For Sharon Lindbloom’s take on this book, see her Mormon Coffee blog.
By Matthew B. Brown
Reviewed by Eric Johnson
The topic of the plan of salvation is a favorite with LDS missionaries all over the world. Where did we come from? Why are we here? And where are we going? Which Mormon missionary hasn’t asked these questions over and over again on a two-year mission?
In a 2007 book published by Covenant Communications, author Matthew B. Brown–who died at the age of 47 in 2011–uses traditional quotes from his church’s leaders to lay out a case for Mormonism’s position. Because he is quite frank in his approach and provides plenty of specific quotes, the book is actually a good overall look at Mormonism’s basic teachings in a historical context. In this review, I will quote…a lot…from his sources because I think the quotes are worthwhile to use for evaluation.
The Nature of God
In the first chapter, Brown discusses “the origin and nature of God.” He quotes from Joseph Smith’s King Follett discourse and the section “What kind of Being is God.” Smith said,
God Himself, who sits enthroned in yonder heavens, is a man like unto one of yourselves. That is the great secret. If the veil was rent today and the great God who holds this world in its sphere or its orbit—[and all] the planets [also]—if you were to see Him today you would see Him in all the person, image, [and] very form of man, for Adam was created in the very fashion of God. (p. 8)
You won’t see many LDS leaders quoting something like this at the biannual general conferences. But Brown is just beginning when it comes to the nature of God and the quoting of Joseph Smith. In the Sermon at the Grove, Smith talked about God’s God. He said,
If Abraham reasoned thus, [and] if Jesus Christ was the Son of God, and John [the Revelator] discovered that God the Father of Jesus Christ had a Father [see Rev. 1:5-6] you may suppose He had a Father also. . . Hence, if Jesus had a Father can we not believe that He had a Father also? (p. 9)
Brown quotes Orson Pratt who said,
We were begotten by our Father in Heaven; the person of our Father in Heaven was begotten on a previous heavenly world by His Father; and again, He was begotten by a still more ancient Father; and so on, from generation to generation, from one heavenly world to another still more ancient. (p. 9)
And Brigham Young, answering the question of “how many gods there are,” replied,
I do not know. But there never was a time when there were not Gods and worlds, and when men were not passing through the same ordeals that we are now passing through. This course has been from all eternity, and it is and will be to all eternity. (p. 9)
Referring to God’s ancestors in the line of gods, Orson Pratt is quoted on page 31 as saying,
The Father of our spirits has only been doing that which His Progenitors did before Him. Each succeeding generation of gods follow the example of the preceding ones. (p. 31)
These are great quotes in the sense that they state, in black and white, Mormonism’s position, something that many in the current leadership won’t quote in an apparent attempt to remain politically correct and not be considered divisive. (Honestly, I long for the old days when Latter-day Saints didn’t want to be called Christian lest someone confuse their true identity as Mormons.) To even the average Christian, the dichotomy between Mormonism’s version of God and Christianity is immense.
Brown then quotes Smith to show how God has experienced mortality on another earth:
[I am] going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined that God was God from all eternity. These [concepts] are incomprehensible to some but are the first principle[s] of the gospel—to know that we may converse with Him as one man with another and that He was once as one of us and was on a planet as Jesus was in the flesh. (p. 10)
And Joseph F. Smith writes,
The Son, Jesus Christ, grew and developed into manhood the same as you or I, as likewise did God, His Father, grow and develop to the Supreme Being that He now is. Man was born of woman; Christ, the Savior, was born of woman; and God, the Father, was born of woman. (p. 11)
After quoting a number of unique LDS scripture sources, Brown writes on page 13 “that God the Father has a divine Spouse.” He writes,
Indeed, it is an established doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that mortals not only have a Heavenly Father but also a Heavenly Mother. (p. 13)
Perhaps this teaching “is an established doctrine,” but when is the last time “Heavenly Mother” was discussed at a General Conference or in the Ensign magazine? Thus, I appreciate Brown’s candor.
True free agency?
On page 18, Brown talks about agency what Mormonism calls “preexistence.” Explaining the freedom that disobedient preexistent spirits had aeons ago at the Council of Heaven, Brown writes,
It is precisely because these spirits were granted the great “power of choice” that they are held responsible before God and will be obliged to answer for all of their actions on the Day of Judgment.
Hugh Brown is quoted on page 36 as saying that “free agency is a prerequisite to any character-building plan, and while with free agency any plan is inevitably crammed with risk, we, with all the sons of God, accepted that risk. . .” Referring to those preexistent spirits who were cast out of heaven, Brown writes how “one-third of the Father’s spirit children were not willing to take such a chance!”
But “take such a chance” they did. And, as he explains on page 39, “because their sin was unpardonable, the fallen spirits were forever denied the ability to become like the Father by receiving a physical body” (p. 39). More on this topic is discussed on page 206 under “Eternal Punishment”:
The Savior declares in a latter-day revelation that “it had been better for [the sons of perdition] never to have been born” (D&C 76:32) because for them “there is no forgiveness in this world nor in the world to come” (v. 34). They are “doomed to suffer the wrath of God, with the devil and his angels in eternity” (v. 33) and “shall not be redeemed in the due time of the Lord, after the sufferings of His wrath” (v. 38). They are the only ones who will experience the “second death” (v. 37) in “the lake of fire and brimstone, with the devil and his angels” (v. 36). Jesus Christ “saves all except [the sons of perdition]” (v. 44) because they are “the ungodly” (v. 49). These extremely wicked individuals will suffer “everlasting punishment, which is endless punishment” (v. 44) but the full extent or nature of their “torment” has never been revealed to anyone on the earth.
So here’s a question that Brown didn’t entertain but should have:
Why should the preexistent spirits who took a chance and then erred in the preexistence (one time) have such a great penalty when there are numerous Latter-day Saints who sin over and over again but have the “gift of repentance” to overcome?
After all, if God is love and wouldn’t want anyone to go to an everlasting hell—as I have been told numerous times by LDS friends and as apparently many Mormons assume—then why are one-third of God’s children from the preexistence destined for Outer Darkness, a place of misery? Brown can say they were “extremely wicked, but what exactly did they do to give them this title? And I wonder, am I not also “extremely wicked”? After all, I know the right things to do and still I don’t do them. I try my best to do the right thing, but I still say the wrong things, think the wrong thoughts, and do those despicable acts. How is what these spirits did worse than Hitler, Mao, or me? And finally, if the Mormon God will “torment” one-third of his spirit children—for nothing more than rejecting him in a previous lifetime and being rebellious—isn’t he culpable just as much as Mormons say they don’t believe in an eternal hell because God is love? Too many questions and not enough answers come as a result of reading Brown’s book.
The Second Estate
As far as this earthly life, Brown spends much of a chapter (3) dealing with Adam and Eve. Most of what he writes comes from the unique scriptures of Mormonism, not from the Bible. And thus, what he says should not be considered authoritative from a Christian point of view. For example, he states, “If Adam and Eve had not partaken of the forbidden fruit they ‘would have had no children’ (2 Ne. 2:23).” He also quotes a Pearl of Great Price verse (Moses 5:11) along with another from 2 Nephi. Yet this concept is not taught in the Bible. In fact, before the fall of humankind, Genesis 1:28 shows God speaking and saying,
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
The Possibility of God’s Forgiveness
Brown speaks about humankind’s responsibility in order to receive salvation. He writes:
The Lord has provided several keys to seeking forgiveness at His hand. In latter-day revelations He says, “I, the Lord, forgive sins unto those who confess their sins before me and ask forgiveness” (D&C 64:7). “I, the Lord, forgive sins, and am merciful unto those who confess their sins with humble hearts” (D&C 61:2; cf. 58:43). “He that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven” (D&C 1:32). Through sincere repentance and obedience it is possible to “take full advantage of [the Lord’s] redemption,” said President Howard W. Hunter. “The offer is always there; the way is always open. We can always, even in our darkest hour and most disastrous errors, look to the Son of God and live.” (p. 77)
At the end of chapter 3, he concludes,
But the recompense is sweet for those who comply with the order of heaven. To them the assurance of a merciful God is given: “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more” (D&C 58:42; see also Isa. 43:25). (p. 78)
But notice the two quotes above: In the first one, he refers to D&C 58:43 (but doesn’t quote it); in the second, he quotes verse 42 but not 43. What does verse 43 say?
43 By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.
Let me get this straight? According to LDS scripture, a person who repents needs to forsake the sins in order to keep the forgiveness as referred to in the previous verse? This certainly doesn’t sound like the commandment of a “merciful God.” In fact, D&C 82:7 even says this:
7 And now, verily I say unto you, I, the Lord, will not lay any sin to your charge; go your ways and sin no more; but unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return, saith the Lord your God.
1) If you say you have repented of your sin, then you need to stop doing that sin, which would show you truly repented;
2) If you sin again, then those sins were never really forgiven; rather, they were parked in storage until you did it again.
To be fair, it’s not as if Brown was trying to hide this information, as he does get more into this issue in chapter 5. Consider page 24 when he quotes Apostle Bruce R. McConkie (someone who is rarely ever quoted in General Conference or Ensign magazines) who said,
Those married in the temple can never under any circumstances gain exaltation unless they keep the commandments of God and abide in the covenant of marriage which they have taken upon themselves. . . . every person married in the temple for time and for all eternity has sealed upon him, conditioned upon his faithfulness, all of the blessings of the ancient patriarchs, including the crowning promise and assurance of eternal increase. . . (p. 124)
And consider the gems he hid in Appendix 3 titled “Salvation and Grace.” For example, he quotes Spencer W. Kimball who, after quoting Ephesians 2:8-9, said:
One of the most fallacious doctrines originated by Satan and propounded by man is that man is saved alone by the grace of God; that believe in Jesus Christ is all that is needed for salvation. . . .Of course we need to understand terms. If by the word salvation is meant the mere salvation or redemption from the grave, the “grace of God” is sufficient. But if the term salvation means returning to the presence of God with eternal progression, eternal increase, and eventual godhood, [then] for this one certainly must have the “grace of God,” as it is generally defined, plus personal purity, overcoming of evil, and the good “works” made so important in the exhortations of the Savior and His prophets and apostles. (pp. 252-253)
Orson F. Whitney: “Men must ‘work out their salvation’ (Philip. 2:12), and gain exaltation by continuous upward striving.” (p. 253)
Bruce R. McConkie: “Men are thus saved by grace alone, in the sense of being resurrected; they are saved by grace coupled with obedience, in the sense of gaining eternal life. The gospel plan is to save men in the celestial kingdom, and hence Paul teaches salvation by grace through faith, through obedience, through accepting Christ, through keeping the commandments.” (p. 254)
None of this is taught by the Bible and Christianity, that’s for certain. Works certainly are vital in the role of sanctification, but they have nothing to do when it comes to justification.
Of course, I haven’t touched on all the aspects of this book, but I did cover some basic ideas from some of its important parts. Overall, I would say the book is worthwhile to read, if for nothing less than it provides good support from past LDS leaders to show how different Mormonism is from biblical Christianity.