I call upon You, Lord, God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob and Israel, You who are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who, through the abundance of your mercy, was well-pleased towards us so that we may know You, who made heaven and earth, who rules over all, You who are the one and the true God, above whom there is no other God; You who, by our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, give to every one who reads this writing to know You, that You alone are God, to be strengthened in You, and to avoid every heretical and godless and impious teaching.

St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3:6:4

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Credo-getics: Confessional Christianity vs. Mormonism, Pt I

I begin by making an honest confession.  Despite my acute interest and study in the discipline of apologetics, it is with chagrin that I admit to being relatively ignorant of the touchstone points for apologetical dialogue with Mormons.  Because of their prevalence in the two communities that we’ve lived in, I am as comfortable in conversation with Jehovah’s Witnesses as I am in these fine fleece jammies Fanny got me for Christmas.  Furthermore, the gravity of the issues notwithstanding, debating well-educated antitheists is easier for me than trying to cogently communicate an order of gut-bombs from Sonic via the drive-in squawk box.  Mormonism, though...well, until the other morning, I had only met one other, and that years ago in Kansas. 

Elizabeth, then, is only the second Mormon I have ever knowingly had a conversation with.  In part, my lack of study with respect to Mormonism and the various other cults stems from the deep conviction, one vindicated by a fair bit of experience, that the presuppositional approach to defending and commending the Faith relativizes the need to memorize all the nitty-gritty details of the cults’ doctrines and a battery of canned arguments and responses.  Rather, when one commits to reasoning and arguing presuppositionally, one needs only to known the depths of his own Faith, once for all handed down to the saints, and how to reason out from it.  In nowise does this diminish our responsibility to becoming conversant with the plethora of perspectives in our society.  What it does do, however, is encourage one to more deeply study the only one that really matters, the biblical perspective, commonly called confessional Christianity.   

Elizabeth is a fun personality in her mid- to late-twenties.  She helps operate a quaint little Celtic shop in Lexington, VA, called Celtic Tides.  We love going to Lexington, which is just under an hour away.  When we do, we are sure to make a stop at the Tides.  This day, we were picking up a belated Christmas gift Fanny had stealthily order me right under my nose; it was a great surprise.  I had spoken to Elizabeth on the phone earlier in the week, confirming that the ring was in and when we might be able to pick it up.  I also picked up several clues in that conversation that lead me to suspect that she was a Mormon, not least that she attended Southern Virginia College in Buena Vista, a small village between our place and Lexington. 

Last month I posted a bit on the practical doctrine of the Trinity, which included applications by Kevin DeYoung and Cornelius Van Til. These quotes were making the apologetical application of the doctrine of the Trinity to the perennial philosophical conundrum of the one-and-the many or unity and diversity.  As I cited Van Til there, saying,      

In the ontological trinity there is complete harmony between an equally ultimate one and many.  The persons of the trinity are mutually exhaustive of one another and of God’s nature.  It is the absolute equality in point of ultimacy that requires all the emphasis we can give it.  Involved in this absolute equality is complete interdependence; God is our concrete universal (Common Grace & the Gospel, 8).

So, granting that we were in a shop that had the Triquetra (the so-called Celtic knot or Trinity symbol) on virtually everything, I couldn’t think of a better point of departure for a conversation with Elizabeth, as she has this symbolic testimony to the living true God daily before her. 

However, the conversation began in a different direction.  After asking her if she was indeed a Mormon, Elizabeth happily affirmed that she was and expressed her passion for her chosen religion.  I then replied that, as for me and my house, we were confessional Christians, who passionately owned the early Creeds (I mentioned to her the Apostles' and Nicene) and the historic confessions of the Reformation.  This fairly started our conversation with a judicial full disclosure of our precommitments.  Allowing her to continue talking, she demonstrated that she had a solid understanding of her own position and the crux issues at stake in the clash between your respective worldviews. 

Something that she was quick to point out was that Mormonism holds to human divinization, what they call the doctrine of exaltation, whereby good Mormons will eventually become Gods.  (This is not to be confused with the doctrine of theosis, taught by the Patristics and today emphasized in the Orthodox tradition.)  After all, for Mormons, God the Father was once a mere fallen mortal, who was good enough to become a God and inherit our universe.     

I told Elizabeth that that sounded like a wonderful teaching!  We would all love to think of ourselves as Gods, and that the prospect of such, as held out by Mormonism, certainly allures the human consciousness.  In fact, I continued, if left to ourselves that is exactly how struggle to live life out in our fallenness.  Shifting tone, I told her that I had read of something that sounded strikingly similar to her doctrine of exaltation.  I then quoted Genesis 3:4—5 for her.

And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

I explained the context to Elizabeth, wherein Adam and Eve were confronted with two hypotheses, one God’s and one Satan’s.  With respect to the tree, God's word on the matter was ‘Eat, die the death,’ whereas Satan contradicted God’s word of judgment and suggested that God has base motives for withholding the fruit; Satan said, ‘Eat, become gods.’  Experience and experiment, thought our first parents (and all their kids since!), would be the only means of knowing which word on the matter was true.  They ate, and...the rest is history.  Genesis 5 leaves no ambiguity as to which interpretation of the tree was correct.  The genealogical record of the antediluvian patriarchs has the refrain “and he died” no less than eight times!  Moses wanted to leave no doubt for the reader that the wages of sin was death.  Even now-fallen Eve recognized immediately, sensing her alienation and shame, that with the words of the serpent, ye shall be as gods, were a lie: “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat” (Gen. 3:13; cf. 2 Cor. 11:3; 1 Tim. 2:14).  The fact is, humanity’s universal experience provides absolute, empirical evidence of the truth of God’s word on the matter—every moment of every day!  He most certainly has not left himself, not least his justice and righteous judgment, without witness.    

Her expression revealed that Elizabeth was not quite prepared for the topic to lead to these conclusions.  She mustered new resolve, and suggested that the serpent’s hypothesis was nevertheless true, even if God’s prediction of the consequences of disobedience were wrought out.  I explained to her that such a view of the text was certainly at odds with Jesus and his Apostles, and thereby could not be correct. 

For instance, I told her, when Jesus said, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it” in John 8:44, he had Genesis 3 in mind.  Similarly, when St. John spoke of the devil, he added that he “sinneth from the beginning,” which again points us back to the fall in Genesis 3.  Therefore, those, such as the LDS’s prophet Joseph Smith, who founded Mormonism, perpetuate Satan’s suggestion as the truth of the matter, they are therefore from the “seed of the serpent” (Gen. 3:15), and are “full of all subtilty and all mischief,” “enemies of all righteousness,” and never “cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord” (Acts 13:10; cf. 1 Jn. 3:8ff).  In short, they are of their father the devil, as Jesus put it (Jn. 8:44).  So, I concluded with Elizabeth that what she was presenting as a distinctive doctrine of Mormonism rested on a satanic lie, the one that introduced all subsequent sin and misery into our originally-good world.  Jesus, as revealed in the Scriptures, came to destroy the works of the devil (1 Jn. 3:8); and I prayed and continue to pray that that is precisely what he was and is doing in the heart of Elizabeth. 

I confirmed that she followed me and understood what I had said.  She said she did, and that she could see my point.  Still, her expression indicated that, although she followed the reasoning, she was suppressing the truth of the matter in unrighteousness, clinging to her deeper commitment to the lies of Mormonism.

Nevertheless, she still seemed to be rather engaged in the conversation, as Fanny and Israel browsed the goods.  Therefore, I took this to be a green light to springboard of the ambiance of Triquetra round about us, and set the holy doctrine of the Trinity against Mormonism’s paganistic polytheism (henotheism to be precise).  But the second part of the conversation will have to wait until tomorrow.  Until then be blessed in our thrice holy God!


  1. It seems to me that you handled the conversation with Elizabeth very well, especially pointing out that she follows the serpent's lie in her desire to be "as gods." You also correctly describe the Mormon view of the Father and Son as henotheism instead of homoousia.

    Since Mormons believe in different gods, they believe in a different christ and preach a different gospel. They also have a different prophet and a different bible. Perhaps your conversation with Elizabeth may bear fruit.

  2. I certainly appreciate your appraisal of the conversation, Bishop Campbell. I promised a follow up of the rest of the conversation at the end of this post, hoping that it would have been the next day. However, other things kept popping up and what I had written (maybe a quarter of the second part) was lost when my Word doc. decided to shutdown without me saving what was there first! Ugh. The second half is certainly the more interesting part. I hope to get it up sometime this coming week. However, this semester starts Monday, so we'll see. Thanks, again, for the comment!