Mormonism 201 (Atonement): Response to Edward T. Jones

Response to Edward T. Jones
Rejoinder by Mike Thomas

In order to make this review easier to read, all original quotes from the Mormonism 201 rebuttal are boldfaced and italicized to separate these from the rest of the rejoinder.

Some preliminary observations really should be made before moving on to the main themes of this chapter. Many will have noticed that in much Mormon writing these days, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is often referred to as The Church of Jesus Christ. This is in accord with the Mormon Church’s “style guide” issued to members of the press and published on their web site.

I have been amazed at how apparently seamlessly and efficiently it has been adopted by Mormons, and note that Mr. Jones, in his writing, follows this recently invented convention. It does, however, create several problems, both for Christians who find it singularly offensive as well as for Mormons themselves. In fact, this convention often serves to confuse rather than inform.

I’ve no intention of becoming too embroiled in this issue, but something should be said. I am writing this prompted by his opening line under the heading Second Area of Disagreement: Universality of Effect (of the atonement). It reads: “The second difference between ‘Christians’ and the Church of Jesus Christ, according to McKeever and Johnson, is…”

His text is littered with such allusions and comparisons. I wonder if Mr. Jones realizes how very peculiar that statement will sound to people outside the Mormon Church, and especially where I am (in Great Britain), outside the geographical areas where Mormonism predominates. Of course, I know the chequered history of the Mormon Church’s name, and I am fully aware of what their “style guide” is trying to do (i.e. if people hear something often enough, they come to accept it as fact).

But this very odd juxtaposition of “Christians” and “The Church of Jesus Christ” would lead most people to think that he had produced a tautology. That he was discussing the Church of Jesus Christ at war with itself, since most would define the Church of Jesus Christ as the sum of Christians, and a Christian as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ. It is a lot like writing of the difference between Muslims and the Islamic faith.

I am interested in what has been seen by many as a cynical use of terminology. Perhaps Mr. Jones feels that just because I am a Christian, this doesn’t mean I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ, which he clearly equates with the Mormon Church. In thinking about where Christians fit, and indeed where Mormons are trying to fit these days in the great scheme of things, there should be an attempt at achieving clarity. Are we to make a distinction between The Church of Jesus Christ and The Christian Church? If so, how would you define and justify that distinction?

There is no warrant for it in Christian Scripture, and even convention does not allow for such a distinction to be readily understood. I am not trying to put words in Mr. Jones’ mouth, but I am trying to understand where I fit if, as a Christian, I do not belong to The Church of Jesus Christ. What are the implications of such a policy? I am a Christian and, therefore, consider myself a member of the Church of Jesus Christ. Does that make me a Mormon? If I am not a Mormon and, by implication, not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ, am I not a Christian? No doubt, from the perspective of a Mormon motivated by loyalty more than logic, there is no problem. However, to the Mormon who is sensitive to the feelings of Christians and influenced by logic more than loyalty, there must be recognition that this is both insensitive and problematic.

Priming the Pump

In defense of his work Mr. Jones writes: “This review of their chapter on the Atonement will seek to present the LDS position, not in a ‘favorable’ light, but in an accurate one. And that is what is needed most here: accuracy and honesty. Those who would bear false witness against another person or Church are seriously condemned by the Savior, and if Messers (sic) McKeever and Johnson have studied the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as thoroughly as they claim they have, then they are certainly guilty of bearing false witness.”

To begin a discussion of this kind with such remarks (there are more of the same) is very unfortunate. The authors find themselves on the gallows before the case has been put to the jury. Like the Queen in Alice, Mr. Jones seems to want to cry, “Sentence first, verdict afterwards!” I understand that feelings can run high when addressing crucial issues of faith, but I would have hoped a greater effort in the editing process would have expunged such prejudicial remarks before publication.

There also seems to be an attempt at isolating the authors from the mainstream of Christian thought with remarks such as “traditional Christians” (as represented by McKeever and Johnson, at least) and it is a problem “at least for McKeever and Johnson.” It is as though these two men hold to beliefs that are peculiar even to Christians and that they have problems with Mormon theology other Christians would not hold. There is a history to this kind of approach represented by such Mormon books as How Wide the Divide and Are Mormons Christians?

In an attempt to legitimize theology that is peculiar to Mormonism and is therefore alien to traditional Christianity, many Mormons seek to redefine what are often settled issues for the Christian Church by refining doctrines in their own image and then calling it Christianity. They then compare the views of Christian apologists like McKeever and Johnson with this creation and represent these apologists as though they are out on a limb as far as most Christians are concerned. Anyone reading the extensive literature they have produced will readily see that these men stand squarely within the Evangelical Christian tradition on the issues under discussion and, in challenging Mormon thought, represent accurately the problems most Christians have with Mormon theology.

Mr. Jones further observes that “McKeever and Johnson do not speak authoritatively for either ‘the Christian faith’ or for the LDS faith. This review seeks to determine what the proper LDS belief is regarding the Atonement of our Savior Jesus Christ. It should be indicated at the outset that if Messers (sic) McKeever and Johnson understand the Christian belief on this subject they do not exhibit such understanding; if they understand the LDS belief on that subject, then they have distorted it, often beyond recognition. Such distortion can only be considered deliberate, with malice of forethought…” (sic. The actual term is ‘malice aforethought.’)

But Mr. Jones doesn’t tell us why the authors do not speak authoritatively for the Christian faith. Of course, neither one claims to speak ‘for’ the LDS faith. Having stated that, Mr. Jones feels that neither is qualified to comment on LDS theology, saying McKeever and Johnson deliberately and knowingly misrepresent Mormonism “with malice aforethought.” But, if they are not qualified to do the former, neither are they equipped to achieve the latter. That is, if they do misrepresent Mormonism but don’t know what they are doing, then they have simply blundered into misrepresentation since malice aforethought, as he represents it, presupposes knowledge of the subject. Mr. Jones needs to make up his mind.

Whichever way you look at it, the conviction of Edward Jones that the authors either don’t know what they are talking about or maliciously and knowingly distort what they do know as true is something that should not be indicated at the outset. It should certainly not be presented as a settled fact since it is something that, at this stage, Mr. Jones has yet to prove. Indeed, in his footnotes he states“Whether they distort or de-contextualize their quotations will be one of the items discussed in this paper.” He may feel that, by the end of the paper, one or more of these bold accusations are proved, but in the spirit of academic veracity, he should follow the custom of presenting the evidence before drawing his conclusions. He might otherwise be accused of ‘priming the pump’ or ‘poisoning the well,’ which, I am sure, is not his intention.

In commenting on motive, Mr. Jones writes, “…[McKeever and Johnson] claim that in the writing of their book they have been ‘moved with the same compassion felt by the LDS missionaries and lay members who attempt to defend what they believe to be true.’ This, of course, has nothing to do with why missionaries are sent into the world; they go to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, not to defend it against others’ attacks.”

He concludes: “One would wish that Messers (sic) McKeever and Johnson had written a book detailing what they believe to be the true teachings of Jesus Christ, rather than an outright attack on the beliefs of others. Their approach to others’ beliefs says much about their own.”

This is typical of the response of Mormonism to its critics, and I really wish Mormons would think through what they are claiming. There are around 60,000 full-time Mormon missionaries around the world today as well as the ‘lay members’ he mentions, to whom the aphorism “every member a missionary” applies. They are calling on our neighbours with a message emphasising temples, extra-biblical revelation, and families as forever entities while insisting that, unlike their detractors, they are simply proclaiming their gospel and sharing what they believe.

However, in “detailing what they believe to be the true teachings of Jesus Christ,” they do not, themselves, simply present their view. Their message is grounded in the doctrine that all other churches are in apostasy; their creeds are an abomination, their practices are ungodly, and their ministers are without authority. In other words, an integral part of the LDS message is an attack on the beliefs of others. In light of this, I suggest their familiar cry, “Why do you have to tear down other people’s beliefs?” is breathtakingly disingenuous since, in presenting Mormonism, they inevitably tear down beliefs that I hold to be sacred.

Many Mormon books and web pages have been dedicated to the defense of Mormonism against those who criticize it. This present exercise is a case in point. There are also publications ‘correcting,’ in light of Mormon beliefs, ‘apostate’ Christian beliefs and practices and educating people in the ‘restored’ Mormon gospel. I think of books like Jesus the Christ, Mormon Doctrine, A Marvellous Work and a Wonder, Doctrines of Salvation, and many more, all of which compare Christianity unfavourably with Mormonism. The Book of Mormon itself is scathing in its attack on the Christian Church, and Joseph Smith’s account of his first vision styles Christianity as abominable. If Mormons are permitted to ‘apologize’ for, defend, and spread their views by casting Christianity in a poor light, I fail to see any justification for Mormon complaints about works that closely and critically examine Mormonism. The authors might justifiably claim to be simply defending their own faith against Mormon critics calling at our doors.

Plausible Deniability

In characterising the style and content of Mormon teaching and comparing it with the approach of the authors, Mr. Jones writes:

Most missionaries are totally unaware of anti-Mormon literature, at least for a month or two. In 1902 George Teasdale, of the Quorum of the Twelve, discussed the Great Mandate of Mark 16:15–6 to preach the gospel to all the world, teaching them to believe and be baptized. Elder Teasdale asked, and then answered, the question: to believe what? “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, in the atonement, in the resurrection, in holding communication with the heavens, in the spirit of revelation, in putting our trust in God, in doing good, in fulfilling our individual missions, and being in obedience to the principles of the Gospel.” That is what the missionaries were expected to be teaching as they went out into the world.[7] One would wish that Messers (sic)  McKeever and Johnson had written a book detailing what they believe to be the true teachings of Jesus Christ, rather than an outright attack on the beliefs of others. Their approach to others’ beliefs says much about their own.

We have already seen that, in presenting their message, Mormons do more than offer what they believe to be the teachings of Jesus Christ. When they explain Mormon doctrine, certainly they attack the traditional Christian church by the very nature of their message. The use of the above quote from George Teasdale illustrates another characteristic of this approach. Taken at face value, the statement has much to commend it.

But it’s what is not said that is important in this context. There is an instinctive (one might say, unconscious) strategy among Mormons whereby they don’t exactly lie, but they don’t exactly tell the truth either. This is illustrated by a common experience for anyone who has discussed their faith with Mormon missionaries. A Christian might say, “I understand you Mormons don’t believe in the God of the Bible.” To this the missionary may quote from the First Article of Faith and reply, “Oh, that’s not true! We believe in God the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.”

An uninformed or undiscerning Christian may go away satisfied at having been corrected by what appears to be an orthodox Trinitarian statement of faith. (I have often witnessed this happening.) However, anyone familiar enough with Mormon teaching will know that the Mormon concept of God is so far removed from the orthodox view as the east is from the west. The Mormon knows what the Christian is asking, but he or she chooses to give the appearance of orthodoxy with a statement of faith that, while not totally untrue, is really dishonest. The honest answer would be, ‘Yes! Our concept of God is radically different from what you have in mind when you ask that question.’

This is what is known as plausible deniability. It is a term that was coined in the world of espionage to describe a cover story that serves to convince people that they are mistaken in their suspicions of a person or organization. It was popularized at the time of Watergate. Thus, plausible deniability can be achieved in many ways, including concocting a cover story, restricting knowledge (need to know), and by producing parallel, alternative accounts or texts, which are then pressed into service, much like the Mormon first Article of Faith. The texts or statements may not originally have been produced with this purpose in mind; however, it is how they are pressed into service that gives the game away.

The George Teasdale statement falls into this category. I have just finished a study of the Mormon missionary discussions for publication and, in light of what I have discovered, find the use of this statement gloriously misleading. It appears deeply orthodox and disarmingly innocent, yet covers a multitude of sins, because Mormons mean something entirely different from what would be commonly understood by virtually every word or clause of the statement.

They also bring a message that is profoundly more controversial than the statement, taken on its own, would lead people to believe. This is born out by what we have already observed of the hostility towards the Christian Church implicit in the Mormon message but plausibly denied by Mr. Jones. Plausible deniability is part of Mormon strategy, as I have demonstrated and, while it may be an unconscious reflex in the average Mormon, it operates in much of what passes for theological debate with Mormons, and the reader needs to be aware of this.

Again, I am reminded of something from Alice:

“There’s glory for you!”

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory’,” Alice said.

“I meant, ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!'”

“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’,” Alice objected.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”

Playing by the Rules

Edward Jones is very concerned about the purpose and format of Mormonism 101. It is described in its preface as “a resource that compares the teachings of the Mormon leaders, both past and present, with those of the Bible.” Mr. Jones is unhappy on several counts with the way this is achieved. Commenting on the comparisons between the sayings of modern Mormon leaders and their 19th century counterparts, he writes:

“Messers (sic) McKeever and Johnson need to understand that the rule they have established here is a two-edged sword: what the Christians said in the early days (Bible and Church Fathers) and what Christians are saying today can also be checked, and double checked, against accuracy and agreement. If the differences become apparent, can we also state that we will then have ‘an idea of what kind of men [modern Christian apologists] really are’?”

To answer bluntly, No! This is always an attractive proposition to the Mormon apologist (i.e. applying the same criteria to Christian Churches as are applied by critics to Mormonism). The reasoning is that if Christian churches don’t pass the test, why should the Mormons? However, while these standards do apply to the Mormon Church, they do not apply to Christian churches. If you compare the two systems, it becomes immediately apparent why. Mormonism is, in its government and practice, ultramontanist. It makes far-reaching claims to primacy and uniqueness.

The Christian church is a local expression of a universal movement of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. Christians accept only the Bible as “God breathed” and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim.3:16). Whilst every Evangelical Christian would claim a unique position for the Christian faith in the sea of faiths in this world, no one church or congregation would claim the unique position of Salt Lake City amongst fellow Christian believers.

The Mormon Church claims that it is the only true church with leaders who are uniquely inspired of God. While they may find the teachings of their leaders helpful and inspiring, a Christian would afford none of them the exalted position that Mormons give their prophets. In fact, the Christian leaders are fellow pilgrims from whose experience and insights we appreciate, but their counsel must be sifted in light of Scripture.  You cannot then compare the Mormon Church, its practices, or its leaders with Christian churches. There is no “two-edged sword” here. The sword that the Mormon Church has put in the hands of its critics cuts one way.

Handsome is as handsome does

Mr. Jones also objects to how “irresponsible” is defined as it relates to statements made by church leaders. He quotes the authors:

“The student of Mormonism still needs to carefully weigh what LDS leaders have said and are saying, since it gives us an idea of what kind of men they really are. For example, if certain LDS leaders continually make irresponsible comments, we must take that into consideration.”

Mr. Jones comments, “If certain LDS leaders are making irresponsible statements, then doesn’t one have the obligation to determine exactly from whose viewpoint they are to be considered irresponsible: the LDS church, or mainstream Christian apologists? If they are irresponsible from the LDS standpoint, then they ought to be ignored, as not representing the true position of the LDS Church on that particular point of doctrine or practice. If they are irresponsible from the point of view of mainstream Christians, then… Well, I guess that is what this review is really all about.”

I take his point inasmuch as, if a Mormon leader declares that God is an exalted man and was once as we are now, then from a Christian viewpoint that would be irresponsible, not to mention grossly erroneous, while from the Mormon viewpoint it would be true. However, we already have sound criterion by which to judge “irresponsible” from the Mormon standpoint. It is, in fact, the test we are discussing, i.e. the pronouncements of Mormon leaders compared with each other and with Scripture. And, in general terms, most people know what “irresponsible” looks like. What is puzzling is what Mr. Jones wants us to do with our findings.

If a man claims responsibility before God as a prophet for bringing clear, consistent, and reliable guidance to God’s people, and if that man goes on to make irresponsible statements before people who have come to trust him in that office, we should treat it lightly. Ignore them. Pretend it didn’t happen and get on with our lives. How do I manage any level of obedience to God’s Word if I cannot trust the channel through which that word comes? Surely the promise of Mormonism is that we should no longer be tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine (Eph.4:14).

Finally, on this subject, Mr. Jones comments on the comparisons between early and modern Mormon leaders and the inconsistencies such comparisons reveal:

It is the observation of this reviewer that what most evangelical writers wish to see is a Mormon Systematic Theology, a volume that will give answers to all their gospel questions, and explain Mormon doctrine in a very neat and concise manner. What they fail to recognize (or choose to ignore, since they have studied the subject for so long!) is that letters written to a son-in-law do not hold the same authority within the Church as a talk given at a General Conference, which in turn does not hold the same authority as the words of canonized scripture. Are these “alleged” differences, or are there demonstrable differences? If the latter, what then is the position of the reviewer? Much needs to be said here about “authority” without detracting too much from the main theme.

It is the observation of this reviewer that systematic theology describes exactly the promise of Mormonism. Consider the story Mormons tell of Christ organizing his Church around the Ephesians 4 ministries; of the eventual apostasy of the church and the ensuing chaos as councils and convocations argue over doctrine; of divisions and factions. Consider, then, the story of final restoration and the promise that God would choose righteous men once more as his witnesses who would learn from firsthand experience about the plan and the mission of Christ in that plan.

Consider their claim to authority to teach clearly and simply the knowledge of heaven and the truths of the gospel. (All of this is taken from the first missionary discussion.) As Mormonism casts itself in a favorable light by comparison with 2,000 years of the Christian Church, it condemns Christianity for getting so hopelessly confused and vaunts as one of its greatest virtues a systematic understanding of God’s great plan of happiness for mankind.

But, of course, there is no Mormon systematic theology. A review of Mormon teachings and statements given over the short history of this church shows why.

Authority

The issue of authority in the Mormon Church is a thorny one and seemingly insoluble. Mr. Jones feels that something should be said on this subject and seems to rank authority in the familiar order. He reminds us that “letters written to a son-in-law do not hold the same authority within the Church as a talk given at a General Conference, which in turn does not hold the same authority as the words of canonized scripture.” Thus, he seems hopeful of dismissing much of the evidence produced in Mormonism 101. Mr. Jones must be speaking in general terms and not relating his thoughts to the chapter under discussion.

However, lest anyone reading these reviews without reference to the book Mormonism 101 should get the wrong impression, I should point out that there is not one “letter to a son-in-law” or anything so remotely informal that was referenced in this chapter. Perhaps Mr. Jones is disparaging Bruce McConkie’s calling as a Mormon apostle because he was the son-in-law of tenth President Joseph Fielding Smith. If so, that can be discussed in another venue. Indeed, in scanning the notes for the book, I find a great weight of evidence brought from general authorities, church publications, and other sources regarded by Mormons as authoritative enough for their own use. Indeed, if we pay regard to the “authorities” of the church, we find a different picture to that given by Mr. Jones on what is, or isn’t, authoritative.

In a 1999 conference address, Mormon Apostle Dallin Oaks had the following to say:

The subject being taught in the Melchizedek Priesthood quorums and Relief Societies of the church during the second and third Sundays of each month is the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church. During the last two years we have studied the teachings of President Brigham Young. For the next two years we will be studying the teachings of President Joseph F. Smith, the 6th LDS President. The books containing these teachings, which are being given to every adult member of the church as a permanent personal library resource, contain doctrine and principles. They are rich and relevant to the needs of our day, and they are superb for teaching and discussion” (Ensign, Nov. 1999, page 80).

In a 1998 address, Merrill C. Oaks spoke of The Living Prophet: Our Source of Pure Doctrine. I commend it as a classic example of how Mormons are encouraged to think about their prophets and leaders. He quotes 12th LDS President Spencer W Kimball thus:

Since that Momentous day in 1820, additional scripture has continued to come, including the numerous and vital revelations flowing in a never-ending stream from God to his prophets on the earth…There are those who would assume that with the printing and binding of these sacred records [and he was speaking here of the four standard works] that would be the ‘end of the prophet.’. But again we testify to you that revelation continues and that the vaults and files of the Church contain these revelations which come month to month and day to day. We testify also that there is, since 1830 when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized, and will continue to be, so long as time shall last, a prophet, recognized of God and his people, who will continue to interpret the mind and will of the Lord.  (“Revelation: The Word of the Lord to His Prophets,” Ensign, May 1977, 78 Quotes in [square brackets] are original).

Apostle Oaks went on to say:

“We have large amounts of written historical material available to us, including sermons of early Church leaders. These give us background that helps us understand the early events of the Restoration…”

He then goes on to promise:

“There are wonderful continuity and agreement of these teachings and those of the current prophets.” (Ensign, November 1998, pp. 82-83)

It seems reasonable to draw from these statements certain conclusions, i.e.

  1. That the four “Standard Works” are certainly not the only authoritative sources of doctrine.
  2. That the Lord continues to speak to and through his prophets, “day to day.”
  3. That these prophets can be relied upon to “interpret the mind and will of the Lord.”
  4. That there is “a wonderful continuity and agreement” between former prophets and leaders and the current ones.

Add to this the words of Dallin Oaks quoted above and it seems that people are encouraged to expect that transparency, clarity and continuity are the normative experience of those following Mormon leaders, via LDS scripture, LDS historical documents, and LDS Church manuals. In light of this, any reasonable person would be satisfied that the authors seem to have the endorsement of Mormon Church leaders in their selection of authoritative material.

Christian Symbolism

Under the heading Centrality of the Atonement in LDS Thought, Mr. Jones charges the authors with seriously understating the position of the Mormon Church. He goes to some lengths to emphasise the centrality of the cross in Mormon soteriology. But then he seeks to use Christian sources to show how the cross has not always had the status it holds today for Christians. Commenting on his sources, he writes:

These statements are not cited in order to devalue in any way the importance of the cross, either for McKeever and Johnson or for the Latter-day Saints. It is important to realize however that the cross is not necessarily as significant a concept in the scriptures as they would like it to appear. Leon Morris agrees with Murphy-O’Connor that aside from the writings of Paul, there are not many references in the New Testament to the ‘death’ of Jesus; indeed:  “We would imagine that there are many New Testament references to the death of Christ. But, outside of Paul, there are not.” And in this context it is important to remember that Paul’s writings comprise less than one-fourth of the New Testament writings. Father Murphy-O’Connor also writes, “during the first Christian centuries, the cross was a thing accursed. No one professed allegiance to Christ by wearing a cross.” He indicates that it was only after Constantine lifted the ban against Christianity in general, and forbade crucifixion in particular, that a “new, more pleasant meaning for the cross was facilitated.” But, he concludes, “even after the cross had been widely accepted as a symbol, there was a consistent refusal to accept its reality. Only two crucifixion scenes survive from the fifth century… The situation remains unchanged until the twelfth century.” These comments are not intended to devalue the cross or the blood shed there, only to place these events in their proper context within sacred scripture. Despite the fact that Gethsemane is mentioned only twice in the scriptures, it has nevertheless engendered an enormous amount of secondary literature. A study on the study of the passion narratives published in 1989 identified seven books dealing specifically with Gethsemane during the previous 100 years and more than 100 articles. That represents a significant amount of discussion on something seemingly of no account!

His footnotes seem substantial in this area and play down the importance of the cross, of the apostle Paul, and the witness of a quarter of the New Testament record. Having insisted on the central role of the cross in Mormonism, he then attempts to show from Christian quotes that it is not so important after all. Mr. Jones then goes on, under the heading Back to Gethsemane, to show the importance of Gethsemane in the atonement, ending with the comment:

“This is the one thing which seemingly all commentators, LDS or otherwise, agree: He loved us and He manifested that love by His life and by His death…there is a fair amount of non-LDS support for the idea that the experience of our Savior in the Garden of Gethsemane is also related to the atoning sacrifice which He made for us.”

Now it must be said that, whatever position you take on any question of Christian theology, you will find a quote from someone with letters after their name who will support, or appear to support,your view. We must ask, however, whether the use to which these quotes are being put would have the approval of the authors. We must also find out what Scripture has to say.

And, although he says that these statements are not cited in order to devalue in any way the importance of the cross,” nevertheless, I am suspicious of what he is trying to do here. He begins by defending against the accusation that Mormonism plays down the cross and emphasizes Gethsemane. He then goes on to justify taking the stand of which he is accused, playing down the cross and emphasising Gethsemane. In the same breath he almost seems to be saying, “What McKeever and Johnson are claiming is that I don’t think the cross is important. But I do think it is important and here is the proof of that. And, anyway, other people don’t think it is so important either and here is the proof of that.”

He reminds me again of the lines from Alice:

“You should say what you mean,” the March Hare went on. “I do,” Alice hastily replied; “at least – at least I mean what I say – that’s the same thing, you know.” “Not the same thing a bit!” said the Hatter. “Why, you might just as well say that ‘I see what I eat’ is the same thing as ‘I eat what I see.'”

Areas of Disagreement: Gethsemane and the Cross

There seems to be a good deal of confusion in the mind of Edward Jones concerning several issues in this chapter. I understand how easily one can get lost in the middle of a convoluted argument, although I feel it need not have become as convoluted. Somehow he does seem to have helped the process along. First it would be wise to make clear what are the main issues. These things are explained very well in Mormonism 101, but since Mr. Jones has misunderstood some key points and some of the argumentation, it seems wise to go over this ground here.

The authors explain the following to the reader:

“While Christians and Mormons would both accept the atonement of Christ, they disagree as to what this sacrifice actually accomplished and even, for some, where it took place” (Mormonism 101, page 139).

The Christian View

McKeever and Johnson explain how Christians understand the atonement:

“Through the sacrifice of God’s Son, those who were once enemies of God can now know that the barrier that separated them from their Creator has been removed. So powerful is this sacrificial act that believers can be assured that all their sins – past, present, and future – are now forgiven”(Mormonism 101, p.145).

They then quote Colossians 2:13-14:

And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to the cross.

Thus they present the Christian belief that, through the atonement, there is effected a complete reconciliation between God and believing humankind – “having forgiven you all trespasses,” as well as the location of the transaction – “nailing it [the law that condemns us] to the cross.”

The Mormon View

The authors then present how Mormons understand the atonement:

“Mormon leaders have taught that the atonement of Jesus Christ releases the ‘human family’ from the consequences of Adam’s fall and allows a general resurrection from the dead. It also makes available the forgiveness of personal sins on the condition of repentance”(Mormonism 101, p.139).

They quote from authoritative Mormon sources:

“The universal, infinite, and unconditional aspects of the Atonement of Jesus Christ are several. They include his ransom for Adam’s original transgression so that no member of the human family is held responsible for that sin. Another universal gift is the resurrection from the dead of every man, woman, and child who lives, has ever lived, or ever will live, on the earth” (The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, vol.2, s.v. “Atonement of Jesus Christ,” 84).

“And not only was this vicarious atonement made to cover the transgression of Adam, but it was made to reach also to the individual sins of men, that they might not suffer if they would accept the gospel.”(B H Roberts, Defense of the Faith and the Saints, 2 vols. (Salt Lake City; Deseret News, 1907-12), 2:513).

Thus they present the Mormon belief that Jesus’ death effected a general resurrection and the possibility of forgiveness of personal sins conditional upon acceptance of, and adherence to, the Mormon gospel.

They then quote impeccable Mormon sources to show where, in Mormon thinking, this transaction took place:

“And lo, he shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death; for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people” (Book of Mormon, Mosiah 3:7).

“Therefore I command you to repent–repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore–how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not. For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit–and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink–Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men” (D&C 19:15-19).

It should be noted that the Mosiah verses are cross-referenced in the Book of Mormon footnotes with Matthew 26: 38-39 and Luke 22:44, which are both accounts of Christ’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. The Doctrine and Covenants verses are also cross-referenced in the D&C footnotes to Luke 22:42-44. It is also significant that there is no cross-reference to Golgotha (Luke 23:33-46). Therefore, even a close study of Mormon scripture reveals a garden atonement with no reference to the cross. Mr. Jones seems to want us to take it that the cross is an integral part of Mormon soteriology. However, it would be wise to take nothing for granted. We need to consider the evidence and not simply accept assurances.

The authors go on to say:

“While he acknowledges that Jesus would eventually go to the cross, President Ezra Taft Benson concluded that it was in the Garden where Jesus took on himself the sins of the world”:

“[Christ] suffered as only God could suffer, bearing our griefs, carrying our sorrows, being wounded for our transgressions, voluntarily, submitting Himself to the iniquity of us all, just as Isaiah prophesied (see Isaiah 53:4-6). It was in Gethsemane that Jesus took on Himself the sins of the world, in Gethsemane that His pain was equivalent to the cumulative burden of all men, in Gethsemane that He descended below all things so that all could repent and come to Him” (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 14).

There is then a quote from Bruce McConkie:

“And as He came out of the Garden, delivering himself voluntarily into the hands of wicked men, the victory had been won. There remained yet the shame and the pain of his arrest, his trials, and his cross. But all these were overshadowed by the agonies and sufferings in Gethsemane. It was on the cross that he ‘suffered death in the flesh’, even as many have suffered agonising deaths, but it was inGethsemane that ‘he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come to him.’…Jesus took upon himself the sins of all men when he suffered and sweat great drops of blood from every pore in Gethsemane. It was then that his suffering caused himself , even God, to suffer both body and spirit  in a way which is totally beyond our mortal comprehension” (The Mortal Messiah,  pp 127-28).

Comparing views

In summary, Christians believe that the atonement is a completed work that offers full reconciliation to all that would turn and believe. This atonement occurred at the cross. Mormons believe that the atonement has both unconditional and conditional aspects, i.e. God unconditionally ransoms us from the penalty for Adam’s transgression and effects our resurrection. Forgiveness for personal sin and full reconciliation with God are conditional upon obedience to the Mormon gospel. Mormons believe that this limited atonement occurred in Gethsemane.

There is, later in the chapter, an interesting quote from President Lorenzo Snow:

“…the time approached that He was to pass the severest affliction that any mortal ever did pass through. He undoubtedly had seen persons nailed to the cross, because that method of execution was common at that time, and He understood the torture that such persons experienced for hours. He went by Himself in the garden and prayed to His Father, if it were possible, that that cup might pass from Him; and His feelings were such that He sweat great drops of blood, and in His agony there was an angel sent to give Him comfort and strength” (Lorenzo Snow, Collected Discourses, vol.3, 362).

Here Mr. Jones seems to be confused. Commenting on the use of this quote, he writes:

Messers (sic) McKeever and Johnson are so determined to make Latter-day Saint writers look so ‘un-Christian’ that they quote those portions of LDS statements which contain the information they want their readers to know, but only that much. Such contextual selectivity is a form of bearing false witness. For instance, they quote the following from Lorenzo Snow, in 1893:

He then gives the above quote from Lorenzo Snow and continues:

This quotation is meant by McKeever and Johnson to indicate that the LDS teaching on the atonement is that it took place “primarily in the garden.” What they fail to do, however, is read further into the talk given by Elder Snow. He stated in the same talk that “when Jesus went through that terrible torture on the cross, He saw what would be accomplished by it; He saw that His brethren and sisters—the sons and daughters of God—would be gathered in, with but few exceptions—those who committed the unpardonable sin. That sacrifice of the divine Being was effectual to destroy the powers of Satan.”[33] Clearly the cross was important in President Snow’s soteriology.

But the authors are not using this quote “to indicate that the LDS teaching on the atonement is that it took place ‘primarily in the garden.‘” Quite the opposite, in fact, can be seen from their own comment on this quote:

“Yet not all LDS leaders have held that Jesus’ greatest agony took place in this garden. For example, President Lorenzo Snow stated that Jesus’ suffering in the garden was a result of knowing He was about to face the cross.”

Indeed, the continuation of the quote by Mr. Jones serves to strengthen McKeever and Johnson’s argument, in that Lorenzo Snow is shown to clearly hold the Christian view that the agony of the Garden was in anticipation of the cross, and the agony of the cross was the place of atonement.  The authors do point out that President Joseph Fielding Smith believed the opposite. QuotingD&C 19:18-19 (where footnotes take us to the garden, remember), he declared:

“A great many people have an idea that when he was on the cross, and the nails were driven into his hands and feet, that was his great suffering. His great suffering was before he ever was placed upon the cross. It was in the Garden of Gethsemane that the blood oozed from the pores of his body…That was not when he was on the cross; that was in the garden. That is where he bled from every pore in his body.”

Although he is so wrong in how he has read this, I would not go so far as to accuse Edward of bearing false witness, a charge that seems to spring easily enough to his own mind. I find that people usually get into this sort of fix when their excitement at catching someone out blinds them to what is often obvious.

Of the making of Many Quotes there is no End

Mr. Jones seeks to answer the authors with lists of quotes to show that the cross is important in Mormon soteriology. To do this he cites several sources. His sources fall into three categories: The cross; The Blood; and The Song of Righteousness (a fancy title for hymns of the Church). However, the following will serve as an illustration of where he is taking us:

They quote President Ezra Taft Benson to the effect that “it was in Gethsemane that Jesus took on Himself the sins of the world.” Had they but taken the time to seek out the entire article from which this statement is taken they would have noticed that Elder Benson continues by referring to “the glorious Atonement of our Lord which extended from Gethsemane to Golgotha.” Even without having sought out the original text, they could have determined the incorrect judgment they made of President Bensons (sic) position. They could have quoted from the same volume the quotation immediately preceding the one they cited: “In Gethsemane and on Calvary, He worked out the infinite and eternal atonement. It was the greatest single act of love in recorded history. Thus He became our Redeemer.

He then writes, “The atonement is clearly defined as having encompassed both the Garden and the cross. The cross is not in the least devalued or neglected. Had there been no death on the cross, whatever it was that happened in the Garden would have been superfluous. With the cross, the events in the Garden have meaning and significance.”

He adds:

McKeever and Johnson [state] that “Mormon leaders have taught that this atoning sacrifice began in the Garden of Gethsemane.” they (sic) then quote President Benson and Elder McConkie to the effect that the major portion of the atonement took place in the Garden. From this they conclude that one of the major themes of the LDS faith is that the atonement “took place primarily in the Garden” (which ought to lead one to conclude that it took place ‘secondarily’ somewhere else: perhaps the cross?)

Now this sarcasm is not called for, and I suggest that Mr. Jones address the very real problems raised in his own arguments before he points any finger of derision. McConkie does not make a statement “to the effect that the major portion of the atonement took place in the Garden.”McConkie clearly believes that, by the time Christ left the garden, the job had been done and “the victory had been won.” Indeed, at the head of the chapter McConkie is quoted as saying:

“Forgiveness is available because Christ the Lord sweat great drops of blood in Gethsemane as he bore the incalculable weight of the sins of all who ever had or ever would repent.” (The Promised Messiah, 337)

Compare this with one of his “proofs” taken from Spencer W Kimball:

“…as he climbed crucifixion’s hill, he carried that Adamic penalty, and as the nails through his hands and feet, and the spear in his side, drained from his body all of his precious blood in this, his voluntary sacrifice, he neutralized and paid for all the Adamic sins…”

To McConkie, Christ climbed crucifixion’s hill with the knowledge that He had paid the penalty. To Kimball, as Christ climbed crucifixion’s hill, He had yet to pay the penalty. The same principle applies to all his other “proofs.” Whether speaking of the cross, the blood, or hymns, there are references that give an orthodox rendering to Mormon theology. The question is whether this is truly orthodoxy or simply a patina created by joining together a selection from generations of otherwise contradictory statements to present a plausible picture of orthodoxy.

The point is that there is no shortage of references to the cross in Mormon theology, even apparently orthodox references. The sheer weight of selected quotes is not proof but simply the wearisome weight of assertion, i.e. this is the way Mr. Jones chooses to see things. But he is in no way convincing that this is the way things are. This is because there is a plentiful supply of references that quite explicitly deny the orthodox view. For instance, in Doctrines of Salvation(1:130), Joseph Fielding Smith goes so far as to contrast the Mormon teaching with the universally held view of the Christian Church:

“A great many people have an idea that when he was on the cross, and the nails were driven into his hands and feet, that was his great suffering. His great suffering was before he ever was placed upon the cross. It was in the Garden of Gethsemane that the blood oozed from the pores of his body…That was not when he was on the cross; that was in the garden. That is where he bled from every pore in his body.”

So here you have a Mormon prophet declaring that Christians are wrong to believe that Christ atoned for sins on the cross and that the garden was the place of his “great suffering.” As I have already pointed out, even the Mormon scripture text quoted by Fielding Smith, D&C 19:18-19, is totally bereft of any reference to the cross in the footnotes. Indeed, they point unequivocally and exclusively to the garden. It may be that Mr. Jones can summon a library of quotes from other sources to “prove” the importance of the cross in Mormon soteriology, but they will at best serve to show that there is not agreement. They will more likely show that he is interpreting disparate statements in such a way as to get up an argument against the claims in Mormonism 101.

What is happening here is clear enough. It is the, “I know that is what it says, but believe me, this is how you should understand it” defense. The authors already concede that “for some” in the Mormon Church it is the Garden and not the Cross. Using the Lorenzo Snow quote (whose use Mr. Jones has misunderstood), they point out that some Mormon leaders appear more orthodox in their view. However, it seems clear that some of the most strident and explicit pronouncements in explaining Mormon soteriology have Christ’s atonement occurring in the Garden before He simply died on the Cross.

Suffering and Atonement

Louis Berkhof wrote:

“We sometimes speak as if the sufferings of Christ were limited to his final agonies, but this is not correct. His whole life was a life of suffering. It was the servant life of the Lord of Hosts, the life of the sinless One in a sin-cursed world. Satan assaulted Him, His people rejected Him, and His enemies persecuted Him. The sufferings of the soul were even more intense than those of the body. He was tempted by the devil, was oppressed by the world of iniquity round about Him – ‘a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief’ Isa.53:3” (Berkhof, A Summary of Christian Doctrine, Banner of Truth, 1993 ed. p.92).

To this extent, of course, there is agreement that Christ’s suffering was not confined to his final hours on the cross. However, the sacrifice of atonement took place in a particular place and at a particular time, took a particular form, and achieved a particular end. The difficulty Mr. Jones has is that some Mormon leaders very clearly state that the business was transacted in the Garden:

“It was in Gethsemane that Jesus took on Himself the sins of the world, in Gethsemane that His pain was equivalent to the cumulative burden of all men, in Gethsemane that He descended below all things so that all could repent and come to Him” (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 14).

“And as He came out of the Garden, delivering himself voluntarily into the hands of wicked men, the victory had been won. There remained yet the shame and the pain of his arrest, his trials, and his cross. But all these were overshadowed by the agonies and sufferings in Gethsemane. It was on the cross that he ‘suffered death in the flesh’, even as many have suffered agonising deaths, but it was inGethsemane that ‘he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come to him.’…Jesus took upon himself the sins of all men when he suffered and sweat great drops of blood from every pore in Gethsemane. It was then that his suffering caused himself, even God, to suffer both body and spirit in a way which is totally beyond our mortal comprehension” (The Mortal Messiah, McConkie, pp. 127-28).

However, others appear to agree that it occurred on the cross:

“…the time approached that He was to pass the severest affliction that any mortal ever did pass through. He undoubtedly had seen persons nailed to the cross, because that method of execution was common at that time, and He understood the torture that such persons experienced for hours. He went by Himself in the garden and prayed to His Father, if it were possible, that that cup might pass from Him; and His feelings were such that He sweat great drops of blood, and in His agony there was an angel sent to give Him comfort and strength.” (Lorenzo Snow, Collected Discourses, vol.3, 362).

Mr. Jones seeks to straddle the two views by speaking of the atonement as though it started in the garden and concluded on the cross. He even brings forward evidence that Mormon leaders have held this view declaring that “the Latter-day Saint leaders, including the two they cite (Benson and McConkie) do not in any way restrict the atoning sacrifice of our Savior to the Garden.But they definitely consider the atonement to have had its beginning there.”

But this will not do since we have Lorenzo Snow teaching that the agony of the garden was in anticipation of “the severest affliction that any mortal ever did pass through.” Joseph Fielding Smith dismissed this idea, declaring, “His great suffering was before he ever was placed upon the cross. It was in the Garden of Gethsemane…” And Ezra Taft Benson taught, “It was in Gethsemane that Jesus took on Himself the sins of the world, in Gethsemane that His pain was equivalent to the cumulative burden of all men, in Gethsemane that He descended below all things so that all could repent and come to Him.”

Bruce McConkie fully concurs when he declared, “And as He came out of the Garden, delivering himself voluntarily into the hands of wicked men, the victory had been won.”  McConkie even makes clear that, agony though it was, there was nothing significant at all about the crucifixion. “There remained yet the shame and the pain of his arrest, his trials, and his cross. But all these were overshadowed by the agonies and sufferings in Gethsemane. It was on the cross that he ‘suffered death in the flesh,’ even as many have suffered agonising deaths, but it was in Gethsemane that ‘he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come to him.'”

How can these leaders be “not in any way restricting the atoning sacrifice…to the Garden“? It seems that one moment the cross is central, the next it is secondary. One moment something special happened there, the next it was a brutal but common enough execution. What do Mormons believe? Mr. Jones may be satisfied with his view that takes in both Gethsemane and Calvary. To this he is entitled. He is not entitled to the rather imperious attitude that says only a fool or someone with mischief in mind could put forward an alternative understanding of Mormon thinking. There are real problems here. Perhaps a recent Ensign magazine article will give us an insight to at least where the weight of evidence should point us.

The April 2002 Ensign magazine, the official organ of the Mormon Church, carried a small piece in which a bishop told of the insight he gained into the depth of the Saviour’s love (p.19). It is a moving story of a man bravely bearing the weight of responsibility for his erring flock but who is aware of his own shortcomings. Reflecting on this predicament, he asks himself, “If I feel pain when someone commits sin, I cannot imagine the pain the Saviour must have experienced.” In his reflections the bishop declares, “As terrible as Christ’s suffering on the cross was, perhaps it was not as great as His suffering in Gethsemane. When he sweat drops of blood as He bore the weight of all the sins of mankind, the great agony of the Atonement took place.”

He had the very best authority on which to base his reflections. The April 2001 Ensign magazine carried a special feature containing the text from a video presentation, Special Witnesses of Christ, which was broadcast by the leaders of the Mormon Church during the general conference. From carefully selected locations, Mormon leaders, every one an apostle and/or prophet, spoke of various aspects of their faith. It is a powerful presentation representing probably the most authoritative statement of Mormon beliefs in modern times. Neal A. Maxwell begins by giving his account of Christ’s pre-mortal role as creator. Through the promise given to Abraham, to his birth, his earthly ministry, his death and resurrection, each speaking from an appropriate location, they give the Mormon account of the gospel. Mormon Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland, speaking from the Mount of Olives, declared:

“It was here in the Garden of Gethsemane, on that last night in mortality, that Jesus left His Apostles and descended alone into the depth of agony that would be His atoning sacrifice for the sins of mankind…To the thoughtful follower of Christ, it is a matter of surpassing wonder that the voluntary and merciful sacrifice of a single being could satisfy the infinite and eternal demands of justice; atone for every human misdeed; bear every mortal infirmity; feel every personal heartache, sorrow, and loss. But I testify that is exactly what Christ did for every one of us…Is it any wonder that we walk quietly and reverently here [in Gethsemane]? Is it any wonder that we make sacred covenants because of the love that was demonstrated here [in Gethsemane]? Is it any wonder that Christ, the greatest of all, partook of the bitter cup and did not shrink here [in Gethsemane], that we might not suffer if we would repent and come unto Him?” (Ensign, April 2001, p.p. 13-14, words in brackets added.)

Now what would you expect the next location to be? What event do you think should follow on from this moving account of Gethsemane? The next witness is Gordon B Hinckley, the Mormon prophet. Perhaps the office of the man will give us a tantalising clue to the subject of his talk. The arrest and the trial of Jesus perhaps? The mocking and scourging? The cross surely springs to the reader’s mind. He begins his talk with the words, “Just outside Jerusalem, in this place or somewhere nearby…Was the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea where the body of the Lord was interred. On the third day following His burial…” (p.14).

Which Witnesses should we trust?

The Apostle Peter first publicly declared the Good News of Christ’s triumph at Pentecost saying,

“Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (Acts 2:22-25).

From that time the theme of the cross has been a constant in the Christian faith. The Apostle Paul wrote,

“For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him (Christ), and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:19-20).

“When you were dead in your sins and in the circumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:13-15).

Lorenzo Snow may have believed that Gethsemane was a painful prelude to Christ’s atoning work on the cross. Edward Jones may wish to put forward the idea that what began in the garden was completed on the cross. But, while biblical apostles brought the message of the cross, Mormon apostles clearly teach that Gethsemane was the crucial place of atonement and the cross merely a place where death occurred. It is not even worthy of a mention in this Mormon chronology of Christ’s ministry. You really have to have this landmark statement open in front of you to fully appreciate the import and impact of this devastating omission.

Of course, Gordon Hinckley refers to “the agony of Gethsemane, His arrest, His trials, His condemnation, the unspeakable pain of His death on the cross, His burial in Joseph’s tomb and the triumphant coming forth in the resurrection.” But don’t be fooled, this is just a prelude, an introduction to what these witnesses have to say. And when you say it so quickly, it sounds so orthodox, but when, in the following pages, this summary is unpacked, the cross is missing. This is the wonder of it all. Mormon leaders can say just enough of the right things to proclaim their orthodoxy while believing more than enough of the unorthodox to warrant being challenged. And what we think of them is dictated by which piece of evidence we study. Remember plausible deniability.

Does it matter whether it was Gethsemane or Calvary? After all, there is faith in the atonement, and that is what counts. It does matter because if you look to the wrong place, you may be looking to the wrong event and the wrong Savior. If you do not understand why the cross, then you will not understand the atonement of which you bear witness, be it ever so eloquently. Bear in mind Paul’s warning to the Corinthian church, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith” (2 Cor.13:5). Remember also that there are false Christs, a false spirit, a false gospel, and false apostles (2 Cor. 11:3-5).

What more subtle way could there be to empty the cross of its power with words of human wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:17) than to empty it into Gethsemane? While biblical apostles look to the cross (John 3:14), Mormon apostles dismiss the cross declaring “he ‘suffered death in the flesh’even as many have suffered agonising deaths.”

If the Mormons could but grasp the significance of the cross and the total loss, abandonment, and weight that Jesus bore!  Not the comforted and strengthened Jesus of the garden (Luke 22:43) but the abandoned and desolate Savior of the cross. Not the garden where, in exquisite anguish, he anticipated his sacrifice in intimate association with heaven, but the cross where heaven looked away for the sin He bore. As far away as a man is from the cross, so far is he from Christ (Galatians 6:14).

Historical Christianity and the Atonement

Here Mr. Jones causes another problem for himself. He declares:

“They never state it explicitly, but McKeever and Johnson seem to assume that the LDS position is a ‘ransom’ theory of atonement, and that the mainstream Christian interpretation is one of sacrificial death on the cross.”

The “ransom” theory of salvation was central to the thinking of Greek patristic writers. Origen, who is described by Alister McGrath as the most speculative of early patristic writers, argued that if Christ’s death was a ransom, it must have been paid to someone. The question is, to whom? Since God does not hold sinners to ransom, it had to be paid to the devil. The idea developed, and the devil came to be seen as having rights over fallen humanity. God was obliged to honor those rights and pay a suitable ransom. I have contacted the authors and they assure me that they were not assuming that the LDS position is a ransom theory of atonement. Indeed, the only text in this chapter that mentions ransom is a Mormon text:

“The universal, infinite, and unconditional aspects of the Atonement of Jesus Christ are several. They include his ransom for Adam’s original transgression so that no member of the human family is held responsible for that sin” (B H Roberts, Defence of the Faith and the Saints, vol.2, p.513. Quoted inMormonism 101, p.144).

The problem for Mr. Jones is that, since he introduced the subject, he must now say to whom this ransom is paid.

But if this idea is not explicitly stated by or even in the minds of the authors, why does he raise the subject? As we read on, it becomes clear that it is no more than a device for going on to show that there is not complete agreement in the history of the Christian Church on the subject while writing in glowing terms of Mormonism. If, as he seems to be implying throughout his paper, disagreement over doctrinal issues is indicative of apostasy, then Mr. Jones needs to tread carefully.

The Sacrifice of the Cross

The authors do emphasise the sacrificial nature of Christ’s atonement, and with good reason. Mr. Jones, under the heading Back to the Cross, makes the following observations:

Near the end of their chapter on the atonement McKeever and Johnson suggest that the apparent overemphasis on the shedding of blood in the Garden rather than on the cross “no doubt is but one of several reasons why crosses cannot be found on LDS buildings. Certainly in the mind of the Latter-day Saint, the significance of the cross is not nearly as important as it is to the evangelical Christian.” Whether the cross has any significance in the LDS faith has already been discussed; it does. That it has less importance for the LDS than for the evangelical Christian is simply not true. Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, hung and died on the cross; it was by this act that He consummated all that the Father sent him into the world to accomplish. If there is a single reason why there are no crosses on LDS buildings, it is certainly not to be attributed to such an idea as that presented by McKeever and Johnson. The reason, or reasons, as McKeever and Johnson suppose (but never list), has nothing whatsoever to do with whether the Garden or the cross is the most important element of the Atonement. Both are significant to the Latter-day Saints. There might in fact be several reasons for the lack of a cross on the LDS chapels, but probably the most important one, and one to which evangelicals such as McKeever and Johnson ought to be able to relate, is that there is simply no scriptural warrant for it. Granted, there were no specifically Christian buildings during New Testament times, other than synagogues, and later private homes. Nevertheless there is no warrant. It is simply a tradition that has arisen within historical Christianity, as part of its cultural evolution. It is not a scripturally based practice. But there is another reason (and the only one the present writer is aware of) why LDS buildings do not have crosses on them. M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve wrote not long ago:

“Most other Christians use the cross as a symbol of their devotion to Christ, a physical reminder of His crucifixion on Calvary. So why don’t members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints follow suit? We revere Jesus. He is the Head of our Church, which bears His name. He is our Savior and our Redeemer. We love Him. Through Him we worship and pray to our Heavenly Father. We are grateful beyond measure for the essential and awesome power His atonement has in each of our lives. But while thoughts of the blood He shed for us in Gethsemane and on Calvary fill our hearts with profound appreciation, it isn’t just the fact that He died that is so meaningful to us. Our hope and faith are rooted in the profound understanding that He lives today, and that He continues to lead and guide His Church and His people through His spirit. We rejoice in the knowledge of a living Christ, and we reverently acknowledge the miracles He continues to work today in the lives of those who have faith in Him. That is why we choose to place less emphasis on a symbol that can be construed to represent primarily His death. We believe that only as we focus our attention on the Savior and build our lives upon the strong foundation the Atonement and gospel give us, are we prepared to resist the challenges and temptations so prevalent in today’s world.”

From the LDS perspective the empty tomb is a more fitting symbol of the Savior’s atonement than is the Cross. We mean no disrespect towards those who choose otherwise; but we would like our position to be more faithfully reported by those who think we need their help. Latter-day Saints do not worship at the foot of the Cross; they worship at the feet of Christ. Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Creator of the universe; He is the Lord and Redeemer of humankind; He is the Founder and Head of His Church; He is my Savior; I have accepted Him as such, and seek constantly to do His will, to do as He would have me do.

This is a typical as well as familiar Mormon apologetic for excluding the cross from Mormon culture and worship. Something might be said about the fact that, for many years, the spot in the second story of the Carthage Jail where Joseph Smith was killed in a gunfight was a place of “historical” pilgrimage. A stain, which was purported to be his blood, was carefully preserved and pointed out to visitors. (For more information see http://www.mrm.org/multimedia/text/final-moments.html).

But the more important point is that Mormonism is telling only part of the gospel story.

“We preach Christ crucified”

Occasionally controversy arises over the burial place of Jesus and ‘rival’ tombs are discussed at length. Pilgrims to the Holy Land are interviewed for TV news programs in an attempt to elicit rival opinions and keep the story going. One such interviewee I recall seeing gave what must be the best Christian answer when he declared, “You know, it doesn’t really matter where he was buried. The point is that he is no longer in the tomb. He is risen!” And all God’s children shouted Hallelujah!

Of course, it is essential to every Christian that He is risen. The patronizing attitude of LDS general authority Russell Ballard, as he implies that Mormons have a better way of understanding these things and the idea that the Christian story ends at the cross, is uncalled for. Our hope and faith are also rooted in the profound understanding that He lives today and that He continues to lead and guide His Church and His people through His spirit. We certainly do rejoice in the knowledge of a living Christ, and we do reverently acknowledge the miracles He continues to work today in the lives of those who have faith in HimChristians, too, preach resurrection, but along with Paul, Christians emphasize the cross because of what was done there. Because we appreciate the full import of the sacrificial nature of the cross, “we preach Christ crucified.”

When Jesus was with his disciples, Mark 8:31 says that He “began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.” Luke 24:44-46 add, “He said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’ Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, ‘This is what was written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day…'”

And what was written in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms?

When John the Baptist saw Jesus coming towards him he said, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) Paul referred to Christ as “our Passover lamb, [who] has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7). This is an obvious allusion to the Passover lamb of Exodus (12:3-6,21) whose slaughter signified God’s salvation for the children of Israel. By his death on the cross, Christ fulfilled the true meaning of the Jewish sacrifice of the Passover lamb.

The Psalm most often quoted in the New Testament is Psalm 22. It is the anguished prayer of David who is victimized by his enemies, and it is used to draw parallels with Christ’s death on the cross. The Gospel writers frequently alluded to it in their accounts of Christ’s passion (Matt.27;35,39,43;John 19:23-24,28). Its opening lines were repeated by Jesus at this crucial time on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Its description of Christ’s suffering and humiliation is striking:

All who see me mock me;
They hurl insults, shaking their heads:
‘He trusts in the Lord;
let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
Since he delights in him’
I am poured out like water,
And all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
It has melted away within me.
My strength is dried up like a potsherd,
And my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
You lay me in the dust of death.
Dogs have surrounded me;
A band of evil men has encircled me,
They have pierced my hands and my feet.
I can count all my bones;
People stare and gloat over me.
They divide my garments among them
And cast lots for my clothing.

And what of that most famous of Old Testament descriptions of the passion, Isaiah 53? It reads:

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows,
Yet we considered him stricken by God,
Smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;
The punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
And by his wounds we are healed.
We all like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed and afflicted,
Yet he did not open his mouth;
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter;
And as a sheep before her shearers is silent,
So he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgement he was taken away.
And who can speak of his descendants?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
For the transgression of my people he was stricken.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked
And with the rich in his death,
Though he had done no violence,
Nor was any deceit in his mouth.

In prophecy, it is the cross that is prefigured. The paschal lamb prefigures the Lamb of God, whosesacrificial death saves God’s people from their sins. The prophet Isaiah, in the most familiar prediction of Christ’s passion, wrote, “He was pierced for our transgression.” And in the subsequent teaching of the New Testament church, it is clear that we have peace “through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:19-20).

In a clear description of his impending sacrifice and its significance for all who believe, Jesus told his disciples, “Now is the time for judgement on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” The evangelist comments, “He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die” (John 12:31).

And in a vivid picture of the cross and its significance Jesus taught Nicodemus in John 3:14-16:

“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

The story of the serpent in the desert is found in Numbers 21. When the people spoke against God and complained, “the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people.”

“The Lord said to Moses, ‘make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.’ So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then anyone who was bitten by the snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived” (Num. 21:5-9).

The whole thrust of the Christian message is that there is life at the cross. The original words of Isaac Watts from Hymns and Sacred Songs, 1709, sum it up well:

So did the Hebrew prophet raise
The brazen serpent high,
The wounded felt immediate ease,
The camp forbore to die.

“Look upward in the dying hour,
And live,” the prophet cries;
But Christ performs a nobler cure,
When Faith lifts up her eyes.

High on the cross the Savior hung,
High in the heav’ns he reigns:
Here sinners by th’ old serpent stung
Look, and forget their pains.

When God’s own Son is lifted up,
A dying world revives;
The Jew beholds the glorious hope,
Th’expiring Gentile lives.

Against all this evidence, Mormons are urged by their leaders to look to the garden and to consider Christians who preach Christ crucified as misguided.

Second Area of Disagreement: Universality of effect

Here we come to an area where Mr. Jones has truly got himself into a tangle. Confusion is inadequate a word to describe his predicament. He has convinced himself that the authors do not believe in the universal effect of the resurrection and that they hold to the idea that only those born after Christ’s death can benefit from His sacrifice. He is also confused about the Evangelical Christian understanding of salvation.

Because he has misunderstood so much, Mr. Jones has ended up discussing issues that are never raised in the book. I have before me three pages of Mr. Jones’ superfluous notes on one such issue and regard this as an object lesson in the necessity of books like Mormonism 101 that can clarify key issues concerning Christian and Mormon beliefs.

Mormon “Salvation”

Mr. Jones writes:

“As is so frequently done, the critics here are attempting to compare apples and oranges. They are contrasting ‘resurrection’ on the LDS side with ‘salvation’ on the other side.”

Are they comparing apples and oranges? What is “resurrection” to a Mormon? What is “salvation”? And what are these things to a Christian? I believe we should define terms before proceeding.

Salvation, in Mormon thinking, is universal. It is the resurrection of all people from the dead. All are saved in that all are redeemed from the first effect of Adam’s transgression, i.e. physical death. This does not, however, get Mormons into God’s presence but merely gives them immortality.

Exaltation, to a Mormon, is the ultimate goal and describes existence in the presence of God in the highest heaven. This is quite different from salvation and is known as eternal life, denoting a quality of existence. James Talmage explained, “Some degree of salvation will come to all who have not forfeited their right to it; exaltation is given to those only who by active labors have won a claim to God’s merciful liberality by which it is bestowed”(Articles of Faith, 1977, p.91).

To a Mormon, the final state of every man and woman is as an immortal (salvation), but the place and quality of that immortal existence (degree of exaltation) is determined by faithful obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Mormon Church. In other words, there is a spiritual career path whereby the application of new truths and spiritual insights gain for the Mormon what, for a Christian, is the free gift of God to all believers.

Christian Salvation

The problem with the Mormon understanding of “salvation” is that it cannot be found in the Bible. The elements are all there: universal resurrection, judgment, a place with God for the faithful, etc. But the model is quite different.

First of all, salvation cannot be equated simply with resurrection, as Mormons teach, because that would mean salvation would come to the believer and non-believer alike. Paul declared to the Ephesians, “For it is by grace you have been saved (salvation), through faith (Eph.2:8 c.f. Romans 10:9). It is clear from Scripture that salvation is conditional upon faith in the one through whom it comes. Therefore it cannot be universal. So, while it is true that resurrection comes to all, this cannot be equated with salvation, which comes by faith. And that faith determines whether we are resurrected to life (Rev.20:6) or to condemnation (Rev.20:15).

Mr. Jones writes:

“Our authors say almost nothing about the universalism of the LDS position, simply mentioning it as one of the two major areas of disagreement. This suggests that for McKeever and Johnson the atonement does not provide for all mortals to be resurrected, or saved.”

He is simply wrong. When the authors write about Christian atonement as “[providing] for the salvation of only those who have faith in Christ,” they are presenting the biblical view, i.e. salvation comes to those who believe (at least according to the apostle Paul).

The authors are comparing salvation according to Mormons with salvation according to Christians. Therefore, they are comparing the various uses of the same term, which is “apples with apples.” It is not they who are confusing apples and oranges! Rather, they are simply pointing out that Mormons have chosen to call apples by another name, i.e. to call salvation resurrection. Mr. Jones does this in his following quote:

“This suggests that for McKeever and Johnson the atonement does not provide for all mortals to be resurrected, or saved.”

Resurrected is not saved. Resurrected is brought to judgment (Rev.20:11-15). Saved is justified by grace through faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross (Romans 3:28; 5:1).

A clear understanding of the distinction can be gained from reading chapter eleven of Mormonism 101, especially from page 160, Christianity’s Understanding of Salvation. Had Mr. Jones read this, perhaps he would not have got so confused.

Is Salvation Retrospective?

Mr. Jones writes:

McKeever and Johnson seem to object that the atonement is applicable to all who have ever lived. They want to restrict it to only those who lived after the Savior (“only after Christ’s death” and “for the believer”). This doesn’t only limit its accessibility to those who lived before the Savior, it quite literally slams the door on the possibility of their ever receiving salvation.

Do the authors think this way? Are they limiting the atonement to those who lived after the Savior? The problem here is that Mr. Jones is confusing several different words, as we have already seen. Atonement effects a general resurrection, which applies universally. Through the atonement salvation is available to those who believe, effecting justification of the faithful. Once you realize this, it becomes clear that they are not limiting atonement, as Mr. Jones suggests. Again I submit what McKeever and Johnson wrote on pages 144-5 of Mormonism 101:

“To be sure, Christians throughout the centuries have seen the atonement of Christ as God’s way of reconciling sinful humanity to Himself. Through the sacrifice of God’s Son, those who were once enemies of God can now know that the barrier that separated them from their Creator has been removed. So powerful is this sacrificial act that believers can be assured that all their sins – past, present, and future – are now forgiven.”

This doesn’t sound limited to me (“reconciling sinful humanity to Himself“). So where does Mr. Jones get this idea that has taken him on such a tangent? I believe he takes it from the authors’ summary at the end of the chapter in which they say:

[Mormon salvation] was possible before Christ had died and was raised.

[Christian salvation] was possible only after Christ’s death.

I can see how he has become confused; however, the meaning is clear enough when you realize that these are summaries, i.e. they summarize in bullet point form that which was said in the body of the chapter. Against the background of the chapter, it is clear that this is again about when atonement was effected and not whom it affects. Another way of putting the same summaries would be to say:

[Mormon salvation] became effective before Christ went to the cross (because he atoned in the garden)

[Christian salvation] is only effective as a result of the cross (because here is where Christ atoned)

This is so much the main theme of the chapter that even Mr. Jones seems to recognize the fact when he says, “The major portion of the chapter deals with McKeever and Johnson’s rejection of the LDS suggestion that the atonement proper took place in the Garden of Gethsemane…”

It seems clear enough that all humankind will be raised from the dead and all other benefits of the cross are available to all the faithful of every age who look to God in faith. But the meridian event was the cross.

Does God require nothing of us?

Recognizing that the issue of grace and works is for another chapter, nevertheless I also recognize that Mr. Jones has made it an issue here and feel I should write something on the subject. Mr. Jones writes:

… do they really want to contrast “obedience” to the Gospel with the “grace of God?” Does God require nothing at all of us after that grace has entered our life? The Lord had something to say about those who cry Lord, Lord, but do not what He says. The restoration of the Gospel through the Prophet Joseph Smith actually makes the two positions most compatible, at least from the perspective of the members of the Church of Jesus Christ. It is really only McKeever and Johnson and their friends who have a problem reconciling the two positions. The LDS position is a broader concept, based on further light and knowledge, i.e., revelation from God.

The Latter-day Saints teach a principle of exaltation, beyond the ordinary salvation mentioned by McKeever and Johnson, which makes both systems compatible on the first point. Salvation is a free gift of grace provided for by the atoning death and resurrection of the Savior; however, the specific type of resurrection is based on one’s own life activity: we will be judged according to our works; Jesus Christ is the “author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.” The “Great Commission” of Jesus to the Apostles at the end of Matthew says that they are “to teach them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” The word ‘primarily’ in the second point of differences opens up the door for reconciling the two positions on the issue of Gethsemane vs. Calvary. As has been seen, there is no such issue for the Latter-day Saints: the atonement begins in the Garden (or before creation, ‘before the foundations of the world were laid’), and ends on the Cross (or perhaps is still continuing, with Christ continuing to intercede for us with the Father).

It is popularly believed among Mormons that those who put their trust in Jesus somehow become exempt from actually putting their faith into practice. The question is sometimes asked, “Does that mean that you can now go out and live as you please and still go to heaven?” It is thought that a faith system that prompts such a question must be flawed and self-indulgent. Ironically, the apostle Paul must have preached just such a faith because he was asked a similar question:

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning, so that grace may increase?” “By no means!” was Paul’s reply “We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Jesus Christ were baptised into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life (Romans 6:1-4).

What does this mean? And how does it compare with “the LDS position [which] is a broader concept, based on further light and knowledge, i.e., revelation from God”?

Contrary to what Mr. Jones suggests, Christians have no difficulty reconciling the grace that saves and the works that are so apparent in Scripture. What follows is taken from a study of the fifth missionary discussion of the Mormon Church. When people think of Mormons as “Christians,” it is their conduct in light of this discussion that people think about. It is about putting God and others first in our lives and overcoming attitudes of selfishness and is based on Matthew 22:37-39, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.'”

Mormons truly believe and strive to live these principles, and the investigator will be encouraged to “reconcile yourself to the will of God” (2 Nephi 10:23 BOM), taught that “inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matt.25:40), and encouraged to realize that ‘by this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to the other’(John 13:34-35).

These sentiments are admirable, but they should be understood in the context of the Mormon plan of salvation and eternal progression. To a Mormon, Christian service is a proving process. It is a time when the Lord “will prove you in all things, whether you will abide in [his] covenant, even unto death, that you may be found worthy. For if ye will not abide in my covenant ye are not worthy of me” (D&C 98:14-15).

“Sacrifice Brings Blessings”?

This testing puts a slant on Christian works that emphasizes a direct connection between service and blessing. “[Sacrifice] helps us become worthy to live in the presence of God…We must also trust that we will receive the promised reward” (Fifth Missionary Discussion). This is a fundamental Mormon principle:

There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated – And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to the law upon which it is predicated (D&C 130:20-21).

This is a religion of merit in which works are seen as a condition for winning God’s favour and a means of maintaining that favour. By works Mormons prove their worthiness, and by works they “progress” to greater rewards. In this discussion missionaries will cover fasting, prayer, tithing etc., all in this context.

“Fasting can be a powerful way of gaining a testimony.”

“[Fast] days will provide great spiritual experiences for you.”

“Tithing is a test of our faith. As we obey this commandment, the Lord promises to bless us both spiritually and temporally (physically).”

They are instructed to “find out whether [the investigators] feel that fast offering would bring blessings into their lives” and “whether they recognize that great blessings come from obeying [the] law [of tithing].” All this leads to the idea that we can merit reward on the basis of strict justice, i.e. God becomes obliged to bless us, even obliged to allow us to live in His presence when we prove worthy. This is a reworking of fifth century Pelagianism. Pelagius taught that we are not saved by anything Christ has done but by following the example of Christ.

Great is Your Reward in Heaven (Matt.5:12)

Rewards are spoken of in the Bible, and judgment based on works is taught by Jesus (Matt.16:27) and Paul (Ro.2:6) and John (Rev.2:23;18:6;20:12-13;22:12). So how are we to understand these things? In Rev.22:12 Jesus said, “Behold I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.”

Rev.20:12-15 indicates that at the judgment bar of God there are two groups (1) those whose names are written in the book of life and (2) those whose names are not. There are two destinations: (1) the New Jerusalem (21:1-3) and (2) the lake of fire (20:14-15). Whatever else might be said, it is clear that the saved are all in one place, and it is the dwelling place of God.

If we begin as unrighteous (Ro.3:9-18), dead in our transgressions (Eph.2:1) and enemies of God (Ro.5:10), there is nothing in us to merit the reward. If “God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions” (Eph.2:4), there still is no merit in us “for it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (vv 8-9). If, in our new state, “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (v 10), then the work that subsequently flows from a convert’s life is a reflection of the work of God in that life. It is supplied and equipped by God (2 Corinthians 9:8; 2 Timothy 3:16-17) and accompanied by the promise that “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

As God’s grace operates in us and “justifies the wicked” (Romans 4:4), there is a sense in which we co-operate with him in achieving growth in our new lives. However, in Luke 17:10 Jesus declared“when you have done everything you were told to do, [you] should say, ‘we are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.'” If God then chooses to treat us as sons and not servants, what have we “proved,” as Mormons would have it, except that God is good?

In describing the new order, John wrote, “They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev.21:3b-4). It cannot be a meritorious kingdom, wherein some are more favoured than others, for we are saved into it by God’s initiative, and there can be no envy or jealousy or regret in heaven, which is, itself, our reward and our goal. Encouraging those who suffer for the gospel, Peter wrote, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:3-9).

There are several ways in which the Bible describes rewards. One is reward, not as wages for work, but as God’s generous favor to all who respond to the call. In the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matt.20:1-16), those who worked one hour were treated as equal to those who “have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the sun” (v.12).

Another is reward, not as due recompense, but as the enduring nature of what we have built. In 1 Cor. 3: 6-9 we read, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labour. For we are God’s fellow-workers.” Paul goes on to explain that it is the materials with which one builds that will be judged. Some were building according to the world’s wisdom (vv 18-20), hence their “boasting about men” (v 21).

Paul warns them to build on the foundation already laid by him, which is Christ Jesus (v11). The superstructure is evaluated to see if it conforms to the original foundation. In the context of the chapter, this is a reference to the building of the church. Those builders should realize that, in being true to Christ, “All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future – all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.”

This is reward, not as merit, but as outcome, or fruit. In the illustration of the vine and the branches (John 15), Jesus spoke of those who remain in him as bearing “fruit that will last.” James also wrote about “the wisdom that comes from heaven [which] is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” This is not what Jesus gives us as due recompense but what we inherit in terms of family likeness as we become more like him (Ephesians 4:24; Ro.8:28-30). Using Paul’s illustration of Abraham in Romans 4, we can see the correct order of grace and works, judgment and reward. Verses 1-11 read:

What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about – but not before God. What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness…. We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.

Because he trusted God, righteousness was credited to Abraham before he had kept any law or rendered any service (vv18-22). His subsequent obedience was the work of a man who already had his reward because God promised and Abraham believed (v11 c.f. Galatians 3:17). God made a promise, Abraham believed God, God blessed Abraham, and Abraham obeyed God. Compare this with the Mormon formula we have already looked at from D&C 130:20-21 above. God gives a law, Mormons obey God’s law, God sees their obedience, and He blesses them.

One problem is that we see this process in component parts, i.e. what God does and what I do. But God sees it as one whole process, and His judgment doesn’t merely consider the outward appearance, but rather where we stand in relation to his promises. The person who truly believes God will do the works that please God. In 2 Corinthians 9 Paul gives the same order when he writes “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all you need, you will abound to every good work” (v 8).

So far as the acceptability of that work is concerned, Paul has already said, “For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have”(8:12). The one who believes God stands clothed in God’s righteousness; the works merely serve to demonstrate the trustworthiness of God’s promises. When James declares that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:20), he is describing the inevitable wholeness and continuity of faith and works in the lives of true believers. It is not the testing of faith by works but the outcome of faith in works that in turn authenticate the faith that saves.

What are the implications for Mormons? Throughout Mormon teaching there is an emphasis on what we must do to be worthy of God’s blessing. If I might be allowed a personal note, when my wife and I left the Mormon Church, our bishop failed to address the issues that concerned us. These were the issues that Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 3. He spoke only of our failure in duty. We were encouraged to be more generous, more faithful, and more sacrificial and devoted, all of which is sound advice in the right context.

However, in trusting that doing enough of the right things will resolve any issue, he was building a temple of works on a foundation of duty and not a temple of faith on the foundation of Christ. Paul’s teaching that getting the foundation right and building with material God provides will bring enduring rewards/fruits is the assurance of every true Christian. It is a sure promise and not an uncertain hope. This is the hope that is missing from the Mormon message and, as admirable as Mormon principles and practices may be, there is no hope at all without this hope.

Conclusion

I have already pointed out that the Christian pilgrim looks to Scripture and to the Spirit’s guidance rather than to men claiming to speak “ex-cathedra.” Even while Jesus walked the earth, the disciples argued over what He meant by the things He said. During the time of the primitive church, which is so often looked on as a model for any number of groups claiming to return to first principles, there was disagreement. And, as we move forward in church history, what Mormons see as evidence of apostasy is simply the same old problem magnified. Thankfully, God does not judge us by our stumbling attempts to cross every ‘t’ and dot every ‘i’ but by our hearts. Nigerian writer Ben Okri wrote:

“Nations and people are largely the stories they feed themselves. If they tell themselves stories that are lies, they will suffer the future consequences of those lies. If they tell themselves stories that face their own truths, they will free their histories for future flowerings”

If Mormons would tell the stories that face their own truths, they would have to confess that their own brief church history tells exactly the same story of disagreement and schism. The pot should realize there is an old cliché that denies it any real success in calling the kettle black.

When Mr. Jones quotes the thoughts of people like Clark Pinnock and others, he is simply doing with Christian writers what he does with Mormon writers, i.e. quoting those bits that appear to give support to his view from those Christians with whom Evangelicals would disagree. The question, however, is not what does Clark Pinnock—a Universalist who has received severe criticism for his unorthodox teaching—say? But what does Scripture say? While writers and commentators are helpful, even inspiring in their insights, it is the Word of God that is the final arbiter. I am sorry that Mr. Jones feels it necessary to have someone else do his interpreting for him. I find it ironic that he should highlight the following from Pinnock:

“I guess it is time for evangelicals to grow up and recognize that evangelical theology is not an uncontested body of timeless truth.”

The acid test is whether Mr. Jones will come to realize that what Pinnock says of Evangelicalism applies to Mormonism. I suggest that the difference between Mr. Jones and Mr. Pinnock is that the latter brings his thoughts to the Bible and tests them there. While we may not agree with everything he says, we must admire his honesty in admitting he has more to learn from Scripture.

Mr. Jones, however, brings the Bible to the “prophets” of Mormonism and tests the Bible there. This is how the Bible becomes the only “Standard Work” of Mormonism that is not fully reliable (“so far as it is translated correctly”). But it is the Bible that gives us our answers when we search for the truth of what happened on the cross. We need to be careful, therefore, that we don’t end up discussing what men say, which is endlessly debatable even within Mormonism, instead of what the Bible says.

I have asked myself why the garden? It has puzzled me, and it seems perversely self-destructive to take such a basic, universally accepted, Christian truth as the cross and meddle with it. To emphasise the cross is to have to deal with all the Bible texts that speak of what was done there by God for people who could do nothing for themselves. It is to face the Biblical truth that:

There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. …There is no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we became conscious of sin.

But now a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate His justice, because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – He did it to demonstrate His justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus(Romans 3:10-26).

Such a message has no place in the career path of the potential gods of Mormonism. Such undeserved favor, won by the cross, is an affront to those who are determined to prove themselves worthy rather than humbly accept the righteousness that is from God and is by faith. What happened on the cross is so discomfitingly humbling, so scandalously generous, yet so reassuringly final that those who would “out-Hebrew the Hebrews” with laws and prophets may count it too dangerous to countenance. Instead they speak of the garden, of which so little is said in Scripture and, therefore, into which so much might be read. There their temple of laws and ordinances seems secure, and the truth that they have simply rebuilt all that Jesus came to fulfil and, thereby, make redundant, is hidden. There is so much of Mormonism that would be lost at the cross, and yet so much that Mormons strive but fail to achieve is to be gained for a look at the cross of Christ. I urge them to look and live.

For other rejoinders to the rebuttals of Mormonism 201, click here.


Mike Thomas is a director of Reachout Trust, a Christian ministry in the UK dedicated to reaching out to people in the cults, the occult and New Age (www.reachouttrust.org). He was a temple-endowed Mormon for most of his fourteen years of church membership and served in many callings in that church, mostly teaching. At the time of his leaving, he was elder’s quorum president. He is the co-author, with his wife Ann, of Mormonism, A Gold-Plated Religion, the only current study of Mormonism from a British perspective. He is also the co-author of Should Christians Apologise? a forthcoming book on apologetics, and the author of a systematic study of the Mormon missionary discussions. Finally, he is a regular contributor to the Reachout Quarterly magazine and web site. He has four children and two grandchildren and lives in Wales with his wife and a Yorkshire terrier named Millie. He says that his wife keeps him sane, his grandchildren keep him young, his children keep him informed, his dog keeps him fit, and God keeps him.