By Stephen H. Webb
Reviewed by Eric Johnson
If you want to know about a book that shouldn’t be purchased in order to learn more about Mormonism, then do I have the suggestion for you! Stephen H. Webb, a former Restoration Movement-turned Disciples of Christ-turned Lutheran-turned Roman Catholic, has produced a $25 offering (wow, who charges that on Amazon for a small hardcover just a little over 200 pages?) that provides nothing more than the author’s personal opinions. And I highly recommend it as a book to be avoided.
Let’s start from the beginning. On page 1, Webb writes,
Ecumenical means “of worldwide scope or application,” and Mormonism, with its impressive overseas growth, is clearly ecumenical in that sense. But ecumenism also means the attempt to restore unity to Christian churches separated by doctrine, history, and practice. At its best, the ecumenical movement tries to show how the various branches of Christianity are all nourished from (and contribute to) the same root.
On page 2, Webb calls Mormonism “one of the youngest branches on the Christian tree.” In other words, Webb suggests that anyone calling themselves “Christian” should be given the benefit of the doubt. You believe in Jesus? Welcome to the club. There doesn’t seem to be any rules, but, as the ad, says, just right. Ecumenism smells a lot like pluralism, or universalism. How many ways are there to God? According to this philosophy, nobody knows. The sky is unlimited.
Saying that “Mormons and fundamentalists have a lot in common,” Webb states on page 11,
They share a commitment to absolute truths, the sacredness of the family, the need for strong moral communities, and a reverence for the King James Version of the Bible. Like fundamentalists, Mormons know how to draw a sharp line between who they are and what they do not want their children to become.
So, because a person believes in strong families, has strong morals, and knows what they want their children to become, then that person ought to be considered Christian? Even Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists can claim such allegiances. As far as a reverence for the King James Version of the Bible, Article 8 says it is true only as it is translated correctly. When there is doubt, doubt is placed upon the Bible, and its authority is not highly esteemed by a majority of Latter-day Saints. Consider these quotes from LDS leaders:
Joseph Smith: “There are many things in the Bible which do not, as they now stand, accord with the revelations of the Holy Ghost to me” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 310. See also History of the Church 5:425).
Apostle Bruce R. McConkie: “As all informed persons know, the various versions of the Bible do not accurately record or perfectly preserve the words, thoughts, and intents of the original inspired authors” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 1966, p. 383).
Apostle Neil A. Maxwell: “By faulty transmission, many ‘plain and precious things’ were ‘taken away’ or ‘kept back’ from reaching what later composed our precious Holy Bible” (“The Wondrous Restoration,” Ensign, April 2003, p. 35).
Should Mormonism be considered “Christian”?
According to the Bible, Paul made regular rounds to the Jewish synagogues of the cities he visited. His message regarded the Messiah. For his honesty, he was beaten, stoned, and chased away. Nobody wanted to hear what he had to say. Somebody might argue, “Well, the Jews didn’t have Jesus.” True, but the Judaizers did. Consider what Paul wrote in Galatians 1:6-9:
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!
While the Judaizers had Jesus, they added unnecessary requirements to the Gospel of Grace, as Paul details in the rest of his epistle. These false teachers required circumcision, dietary rules, and other tidbits of the law that ended up making this “no gospel at all.” I don’t see ecumenism being a part of Paul’s thinking. Does the Word of God matter? It should. If Paul didn’t go complimenting everyone who claimed to be a Christian (but whose doctrine was out of line), I’m not sure why we should.
Should this passage or other biblical precedent matter? For Webb, probably not, as he shows his disdain for “biblical literalism” throughout his book.
Here’s the thing: Web acknowledges “that Mormonism adds to the traditional Christian story.” However, this
does not necessarily mean that it detracts from Christianity to the point of denying it altogether. . . . Mormons are more Christian than the many Christians who, under the spell of historical historians and demythologizing theologians, do not take seriously the astounding claim that Jesus is the Son of God. (115)
The First Vision and the Book of Mormon
Did Joseph Smith see God the Father and Jesus Christ as a 14-year-old child? The religion of Mormonism banks on this as well as the Book of Mormon story. For Webb, there is apparent value in this tale, as he writes on page 9:
What if Joseph Smith’s vision of God really does have something important to say to all Christians today? What if his insight into the materiality of the divine is what the world today most needs to hear? And what if Christian unity can be achieved by recovering the physical power and presence of the divine?
These rhetorical questions don’t matter if the story isn’t true. After all, either Joseph did see the Father and Jesus…or he did not. If he did, then of course it’s an incredible story and worthy of legitimizing Mormonism. If true, Webb should run from his Catholicism and embrace the religion he apparently admires. However, if the story is not true, then the religious system ought to be rejected, lock, stock, and barrel. If Joseph lied about in this matter, then he must have lied about the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham. Then he can’t be trusted about receiving revelations from God as recorded in the LDS scripture Doctrine and Covenants. If there are no ties to authentic history, then this religion has nothing to offer “to all Christians today.” It would be, as Paul said, no gospel at all. What good can be received from such an event?
The problem is, Webb seems to assume that the First Vision is true. He doesn’t seem to doubt it when he writes on page 35, “Smith had a vision of God in 1820 that was later called the First Vision… Indeed, Smith treated the object of his vision as a literal fact, not a symbolic truth. He had the audacity to think that he had really seen the Father and the Son, not just representations of them.” He then says, “What is important to realize is that this worldview originated in experiences he had that can be rightly called supernatural.” He explains,
Smith’s First Vision was hardly ordinary. It was supernatural in the sense that it was above and beyond the ordinary workings of nature, but in order to make sense of it, he gradually adopted the metaphysical assumption that God is a material being.
Supernatural? This word itself implies the event really happened. I wonder how long it will be before Webb converts to Mormonism. In fact, based on the things he wrote in this book, there are times where I thought Webb was a Latter-day Saint. For example, he says this at the beginning of chapter 1 titled (appropriately) “Mormon envy”: “I am not a Mormon, but sometimes I wish I were one.”
When it comes to the Book of Mormon, Webb seems to esteem it highly. When he read it, he says he
was utterly surprised by what I found. The Book of Mormon, I found, is utterly obsessed with Jesus Christ, and I concluded that everything it teaches is meant to awaken, encourage, and deepen faith in him.” Treating the book as historical, he adds, “the whole Gospel in all of its theological details—right down to debates about baptism, the relationship of law to grace, and the problem of divine foreknowledge—is taught to the people of the New World centuries before Jesus was even born. (118)
Later he explains, “Non-Mormon Christians, of course, do not believe that Jesus visited the Americas, but why should they be troubled if the Saints tell stories about Jesus that seem far-fetched to them?” He gives the illustration of a grandfather who died and had a funeral. Different people who attended had different opinions of the same man. Webb apparently is a pragmatist when he writes,
Shouldn’t Smith’s stories be judged by whether they draw people to the four Gospels in order to learn more about Christ? And if they do that, doesn’t that weigh in favor of their plausibility, if not their truth.
The problem with accepting the Jesus of Mormonism is that the Book of Mormon version is not historical. Every word about Jesus coming to the Americas didn’t happen. As Paul explained with the resurrection of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15, if the event never happened, then Christians should be considered the most pitied of all people. There is no hope if the event is based on legend or a lie. So too is the Book of Mormon. If it happened, Webb needs to continue his spiritual pilgrimage and join the LDS Church. If it’s false, then all of it should be rejected. To say that the Book of Mormon is Christ-centered is meaningless if it’s based on nothing more than Smith’s creative imagination.
Was Brigham joking?
Webb buys into the philosophy proffered by some LDS apologists that Mormonism’s leaders did not always mean what they said. One president typically used as an example is Brigham Young, notorious for outlandish quotes. Webb writes,
Evidence that he tried to outspeculate Smith lies in this theological teachings on Adam, which were much maligned in his lifetime, even within Mormon circles, and are fortuitously neglected today. Young begins with the idea that if Christ is a second Adam, as Paul claimed (1 Cor. 15:45, 47) then Adam must be a kind of first Christ (Rom. 5:14), at lease in his pre-fallen state. This view of Adam is certainly daring, but Young takes it beyond the realm of serious consideration by arguing that Adam had a hand in organizing this world before he became a member of it, which means that Adam can be called “or Father, our God, and the only God we have to do with.” Needless to say, Young was not a systematic theologian, and he could get carried away by the power of his own rhetoric. The same speaking skills that enabled him to connect with every stratum of society led him to overestimated his ability to splice church doctrine. (132)
With a swipe of his hand, Webb minimizes Young’s teachings when he explains:
If Young had a preferred rhetorical trope, it would be hyperbole. His expansive rhetoric was reflective of the wide-open spaces of the West, and his ecclesial leadership depended on big gestures and dramatic performances. Young’s public speech was often not intended to be taken literally. (132)
Certainly that’s not the way Young perceived his teaching, as he stated the teaching emphatically on April 9, 1852:
Now hear it, O inhabitants of the earth, Jew and Gentile, Saint and sinner! When our father Adam came into the garden of Eden, he came into it with a celestial body, and brought Eve, one of his wives, with him. He helped to make and organize this world. He is MICHAEL, the Archangel, the ANCIENT OF DAYS! about whom holy men have written and spoken—HE is our FATHER and our GOD, and the only God with whom WE have to do (Journal of Discourses 1:50).
In the same context as the quotes above, he said this was a “doctrine” that would “prove” a person’s “salvation or damnation”:
What a learned idea! Jesus, our elder brother, was begotten in the flesh by the same character that was in the garden of Eden, and who is our Father in Heaven. 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 (Brigham Young, April 9, 1852, Journal of Discourses 1:51).
Young also said,
How much unbelief exists in the minds of the Latter-day Saints in regard to one particular doctrine which is revealed to them, and which God revealed to me – namely that Adam is our father and God (Deseret News, June 18, 1873, p. 308).
David John Buerger cited the second president’s words from October 18, 1861:
I will give you a few words of doctrine, upon which there has been much inquiry, and with regard to which considerable ignorance exists. Br. Watt will write it, but it is not my intention to have it published, therefore pay good attention, and store it up in your memories. Some years ago, I advanced a doctrine with regard to Adam being our father and God, that will be a cause [curse?] to many Elders of Israel because of their folly. With regard to it they yet grovel in darkness and will. It is one of the most glorious revealments of the economy of heaven, yet the world holds it [in] dirrision [sic]. Had I revealed the doctrine of baptism from the dead instead [of] Joseph Smith there are men around me who would have ridiculed the idea until dooms day. But they are ignorant and stupid like the dumb ass. (“The Adam-God Doctrine,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Spring 1982, p. 29).
Twentieth century leaders distanced themselves from such a teaching. For example, tenth President Joseph Fielding Smith:
SOURCE OF ADAM-GOD THEORY. President Brigham Young is quoted-in all probability the sermon was erroneously transcribed!-as having said: ‘Now hear it, O inhabitants of the earth, Jew and Gentile, saint and sinner! When our father Adam came into the Garden of Eden, he came into it with a celestial body, and brought Eve, one of his wives, with him. He helped to make and organize this world. He is Michael, the Archangel, the Ancient of Days, about whom holy men have written and spoken-He is our father and our God, and the only God with whom we have to do’(Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:96. Italics in original).
Smith claims that Young’s words weren’t properly transcribed. There are several problems with this idea. For one, the Journal of Discourses is considered to be accurate. To say that the Journals can’t be trusted begs the question, can any historical statements from early leaders be trusted?
Second, Orson Pratt had a conflict with Young over this issue.
Pratt was not the only member unwilling to embrace certain of Young’s views. Yet his calling as Apostle placed him at the forefront of dissent. Following a strong Adam-God statement delivered by Young during the October 1854 general conference, one member observed, ‘[T]here were some that did not believe the sayings of the Prophet Brigham. Even our beloved Brother Orson Pratt told me that he did not believe it. He said he could prove by the scriptures it was not correct. I felt sorry to hear Professor Orson Pratt say that. I fear lest he should apostatize’ (Gary James Bergera, “The Orson Pratt-Brigham Young Controversies: Conflict Within the Quorum 1853-1868,” Dialogue, A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol.13, No.2, p. 13; citing the journal of Joseph P. Robinson, October 6, 1854. Brackets in original).
If Young really didn’t mean that Adam was God, then why did this conflict go to such lengths? Somebody should have informed Pratt that Young was merely joking.
Third, there were other witnesses to Young’s teaching confirming that the president believed Adam was God. Wilford Woodruff, the fourth president of the church, wrote in his diary:
Meeting Adjourned till evening when the House was filled again. Was Addressed…by Brigham Young…I will now preach you another Sermon. There is one great Master and Head in all kingdoms & g[overnment?]. So with our Father in Heaven. He is a Tabernacle. He Created us in the likeness of his own image. The Son has also a Tabernacle like the Father & the Holy Ghost is a minister to the people but not a tabernacle. Who begat the Son of God? Infidels say that Jesus was a Bastard but let me tell you the truth Concerning that matter. Our Father begat all the spirits that were before any tabernacles were made. When our Father came into the Garden He came with his celestial body & brought one of his wifes with him & eat of the fruit of the garden untill He could begat a tabernacle. And Adam is Michael or God And all the God that we have any thing to do with. They Eat of this fruit & formed the first Tabernacle that was formed. And when the VIRGIN MARY was begotton with Child it was By the Father and in no other way ownly as we were begotton. I will tell you the truth as it is in God. The world dont know that Jesus Christ Our Elder Brother was begotton by our Father in Heaven. Handle it as you please. It will either seal the damnation or salvation of m[e/a?]n. He was begotton by the Father & not by the Holy Ghost. When you go to Preach & believe that Jesus Christ was begotton by the Holy Ghost dont lay Hands upon the Heads of Females for the reception of the Holy Ghost lest it Beget her with Child And you be acused. I have told you nothing in this thing but what you have red in the Bible. I do not frame it (Waiting for World’s End: The Diaries of Wilford Woodruff, Susan Staker, ed., p. 150. Recounting Brigham Young’s conference sermon from April 9, 1852. Ellipses, brackets, spelling, and punctuation in original).
Woofruff also wrote,
Some have said that I was vary presumptuous to say that Brother Brigham was my God & Saviour. Brother Joseph was his God. The one that gave Joseph the keys of the kingdom was his God which was Peter. Jesus Christ was his God & the God & Father of Jesus Christ was Adam (Waiting for World’s End: The Diaries of Wilford Woodruff, Susan Staker, ed., p. 150. Recounting Heber C. Kimball’s conference sermon from April 10, 1852. Spelling and punctuation in original).
And, for good measure, add this:
Some have thought it strange what I have said Concerning Adam But the period will Come when this people of faithful will be willing to adopt Joseph Smith as their Prophet Seer Revelator & God But not the father of their spirits for that was our Father Adam (Waiting for World’s End: The Diaries of Wilford Woodruff, Susan Staker, ed., p. 299. Recounting Brigham Young’s sermon from December 11, 1869. Spelling and punctuation in original).
Although some like Smith say Young was taken out of context, others like Apostle Bruce R. McConkie said Young was just a capital “C” contradiction. He explained:
Yes, President Young did teach that Adam was the father of our spirits, and all the related things that the cultists ascribe to him. This, however, is not true. He expressed views that are out of harmony with the gospel. But, be it known, Brigham Young also taught accurately and correctly, the status and position of Adam in the eternal scheme of things. What I am saying is that Brigham Young, contradicted Brigham Young, and the issue becomes one of which Brigham Young we will believe. The answer is we will believe the expressions that accord with the teachings in the Standard Works. (Bruce R. McConkie, Letter to Eugene England, February 19, 1981, p. 6).
Regardless of whether or not Young really taught this, President Spencer W. Kimball warned his followers about this teaching:
We warn you against the dissemination of doctrines which are not according to the scriptures and which are alleged to have been taught by some of the General Authorities of past generations. Such, for instance, is the Adam-God theory. We denounce that theory and hope that everyone will be cautioned against this and other kinds of false doctrine (“Adam-God Theory Denounced,” Church News, October 9, 1976, p. 11).
Another teaching that Webb says should not be considered as a serious teaching by Young is blood atonement. He writes,
Young’s public speech was often not intended to be taken literally. Take, for example, his chilling advocacy of blood atonement for capital crimes, which Young presented as “a form of spiritual charity.” While it is true that Young promoted this doctrine off and on for several years, it is best understood as a produce of his theatrical flair rather than a serious judicial proposal. (132)
Was this really “theatrical flair”? What exactly does that phrase even mean?
To better understand Young, let’s hear what he had to say:
Suppose you found your brother in bed with your wife, and put a javelin through both of them, you would be justified, and they would atone for their sins, and be received into the kingdom of God. I would at once do so in such a case; and under such circumstances, I have no wife whom I love so well that I would not put a javelin through her heart, and I would do it with clean hands (March 16, 1856, Journal of Discourses 3:247).
There are sins that men commit for which they cannot receive forgiveness in this world, or in that which is to come, and if they had their eyes open to see their true condition, they would be perfectly willing to have their blood spilt upon the ground, that the smoke thereof might ascend to heaven as an offering for their sins; and the smoking incense would atone for their sins, whereas, if such is not the case, they will stick to them and remain upon them in the spirit world. I know, when you hear my brethren telling about cutting people off from the earth, that you consider it is strong doctrine; but it is to save them, not to destroy them (September 21, 1856, Journal of Discourses 4:53).
I do know that there are sins committed, of such a nature that if the people did understand the doctrine of salvation, they would tremble because of their situation. And furthermore, I know that there are transgressors, who, if they knew themselves, and the only condition upon which they can obtain forgiveness, would beg of their brethren to shed their blood, that the smoke thereof might ascend to God as an offering to appease the wrath that is kindled against them, and that the law might have its course. I will say further; I have had men come to me and offer their lives to atone for their sins (September 21, 1856, Journal of Discourses 4:53-54).
It is true that the blood of the Son of God was shed for sins through the fall and those committed by men, yet men can commit sins which it can never remit (September 21, 1856, Journal of Discourses 4:54).
Now take a person in this congregation who has knowledge with regard to being saved in the kingdom of our God and our Father, and being exalted, one who knows and understands the principles of eternal life, and sees the beauty and excellency of the eternities before him compared with the vain and foolish things of the world, and suppose that he is overtaken in a gross fault, that he has committed a sin that he knows will deprive him of that exaltation which he desires, and that he cannot attain to it without the shedding of his blood, and also knows that by having his blood shed he will atone for that sin, and be saved and exalted with the Gods, is there a man of woman in this house but what would say, ‘shed my blood that I may be saved and exalted with the Gods?’(February 8, 1857, Journal of Discourses, 4:219).
All mankind love themselves, and let these principles be known by an individual, and he would be glad to have his blood shed. That would be loving themselves, even unto an eternal exaltation. Will you love your brothers or sisters likewise, when they have committed a sin that cannot be atoned for without the shedding of their blood? Will you love that man or woman well enough to shed their blood? That is what Jesus Christ meant (February 8, 1857, Journal of Discourses, 4:219, 220).
I could refer you to plenty of instances where men have been righteously slain, in order to atone for their sins. I have seen scores and hundreds of people for whom there would have been a chance (in the last resurrection there will be) if their lives had been taken and their blood spilled on the ground as a smoking incense to the Almighty, but who are now angels to the devil, until our elder brother Jesus Christ raises them up—conquers death, hell, and the grave. I have known a great many men who have left this Church for whom there is no chance whatever for exaltation, but if their blood had been spilled, it would have been better for them. The wickedness and ignorance of the nations forbid this principle’s being in full force, but the time will come when the law of God will be in full force. This is loving our neighbor as ourselves; if he needs help, help him; and if he wants salvation and it is necessary to spill his blood on the earth in order that he may be saved, spill it (February 8, 1857, Journal of Discourses, 4:220).
What proof does Webb have to show that these words are nothing more than “theatrical flair”? Regardless of whether or not he would stab an adulterer in bed, Young truly believed that one’s own blood could pay for sins. If the author is a Ph.D. and a scholar, then what scholarship does he have to offer to change professional opinion? Just as he does with the Adam-God “theory,” Webb provides nothing than mere opinion. And mere opinion along with $3.59 will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks.
Whether or not he exaggerated, a number of Young’s followers did take him seriously. Consider:
Though Young’s references to blood atonement were probably hyperbole, they may have prompted some overzealous members to put the doctrine into practice. In March 1857, William Parrish and several of his family and friends decided to leave the Church and the community at Springville. They were murdered under suspicious circumstances, and although the perpetrators were never found, a number of commentators associated the deeds with the doctrine of blood atonement (Thomas Alexander, “Wilford Woodruff and the Mormon Reformation of 1855-1857,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol.25, No.2, pp. 27-28).
As far as this teaching is concerned, succeeding LDS leaders also taught in the idea that the blood of a person needed to be sacrificed to atone for personal sins. Listen to what members of the First Presidency said about this issue:
Judas lost that saving principle, and they [the 11 Apostles] took him and killed him. It is said in the Bible that his bowels gushed out; but they actually kicked him until his bowels came out (Heber C. Kimball, December 13, 1857, Journal of Discourses 6:125-126. Brackets mine).
I have not a doubt but there will be hundreds who will leave us and go away to our enemies. I wish they would go this fall: it might relieve us from much trouble; for if men turn traitors to God and His servants, their blood will surely be shed, or else they will be damned, and that too according to their covenants (Heber C. Kimball, August 16, 1857, Journal of Discourses 4:375).
I say, that there are men and women that I would advise to go to the President immediately, and ask him to appoint a committee to attend to their ease; and then let a place be selected, and let that committee shed their blood. We have those amongst us that are full of all manner of abominations, those who need to have their blood shed, for water will not do, their sins are of too deep a dye. You may think that I am not teaching you Bible doctrine, but what [p. 50] says the apostle Paul? I would ask bow many covenant breakers there are in this city and in this kingdom. I believe that there are a great many; and if they are covenant breakers we need a place designated, where we can shed their blood (Jedediah M.Grant, September 21, 1856, Journal of Discourses 4:49-50).
Brethren and sisters, we want you to repent and forsake your sins. And you who have committed sins that cannot be forgiven through baptism, let your blood be shed, and let the smoke ascend, that the incense thereof may come up before God as an atonement for your sins, and that the sinners in Zion may be afraid (Jedediah M. Grant, September 21, 1856, Journal of Discourses 4:51).
Tenth president Joseph Fielding Smith was an advocate of saying that one’s own blood could atone for sins. He wrote:
But man may commit certain grievous sins — according to his light and knowledge — that will place him beyond the reach of the atoning blood of Christ. If then he would be saved, he must make sacrifice of his Own life to atone — so far as in his power lies — for that sin, for the blood of Christ alone under certain circumstances will not avail . . . Joseph Smith taught that there were certain sins so grievous that man may commit, that they will place the transgressors beyond the power of the atonement of Christ. If these offenses are committed, then the blood of Christ will not cleanse them from their sins even though they repent. Therefore their only hope is to have their own blood shed to atone, as far as possible, in their behalf (Doctrines of Salvation 1:134-5).
Even though he taught that Young was taken out of context, Apostle Bruce R. McConkie admitted,
But under certain circumstances there are some serious sins for which the cleansing of Christ does not operate, and the law of God is that men must then have their own blood shed to atone for their sins (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 1966, p. 92).
This idea is explained in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism:
The doctrines of the Church affirm that the Atonement wrought by the shedding of the blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is efficacious for the sins of all who believe, repent, are baptized by one having authority, and receive the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. However, if a person thereafter commits a grievous sin such as the shedding of innocent blood, the Savior’s sacrifice alone will not absolve the person of the consequences of the sin. Only by voluntarily submitting to whatever penalty the Lord may require can that person benefit from the Atonement of Christ (Encyclopedia of Mormonism 1:131).
To use the Adam-God doctrine and blood atonement as examples of teachings not given in early Mormonism is very misleading.
Webb acknowledges some differences between Mormonism and historic Christianity—including original sin—he still feels that Mormonism should be considered part of the root of Christianity. Rarely referring to the Bible or other authoritative sources, Webb rants and raves while using his own presuppositions to guide him. Someone on Amazon said the book was well written, but I object. He moves in so many directions and gets off topic numerous times that it was difficult to follow his thinking.
And he had plenty of prejudices. For example, he apparently has a beef with Calvinism, which he criticized several times throughout the book. For example, consider this classic straw man fallacy found on page 57:
Even Christians who are not Protestant have been influenced by the Reformation’s insistence that salvation is a gift that comes through faith alone. This is often taken to mean—especially in theological circles influenced by John Calvin—that all of our interactions with the divine should be passive and thus any attempt to influence God is an insult to God’s freedom and authority. According to Calvinism, God chooses those who will be the recipients of grace, and there is nothing we can do to alter the divine plan. In fact, God is impervious to our please and petitions because God is not affected by any of our actions.
First of all, what does Calvinism have to do with Mormonism? And where did Webb come up with the idea that Calvinists believe that being passive with God is a godly trait. Of course, with no bibliography, footnotes, or end notes, everything turns out to be his personal opinion. I’m not sure that this type of writing should be considered scholarly, which is what the author (owner of a Ph.D.) should have been aiming.
Oh, there is a bit of philosophy mixed in with personal rants (such as his diatribe for four pages on Calvinism in the book’s last chapter–as if this has anything to do with the topic), which only makes the book feel disjointed and irrelevant. Honestly, if you want to learn about Mormonism from a Mormon’s perspective, then I suggest Gospel Principles, an LDS Church manual, that would provide the basics to this faith? Or, better yet, read a book from a Mormon General Authority who will have no problem saying how Mormonism is Christian. However, none of them will argue that Catholics or Protestants are “Mormons.” They understand that, while calling Mormonism “Christian,” there are differences marking Mormonism, which they believe is the true restoration of the gospel. If this doesn’t work, then perhaps you’d like to check out a host of books out there written by Evangelical Christians that will show the differences between the religions.
Based on Webb’s analysis, I am wondering which topic Webb will tackle next. How about “Buddhist Christianity”? “Hare Krishna Christianity”? “Jim Jones’ Christianity”? “FLDS (Warren Jeffs’) Christianity”? Mr. Webb, where do we stop?
In fact, if Mormons are Christians (synonymous), then I wonder if Christians (like Webb considers himself and I think I am too) are Mormon? Indeed, I find it ironic that no Latter-day Saint would claim Webb is a Christian in the full sense of the term. After all, he does not have the LDS priesthood, has never been married for time and eternity in the LDS temple, and was baptized improperly. When he dies, no Latter-day Saint will say he is headed for the Celestial kingdom–impossible! So why can’t we just say that Mormonism is a unique religion with unique teachings and a unique system of authority? Take it for what it is, but why do we have to confuse the issue by calling every way of though Christian?
Brigham Young certainly didn’t think those outside his church were headed in the right direction. He wrote,
And virtually all the millions of apostate Christendom have abased themselves before the mythical throne of a mythical Christ whom they vainly suppose to be a spirit essence who is incorporeal uncreated, immaterial and three-in-one with the Father and Holy Spirit. (Brigham Young, July 8, 1863, Journal of Discourses 10:230).
That portion of the world in which so-called Christianity prevails — as distinguished from heathen or Mohammedan lands — is called Christendom. The term also applies to the whole body of supposed Christian believers; as now constituted this body is properly termed apostate Christendom (Mormon Doctrine, 1966, p. 131).
And sixth LDS president Joseph F. Smith explained,
…for I contend that the Latter-day Saints are the only good and true Christians, that I know anything about in the world. There are a good many people who profess to be Christians, but they are not founded on the foundation that Jesus Christ himself has laid (November 2, 1891, [Stake conference message], Collected Discourses, 2:305. Ellipses mine).
Honestly, I would not waste good money on a book like this with no scholarly research. In fact, there’s no bibliography, no footnotes/endnotes, and no other resources involved. Rather, we are supposed to accept “Mormon Christianity” based merely on the opinion of Stephen Webb, a man who just recently joined the Catholic Church in the past few years. No, I rarely give a book one star, as I usually try to find something of redeeming value. (And yes, I read it cover to cover.) Alas, this is one of those books I really feel is a rip-off. I’m just hoping I can resell this book to get most of my money back.