Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Review of HOTM Shawn McCraney Sept 29, 2009

I have put out a video review of Shawn McCraney's Heart of the Matter. Shawn is beating a deceptive dead horse. His points about polygamy in Mormonism become more and more strained each week. This week he through in for good measure his comments about people are not the children of God (ignoring Acts 17:28-29 and Hebrews 12:9). He concluded by telling the story of an LDS young man who committed suicide over guilt. Funny how Shawn said he wanted to commit suicide too, after he became a born again christian, and as he flushed his life down the drain with substance abuse. At least, that is what he notes in his book, page 68. Funny, but all of his arguments center around the idea that God reveals everything unchangeably, all at once, and not line upon line, or not that Mormons believe in continuing revelation. This is the 'stinkin thinkin' which the Jews lived with at the time of Christ.

One very insidious attach Shawn levels on all active Mormons is they will lie if it protects their faith. In debate, we call this poisoning the well. In life we call it compensating for weak arguments. Lastly, Shawn made the statement that we cannot feel the truth, facts are all that matters. Of course, this is in complete conflict with the Bible ("Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the scriptures to us?" Luke 24:29). No man can no Jesus is the Christ, expect by the Holy Spirit. That is not just a fact from scripture, it is received as a feeling. So denying feelings is to deny actually knowing Jesus Christ.

Youtube Videos Added For Review

I just uploaded two videos into my answeringantimormons.com account on youtube. You can find them by going here or here. They address Keith Walker's "The Impossible Gospel of Mormonism", and a recent attack by Rob Sivulka on the LDS and Biblical doctrine of Creation. Let me know what you think.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Believable Book of Mormon

I believe the Book of Mormon to be true. I would even go further to say that by the power of the Holy Ghost, I have received the unmistakable testimony from God that it is true. I consider that a great blessing and a precious gift to have received such knowledge. When I was not committed to the Church, I did search for truth as an 18-19 year old, and I was exposed to the harshest criticisms of the Church and the Book of Mormon then available, including the Tanner's "Changing World of Mormonism" and Walter Martin's various works available back in 1979. I wasn't born a Mormon, and my family was completely inactive after having joined the LDS Church in 1976. So no one was forcing me or tricking me or coaching me. There was no guilt trip or sense of debt to anyone in the LDS Church. I had been a very good debater, I was a well educated student, and I seemed to do well on tests of ability to reason and think. So I came at the Book of Mormon with a simple desire to know if it was true, and a willingness to walk away if I found it not to be believable. I was raised Lutheran and attended many different Christian churches, so I wasn't "against" any faith or position. My best friend eventually went on to become a pastor of a Four Square Church in Idaho.

So I had an open mind. I still do, but that is getting ahead of things.

The first thing of huge import is the Book of Mormon has witnesses besides just Joseph Smith. And the closest of those witnesses all left the Church and in Joseph Smith's lifetime did not return. The two closest to Joseph Smith of the three, Oliver and Martin, later returned to the LDS Church. Oliver was actually present for angels visiting to confer the priesthood on two separate occasions.

I read how there was some talk that the witnesses, Oliver in particular, may have denied his witness. This was proposed by the Tanner's because a poem included a statement indicating Oliver may have done so, and the author said it did not matter. The Tanner's were being deceptive even publishing that, which I discovered, as the poem was reacting to a false report made about Oliver. This caused me then to become very careful in uncritically accepting as "facts" statements of critics. Sure a member of the Church published the poem and thought Oliver had denied his testimony. But it was false. Presenting responses to false statements without providing the context is to lie by omission.

I have learned the critics of the LDS faith do not feel any need to be balanced in presenting history of LDS doctrine. So I now always review their supporting information before I will accept something as factual. This is not based on just one incident. It is literally based on hundreds, maybe thousands of such interactions with both printed material and individuals.

So we have witnesses. What did they witness? Of the 11 people who are listed as witnesses in the front of the BOM, 10 actually held the plates and handled the individual pages (only David Whitmer did not). They saw the engravings, the color, the binding and lifted them to feel their weight. They did so in broad daylight. They did so in groups, usually. There is some controversy about whether two groups of four or all eight at once saw the plates. No real matter. Oliver and Martin were alone with Joseph when they handled the plates in the open.

Now the plates were actually quite heavy. Joseph let many people handle the plates and lift them while they were covered up. Maybe 16 or more people that I can count. The reports are the plates weighed between 30-60 pounds. That is not really much of a range if you lift a solid block of metal and then guess at the weight.

William Smith would later say the plates were a combination of copper and gold. All of the witnesses said they had the "appearance of gold". Moroni is quoted as saying they were "gold plates". All of these statements are consistent with a material used by Meso-American tribes called Tumbaga, which is a alloy of copper and gold, and depending upon that mixture, would have weighed about what the witnesses said the plates weighed. This is remarkable because Joseph Smith and the witnesses would have had no knowledge of Tumbaga, or its link to Central America.

Next, the text of the Book of Mormon is miraculous in its consistency. The work done by Royal Skousen on restoring the original text of the Book of Mormon is amazing on many levels. But what we find is a document which is not just the helter-skelter dictations of someone trying to crank out a book. It is consistent and complicated.

The text has had several in-depth studies done on "word printing". It is obvious from these studies (Hilton in 1997, Todd K. Moon, 2006, "Document Author
Classification using Generalized Discriminant Analysis")the Book of Mormon was not composed by Joseph Smith, only translated by him. This makes the case for the Book of Mormon being from Joseph Smith's mind extremely unlikely. Hilton's study also disqualified Solomon Spaulding and Oliver Cowdery. If not these folks, then who wrote it? The studies simply state there are unique author traits in the texts, so the authors are unknown. The most logical answer is they are those individuals whose names are on the books within the Book of Mormon, barring evidence of other composers.

But if there was other authors, where are there notes, books or for that matter their statements? Unlike the pictures we usually see in Sunday School of Joseph Smith behind a curtain with his finger on the plates translating, we know he actually was almost always in the open, initially wearing a breastplate and the Urim and Thummim attached to the breastplate in a sort of weird pair of glasses, then later putting his head in a hat with a seer stone. Those who commented, specifically Emma who was there, said he had no papers or books, and she would have seen them. I once challenged Dan Vogel, as an ex-LDS critic and perhaps the most scholarly critic of LDS history, to memorize 3 days work of the Isaiah passages, and then quote them back. That would be about 27 pages. Of course, you don't get to have a Bible around, since we know they did not have one present during the translation according to the witnesses present. And we will then make allowances for changes to the text at the same rate as Joseph Smith's dictation amends the Isaiah sections. Vogel declined, saying Joseph must have had a Bible. Really? You have witnesses present who say he did not, and your position is they are lying? Wouldn't Martin Harris and Oliver, both ex-communicated and humiliated at their leaving of the Church, mentioned this, even if false, to attack Joseph? I say even if false because they could have made the claim and why would they have cared, they were no longer in the Church? Because they knew there were lots of witnesses who saw how it was done. Vogel and the critics have no case that Joseph Smith actually wrote or copied the Book of Mormon from someone else' work. This evidence is very much on a par with the physical reality that there were gold plates. Because we can test the text and we have witnesses. And the witnesses obviously told other people, or else folks would not have constantly be trying to steal the non-existent plates he was translating.

The next item is the content of the text itself. As my friend Steve Smoot has pointed out on several occasions, Joseph Smith did not realize how "Hebrew" it was. He actually tried to edit out the "Hebrewisms" from later editions. However, we now know these unusual and non-English-style sentence structures are good Hebrew. And in his lifetime, Joseph Smith never claimed such a style to be present in the Book of Mormon. He doesn't say "See, there is Chiasmus and Hebrew sentence forms all over in it, proving it is Middle Eastern in its origin or influence." No. He goes the other way. Edit them out after the fact. Never comments on them. Hmm, its like he doesn't recognize they are there. Like he was just a translator or something...

Much has been made of the some "4,000 changes to the Book of Mormon". I always thought that was important. Until we looked closer. Editorially, if you count every comma, spelling and sentence structure change, Royal Skousen says there are closer to 100,000 such changes in a text of 400,000+ words. Is this a big deal? No. First, out of all of the changes, 99.5% were strictly to make the text more readable and are scatter across a dozen editions. Secondly, there are at most 50 some changes which could be considered significant in terms of doctrine for those not believing in prophetic direction. The addition of "son of..." to "God" in term describing Jesus, or the "pure" for "white" change describing the change to come to the Lamanites. How does this compare to the Bible? Well, there are at least 250,000, perhaps as many as 400,000 variations to the New Testament text in terms of spelling changes, word additions or deletions and word order changes. Since they did not include punctuation (that is added to translations, it is not in the Greek). Some of the changes are rather important. The last half of the last chapter of Mark, for example, is not considered by most textual scholars to be original to the text. 1John 5:7-8, the only text to fairly explicitly teach the doctrine of the Trinity in the Bible, is nearly universally rejected by scholars as a late (300 AD)addition to the text. Jesus being ministered to by an angel in the Garden of Gethsamane is not found in the earliest manuscripts, but is quoted by Justin Martyr, and found in later editions. The commentary on changes sold by United Bible Societies, which publishes the most widely accepted version of the Greek NT, lists over 3,800 changes they feel merit comment, out of which about 50 or 60 are such they admit they don't know what should be included in the text. The Book of Mormon suffers no such issue as to holes in the text.

The Old Testament does not fare much better. The main reason there are few variations in the Hebrew text of the Bible is because, (drum roll please), in the 10th Century AD the Rabbi's of the world met to decide what was the original text, and they destroyed all copies from earlier times. Fortunately we got the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947, and they became widely available in the past 10-15 years. We now know there are thousands of variations in the text. Actually, tens of thousands. Some entire verses were left out. Some verses changed to hide the original belief that there were many real gods (Compare Duet 32:8-9 in the King James Bible and in the NRSV). The King James Bible followed the tradition, edited text from the 10th Century AD. We know now the Greek and Samarian versions contain variants which legitimately belonged to the original OT.

So do all these variations matter? I don't really think so if you recognize that people are involved in passing the text along, and God can restore it as he decides to make it available. You can still find God in the Bible. He just never tells us to pray to know the Bible is true. As we can now tell, for obvious reasons. He still, however, instructs us to study it.

Another example of things worth considering in the Book of Mormon are all the things which Joseph Smith "got wrong", which turned out he got correct. Examples such as Alma being a man's name. The existence of Nahom, and it being on the trade route in Arabia. Jerusalem being the location of Jesus' birth. Barley being in the New World. Cement in Central America. The kinds of "swords" used by Native Americans. A great list of these are found in a talk by Matt Roper, now on FAIR's website.

Brant Gardner's work on the historical accuracy of the Book of Mormon's Meso American setting is equally compelling. There is a lot of information, and links to videos, etc, at this web page.

I think those are probably the big ones. That is, except for the witness of the Spirit. I would lie if I said there have not been issues which troubled me to some degree as I made my way through the various criticisms of the LDS Church. So it was that my Spiritual experiences, after I had studied out the issues of the Book of Mormon to the degree I was able, helped me wait to see the big picture. If the Tanners or Walter Martin repeatedly distort history because they think the bigger cause is to get people out of the Church, rather than being accountable ministers to God, then I don't have to panic when I read their latest attack. I also need to have the intellectual maturity to realize that what passes as normal or abnormal today is completely irrelevant to early LDS history or Bible or Book of Mormon history. Faith is complicated in that way, even as it is simple. I need to realize God wants me to follow him in order to obtain a witness of his work (John 8:31-32). It is only by the Holy Spirit, not by reading and studying, one can come to know Jesus is real (1Cor 12:3). For those troubled by history or science or even doctrine, I can't prove anything. But I think the case FOR the Book of Mormon and the Gospel of Jesus Christ restored in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is good enough to be worthy of exercising faith, and then not forgetting to be true to that witness.

Dan Peterson said in a talk, after evaluating the fact that Joseph Smith apparently never needed to actually see the plates to translate them, that the purpose of the plates is the proverbial thumb in the eye of critics. You cannot reasonably prove the LDS faith is false unless you can provide a plausible case against the existence and content of the plates. The plates are a historical reality. That is what the evidence says. Therefore the Church was restored. Joseph Smith was a prophet, right down to Thomas Monson today. The plates are enough to cause us to exercise a particle of faith, and come and follow. That particle, when nurtured, will grow into a full blown, saving witness. (Alma 32:26-43; Luke 8:4-18)

It is my desire this brief exposition can provide a context for those seeking evidence for why they should believe in Jesus Christ and the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Friday, September 11, 2009

True Religion is...

I went on a tour last night of LDS Welfare Square, and had a chance to be exposed to so many of the wonderful programs carried out by the LDS Church for their fellow men.

Scripture says
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, [and] to keep himself unspotted from the world. James 1:27
The work done in Salt Lake City, for example, in finding jobs is mostly for non-LDS people. In fact, about 80% of the people placed in jobs through LDS Employment services are not LDS.

Most of the food stuffs distributed go to non-LDS.

The food bank in Utah gets huge contributions from the LDS Church. Even most of the other churches in Salt Lake City get some or most of their foods for their programs from the LDS Church.

One prominent non-LDS minister toured Welfare Square and after witnessing all that goes on asked the director, "Do you know of any other religion that has a program similar to this?" The director replied, "No, I don't", to which the minister said "Neither do I", and he said he looked away somewhat embarrassed, no doubt for having preached what an evil, unChristlike faith those Mormons are.

It is very true that anyone can be a critic. The criteria for being a Christian may be somewhat intellectual, but a real Christian is working to relieve the suffering of their fellow-men, whether of their faith or not.

As James goes on to note, for someone to tell the hungry or destitute to "Depart, in peace, be ye warmed and filled" and not hand them food is to deny the faith. He uses this as the very example of how faith without works is dead.

The true church of Jesus Christ would work together with its members to make sure no member who ever asked for help would lack for a job, food or shelter, if they were willing to work for it, even if that "work" is nothing more than licking stamps or reading the scriptures to children. And for those unable to help themselves due to mental illness or other problems, then Christian charity would find a way to provide unconditionally for their physical needs.

Sorry, but the LDS Church is the only CHURCH which follows this basic Biblical charge. There are a few good people of all faiths who try to help out in their individual ways, but the fact that all those Evangelicals, Born Again Mormons and other supposed Christians can't find time to spend even 10 hours a year unconditionally working with no expectation of reward or recognition is perhaps the greatest evidence of all of which of all the churches in the world is truly led by He who taught the parable of the Good Samaritan.

You remember that story, right? (Luke 10:25-37) It is the story of a man scorned by "true believers" as being theologically in a false cult of belief, who nevertheless was the only one willing to do God's real work of pastoring for a man unable to help himself, who was not of his own faith.

I am proud to be called a heretic by that modern day incarnation of the same group who excluded those with a living and not just a lip service faith. You know, the one cited by Christ, and James, as pure religion. Remember, the parable of the Good Samaritan was given to answer the question of what it meant to fulfill the two great Commandments: Love God and Love your Neighbor. The question asked, by a person seeking to justify his theological purity as sufficient, was who is our neighbor. Since the lawyers regularly gave offerings and had plenty of community visibility, the question of doing selfless, risky and anonymous service to anyone in need is pretty powerful.

Powerful, because it means that being saved by Grace through faith means you must, in fact, do the good works and not just think about them, for which we are created. As I have pointed out before, Paul says in Ephesians we are saved by grace through faith and not of works, but that we are created to do the good works of God, not those self serving useless attempts at saving ourselves.

Born Agains just don't get it: Loving our neighbors and he who loses his life will save it mean that faith and the good works which God gives us a desire to do, but upon which desire we must act (Phil 2:12-13) is how we work out our own salvation.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Shawn McCraney Burning Heart 2009

Very briefly, Saturday night I attended the annual "Burning Heart 2009" event sponsored by Shawn McCraney. It was held at a pavilion in Salt Lake City's Sugar House Park, and they had a big tent and 6 or 7 small pop-up gazebo style tents around it. I got there at about 7pm, just after their bands had finished playing (I guess, since I wasn't there, but they had two bands and they did not play after I got there). I counted cars and people, and there were approximately 125-150 cars and between 300-400 people. I was speaking with one guy I know, and he said "What do you think? 3,000 people, pretty amazing." I said, "What?". I told him I had done a rough count, and there was about 300 folks at the time, and I figured with people walking around, maybe another 100. No way there was 500 people there, let alone 1,000 or 3,000.

One person remarked to me they found Shawn's preaching to be very weak, since it was focused on negative, anti-other-religious attacks. In his 30 minute or so talk at the end of the event, he mentioned Mormonism and Joseph Smith and Thomas Monson at least 20 times, as well as other leaders like Mary Eddy Baker, Gandhi and others several times. Being against something will only carry you so far.

As if he read my notes on how to preach incompletely, he quoted all of the scriptures I list in a response to a question in my "Shawn McCraney: Still Ducking " blog post. And just as I said they do. For example, he quoted 'Titus 3:5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done', ignoring the rest of the verse. By baptism and the holy ghost he saved us, to maintain good works.

I spoke with his assistant Kevin, with whom I have a good relationship. He asked what I thought of Romans 3:4 Let god be true, and every man a liar. He said it meant the philosophies of men are all lies, and we should only believe the Bible. I said if that were truly the interpretation, we would have to throw out Paul's other letters and the rest of the New Testament, since he would be speaking about the Old Testament. Beyond that, the trinity is completely a man-made construct, and would need to be thrown out. Kevin is a good guy, but he is not willing to engage in an in-depth discussion of the implications of things like archaeology and the Bible, including the now widely, even majority, accepted view by Christian scholars that the Old Testament Hebrew faith was in fact polytheistic in the sense of believing in the existence of multiple real divine beings or gods. Thus LDS beliefs concerning god are conceptually closer to the Biblical teachings than the unknowable "mystery" called the trinity.

I spent quite a bit of time speaking with Russ East, who runs a local Christian radio station. He is a nice guy, ex-LDS, and we discussed at some length the imperative nature of knowing who God is. He believes that we Mormons are basically brainwashed by our belief in Joseph Smith as a prophet into a false belief of who God and Christ are. I told him he could not reject Paul and be a Christian, just as he could not reject Moses or for that matter Joseph Smith or Thomas S. Monson, since Jesus himself said he would reject those who rejected his servants (John 13:20, Mark 6:11). We discussed the possibility of having he and I sit down and talk about some LDS topics, and record it and put it on the air. Since he is very much not into debating style 'gotcha' tactics, I think it could be worthwhile. We will see how that develops. He said he would call me in a few weeks to discuss it.

As I was talking with a guy I know from the dinners the Heart of the Matter audience goes to, Shawn walked by and good naturedly shouted my last name, and smiled. About 20 minutes later I saw him as I was starting to drive off in my car, as he was in his car returning from someplace. So I didn't get to speak with him. But Burning Heart 2009 reaffirmed to me why Heart of the Matter is really nothing more than just a typical, unsustainable attack on Mormonism, because being against something will never get you to Christ. And they are not particularly effective, considering they get an hour of free TV time broadcast in the heart of Mormon country where half of the Mormons are not practicing their faith. If they really were making a difference, they would have thousands of people now. Even if this gathering represented just 5% of all the people Shawn has influenced, which I am certain it does not based on the calls into his show and the number of people who come to this blog, which is the #1 Google search response for Shawn McCraney's name, we are talking at most there are a few thousand people. At most. And they don't last, in terms of their commitment to support such a ministry. That is evident in Shawn's recent appeals for money, and his statements they have raised just a fraction of what he needs.

These people are largely unwilling to submit themselves to God's will, feeling that obeying someone who is in a leadership role in a church organization is equivalent to recognizing them as God. They don't have any kind of grasp of the meaning of scripture.

For their part, Adam's Road seems to recognize this. They played at this event. They have changed their music away from the "attack Mormonism" front to write songs based only on scripture. So while they add their "testimonies" about coming out of Mormonism, I think they have realized that just doesn't sell a lot of records over the long haul. They showed up in a luxurious 40+ foot customized motorhome with their name on it, but nothing about being ex-Mormon. That means some organization with money, probably their music label, has decided to steer them where the money is. And, I would like to add, I enjoyed the couple of songs I heard them play last week on HOTM. Nice lyrics and sweet music. But their theology...well, these guys' comprehension of New Testament doctrine couldn't probably get them undefensively past a conversation of Mark 16:16, let alone Hebrews 5:8-9, 2 Peter 1:4 or John 1:1-18. So I like their music. It is sort of like listening to Michael Jackson's old hits, and not caring about how strange he became. They are separate.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Is UTLM Becoming MRM?

For sometime, there has been a lot of "volunteering" at UTLM by Bill McKeever, Aaron and the gang from Mormonism Research Ministries. So I am guessing they will shortly announce plans for Sandra Tanner's retirement and MRM to take over.

Funny, but both organizations seem to have so little regard for reporting what Mormonism actually believes, this should be a good hook-up in terms of continuity of content created.