Mormonism 201: Chapter 12 – Heaven and Hell

Response to Marc A. Schindler
Rejoinder 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."1

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."2

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." 3

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.'"
4

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."5

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."6

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."
7

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.
"8
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."9

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."
10

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: 11

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."12

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." 13

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."14

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. 15
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." 16

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." 17

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?


1
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.

2
Titled "Lifelong member of LDS church praises book for accuracy," July 28, 2000

3
From "ajtlawer" on July 14, 2002

4
Answers to Gospel Questions, Vol.2, p.69

5
Doctrines of Salvation 3:203

6
Stand Ye In Holy Places, pp.109-110

7
Messages of the First Presidency, Vol.6, p.209

8
The House of the Lord, p.27.

9
Biblical Mormonism: Responding to Evangelical Criticism of LDS Theology
(Horizon, 1994), p. 13.

10
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."

11
Vol. 23, no. 4, http://www.equip.org/free/DM807.htm

12
Journal of Discourses 1:51

13
Journal of Discourses 4:1.

14
LDS Church News, 9 October 1976, p. 11

15
Journal of Discourses 11:286

16
The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, p. 3

17
Doctrines of Salvation 1:8