By Eric Johnson
Most of the talks delivered at the April 2020 General Conference focused on the bicentennial of Joseph Smith’s “First Vision” of God the Father and Jesus, the Book of Mormon, and a series of topics that can be accurately described as benign and noncontroversial. However, Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland came through once again with an interesting Sunday morning session talk titled “A Perfect Brightness of Hope” (Ensign, May 2020, pp. 81-84). (I invite the reader to look up his talk before reading my response. Just click on the link.) It was like biting into a hidden jalapeno pepper in the casserole, causing this Evangelical Christian reader to sit up straight in his chair and pay attention.
Holland aimed seven criticisms at Christians and the historical Christian church. While I believe he meant his words to be offensive to Christians–even though his talk was given to Latter-day Saints at a general conference–I do appreciate how he drew a line in the sand to show how Mormonism and Christianity are two different belief systems.
Here are his seven points in the order in which they appeared in his talk:
1. Christianity’s Corrupted God
Holland began this way:
Last October, President Russell M. Nelson invited us to look ahead to this April 2020 conference by each of us in our own way looking back to see the majesty of God’s hand in restoring the gospel of Jesus Christ. Sister Holland and I took that prophetic invitation seriously. We imagined ourselves living in the early 1800s, looking at the religious beliefs of that day. In that imagined setting, we asked ourselves, “What’s missing here? What do we wish we had? What do we hope God will provide in response to our spiritual longing?” Well, for one thing, we realized that two centuries ago we would have dearly hoped for the restoration of a truer concept of God than most in that day had, hidden as He often seemed to be behind centuries of error and misunderstanding.
When Holland references “centuries of error and misunderstanding,” he is talking about what he feels are false teachings propagated by Christian pastors/churches that were around in Joseph Smith’s day and even long before. Remember, it was Smith himself who was supposedly told by God the Father and Jesus in the LDS scripture Pearl of Great Price that
. . . all their [the Christian] creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors [pastors] were all corrupt; that: “they [pastors and ultimately modern Christians] draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof” (Joseph Smith-History 1:19).
Apostle Bruce R. McConkie agreed that the “true concept” of God was lost in what LDS leaders call the Great Apostasy:
It follows that the devil would rather spread false doctrine about God and the Godhead, and induce false feelings with reference to any one of them, than almost any other thing he could do. The creeds of Christendom illustrate perfectly what Lucifer wants so-called Christian people to believe about Deity in order to be damned (BYU Devotional “Our Relationship with the Lord,” p. 3).
McConkie also wrote,
The whole Christian world, in the days of the Prophet, believed falsely that God was a mystical spirit essence that filled the immensity of space and was everywhere and nowhere in particular present — all of which proved only that they were all heretics, that the apostasy was universal. Heresy is false doctrine (Mormon Doctrine, 1966, p. 352).
In many ways Mormonism disagrees with the historical Christian belief about God the Father. For example, it is popular today for many to say that we have “a caring Father in Heaven, rather than a harsh judge dispensing stern justice or as an absentee landlord who had once been engaged in earthly matters but was now preoccupied somewhere else in the universe.” The grandfather-like being who holds His children in His loving arms seems to be a more appealing image for many like Holland rather than a God who punishes sin. However, God’s justice does not negate His love; He has both attributes. For instance, Jeremiah 9:24 explains, “But let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” Romans 12:19 adds, “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”
Holland’s description of God “as an absentee landlord” resonates more with a deistic worldview than a theistic one. According to Deism, God is transcendent (beyond this world) but is not immanent (hand-on presence in this world). Theism (Christianity) says God is both transcendent and immanent. While Deists don’t agree with miracles because they believe God would not involve Himself in humanity’s affairs and risk breaking natural laws, Christians relish the fact that God is a God of miracles as ascertained in the Bible. Without the Resurrection of Jesus, for instance, Christian believers would be left with no hope (1 Cor. 15:17-19).
2. Christianity’s Judgmental God
In his 2020 conference talk, Holland continued:
Yes, our hopes in 1820 would have been to find God speaking and guiding as openly in the present as He did in the past, a true Father, in the most loving sense of that word. He certainly would not have been a cold, arbitrary autocrat who predestined a select few for salvation and then consigned the rest of the human family to damnation. No, He would be one whose every action, by divine declaration, would be “for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world” and every inhabitant in it. That love would be His ultimate reason for sending Jesus Christ, His Only Begotten Son, to the earth.
According to Holland, Christian pastors paint a portrait of God who apparently has no further interest in communicating with humanity, in contrast to the God of Mormonism who wants to share His mind and expectations for humans through LDS Church leaders. Holland claims that Christianity’s God is a “cold, arbitrary autocrat” who only allows a few people to receive salvation while condemning everybody else to hell. Holland’s description is a perfect example of a straw man fallacy as he portrays a capricious God who delights in being mean and unfair to the creatures whom He is supposed to love.
However, the Bible teaches in a just God and the reality of an eternal hell, as Jesus even said in Matthew 7:13-14 that “wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat. Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” Notice, it wasn’t broad the road to life but rather narrow. Hell is spoken of in the Bible twice as often as heaven; Jesus describes this as a horrible place marked by eternal separation from God. Meanwhile, love is what identifies God as God. First John 4:7 says, “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.” Unless we get our understanding about God from the Bible rather than manufacturing our belief based primarily on personal likes, we can never be sure that our understanding of God is true.
Called by Joseph Smith as the “most correct book on earth,” the Book of Mormon describes an “everlasting hell” where people will be bound forever (i.e., 1 Nephi 12:16, 14:3, 15:29,35; 2 Nephi 1:13-15, 2:29, 4:32, 9:10-36, 15:14, 24:9, 15; 26:10, 28:15-23, 33:6; Jacob 3:11, 7:18; Alma 5:6-10, 12:11, 54:7, 11, 22; Helaman 6:28; Mormon 8:17, 9:4; Moroni 8:13, 14, 21). If the Bible and the Book of Mormon are trustworthy scriptural sources, then Holland’s caricature of hell appears to go against him.
While Holland would like to have his people think that Mormonism’s version of God is more fair by allowing all humans to go to one of three kingdoms of glory, not all Latter-day Saints will receive celestial glory, which is true eternal life. In fact, tenth President Joseph Fielding Smith explained:
NOT HALF THE LATTER-DAY SAINTS TO BE SAVED. Those who receive the fulness will be privileged to view the face of our Father. There will not be such an overwhelming number of the Latter-day Saints who will get there. President Francis M. Lyman many times has declared, and he had reason to declare, I believe, that if we save one-half of the Latter-day Saints, that is, with an exaltation in the celestial kingdom of God, we will be doing well. Not that the Lord is partial, not that he will draw the line as some will say, to keep people out. He would have every one of us go in if we would; but there are laws and ordinances that we must keep; if we do not observe the law we cannot enter (Doctrines of Salvation 2:15).
Some have described the terrestrial and telestial kingdoms—apparently not bad places, in and of themselves, though nowhere close to the celestial kingdom—as somewhat of a hell because of the regret they will have of not being allowed to live with their families throughout eternity. Apostle John Widtsoe explained,
Now, it may be contended that a judgment, with some degree of salvation for all, encourages the sinner to pursue his dark ways. Not so. However generous the judgment, it is measured by our works. Our punishment will be the heavy regret that we might have received a greater reward, a higher kingdom, had our lives conformed more nearly to truth. Such remorse may yield keener pain than physical torture” (An Understandable Religion, p. 89).
Meanwhile, a third of humanity’s spirit brothers and sisters in the preexistence—which would be at least several billion spirits—are apparently headed to Outer Darkness, Mormonism’s version of everlasting hell reserved for the sons of perdition. Smith wrote,
Outer darkness is something which cannot be described, except that we know that it is to be placed beyond the benign and comforting influence of the Spirit of God-banished entirely from his presence. This extreme punishment will not be given to any but the sons of perdition (Doctrines of Salvation 2:220).
With this as a background, consider the following logic. If:
- a minimum of at least a third of all preexistent spirits are headed to Outer Darkness with no chance to escape their punishment throughout eternity based on their committing one sin by rejecting Jesus in the Council in Heaven
- none of those outside the LDS Church who know about Mormonism (let’s assume more than half the world’s population has had a conversation with an LDS missionary and had the gospel presented to them) are eligible for the celestial kingdom because they had a legitimate chance to receive the Gospel in this life and there are no second chances according to Alma 34:32-35
- more than half of all Latter-day Saint members (as stated by Smith above) are not doing what they are supposed to accomplish (including getting married for eternity and failing to keep “the commandments continually” (D&C 25:15) because the requirements are nothing less than impossible
Then isn’t the God of Mormonism just as capricious and culpable as the God described by Holland in his conference talk by prohibiting the vast majority of all preexistent spirits from entering the celestial kingdom? Even if the LDS view of hell does not seem as severe as the one taught in the Bible, as Widtsoe explained, “such remorse may yield keener pain than physical torture” and should be considered just as, if not even more than, severe as the hell criticized by Holland.
- Does God want people in hell?
- 1 Corinthians 15:29
- Why practically nobody—including you, former Mormon—will ever end up in Outer Darkness
3. Christianity’s Missing Jesus
In his talk, Holland continued,
Therefore, we would have hoped for evidence to come to the whole world that would confirm the biblical witness that Jesus is the Christ, the literal Son of God, Alpha and Omega, and the only Savior this world will ever know.
According to Holland, Mormonism’s version of Jesus fixes what was corrupted in Christianity. One church manual explains the origination of Jesus this way: “The oldest child in our heavenly family was Jesus Christ. He is our oldest brother” (Gospel Fundamentals, 2002, p. 5). The Bible, however, says that Jesus is eternally God and is not our “oldest brother.” Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end (Rev. 1:8, 22:13). He was not a product of Heavenly Father and Mother in the preexistence. He has always been God and can be worshiped as the second person of the Trinity. (Among others, see John 1:1, 14; John 8:58 (with Ex. 3:14), 20:28; Col. 1:15-17, 2:9; Phil. 2:5-11. Click here for an article on this issue.)
When it comes to the Virgin Birth, Mormonism teaches that Jesus is (as Holland put it) “the literal son of God.” This means that God the Father—with body, parts, and passion—physically came out of his realm to physically (“literal”) come together with Mary to produce Jesus. Joseph Fielding Smith wrote,
“CHRIST NOT BEGOTTEN OF HOLY GHOST . . . Christ was begotten of God. He was not born without the aid of Man, and that Man was God!” (Doctrines of Salvation 1:18. Italics in original. Ellipsis mine).
Thirteenth President Ezra Taft Benson wrote,
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints proclaims that Jesus Christ is the Son of God in the most literal sense. The body in which He performed His mission in the flesh was sired by that same Holy Being we worship as God, our Eternal Father. Jesus was not the son of Joseph, nor was He begotten by the Holy Ghost (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 7. See also the Church News, December 18, 2004, p. 16).
This is not the Virgin Birth according to the Bible. The end of Matthew 1:18 says that Mary “was found with child of the Holy Ghost.” The conception of Jesus did not involve God the Father, although Mormonism teaches that God, who has a body of flesh and bone, came upon Mary in, as Holland and Benson put it, a “literal” way to produce the physical body of Jesus.
- 10 Reasons Why the Jesus of Mormonism is not the Same as the Jesus of the Bible
- Crash Course Mormonism: Virgin Birth
4. Christianity’s Lost Priesthood
Holland next said,
Observing the Christian world in that day, we would have hoped to find someone authorized by God with true priesthood authority who could baptize us, bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost, and administer all gospel ordinances necessary for exaltation.
In Mormonism, the Great Apostasy that was mentioned earlier meant Christianity’s authority on the earth was lost. Soon after the death of the apostles, there was nobody qualified to help people with their spiritual needs. Joseph Fielding Smith explained,
We believe that when he was on earth in his ministry, our Savior, Jesus Christ, established his Church upon eternal principles, fundamental to the salvation of mankind. We believe that following the death of the ancient apostles, these eternal principles were corrupted and became mixed with pagan philosophy. We believe that the essential ordinances of the gospel were changed and modified by man’s will and not by divine instruction . . . The church had become so corrupted and changed that it became necessary for the opening of the heavens, the coming of heavenly messengers, and a restoration of the primitive faith and divine authority. [DS 1:274.] (Selections from Doctrines of Salvation, p. 311. Ellipsis in original).
However, Mormonism’s priesthood is not of ancient origin. The two types of priesthood recognized in Mormonism today for LDS males were never meant to be bestowed upon Christian believers. The Aaronic priesthood was reserved for those originating from the tribe of Aaron (Levites). Although Genesis 14:18 speaks of a priest of the most high God named Melchizedek, nowhere does the Bible mention a Melchizedek Priesthood per se. Hebrews 5:6 states that Christ is a priest forever after “the order of Melchisedec,” not a Melchizedek priest as Mormonism implies. It is clear in Hebrews 7:24 that the priesthood held by Christ is unchangeable and does not transfer to another since He lives forever.
5. Christianity’s Non-authoritative Marriages
In 1820, we would have hoped to see fulfilled the eloquent promises of Isaiah, Micah, and other ancient prophets regarding the return of the majestic house of the Lord. We would have thrilled to see the glory of holy temples established again, with the Spirit, the ordinances, the power, and the authority to teach eternal truths, heal personal wounds, and bind families together forever. I would have looked anywhere and everywhere to find someone authorized to say to me and my beloved Patricia that our marriage in such a setting was sealed for time and all eternity, never to hear or have imposed on us the haunting curse “until death do you part.” I know that “in [our] Father’s house are many mansions,” but, speaking personally, if I were to be so fortunate as to inherit one of them, it could be no more to me than a decaying shack if Pat and our children were not with me to share that inheritance.
To Holland, being with his wife in eternity seems to be a bigger priority than being with Jesus. At the temple open house events, a video is played to visitors in a stake center’s room before they are allowed to walk through the inside of the temple. In the video Holland explains,
I don’t know how to speak about heaven in the traditional, lovely, paradisaical, beauty that we speak of heaven – I wouldn’t know how to speak of heaven without my wife, my children. It would, it would not be heaven for me.
However, Jesus didn’t believe families would be “forever.” And when we look at the topic logically, it’s not even possible for families to be together forever. While Christians do hope to be with other Christians—including spouses, parents, and children—this is not the goal of heaven. Instead, the hope is to be with Jesus forever.
6. Christianity’s MIA Works for the Dead
And for our ancestors, some of whom lived and died anciently without even hearing the name of Jesus Christ, we would have hoped for that most just and merciful of biblical concepts to be restored—the practice of the living offering up saving ordinances on behalf of their kindred dead. No practice I can imagine would demonstrate with more splendor a loving God’s concern for every one of His earthly children no matter when they lived nor where they died.
The ability for Latter-day Saints to perform works in one of the many LDS temples on behalf of their deceased ancestors and provide them an opportunity to accept the Gospel in spirit prison is not a biblical concept. Hebrews 9:27 says, “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment,” while 2 Corinthians 6;2 says that “behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” Alma 34:32-35 says that no work on earth can be done for those who have already died:
32 For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors.
33 And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed.
34 Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world.
35 For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked.
Of course, Mormons have often utilized certain biblical verses to support the idea that work for the dead is a viable and worthwhile endeavor; this is even the main reason for the existence of LDS temples. However, these select passages do not say what Mormons have claimed them to be. Check out the second article below for a closer look at 1 Corinthians 15:29. The original intention of baptism for the dead was to provide the Gospel to those relatives who never had a chance to hear it in this life. Thus, even if baptism for the dead is available for those who never heard the LDS Gospel, today it would be safe to say that several billion people have had encounters with LDS missionaries and are fully aware of what is required by Mormonism for the celestial kingdom.
7. Christianity’s Clueless Response
Brothers and sisters, we know what some of the religious deficiencies in the early 19th century were. Furthermore, we know something of today’s religious shortcomings that still leave the hunger and hope of some unfulfilled. We know a variety of those dissatisfactions are leading some away from traditional ecclesiastical institutions. We also know, as one frustrated writer wrote, that “many religious leaders [of the day] seem clueless” in addressing this kind of decline, offering in response “a thin gruel of therapeutic deism, cheap symbolic activism, carefully couched heresy, [or sometimes just] uninspiring nonsense” —and all at a time when the world needs so much more, when the rising generation deserves so much more, and when in Jesus’s day He offered so much more.
Holland cites R.J. Snell from the Witherspoon Institute (“Quiet Hope: A New Year’s Resolution,” 12/31/19) out of context to critique the Christian churches. According to Holland’s take on the article, the churches have “deficiencies” and “shortcomings” that leave people hungry and hopeless. They are “clueless” and offer a response of “a thin gruel of therapeutic deism, cheap symbolic activism, carefully couched heresy, uninspiring nonsense.” In contrast, he claims that Mormonism offers hope, which was the purpose of his talk.
The question is, what type of hope does Mormonism offer? A book was recently written by Holland’s junior apostle, Neil Andersen, titled The Divine Gift of Forgiveness. Many Latter-day Saints are clinging to this book as “good news” and filled with hope. But, as I show in my review, Andersen offers nothing more than what is presented in The Miracle of Forgiveness, a 1969 written by twelfth President Spencer W. Kimball in 1969. According to both Andersen and Kimball, one is required to keep the commandments in order to have a decent shot at qualifying for the celestial kingdom. The problem is that, generally, Latter-day Saints realize that they’re not keeping the commandments of God! It’s a long article, I will admit, but if you have read Kimball’s book, you ought to check out the review here and see if what Kimball taught has changed in the past half century.
Holland paints a picture of a Christianity that offers no hope, yet this is exactly what the Bible offers to believers. Romans 15:4 says, “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” First Corinthians 2:9 adds, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” And the Christian receives hope that eternal life is not a pie-in-the-sky dream but a reality. First John 5:13 says, “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” The response God offers is anything but clueless.
These are the seven ways that Jeffrey R. Holland attacks Christianity and, as a result, Bible-believing Christians all over the world. In order to have a “perfect brightness of hope,” Holland says we must look to the LDS Church. If you are a Latter-day Saint, I invite you to take a closer look at these points and see if Christianity is as lame, even deceptive, as Holland makes it out to be. I encourage you to read some of those “Further Reading” articles found at the end of each point. If Holland is right, then a further investigation should only prove his point and strengthen your faith. Or is it possible he could be wrong? Only your personal research can answer that question.
For other articles and podcasts on Holland’s teachings, click on any of these:
- Jeffrey Holland and the Determination of God
- Tempe Rescue
- Having it Our Way
- Credit for Trying and podcasts on “Credit for Trying” (April 2016 Conference Talk) June 20-24, 2016 Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5
- Podcasts on “Knowing the Godhead” January 11-15, 2016: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Blog
- Podcasts on “Standing Together for the Cause of Christ” (Holland/Ensign) November 26-30, 2012 Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5
- Podcasts on “Being Perfect Eventually” (Jeffrey R. Holland’s October 2017 General Conference Talk) October 16-20, 2017 Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5