Mormonism 201 (Heaven and Hell): Response to Marc A. Schindler

Response to Marc A. Schindler
Rejoinder by By Eric Johnson

In his rebuttal’s concluding words, Marc A. Shindler writes: “Not content to treat the LDS as Biblicists by giving every speculative personal LDS commentary the same weight as scripture, McKeever and Johnson go on to draw their own conclusions and present this as if it were LDS doctrine: ‘Every Mormon couple who obtains exaltation has no choice but to look forward to the day when one of their own children will serve as a tempter and cause one-third of the other family members to rebel and fall into sin.’ As if this non sequitur weren’t vivid enough, they bring in the names of Auschwitz, Rwanda, Tiananmen Square and Kosovo in a melodramatic attempt to paint a horrible vision of Mormon eternity. I can end with no better condemnation of this kind of overheated prose than to quote McKeever and Johnson’s own words against them: ‘Perhaps with our sin-tainted minds, such a wondrous concept [of heaven] would be difficult to grasp.’ Indeed. But the way to at least begin to grasp it is to ask the LDS what we believe, not presume to tell us what we believe.”

Why would I begin a rejoinder to Schindler by giving his conclusion? Quite simply it is because Schindler’s accusation that we “presume to tell (Mormons) what (they) believe” is an ironic charge. After all, he spends the vast majority of his rebuttal defending the very doctrines we say Mormonism teaches. Our chapter did show how this religion teaches that a person is destined for one of six places after judgment. (We originally said “death,” but Schindler felt we were confusing because we were not as precise as he would have liked us to have been. Thus, we’ll use “judgment” here.)

Instead of showing how Mormons don’t believe in outer darkness, the telestial kingdom, the terrestrial kingdom, or one of the three levels within the celestial kingdom, Schindler attempts to show how so many sources—including Christian and Jewish writers as well as apocryphal literature—support the LDS concepts. In fact, Schindler spends the vast majority of his review showing how these aspects of the afterlife as taught in Mormonism are more logical propositions. Hence, one subtitle reads “THE LDS CONCEPT OF HEAVEN IS BIBLICAL.” Throughout this rebuttal Schindler attempts to support the very ideas that we said were Mormon teachings by disagreeing with what he determines is merely our interpretation. While he wants to quibble about specifics on how we have described these states, I find it fascinating that he puts so much effort into defending these ideas, showing me that we generally were on the mark.

In fact, much of Schindler’s disapproving remarks about our chapter originate from our wording.  Does he not realize that Mormonism 101 was written for the layperson? Is this religion so esoteric that quoting LDS scripture and the writings of general authorities to make simple deductions not an adequate way to understand truth? We have had a number of Mormons read our book. While they have honestly disagreed with our conclusion, they believe that we do understand Mormon teaching. This is fair, as we certainly don’t expect the Mormon to convert based on our information alone.

In addition, a number of former Mormons also believe that our book is accurate. Consider several reviews on Amazon.com written from this perspective:

“As a lifelong member of the LDS church, graduated from BYU, served an honorable mission, former Elder’s Quorum President etc. etc. I can tell you that this book is accurate, thoughtful, and very readable. It is also commendable that this book does not have the shrill tone of some other books that illustrate the LDS church for what it is.”

Another writer rated the book “excellent” and wrote: “I was a Mormon for many years and in the real LDS tradition, I can testify to you that this book is extremely accurate in its depiction of LDS doctrines. Unfortunately for modern Mormons, their early leaders were prolific speakers and writers and volume after volume of their musings on the principles of their faith is available.”

Bradley P. Rich from Salt Lake City wrote this on January 6, 2002: “Mormonism 101 avoids the combative tone and for the most part, gives accurate positions for Mormon theology. They expose many of the flaws and inconsistencies in Mormon doctrine. Recognize that their analysis is designed to show that Mormonism is not a Christian religion and to sell the reader on the alternative belief system, Christianity, and that the authors’ analysis showing that alternative Christian beliefs are somehow better may leave the skeptical reader cold. Those caveats notwithstanding, this is a good introduction to the problems that infest Mormon theological underpinnings. This book is highly recommended…”

Now, of course, we could have recruited these people to say these things—but we didn’t. So here are three former Latter-day Saints on one particular Internet book site who say that Mormonism 101 generally does a good job when explaining Mormonism’s beliefs. So why does Schindler insist in his conclusion that we get it all wrong?

Schindler sets up the following paradigm about a quarter of the way into his rebuttal: “Let’s take a look at what Jews and early Christians really believed. Before we start, let’s point out that simply mining the Church Fathers and pseudepigrapha for references that defend one’s point of view is akin to proof-texting and in and of itself, doesn’t prove anything. However, even finding one reference in the patristic and pseudepigraphal writings is sufficient to destroy an ‘argument from absence’. That is, if McKeever and Johnson say, in effect, ‘Jews and early Christians never believed x’ and we succeed in finding even one solitary reference to x then we have proven their assertion wrong. Proving that it was a common or even normative (authoritative or orthodox) belief is something else altogether, but fortunately McKeever and Johnson’s style of criticism tends to lean towards the absolute: things are either all or nothing. And this kind of position is easy to demolish. The following sections examine only a sample of quotes both from modern commentaries and ancient sources to show that the normative belief of early post-Apostolic Christianity and contemporary Judaism was in a multi-tiered Heaven in the LDS sense of different mansions corresponding with the achievement of different levels of earthly valour.”

First, notice, Schindler says his quotes come from “post-Apostolic Christianity and contemporary Judaism” as he shows how the LDS idea of the afterlife is more accurate than what the majority of Christians believe. This is evidence that the Mormon beliefs contradict what “the majority of Christians believe.” Regardless of whether or not these “Christians” have corrupt doctrine is not the issue. Rather, Schindler proves that the way Mormons believe is distinct from the beliefs of today’s evangelical Christians.

Then, in one big swoop, Schindler creates the proverbial straw man, setting up an argument that Bill and I never intended to convey. He writes in part, “That is, if McKeever and Johnson say, in effect, ‘Jews and early Christians never believed x.'” This is an either/or fallacy that he accuses us of making elsewhere in this rebuttal. For any particular doctrine of the Christian church—whether the Deity of Christ to the authority of scripture—there is no doubt that a variety of quotes can be taken from different sources that can be used to contradict the historical, orthodox teaching. For instance, this is a common tactic used by some LDS apologists to defend the idea that men can become gods. Quotes (often taken out of their context) have been provided from such men as Irenaeus, Tertullian, C.S. Lewis, and others to support this deification idea. Yet what the LDS apologist doesn’t say is that none of these men would have ever agreed with the Mormon religion.

Thus, Schindler provides quotes from such people as Jean Danielou, Emma Disley, Marta Ryk, and others to support his case. (Two questions to ask when such quotes are given are: 1) who are these people? 2) are they taken in context?) For at least several of the provided quotes (I did not have many of the actual resources), I noticed that I agreed at face value with what the writer is actually saying. For instance, I agreed with Disley’s idea about rewards, as the Bible clearly teaches that there is accountability for works that will be judged in the end (i.e. 1 Corinthians 3:10-15).

It should be pointed out to Schindler that quoting people who are liberal Christians, Jewish writers, mystics, and even Pseudepigraphic writers is no more authoritative to us than hearing  what Dr. Seuss had to say in Green Eggs and Ham. In other words, there can be many opinions but only one truth. The evangelical Christian gets his truth from the Bible.

But this is quite curious indeed because Schindler has this to say in his rebuttal’s introduction: “On page 172 McKeever and Johnson make the first error of ‘preaching to the choir’ in the chapter, when they write that the key to understanding LDS soteriology is to ‘examine the biblical proof texts the Latter-day Saints use…to support their views.’ Anyone who understands the Restored Gospel will know that we do not base our doctrine upon proof texts from the Bible (or anywhere else, for that matter), but upon latter-day revelation. Since we do not believe our teachings contradict the Bible, it is quite normal (even normative) that we would preach from the scriptures, but they are the reflection of our doctrine, not its source-a confusion all too easy for a Biblicist to make, for whom the relationship between doctrine and scripture goes exactly the other way around.”

First of all, Schindler can say all he wants that his church’s doctrines don’t contradict the Bible. But this can only be true in the mind of the Latter-day Saint when proper hermeneutical procedures are ignored. Then, when Schindler says that Mormons don’t base their doctrines from the Bible “or anywhere else for that matter,” he makes it appear that latter-day revelation is the only base of authority for the Latter-day Saint and not the Standard Works. If he doesn’t mean this, then he is guilty of confusing the reader (something he accuses us of in his rebuttal’s first paragraph). If he does mean this, then he is either not being honest or he is sadly mistaken.

It can be confusing when trying to understand a particular Mormon’s view of how to obtain truth. Like Schindler, some say that the LDS scriptures are not the source of Mormon doctrine. Others contradict this idea. For instance, consider the following:

When asked if the Latter-day Saints should be indifferent to “gain a knowledge of (God’s) commandments,” tenth President Joseph Fielding Smith answered: “You are not too critical. Most emphatically the revelations in the Standard Works require of the members an intelligent study of them. Why does the Lord give revelation and commandment if it is not that we may comprehend and obey them? To the unbelieving Jews who opposed him, Jesus said: ‘Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.'”

Smith also wrote: “My words, and the teachings of any other member of the Church, high or low, if they do not square with the revelations, we need not accept them….We have accepted the four standard works as the measuring yardsticks, or balances, by which we measure every man’s doctrine.”

President Harold B. Lee stated that the Standard Works took complete precedence, and anyone who contradicted it—except for the current prophet—was wrong. He wrote: “We have the standard Church works. Why do we call them standard? If there is any teacher who teaches a doctrine that can’t be substantiated from the standard church works—and I make one qualification, and that is unless that one be the President of the Church, who alone has the right to declare new doctrine—then you may know by that same token that such a teacher is but expressing his own opinion. If, on the other hand, you have someone teaching a doctrine that cannot be substantiated by the scriptures, and more than that, if it contradicts what is in the standard Church works, you may know that that person is teaching false doctrine, no matter what his position in this church may be. The President of the Church alone may declare the mind and will of God to His people. No officer nor any other church in the world has this high and lofty prerogative. When the President proclaims any such new doctrine, he will declare it to be a revelation from the Lord.”

James R. Clark from the First Presidency said, “These four constitute the ‘Standard Works of the Church’ and are the ultimate authority on all matters of doctrine, save where the Lord shall have given or shall give further revelation through the prescribed source for such, the President of the Church.”

Making reference to a term that is not found in the Standard Works (apparently the yardstick to measure truth, in his estimation), Apostle James Talmage writes, “‘Celestial marriage’ is a term in current use among the Latter-day Saints, though it does not occur in any revelation contained in the standard works of the Church. The Church adopts and validates the scriptures of earlier dispensations with respect to marriage. It holds that marriage is honorable and ordained of God. (See Hebrews 13:4; Genesis 2:18, 24; 1:27; 5:2; 9:1,7; Leviticus 26:9.) Under the teachings of the Church, marriage is the duty of all who are not debarred by physical or other effective disability from assuming the responsibilities of the wedded state. The Latter-day Saints declare that part of the birthright of every worthy man is to stand at the head of a family as husband and father; and equally strong is the right of every worthy woman to be an honored wife and mother. Therefore, since the concept went along with Mormon doctrine, this teaching was validated, even though it is apparent that Talmage wanted his beliefs to conform to the Standard Works.

LDS author Richard Hopkins writes: “…Mormons should remember that there is a good reason the Church has accepted the four LDS Standard Works (the largest of which is the Bible) as its doctrinal canon. These works contain the Word of God, the most accurate statement of truth available to Man and truth is the only bona fide Mormon doctrine.”

Another writer, Stephen E. Robinson, says: “…the parameters of LDS doctrine are clear—Scripture is normative; sermons are not. Almost anything outside the Standard Works is also outside those parameters.”

These sample quotes clearly explain the very same thing that we described in our book. According to Mormonism’s leaders and even a contemporary teacher, the four Standard Works are to be accepted as scripture. In addition, words that contradict the Standard Works can only be given through the church president. Therefore, the intention of Mormonism 101 was to elaborate on what:

  1. the Standard Works teach
  2. the general authorities have and still teach
  3. (it appears) most Mormons believe today.

This is what we have done. Whenever Point 3 contradicts either points 1 or 2, we make sure to point this out in the book. Rarely, though, does the average Mormon NOT accept the doctrines as described in the Standard Works and as expounded by LDS general authorities. Thus, while we were very careful not to say “Mormons believe” or otherwise insinuate that a doctrine is accepted by every Mormon, we did not hesitate to use “Mormonism teaches” when describing the teaching.

A final note should be made. Remember when Schindler made it appear that latter-day “revelation” was crucial? Consider these words elsewhere in his review: “In any case, for the record, all the speculations of nineteenth-century brethren aside (which, like the circular arguers that McKeever and Johnson are, they assume we lend all written material equal doctrinal weight-which we clearly do not) they assume all LDS writings are as indicative of LDS doctrine as are our canonical scriptures. This is circular because it argues a point of our doctrine based on one of their assumptions-that the written word is the Word of God, not a record of the Word of God.”

Schindler says that latter-day revelation is supposed to take precedence, yet here he refers to the so-called “speculations of nineteenth-century brethren…” What is this supposed to mean? Is he saying that there were teachings by his leaders that ought not be accepted? One LDS leader whose teachings are often claimed by modern LDS apologists to be merely his opinion is Brigham Young. Allow me to borrow from an article that Bill and I wrote in the Christian Research Journal in 2001:

A Mormon who takes an honest look at the teachings of his or her leaders, both past and present, will quickly see how LDS prophets are, in fact, quite capable of leading members “astray.” A classic example of this is found in the teachings of Brigham Young. To this day, no LDS president has held the presidency for a longer period of time, and probably none introduced more controversial teachings than Young.

Four years before he died, Young challenged his audience to give proof that he had ever given incorrect counsel: “If there is an Elder here, or any member of this Church…who can bring up the first idea, the first sentence that I have delivered to the people as counsel that is wrong, I really wish they would do it; but they cannot do it, for the simple reason that I have never given counsel that is wrong; this is the reason.”

Mormons may be surprised to know that even some LDS leaders have exposed Young’s errant counsel. Though coming short of denouncing him as a false prophet, many Mormons have engaged in the same sort of spin we expect in political controversies. One of these has to do with Young’s teaching that Adam was God and “the only God with whom we have to do.”

Should this subject come up, a Mormon might respond by saying this was merely Brigham’s “theory.” Since it was never canonized, it need not be taken seriously. Young, however, did not categorize this teaching as mere speculation. Contrary to common LDS opinion, Young emphatically identified this principle as a serious doctrine. Speaking at a conference on April 9, 1852, he closed his comments on this subject with the following warning: “Now, let all who may hear these doctrines, pause before they make light of them or treat them with indifference, for they will prove their salvation or damnation.”

To insist that this teaching is not a part of the LDS canon is also questionable, since in the Doctrine and Covenants Adam is described as the “Ancient of Days,” a term whose biblical and historical usage has been reserved for Almighty God. It appears that Young took this reference to its logical, albeit erroneous, conclusion.

Ample evidence demonstrates that Young’s message regarding Adam misled others. Heber C. Kimball, Young’s first counselor, taught: “I have learned by experience that there is but one God that pertains to this people, and He is the God that pertains to this earth — the first man. That first man sent his own Son to redeem the world, to redeem his brethren; his life was taken, his blood shed, that our sins might be remitted.”

Kimball’s grandson, President Spencer W. Kimball, claimed that the Adam-God “theory” was only “alleged” to have been taught by some of the general authorities. In his October 1978 conference remarks, Kimball cautioned his listeners against “this and other kinds of false doctrine.” To claim this teaching was only alleged to have been taught is in and of itself misleading.

Young also believed that just as humans who achieve godhood would continually progress in knowledge, so too does the Mormon God. Fourth LDS President Wilford Woodruff concurred:“God Himself is increasing and progressing in knowledge, power, and dominion, and will do so, worlds without end. It is just so with us.”

Tenth LDS President Joseph Fielding Smith, Jr., strongly disagreed with his predecessors and asked,“Where has the Lord ever revealed to us that he is lacking in knowledge? That he is still learning new truth; discovering new laws that are unknown to him? I think this kind of doctrine is very dangerous.”

Smith claimed that he did not know where the Lord had ever made such a declaration; however, two LDS presidents, one of whom said his counsel was never wrong, taught this doctrine. It is clear that there is no merit to the idea that LDS prophets are incapable of leading members astray.

Conclusion

The author of this rebuttal fails to realize that the crux of his article disproved his conclusion. While we would never presume to teach what Schindler himself believes, we have written what Mormon teachings have declared to be true. He may disagree with our conclusion, as he is free to do so. But if the concepts of the afterlife as we so portrayed it are inaccurate, then why did he spend so much time defending this viewpoint?

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


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.

Titled “Lifelong member of LDS church praises book for accuracy,” July 28, 2000

From “ajtlawer” on July 14, 2002

Answers to Gospel Questions, Vol.2, p.69

Doctrines of Salvation 3:203

Stand Ye In Holy Places, pp.109-110

Messages of the First Presidency, Vol.6, p.209

The House of the Lord, p.27.

Biblical Mormonism: Responding to Evangelical Criticism of LDS Theology (Horizon, 1994), p. 13.

How Wide the Divide, pp.73-73. An endnote on page 208 adds that “the LDS might at any time add to their Standard Works through continuing revelation to the president of the Church.”

Vol. 23, no. 4, http://www.equip.org/free/DM807.htm

Journal of Discourses 1:51

Journal of Discourses 4:1.

LDS Church News, 9 October 1976, p. 11

Journal of Discourses 11:286

The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, p. 3

Doctrines of Salvation 1:8