me to tour this temple and it was a great privlage to do so. When I was there I seen this group pushing fliers around and representing themselves from standing in the curb and gutter. They stand before men, women and children sending the message their faith is wrong and they do it at their place of worship. This seems really really silly to me. And when I think about it more.. This mormon research ministry reminds me of those people who didn't agree with the concept of someone being gay. Remember 1998 near Laramie Wyoming where Mathew Shepard was murdered? the people with gay issues went to his own funeral and waved their signs and/or fliers. This ministry is just like them. It would be nice for this ministry to realize there are kids there walking out of that temple who are innocent but you stand in their way looking at them like there is something wrong with them. Get a clue. Your poor behavior gets me worked up some but it's important to me that I know I can pray for this ministry and ask God to forgive them for showing up to their place of worship. Blessings.

Nortiello doesn’t like the fact that our newspaper explains how Mormonism is not the same as Christianity.  Yet he in turn says anyone saying such a thing is wrong. Isn’t this a bit narrow-minded? (If we are to take this common philosophy that anything said in opposition to an idea is wrong, then he has broken his self-made rule.) This is what Greg Koukl calls an argument by suicide, or self-defeating. Second, this is not yet a place of worship. It’s a place for public tours of a place that will become a place of worship once the dedication ceremonies take place the following week. To compare our disagreement of ideas with the 1998 Mathew Shepard case…well, for one, there is absolutely no comparison at all, and two, if disagreement does indeed equal hate and the Shepard case does apply, then isn’t this writer just as guilty for obviously hating those who he claims hate Mormons? As far as us “staring” at kids, on public property no less, this comment made me laugh out loud (I hope I didn’t wake anyone up). Are you kidding? If it’s possible that someone might “stare” at a child, then is the writer suggesting that we take away their rights to free speech? Has this country become communistic? But thankfully, as tough as his words are, this writer says he is willing to forgive me. I’ll have to work a little harder on not staring at kids so often when they walk through the temple. They could have nightmares, after all. (And no, this is not yet a place of worship. You won’t see me at this temple after it’s closed to the public.)

Nweb: They are being allowed to protest three of the four sides around the temple. The one spot where they are not being granted access is where the shuttle buses are dropping visitors off. It is very crowded back there and just not safe to decide to hang out there all day. It is for their own safety that these protesters are not allowed back there. To me, it just sounds like this guy is having a hissy-fit because he is not allowed to stand where he will be able to hand his anti-pamphlets out when people get off the bus. But, you can be guaranteed that if he were to get hit by a bus, he'd be suing over that, too. The guy, by his own admission, has been doing this for 20 years. Obviously, he has a vendetta against the LDS church. I live in Brigham City. I have seen firsthand how congested it is back where the buses are. It is not safe to hang out there. Also, this Eric Johnson guy is failing to mention that some of his ilk are not staying in the designated areas. They have gone on to the actual temple grounds- particularly the area where the refreshments are being served. That area is without a doubt private property. And they have attempted to hand out their stuff in those areas. And when asked to leave and go back to the designated areas, they refuse until the point that the police have been called in. Of course, when that happens, they cry foul and that they are being abused by the officers. They try to get video w/their cell phones of themselves being abused. I have no pity for this guy. Twenty years spent trying to tell others what they believe. What a complete waste.

This information is wrong, as we were only allowed to be on two of the four sides of the public access sidewalks. We were not allowed on Main Street in front of the temple as well as the street with the buses. . When the lines winded around the building during Labor Day as well as the days of the last week, we stood on the corner of Main and 3rd South, handing papers out there. We never got in the way of anyone and everyone survived. If we could manage that on a very small sidewalk area, why couldn’t we have done the same thing on the enlarged sidewalks at the loading area? In addition, there was no precedence of problems at other temple open house sites. There needs to be a precedence to make public safety an issue. Eliminating free speech when safety is not an issue is nothing less than unconstitutional.

In addition, the writer makes it appear that we are suit-happy. Trust me, we tried many tactics with the city before filing this suit, even meeting with the mayor on Monday, who never followed through on his promise to give us an answer by the end of the business day. The ACLU waited to file the suit until Tuesday morning. It took us more than three weeks to get to this point. I sure wish the city would have better cooperated with us and given us the chance to do what all Americans should be allowed to do, which is peacefully hand out newspapers on public property. For the record, nobody who joined us at the temple has a “vendetta” against the church. We’re only trying to follow what LDS leaders have said. Consider these quotes listed on the front of the newspaper:

“Take up the Bible, compare the religion of the Latter-day Saints with it, and see if it will stand the test.” (Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 126)

“I think a full, free talk is frequently of great use; we want nothing secret nor underhanded, and for one I want no association with things that cannot be talked about and will not bear investigation.” (John Taylor, Journal of Discourses 20:264)

“If a faith will not bear to be investigated; if its preachers and professors are afraid to have it examined, their foundation must be very weak.” (George Albert Smith, Journal of Discourses 14:216)

“If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed.” (J. Reuben Clark)

We would agree. If the church really wanted its membership to practice their free agency, they would have told the city that they wanted to make all four blocks “Free Speech” zones. They would have allowed the “protestors” to get their information out, even providing copies on the bus. They would have told them how the truth matters and how strongly they feel that the LDS Church really is the one true church on the face of the earth.

The last part of this post is filled with accusations. First of all, I want the record to be clear that anyone with us (who would have had the newspapers) never went onto the two prohibited streets to hand out literature. Never happened, period. As far as going into the refreshment room, that too never happened. Any water bottles given to us came from the church hospitality members, who came by our area every hour with a cart to offer water. But we never entered church property. As far as the police coming because of our behavior, that is totally false. I know of three times the police were called during the first week. Each time, they agreed that we were on public property and told the ushers to not call them again. If it is true that any of our people (with our newspapers) were disturbing the peace, it ought to be a matter of public record. I challenge anyone to produce any evidence that we did anything illegal during this open house outreach.

If you would like to see the newspaper that we handed out throughout the outreach, please see a PDF file at

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Case of Not Willing to Listen

Richard Mouw is probably best known for his seven-minute speech at the Mormon Tabernacle a few years ago that preceded a talk by Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias. Using half of his fifteen minutes of fame, Mouw apologized to the Mormons for ill treatment over the years by the Christian community. Meanwhile, his words upstaged the main speaker, as the media led off their broadcasts and articles with Mouw’s apology while relegating Zacharias’ excellent talk to nothing more than an afterthought. 

Earlier this year Mouw wrote a reprehensible book called Talking with Mormons. Using this book as a basis, Peggy Fletcher Stack—a Mormon who writes about religion for the Salt Lake Tribune—interviewed Mouw in the August 2012 Christianity Today magazine (“Quick to Listen”).  
The article is filled with misrepresentations. For example, Mouw explains, “One thing that really upsets me is when evangelicals say, ‘We don’t have time for dialogue with Mormons and all the niceties. We have to stand up for the truth and denounce error.’” 

First of all, who has ever made such a statement? This is certainly a straw man logical fallacy. Christian apologists are generally willing to dialogue. At the same time, their desire is to stand for truth. If Mormons want to allow for the disagreement of ideas and rightly forego personal opinion while correctly defining Mormonism as taught by the LDS leadership, the Christian apologist is more than happy to accommodate. However, the Christian should not allow for “dialogue” where this disagreement is allowed to be nothing more than superficial. 

In the article, Mouw continued, “They (Christian apologists) fail to recognize that if we are to be people of the truth, we need to be sure we are criticizing Mormons for what they really believe, let we commit the serious sin of bearing false witness against our neighbors.” He also insinuates that these Christians “tell (Mormons) what they believe.” The Christian apologists I know don’t just take a Mormon theologian at his/her word about Mormon doctrine. Rather, they go to the primary sources—including the Standard Works, church manuals, and the teachings of leaders in general conference addresses—to define Mormonism. This is not “bearing false witness” since the Mormon theological structure is set up this way. While LDS scholars may disagree with their leaders, their opinions should not be taken as official doctrine, in any stretch of the imagination.

Mouw goes on, saying, “To be concerned about the truth means we ourselves better be sure we are being truthful, to listen to others and really understand before we tell them that they’re wrong.” To this, I reply, “To be concerned about the truth mean that you, Mr. Mouw, better be sure you are being truthful, to listen to what the actual leaders in charge of the church have said in their addresses as apostles and prophets as well as what they write on church web sites and in church manuals before you tell the Christian apologists that they are wrong in their assessment.” Caution needs to be given in bearing false witness against the Christian brethren. 

Mouw then insinuates that the “working theology” of Mormonism is somehow different from “previous declarations.” For example, he believes that “the most important development in recent decades has been an increasingly strong emphasis on the substitutionary atonement of Christ on the cross.” Such a statement shows a complete naiveté of Mormonism. Just what makes him think that LDS leaders believe that the cross alone is what qualifies a person for the celestial kingdom? Just as recently as the July 2012 Ensign magazine, the church said that “a covenant is a two-way promise, the conditions of which are set by God. When we enter into a covenant with God, we promise to keep those conditions. He promises us certain blessings in return.” 

Explaining the covenant of baptism, for example, the artcile said that “we covenant to take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ, to always remember Him, and to keep His commandments. We also promise ‘to serve him to the end’ (D&C 20:37; see also Mosiah 18:8–10).” If the covenant is broken on the Mormon’s end, then the covenant will not be kept by God. In other words, God will keep His end of the bargain only if the Mormon keeps his. How can Mouw be accurate when he told Christianity Today, “In the past, (Mormonism) put more emphasis on good works.” Does he even read current LDS manuals and magazines? Or is he merely hearing what he wants from his BYU professor friends?

Unlike the “Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientology, and Hare Krishna,” Mouw believes that Mormonism is not a cult because it does not emphasize “secrecy, duplicity, and a rigid ‘one true church’ mentality.” In his book, Mouw even claims that a group like the Mormons who believe in higher education should not be labeled as a cult. This make-up-a-definition-as-you-go mentality is self-serving. Certainly his view goes against Alan W. Gomes, who is a professor of historical theology at Biola University in California and a graduate of Fuller Seminary (where, until recently, Mouw served as president).  

Gomes defines “cult” as “a group of people, which claiming to be Christian, embraces a particular doctrinal system taught by an individual leader, group of leaders, or organization, which (system) denies (either explicitly or implicitly) one or more of the central doctrines of the Christian faith as taught in the sixty-six books of the Bible.” Among these central doctrines are “the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the bodily resurrection, the atoning work of Christ on the cross, and salvation by grace through faith. These doctrines so comprise the essence of the Christian faith that to remove any of them is to make the belief system non-Christian.” Based on Gomes’ analysis, Mormonism most certainly is a cult.

When asked about Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith, Mouw says the character of Smith should not be scrutinized. Rather, a person should consider “the central issue of what Mormons have taught about sin, redemption, and the person and work of Jesus Christ.” While he believes some LDS teachings are “off the charts,” he believes that these doctrines “contain some elements of biblical orthodoxy.” As far as sin, Mormonism teaches that “Adam sinned that men might be.” Mormonism teaches that “redemption” allows for the general resurrection of all humankind but cannot, by the grace of God alone, allow a person into the celestial kingdom without works. And Mormonism teaches that the person and work of Jesus Christ alone is not efficacious for a person to receive exaltation. To the contrary, Mormonism gets it wrong on all accounts involving essential doctrines.

In the article’s last line, Mouw states, “Instead of just criticizing religious movements and their founders, we need to understand their teachings and the communities built around them.” However, it is the teachings of Mormonism that leads to the criticism of this religious movement and its founders, not the other way around. By respectfully disagreeing with our Latter-day Saint friends, Christians want the very best for them. However, pretending that Mormonism is close enough to Christianity is nothing less than damnable for those who are not being properly challenged. Yes, we can have relationships with Latter-day Saints, but not at the high price of allowing these fine folks think that the religion they follow is somehow close enough to the biblical original.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Thoughts on turning 50

I turned 50 last week. Typical, I was too busy to sit down and write a piece that’s been ruminating in my mind for the past few weeks. I don’t want to write a novel, but I do want to say a few things. First, I want to thank my wife for making my birthday very special. She put on a party at the local park and invited many friends to attend. In addition, she quietly collected more than 50 cards and emails from friends and family. It was totally unexpected. Because 50 is apparently an important milestone, now she’s set the bar high when her turn comes next spring.
I also want to say how much I appreciate my three girls. They bring a great joy to my life. (I had to correct a word in that sentence because spell check didn’t catch it—could it be a Freudian slip when I used the word “job” in place of “joy”!) You make life fun and interesting. I also appreciate my family in San Diego. Before Dr. Dobson was dispensing advice, my folks did everything they could to raise their children the right way, and I am truly indebted to them.

Below are some of the things I’ve most enjoyed over these past 50 years (in no particular order): 
  • Teaching: I did this for 17 years, serving as Bible department chair at Christian High. Serving with other excellent teachers, including my friend Craig Breuninger, helped me grow in my theology as well as my thinking process. I also taught English classes at Grossmont Community College in El Cajon for eight years—other places were San Diego Christian College (Bible and English), San Diego State University, and Bethel Seminary San Diego. Probably no matter what I do for the rest of my life, I will be most remembered for being a teacher…and that truly satisfies me.
  • Traveling to the Holy Land: Since 2009, I have taken three different groups of 40 or more to the Holy Land, including Israel, Egypt and Turkey. Most of those traveling with me have been high school students (mostly mine) and their parents. What a joy to lead devotions in some important places, baptizing several dozen and leading a communion service.  I’ve had a chance also to share this land with my three children. And it’s not stopping. My wife and I (along with Bill McKeever and Sandra Tanner) are taking 50 adults next February. Then, in April, I’ll lead a trip with senior citizens, on a much slower scale. Pinch me, what a great side-job this has become! 
  • Working in Utah: Since 1989, I have assisted Bill McKeever of Mormonism Research Ministry. In 2010, I moved my family to Utah so we could work side-by-side once more. Based on my slip from above, I don not consider this to be just a job but a joy.  From working on articles to traveling to churches and even coauthoring another book (Answering Mormons’ Questions is due out Oct.1—I need to turn in the final edit this week), I have enjoyed sharing my faith in a land that needs the Good News.
  • Working in the grocery industry: I did this for 16 years, and while many would ask what good could come out of what appears to be a monotonous job, it actually played a large role in shaping me. For example, I credit this job for helping me get out of a shy shell I had created.  If you had told me in high school that I would become a teacher/preacher, I would have laughed. And starting this month, I am now officially retired from the industry that I haven’t worked in since 1994, as I am scheduled to receive a small check each month. It was a great job to get through college and seminary.
  • Traveling with my family: I’ll never forget a number of small trips taken with my wife and children. But we also had the chance to take a two-week trip to WA DC/Philadelphia/VA in 2005, and in 2007, we spent two weeks traveling on a train through 33 states, ending up in New Orleans, Boston, Chicago, and Seattle. I recommend every family travel together in such a way—a creator of great memories.
There’s more, but space limits me. Let me close with five ideas/pieces of advice, again, in no particular order:  
  1. Money is important but not all-important. My advice for students and my own children is to find a career where you won’t starve but in which you find great satisfaction. Recently an Israeli citizen asked a friend and me how much it would take to live comfortably in Southern California. This friend stated, “$100,000.” He truly meant it because he makes much more than this in his successful career in SOCAL. I’ve never made close to this figure and yet I have never been in want. I’m satisfied, even though, on paper, the jobs I’ve had would not be considered lucrative. Would I have the same priorities if I became used to a six-figure income? I wonder. 
  2. Hard work will go a long way. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my parents, it’s a work ethic. Nothing has ever come easy, but I have been creative in manufacturing my own opportunities. Whichever hat I’ve worn in my different careers, I’ve always tried to dedicate myself 100%. I believe this is what has made my life full and satisfying.
  3. Take time out for God. We’re so busy in our culture today that many well-meaning Christians tend to forget about God, His Word, prayer, and the other disciplines. Throughout my life, I’ve tried to focus the beginning of each day on Him. For the most part, I read the entire Bible each year, using different formats, and it doesn’t get old. I have found that seeking first His kingdom makes the rest gravy, and my relationship with God has grown over the years.
  4. Get educated, and keep getting educated. I’ve told my girls to get their college taken care of before marriage and kids. In college, I taught too many moms who went back to school with their 18-year-old kids, trying to earn a degree while working a full-time job and still managing a house. Taking one class at a time will seem like eternity before you’re done. While marriage is worthwhile, it can wait. Then, after graduation and even marriage, consider other educational opportunities.  And even when you’re not in school, read—I find reading so much more beneficial than the CD versions—and stay abreast of current events. Read the newspaper or magazines. Read good books. Don’t get lost in your own little world.  
  5. Invest in your family. I’ve tried to spend time with my kids, however that looked. Having summers off with them was very beneficial. In addition, we turned the sport of softball into a family experience. In fact, I coached my girls at East County ASA. A year before Carissa got into junior high, I began to help coach the team with my mentor, Roma Dawson. This allowed me to coach Carissa and Janelle in junior high ball. I later became the JV softball coach and got to coach Carissa for two years before it became too much for me and I “retired.” But I have great memories in a simple but fun activity. Although my kids have grown up so quickly, I’m glad I had the chance to invest in their lives.
But my life is not over. Halftime might be finished, but it’s time to go out and play the second half. As the Chargers know, it’s not how you end the first half. The score at the end is what matters. Time to buckle up the chinstrap and finish strong.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Rejoinder to an Review

On June 7, 2012, having finished reading a book titled Talking withe Mormons: An Invitation to Evangelicals written by former Fuller Seminary President Richard J. Mouw, I decided to post a review on, a site where I have written 341 reviews for more than a decade and am currently ranked just under 4,000 for Top Reviewers. Let it be said that I only review books that I have actually read. The following (in bold) is my review, accessible at:
Before I begin, let me state upfront that, yes, I have read this book, cover to cover. Richard Mouw, the president of Fuller Theological Seminary who just announced he will be stepping down this year, has written a book that is both troubling and poorly researched. Many may remember Mouw as the one preceding Ravi Zacharias a few years ago at the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, making an "apology" on behalf of the Christian community, even though he was not commissioned to do so and was warned about doing this in the first place. Let me share some of my main concerns with this work:
1. Mouw takes Joseph Smith at face value. He claims that Smith "gave an orthodox-sounding account of salvation matters," quoting him from an early D&C section. Can he really insinuate that Smith was orthodox when it came to salvation? After all, Smith said later, "Here, then, is eternal life--to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 346-47) Any Christian who says that Smith's teachings on salvation is somehow "orthodox-sounding" needs to be questioned. And he writes that it is wrong "to demonize a person who is not a demon is itself a terrible thing, and evangelicals have to be careful not to sin against Joseph Smith and his followers by setting up false devils" (p. 18). The case against Joseph Smith is quite long, with heresy, immorality, and deceitfulness among just some of the many possible charges.
2. Mouw takes Mormon apologists at face value. Mouw listens to his LDS friends (such as BYU professor Robert Millet) instead of researching the teachings of the Mormon leaders themselves. For example, while he refers to General Conference addresses made by LDS leaders (such as his friend Apostle Jeffrey Holland) and says that the LDS leadership is more emphasizing the cross, the atonement, and supposedly other distinct Christian doctrines)(see 92-93), he does not show any specific evidence. Anyone can say that he is orthodox, but the proof is in the pudding. If I had space, I could show very clearly how the LDS leadership is NOT supporting unique Christian doctrines today any more than they did in the past. While the leaders are more careful in how they couch their language, they still hold to the traditional teachings of the past, which distort or deny every fundamental teaching of the historic Christian church. When he asked his Mormon friends about the Godhead and the role of good works in salvation, Mouw was told by his LDS friends that they were able to give answers mimicking the answers given in Christianity. At that, "I believed them and was encouraged." (40) You know, Mormon missionaries are instructed to tell Christians that they believe (name the doctrine) just like they do. This could involve "God," "Jesus," and "salvation by grace." Mouw's face-value testing of Mormonism a completely naive.
3. Mouw makes it appear that Mormonism should not be considered a cult. He says that "it has never felt to me as though I was talking to members of a 'cult.'" (x) He says that "the label 'cult' seems inappropriate for describing the Mormonism that we've seen up close." Then he has the gall on page 30 to call Jehovah's Witnesses a "cult." Why? Because "they stick to a party line" and don't argue amongst themselves. And the JWs don't have a "world-class" university. Really? I'm not making this up. Talk about making a term work for you by creating the definition!
4. Mouw has bad theology littered throughout the book. I understand that this wasn't meant to be a theological book. (There are no citations, so it's certainly not meant to be scholarly either.) But, just a number of little issues stick out like a sore thumb. For example, he says that "Satan regularly tempts me" on page 17. But the Bible says in James 1 that "each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin. And sin, when it is full grown, gives birth to death." There are others, but an Amazon review is not the place to create so many subpoints.
5. Mouw paints with a broad brush when he writes, "One of those Commandments tells us that God doesn't like it when we bear false witness against our neighbors. God is not honored when we're unfair to people with whom we disagree, misrepresenting what they believe." (p. 22) In other words, he insinuates that those who are involved in apologetics to LDS communities are disparaging them through mischaracterization. This is an unfair assessment, one that Mouw makes throughout the book.
6. Mouw gets Mormonism wrong in a number of areas. For instance, he makes it appear that Mormons hold to an "infallible" Bible (44). I politely ask, who is the "they" he referring to? (His Mormon friends? The LDS leadership?) If the leadership, where have they ever denied Article 8 (the Bible is true only "as far as it is translated correctly") and embraced such an idea? (Trust me, it's not true.) Or he says that Mormonism no longer teaches the Lorenzo Snow couplet ("As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.") (55) Really? There are many church sources (including LDS General Conference addresses and officially church-correlated materials) to refute such his simplistic denial.
So much more could be said, but an Amazon review is not the place for a full-blown, detailed review. I just think it would be tragic if someone reads Talking With Mormons and come to the conclusion that this is an accurate portrayal of Mormonism; this is not just another Christian path, which is what the author of this book apparently wants the reader to think. Therefore, I cannot recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand the issues that truly separate Mormonism and biblical Christianity.
I close my review by stating how Mr. Mouw owes his own apology to the Christian pastors and apologists who work on the front lines and do their best to lovingly present an accurate picture to their Mormon friends, co-workers, and family members. You owe the apology, Mr. Mouw, and a retraction of what you have said in your book.
On June 20, 2012, Jamie L. Rehmel wrote a review--not of Dr. Mouw’s book, but of my review--titled “Well written (sic) book by a leader in interfaith dialogue.” With that, I have decided to post my rejoinder to her criticisms and place this offsite (where her review should have been) onto my personal blog site. Her review is underlined, with my responses throughout.
In honor of Dr. Mouw's retirement and subsequent transitioning of roles at Fuller Theological Seminary, I decided to go out today and purchase his latest book and write a review to share with others. In addition, I will employ a technique Dr. Mouw endorses in this text by dialoging with E. Johnson and his vitriol laden assessment.
Seriously, she decided “in honor of Dr. Mouw’s retirement" to go out and buy his book? And this particular book? Then she writes a review about it? (This Amazon review was her fourth ever, with one written about an air purifier.) Really? For some reason, this seems a little odd. Then, in a place where “book reviews” are supposed to be posted, apparently Ms. Rehmel decided to spend 90% of her space critiquing my review rather than providing her own unique assessment.
Of course, Ms. Rehmel has a right to disagree with my critiques of the book written by Dr. Mouw, but I do not believe aiming her assault here was the place to do it. Reviews should cover the actual book, not other reviews on that book.
Regardless, she gives the book a five-star assessment (I gave the book two stars) and says she is employing a technique used by Dr. Mouw called “dialoguing.” I find it interesting this is “dialoguing,” which the dictionary defines as a “conversation between two or more persons." If her intention was to dialogue, then my email was readily available on my profile. It would have been very easy for her to have written me and we could have had a “dialogue” rather than having her write a one-sided hit piece using loaded language (e.g. “vitriol laden (sic) assessment”).
In "Talking with Mormons: An invitation to Evangelicals", Dr. Mouw's shares his personal experience and reflections on the relationship between Orthodox Christianity and that of the Mormon faith. Dr. Mouw points out quite clearly time and again that he has many disagreements with the mormon faith, does not see it as simply a legitimate branch of Christianity, and does not view Joseph Smith's "revelation" as legitimate. But, he does think there has been some significant misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Mormons on the part of Christians that needs addressed lest we find comfort in "bearing false witness" against our neighbors. Indeed, perhaps there is a bit of unexpected overlap between these faith traditions (e.g., requisite salvation) that many of us have not adequately perceived. Dr. Mouw suggests that God is not honored when we attack or disregard other groups without truly understanding them first.
A book review is meant to be more than just telling the person what the book is about. What does Ms. Rehmel feel about the above? Probably she’s positive, but she doesn’t give us any specifics or details about what makes this book work. Instead, she will spend the rest of her review attempting to debunk the points made in my review. 

As a point of illustration, I will attempt to convey my understanding of another reader's (below) assessment, E. Johnson, and articulate my possible difference of opinion.
Ms. Rehmel would have done better sticking with her review of the book rather than spend the rest of her time trying to refute me. But since she has, I'd like to respond in kind.

1: Johnson suggests that in contrast to what Mouw says, Joseph smith is a heretic and his beliefs were not orthodox in any way. He says that Mouw's suggestion that Smith gave a "orthodox sounding" salvation theology is questionable. Unfortunately, Johnson's credibility is what is called into question as he takes Mouw's comments out of context in an effort to make a point. In a strict summary, Mouw points out that Smith is on record as saying that justification, sanctification, and salvation come through Jesus christ and all must repent and believe in him to receive eternal life in God's kingdom. That is what is orthodox sounding (p. 56). And yes, misrepresenting others or bearing false witness is a clear violation of God's law. Ouch.
Acknowledging that he did not agree with Smith’s theology, Dr. Mouw writes on page 87, “Idolatry is indeed a very bad thing, and it’s a good thing to take a strong stand against it. But I repeat here G.K. Chesteron’s wise counsel: setting up false gods is a terrible thing, but wrongly to demonize a person who is not a demon is also bad, and evangelicals have to be careful not to sin against Joseph Smith and his followers by setting up false devils” (exact words he had written on page 18). While Dr. Mouw doesn’t agree with Smith, he insinuates in the previous paragraphs that it is a “problem” for anyone to see “things in terms of stark alternatives.” Dr. Mouw wrote, “A perspective on life is either righteous or unrighteous. Every moral option is either right or wrong. You’re either on God’s side or Satan’s. And a person like Joseph Smith is either a true prophet of God or a deceiver…” 
In my review, I used the word “insinuate” when talking about Dr. Mouw. Of course, I understand that, at the foundational level, he disagees with Smith. But thow is the Christian “sin(ning) against Joseph Smith and his followers by setting up false devils” by calling his teachings heretical? As intriguing or creative as Smith might have been—again, of this, there is no debate—this is irrelevant. If Smith was heretical in his teaching, doesn’t it follow that he is a heretic? How is pointing out Smith’s theology “heretical” or a sin against him?
Dr. Mouw is a world-class expert on things pertaining to Calvinism and I respect his knowledge and understanding of the Reformer John Calvin. But suppose that I said that Jacob Arminius was a “Calvinist.” Since words have meaning, this is nonsensical. Arminius taught in prevenient grace and the possibility of losing one’s salvation, differing completely from Calvin. There was something even called the Remonstrance. An assertion that Arminius was a Calvinist is just silly because there is a definition to Calvinism that we can understand. I’m sure Dr. Mouw disagrees with the assessment of Jacob Arminius and holds to the opposite viewpoint. As much as he might appreciate Arminius’ life and dedication to interpreting the scripture on the sovereignty of God and free will, I'm confident Dr. Mouw would say he was wrong. Is saying that Arminius "wrong" somehow a sin? I don't think so.

(Note: I understand that there is a big difference between the issues of Calvinism/Arminianism and Christianity/Mormonism, as two people can disagree about the conclusion of the first issue and both are still considered Christian. However, two people cannot disagree on the second issue and both still be considered Christian.)

2: Johnson suggests that mormons are liars and say they are orthodox but do something quite different. He suggests that Mouw is naive, listening to just his friends and accepting what they say at "face value". He needs to consult more sources than Robert Millet and Jeffrey Holland. In reality, Mouw talks at great length as to why he believes the things many mormons have told him. He says that he has sat amongst many during debates and conversations where critical doctrinal points have been discussed, at times heatedly so. Mouw also cites a litany of scholars both outside and inside the Mormon faith and references leaders in the LDS community. Page after page after page is annotated with footnotes indicating his sources.
I doubt that Ms. Rehmel has a personal background and understanding about how the Mormon Church operates. I never suggested that “Mormons are liars.” I merely questioned the source of authority where Dr. Mouw receives his information. He seems to rely too much on the words of his friends, apparently not asking follow-up questions about what exactly is meant. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints functions with 15 men in the top positions, called the First Presidency (including the Prophet and the two counselors) and twelve “apostles.” These leaders are charged with delivering “doctrine.” This can be easily documented, in their own words, and I'll provide it for anyone who would like it. BYU professors and others with whom Dr. Mouw dialogues certainly are free to hold their personal viewpoints, but this church does not give them the right to declare doctrine. There is confusion, though, because the theological language is the same as Evangelical Christianity, but the meaning of words can be quite different. Thus, when a Mormon uses “God,” “Jesus,” and “salvation,” an uninformed Christian may think there is more commonality than there really is. 
I am bothered by Dr. Mouw’s statement on page 40 which he gave in a talk in Nauvoo, IL: “I told the group that our dialogues had given me the hope that there would come a day when all of us could say together what that young man had said in response to my questions. God is God, and we are not. The Godhead alone—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is worthy of worship. Salvation comes by grace alone, through the substitutionary atoning work of Christ on Calvary. Our good works cannot contribute to our salvation—they are done in response to a grace that has accomplished for us what we could never accomplish for ourselves. Several of the Mormons in the group told me that they could already give those answers. I believed them and was encouraged.”

Is a seminary president with a Ph.D. really taking “several” Mormons at their word? Dr. Mouw is only hearing what he wants. This is nothing less than a case of naiveté, and that of the worst kind, bordering on gullibility. Some may feel that very little separates Mormonism from Christianity, which possibly can be resolved with more “dialogue.” But if the person is not paying attention to what is meant by “God,” “Godhead,” “salvation by grace alone,” and “substitutionary atoning work of Christ on Calvary,” as so clearly stated by the leadership, he is playing with fool’s gold. I am someone who listens to every word of the LDS biannual general conference talks (two weekends a year); I read Mormonism’s official magazines and manuals and do what I can to understand what the leadership is saying. I’ve been doing this for more than two decades. Meanwhile,Dr. Mouw has been involved with these discussions for only a decade and shows no evidence that he has studied the leadership based in Salt Lake City. I believe it’s very dangerous for someone—even an educated Ph.D.—to go outside his area of expertise and merely take another person’s word (no matter how sincere the Latter-day Saints to whom he speaks) on a subject where he has not done his homework. This is the problem I have with Dr. Mouw’s book. He infers that by “talking with Mormons” (as the title states) it’s possible to understand Mormonism and possibly disregard past and present leaders who contrarily taught the opposite. It’s an error that I pointed out, rightfully so, in my review.

3: Johnson takes issue with Mouw's differentiating between Mormon's and Jehovah's Witnesses on the point of being a cult. He thinks Mouw's argument is lacking. Mouw's point, that Johnson seems to have missed, is that Mormon's appear to leave room for discussion. Both internally and with external sources, conversation and debate has ensued which has often led to growth and refinement of theological beliefs. Cults, on the other hand, the Jehovah's witnesses being an example, tend to dogmatically adhere to a particular belief system and quickly cast out the members who deviate from the norm.

What is the definition of “cult”? In one part of the book, Dr. Mouw says that a group having a university like BYU should not be considered a cult. Really?  Biola University/Talbot Seminary professor Alan W. Gomes wrote a book a few years ago titled Unmasking the Cults. It’s short and to the point. His expertise is historical theology, and guess where he received his Ph.D.? Yes, Fuller, which is the same seminary that, until recently, was where Dr. Mouw served as president. Here is his definition of a cult:

“A cult of Christianity is a group of people, which claiming to be Christian, embraces a particular doctrinal system taught by an individual leader, group of leaders, or organization, which (system) denies (either explicitly or implicitly) one or more of the central doctrines of the Christian faith as taught in the sixty-six books of the Bible.” (p. 7)

Dr. Gomes considers Mormonism to be a cult. For example, on page 19, he writes, “If one considers only Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, the two largest cults that fit the definition used in this book, the number of cultists totals nearly 14 million.” Should I take the word of a former Fuller Seminary president whose expertise is in philosophy who has conversed with some BYU professors? Or should I consider someone whose expertise is in historical theology, a Fuller Seminary graduate, no less? With Mouw agreeing that Mormonism differs theologically in many ways when compared to Christianity, I’m not sure how he can be accepted as being authoritative in this arena. 

4: Johnson suggests that Mouw has "bad theology" and, based on the epistle James, doesn't believe that external influences can effect behavior. Curiously, he says there are no citations throughout the book. This is hysterical. I'm not sure if Johnson know's what a citation is. Mouw used footnotes and the numbers in the text correspond to the works at the bottom of the page. Awkward...
Indeed, Dr. Mouw does provide limited citations, and I should have clarified that in my review. Yet there are other places he gives no sources for his argument when sources for support would have been helpful.

But anyway... Dr. Mouw has an MDiv from Western Theological Seminary, in addition to a PhD in Philosophy, and served as a professor at Calvin College and at Fuller before becoming their president. Mouw has written several highly regarded theological books, has served as president of the Association of Theological Schools, AND was given the Abraham Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Life by Princeton Theological Seminary. Mouw is theologically sound.

He may be “theologically sound” in the basics of his faith but make theological errors in his writing. It is possible to make theological errors, especially with peripheral issues, and not be a heretic. I never questioned Dr. Mouw’s Christianity.

Yet, Johnson appears to have his or her own exegetical hang ups. He takes issue with Mouw confessing that he feels tempted by "satan" at times. Johnson suggests that the epistle of James does not leave room for such a notion and uses a proof texting theology to make her or his point. James, however, is largely irrelevant to this issue. James is likely a response to a Pauline group that distorted some of Paul's teachings. James seems to offer correctives by emphasizing the need for good works as an outpouring of our faith in Christ. Furthermore, James endorses living by the law of liberty (i.e., living as part of the church) as opposed to the law of Moses which, according to him, condemns adherents if they fall short on any one point of the code.

There is no question that orthodox Christianity adheres to a notion that things in the world are not as they should be. Some call it a fall. Others suggest that it wasn't a fall but that sin came into the world. Regardless, things are warped in some way and the redeeming work of Christ is the divine solution.

Many, if not most, in the Christian tradition have personified evil and labeled it a satan or deceiver. To suggest that using that term is bad theology highlights a historical theological naiveté. Regardless, it is unquestioned in Christian circles that things are not as they should be and even Paul is recorded as saying I often do what I know I shouldn't!

I noticed, in all of the words used to refute my point, that no other scripture was given to show that Satan is the cause for a person to fall. I provided a specific passage that said “each one is tempted when, by his (or her) own evil desire he (or she) is dragged away and enticed.” James is clearly talking about trials and temptations in this first half of chapter one. Context clearly shows that a person may have outside influences, but you can’t blame anybody but yourself when you fall to temptation. After all, Satan—who’s not omniscient—may not even know Dr. Mouw’s name, and I’m sure Satan has never had a personal encounter with Dr. Mouw. Therefore, to give credit to Satan for something he's not responsible for is an error. Yes, it’s a simple point, but I think it needs to be addressed.
Now, perhaps Dr. Mouw really wasn’t meaning to blame Satan for his giving into temptation, and I’ll give him that. But I’m only going on what he said. It wasn’t the only place I disagreed with him in this book from a theological point of view, but nowhere did I ever say or even insinuate he was not orthodox in his faith. (If anyone took it that way, then I apologize.) I’m sure that no two Christians would have the exact same theology in every issue, even if they went to the same church. Even Calvinists disagree on the nuances when it comes to Calvinism. I believe that Ms. Rehmel needs to be careful in her own accusations and not read more into what was actually written.

5: Johnson says that Mouw unfairly criticizes Christian evangelists to Mormons for "disparaging them through mischaracterization". This is just flat wrong. One of Mouw's central points throughout this entire book is that Christians need to engage Mormons in a way that allows us to hear them articulate their faith in all its richness. This is put in tension with being overzealous to judge and critique before we fully understand their positions on key theological issues.

I’m all for dialogue and do it all the time with Latter-day Saints. Just don’t make it appear that your way of dealing with the issue is better than the people you’re criticizing (e.g. those who directly evangelize and do counter-cult work, something that Dr. Mouw apparently disdains).

He uses the example of Dr. Walter Martin who, in his sermon to an audience about the evils of Mormonism, would not listen to an actual mormon attendee in the crowd that basically said: this is not what I believe. I believe that Jesus is my savior and only through his blood can i be saved.

Regarding that story involving Dr. Martin, perhaps Dr. Mouw and Ms. Rehmel need to read a blog from Jill Martin Rische, the daughter of Walter Martin to show some serious errors in this story. Listen to this:
“But there is a logical fallacy in Richard Mouw’s argument that is surprising, considering his place in academia. Mouw chose to set up a Straw Man argument, a caricature of Walter Martin and his approach to apologetics, instead of representing him fairly. The birds Barnhouse shot on his farm were far away; Walter Martin’s meticulous research brought him up close to the grackles. He aimed precisely. It seems as if Mouw never read a footnote in any of Walter Martin’s work. Martin quoted primary source material—he meticulously identified his targets using their own intelligence.
Two more serious errors Mouw makes are these: First, ignorance of his two subjects, Walter Martin and Donald Barnhouse. If Richard Mouw knew Walter Martin at all, he would be familiar with the story he always told about his friend, Rocky Marciano, the Heavyweight Champion of the World. In it, Marciano gives a great sermon illustration with his “peek-a-boo” style of boxing: ‘If I was fighting a guy like you, Walt,’ he said,

‘And you could hit anywhere near as hard as I could, you would annihilate me. I’d never get close enough to hit you. I learned that long ago, so I developed a style: Cover-up, peek-a-boo. I took the blows on my arms, my shoulders, and sometimes on my face—five, six, seven, eight to one—because I knew if I could get in close enough, I could take them out with one shot.’
My father loved this illustration. Get in close with the Word of God, whatever it takes: this accurately describes the apologetic style of Walter Martin. He never advocated aiming in ignorance from far away.

It seems as if Richard Mouw did not know Donald Barnhouse, either. In academic research, context is everything, but Mouw chose to leave out the historical context surrounding this story. He left out the fact that Barnhouse loved and supported Walter Martin—and my father loved and respected him. This close relationship meant that Barnhouse would have rebuked my father privately and publicly if he truly believed Walter Martin used ‘Shoot First’ Apologetics. He also left out the fact that Donald Barnhouse did not shy away from confrontation.”

 For the rest, see By the way, this blog was posted in 2007, yet Dr. Mouw apparently still ignored the context five years after he was shown his error. This, Dr. Mouw, is not scholarly.

This is a crucial point. Dr. Mouw says time and again that there are some real issues that distinguish Christians of any denomination or church from Mormonism. He never denies that and makes it clear that he does not consider Mormonism a branch of Christianity. But, there may be a bit more overlap in belief systems than what we have traditionally appreciated and that may be becoming more so as their faith tradition evolves with increased intra-faith scholarship and dynamic leadership.

Overlapping with something like arsenic is overlapping with death. If Mormonism leads people to death, then to make it appear that Mormonism and Joseph Smith are “not that bad” is a most dangerous philosophy.

6: Johnson suggests Mouw doesn't know what he is talking about and actually the opposite is true of many of his points about mormonism. As far as the infalliable bible goes, on page 44 Mouw is conveying his admitted struggle between the mormon's stance on scripture, particularly as it relates to extra-biblical sources, and his own high view of scripture. Again, Johnson has taken Mouw out of context. And with regard to the Lorenzo couplet, Mouw simply says that it has never held an "official canonical status". Many Christians endorse unorthodox teachings as well (e.g., reading Genesis like it's a scientific account of creation).

Once more, this shows the naiveté of Dr. Mouw. The Lorenzo Snow couplet doesn’t hold “official canonical status”? In that case, Mormons must not believe in Heavenly Mother because it’s nowhere found in LDS canon. Yet Mormonism teaches the Lorenzo Snow couplet throughout the speeches and writings of its leaders and official manuals. It is certainly found in the teaching of the religion's founder, Joseph Smith. (See Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 344-45). Because a non-GA Mormon suggests it’s “not official” doesn’t mean it’s not official. As far as Genesis and science, this is a non sequitur, apples and oranges, and is a completely different topic. Why even bring it up?

Johnson arrogantly (see: need for Mouw to apologize) made many attempts at critiquing Mouw's book which mostly fell into the realm of fantasy.
I criticize and therefore I’m “arrogant.” If criticism is what equals arrogance, then is Ms. Rehmel “arrogant” as well since she has criticized me? Even if I'm wrong in my criticism, as so asserted by Ms. Rehmel, does this necessarily mean I'm "arrogant"? No, just wrong. I won't say Ms. Rehmel is arrogant, but I do feel she has not sufficiently supported her claims.
Again, Mouw does not accept Mormonism as Christian although he does see some overlap in beliefs and a trend toward, perhaps, more agreement. The extent to which there is overlap may provide a trust in Christ that is salvific. The Catholic church suggests something similar in their publication Dominus Iesus. This isn't new. Yet, he also acknowledges there are some fundamental differences that cannot be overlooked and require further consideration and an openness to inter-religious conversation and friendship.
Overall, I do not believe Ms. Rehmel has shown my reasoning to be faulty. With a few adjustments, as acknowledged in my review, I stand by what was originally written. I still believe Dr. Mouw owes an apology to the Christian churches and countercult groups, especially those of us who live in Utah. For some reason, I don't expect it any time soon.