Monday, June 21, 2010

Burning Bosoms and Religious Truth

Here's a more substantive piece from Clay Jones from Biola dealing with the difference between how Mormons believe in the Book of Mormon and how Christians SHOULD believe in the Bible. Enjoy.

Burning Bosoms and Religious Truth

The Mormons came to my front door last Saturday and left not too happy. I say “not too happy” not because there was even one unkind or even intense word spoken by any of us. There wasn’t. In fact, I think I succeeded in being very friendly and gentle with them. Rather, they weren’t happy because they could not answer the line of reasoning I employed. The same reasoning I have used many times over the years.

But let me back up a moment.

Many years ago I was going to teach on Mormonism at a church and I decided that I should get the advice of Sandra Tanner, one of the most respected missionaries to Mormons. Now Sandra and Jerald Tanner are the founders of the Utah Lighthouse Ministry ( and I have appreciated their work since I first started studying apologetics in the 1970s. So I called their ministry and Sandra answered the phone and I asked her what line of reasoning she would use when the Mormons came to her door. What she told me is the reasoning I’ve used ever since.

So back to my Saturday visitors.

After we introduced ourselves I mentioned that I teach apologetics at Biola University (they seemed to recognize it). Then I said that the difference that we Christians have with the Mormons is about how we examine religious truth claims. I pointed out that the Mormons base the truth of their religion on a subjective personal experience—namely, they base the truth of Mormonism on praying a prayer to ask God whether the Book of Mormon is trustworthy and if they get a warm feeling, which is described in some of their works a “a burning in the bosom,” then they conclude that Mormonism is true. They agreed.

I said that we evangelicals base our faith in historic Christianity on the evidence of Jesus being raised from the dead. The first disciples testified that they had personal encounters with the risen Jesus and that many of them often suffered torturous deaths because of that testimony. I pointed out to them that James, the brother of Jesus, became a Christian because he saw the risen Christ and that we know, extra-biblically from Josephus, that James was stoned to death by the Sanhedrin. I mentioned that Paul, a former persecutor of the church, was beheaded around 66 AD because he testified to the resurrection of Jesus. I again pointed out that this is enough for us to base our faith on.

But then I pointed out that the Mormons base their beliefs on a subjective personal experience that has led them to believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet, that historic Christianity is mistaken, that there was a great falling away, that there are many gods, that Mormons one day believe that they are going to become gods (just the males, actually), and that the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods still function today (they didn’t disagree with even one word of this). I pointed out to them that you couldn’t get any of these ideas from the New Testament.

I told them that they were basing their faith on a subjective personal experience (I used this phrase a lot) but that this kind of experience is unreliable. I pointed out that Shirley McLain sees herself flying over buildings through astral projection, that Catholics have visions of Mary, the Muslims believe so much they will blow themselves up and that all these people were also basing their religion on subjective personal experiences.

After all this, they still asked me if I would pray to see if Joseph was a prophet and I told them “No, that wouldn’t make any sense because I wouldn’t want to reject God’s prior revelation based on (here it is again) a subjective personal experience.”

Then each of them said that the experience they had was very real to them and asked how they would get such a feeling?

I said, “I don’t know, maybe you were just feeling the warmth of accepting what you had been taught or maybe (and I tried to say this very nicely) demons were making you feel this way.” I reminded them that “even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14) and that they wouldn’t expect demons to make them feel bad, right? They didn’t disagree.

I told them that I too have an inner witness but that my faith is based on the objective truth of Christ’s resurrection.

I also pointed out the similarities between the “revelation” given to Muhammad and Joseph Smith—both of them got a visitation from an angel, while they were alone, who then gave them a book and that the book itself was the evidence of their religion. They didn’t have any reply to this either.

They soon realized that their answer cupboard was bare and so we all smiled, shook hands, and I encouraged them to come back any time.

By the way, on two occasions I’ve gone into a Mormon Institute of Religion (they place them near university campuses) to talk with the fellows running them about them basing their faith on an unreliable subjective personal experience, and they both replied “that’s all you have” and then they tried to undermine the historical evidence for the resurrection! Honesly, I think just about anyone who had read a basic evidential apologetics book could have kicked the stuffing out of their arguments.

1 John 4:1: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”


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