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Book Review: What is Mormonism All About: Answers to the 150 Most Commonly Asked Questions about the (LDS) Church

By W.F. Walker Johanson
Reviewed by Eric Johnson

The title of this book is catchy…if you have a little time to wade through all the words. Yet according to the front cover, W.F. Walker Johanson promises to give LDS answers 150 common questions asked about the Mormon Church.

According to biography on the back cover, Johanson was raised in three different Protestant denominations before joining the LDS Church at the late age of 30. He has served a number of church positions, including in the bishopric and the stake presidency. He is currently a marketing strategist in Virginia.

Johanson acknowledges the fact that Mormonism has a number of critics, yet he believes that this religion is true. He writes on page 8,

“There are those who are hostile to the Mormon Church, who claim that Mormons worship Joseph Smith. [straw man logical fallacy: he should name just one person who claims this] This is not so. There are those who claim that Mormons worship Mormon. [again, name somebody] This is not so. There are those who claim that Mormons do not worship Jesus Christ and therefore are not Christians. This is certainly not so, as Mormons are committed, dedicated Christians who see themselves as having been ‘born again’ at Baptism, and as taking upon themselves the name of Jesus Christ, and who believe that there is no other way to salvation except through the grace and Atonement, sacrifice and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Despite Johanson’s supposed background in Presbyterianism, Congregationalism, and Methodism, his book is highly disappointing in several areas. First of all, his answers to many of the questions are short and don’t really scratch below the surface. It appears that he makes a conscientious effort to not cite additional resources, rarely quoting from anything except an occasional biblical or other Standard Works passage. (I doubt that there are more than two dozen references in its 226 pages.)

One example of his short, inadequate answers appears on page 83 as he responds to a question on Mormon archaeology. It is a good question and deserves a thoughtful response. Instead, Johanson offers less than a hundred words insinuating that there have been plenty of archaeological finds in South America, Persia, and the Middle East that somehow support the Book of Mormon. Yet he does not provide a shred of evidence. Earlier, however, he had said that when it comes to Book of Mormon archaeology, “Mormons believe that God will intentionally withhold such hard evidence from mankind, just to test (or ‘prove’) their faith.” (p. 23) Can such a claim really be taken seriously?

When responding to the question “What’s the difference between Protestant denominations and the Mormons?” Johanson refers to a common Mormon idea that the Bible was changed sometime in the Middle Ages and somehow “practices that were not the original practices” were introduced (p. 28). Because the Bible is incomplete and improperly edited, he recommends the Book of Mormon “to clarify some of the more confusing or incomplete passages from the Bible.” (p. 12) Again, he doesn’t provide anything more than personal opinion to support his claims. This is a trait common throughout the book.

Second, Johanson often uses “doublespeak” in his answers. This is common with many Mormons who apparently hope that those who are not LDS—especially evangelical Christians—may casually gloss over and minimize differences. His goal, it is clear, is to have the reader think that Mormonism is synonymous with Christianity. Consider the following quotes from the book to show how this doublespeak is utilized:

  • “Mormonism is a Christian religion….(Mormons) believe that Jesus Christ is the one and only route to salvation, and therefore they proudly proclaim themselves to be Christians.” (p. 1)
  • Writing two paragraphs under the question “What kind of people join the Mormon Church,” he writes in part, “The Mormon Church is truly an ecumenical religion in that it has former members of nearly every faith on earth among its members.” Yet how does this make the LDS Church ecumenical since converts from other faiths are no longer members of these other churches but rather Latter-day Saints? After all, don’t converts to the Mormon religion hold that their newfound church is truer than the churches from where they came?
  • He skirts the issue when it comes to the issue of polygamy on page 51. Instead of dealing with why it was practiced, he concentrates on a statistic (with no source, again) claiming that only 2-3 percent of the men in the 19th century actually participated it. Where he gets his information, we’ll never know. He thus diverts the issue of the reasons behind polygamy, and the likelihood is that a careless questioner may very well be satisfied with such a tactic. It should be noted that former Mormon historian D. Michael Quinn suggests that in 1890, when the LDS Church issued the Manifesto, “10 percent or more of the Utah Mormons might have been involved in polygamy (New Mormon History, p. 170). BYU professor Kathryn Daynes noted in her study titled, “More Wives than One” that one quarter of the population of 19th century Manti, Utah lived in polygamy while it was closer to 40 percent in St. George, Utah” (Salt Lake Tribune, 6/9/03).

Finally, Johanson often uses pejorative adjectives to describe those who dare make the audacious claim that Mormonism is not a Christian religion. One overused moniker is “anti-Mormon,” a word that must have been utilized by Johanson in excess of a hundred times throughout the book’s pages. For example, in his response to the question “Do Mormons ever participate in Bible study groups?” he says that while Mormons study the Bible, “Mormons would usually be unwelcome if fundamentalists, evangelicals, or anti-Mormons were also in the group.” (p. 49) In other word, if you are not ecumenical, then—take your pick—you must be a narrow-minded fundamentalist, evangelical, or anti-Mormon (or maybe you’re all three!) who discriminates against LDS “Christians.”

He raises the war flag when it comes to rhetoric about those he feels are “angry and hostile toward Mormons” and “fundamentalist Christian groups (including some Southern Baptists and other evangelical groups) that are quite hostile toward Mormons.” He concludes this section by insinuating their miscommunication is on purpose, saying,

“Anti-Mormons are also quite quick to (intentionally?) misinterpret and miscommunicate many of the simple beliefs that Mormons hold, by trying to claim that Mormons believe in the Book of Mormon and not the Holy Bible; that Mormons believe Joseph Smith was someone to worship instead of Jesus Christ; and other such misrepresentations.”

On pages 70 and 71 he says that

“it is curious that the Mormons seem to attract a more vocal group of hostility than do most other groups….It is interesting that the strongest anti-Mormon groups are small, but vocal, and tend to be made up of evangelical Christian groups, for whom there are paid ministers who just might be nervous about losing members of their flock to the Mormon faith….In most of these anti-Mormon groups, the local ministers are paid directly by the number of people who are members of his or her congregation, and therefore there is a possible incentive to build up the congregation, and to avoid losing membership to another church.”

In other words, based on the above quotes, if you publicly disagree with Mormonism, you are probably quick to spread false information about the LDS Church in order to make it look bad. For those opposed to Mormonism, Johanson would like everyone to know that you are probably in it for the money, especially for the tithe dollars brought in by Christian congregations. Yet he apparently doesn’t realize that there are very few pastors who are paid to be “anti-Mormons.” Most of those who are on the front lines, including Utah Lighthouse Ministry, Mormonism Research Ministry, and a number of other Christian outreaches to the Latter-day Saints are not the pastors or even leaders in their churches. Jacobson paints with a broad brush in order to turn the “anti-Mormon” into a person with ulterior, evil motives. His name-calling behavior is just not pretty.

There are, he claims on page 35, few sincere Christians. He writes that

“many people visit a few churches and decide which to attend, based on who else is there, or if they like the minister, or if the sermons are good (or short), or if they would like to join the choir, or what time of day the Sunday services are held, and so on, and that’s the basis of their decision. Those approaches are not true for Mormons.”

The Mormon Church, he adds, “has a much more comprehensive and defined set of doctrines than do most Christian denominations.” Nothing like setting the stage to make non-LDS churchgoers look superficial and even sinful. Even Christian bookstores are part of the conspiracy against Mormons because, on page 11, he criticizes them for not carrying Mormon “scholarly” works “for they view them as false and un-Christian. The only Mormon-related materials in most Christian bookstores are anti-Mormon materials.” The question is, how many evangelical Christian books do the Deseret and Seagull bookstores carry?

Quite disconcerting throughout the book is Johanson’s tainted questions, often asked in such a way as to be recognizable as nothing more than straw man questions. Take, for example, these gems: “Don’t Mormons wear old-fashioned black clothes and beards?” “Are there any normal people who are Mormons?” “Aren’t Mormons racists and anti Blacks?” Setting up the questions to make the Mormon look like he is being discriminated against is a common tactic called the argument from pity. Like a politician, Johanson realizes that if you can get the audience to feel sorry for you, perhaps they won’t realize that you are not really answering the questions at hand.

Overall, I cannot recommend this book. It does not offer any adequate answers to the 150 questions posed. I would suggest Johanson go back to the drawing board, eliminate his use of logical fallacies, and do a little research that would involve more than just his mere opinion. Until he does this, his book wastes both paper and, if read, the reader’s time.

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