by Sharon Lindbloom
5 March 2018
Latter-day Saint Taylor Christensen recently posted a heartfelt video that begins, “This is not an anti-Mormon video.” Taylor talks about his own journey through so-called anti-Mormon information as he sought to understand why so many people were leaving the Mormon Church. In the process, Taylor discovered difficult truths about Mormon history including (but not limited to) problems with the multiple accounts of the First Vision, problems with the content and translation of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith’s false prophecies, changes in LDS Church doctrines, racism in the Church, and many very troubling aspects surrounding Joseph Smith’s polygamy. Taylor tells his audience he discovered that what he had always been told was “anti-Mormon” was really nothing other than the true history of the LDS Church. Through all of this Taylor has maintained his testimony of the truthfulness of Mormonism’s restored gospel and tries to help others who may doubt when confronted with these facts.
In what sounds like an effort to justify the LDS Church’s tremendous problems, problems made evident by the true history of Mormonism, Taylor says,
“What would mortality look like if the Book of Mormon was so flawless, and was supported by so much historical evidence, that no arguments could be made against it. What if Joseph Smith was so perfect in his statements, actions, and prophecies that no one could ever question his prophetic calling. And what if the church’s doctrine and policies remained so pure and so untainted over time that no one could ever question their source. Well if this were the case, our beliefs would be created by historical evidence, rather than godly influence. It becomes so hard for people to continue believing when they find so much evidence against the church, but very little for it. But what we often forget is that where there is evidence, there is no room for faith. But where there is no evidence, we rely on faith. And faith is the foundation of Christianity.”
There are several points in Taylor’s statement that would be worth further exploration. He implies that the Book of Mormon, the book the LDS Church claims is “the most correct of any book on earth” is so flawed and has so many historical problems that there is more evidence against it than for it. He admits that Joseph Smith was imperfect in his prophecies – which is definite evidence (from a biblical standpoint) that Joseph Smith was a false prophet. He suggests that the doctrines of the “only true and living Church upon the face of the whole earth” have become “tainted” over time, the church apparently falling into the same pattern of apostasy that Mormonism claims was the original reason the true church had to be restored. But the specific point I want to explore here is Taylor’s assertion that “where there is evidence, there is no room for faith…And faith is the foundation of Christianity.”
While faith is foundational (not the foundation) for Christianity, what Taylor seems to be advocating here is a type of blind faith. In the face of all the negative evidence he’s discovered — the many reasons that Mormonism cannot really be what it claims to be — Taylor suggests that it is a virtue to believe anyway. Believing when you have evidence, he reasons, is belief without the necessary “faith” component that is central to Christianity.
I don’t mean to pick on Taylor. His remarks in the video are clearly from his heart, with the goal of encouraging Latter-day Saints to be kind to those who have left the Church. I’ve encountered Taylor’s idea, that evidence nullifies faith, from other Latter-day Saints as well; Taylor’s is just the most recent example I’ve come across. The faith-vs-evidence proposition leads me to conclude that Taylor, and others, don’t understand the nature of biblical faith.
In the Bible we learn that God places a high premium on evidence. For example, He provided evidence in the form of fulfilled prophecies to prove to the Jews that Jesus was the true Messiah. He provided evidence (a display of His mighty power) so that the Israelites “believed in the Lord” as they fled Egypt for the unknown that lay ahead (Exodus 14:31). God repeatedly tells us to look at the evidence when someone claims to be speaking for Him or presents a new teaching to determine the truth (Deuteronomy 13:1-5, 18:20-22; 1 Thessalonians 5:21; 1 John 4:1; Acts 17:11). Jesus provided evidence of His resurrection to hundreds of people, and highly specific evidence to Thomas in order to alleviate Thomas’ doubts (1 Corinthians 15:6; John 20:24-28). God calls us to love Him, not only with our hearts, but also with our minds — all the while calling us to live by faith (Matthew 22:37; Romans 1:17). God is not anti-evidence; He clearly does not subscribe to the idea that “where there is evidence, there is no room for faith.”
Sometimes people appeal to a passage in 2 Corinthians to support a position against evidential faith. Here Paul encourages Christian believers not to lose heart in the struggles of this world because “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison…So we are always of good courage,” Paul says, “for we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 4:16- 5:7). This is the essence of faith. Paul is not telling Christians that we must believe without evidence, he is telling us to trust God and His promises. This trust is rooted in the observed character and power of God (evidence), and these promises have been confirmed by the resurrection of Christ (more evidence). As a matter of fact, Paul begins this section of scripture explaining that frail human believers carry the treasure of the gospel “in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). God was intentional to provide evidence yet again.
And He expects us to examine and utilize the evidence He provides. In Matthew 16 the Pharisees and Sadducees approached Jesus and demanded a sign from Heaven that would prove He was the Messiah. Jesus told them that He had already given them plenty of signs, and He scolded them for refusing to accept the clear evidence provided. Yet He promised them one more sign to come: the evidence of His future crucifixion, burial, and resurrection.
There’s a distinction sometimes missed between believing that something is true and believing in something. God has provided lots of evidence in order that we may believe that He is a mighty God, or that Jesus is the true Messiah (for example). Evidence gives us strong reasons to believe, though it may not always be enough to be called proof. But if the truth of these things were proven by overwhelming evidence, we would still need faith to believe in the things we have not yet seen – the fulfillment of the promises God has made to us. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you,” God says (Isaiah 43:2). It takes faith to live without fear, trusting God to keep His promise.
Jesus told His disciples,
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also…I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:1-3, 6).
When Jesus said this, He was standing right there, right in front of His closest followers. They could see Him. They could touch Him. They could hear Him. But they needed faith to believe Him. Based on evidence, they believed that Jesus was the Messiah. Based on faith, they believed in His testimony: He was indeed the way, the truth, and the life.
Christian apologist J. Warner Wallace wrote about the intersection of evidence and faith:
“As I speak around the country, I often encounter devoted, committed Christians who are hesitant to embrace an evidential faith. In many Christian circles, faith that requires evidential support is seen as weak and inferior. For many, blind faith (a faith that simply trusts without question) is the truest, most sincere, and most valuable form of faith that we can offer God. Yet Jesus seemed to have a high regard for evidence. In John 14:11, He told those watching Him to examine ‘the evidence of the miracles’ (NIV) if they did not believe what He said about His identity. Even after the resurrection, Jesus stayed with His disciples for an additional forty days and provided them with ‘many convincing proofs’ that He was resurrected and was who He claimed to be (Acts 1:2-3 NIV). Jesus understood the role and value of evidence and the importance of developing an evidential faith.” (Cold Case Christianity, 51-51)
The idea that evidence nullifies faith is clearly invalidated by God Himself. Taylor chooses to disregard evidences that challenge His Mormon faith; at the same time, he flips the absence of evidence for his faith from a genuine negative to an imagined positive. “What we often forget is that where there is evidence, there is no room for faith,” he says. Not true, according to the Bible.
God values evidence; He provides plenty of it, that our faith may be informed and rooted in truth. There is no virtue in believing a lie, Taylor. Jesus says it is the truth that will set us free (John 8:32). Do you have the faith to believe Him?