Evangelical Christians and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (abbreviated “LDS,” with the followers referred to as “Latter-day Saints” or “Mormons” and the religion known as “Mormonism”) face barriers when trying to communicate with each other on doctrinal issues. This is because adherents of these faiths share many of the same theological terms—including God, Jesus, and salvation by grace—but these familiar words can be defined differently depending on who is talking, which often causes great confusion. As a result, well-meaning people tend to talk past each other and, ultimately, cause hurt feelings. The goal of this introduction is to lay out a foundation so it will be possible to describe the teachings (also called doctrines) of biblical Christianity while contrasting them with the interpretations offered in Mormonism.
Issues discussed in the Introduction
1. Are Latter-day Saints “Mormon”?
In 2018, President Russell M. Nelson declared that his church should not be referenced by “LDS” or “Mormon,” nor should the religion be known as “Mormonism.” However, history shows that these terms have been acceptable–even recommended–for many years. Check out this article for more information. Click out this article for more information. Thus, the word “Mormon” is used in the title of this book to reference the people who belong to this religion as typically “Latter-day Saints” but also “Mormon.” This is not meant to be disrespectful, but let’s face it, it would be tedious to consistently say “members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” or “the religion of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” rather than “Mormons,” “Mormonism,” or “LDS Church.”
2. Are Mormons Christian?
This is a sensitive issue. For more information, I recommend chapter 1 in Answering Mormons’ Questions (Kregel, 2013) (written by Bill McKeever and me) titled “Why won’t you accept Mormons as Christians?” In addition, here are several articles on our website concerning this topic:
3. What about the “Great Apostasy”?
Without the “Great Apostasy,” there is not need for the LDS Church. If there was a complete apostasy, as LDS leaders have taught, then a restoration was necessary. If there was no great apostasy, however, then there is no need for anything the LDS Church offers. Here are several resources on this topic:
- LDS leader citations about the Great Apostasy
- Crash Course Mormonism: The Great Apostasy
- Apostasy: Calling the Apostle John
- Apostasy: Acts 1 and the Apostles
Biblical verses used by Latter-day Saints to support the Great Apostasy:
- Amos 8:11-12: The Great Apostasy
- Isaiah 24:5: The Great Apostasy?
- Does 2 Thessalonians 2:3 Support The Great Apostasy?
4. Is it wrong to disagree?
Some would suggest that it is wrong to disagree. I disagree! (Notice, tongue in cheek!) Either gravity exists or it does not exist. The law of non-contradiction says that both cannot be true. Trying to be “politically correct” and pretend that differences don’t matter and that everyone has a handle on truth could have horrific consequences for someone who decided to open up the door to a plane and jump out without a parachute thinking it is possible to defy the law of gravity. In the same way, either Mormonism is true or it is not. If it is true, then all people should become Latter-day Saints. If it is not, then nobody should join this church.
We should also point out that everyone makes judgment calls every day, including the teacher who gives an A or F for an assignment, the police officer who writes a ticket, and the parent who believes another parent ought to be a better discipliner with their own kids. Even Jesus encouraged judging when he taught in John 7:24 to “judge righteous judgment.” For an article on this topic, click Who are you to judge? A look at the impossibility of this statement.
Even if we disagree, there are certain ways on handling ourselves. As cited in the book, 1 Peter 3:15-16 commands the Christian to be ready with an answer for everyone but to do so with gentleness and respect. For more on this, click responding to those who disagree.
I fully agree with this citation given in the book by J. Gresham Machen: “Men tell us that our preaching should be positive and not negative, that we can preach the truth without attacking error. But if we follow that advice we shall have to close our Bible and desert its teachings. The New Testament is a polemic book almost from beginning to end.”” (What is Christianity? (and other addresses) (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1951), 132-133).
5. Testimony and Introduction of Ministry: Eric Johnson
Due to space restrictions, only bullet points of my testimony were provided in the introduction to the book. Here I would like to provide a more complete version of my testimony and history.
My first experience with Latter-day Saints was having Mormon neighbors. Everyone knew that the parents intended to have 12 children (the same number as the apostles of Jesus); after their sixth or seventh child, they moved out of their 3-bedroom house to a bigger place and I never heard from them again. Honestly, they were the only Mormons I had met in my childhood days.
At the age of 13, I was a Boy Scout who went door-to-door with other members of my troop collecting old newspapers, aluminum cans, and bottles to earn money for extra activities like camping trips and service projects. We placed these recyclables into the back of a pickup truck driven by the scoutmaster; when we were finished, we drove the materials to a nearby recycling plant managed by the LDS Church. The church members who worked there seemed to be nice, even though I knew little about their faith.
During my junior year of high school in 1978, Jim Jones, a cult leader who had moved his California church to Guyana in South America, ordered more than 900 members of his congregation to drink cyanide-laced Kool-Aid. (This is where the phrase “don’t drink the Kool-Aid” originated.) As someone who grew up in a Christian home and attended a private religious high school, this tragic story had a tremendous impact on my life. I wondered why so many people were willing to kill themselves just because they were told to do so by their spiritual leader.
I asked myself, “If something like this can happen to sincere people like these, how do I know that my pastor isn’t similar to Jim Jones?” I was determined to research and see if what I had been taught by adults—including my pastors, Bible teachers, and parents—was correct. Because the Internet was not yet available, I made regular visits to the public library and checked out material covering the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and several other religious groups.
When adherents of these religions knocked on our front door—Jehovah’s Witnesses were the most common group spreading their message in our neighborhood—I wanted to hear what they had to say. One time I was in my room doing homework when two young people visited our home, but my mother sent them away. When she told me a half hour later that they had come, I immediately got on my bike and rode around until I found two “Moonies” from the Unification Church four blocks away. The three of us sat on a brick wall and had an interesting hour-long conversation.
In 1982, I became the student editor-in-chief for the local public junior college newspaper. One time I wrote an article about how the Hare Krishna devotees had set up their annual food/religious fair in the college’s main quad area; the interview with the organizers for this “cultural” event lasted more than an hour as I learned as much as possible about their Eastern worldview.
During my first semester at San Diego State University in the fall of 1983, I enrolled in a liberal humanities class focusing on the New Testament. At that time, a sect known as the “San Diego Church of Christ” (not affiliated with the “Church of Christ” denomination) was popular on campus. The faithful members of this controlling church were well-versed in sharing their faith and enticing people to join their ranks. Also known as the “Boston Movement,” the leaders taught theological beliefs that contradicted the Bible, including the idea that a person had to be baptized by their church to go to heaven. Sound familiar? In addition, there were sociological issues with the group, including charges that the leaders exercised excessive control of the members’ personal lives. Conversations about religious topics took place during class time as well as after class, with our Bibles remaining open during back-and-forth discussions.
In 1984, I volunteered to help my friend Jeff Howell with a ministry he founded called “Making Disciples Ministry.” Among other things, Jeff and I visited downtown San Diego on many Saturdays to interact with Jehovah’s Witnesses who were easy to find as they stood on prominent street corners holding up their Watchtower material. Needless to say, these folks were not used to having anyone approach them!
We also researched the teachings of a popular San Diego New Age teacher named Terry Cole-Whittaker, as we created an evangelistic booklet that was later distributed one Sunday outside her downtown church. These encounters with those belonging to other religions were instrumental in helping me solidify my own Christian faith.
In 1987, I spent the summer in Utah volunteering with a Christian missionary group, as we focused on conversing with strangers while utilizing a variety of evangelistic tactics. Unlike Jehovah’s Witnesses or New Age adherents, I discovered that Latter-day Saints are generally friendly and open to dialoguing about faith issues. That summer I fell in love with the Mormon people as well as a wonderful young lady (Terri) who was on my evangelism team. Before we got married the following summer, I told her that we might move to Utah someday in order to become involved in full-time Christian ministry.
From 1988 until 2010, Terri and I along with our three girls made Southern California our home. In 1989, I met Bill McKeever, California. He invited me to volunteer with his work. After receiving a post-graduate degree (M.Div.) in 1991 from Bethel Seminary San Diego, I taught for 17 years at the same private Christian junior and senior high school where I had graduated about a decade earlier. Among other roles, I served as the school’s Bible department head. I also was an adjunct professor at several different local colleges.
In 2010, Terri and I moved our family to the Salt Lake City area, more than two decades after I had first told her that this might happen. Today I serve in a full-time capacity with MRM. As you can see, sharing the Christian Gospel with Mormons has been my passion for many years.
 For more on Jim Jones and Jonestown, check out this May 2020 article: rollingstone.com/feature/jonestown-13-things-you-should-know-about-cult-massacre-121974/