Written by Marc A. Schindler
Rejoinder by Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson
[Because it is shorter than some of the other articles in Mormonism 201, I would like to include the entire introductory article of Mormonism 201 italic/bold type and respond to it in regular type. The article by Schindler is word for word from the article posted in May 2003 and is both bold faced as well as italicized.]
When students enroll in a class called “101” they expect a comprehensive and sympathetic introduction to the subject at hand. For example, if you signed up for a university course called Astronomy 101, you’d expect an introduction to the principles of astronomy, including how the study of astronomy has improved our lives. You’d be shocked if your professor taught that astronomy was wrong, and that, say, astrology was a better way to understand the physical universe. It is a sign of the fundamental flaws in Mormonism 101 that it does exactly that—presents itself as a religious primer when it is polemics; a more honest title would have been Anti-Mormonism 101.
The argument that our book was misnamed is silly. It must be pointed out that there are many “101” courses in college where there are different opinions. For instance, not everybody in Political Science 101 will agree about whether the Democrats or the Republicans should be credited for the economic prosperity of the 1990s. Biology 101 students will certainly have disagreements about whether Evolution or Creation is the best explanation for how the world originally came to be.
When it comes to Mormonism 101, there is no doubt that many Mormons will not like our conclusions. Still, the reader must admit that the basic ideas as found in our book are true traits of the Mormon religion as defined by its past and present leaders. If this were not so, then why are many chapters in Mormonism 201 devoted to defending what we say Mormon leaders have taught? Schindler’s idea that our book should have been better titled “Anti-Mormonism 101” is ludicrous. In fact, we have had a number of Mormons and former Mormons tell us that our book, despite its limited length, does explain basic Mormonism. Consider some of the Amazon.com reviews on Mormonism 101 that were written by those with LDS backgrounds. By the way, we do not personally know these people.
From “AJT Lawyer” (7/14/02): “…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. And since even most modern Mormons find it as upsetting and as cultish as non-Mormons do, they spend most of their counter-argument attacking books like ‘101’ or just dismissing the early LDS statements as being ‘out of context’ or just the ‘personal opinion’ of the founders of the faith. Don’t be fooled.”
From Bradley P. Rich (1/6/02): “As someone who was raised as a Mormon, I have been surprised at how little serious theology is done inside the Mormon Church. The current president of the church admitted on a national television interview that he didn’t know much about theology. I have always suspected that the church was unprepared to come to grips with changes in theological positions over the years, and hence, chose to ignore it. Outside analysis has been strident, and frequently generated more heat than light over these issues, leaving the reader to wonder about the fairness of the analysis. 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….”
From a “Lifelong member of LDS Church,” 7/28/00: “As a lifelong member of the LDS church, graduated from BYU, served an honorable mission, former Elder’s Quorum President 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….”
Of course, there are some reviews at Amazon.com that are less than flattering. However, we wonder if the critics posting these public reviews actually read the book (or even saw it with their own eyes). Consider this reviewer who gave Mormonism 101 a one-star rating:
From Keith Dailey of Norfolk, VA, 5/9/03: “Any so-called authorized source condemning any religion is simply hogwash, no matter what one’s religion is…even the Latter-day Saints teach their children that. Obviously the authors were lacking in this type of civil home-training. This book is crap, plain and simple, a waste of money; unless you want to use the pages as bird cage liners. The authors should go back running a McDonald’s instead of condemning other people’s religion…I only rate this one star as negative or zero stars are not available….” (all ellipses are either the author’s or from Amazon.com).
Eric contacted Mr. Dailey at his home in Virginia (after looking up his address on the Internet). He asked him if he still had the original review since the one above was obviously censored by Amazon.com). Also, he wanted to know if Dailey truly had read the book. Dailey responded a year later by saying his original review had been lost due to a virus attack on his computer. He also claimed to have read “most of the book in a symposium in the Virginia Beach Central library but not all of it.” He added, “I feel that condemning ANY religion, even those that may not be TRUE or not is counter-productive.” Our point in including Mr. Dailey’s comment is to demonstrate that while some critics claim that our book is “crap,” their condemnation is not based on any real truth claim. Rather they just don’t like the idea that their church is being criticized. We call such criticisms “drive-bys.” In other words, a Mormon will shout out a condemnation knowing full well that the circumstances do not allow for a proper rebuttal.
Sabrina in California wrote another one-star review: “… With that said, I leave you with this real review of this book. It’s a mere collage of misplaced ideas and unfully (sic) researched thoughts. It total…it’s just another face in the crowd of (bluntly put) wrong books. If you want the real scoop, go to the source…just as you would for a newspaper article. Unless of course, you work for a Tabloid, and we ALL know how reliable those can be… “ (Except for the first set of ellipses, the ellipses are either the author’s or from Amazon.com)
Bob Blaylock of Lompoc, California advertises the “Mormonism 201” project when he wrote this one-star rating: “What can reasonably be said about this book, in the scope of one of these reviews, has been said here by others. In short, this book is really nothing more than yet another of the many works of thoughtless propaganda written by ignorant and dishonest fools. A complete response to this book is in the works, and what has been completed of it so far may be viewed at this URL: http://www.fairlds.org/apol/morm201/“
In fact, several one-star reviews specifically mentioned the “Mormonism 201” project by name, and one reviewer (Robert Peeler of Chino, CA) literally quoted from it word for word in his “review.” Doesn’t it seem logical that an honest person would not review a book until he or she has actually read it? Could it be that certain Mormons who have never read the book are trying to destroy the book’s ratings on this popular book seller’s site? This certainly seems to be a good possibility.
Almost as big a flaw in Mormonism 101 is that it contributes absolutely nothing new to the body of anti-Mormonism—there is nothing in the book that hasn’t been written about elsewhere (and usually better). It is simply another example of modern-day simony—attacking the Restored Gospel for money.
Schindler doesn’t let go. As far as adding “nothing new” to books written about Mormonism, how many different ways can the ideas of temple work, the LDS idea of the necessity of temples, and the requirements to go there be discussed? There is no doubt that the majority of the information in our book has been previously published in other places.
Yet facts are facts. For a published work to make sense, many of these facts will have to be repeated. Following Schindler’s logic, would we expect a person writing about the Civil War to purposely leave out Fort Sumter or perhaps Appomattox Courthouse? After all, these subjects have been covered in other books dealing with this period of American history. Schindler’s comment also assumes that everyone is already familiar with everything that has “been written about elsewhere.” You can’t talk about history without bringing up the same characters, the same events, and the same dates.
The complaint that we “attack the Restored Gospel for money” is the oldest circumstantial ad hominem attack that we hear at an apologetic ministry like MRM. Because we make royalties off the book, Schindler attempts to use a logical fallacy called “poisoning the well” to call our motives into question. Since we have never met Mr. Schindler, we wonder how he can claim that we are guided by mammon, not pure motives. (We will deal further with this issue toward the end of our review.)
Thus the purpose of Mormonism 201 is to counter the false claims of Mormonism 101 and, we hope, also present the reader with a real version of what Mormonism 101 should have been, not the “wolf in sheep’s clothing” that it is in fact.
And with his “wolf in sheep’s clothing” comment, Mr. Schindler fires another volley of an abusive ad hominem attack. If he is really giving his readers a “real version” of Mormonism 101, why is this disclaimer at the bottom of the FAIR website? “FAIR is not owned, controlled by or affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. All research and opinions provided on this site are the sole responsibility of FAIR, and should not be interpreted as official statements of LDS doctrine, belief or practice.”
The reason the authors, Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, fail to contribute anything new of any significance isn’t just because little of what they write is original and can be found in many other similar works (although there’s certainly that); rather, it’s because they insist on basing their arguments on their own preconceived assumptions, rather than trying to show how the Restored Gospel (“Mormonism”) supposedly has inconsistencies or failures based on its assumptions. Put another way, you cannot show that an idea is wrong simply because it does not logically follow from your own assumptions—this merely shows that there is disagreement between your views and the other person’s idea. Rather, you have to show how the other idea’s conclusions are wrong based on neutral assumptions, or show that the assumptions upon which the other ideas are based are wrong.
One may well ask what’s wrong with the approach taken by McKeever and Johnson. After all, they are not LDS, but are trying to attack LDS beliefs, so why should they be expected to buy into our assumptions?
The reason is that even if you don’t accept an opponent’s assumptions, you have to at least understand them and deal with them or you’ll discredit yourself with neutral inquirers, and possibly even with your target audience, which in the case of Mormonism 101 is “Biblicists” who try to “witness” to Latter-day Saints. This is because, as will be shown time and again in this review, what McKeever and Johnson are actually criticizing are caricatures of the teachings of the Restored Gospel—teachings that they interpret on the basis of their own assumptions, rather than on ours. When the truth is examined, rather than caricatures or straw man arguments, works like Mormonism 101 lose their credibility. A polemical book that tries to ridicule the Restored Gospel—which is what Mormonism 101 is at heart—cannot afford to provide balanced arguments or it risks confusing the rather narrow world view of its intended audience of anti-Mormon “witnessers.(sic)”
Schindler’s use of hyperbole gets tiresome. To ridicule means to laugh at, scoff at, mock, scorn, or deride. Truly Mormonism 101 does not even come close to ridiculing the Mormon faith, and Schindler should be ashamed for making such an unfounded accusation. He needs to understand that, while we may not agree with his views on religious faith, we are not his enemy. As Paul said in Galatians 4:16, “Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?” As Bible-believing Christians, if we disagree with LDS tenets because we think they are wrong, should we really be considered hateful or bigoted? If so, then Paul was just as “bigoted” because, in Galatians 1:6-9, he warned Christians to stay away from the message given by the legalistic Christians. He said to “test everything” in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, and he claimed that worshipping a Jesus other than the orthodox Jesus was invalid (2 Corinthians 11:4). John (1 John 4:1) and Jude (Jude 3) echoed Paul’s teaching.
Mormonism 101 merely attempts to take Mormon teachings as described by LDS leaders and compare them with what Christianity teaches through the Bible. We use absolutely no “anti-Mormon” sources. Instead we utilize only authentic LDS writings and teachings that were given to the LDS people for their instruction. Although it is quite easy to say that our book is full of errors, it is another thing to prove it. As mentioned before, instead of arguing that we don’t know what Mormonism teaches, many of the reviewers in Mormonism 201 tend to argue about why they believe a particular LDS doctrine makes more sense than what is taught in Christianity. What they are therefore doing is, in effect, admitting that our analysis of Mormonism is correct, which is the very crux of the purpose behind our book.
Mormonism 101’s failings can be summarized in terms of two very common errors, and the reader is encouraged to be on the lookout for them in each of the individual chapter reviews: The first error is what I call “preaching to the choir.” Metaphorically speaking, if you think that a mirror is a window, your view of the “world” will be what you yourself already perceive, and you will be unable to see other points of view. Your logic will be circular, your thinking will merely confirm your preconceived notions, and your arguments will make sense only to those who already share your preconceived ideas. An example of this first type of error is if a person speaks only English, and reads the word gift, and then assumes that the English word is the only possible meaning; they could be making a grave error. For example, in German the word actually means poison! Of course this is a trivial example, but this type of error is made in Mormonism 101 time and time again with respect to both simple and obvious concepts, as well as regards more complex and subtle philosophical arguments—as readers will see.
Schindler gives no examples from Mormonism 101 to prove his point; this would have been a more effective tactic than using some archaic example such as the word “gift.” As far as preaching to the choir, we would acknowledge that Mormonism 101 was specifically written to Christians. After all, the publisher would probably find it quite difficult to market our book in Deseret or Seagull bookstores. Since our book is one generally carried by Christian bookstores, there is no doubt that the intended audience is the evangelical Christian. The goal in Mormonism 101 is to show how Mormonism is not synonymous with the Christian version of the gospel.
The second common error I call “co-opting of Christianity;” the incorrect assumption that one particular viewpoint can be applied to a wider audience, thereby deliberately excluding others on that near-sighted basis. An example of the second type of error is assuming that a very narrow and specific movement within Christendom, such as Biblicism (which I’ll define shortly), constitutes “orthodox Christianity,” thereby excluding 99% of all other Christians—not just Latter-day Saints, but also Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, mainstream Protestants and so on. This is the error one encounters most often in Mormonism 101—the assumption that the authors alone know what constitutes “real” Christianity.
Baker Books is an evangelical Christian publisher. Obviously our audience is aimed at like-minded people. Of course, there are differences between the branches of Christianity and even differences between Protestant denominations. Despite any differences we may have, we have much more in common with each other than Mormons do with any of these groups, including the belief that the Triune God exists in eternity and never was a man; Jesus is God in the flesh and is not a created being; and salvation is something that comes through faith in the true God. Whenever Eric shares his faith at the Manti Miracle Pageant in Utah (held each June), his favorite response to this argument is to point to the other Christians on the street who are sharing their faith and show how similar his beliefs are in line with theirs despite denominational differences. Truly the unity between these Christian groups is more apparent than the differences in peripheral issues that we might have. In addition, we once again ask, if Mr. Schindler’s essay (and that of the other respondents) represents “true Mormonism,” why the disclaimer?
It is necessary to know a bit about Biblicism in order to understand where McKeever and Johnson are coming from. Biblicists claim that Latter-day Saints do not accept the Bible. Naturally, we do, but we believe it to be a record of the Word of God, not an und für sich (in and of itself, or existentially) the Word of God itself. Biblicism confuses the message with the messenger, in other words. We do not believe in a closed canon—we believe in continuing revelation—and we also recognize that the Bible, like any written record from the past, is open to interpretation—by the humans who wrote it, the humans who translated it, and the humans who read it. In the absence of continuing revelation this can lead to the chaos one sees in the Protestant world today.
What Schindler says is no different than what we write in chapter 7 (the Bible) from our book. Once again, this shows that we correctly identify a difference between Evangelical Christianity and Mormonism. Schindler is free to argue about the LDS view of why the Bible should not be accepted as God’s Word (“corrupt translators,” true only “as far as it is translated correctly,” etc.). Yet this arguing against our view is a much different complaint than the accusation that we do not understand basic LDS tenets.
One of the circular arguments of Biblicism is that many of the ideas that they think are Biblical—concepts like Trinitarianism, rejection of the anthropomorphic nature of God (the belief that we are literally God’s children), rejection of the need for prophets, belief in creation ex nihilo (out of nothing), rejection of baptism for the dead, and many other beliefs—all arose after the Bible was written. So what they think is Biblical is, ironically, the product of the philosophy of man mingled with a bit of scripture. When we reject Biblicism we are not rejecting the Bible, we are rejecting creedal Christianity—the brand of Christianity that arose during the Great Apostasy.
When properly interpreted, the Bible supports the doctrinal concepts noted above. To say that these are the “product of the philosophy of man mingled with a bit of scripture” is nonsense. These issues will be addressed in other chapter rejoinders.
It reminds me of a humorous story told about Texas Governor James Ferguson. When asked why he vetoed a bill funding the teaching of Spanish in Texas schools in 1917, he allegedly said, “If English was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for the schoolchildren of Texas.” Substitute the philosophies of Gnosticism, Platonism and other Greek influences, all mixed in with Byzantine politics. Then add on the accretions of the Reformation such as Calvinist denial of free will, Lutheran rejection of certain books of the New Testament, the early 19th century notion of “rapture” and the late 19th-century anti-intellectualist movement amongst Baptists, and the racism of early Southern Baptists. Substitute all that for “English” in the Texas governor’s witticism, and the thousands of Biblicist Protestant sects for “the schoolchildren of Texas” and you have the kaleidoscope world of modern Biblicism—full of circles, contradictions, inconsistencies and the kind of logic that’s like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall.
I’m not sure how Ferguson’s story relates to Schindler’s point. What he apparently is trying to do is tie Greek philosophy with Christian history and make these ideas look like they are result of those who practice “Biblicism.” This is what is known in logic as a non sequitur, which means “it does not follow.” In essence, he seems to be arguing:
- Greek philosophy (i.e. Gnosticism, Plantonism, etc.) is incorporated in the teachings of the Bible.
- Christians since the time of the Reformation who use the Bible are confused and do not agree.
- Biblicism is the belief that the Bible alone is authoritative.
- Therefore, Biblicism is responsible for many wrong ideas believed by “Christians” since the time of the “Great Apostasy.”
In other words, the conclusion cannot be logically derived from the three premises, regardless of whether or not all of them are true.
Mike Ash’s definition of Biblicism cuts to the core of the matter:
Biblicism: bib·li·cism (…) n. 1. A more neutral term for what some have referred to as Bibliolatry (Bible worship). Biblicism is the belief that the Bible is the sole source of truth to the point that the power by which Biblical ideas were given (i.e. Revelation from God) is overlooked. Biblicists fail to recognize that the Bible is not, in itself, revelation, but is rather a record of the revelations which God gave to his servants. God, of course (in LDS belief), continues to impart such revelations to his prophets today.
Ash’s definition of “biblicism” is synonymous with “Bibliolatry.” Let us assure our readers that neither of us worship our Bibles! This is a pretty serious accusation. If the Christian is accused of worshipping the Bible because he or she accepts the authority of the Bible as revelation from God, then what shall we call a Mormon who holds that the “Standard Works” contain authority? If we continue with Ash and Schindler’s logic, then it would appear that anyone who holds to the Bible, Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price, and the D&C as authoritative is guilty of worshipping these books. In addition, Mormons who believe that the LDS prophet can “impart revelation” are guilty of worshipping the prophet. This kind of argumentation is nonsensical. By the way, it should be pointed out that the unabridged Webster’s dictionary defines “biblicism” as nothing more than “learning or literature relating to the Bible.” A “biblicist” is “an expert on the Bible.” We’re not quite sure why Schindler considers Ash’s definition as more accurate than these. Once again we have a case of a Mormon redefining a word to make it fit his argument.
A Biblicist world view may not make any difference when it comes to some topics, but when our critics attack us for doctrines that we claim to be restorations of original Christianity, they need to make clear that they are not actually representing doctrines which arose after the New Testament was written and which they are reading back into the New Testament, else their arguments are liable to be fallacious. This is where the ironically extra-biblical nature of Biblicism falls down. A Southern Baptist may reasonably dispute with a Methodist without this inherent contradiction giving way like a weak weld in a pipeline. But when the pressure is on in a different part of the pipe, so to speak—when disputing with a non-Biblicist—the pipe bursts at weak critical welds.
Schindler again misses the point. We don’t agree with his presupposition that Mormonism is a restoration of original Christianity. The creeds that we adhere to were carefully constructed from biblical teaching. This is why we don’t need to support our beliefs with creedal statements. Rather, creeds were meant to define what we believe the Bible already teaches. As we point out numerous times in our book, Mormonism contradicts what the Bible says. Hence, we must reject Schindler’s conclusion that what he believes is “original Christianity.”
Church leaders claim that the Bible has been inaccurately translated but offer no “official” list of verses that can or cannot be trusted. Let us not overlook the fact that they often cite the Bible whenever it suits their purposes. At the same time, they often attack the Bible and its message when it tends to go against their unique doctrines. Can anyone say “double standard”? For more information on this issue, see Bill McKeever’s article located athttp://www.mrm.org/multimedia/text/scholarship.html.
Latter-day Saints are not the only ones to have noticed this blind spot in Biblicism, incidentally. Harold Bloom, Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale and one of America’s most distinguished literary critics (author of The Book of J and The Western Canon among others), has very harsh words for what we are calling Biblicists. He is speaking specifically of the Fundamentalist faction of the Southern Baptist Convention, but the criticism could be applied to all Biblicists:
Even as Fundamentalists insist upon the inerrancy of the Bible, they give up all actual reading of the Bible, since in fact its language is too remote and difficult for them to begin to understand. What is left is the Bible as physical object, limp and leather, a final icon or magical talisman. To read Criswell [an anti-intellectual leader of the Fundamentalist faction of the Southern Baptist Convention] or any other Fundamentalist clergyman on the Bible is almost a literal impossibility, at least for me, because they are not writing about the text, in any sense whatsoever of text, or of that text. They write about their own dogmatic social, political, cultural, moral, and even economic convictions, and biblical texts simply are quoted, with frenetic abandon, whether or not they in any way illustrate or even approach the areas where the convictions center. They are quoted also as though they interpreted themselves and were perfectly transparent in their meanings.
The co-opting of Christianity by a tiny but vocal group of professional Biblicist anti-Mormons is demonstrated beautifully by the editorial review of Mormonism 101 on Amazon.com:
“Mormonism is one of the fastest growing religions in the world, with over five million Mormons in the United States alone. For those who have wondered in what specific ways Mormonism differs from the Christian faith [note the co-opting terminology], Mormonism 101 provides definitive answers.
“Introducing their study with this provocative quotation from Mormon Apostle Bruce McConkie: “Mormonism is Christianity; Christianity is Mormonism; they are one and the same.” The authors refute that claim. They examine the major tenets of Mormon theology and compare them with orthodox Christian beliefs [there it is again]. Their helpful, point-by-point study contains succinct conclusions at the end of each major section and numerous quotes from authoritative Mormon sources.
“In addition, Mormonism 101 offers practical, end-of-chapter witnessing tips. Readers will not only learn about Mormon teachings but will also be better equipped to witness to friends and family within the Mormon church. This book is also a valuable resource for students studying cults and comparative religion, as well as for organizations and ministries that reach out to Mormons.“
When knowledgeable LDS read Mormonism 101 they will see all this and quickly consign this work to the less sophisticated bin of anti-Mormonism, rather than being a truly scholarly and neutral treatment of the Restored Gospel. Ironically, even knowledgeable Biblicists and other Christians will see this in Mormonism 101 and will likewise avoid using McKeever and Johnson in time, even if they learn the hard way by using McKeever and Johnson against knowledgeable LDS and come away the worse for the encounter. There are honest critics of the Gospel, those who, while perhaps misguided in our eyes, are sincere and well trained in scholarly techniques. McKeever and Johnson do not belong to this group.
Schindler obviously does not understand that our book was never meant to be read in Ivy-towered campuses but rather by lay Christians. Is it necessary to write from an academic viewpoint in order to present one’s views? Using this reasoning, then we must reject Joseph Fielding Smith’s Doctrines of Salvation, Bruce R. McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine, Spencer Kimball’s The Miracle of Forgiveness, James Talmage’s Articles of Faith, Joseph F. Smith’s Gospel Doctrine, John Widtsoe’s Evidences and Reconciliations, not to mention Stephen’s Robinson’s Believing Christ and Robert Millet’s Grace Works. Would Schindler hold that Mormonism 201 is scholarly? We find it ironic when Schindler and other Mormons point to this “scholar” label in such a positive way; after all, it wasn’t that long ago when the Mormon temple ceremony mocked intellectualism.
Incidentally, an evangelical Christian who goes under the pseudonym J.P. Holding gave Mormonism 101 a less than sterling rating on his Web site, even though one would assume they’re all on the same side. One of the reasons was McKeever and Johnson’s failure to come to grips with the new generation of amateur LDS apologists (that is, non-BYU professors, nor General Authorities) that has cropped up:
I was very disappointed that there was not greater interaction with modern Mormon apologetic efforts. Names like [Richard] Hopkins [a Salt Lake City area attorney] and [BYU Professor of Arabic, and FARMS executive director Daniel] Peterson are barely discovered. I will grant that this was obviously intended as an introductory book… We recommend Mormonism 101 for all who are taking their initial steps into this field—but be aware of its limitations.”
Interestingly enough, Schindler only quotes half the review. The first part of the review reads: “If you haven’t bought a book on Mormonism yet, or even if you have, you should be very interested in Mormonism 101. McKeever and Johnson’s introductory course performs all of the expected functions of comparing orthodox Christian and Mormon belief, and showing how wide the divide actually is. They do this, moreover, not only with quotes from older Mormon sources that speak for themselves, but with up-to-date quotes from current Mormon church officials — and this, I perceive to be the book’s greatest advantage over all others now in the field.” Perhaps in order to make his case stronger, Schindler leaves out the part where Holding gives Mormonism 101 a “two thumbs up” endorsement.
As far as Holding’s criticism, he merely stated that the reader ought to “be aware of its limitations,”acknowledging the fact that Mormonism 101 is more of an introductory text than a “scholarly tome.” It was obvious to Holding as it should have been to Schindler that our intention was never to dialogue with the scholars in Mormonism 101. Rather, our goal was to deal with the very institution of Mormonism, which includes the prophets and apostles.
As far as dealing with the words of Hopkins or Peterson, we politely disagree with Holding’s assessment. Just who are these men? Are they general authorities in the LDS Church? Not the last time we looked. With no status as general authorities, their words really carry no more weight than Schindler’s. If they declare something to be true and the president of the church disagrees, who do you think the Mormon laity will uphold as truthful? It is a no-brainer. This is why we did not (for the most part) bother quoting non-authoritative writers and speakers in our book. For a more scholarly Christian look at Mormonism, may we suggest The New Mormon Challenge, although the creators of Mormonism 201 (officially: “Anti-Mormonism Confronted”) were the first on the Internet to write critiques of this book (located at http://www.anti-mormonism-revealed.com/feature.html)
Which brings us to consider the “coyotes” of the anti-Mormon world—those creatures of prey that do not particularly care if they are “right” in some transcendent and meaningful manner, so long as they can cull the flocks of the Gospel of its weak, ignorant and spiritually ailing. A Machiavellian approach, this is sometimes known wryly as “lying for Jesus.” The irony is, of course, that they thereby strengthen the flock, although we must not at the same time allow ourselves to be cavalier about the fate of the “culled.”
The idea that we “lie for Jesus” is a pretty serious accusation. One would hope that Schindler could back it up. Of course, he gives no evidence to be able to make such a libelous accusation.
As you read Mormonism 201 I would invite you to keep these two underlying misconceptions of Biblicism in mind—assuming that the Restored Gospel can be judged on Biblicist principles, and the co-opting (almost one could say “hijacking”) of Christianity by a small squad of “theo-terrorists.” The author of the reviews of each chapter will make these points time and time again.
“Hijacking”? “A small squad of ‘theo-terrorists'”? Is there no end to these abusive ad hominem assaults? Is this scholarship according to FAIR?
How This Book Came About
Mormonism 201 is an example of two new phenomena made possible by the Internet, both of which will prove advantageous to the Restored Gospel, we predict. The first is that ventures that might otherwise not be commercially viable become possible. Without the backing of a purpose-built polemics organization like Mormonism Researched Ministry, it can be difficult for Latter-day Saints to devote the time and effort required to respond in detail to anti-Mormon tomes such as Mormonism 101, which was published by one of the largest evangelical Protestant publishers in the United States. In spite of this, Kevin Graham decided to write just such a book. He had just started when offers to help poured in from other amateur apologists. Before the Internet Age a “committee approach” probably would have been more trouble than it was worth. However, thanks to the Internet it becomes much easier to bring together the resources required for a detailed response and make it readily available for use by members without having to rely on expensive publication and distribution channels.
Under the able leadership of Kevin Graham, the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR, www.fair-lds.org, a volunteer apologetics organization with no official connection to the LDS Church), a group of people with experience in countering criticisms of particular doctrines of the Gospel were brought together. It might interest readers to know that although all of the authors “know” each other fairly well, most of us have not met each other in person. The Internet has allowed people to collaborate while overcoming three barriers with relative ease:
- Non-professionals. Each author actually works for a living – in keeping with LDS tradition, which has an unpaid, volunteer clergy, none of us is a professional academic or even, like McKeever and Johnson, commercialized polemicists.
What is a “commercialized polemicist”? This is obviously another abusive ad hominem attack. Schindler’s logic apparently goes like this:
- All people who make money are professional.
- Anyone who does not make money must have pure motives.
- We (Schindler and company) were not paid for writing Mormonism 201.
- Therefore, we have pure motives.
This logic has to be flawed or else the following is true:
- Daniel Peterson, Gordon Hinckley and Thomas Monson all make their livings through working with the LDS Church and are therefore paid professional (Peterson gets paid by BYU and FARMS, both LDS institutions, while the LDS church pays its general authorities).
- These men do not volunteer their services.
- Therefore, they do not have pure motives.
This logic is extremely flawed, for who are we to judge a person’s motives based solely on the acceptance of income for one’s labor? We could wrongly use other factors besides money (i.e. “power,” “popularity,” etc.) to make a person’s motives suspect. For instance:
- All people who write articles on the Internet are out to get publicity for themselves.
- People who want publicity for themselves have bad motives.
- Marc A. Schindler writes articles on the Internet for Mormonism 201.
- Therefore, Marc A. Schindler writes his Mormonism 201 articles with bad motives.
In the first two years after the book was published, we made less than $5,000 each fromMormonism 101’s royalties despite investing many hundreds of hours into its publication. Are we expected to be so naive to believe that every Mormon author has rejected royalties from their publisher? As far as income from putting together the rebuttals to Mormonism 201—well, let us say that neither of us nor our many volunteer co-writers received a dime for our work. After all, we are publishing this on the Internet, so there is no income potential. How dare Schindler judge our motives when he has never met us and doesn’t really know who we are!
Furthermore, Schindler shamefully advances an age-old lie that all Mormon clergy work as volunteers. While that may be so on a local level, this is certainly not true for the many men who run the church from offices in Salt Lake City. Take, for example, President Gordon Hinckley who went on the church payrolls almost immediately after serving his mission in England as a young man. Again, we must either believe that men who work full-time for the LDS Church are either independently wealthy or don’t pay their bills each month. Schindler’s argument also fails since neither he nor the other contributors to 201 are considered “clergy” by their church’s definition of the word. In conclusion, it has not always been an LDS tradition that Mormon clergy work on a volunteer basis since D&C 42:71-73 states that bishops (as well as elders and high priests who assist these bishops) are to receive “a just remuneration for all their services.”http://www.mrm.org/multimedia/text/paid.html
- Non-experts. There is no one “expert on everything” whom we could call on to write a book like Mormonism 201 without interfering with those engaged in actual Gospel-related work, such as BYU professors, Church Educational System professionals and the like. As referred to, each of us has particular strengths and interests and can combine them together. The Internet has (at last!) made “committee work” efficient, so to speak.
- Geography. The Internet has permitted us to overcome the barrier of geography. The authors live and work all over the world—in the Wasatch Front, both US coasts, the Midwest, Canada, and Europe.
We hope you enjoy reading Mormonism 201. We are sure that you will come away with a better understanding of the tenets of Mormonism than you would if you relied on the flawed research and polemical presentation of Mormonism 101.
Like a fireworks display on the fourth of July, this “introductory” article would not be complete without a great crescendo of final ad hominem attacks. Words like “purpose-built polemics organization,” “commercialized polemicists,” “flawed research,” and “polemical presentation” is sadly all too often a part of rebuttals offered by LDS apologists. Schindler gives us the impression that 201 is the final word on the matter. We leave it for the reader to decide.
Bill McKeever is the founder and director of Mormonism Research Ministry based in the Salt Lake City area. For more than 25 years he has lectured on the Mormon religion throughout the United States. He has authored or co-authored three books dealing with Mormonism. He and his wife Tamar have three children and, as of this writing, six grandchildren.
Eric Johnson has volunteered as a research associate at Mormonism Research Ministry since 1989. A graduate of San Diego State University (B.A., 1985) and Bethel Seminary San Diego (M.Div., 1991), Eric is the Bible department chair at Christian High School in El Cajon, CA, is an English instructor at Grossmont Community College (El Cajon, CA) and is adjunct professor at Bethel Seminary San Diego. He and his wife Terri have three girls.
For other rejoinders to the rebuttals of Mormonism 201, click here.