Saturday, September 24, 2011

Theology Driven Intentional Ignorance and James 5:19-20

I was speaking with several non-LDS Christians in downtown Salt Lake City who were attacking the LDS view that a person can lose their salvation. It happens when one intentionally walks away from their covenants, and decides to lead a life without God. Dallin Oaks gave a wonderful talk in 1998 entitled "Have You Been Saved?" which perfectly explains the LDS position, and compares it to the Born Again Christian perspective.

There are practically an endless number of verses which could be cited to show this is possible (Gal 5:4; Hebrews 10:26; 1 Tim 6:9-10).

I however discussed just one passage with these folks: James 5:19-20

19Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him;
20Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.
Oh my gosh, the gyrations people make to avoid the plain meaning of these two verses, it was fun to watch.

First, the word "err" means to "Wander". Coupled with the preposition "apo", from, in Greek grammar it means to wander from whatever the object of the phrase is, which is the starting point of origin. In this case, it is to wander from the truth to the non-truth.

The effect of wandering from the truth is death, says verse 20. Some commentators actually say this is in reference to a premature physical death! Right. The illogic of such a position is easy to demonstrate. But unless they make that assertion, James is providing explicit refutation of the doctrine of Eternal Security.

James refers to converting the one in "err" as saving a soul or life. Fine. But the word "convert" and "converteth" are both the same Greek word. It means to "turn back". So the context is that turning back one who has left the truth can save their soul/life.

The word "soul" is "psyche", and it can be translated as "life", but with a significant restriction in meaning. It means the vital force or energy which provides animation to our life. It is not the existence we have on earth. (See Bauer, BDAG, pg 1099, definition of "Psyche", number 2.d. which cites the specific verse in James 5:20, "as the seat and center of life that transcends the earthly.") Bauer further states that the "death" mentioned which the psyche suffers is a "2. death viewed transcendently in contrast to a living relationship with God, death extension of meaning 1." It then states: "a. of spiritual death, to which one is subject unless one lives out of the power of God's grace." It then cites James 5:20 by stating, "This death stands in the closest relation to sin: Romans 7:13b; James 1:15; 5:20;..." (bold in the original to set off Biblical verses).

So the position that this could be about a physical death is not sustainable from the text.

As a clincher, I left out one verse. James only uses the word 'psyche' one other time: James 1:21
21Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.
Notice the exact same context as James 5:19-20. The only consistent and justifiable interpretation of James 1:21 is that the "soul" is "saved" in an ultimate salvation sense. James then ends by charging us with helping to save the souls of those who did first have the truth, but have gone astray.

This is solid, rational and reasonable interpretive reading of scripture. Once-saved, always saved types cannot agree with it because it conflicts with their theological perspective. As the one commentator I cited above who asserted the "death" suffered by those who wandered from the truth was due to living a dangerous life-style, they asserted:

Of course, there are some who suggest that eternal salvation from hell is in view here. That suggestion, however, flies in the face of clear Gospel teaching all through the Bible. The sole condition of eternal salvation is faith in Christ, not moral reformation.

The wanderer who is brought back to the truth avoids premature death (cf. 1 Cor 11:30;1 John 5:16-17).
I will leave it to the reader of this blog to look up the verses cited in supposed support of this view. The interesting issue is dismissing the clear, explicit teaching in James due to interpretive gymnastics base solely on theological pre-suppositions and bad exegesis.

One advantage of engaging critics on the street in a face to face manner is that if they are honest people, and many of them are, they eventually must concede they cannot find support for their "once saved, always saved" view in any plausible workaround of James 5:19-20. So it was. One lady named Diane kept saying that as a Mormon I was putting a burden on people by each of us having to take responsibility for our own salvation by being able to lose our salvation to bad behavior. So I asked her to explain what possible meaning James could have. Her answer: I don't know, but it doesn't mean what you say it does. After which, she left.

Another man simply said "I am not prepared to answer, I don't know."

If one's interpretation of scripture is based on their theology and not the actual meaning of the writings of scripture, whence came their theology?

Mormon doctrine of Grace and personal convenantal relationship with Christ is the only viable explanation for all verses of the Bible. When we discuss doctrine, Mormonism is the only answer because the scriptures are their source of theology.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Theology Trumps Salvation?

I spent Thursday evening speaking with some anti-Mormons at Temple Square in Salt Lake City. At one point a young fellow said to me that I just needed to accept Jesus and be assured of his Grace, through faith, and I could be saved. I told him I had already done so. He said I had not accepted the idea of only Jesus' grace to save me, and I said that was true, since the Bible and LDS scriptures make it clear that one must do certain things, such as be obedient (Hebres 5:8-9), endure to the end (Matt 10:22; Mark 13:13) and of course be baptized (John 3:5; Acts 2:38; Mark 16:16; Acts 22:16; Titus 3:5; 1 Pet 3:21).

Then he said "But you believe incorrectly about Jesus." I replied "What?" He said that because our theology of how God and Jesus relate to each other, then my understanding is not sufficient for salvation.

I replied that would mean all of the first and second century Christians were also not saved, since I believe what the Bible teaches about Jesus, and not the silly Trinity stuff. I said the early Christians had no idea what the Trinity was about, and if I am lost by his criteria, then so are they. I told him that theology is a luxury unneeded for salvation in the face of the scriptures.

What would you say?

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Was there a First Vision?

Many times it is asserted that there is no contemporary evidence for the First Vision having occurred.  But it should not come as a surprise this is not true, as Richard Anderson published a beautiful, insightful and well documented article in BYU Studies in 1969 (9/3(1969):373-404), entitled Circumstantial Confirmation of the First Vision Through Reminiscences.

There are several things from this article and elsewhere which I will mention.
1.  In The Reflector, February 1831, they report a correspondent from 1830 talks about Oliver Cowdery's preaching in Ohio which affirms "Smith had seen God frequently and personally."
2.  Edward Stevenson reports he heard, around 1831, Joseph Smith preach about the First Vision.
3.  Lucy Mack Smith placed the timing of the First Vision after 1819 religious revivals, but prior to the 1823 death of Alvin.  She inserted Joseph Smith's narrative exactly as found in the History of the Church.  This means she has the correct timing, and perfectly endorses the timing of the First Vision found within the account itself.

These are obviously all post 1830.  Doesn't anyone remember something closer to 1820?

4.  Pomeroy Tucker, a vicious enemy of the LDS faith, was a childhood friend of Joseph Smith and the Smiths' from 1816 when they moved to Palmyra, until he left for work in 1820, returning in 1823.  In his 1867 history of Mormonism, he makes numerous statements which affirm something happens in 1820.  For example, he notes Joseph Smith, as a "youth", prayed "in the wilderness" and had his first vision.  He takes Orson Pratt's pamphlet on the First Vision as the guiding text, but adds several personal recollections to the text.  In other words, he accidentally, as an enemy, confirms it.
5. Orsamus Turner, who was another childhood friend of Joseph Smith, left Palmyra in either 1821 or 1822.  Among other things, he asserted in later writings there was no foundation to the idea that the Book of Mormon was copied from Spaulding.  But more importantly for our discussion, he recalls that Joseph attended a Methodist Camp Meeting down on Vienna Road (1819), and tended to them.  When combined with Tucker's statement that Joseph's "blasphemies" about God led him to withdraw from the Methodists around 1820, we have the main points of the First Vision confirmed.

Matt Brown noted that in the 1832 account of the First Vision, written by hand by Joseph Smith, Joseph notes that after God manifest his will do him, the Lord appeared.  This account was in Oliver Cowdery's possession when he wrote his 1834 account of the founding of the Church.  It seems obvious that the emphasis of Joseph Smith was on the restoration of the true church of God, not his personal vision.  We see something akin to this in Paul's writings.  Though we have three accounts of Jesus appearing to Paul, none of them are told to us by Paul.  They are reported by Luke in Acts, not in Paul's letters.  Paul focuses on doctrine and Church government.  He obviously told his story at least twice, based on Luke's account in Acts.  He surely told it more than that, as he is recognized by the Church as an Apostle.  But Paul's vision is never cited as authority or any purpose except to establish that Jesus overcame death.

So when people say things like there is no contemporary reports of the the First Vision, note the newspaper account, Lucy Smith's account, Pomeroy Tucker's account, and the fact that Joseph's entire family believed him, and stayed with the Church.  Let's compare:  The earliest accounts of the resurrection of Jesus were written 20 or 30 years after the Resurrection, and have many contradictions.  Thursday or Friday supper?  Etc.  Does that affect the reality of the Resurrection?  No.

So the First Vision evidence is excellent.  It did happen.  Even Joseph's critics acknowledged it.


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Mormons ARE Christians

"Mormons have another Jesus!" "Mormons' Jesus is not the Jesus of historical Christianity!" "Mormons are not Christian."

These are very typical slurs hurled at Mormons by anti-Mormons. They are slurs because they are not academic observations used to stimulate understanding. They are intended as insults to the closely held personal beliefs of millions of Mormons. I can actually agree with the first two statements, as they are true. But the history of Christianity is conclusive in showing Mormons are Christians.

I heard one goof-ball say "What if I say I am a Mormon, I just don't believe in Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, the First Vision or the restoration of priesthood authority? That's the same as saying you are Christians."

It is if you are an idiot.

First, anti-Mormons don't get to define what a Christian is to anyone other than themselves. I seriously don't care if someone doesn't think I am a Christian. Second, I believe in the same foundational document, the Bible, as they do, but I interpret it according to my conscience, not theirs. Lastly, their definition of a Christian would exclude all of the people in the Bible, including Jesus. Academics, Jews and Mormons are unable to locate the doctrine of the Trinity in the Bible. It is a conclusion based on a philosophical perspective which is not Biblical. The Catholic Encyclopedia states it is nowhere in the Old Testament, and only inferred in the New Testament.

Drilling down, the LDS Articles of Faith grant the right to believe and worship to each person individually. So we expect to be excluded from other people's beliefs. And we define what it means to be LDS. But the Bible provides no definition of what a Christian is beyond one who believes in Jesus. There is no doctrinal litmus test. Bart Ehrman has written and taught extensively on the "Lost Christianities" which were divergent beliefs from what is now considered "orthodox" Christianity. They believed in some way in Jesus. The current "orthodox" Christianity is, from a historical standpoint, the result of fortunate circumstances and some lucky breaks in history. The Arian controversy, for example, could easily have resulted in a very different theology about Jesus, with Athanasian theology considered apostate.

We believe in Jesus, as described fully in the Bible. In fact I would assert we, as Mormons, believe more closely in the Biblical Jesus than any other people, as we understand the circumstances of Christ in the eternities and the context of the Bible. No later than February 1832 the clear description of man's destiny to become like God is revealed, and soon thereafter the Book of Abraham asserts this understanding of a Council of Gods was the background of the Bible. Sure enough, we get archaeological discoveries about 100 years later that show the people of the Bible DID know this was the background of the Bible. See Mark Smith's, "The Origins of Biblical Monotheism" or visit Micheal Heiser's website, and see how a devout Evangelical scholar presents the indisputable fact of history that Israel DID believe that God was among many gods.

Even more pointedly, early Christians believed and understood the teachings of the Bible to mean men could become gods. The earliest existing defense of the Christian faith was written by Justin Martyr around 140 AD. He notes Jesus is a "second god" after the creator of all things. He also notes our faith is that we will also become gods. What it meant to become a "god" gradually evolves, until we see Athanasius try to harmonize this belief with Trinitarianism by saying it is about fellowship with God and Jesus, not our own development.

But it is realistic to argue that Mormons are Christians, because we do believe what the Bible teaches about Jesus, not the stuff added over the centuries after the authors of the Bible had died.

Second, the Bible is the common document between anti-Mormon Christians and Mormon Christians. It is not the Book of Mormon, the First Vision or any other particular LDS belief. But let's consider the Catholics vs. Evangelicals. Are they both Christian? Today we would say yes, but historically the Catholic Church did not consider Evangelicals to be Christians for hundreds of years. They literally discriminated and killed each other. Protestants then really tried to get the Bible in the hands of commoners. This was a great thing, unless you were killed for trying to do so. This has many positive things, especially about personal spirituality.

But there are some negative things. Specifically in not understanding the context or content of the Bible. Or reading the Bible with a pre-existing prejudice from extra-Biblical teachers. Today we hear most Evangelicals argue it is by faith alone through grace alone that people are saved. But that simply ignores the plain teaching of the Bible that we do contribute to our salvation. God wants to save us, according to the Bible, but we have to follow him. Calvinists go further and say God has already decided who to save, which is the logical conclusion of Evangelical doctrine, and we are unable to do anything to become saved if we are not on God's pre-existing list.

I am routinely accused of hating the Bible because I discuss issues of textual criticism with people. I love the New Testament. I love truth even more. To fail to try to understand not just what the words mean, but what the original words were, is, in my opinion, not following Jesus' admonition that we demonstrate our love by keeping his word.

Finally, as I mentioned above, the Catholics defined the Protestants as non-Christians. It did not mean anything. Walter Martin did a great job of creating hatred of the "cults". Read early Christian history. They considered themselves a cult. They were initially Jews (followers of Abraham and Moses) who kept that faith and added to it Jesus and his teachings. They were called "Christians" because their Hebrew beliefs center on the interpretation added to it by Jesus, and the belief that Jesus was the son of God. Read John 10. This was blasphemy to the "orthodox" religion of the day, and they felt justified in stoning Jesus. Or beating the Apostles. Or killing Christians. Or, calling them names like "heretics". They eventually kicked them out of the synagogues, because they were different. The Christians considered themselves the children of Abraham, either by birth or adoption. They had the Old Testament, which they considered scripture, and they added to it new revelation. They were proud to be called Christians. Men like Paul still considered themselves Jews, regardless of the name calling, as well as Christians.

And so do we.

Mormons are Christians.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Final Shawn McCraney Post (for a while)

My last post about Shawn McCraney illustrated my view that Shawn never really intended to have me or other knowledgeable defenders of the LDS faith on his program, Heart of the Matter.

So yesterday I got a phone call from a friend who, with another friend, spoke with Shawn about his fear of dealing with Mormon scholars, and me in particular.

My friend said that when my name was brought up, his perception was Shawn became visibly angry, responded with a short curt remark about how dumb bringing me up was to do, and then said he chose to not have me on because I am not a "real" Mormon, I just have my own philosophy which I disguise as Mormonism.

"Wow", was all I could say. The absurdity of such a view about me, if the report is accurate (and I believe my friend to be care about details, so I think it is) is almost beyond words. My credentials as a believing Mormon far exceed anything Shawn can throw around about his supposed "40 years as a Mormon". Granted, I have only been a Mormon for 35 years, but those don't include any infancy/pre-teen years. And they include 33 years of very active belief, study and attendance.

Let me elaborate a bit more. I served a two year mission without being homesick a single day. I loved the work. I have been an elder's quorum president 4 times. I served over 5 years in a bishopric as an executive secretary. I served as a counselor in a stake mission presidency for two years. I have repeatedly served as a stake missionary. I am currently in a stake presidency as an assistant clerk. I am also a member of FAIR, an organization which specifically defends the LDS Church from critics by promoting research, which is easily viewed on the FAIR WIKI. In my opinion, the FAIR Wiki is simply the most outstanding religious apologetic database on the Internet, because it fearlessly addresses EVERY criticism of the LDS Church, cites the sources making the claims, and then provides research and links responding to the criticism, acknowledging when a conclusion is one of several theories (such as the location of Cumorah, for example) or a settled fact, as in the case of historical events. It is an amazing resource. And it is definitely "peer reviewed" for facts.

To think that I have taken a chameleon's skin to create my own religious view, outside mainstream LDS belief, is laughable. I am a conservative LDS defender, a believing Mormon who affirms the LDS Church as the only true Church on the face of the Earth in terms of authority and prophetic leadership.

It is my belief that Shawn is not afraid of me from an intellectual or debating standpoint. I believe he is afraid of what he becomes when he is out of control of a situation. People see that on his show constantly when someone calls in and stumps him, or makes a valid point. He gets loud, sarcastic, caustic. He tries to bully his way through the conversation. Listen to his chat with Van Hale. Set aside who was being rude to whom. Doesn't matter. Listen to the tone, responses, sarcasm.

Look back over the years to my specific interaction on air with Shawn. He consistently makes statements and promises to respond. Or like last time, he just re-affirms that he has banned me from calling in. Then he puts forward his crafted position, like this past June, where he wants to present himself to the world as the unafraid, unintimidated crusader against the false doctrines of Mormonism. He will let anyone on his show, not to debate, but to present their views and then review them with pinpoint insight and clarity. He specifically denied his own documented words by saying it is false that he would not allow people such as me to call into his program.

Well, those are my views. Shawn is a complicated person. But he is pretty easy to read, I think, as well. I believe he is a bully, and the last thing a bully wants is someone to step forward who is not able to be bullied or frightened by emotional manipulation.

So don't expect Shawn to have Dan Peterson, Michael Ash, Kerry Shirts, Van Hale or folks like me on the program. Ever. As my friend said, "Shawn hates you. You can see it in how he discusses you." For him to control his anger and sarcasm, I believe, would be impossible for him to manage. The funny thing is just about nobody watches his program. Seriously, nearly no one, relative to the potential audience, is watching. So even if he had a horrible showing, pretty much no one would know. Of course, it would be on disk forever, which may be his fear. Everyone could watch, and certainly it would make his claim of an "encyclopedic knowledge" of Mormonism would be shown for what it really is.

Anyway, I am done talking about Shawn. I never thought he would have me on his program, and it turns out I was right. Call it what you want, at least we Mormons do go talk with the folks who want to engage us about doctrine, history or whatever.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Shawn McCraney and the Challenge of Truth

I have previously written about a call I made to Shawn McCraney's television show, Heart of the Matter, on December 1, 2009, wherein Shawn accused me of lying to get on the air, yelled over the top of me, asked questions he refused to let me answer, and then hung up on me while remarking "this is why we don't allow you on the show, Bob." (55 minutes into the show.)

Apparently he received enough feedback from people about his chicken approach to dealing with LDS evidence, that June 15,2010 he announced (@ 5:10 into the show) that 2011 would be "the year of the guest", he would allow anyone on his show, including apologists "defenders of the faith", the LDS president, whomever, and that he would not debate the guest, but they would be allowed to present their view, and the entire hour would be devoted to reviewing the guest's views.

He then also stated that "I [Shawn] am forever being accused on the Internet about, uh, refusing to allow informed Latter-day Saints to call in, they're always welcome, so here's their chance. They can be a guest for the full hour, and they can sit and talk. We invite any and all. And Again, this means atheists, polygamists, people who receive revelations, defenders of the faith, Book of Mormon supporters, testimony sharers, ..." "Write Shawn at..."

So I wrote Shawn on July 17, 2010 after a person on YouTube suggested I contact him. I told him I was available, and I offered a long list of potential topics. He responded:
Thank you for your willingness to appear on Heart of the Matter.

We will contact you in the coming months with a date for your consideration and topic. We will try and provide you with at least four months of preparation time, in case you need it. Speak with you soon. And thank you for your willingness to participate.

Heart of the Matter

And so, according to Shawn's word, I waited for contact about a specific date. And waited. And waited.


So I sent him a note last week, 6-months after he said he would contact me.
Have not heard from anyone in the 6 months since your original note. Just curious if this is still something you are considering, or if the program has opted to go a different direction. Either way, drop me a note.

Best Regards,


He promptly responded:
We've headed a new direction. Only had seven or eight really reputable
guests willing to come on the program - not enough to build a year on.
Thanks for being willing. God bless.

Notice the change. No longer "anyone", but "reputable guests".

I think this is because he was afraid of what would happen. If you don't have too many guests, and instead get 8 scholars on the program who run circles around you, this does not show well. His experience with Van Hale shows what happens when serious logic thwarts his uninformed emotionalism. He gets mad, sarcastic and becomes aggressively offensive, in my opinion.

So I wrote back and said I could possibly help locate additional guests by speaking with my LDS defender friends, and if nothing else, I would be happy to go to dinner with Shawn. Shawn had no interest unless I was willing to convert to his satisfaction to a belief in his Jesus. I told him I already believed Jesus was the only way to salvation, so we could go eat. He replied he had no interest.

So just to be clear, Shawn's call screener had told me I couldn't get on the air. When I slipped through an apparently uninitiated call screener, I was accused of lying, and Shawn affirmed what the previous call screen had said, namely I was banned from being on the show.

Then he said on air everyone is allowed to call in. Really? He must have forgotten his own words.

Then he said he would have me on the show. Then he said he wouldn't.

My goodness. He changes positions faster than a president after a political shellacking.

Or is there more here? Sadly, no. I had told several people Shawn would never have people like me on his program, as the risk was too great for him to come off badly. He would rather have a few people find out he won't have Mormons on his show, than have everyone see "the fruits of a born again Mormon."

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Immanuel and the Highest God

Reading Isaiah, the Messiah born to a virgin is "Immanuel", "God Among Us". I have often heard this as the proof that there is only one God in a Trinitarian sense. But it is really proof that there are more than one real God.

During Christmas season, everyone sings the beautiful hymns such as "Far, Far Away on Judeas Plain", and "Oh Come, All Ye Faithful", which both perpetuate a mistranslation of the King James Translation of the Bible which obscures who is whom.

We read in Luke 2:14 "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." To say this is a bad translation is to be kind. All modern translations of this verse follow, more or less, the more accurate translation found in the NIV:
"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
What gets lost in this is the intent of "in the highest". This, according to most commentators and several translations, has to do with "in the highest heaven" (NLT, God's Word Translation, Weymouth NT, among commentators Barnes, Clark, Gill and others).

The idea is fairly straight forward: Give glory (praise, honor)to the God who is in the highest heaven, and therefore superior to all other heavenly beings, AND on Earth, men blessed by God are given peace.

Since this angelic announcement takes place AFTER the birth of Christ, where does this put "Immanuel" in relation to "God in the Most High Heaven"?

Well, first of all, it essentially proves that God, as acknowledged by Jesus, is Jesus' superior: "The only true God" (John 17:3). It also shows the understanding was that while Jesus is divine, he is viewed as an "intermediate" God (Acts 17:18), where Jesus is described by Paul in such a way that the Greek philosophers characterize him as a "daimonion", a "strange god" who is atoning for man and being resurrected from the dead, which by definition is:
1 the divine power, deity, divinity
2 a spirit, a being inferior to God, superior to men (Thayer's Greek Lexicon)

The New Testament message of Christ's relationship to God the Father is clear: He is like him, fully a god, yet is a separate god who in essence reports to God: John 1:1-2; Phil 2:6; 1 Cor 8:6; Heb 1:3, 1:9; 2:7-13.

Jesus is the first born of many brethren (and sisters). He was the son of God, which he himself goes to pains to explain means that he is "inferior" to God (John 10:30-38.

The logical dilemma for Trinitarians is we see in the Bible something which is otherwise impossible: If Jesus is God, he keeps appearing next to himself, and even being in two places simultaneously, something logically impossible. Not in the sense of God being omniscient or omnipresent in some manner. We affirm that, even as we recognize we don't know how it is done.

No, it is much more direct: A thing cannot stand next to itself. Acts 7:55-56 is a verse I often site. Jesus is standing, physically, next to God, who is physically visible and present. Jesus sits to the right hand of God in around a dozen verses. Jesus affirms that his oneness with God is identical to that which the saints can similarly experience (John 17:21-24).

The most straightforward explanation is that God and his son are separate and distinct beings. I have gone to great pains to show that from the text of the Bible, there can be no doubt, even in Isaiah, that God was part of a pantheon of divine beings, who could and were rightly called "gods", and that God in Hebrew thought had a wife. It is largely the result of the painful gymnastics of the "unknowable mystery of the Trinity", a doctrine made up by men to try to force an explanation on the data showing multiple divine beings, to force it into their philosophical position that perfection could only be in "one god", and then selectively harvesting the statements in scripture indicating there is only one God, ignoring context, and ignoring clear statements about multiple, real gods found nearly everywhere in the Bible as well ("Confounded be all they that serve graven images, that boast themselves of idols: worship him, all ye gods." Ps 97:7).

Think about this next Christmas. The New Testament knew who they worshiped, the translators just don't like it.