By Eric Johnson
During a friendly dialogue that I had not long ago with a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS, Mormon), I made a point that seemed to strike a chord. After a few seconds of awkward silence, the Latter-day Saint said (in a most respectful way), “What you’re showing me appears to be correct. I’m not sure how to answer your objection to my faith. I guess we’ll all know in the end anyway, won’t we?”
He was right. After all, every person will know the truth by the time the engraver carves the death date onto the headstone. In conversations with LDS friends, family members, co-workers, and neighbors, the Christian may be offered a similar white flag of surrender. When that happens, there are several techniques that can be used to help the Latter-day Saint grasp how important it is to discover truth today because, after all, tomorrow may be too late.
The Mormon Testimony
Before walking away, the Mormon in the story above decided to share his testimony, which went in part, “I testify to you that Joseph Smith and Thomas S. Monson [the current president at that time] are prophets of God and that the Book of Mormon is true.” The impetus for this typical testimony is derived from Moroni 10:4, the last book and chapter in the Book of Mormon. It says that “if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you by the power of the Holy Ghost.”
The emotional draw for potential converts to get the “right” answer can be immense. For example, pleasing the missionaries, LDS friends, and family members may play a major factor. But this isn’t the way truth ought to be pursued. Suppose someone says, “I know that the Utah Jazz won their basketball game last night” when it is a fact that the team lost 107-91. Even if you and your friends are die-hard fans, is it reasonable to argue about the game’s outcome with followers of the opponent when the score is published in today’s newspaper?
There are risks to trusting in feelings and ignoring the evidence. Imagine getting ready to board an airliner that you learn had serious problems with the landing gear in its previous flight. “Don’t worry,” the flight attendant tells the passengers on the PA system, “I know it will be OK. While we haven’t exactly fixed the landing gear yet, the mechanics will be on board this flight to do additional maintenance on it once the plane takes off.” In this circumstance, would you board the plane? Even if it meant losing your entire airfare, a wise person would simply walk away and look for alternative transportation.
Of course, sometimes it is a natural response to want to rely on what we have been taught or what feels best. Yet no matter how sincere we might be, only the fool accepts personal feelings over the facts. As Proverbs 28:26 puts it, “He who trusts in himself is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe.”
While the LDS Church is losing members due to a variety of reasons, a poll given in 2011 to 3,000 former Mormons shows that factual evidence causes more defections than emotional or subjective issues. The survey showed that the top four reasons for leaving the church involved historical topics (church history, Joseph Smith, and Book of Mormon) as well as doctrine.
Between 35-39% said these were primary reasons for leaving, with 79-87% saying they were moderate to strong factors. No other reason for leaving Mormonism came close to these. While the vast majority of those surveyed probably had shared their testimonies in the Book of Mormon and the LDS Church, they came to a realization that the facts of their faith did not match up with reality.
[Note: In 2019, Jana Riess, a Mormon who wrote The Next Mormons (Oxford University Press, 2019) did a survey that seemed to show that history took a back seat to reasons such as “I could no longer reconcile my personal values and priorities with those of the Church,” “I stopped believing there was one true church,” and “I did not trust the church leadership.” Either much changed from 2011 to 2019 (i.e., societal culture/worldview formation) or one of the surveys may not be dependable. For more on The Next Mormons, click here.]
Many Mormons have not been properly challenged when they testify about their faith in the Book of Mormon and, ultimately, their religion. When the testimony is shared, one strategy I like to use is ask, “Have you prayed about the Qu’ran? Or how about the Bhagavad-Gita?”
Using the Mormon’s logic, perhaps every religion’s scripture ought to be prayed over since Islam or Hinduism could have more truth. After all, what if these religions could provide more peaceful feelings than what is received in Mormonism? While Mormons don’t use this type of test with other scriptures, they may get frustrated when Christians won’t pray about the Book of Mormon. Following the example set by the Bereans in Acts 17:11, however, they need to know how Christians are commanded to test everything by searching God’s Word.
What Everyone Stands to Lose
Many Mormons have never entertained the possibility that they could be wrong about their faith. In their minds, such an absurd proposition isn’t worth the time of day for consideration. Mathematician/philosopher Blaise Pascal stated that either God exists or He does not. Therefore, everyone has to wager whether or not there is a God.
While this “wager” was originally intended for atheists, every single person must use his or her very soul as collateral when determining the truth claims of different religions. By using a modified form of Pascal’s Wager, we can help a Mormon understand the importance of considering all points of view. In fact, there are only four possibilities when Mormonism and biblical Christianity are considered:
- Both faiths are correct. However, this is impossible because the two claims made by the two religions are mutually exclusive. Hence, if Mormonism is true, then by definition, biblical Christianity is false. Or vice versa.
- Both faiths are wrong. While neither the Mormon nor the Christian thinks this is likely, we both have to acknowledge that perhaps Islam, Buddhism, atheism, or some other philosophy is true, negating both our views.
- Mormonism is true and Christianity is wrong. For the sake of comparison, let’s suppose this is true. Ask the Latter-day Saints what the situation will be like for them after death. Smiling, they will usually describe a celestial life living forever with their immediate families. Then ask, “If you were to die right now, would you go to this place?” More often than not, there is a pause, followed by “I hope so,” I’m trying,” or “I’m doing my best.” Knowing the stringent requirements, they usually recognize that they’re not doing what they’ve been commanded. Despite what 1 John 5:13 promises, there is no assurance of salvation available in Mormonism. Meanwhile, the fate for the Christian in this scenario is perhaps the Terrestrial Kingdom, a place where even many Mormons expect to spend eternity. As for the worst that Mormonism has to offer, very few on this earth can expect to be cast out to “Outer Darkness” since they were valiant in a pre-mortal life and choose Jesus over Lucifer.
- Christianity is true and Mormonism is false. If Christianity is true, it means the difference between heaven and hell: true believers receive heaven while unbelievers will spend eternity in hell. There are no “do-overs.”
I can do it later
If nothing else, the questions associated with the third possibility (Mormonism is true) can help show the Mormons how they’re not ready for the celestial kingdom, even if their religion is true. Because they know they are not doing what they’ve been commanded to do, many put their hope in the idea that they will be able to fix their sinful state in the intermediate state after death.
Both the Bible and the Book of Mormon disagree with this assessment. Hebrews 9:24 says, “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” Second Corinthians 6:2b adds that “now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”
According to Alma 34:32-34 in the Book of Mormon, the prophet Amulek stated, “For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; . . . 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. . . . 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.”
Using this passage as a theme for chapter one of his book titled The Miracle of Forgiveness, twelfth LDS President Spencer W. Kimball taught that it was fallacious to assume that redemptive work could be done after death. He lamented, “Again and again in different phraseology and throughout the centuries the Lord has reminded man so that he could never have excuse. And the burden of the prophetic warning has been that the time to act is now, in this mortal life. One cannot with impunity delay his compliance with God’s commandments.”
Even if their philosophy is correct, Mormons must be challenged that it is during this life when they must accomplish the work set out before them by their church; it does them no good to hope that their failures here will somehow be ignored and everything will be equalized in the end.
With a wave of the hand to make the facts go away, too many Latter-day Saints smugly feel like everything is fine—“After all, we’ll all know in the end”—by dismissing legitimate objections. Getting Mormons to consider the possibility that they might be wrong while urging them to think through vital issues is an excellent and fruitful strategy.
 1 Thess. 5:21; 1 John 4:1.
 For instance, the nature of God, the nature of scripture, and the process of salvation are contradicted in the two religions.
 For more information, see “The Mormon View of Salvation: A Gospel that is Truly Impossible,” CRI Journal 34:4, 4-5.
 Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969), 10. Italics in original. Chapter one is titled “This Life is the Time.”