Conversation at work…

Conversation at work with a skeptic/agnostic and (possibly) a deist…

An associate and I were making small talk at my desk.  The topic came up about feeling old.  I made the comment that he is younger than me (I’m 50 and he’s 40 something) and we talked about things that make you feel/look older:

  1. Smoking
  2. Eating bad
  3. Lack of exercise
  4. Stress/worry

He admitted that smoking and stress were issues for him.  He started talking a little about his family stress (his divorce, the issues with his daughter, etc).  He commented about some book he’d read that had 3 life principles (Try your hardest [may not be 100%], don’t take it personally, something about not making assumptions???).  He said he liked the book because it was not “religious”.  So, I said that just because something was “religious” doesn’t mean it can’t have some good practical advice for living.  He agreed.  He said though that the only thing he doesn’t like about the religious books is how they attempt to persuade/convince.  At this point I asked him if we could get out of the office for a short walk so that we could discuss this more openly.  So we did.  I asked him (with regard to the comment on persuasion) how he felt about a doctor who tried to persuade his patient that he had cancer and that surgery was needed otherwise he was going to die?  Or how he felt about a lawyer who would try to persuade his client that the charges he was facing would result in prison time if he didn’t  accept a plea bargain?  I said that it is actually an act of love and care for the person that causes a Christian to persuade or convince someone to make a decision about Christ.  He indicated that those other situations about the doctor and the lawyer were a lot more clear and indisputable than the situation regarding Christ.  I asked him consider the consequences of finding out that he is wrong about his views on Christianity.  Think of the day you die and you find out you were wrong.  I don’t want that to happen to you.  I just want him to be able to hear all the evidence I’ve heard and make a decision for himself.  I believe that Christianity is true beyond a reasonable doubt.  I’m convinced it is true by the evidence and also because of my personal experience with Jesus – I trust him.  I’m not trying to elevate myself above anyone else, I’m not trying to get more people on my side or a notch in my belt or anything, I just have concern for the destiny of those who don’t know Christ based on what the bible says about what’s going to happen to them when they die – I mentioned hell.  He said at that point that he’d prayed to God in the past and “nothing happened”.  (I should’ve found out what he prayed!) I mentioned that even if you don’t think anything happened, you need to look into the evidence and see if it is reasonable to believe that there is a God.

Then we got onto the topic about whether Jesus existed.  He said that since this all happened so long ago, he didn’t think that we could rely on the records we have – that they would’ve been corrupted or changed over 2000 years.  I explained that the amount of time that had passed shouldn’t matter.  Does he think George Washington existed or Abe Lincoln?  I asked him if he thought that 2000 years from now, should the people living then question whether Barak Obama was president in 2013?  He replied yes, if the records were missing.  I mentioned that more non-biblical authors wrote about Jesus within 150 years of his life than the Roman emperor (Tiberius Caesar) at the time (10 vs. 9).  If you include the biblical authors, then it is actually 43 vs. 10!  He seemed to accept that.  I went on to explain that the bible was written by 40 authors over 1500 years from all walks of life.  And the new testament specifically was written by 9 authors over a period of about 50 years.  And all of those new testament authors except 1 were martyred for what they proclaimed about Jesus.  All they had to do was recant and they would’ve saved their hides.  Again, he did not dispute this.  I also made the case for the resurrection indicating that Jesus existed, died on a Roman cross and his tomb was empty 3 days later (even Bart Ehrman agrees with that).  Skeptical people (like James the brother of Jesus) were transformed after that.  He didn’t dispute any of this.

When talking about the Bible, he brought up “Yeah but what about all those miracles, like walking on water, etc?”  I then said that if there is a Creator of the universe (or multiverse or whatever), that would he agree that Creator would be unimaginably powerful, intelligent, immaterial and outside of time?  He agreed. He even mentioned that Stephen Hawkings arguments had not convinced him that there was no need for a creator. So, I reasoned that the biggest miracle of all has already occurred – the creation of the universe from nothing.  So, after that, every miracle recorded in the Bible is at least possible, since God created everything and was the one who instituted the laws of physics therefore it is reasonable to conclude that he can control the laws of physics.  I admitted that many of the miracles recorded in the Bible seem unbelievable, but you have to read them in the context of knowing that there is a God who created the universe to start with, then they don’t seem so impossible.  Also, knowing that Jesus was resurrected from the dead validates his claims to be who he said he was (God) and he validated that the old testament was the word of God.  He validated the creation story and many of the miracles that occurred in the Old Testament (like Jonah).  So, while it would be hard to read those in another book and believe them, you have Jesus affirming that they really happened, so it all boils down to how much you trust Jesus.  If you trust Him, you can believe the rest of the Bible because He did.  He then made the comment that they didn’t really have writing or books back then, so they didn’t have a Bible.  I said that no, they did have scrolls.  In fact, the gospels record Jesus reading from the great scroll of Isaiah and talking about prophecy about him was being fulfilled.  During Jesus’ time, their bible was the old testament – the new testament had not been written yet. At that point, I also referred to a conversation we had had at lunch the other day where he’d brought up the scrolls found at Qumran.  I said, and that is why the dead sea scrolls are so important.  When we found those in 1940 something, they had most of the old testament and the wording was exactly the same as the old testament that we have today, which was great confirmation of the care taken by the scribes in translating these texts.  I also explained that all of the Bible translations we have today are all translated from the original Greek/Hebrew, so it doesn’t “evolve” over time as some think.  This was in response to the comment he made about people just passing this information along by word of mouth.  I also mentioned that we have the Ryland’s fragment from John 18 that is the earliest surviving fragment of the new testament dated at about 135 a.d.  I also brought up that as time goes on archeology finds older manuscripts which are closer to the events, which makes it more certain that we have accurate text in the Bible.  Earlier in the conversation, I’d already brought up too that we have about 2400 Greek manuscripts of the new testament – far more than any other literature from antiquity.

He said he didn’t understand the concept of the Son of God.  I said that Jesus is God in human form.  He came down to earth and became a man.  He wanted to know why we needed Jesus.  I said that man had sinned and we could not pay for our own sins and that Jesus had to come to sacrifice Himself for our sins.  I explained that since men are sinners, we would not be acceptable as a sacrifice and that the one and only sinless Son of God qualified as an acceptable sacrifice for sins.  He then questioned why it had to be Jesus – why not mother Teresa or something.  I told him that all men are sinners including Mother Teresa.  Jesus, since he was God in human form was not a sinner.  He had a problem with that – he said there was no proof that Jesus was without sin.  I said, yes, there is no absolute proof, but there is some evidence.  For example when Pilate tried him he found no fault in him.  Also, the Pharisees, who were constantly trying to trap him and find some dirt couldn’t  – they could never find anything he did wrong.  So, yes, there’s no absolute proof he was sinless, but there is evidence that he was sinless.  He said that if God became a man, then wouldn’t he be sinful, since all men are born in sin?  I said that he was the only one that was virgin born.  So then he said, then doesn’t that imply that sex is sinful?  I said, no, that doesn’t imply that.  Our conversation got cut off at that point because we came in.

During a prior conversation a few days earlier, somehow we got onto the topic of philosophy – we were talking a little bit about Friedrich Nietzsche.  He said he “tried philosophy” but it “didn’t work for him”.  But he added, “neither did faith”.  So we started to talk a little about faith and I got the sense that he equated all faith with “blind faith”.  So I drew a diagram on my white board:

|——–evidence———–> FAITH |

The left side to the right side is the amount of knowledge needed to know something.  The evidence gets you just so far, but not all the way.  The remainder must be covered by faith.  So, it is not blind faith, but rather it is following the trail of evidence until it ends and then exercising faith to cover the remaining gap in knowledge.  It is reasonable faith.   He seemed to understand that.  I also relayed some examples of how one exercises faith in the daily living of life – for example, when you eat at a restaurant, you are exercising faith that the food was not poisoned and is in fact what it is purported to be.  You wouldn’t be able to live your life without faith – you’d have to verify everything.

It seems that this person is on a spiritual journey toward the truth and I hope and pray that I can be there to answer his questions and knock down any intellectual objections/barriers that he has, so that he no longer rejects God and God “grants him repentance, leading him to a knowledge of the truth and that he may come to his senses and escape the trap of the devil, who has taken him captive to do his will”.

Conversation with an Agnostic / ex-Non-Practicing Catholic

I was sent on a business trip traveling with this guy from my work.  He’s not in my department, but works nearby.  I’ve known him casually for many years – I would guess over 10 years, but this is the first time we’ve ever spent a significant amount of time together.  It is just us 2 staying at this hotel (separate rooms of course) and we’ve been going to breakfast, lunch and dinner every day together.  We’re here for the whole week and today is Tuesday.  So far, I’ve just been getting to know him and finding out about his family, his situation, his likes/dislikes, hobbies, etc.  Probably level 2 type conversations.  We’d gotten beyond the weather and sports and into more personal stuff.  So, today on the way home from work, we started talking about musical tastes and he shared all the music that he likes.  So, I knew that it was going to come out that I pretty much liked all Christian music, because that is the truth.  I have a past history of liking all sorts of music and I certainly do still like a lot of that (e.g. the Beatles).  For some reason, the subject of guitar came up and I talked about knowing how to play guitar.  He asked me what type of music I play.  So, I decided that was a good opportunity to bring up my faith.  I say, well, I don’t know if you know this, but I am a Christian.  He said, no he didn’t know that.  And I said that every Thursday evening, I’m part of a men’s group where I play guitar and it is all Christian music.  He said, that is interesting, because my brother does the same thing.  He’s gotten really into going to church and Christianity.  He’s like totally changed.  I told him that I’m the same way.  I then talked a little bit about how I became a Christian.  I got a job offer in our corporate headquarters (at the previous company where I was working) and my wife at that time said I was really difficult to deal with.  She’d been taking my son to church with a friend of hers and she was really wishing that I would go.  So, she said that she would agree to move so that I could take the job offer at corp as long as I would agree to go to Church when we got there.  So we moved and I ignored my promise for about 2 years.  Until one Easter…  My son’s best friends (a brother and sister) invited us to go to Church.  It was a Lutheran Church.  So, my wife reminded me of my prior commitment to her about going to church.  So, I grudgingly said yes.  Well, in that service, something very strange and special happened.  As I was sitting there listening to the sermon, it felt like the pastor was just talking to me.  There was the cross behind him as he told about Jesus and how he’d died for our sins.  And it hit me like a ton of bricks.  I just had the sense that there really was something to this and I felt stirring in my heart and I was convicted that I was a sinner before God and that Jesus died for me.  So, at that point, me and my wife had started going to a new believer’s class and I was going to a men’s group.  Later in November of that year I was baptized.  Then we move out here to Arizona and eventually, my family got less and less interested and finally I was the only one going to Church.  Now that is still the case and I’m more involved than ever including even teaching the Bible at the Church to kids.  At this point our conversation got interrupted because we were back at the hotel and the car we’d pulled up next to had it’s back driver’s side passenger window smashed out.  It shocked both of us.  So, that derailed us for a few minutes then we got back to talking.  I shared that I know it may sound cliché but what happened to me (and I think your brother) was that we were born again.   Once I was born again and my eyes were opened (he used the phrase about his brother that he’d finally “saw the light”), I started to investigate whether it was really true, because I was starting to have doubts.  During the first 37 years of my life all I looked at was all the evidence that was against Christianity, I never looked at the evidence that was for Christianity.  Now I started looking at all that and was amazed how much supporting evidence there was.  I was becoming convinced that this was true beyond a reasonable doubt.  I was getting the feeling that I would actually need more faith to NOT believe that I would need to believe.  Then he shared that his brother, after he really started to get into this stuff invited him to Church and he went.  He talked about the guy up there playing music in his casual clothes and talked about how it was pretty laid back.  He said that it “stuck” for his brother, but it didn’t really “stick” for me.  He said he just really wasn’t that into it, so he stopped going.  As we were starting to go up the elevator, he was asking me if Catholic and Christians had the same Bible.  I said that it was mainly the same, except that they have the Apocrypha in between the testaments.  I said that however the theology of Protestants and Catholics is quite different.  I asked him if he’d ever heard of Martin Luther, in the 1500’s, how he posted his grievances with the Catholic Church and that started the whole split between the 2.  He said that no, he’d not heard of that.  At that time, it was time for him to get off at the 4th floor to go to his room and I had to go to the 6th floor for mine.  We agreed to meet in about an hour and go to dinner.  I had hopes that the conversation would continue…  I’d shared my testimony, now I wanted to get more deeply into what Christianity was all about.  We went out to eat at a Mexican restaurant and started off with small talk.  We didn’t really resume talking about spiritual things right away.  So, I started back with the guitar and talked about what guitars I’d owned in the past and what I own now and various other music related topics.  In an effort to get the topic steered back to what we were talking about earlier on the way home from work, I brought up the topic of his brother.  I asked where he lived and he told me, then he started talking about how his brother had a job in finance in a car dealership and was working 7 days a week and making a lot of money.  He had a really nice house.  But when he “saw the light”, he decided to get out of that and get a job with more reasonable hours where he could spend more time with his family.  He quit his job and sold his house.  He said he couldn’t believe the change in his brother.  He said that is his flesh and blood and he really couldn’t understand it.  He thought there might be something to it, that is why he himself decided to try it and went to Church with his brother, but he admitted he didn’t really give it a good try.  I think he said something like it just didn’t work for him and it didn’t do anything for him.   He just wasn’t interested in it anymore and stopped going.  So, I shared with him that I think there were 2 things that really caused my to be Christian.  When I realized that God’s standard was perfection and that I’d sinned – you know the 10 commandments???  He nodded that yeah, he was familiar with all of that because he went to Catechism as a child.  He has the “Our Father” memorized and everything.  So, I continued – when I realized that I was guilty before God and basically was headed for hell – he stopped me – because you didn’t keep the commandments??  I said that no one in the whole world can keep the commandments perfectly and that is what God’s standard is – perfection.  (He agreed that no one can be perfect).  And when I realized that I was guilty before God and headed for hell and that God provided a free pardon for my sins through faith in Jesus Christ, I thought I’d be a fool not to accept that, so I did.  I think at some point he mentioned that hell was a pretty harsh punishment “for not going to Church”.  I said, well, I think people in the world have a lot of misguided ideas about heaven and hell.  I told him that a lot of people seem to think of heaven as kind of like an eternal Disney Land.  But the Bible says that the essence of heaven is being with God forever.  Now on the other hand, hell is being separated from God forever.  He said, oh well that doesn’t sound that bad – no fire – maybe just a little heat he said with a giggle.  I said, well, while I think that it is possible that the flames of hell are literal, it is possible that they are just figurative and are meant to communicate how horrible hell will be.  See the people who believe in Jesus will be with him forever in heaven, but the rest of the people who reject Jesus Christ will be separated from him.  And since everything we have in the world that is good is from God, the people who are separated from God forever will be permanently separated from everything good.  I think people generally don’t realize that everything we have that is good in this world comes from God – the beauty in nature, the sunshine, our bodies and skills and every other good thing.  So they think hell won’t be that bad, but really its being separated from the source of good – God – forever.  He seemed to understand it when I put it that way.  But then he asked – what about other religions?  Will they all go to hell?  I mean what about Islam and Allah?  I explained to him that the subject of other religions is certainly a tough subject to talk about.  But assuming that a person has heard the Christian message accurately, that they’ve heard about the condemnation they’re under and still consciously and willfully reject God’s free pardon through Jesus, they will end up separated from God in hell.  Jesus says in the Bible “There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words.  That very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day” (John 12:48).  I said there is some controversy over whether a person who’s never heard of Jesus will be condemned.  Jesus said one time, “If I had not come and spoken to them they would not have been guilty of sin.  But now, they have no excuse for their sins” (John 15:22).  So, if there is a person in the jungle who’s never heard of Jesus, there are some who feel that God will judge them according to what they know (according to the light they have).   He said – oh, so people who have other gods won’t go to hell.  I cautioned him – I said again, if they’ve heard the message of Jesus and rejected him, no they will go to hell.  So then I said, but you know the other thing that convinced me in regards to Christianity is that there’s strong evidence that it’s true.  So, even though I’m really uncomfortable with the idea of someone from another religion going to hell, unfortunately that’s something I ultimately have to accept.  It’s not an issue of how it makes me feel, it’s more an issue of whether it is true or not.  If it is true, I need to accept it, so my primary task is to determine the truth of it and then, once determined to be true, it needs to be accepted.  But I said, I can always go back to the Bible says that God will treat everyone ultimately fairly.  He is a good judge and no one will get anything that they don’t deserve.  He also brought up objections about how there was a time when he was searching for answers and open to religion, then he would see the stories about the priests involved in those molestation cases and it would really discourage and disappoint him.  I share that it grieves me as well.  I think that is a big turn off to people when they see Christians acting like hypocrites.  But Jesus said “by their fruits, you will recognize them”, meaning that you can generally tell if someone is a Christian by looking at their life.  If they’re out buying crack cocaine every night and visiting the house of prostitution, then that may be a pretty good indication that they’re not living the life that they’re professing.  I talked about how your good life does not and can’t save you, but the pattern of your life (becoming increasingly righteous and being grieved and repenting when you do slip up and sin) is evidence that you’re saved.  He also made a point to bring up Athletes who point to God or thank Jesus – are they just doing it for show?  I said, we can’t really know of judge for certain.  But again, if the pattern of their life is filled with sin, they may be just doing it all for show.   We talked about keeping the rules and the pattern of your life and how you’re not kicked out of the family every time you sin.   Christians still sin; they still have bad thoughts and sometimes fall into old habits.  It seems to be more about their attitude when they do sin.  Whereas I used to celebrate my decadence and actually brag about it, I no longer do that.  When I do slip up or fail or fall into old habits, I’m quick to go to God in pray and ask for forgiveness and repent.  I realize that my salvation is not in jeopardy every time I sin.  I’m still in God’s family and I’m still going to heaven.  Nothing’s going to change that.  When I was discussing this topic of obedience and disobedience, he actually brought up Mormonism.  He mentioned that a friend of his is Mormon and that they place a big emphasis on obedience.   I agreed with him and relayed a story of someone I know who got ex-communicated from the Mormon Church for having sex outside of marriage.  This person went through like a little mini trial and was kicked out of the church and had to get that corrected before being allowed back in.  We talked a little bit about the problems with Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham as well.  He made the assertion about Christianity having problems as well – that the books were written down after a period of hundreds of years and they changed them to say what they wanted.  I shared how the New Testament was 27 books written by 9 authors who were all either eyewitnesses or interviewed eyewitnesses.  And they were all written in the first century in the life times of those who could challenge these claims being made.  The authors (all but one) went to their deaths proclaiming these truths when all they had to do was recant and they would have saved themselves, but they chose instead to die to make sure these claims were spread.  I mentioned that from a historical point of view, the New Testament was more well attested than most of the literary works from that time – in fact not even close.  I shared how the New Testament has more than 24,000 manuscripts, which is far more than other documents from that period.   He mentioned that he thought he’d heard that there were some scholars that were skeptical of all this that was written in the Bible.  I asked if he was referring to Bart Ehrman.  He didn’t know the name.  So I explained how Bart Ehrman would even affirm that there was a historical figure called Jesus, who lived in the first century, was crucified on a Roman cross, buried and that his disciples reported seeing him alive (back from the dead) later.  Now he admittedly doesn’t believe that Jesus was actually resurrected, but he will at least affirm those minimal facts.

During the conversation at some point I said that there are times that I as a Christian have doubts.  I wonder if all this is a hoax.  I wonder am I crazy because so few people seem to believe it.  But then I go back to the basics – there is a God – I mean, we have this universe – where did it come from?  And there is life that looks to be designed in the universe, with DNA, our bodies and their design.  He agreed with those being good points.  And those same points made him start seeking answers in the past too.  I also said that I investigated the historical evidence that Jesus is who he said he is and did what the Bible said he did.

He had made some comment about Christianity making his brother’s life better and I think that was part of what his brother was telling him in order to convince him.  I told him that in some ways your life gets better, but that’s not why I became a Christian.  In fact in some ways your life gets worse.  You can expect some persecution.  I get mocked and laughed at and sometimes excluded because of my faith.  But there are also ways that it makes your life much better – just knowing that I was under condemnation and that now I have peace with God and I have the peace of knowing that I’m going to heaven.  And my life has purpose now.  I have something and someone to follow.  My life is meaningful and I know it doesn’t end at death.  There were other things we talked about and other lines of conversation, but I just can’t remember all the details now…  Overall, he said he enjoyed the conversation.  Then the night was over.  We’ll see what tomorrow brings…

Some objections raised by a associate over lunch

There is an associate of mine who will be leaving my place of employment soon, so I took him out to lunch.  Over the 3 years he’s been working there, we’ve had many opportunities to speak about Christ and the Christian worldview (some of those conversations are posted elsewhere on this blog).  While we were having lunch (I paid of course :)), I asked him, after our many conversations about Christianity, what was still holding him back from becoming a Christian.  During the course of the ensuing conversation, here are the objections that were raised.  I’ve purposely left out my responses so that I might cause you to ponder what your responses would’ve been.

  1. The language of the Bible is “antiquated”
  2. Christianity is too simple
    1. God – an old man with a beard
    2. Jesus – what does he matter to me (just a guy that lived 2000 years ago)
  3. Doesn’t understand why Jesus is the only way, why not Buddha or some other religious leader?
  4. Doesn’t believe in hell – thinks hell is only something that Christians use to scare people.
  5. Doesn’t believe in sin.
  6. Doesn’t believe fornication is a sin.
  7. How can it be fair – we’ve never been told the commandments and now we’re supposed to understand we’ve broken them?
  8. What if you search for God and Jesus and can’t find them?
  9. Doesn’t believe that Jesus was sinless.
  10. Had a problem with original sin.
  11. If it is true that we are born sinful, why wasn’t Jesus sinful?
  12. Are all other religions wrong?  That’s arrogant.
  13. Believes he’s a good person.
  14. Why doesn’t God just let everyone into heaven?
  15. Jesus isn’t God.  He stated “He’s the Son of God!” very emphatically.
  16. [after I made a case for the deity of Jesus] Who was Jesus paying when he paid for our sins?  Wasn’t it just God paying God – God paying himself?
  17. Doesn’t believe that Jesus existed.
  18. If Jesus did exist, he doesn’t think he was resurrected – resurrections are impossible – come on Steve, you are logically minded.
  19. Thinks there is some kind of God, but not the Christian God.
  20. Even if there is a God who created the universe, doesn’t believe that a miracle like a resurrection is possible – just wishful thinking.
  21. His boss was a hypocrite – wanted to pray at lunch and tell him about Jesus, but then was telling him about the $20,000 boat he was going to buy – shouldn’t he be giving that money to the poor?

There were more objections raised, but I just can’t remember them.

The night after this conversation occurred, our weekly men’s Bible study was scheduled, so I hijacked about 30 minutes of the session and handed out a copy of these objections to the 5 other guys who were there (from almost all generations – we had an 18 year old, a 22 year old, someone in their 40’s, 2 in their 50’s [including me] and 1 in his 60’s).  We took time to go over these objections one at a time and I asked them how they would respond.  As they gave answers, I pressed them when the answers given were insufficient.  For example, when they said “you just gotta have faith”, I reminded them that other religions can say the same thing (e.g. Mormonism, Islam, etc).  When they said “because it says it in the Bible”, I pressed them to tell me why I should believe the Bible over the Book of Mormon or the Koran or any other holy book for that matter.  When they said that “you need to pray to God and ask if it is true”, I pushed back and told them that Mormons will tell you the exact same thing about the Book of Mormon, that you need to read it and then pray to God and ask if it is true.  I didn’t let them off the hook easily.  There were definitely some good answers given.  In fact, I really liked how one of the guys came up with several questions he’d like to ask my associate to challenge his world view and how he came to his conclusions (Colombo type questions – “what do you mean by that”, “how did you come to that conclusion”).  Although there were some good answers given, overall, I felt there was a lot of room for improvement.

Near the end of this session, I was letting them know that if they gave answers like this they’d be getting their butts kicked.  I used that prospect of “getting their butts kicked” to encourage them to invest some time in becoming prepared to answer objections.  I assured them there are good answers to these objections and that I would forward them my responses at a later time.  When I was talking to the 22 year old at Church yesterday, he said he really enjoyed the men’s group on Thursday night and would love to do more of that.  He was motivated to learn the answers and become prepared.  I encouraged him to just start with a modest goal of reading the links that J. Warner Wallace posts on his twitter page (https://twitter.com/jwarnerwallace) every day.

I certainly can’t claim that this idea is original.  I was inspired by listening to a J. Warner Wallace podcast where he had his son Jimmy (I think) pretend to be a “winsome” atheist and brought in a youth group to see if they could counter the objections being raised.  The purpose of that encounter (same as mine at the men’s group) was to show them their need – that they are not prepared to answer the kind of objections they’ll be receiving.

Email Conversation with a Latter Day Saint Friend – Part 2

This is a continuation of a conversation.  The first part can be read here.

Friend (response):  Please consider Peter’s declaration of Christ’s divinity “Thou are the Christ, the Son of the living God” from Matthew 14 I believe.

How much of Peter’s testimony is based on physical evidence? Would I be too bold by saying NONE of his testimony came from the observable physical evidence Peter was subjected to on a daily basis. In fact, God gives us a more sure way of knowing truth. I know you know this. I know you know the power of the Holy Spirit bearing witness of truth and because you know that I am concerned that you believe this (the truth or untruth of the Book of Mormon) to be outside the realm of the Holy Spirit.

In fact, I would suggest that the rock upon which the church is built is “flesh and blood hath not revealed this but my Father which is in Heaven” or in other words, the rock upon which His church is built is truth distilled upon the minds of believers and non-believers by the power of the Holy Spirit. No other explanation makes sense as the power of Satan over men makes it a simple matter to pervert the correct ways of the Lord. Only revelation through the Spirit can prevail against the gates of hell (see Matt 14). This is how Peter knew who Jesus really was, it’s how you know the Bible to be true and how you know Jesus is the Savior. The physical evidence is not your primary source of truth (I hope) but only serves to support that which has been revealed to you by the Spirit of God.

No man knows the things of God because they are spiritually discerned (I Corinthians 2:14). “But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit” (I Corinthians 2:10).
“… when the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come” (John 16:12-13).

Do you suppose that if the Book of Mormon were true that there would be no opposition to it or to discredit its origin? How often were prophets rejected? I am not making the argument that any person claiming to be a prophet is a true prophet if he is rejected but I am saying that almost all true prophets are rejected.

The interesting thing about history is that it is written by people and people have perceptions and perceptions tend to bend the truth to suit our agendas. We have discussed this many times with respect to things both you and I believe but others do not.

You mentioned the Kinderhook plates. In your mind they are yet another brick in the wall of evidence that proves Joseph Smith was a false prophet. What is the truth surrounding this and does the truth even matter if your mind is made up? Jesus healed on the Sabbath. That is a fact. He was therefore in violation of the law of Moses (also a fact). I could dismiss Him because of the evidence (prophets do not break God’s laws, this man broke God’s law therefore He is not prophet) or I could seek greater enlightenment and then make a decision.

Why did the individual who claimed to plant the Kinderhhook plates wait until both Joseph and his co-conspirators had died before revealing that he planted them in an attempt to reveal Joseph as a fraud? If Joseph truly did declare the plates to be genuine then wouldn’t that be the time to reveal him an imposter? Or could William Clayton’s journal entry (the only recorded evidence of Joseph’s thoughts regarding the Kinderhook plates) be in error? If Joseph thought them to be real, when did he not pursue them as he had with the Abraham papyri? Either Joseph thought them to be real or he did not. If he thought them real why did he dismiss them (by his actions)? Bricks of evidence tend get thinner under objective scrutiny. I also have perceptions that are different from your perceptions when it comes to Joseph Smith. You see a malevolent man set on disrupting Christianity and seeking his own desires. The same was said about Jesus and every other prophet I’m sure. I am not saying Jesus was a only a prophet by the way.

If you only associated with people like Saul and Caiphas and the Sanhedrin, then you would have some fantastic evidence about how evil the man Jesus was. I think you are more like Peter rather than Paul. Don’t be the guy that has to see to believe. There are richer blessings for those who do not have to see the physical evidence and yet believe.

All I am saying is if the fruit is good then don’t dismiss the source because it doesn’t fit into your world view. Jesus healed on the Sabbath – that is some very good fruit even though it may not fit my perception of what a man calling Himself the Son of God would do.

To be clear I am not suggesting that you accept anything based on my word or any other person’s word. The Book of Mormon is the evidence. If Joseph Smith was a false prophet then the Book of Mormon is false. That seems to be your argument based on the assumption that Joseph Smith is the evidence. But he cannot be the evidence because he was hated or loved depending on who you talk to. No he cannot be the evidence you submit to God for an answer. The Book of Mormon is the evidence. If it is true then Joseph Smith is a prophet. That is the only way to get past the smoke and mirrors of history.

You are my friend and I only hope for you to realize what God has promised you and your family. Why do you need to know if the Book of Mormon is true? Why does it matter? In matters because if it is true the the following is also true:

Families are eternal units and you can continue to enjoy familial relationships beyond mortality

God has once again dispensed His Holy priesthood to benefit His children and you can receive that priesthood or authority to bless others

God continues to lead us with prophets and apostles

The nature of God is not a mystery. He is our literal Father (of our spirits), Jesus is His son and they are separate and distinct individuals. Jesus is a God with the Father and He is our elder brother (I know the idea of a plurality of Gods somehow violates your worldview but it is scriptural as you know – Eloheim is of course a plurality).

These and many other truths are revealed in our time for our benefit. This is why it matters. Does rejecting the Book of Mormon jeopardize your salvation? Absolutely not. But if true, you are living well beneath your ability with respect to who you really are and what God intends for you to become. Salvation describes a range of inheritances. I know that in your view it has only two options – saved or unsaved and that is true. But in the realm of the saved there is much much more to understand. So if you base the importance of what I have written on whether it will impact you salvation then the answer is no. But I submit that the thief on the cross receives a different inheritance than Peter.

As I have often stated in our discussions, what you believe is not nearly as important as who you have become. Ghandi, for example, when he sees His savior will recognize Him and worship at His feet and there will be very little distance between who Ghandi has become by how he has lived and who he has to be to live eternally with our Savior. At that point, Ghandi, an imperfect being who has separated himself from God by sin as we all have, can accept the redeeming love of his Savior and be redeemed from his sin. He and all the children of God who have not known the Savior can have their sins redeemed. The problem is for those who have only confessed with their mouth but not brought forth fruit worthy of their salvation (and I am not referring to salvation by works). These are people who have not become meek, humble and submissive to God as a child is to his parent. Even though they have professed the Savior even all their lives and are recipients of salvation offered, they will not have the same inheritance as Peter or Ghandi (assuming Ghandi to be a man who tried to live by the same kind of principles taught by Jesus).

So I have written many things here and I know much of it is abrasive to your worldview. The Book of Mormon is the evidence and you must look at it if you want to know the truth of it. Joseph Smith was a man, not a perfect man but a flawed man like all men are. You can focus on and amplify those flaws and see someone very different that who he really was. Others have done the same with Jesus and concluded He was not God. I will not speak any more of this matter unless you want to. I only want what is good for you and of course I know you wish the same for me. We are at bridge and I am beckoning you to follow me across that bridge. Not because if you stay where you are you will be destroyed but because I know life on this side of the bridge is more fulfilling. However, from you perspective, my side of the bridge leads you away from the truth you already know. Look at everyone you know on this side of the bridge, do they produce evil fruit? We love the Savior. We know the pain He suffered for us. We know we have a debt of gratitude for which we can never repay. We know we must travel the road He traveled which is lonely at times but worth the journey. You also love the Savior. So if we never cross the bridge until the Savior reveals Himself to us personally then I know we are both on the right general path and that is enough for me to know our friendship will endure beyond the grave.

Me: Wow, that was a BIG email.  You know there are a couple times in there where it seemed like you thought that you were in danger of offending me.  You don’t have to worry about that – I promise you!  I don’t take any of your writing as abrasive.  And I know right off the bat that we have many things that we disagree about, so that in and of itself would never offend me.  You are a great friend and as I stated before, I love talking about these issues with you.  In fact, I think there is no more important thing we could be talking about.  As I’ve said in our conversations before, if I’m going to die on any hill in battle, it would be the hill of Jesus Christ!

So…  Regarding your first point about Peter.  That is a really great point and has certainly caused me to think carefully.  It is true that Jesus said in Mat 16:17 “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.”  Now as I look at this statement, He is not saying that evidence did not play any role at all in Peter coming  to the conclusion that He was the Christ, but simply that no person on earth revealed it to him, but rather the Father in heaven.  In fact in the 3 gospels where this statement is recorded, 2 of them record miracles in the chapter (Mark 8 – feeding of 4000 and the healing of the blind man at Bethsaida, Luke 9 – Feeding of the 5000, the transfiguration and the healing of the boy with an evil spirit) and 1  both predicts and reminds the disciples of miracles in the chapter (Mat 16 – predicts the sign of Jonah [v4 – the resurrection] and His death and resurrection [v21], and reminded them about both the feeding of the 4000 and 5000 [v9-10]), so we can surmise that Jesus was certainly doing a lot of miracles right around that time.  So, I look at Peter, a guy who met Jesus maybe 2 years earlier, walking around with Him, eating with Him, living with Him on the road (homeless) seeing Him do all these miracles and it definitely makes sense that the revelation he was receiving from the Father in heaven lined up with what he was seeing with his eyes.  If he had thought his Father in heaven was instead revealing Matthew (Levi) the tax collector as the Christ, I think he would’ve questioned the revelation as maybe a bad burrito the night before.  I think the only reason that Peter made that profession of faith was that the spiritual revelation he had was in accordance with what he’d experienced.  Peter had personal experience with Jesus.  He knew Jesus – intimately as a member of his inner circle.  He saw all the miracles first hand.  He was putting it all together.  I believe Jesus when He said that the Father revealed it to him, but I also believe Peter would not have made the profession if the profession did not line up with what he was personally experiencing.

Your quotation of 1 Cor 2:14 is absolutely appropriate and so is 1 Cor 1:18 “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  Now as I said in my last email “belief is not even a natural condition for sinful man without the intervention of God”, so I agree with you there.  God must intervene to open our eyes so that we can evaluate the evidence fairly.  But that doesn’t mean that once we have our eyes open we instantly just believe.  It just means that we no longer have that enmity against God.  J. Warner Wallace has a great analogy he gives about anchovies on pizza.  He said that he hates anchovies, but if God were to remove that hatred for anchovies, it is not like he’d immediately go around seeking to find an anchovy pizza, but the next time he went to a restaurant and saw a menu with anchovies as an option we would be able to freely choose the anchovies because the hatred against anchovies had been removed.  He would still have to see that as an option on a menu or someone eating them to even consider ordering anchovies.  In the same way, once our eyes have been opened, someone still needs to present the gospel to us and then we would be able to freely choose to say yes.  Again, though, that presentation of the gospel should be backed by evidence.  No one is going to receive the flying spaghetti monster as lord because there’s no evidence to back it/him up.

Unfortunately, it’s time to go to work, so I’ll have to stop here.  I’ll reply on the rest of the points (hopefully) tomorrow.

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Continuing on from yesterday… Here is my concern.  When you say that the Book of Mormon is the evidence, not Joseph Smith, I believe that I understand what you are saying.  I hear you saying – evaluate the text in and of itself, don’t evaluate the man who wrote it down, because he is just a fallen human being like the rest of us.  But the Book of Mormon is 100% linked to the integrity of this single man – Joseph Smith.  This is nothing like the Bible, which was written by 40 authors over 1500 years and has plenty of historical and archeological evidence to back it up (not requiring blind faith to believe it).  Joseph Smith is the only one who had the vision.  He is the only one who claimed to translate these plates (which were not even present during the translation process).  No one else could verify it.  He is the only one who translated the ancient Egyptian scrolls that became the Book of Abraham.  The complete system relies on his integrity.  There is no way for anyone else to verify that what he said/wrote was not just an elaborate hoax.  He used the same ‘technology’ (the seer stone) to do the translation that he’d used in his former treasure digging (resulting in fraud charges against him and a trial in 1826).  He is the one who started an “anti-bank” in Kirtland Ohio that failed (resulting in lawsuits and arrests).  He was the one who claimed that polygamy was ordained by God after he was caught in an adulterous affair with Fanny Alger.  You may talk about the 3 witnesses (or 8 witnesses) as verifying what Joseph wrote down and seeing the golden plates.  In fact some LDS missionaries stopped by my house the other day and brought up the witnesses as evidence.  But here is some information that contradicts the [3 or 8] witnesses reliability:

Oliver Cowdery was eventually excommunicated from the Church after exposing Smith’s first polygamous relationship to Fanny Alger. Smith described Cowdery as a thief, liar, perjurer, counterfeiter, adulterer and leader of “scoundrels of the deepest degree”. Cowdery later became a Methodist and denied the Book of Mormon altogether and publicly confessed his “sorrow and Shame” for having any connection with Mormonism.

Martin Harris was a member of 5 different religious groups before becoming a Mormon, and he was part of eight different groups after leaving Mormonism. He was also excommunicated from the Mormon Church and later reported that he did not see the plates as Smith described, but only saw the plates three days after Cowdery and Whitmer and then only in a spiritual sense:

“I never saw the gold plates, only in a visionary or entranced state. …In about three days I went into the woods to pray that I might see the plates. While praying I passed into a state of entrancement, and in that state I saw the angel and the plates.” (Anthony Metcalf, Ten Years Before the Mast, n.d., microfilm copy, p. 70-71).

David Whitmer was also excommunicated from the Church and later declared that he was himself a prophet of the New Church of Christ. Joseph called him a “dumb beast to ride” and an “ass to bray out coursings instead of blessings”. Whitmer later admitted that he saw the plates “by the eye of faith” rather than with his physical eyes and he waffled between three varying accounts of how he saw the plates.

Eventually, Smith decided that this group of three “witnesses” was insufficient; he involved eight additional men and recruited them as potential eyewitnesses, forming a group of eleven total witnesses to the golden plates. Smith limited his choices to men that were close friends and relatives. He first involved four brothers of David Whitmer. Smith next recruited his own father, two of his brothers and Hiram Page (who was married to David Whitmer’s sister, Catherine). Even though Smith limited his choices to close friends and relatives, these men also had trouble staying true to the faith founded on the golden plates they claimed to see. Two of these eight men apostatsized and left the Church altogether. Another was excommunicated. Of the eleven men who claimed to see the golden plates, only five remained faithful to Mormonism. Three of these five men were blood relatives of Joseph Smith. Martin Harris later reported that these additional eight witnesses also observed the plates in a vision and never saw the plates with their “natural eyes”.

After the translation of the plates, Smith claimed that they were returned to the angel and were no longer available for examination. For this reason, no other witnesses were ever present to authenticate the golden plates.”

Why are people who were excommunicated from the Church listed in the front of the Book of Mormon as witnesses?

Regarding Jesus healing on the Sabbath – Jesus said in Mark 2 that the Sabbath made for man and that He is the Lord of the Sabbath.   Jesus is God and He is our Sabbath rest.  The Sabbath is a picture … a type.  There is a pretty decent little article here that talks about this topic.  So, it was the legalistic Pharisees who accused Him of this violation of the law.  Since Jesus is God and the Sabbath was made for man, it could be argued that #1, the Pharisees misunderstood the Sabbath and were wrong in accusing Jesus of violating it and #2, Jesus didn’t need to follow the Sabbath since it was for humanity, #3 Jesus created the Sabbath and knows the purpose of it better than the Pharisees and they are wrong, not Him.  So, I don’t believe Jesus violated that law.  So, you are correct in not dismissing Jesus because of this.  But Jesus has infinitely more in the way of credentials and trustworthiness than any other prophet (including Joseph Smith).

Regarding a plurality of Gods.  There is one God – scripture is clear about that.  See the following references (Rom 3:30, Isaiah 42:8, 43:10-11, 44:6-8, 45:21-24, 46:9-10, Neh 9:6, Deut 32:39, Hosea 13:4, [the shema] Deut 6:4 and Mk 12:29. 1 Cor 8:4, 1 Tim 2:5, James 2:19).  Many more can be given.  So, I don’t think it is possible for a Christian to believe that there can be more than 1 God.  However, that one God is revealed in Scripture as 3 co-eternal, co-equal persons: The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit.  Each of the persons revealed in the godhead are described with the attributes of deity and described with personal male pronouns (He).  I don’t have the time to list all the references supporting this, but trust me, there are many (you can use the Nuggets app and look at the tags ‘Deity of Jesus Christ’,  ‘Holy Spirit’ and ‘trinity’).  So, since both things are true (there is 1 God and in Scripture He is revealed in 3 persons) we can’t just throw one of them out and say there are 3 Gods which clearly contradicts Scripture.  Just because our finite human minds can’t fully comprehend the nature of God, doesn’t mean we can’t trust Him on His revelation of Himself.  I would not expect to be able fully comprehend (in this mortal life) everything about the God that made the enormous universe and everything in it.

I know there are a lot of other things I’ve yet to address from your last email, but I need to chunk this response bit by bit.

Thanks for listening…

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It is amazing that you’ve got me responding a 3rd day in a row!  And it may go beyond that J  A lot of great content in your email…  Let’s get to it.

First off, I’ve been meaning to ask this and I keep forgetting…  When I talk to you (and even when the Mormon missionaries stopped by this past Saturday), it seems like there is always a suggestion to read the Book of Mormon and pray to God about it to inquire as to whether it is true.  I have 2 questions:

  1. I don’t have any idea how many religions there are in the world, but are we supposed to read all of their holy books and pray about them too, or just the Book of Mormon?
  2. I’m pretty sure the answer to this question is no, but I’ll ask it anyway: have you read the Qur’an and prayed to God to see if it is true?  If not, why not?

The statement that if the Book of Mormon is true, then families are eternal units is at odds with Jesus, who said “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” (Matt 22:29-30)

Regarding someone like Ghandi, I would not want to give him or anyone like him any false assurance that they would have any chance after this life to accept Christ.  Paul says “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.  Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others.” (2 Cor 5:10-11b) and the author of Hebrews says “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment”. (Heb 9:27) Again, I would look at all the verses about repentance and salvation in Nuggets.  The verse that I think you’ve referred to in the past about Jesus going to preach to the prisoners (1 Peter 3:19), I understand to mean that Christ was proclaiming victory, not offering salvation to those already physically dead.

As I’m re-reading through the bottom half of your last email, I see the plea for me to follow you “across the bridge” where life is more fulfilling and if I don’t, I won’t be destroyed.  I hear what you’re saying.  I can’t help but be reminded by Pascal’s wager – the classic argument typically used in the context of Christian vs. Atheist.  But I’m seeing it as classical Christianity vs. LDS.  Typically the argument with Atheists goes something like this (Christian speaking to the Atheist and phrased in my own wording):

  1. If my worldview is right and there is a God and a judgment/reward, then when I die, I’ve avoided judgment and have hit the jackpot – I get eternal life of bliss and joy in heaven with Christ forever!
  2. If my worldview is wrong and there is no God, no afterlife, then when I die, we are both in the same position – dead – nothingness.  I’ve still lived a good life ~80 years, having a hope in a God who happened not to be there.  I was happy but deceived.
  3. If your worldview is right, then you die just like me, we end up in the same state (worm food), all you’ve gained is ~80 years of the pleasures of life on earth and have had the “freedom” to live how you wanted (which only leads to emptiness).
  4. If your worldview is wrong, you end up with eternal torment in hell separated from God and everything that is good, the worst of all possible situations.

So, the argument goes that you have more to gain and less to lose when you choose to believe in God.  The risk is too great and the benefit too small not to believe in God.

In a similar way, we could cast the argument in terms of our worldviews:

  1. If classical Christianity is true and the Book of Mormon and other LDS scriptures are just the words of a man (and therefore whatever is taught in them that contradicts the Bible amounts to another religion/God), then when I die, I’ve avoided judgment and have hit the jackpot – I get eternal life of bliss and joy in heaven with Christ forever!
  2. If the LDS view of the world is correct and the book of Mormon is true, as I understand it, being a Christian will not get me thrown into hell, but rather, only the first level of heaven, which I believe Joseph Smith said if you could get a glimpse of it, you’d want to commit suicide to get there since it is so wonderful.  So, my end state is still REALLY good if I don’t become a Mormon.
  3. If the LDS view of the world is correct, then you will go to the celestial kingdom/level of heaven and have a much greater eternal reward than me.  I know there are many other points/benefits you’d add here…
  4. If the LDS view of the world is NOT correct, then you are risking having spent your life believing/following the words of a man who claimed to be speaking for God and was not – a false prophet.  What that means for you in the afterlife, I’m not sure…  Heaven, hell?  I’m not totally sure about that.

So, taking the same argument, I would phrase it as: you have more to gain and less to lose when you choose to believe the classical Christianity view of the world (the Bible is the word of God and the LDS scriptures are not).  The risk is too great and the benefit too small to commit to the LDS view of the world.  Using that logic, it would not be wise for me to switch, but it would be wise for you to switch.

Jesus said that “unless you believe that I AM HE, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24).  As I understand, the word “HE” is not in the Greek, so, really He was using the phrase “I AM” from Exodus 3:14, where God met Moses at the burning bush.  Jesus said both directly and indirectly that there is one God (Mark 12:29) and that He is that God (John 14:6, John 8:58, John 10:30-33) and that one God is also revealed in 3 co-equal, co-eternal persons (John 14:26, Matthew 28:18-20).  All the New Testament authors agree.  If there is any doctrine of the LDS faith that views God in ways that are not biblical, then it would seem to be that the LDS faith describes and worships a different God (idolatry/polytheism).

So, I appreciate your offer to “walk across the bridge”, but I would say the risk is too great (because the circumstantial case against the author of the LDS scriptures is too great).  But I would like to offer to you to walk back across the bridge (before any of the planks fall out) and join me on this side.  We have great friendship, but we could really have biblical fellowship (i.e. Acts 2:42)!  I am concerned of course about your eternal destiny.  As I said, I don’t know what God holds in store in the afterlife for those on your side of the bridge, but I would not want you to take any chances.

Email Conversation with a Latter Day Saint Friend

This is an actual email conversation between me (an ‘evangelical’ Christian) and my friend (a Latter Day Saint).  It has been “sanitized” to remove personal names and references to other things we did not want to share.  My friend has agreed with the idea of me posting this and we thought it may help someone reading it.

Me (initial email): Hopefully all is going well…  I thought this was a good little blurb by Greg Koukl off of his STR app:

Modified Pro-Choice
By: Greg Koukl

Whenever you hear someone say, “I am personally against abortion, but I don’t think you should pass any laws against it,” one question should immediately be on your lips:  “Tell me, why are you personally against abortion?”  What you’ll almost always hear is, “I’m personally against abortion because I think it kills an innocent human being, but that’s my personal belief.  I don’t think I should force this belief on others.”

Follow up with this comment:  “Let me see if I understand you correctly.  You actually believe that abortion takes the life of an innocent human child, but mothers should still be allowed to do that to their own children.”  Then pause and let the logic of his comment sink in.

When I asked this question of one person he quickly responded, “Well, when you put it that way…”

I said, “Put it what way?  That’s your view, unless I’ve misunderstood you.  Please correct me if I have.  As I understand it, that’s precisely what you believe.

This isn’t a trick.  It’s not clever ‘spin.’  I merely repeated what he’d just told me.  That was his view.  It just didn’t sound so good coming back at him.

Friend:  Yes – It always bothers me when someone tries to sound like they are taking the “high road” in thinking when they say that. Like they have no right to judge the actions of others but because they don’t support it for themselves then they have done their due diligence and can put the issue to rest in their own mind. That is such a cop-out. It only serves to make them somehow feel better about murder of innocent human babies. Love how Mr Koukl handles that reasoning.

My study of Intelligent Design vs Evolution over the past few years has caused me great interest in cellular biology. I am fascinated at the amazing complexity and function of cells. As I learn how wonderfully these microscopic units that comprise all life are made I am in awe of God’s wisdom and power. It is similar to how you feel when you understand the enormity and endless realm of God’s universe. From the micro to the macro and everything in between there is order and purpose. I am reminded of a Book of Mormon prophet named Alma who was confronted by a non-believer who was successful at turning many away from the gospel of Jesus Christ. Alma says to Korihor, “And now what evidence have ye that there is no God when you have all things as a testimony – yea all things denote there is a God”. Ignore the fact that it comes from the Book of Mormon and focus on the truth of Alma’s words. I know we can agree that “all things denote that there is a God!“.

I miss our discussions and am always grateful to have you as a friend.

Me: Likewise – always grateful to have you as a friend.  I always wonder what people think when they see us being such good friends.  No one has ever asked me about it…  Most people in our profession are pretty astute and I’m sure they were well aware during the last election cycle (with Mitt Romney being the Republican candidate) over the “tension” between the LDS community and (in particular) evangelicals, or at the minimum, the fact that there are differences in our views.  I think it was great for those who think a lot of bad things come from “religion”, to see us getting along and agreeing on many topics, though we have differences – I think we handled those calmly and responsibly.  Unfortunately, with the continual news coverage of religiously motivated violence in the Middle East (e.g. current sectarian conflict in Syria), that just empowers those opposed to “religion” to take measures to make sure that faith is banned from the public square.  I really think these are all important worldview issues and we ought to all be able to discuss them as adults without it resulting in strife, malice, etc.  I certainly enjoyed your company and all of our conversations as well as your boldness with the secularists among us and how you engaged them in a winsome way.  I will always remember that and take inspiration from that.  I thought you might be interested in some objections posed to me by a skeptic:

  1. The language of the Bible is “antiquated”
  2. Christianity is too simple
    1. God – an old man with a beard
    2. Jesus – what does he matter to me (just a guy that lived 2000 years ago)
  3. Doesn’t understand why Jesus is the only way, why not Buddha or some other religious leader
  4. Doesn’t believe in hell – thinks hell is only something that Christians use to scare people.
  5. Doesn’t believe in sin
  6. Doesn’t believe fornication is a sin
  7. How can it be fair – we’ve never been told the commandments and now we’re supposed to understand we’ve broken them?
  8. What if you search for God and Jesus and can’t find them?
  9. Doesn’t believe that Jesus was sinless
  10. Had a problem with original sin
  11. If it is true that we are born sinful, why wasn’t Jesus sinful
  12. Are all other religions wrong?  That’s arrogant.
  13. Believes he’s a good person
  14. Why doesn’t God just let everyone into heaven?
  15. Jesus isn’t God
  16. Who was Jesus paying when he paid for our sins?  Wasn’t it just God paying God – God paying himself?
  17. Doesn’t believe that Jesus existed
  18. If Jesus did exist, he doesn’t think he was resurrected – resurrections are impossible – come on Steve, you are logically minded.
  19. Thinks there is some kind of God, but not the Christian God.
  20. Even if there is a God who created the universe, doesn’t believe that a miracle like a resurrection is possible – just wishful thinking.
  21. His boss was a hypocrite – wanted to pray at lunch and tell him about Jesus, but then was telling him about the $20,000 boat he was going to buy – shouldn’t he be giving that money to the poor?

I haven’t documented my answers, but definitely it was an interesting conversation…

By the way, the next 2 weeks, I’m going to be visiting another church in the area (Chandler Christian Church) because they are holding a 6 week apologetics series – on the second week, Frank Turek will be there, so I really want to be there to hear him speak.  Here are the topics that will be covered:

September 7-8    You can trust your Bible!
Kickoff celebration–Wear your favorite football team jersey
Too often, without even looking at the evidence, people conclude that God’s Word cannot be trusted. But what if you took a second look? When you do, you’ll discover that after further review, there is more than enough evidence to trust God’s Word.

September 14-15    Atheism is a leap of faith!
Guest speaker Frank Turek, author of “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist”
A lot of people object to faith in God because they believe that science makes Christianity a leap of faith. However, you don’t have to set aside reason in order to believe. There is compelling evidence for the existence of God if we just slow it down and take a closer look. In this message, we examine the evidence and will find that after further review, there is sufficient evidence for God and atheism is a leap of faith.

September 21-22    Life is hard but God is good!
Guest speaker Gary Bates of Creation Ministry International
Many non-believers question how someone could believe in a good God who allows so much suffering in this world. But if we look at the Bible’s history we learn that God never intended the world to be this way and He has done something about all the death and suffering in the world. In this message, we will see that after further review, life is hard but God is good!

September 28-29      Skeptics can believe!
Guest speaker Jeff Vines, author of  “Dinner with Skeptics” & “Unbroken” and pastor of Christ Church of the Valley, San Dimas, CA
Most people don’t feel comfortable voicing their skepticism or doubts inside the church. We are told to “just believe” without question. But oftentimes we can’t grow in our faith until we learn to question what we believe. In this message, we will explore the answers to a skeptics questions and find that after further review, skeptics can believe.

October 5-6     There is only one true faith!
Many people object to faith in God because believing that there’s only one way sounds too narrow and intolerant. But what if it’s really true? What if there is really one way to God? After exploring the reasons to follow Christ, you will find that after further review, there is just one true way to God.

October 12-13    You Make the Call!
For the last five weeks, we’ve reviewed the solid, rational evidence for our faith. Even for referees some decisions are easy to see. But if they don’t share the news…if they don’t inform the public, they bring the game to a standstill! Since we have the Truth, we must make the call and tell others the Good News! This weekend we will talk about just how we can “make the call.”

I may be starting up an apologetics ministry at our church too…

Are you coming back to the valley anytime soon?  If so, I’d like to go to lunch.

P.S.  In case you’re wondering how I’m able to write all this, I’m off work today!

Friend: haha – I was wondering how you wrote so much… You are a fast typist.

I’d love to attend the conference as well. Oh well… I really like Frank Turek’s ministry. He does a lot of good work. Most evangelicals do. They should refrain from mis-characterizing other Christians as they sometimes like to do. I so enjoy watching them but the occasional “unless you’re a Mormon then you believe this or that haha” is really a downer when you are on a spiritual high with them. I understand their perspective but there is a degree of ignorance in it. We have so much we agree on and that should be our focus. The world needs unity in the body of Christ. That kind of thing unnecessarily adds fuel to the fire. My wife became a convert to the LDS faith in her late teens. Her grandparent’s church regularly taught the “evils of Mormonism” and fortunately she saw this as unchristian-like behavior. Show how much you love God by your life (individually and as a group) and people will follow the example. Talking about other religions (particularly Christians) in a demeaning way is simply church sanctioned gossip. I know you are probably of the same opinion as I am on this.

Thanks for the list of objections. Those are very good questions we should be able to give good answers to. In fact, I think if you could give answers to those questions they address 90% of the criticism non-believers typically give. I will spend some time with them myself to see what I can come up with. I am thinking of a lecture by Ken Ham (I believe) where he reminds us as Christians to be careful pointing to the world as evidence of God’s existence and His love for us. For many people, the world represents suffering, death, inequity, lifelong struggles and difficulty. He suggests always qualifying our references to the creation as a “Fallen” creation so we need to explain that the imperfection others tend to focus on is part of God’s plan and fulfills His purpose. Now there is a challenge in doing this because non-believers will often cite extreme examples of injustice that no loving God would allow. So I guess the answers to these objections are sometimes not a simple sentence or two but our goal should be to be able to answer in a sentence or two. Not a complete answer but one that opens a door of doubt (or hope depending on perspective).

Me: You’re right, we agree on a lot, and we should rejoice in that.  But, as you and I have talked before, we have a big barrier in the way.  And that is the LDS Scriptures – Book of Mormon, Doctrines and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price.  Really, in my opinion, that is the only thing in the way of “classical Christianity” fully accepting LDS believers.  The reason I think that is because I believe our doctrinal differences would largely disappear if LDS believers did not have their own Scriptures, at least to the point where it would just be considered another protestant denomination (e.g. Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, etc.).  Of course, then, there would be no point in calling them LDS believers!  I think on ethical/moral issues, we largely agree (e.g. moral/ethical teaching of Jesus).  I think we differ in doctrinal and sometimes historical issues.  Remember, the Reformation in which the Protestants split from the Roman Catholics was based on the 5 “solas”:  sola fide (by faith alone), sola scriptura (by Scripture alone), sola gratia (by grace alone), solus Christus (by Christ alone), soli Deo gloria (Glory to God alone).   A big part of that is “sola Scriptura”, which to the reformers (Martin Luther, John Calvin, etc) definitely meant that the Bible alone is sufficient to be the final authority for Christian Doctrine.  So, I don’t think “classical Christianity” will ever be able to fully embrace a faith system that does not hold to the reformers principal of “sola Scriptura”.

While I don’t ever think we (classical Christianity) should be condescending or mean or unloving or mis-characterizing or “joking”, I certainly think we should continue to acknowledge the issues and our differences and talk openly about them (as you and I have many times). And I’m so thankful that you and I can talk openly and calmly about our differences – really think that is truly remarkable!  However, I think LDS and “classical Christianity” are separate for a reason.  We are not close enough in doctrine to be considered the “same religion”.  In fact, as you certainly know, LDS started by rejecting all the current Christian denominations at the time and calling them the great apostasy, saying their creeds were an abomination in God’s sight and claiming to be a restoration of the true faith (correct me if I have the wording or concepts wrong).  In fact that one CD you gave me to listen to a while back even said that – (I can’t remember the guy’s name) he was talking about the history of the church and how it got corrupted over the centuries and so forth.  So, LDS started by wanting to be separate from (or to restore) “classical Christianity” for a reason.  If there was nothing to “restore”, Joseph would’ve just picked one of the existing denominations (I think he was leaning toward Methodist, even though his family was Presbyterian) and you and I might be worshiping in the same church today!

So, like you, I’m certainly grieved about a church that would regularly teach about “evils of Mormonism”.  I would never do that.  The church that I attend does not do that and I’m not aware of any church that does (nor have I attended any that do).  I really like LDS people – they are certainly some of the nicest and most devout people I’ve ever met (and I’ve met a lot of them, having lived in Salt Lake).  That being said, I see no problem with a church teaching the type of information that I gave to you in the form of the Jim Wallace CDs on the concerns surrounding Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham.  That is just preparing people with information to help them to interact with LDS believers (“speaking the truth in love” – Eph 4:15 and knowing how to give an answer to everyone – Col 4:5-6, 1 Peter 3:15-16).  I can love someone as a person and not agree with their beliefs and maybe even believe they are deceived.   I can be respectful and not quarrelsome or demeaning and still be able to challenge their theology, pre-suppositions (see 2 Tim 2:23-26. 4:1-4).

One thing I miss about you being gone, is that we can’t have these types of conversations face to face (like it used to be).  And I think face to face is the way these types of conversation are most effective.  It is really hard to achieve the standard of “speaking the truth in love” when it is over email or some other digital form.  The good thing is that you and I have history together and I think you know that any challenges I bring to you come from a heart of love and concern.  None of this is new, we’ve talked about it all before…

Thanks for listening.

Friend: Thanks for a thoughtful reply. I clearly understand your position and would expect a disciple of Christ to behave in the manner you do behave with respect to other religions. You are nothing but respectful and knowledgeable. I do not think it reasonable for anyone LDS to expect non-LDS Christians to dismiss our differences. In fact, I (we) want you to understand our differences although I do wish your understanding were more balanced but even so, you, at least, have invested some degree of effort to arrive at what you esteem to be the truth. How can I find fault with a sincere search for truth? I cannot. I only wish you would have included some study of the Book of Mormon itself and sincere prayer about its source. But having said that, I also recognize that there is nothing I can say that you haven’t already considered. So I decided a long time ago that because both you and I love the gospel of Jesus Christ and the principles of truth it contains, we can enjoy the Holy Spirit’s presence when we talk of the things we both know to be true. On many occasions I have felt the Spirit in our discussions and I really miss that.

However, I do believe that there are precious gems in LDS scripture that are not objectionable to you. If the Koran were to testify of the divinity of Christ in a beautiful or thought provoking way, I think both of us would embrace the truth in it regardless of the source. I do not believe the adversary is capable of testifying of the divinity of Christ in any manner – even to deceive. So, because of that I do from time to time reference a verse from LDS scripture in my communication with you. When I do that, I do not have the expectation that you will immediately have some epiphany and embrace a revealed religion. I simply find some verses appropriate to our discussion. I know you well enough to know that this doesn’t offend you and you can appreciate the truth in the statement just as you might a statement from C.S. Lewis or Frank Turek.

Me: Thanks for the reply [Name], this is great conversation!  How I long for those days when we were able to talk about this stuff in person…

I have a hypothetical situation for you.  Let’s say this month, in 2013, a 14 – 20 year old young man makes the claim that he’s had a vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ and they tell him that both current Latter Day Saints as well as all other Christian denominations are corrupt and have “apostasized”.  Furthermore, this young man claims that an angel buried plates and revealed the location to him, from which he located them and translated a book, which he claims is the “most correct of any book on earth “.  So, this book that he translates is claimed to supersede both the Bible and the current Book of Mormon and other LDS Scriptures in authority.   Considering this hypothetical situation, LDS believers would be put in the same situation that Christians were put in when Joseph had his vision in ~1820 and later translated the Book of Mormon.  I’m just trying to give you a modern example to make you see why I might not have a reason to study the Book of Mormon or to believe Joseph Smith.

If I had been around in let’s say 1830 in Palmira and was a Christian like I am now, I wouldn’t have considered Joseph’s claims as credible.  I would’ve known that I have the Bible, that this cannon of Scripture has been in place for over 1600 years (considering the Muratorian fragment ~ 170 AD).  I would’ve known that the Bible contains early eyewitness testimony about the life, teachings of Jesus and the way of salvation. I really would’ve had have no reason to believe someone who says he claims to have had a vision and to know more about Jesus, who lived 1800 years ago than the eyewitnesses who ate, lived and walked around with Him for 3 years.  Additionally, the ‘solo’ nature of this vision and subsequent revelation to Joseph is what would’ve made me very suspicious.  When comparing to the new testament, where we have 9 authors writing 27 separate books/letters over a period of 30-60 years within the life-times of the eyewitnesses, each corroborating the others’ work, and who (all but 1) were martyred for what they were proclaiming when a recantation would’ve saved them, I don’t think the Book of Mormon comes anywhere close to standing up evidentially to what we have in the new testament.  So that’s how I look at it – why even start to consider it?  I know people quote this verse all the time regarding LDS, but I do think its relevant when it speaks of an angel preaching a different gospel (Gal 1:8).  It really seems that what’s spoken of in this verse actually happened to Joseph.  So, because of this, if I had been around in 1830 in Palmira, I’d have had biblical reasons to “not even go there” (besides the other evidential suspicions I would’ve had).

Another thought just occurred too – if I’m living in the year 3801 and I wanted to get the accurate information about what happened during the terror attacks on September 11th 2001 (1800 years prior), do you think I should be looking at what is being written about the people and the event by authors writing in the year 3801?  Or should I rather look at the material that was written/recorded as close to the event as possible (at least within 50 years of the event)?  I think the answer is obvious.  The closer to the events, the more accurate and reliable the information will be.

Those are the reasons why I don’t think it is reasonable for me to investigate the Book of Mormon or pray about it.

And your comment about truth in other religions or outside the Bible is an accurate one.  All truth is God’s truth.  When religions other than Christianity claim that you are to love your neighbor or help the poor, they are at that specific point credible and accurate.  When the Qur’an claims that Jesus existed, His birth was announced by angels, was born of a virgin, performed miracles and was without sin, it is accurate.  However when it says that He was not actually crucified and that there was a substitute on the cross, it is not accurate.

Nice hearing from you again!

Friend: I agree – this is a great discussion.

Good analogy. If I may, I would like to present what I see as the same scenario but one that actually happened.

Imagine you are an Israelite (from the tribe of Levi) living in Egypt prior to the Exodus. A known murderer by the name of Moses (also a Levite) claims God appeared to him in the form of a burning bush and, as a consequence of that experience now knows the “true” account of the creation, the “correct” history and heavenly interactions with Adam, Eve, father Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He produces a written history (we call Genesis) which he claims to be the most correct of all the stories handed down from generation to generation. Of course, you and your Levite brothers are concerned because not only does this mortally flawed man claim God appeared to him but he is also claiming that your traditions are incomplete and in some cases “apostate” and that is a slap in the face to you and your brothers of the Levitical priesthood. He introduces a new law as revealed from the exchange he had with God which becomes known as the Law of Moses (“Moses’ law or God’s Law?” you and your brothers say among yourselves). You consider yourself a devout Levite and follower of the sacred traditions. This man Moses must surely be an imposter. A faker trying to regain his lost status but this time among the Israelite slaves because his grand deception of who he really is has been discovered by the Egyptians. It is obvious to you and others that Moses is not what God would use as a prophet. He surely is not the stature of the men who preceded him like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob or Noah. No – Moses is a phony and so is his so called revelations from a “burning bush” of all things. How silly, if you’re making up a story at least make God something more respectable than a bush. The more likely explanation you and your other well-meaning friends agree on is that Moses is a master of deception following the order of the master of deception – Satan himself.

Now I imagine you are probably saying to yourself that I am ignoring a very important difference. Moses performed many miracles which were observed by many. This begs the question “do miracles make a difference in what humans want to believe?” I submit the answer is NO. Even after crossing the Red Sea on dry ground the Israelites were not convinced of Moses’ calling. Their lack of faith in spite of miracles led them to worship false gods.

To cite an even more important example – Even after the many witnesses of the miracles of Jesus, the chant of the crowd (who were Jews) was “Let Barabbas go but Crucify Him”.

You are an honest man Steve and I do not often refer to others that way. I would challenge you to also insert yourself in the place of the hypothetical Levite priest and ask yourself if you would reject Moses and his writings had he not led you to freedom. Once you characterize a man and associate with others who do the same, it is difficult to be objective. You, though well-meaning, and your associates (some not so well-meaning) have done so with Joseph Smith.

I have thought about how best to address the claim that the Bible is the only and final authority. I have come up with several reasons why it is not. But when I read the following, I concluded that there is no better way to say it than how God Himself has said it. Of course, in your mind these are not the words of God but the words of an evil man or if not evil then a lunatic. Please read them and ask if they sound like the words of your creator or the words of a false prophet. Open yourself to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and reflect on God’s love for you and your family. Do you want to know the truth or would you rather travel the road that is comfortable? You are a good man and whether you embrace the idea of God revealing Himself as he has throughout history or that the heavens are mostly closed and the Bible is all you’re willing to accept, I believe you are becoming what God intends for us to become and that is a very good thing. But, I know He has more in store for you and your family. I know that God’s plan for you on this earth is far greater than you imagine.

And because my words shall hiss forth—many of the Gentiles shall say: A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible.

But thus saith the Lord God: O fools, they shall have a Bible; and it shall proceed forth from the Jews, mine ancient covenant people. And what thank they the Jews for the Bible which they receive from them? Yea, what do the Gentiles mean? Do they remember the travails, and the labors, and the pains of the Jews, and their diligence unto me, in bringing forth salvation unto the Gentiles?

O ye Gentiles, have ye remembered the Jews, mine ancient covenant people? Nay; but ye have cursed them, and have hated them, and have not sought to recover them. But behold, I will return all these things upon your own heads; for I the Lord have not forgotten my people.

Thou fool, that shall say: A Bible, we have got a Bible, and we need no more Bible. Have ye obtained a Bible save it were by the Jews?

Know ye not that there are more nations than one? Know ye not that I, the Lord your God, have created all men, and that I remember those who are upon the isles of the sea; and that I rule in the heavens above and in the earth beneath; and I bring forth my word unto the children of men, yea, even upon all the nations of the earth?

Wherefore murmur ye, because that ye shall receive more of my word? Know ye not that the testimony of two nations is a witness unto you that I am God, that I remember one nation like unto another? Wherefore, I speak the same words unto one nation like unto another. And when the two nations shall run together the testimony of the two nations shall run together also.

And I do this that I may prove unto many that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and that I speak forth my words according to mine own pleasure. And because that I have spoken one word ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another; for my work is not yet finished; neither shall it be until the end of man, neither from that time henceforth and forever.

Wherefore, because that ye have a Bible ye need not suppose that it contains all my words; neither need ye suppose that I have not caused more to be written.

For I command all men, both in the east and in the west, and in the north, and in the south, and in the islands of the sea, that they shall write the words which I speak unto them; for out of the books which shall be written I will judge the world, every man according to their works, according to that which is written.

For behold, I shall speak unto the Jews and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the Nephites and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the other tribes of the house of Israel, which I have led away, and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto all nations of the earth and they shall write it.

And it shall come to pass that the Jews shall have the words of the Nephites, and the Nephites shall have the words of the Jews; and the Nephites and the Jews shall have the words of the lost tribes of Israel; and the lost tribes of Israel shall have the words of the Nephites and the Jews.

And it shall come to pass that my people, which are of the house of Israel, shall be gathered home unto the lands of their possessions; and my word also shall be gathered in one. And I will show unto them that fight against my word and against my people, who are of the house of Israel, that I am God, and that I covenanted with Abraham that I would remember his seed forever.

And finally from the book of Revelation which is prophetic and describes events to come after Jesus’ mortal ministry.

And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people.

The Bible IS the word of God. Neither I or any who believe in the Book of Mormon will say nor believe otherwise. We only say it is not all God has to reveal. The Bible is the inspired word of God preserved for the benefit of His children. It is beautiful in revealing the gospel of Jesus the Christ. The Bible doesn’t lose any credibility from our perspective but is superseded by the Book of Mormon only because it has not been influenced by the interpretations of man. Whether the Book of Mormon is a product of a man is the underlying question that we can only resolve by an appeal to the Holy Spirit. If Pharaoh would have appealed to God instead of his magicians, the evidence he saw would have been interpreted very differently. Where should you make your appeal?

As always Steve – our friendship is more important to me that our differences.

Me: The only reason I’m holding this email conversation is because I know that our friendship is more important than our differences and all of the arguments and counter arguments do nothing to change that.  I typically don’t like to have email (or any other digitally based) conversations, because they tend to be impersonal and result in “ill-will”, but because we have history together, I think it works.  I just need to make sure I’m always “writing with a smile”.  Please let me know if I’m not…

Regarding your first several paragraphs: I think in our conversations previously, I’ve admitted this to you.  I would probably not believe the much of the Old Testament ‘independently’.  The reason I believe the Old Testament is because of the New Testament (and specifically what Jesus said, along with what the apostles said).  So, I guess the answer to your question is that if I were in the place of that hypothetical Levite priest, I would probably have rejected Moses (unless I’d personally witnessed the miracles or knew others who I trusted who had and they could convince me evidentially).  As you know, I’m an evidentialist…  The argument laid out in the book “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist” makes a lot of sense to me (especially points 6-12):

  1. Truth about reality is knowable.
  2. The opposite of true is false.
  3. It is true that the theistic God exists. This is evidenced by the: Beginning of the universe (Cosmological Argument), Design of the universe (Teleological Argument / Anthropic Principle), Design of life (Teleological Argument), Moral Law (Moral Argument)
  4. If God exists, then miracles are possible.
  5. Miracles can be used to confirm a message from God (i.e., as acts of God to confirm a word from God).
  6. The New Testament is historically reliable. This is evidenced by:  Early testimony, Eyewitness testimony, Un-invented (authentic) testimony, Eyewitnesses who were not deceived
  7. The New Testament says Jesus claimed to be God
  8. Jesus’ claim to be God was miraculously confirmed by: His fulfillment of many prophecies about himself, His sinless life and miraculous deeds, His prediction and accomplishment of his resurrection
  9. Therefore Jesus is God.
  10. Whatever Jesus (who is God) teaches is true.
  11. Jesus taught that the Bible is the Word of God.
  12. Therefore, it is true that the Bible is the Word of God (and anything opposed to it is false).

I don’t believe the accounts about Moses because Moses wrote them down and claims that its true.  I believe the accounts of Moses because Jesus referred to them as the word of God and said they were true.  For example in John 5:46-47, Jesus says that it is actually important that we believe what Moses wrote: “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?”  Additionally, Jesus referred to a lot of the old testament as if it was historically accurate.  For example, He authenticated the story of Jonah (Matt 12:40) and a literal Adam and Eve at the beginning of creation (Mat 19:4).  Would I believe these stories independently?  Probably not, but when the Creator of the universe says that these stories written down by Moses and Jonah > thousand years earlier are actually true history, I must believe it.

And yes, I do believe that men do not believe even in the face of evidence. In fact John 12:37 says “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him.”  There are 3 reasons that people do not believe: intellectual, emotional and volitional.  The 2nd and 3rd one are potentially disbelief in the face of compelling evidence.  The Bible also says that we are born spiritually dead (Rom 5:12,6:13,8:7) and that it is only by grace we are saved (Eph 2:1-10; Titus 3:4-7; Rom 9:15-16).  God is the one who opens our eyes and removes the enmity we have toward Him (John 6:37,44,65, 8:47; Luke 10:22; Rom 11:29; 2 Tim 2:25; Isaiah 65:1). So, belief is not even a natural condition for sinful man without the intervention of God.

Even though all that is true, the apostle John goes on later in his gospel to record the reason he wrote it:

John 20:30-31 – Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Likewise, Luke records the reason, he wrote his gospel:

Luke 1:1-4 – Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

In fact the Bible is filled with statements about evidence and the role of logic and apologetics in faith.  If written a blog some time ago on the fact that Christianity is an evidential faith (http://galatians2v20.wordpress.com/2011/08/12/evidential-christianity-yes-you-heard-me-right-its-in-the-bible/).  So, I still stand by my statement biblically that I’m justified through faith and that faith is based on good evidence.

Regarding the Book of Mormon passage: those are nice, poetic words.  Even though, as I’ve said before, I don’t like King James English, since it is not the language I speak daily.  This actually makes me think about a problem I have that I think I relayed to you previously.  Why is the Book of Mormon written in King James English when it was written at a time when King James English was not being spoken in America?  I know the text is supposed to refer to events written in Old Testament times and that the during the translation process, Joseph looked through the seer stone into the dark hat and saw each sentence, then he spoke it and one of the people sitting with him (Oliver C, Emma, etc) wrote it down.  If that is the case, why did God give him the Book of Mormon in a “dialect” not being spoken in the present day?  When I look at that text specifically, the first sentence jumps out at me: “A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible”.  At the time of the events this records (somewhere in OT period?), as I’m sure you’re aware, there was no “bible”.  That wasn’t compiled until much later.  I think the earliest list we have is the Muratorian fragment (~ 170 AD) and from what I remember, that specific word does not even start to get used until much later in history, so the use of the word “bible” is an anachronism, of which there are many that I’ve heard about in the Book of Mormon.  Now, I understand that this is supposed to be “prophetic”, so is this to be understood as a prophecy that people will say in later days that we’ve already got a bible?  Even so, Scripture is always written to speak to those that were alive at the time, and the people in OT times would not have understood the term bible.

I understand that passage in Revelation to be referring to the time of Christ’s second return and those who are living on the earth at that time.  So, I don’t think that would relate to Joseph or any of his visions.

When you say “Whether the Book of Mormon is a product of a man is the underlying question that we can only resolve by an appeal to the Holy Spirit”, I’m sorry, I don’t agree with that statement.  I don’t see the New Testament communicating that type of approach to determining truth.  Again, I would refer you to my blog showing that Christianity is an evidential faith.  Paul clearly stated before Festus and Agrippa that his faith was “true and reasonable” and based on evidence of things “not done in a corner” (Acts 26:24-29).  So, I prefer to stick with the approach that the apostles and Jesus had.

My original issues brought up still remain – why would I even go there?  I haven’t even brought up the Book of Abraham or the Kinderhook plates or any of the other many issues that I have that prevent me from even considering anything originating with Joseph Smith.  No matter how nice it sounds, I do not see any reason for attributing any credibility to it.

It has been a long time writing and I need to get ready to leave for work, but there is a lot more I’d like to say.  I appreciate your heart of concern for me and as I’m sure you know, I have a heart of concern for you as well.  I don’t know what the afterlife holds in store for LDS believers, but I think that we should all exercise great caution in determining what sources we should trust in our quest to seek and know God.  May your quest result in you finding the truth!

I never think about God or my own mortality – really?

I had dinner with a colleague this evening.  It felt a little awkward because this colleague happened to be female and we both happened to come down to the hotel restaurant at the very same time.  So, we weren’t going to eat separately therefore we went ahead and sat down together – all that was open was a 2 person table, so no one else could really join us, even if someone else came down.  I was definitely concerned about how this would appear, because we are both married, but it would’ve been really awkward if we’d decided to sit separately.  None the less, I was hoping the conversation could be an opportunity to discuss meaningful things with her, since I only knew her at work.

During the conversation, she mentioned that she didn’t drink (alcohol) and I also said that I really don’t drink either.  About the most I ever drink is a glass of wine at Christmas or Thanksgiving.  She asked why and I told her that interestingly enough, I used to drink heavily and often, but ever since I became a Christian, I really no longer have a desire to drink.  She just kind of let that slide with no comment about the Christian part.  As we went on through the dinner, I mentioned to her that I’d almost extended my trip with a visit to a place near where she lives to attend a conference.  She asked what kind of conference and I told her it was a Christian apologetics conference.  Again, she let that slide – I was pretty sure she didn’t know what Christian apologetics was, so I figured she just must not want to talk about spiritual things, since she didn’t ask about it.  So, we continued to talk about other things and finally, during a lull in the conversation, I asked her “if you don’t mind me asking, do you have any kind of religious background or affiliation?”  I assured her she didn’t have to answer if she didn’t want to…  She said, not really.  She talked about how her son goes to a Christian school, how they teach good morals and values there and how sometimes they have Chapel and the parents are expected to attend with their child, so she has gone and found the sermons somewhat interesting.  But overall, she said she really doesn’t ever even think about it.  I asked her, “Well, do you believe in God?”  She said she really didn’t know and that she just never thinks about it – in fact, never really even has the time to think about it.  She recounted all the things she was busy with in her life and said with all of that, the only “down time” she has normally is spent on Saturday night catching a little TV…  I (nicely) pressed a little harder, “Do you ever think about what’s going to happen when you die or where all this [the world, universe, etc] came from?”  Again she repeated that, no, she never really thinks about God or her own mortality.  I did end up explaining to her what Christian apologetics is, but then I just let the spiritual part of the conversation fizzle out because it really wasn’t moving along easily.  I could’ve pressed harder, but being that she was a work colleague, I hoped that I’d put a pebble in her shoe about this topic.

I really find it hard to understand how a person could not really have thought about any of these topics – their own death, the existence of God, why we (and the universe) are here.  We are all literally one heartbeat away from entering eternity and facing a Holy God to give an account of ourselves (Rom 14:12).  I hope that I’ll have the opportunity to talk to her about this again at some point, but that may have been the last time it’ll come up.  I did say at the end of our conversation that I hope that she would someday have the time to start to think about these important issues.  I hope and pray that God will use the little bit I said the get her thinking that she won’t be here forever, and that in the same way she prepares for her retirement or an upcoming vacation, she should also be preparing to enter through the door of death into the final “retirement”.  Just like one who has not prepared for their retirement from work, receives negative consequences, so those who don’t prepare for death will be unpleasantly surprised when it happens.

Conversation about Christianity

Today (while on a business trip in Germany) after work on the way home I mentioned that I really wanted to walk to the city center of the city where we were staying and see what was there. So, immediately one of the passengers in the car, a person from China, asked if she could go as well. I said yes. So as we were walking, I asked about where that Church was in the town center. I said I was interested in seeing it because I’m a Christian and I wanted to see what kind of Church it was. After we saw the Church, she asked me if (as a Christian) I “have to go to Church every week”. I said that well, I don’t have to, but I do go, and I want to go every week. She asked me how long I’d been a Christian and I said, “Well since the age of 37, but it’s a long story” and I proceeded to essentially tell her about my journey and my testimony. I told her how Christ has transformed my life. I asked her if she’d ever heard of the term “born again”. She said she had but didn’t really know what it meant. So, I went on to explain how it truly feels like I have a new life. My life before Christ does not at all resemble my life after becoming a Christian. I explained how the Bible used to be a boring book to me and how now it has come alive and I love reading it because it is God’s word.

She asked whether I had restrictions on my lifestyle because of being a Christian. I told that no, there’s no restrictions, but the reason Christians want to live a holy life is that first of all, God has really changed their hearts and they no longer want to do the things they used to do before. Secondly, they just want to please God, because they love Him. I explained how living a holy life does not save us, but that once we are saved, then the transformation in our lives happens after that. As we were talking, it became clear to me that she really didn’t know much about Christianity – so I asked her whether she really knew about Christianity. She said no, not really. So I started off by telling her about God’s law. I asked her if she’d ever heard of the ten commandments and she said no. So I started to name them off and she was familiar with them as I named them. So, I said, those are God’s laws and all human beings have broken them. Then I explained that God has a penalty that a person has to pay for their breaking of God’s laws, which I explained to her is sin. Then I asked her if she’d ever heard of Jesus. She said yes. I asked her if she knew why He came to earth. She said no. I explained that He was God who came down and became man to pay the penalty for man’s sins. He did this because God knew that humans could not keep His law, so Jesus came to pay the penalty for all those laws we’ve all broken. I went on to say that if we believe in Him, He will forgive us and give us the free gift of eternal life in heaven with Him. I asked her if she’d ever heard of hell. She said yes. I told her that if people don’t have their sins paid for by Jesus, they go to hell to pay for their own sins. Then I realized that I hadn’t even mentioned the death and resurrection of Jesus to her. So, I asked her if she’s ever seen the symbol of the cross (she said yes) and whether she knew what that meant. She said she really didn’t know what it meant. So, I explained how Jesus came to earth and lived a perfect life and was ultimately killed for claiming to be God. But that was the plan all along that Jesus was killed by men, but that He had to die in order to pay the penalty for our sins. So He was killed on a cross, but then He rose again and was alive 3 days later. I’m not quite sure if she understood all that. It’s a lot to digest if you haven’t really heard the story before. I told her that this is the part that makes some people get hung up because they don’t think that a miracle like a resurrection can happen. But this is the God that made the whole universe, so for Him, resurrection or anything else He wants to make happen in His universe is no problem for Him. She agreed that if a God could create a universe, He’s very powerful and that would be easily possible for Him. I asked her if she believed there is a God. She said that yes, she thinks there is a creator, because there had to be something to start all this. I asked her if her family had any religion. She said no. She did indicate that someone in her family line was of the Islamic faith. Well, at this point, it seemed like she was starting to try to change the subject a little so, I decided not to press it any further. I’ll just pray for her. One encouraging thing was that when I was sharing my journey and testimony, I explained how I went to a new believer’s class and she seemed interested in that and asked where did I go to this class, at a Church? I told her yes. She had relayed that for the size of Shanghai, she was only aware of about 10 churches in the town (I think she said that or maybe it was 20). Who knows, maybe this conversation piqued her interest enough to go to one of those Churches and see if they have a class maybe something like Alpha… Like Paul said, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” (1 Cor 3:6). I pray that God will draw her to Himself (John 6:44,65). I thank God for giving me the opportunity to speak for Him – as imperfectly as I did! Amen.

Conversation with a practicing Roman Catholic

Our church goes once a month to feed the homeless at St. Vincent De Paul.  Many times there are other groups there serving with us.  Today it was a Roman Catholic church.  So I happened to be assigned to work with someone who was from that Catholic Church.  We had a lot of great conversation about many topics.  Faith/religion came up many times.  One time in particular she’d mentioned a rosary and I said that my Dad was Catholic but he never really explained what it was.  I heard her mention Mary and how Mary intercedes for us to bring us closer to Jesus.  I kindly asked her where that practice comes from. – like is it based in some particular scripture passage? She mentioned that a lot of her other non denominational friends had asked her similar questions.

She also talked about how she was very close with certain Saints in that she actually prays to them. Again, I asked her was that based on a particular Bible verse or passage? She said no it wasn’t.  In fact she admitted that she ought to be able to defend what she believes and why she believes it, but she just doesn’t have the time.  She said that she just trusts the priests and others of high position in her church – they have advanced degrees and are well studied in these topics, so who am I to question them?

We then got talking about other things. For example, she had mentioned that she doesn’t question people about their faith – as long as they’re sincere, the Lord will “take them home”. For example, she said she has a Buddhist friend, a Muslim friend, and she said she prays for the Muslim friend. I assured her, that there’s nothing wrong with praying for her Muslim friend. She also mentioned that she actually has some Buddhist books, and that they have some good principles in them. She said that she would never discourage someone from practicing their faith – that she would never try to get someone to believe in Jesus – to push her religion on them.

She then talked about how non-denominational folks like me, are so much into evangelism. And she said she’s not good at that. She asked me if I thought people from other religions would be going to hell. I told her yes they would. Especially if they rejected Jesus.  But I also clarified that all of humanity – including myself – is headed to an eternity separated from God, without the saving work of Jesus Christ. I mentioned John 15:22 where Jesus said “if I had not come in spoken to them, they would not have been guilty as sin. But now they have no excuse for their sin”.  After I told her that people of other faiths – if they don’t believe in Jesus – will be going to hell, she disputed that. And I asked her “what do you think Jesus’ is opinion was on that?”  She said that oh, Jesus talked to many other faiths! Jesus talked to Pharisees, Jesus talked to the Samaritan woman, Jesus talk to the Jewish leaders and to the tax collectors and sinners, he would talk to many different faith. I asked her to consider what he was saying to them. He told the Jews that “if you do not believe that I am he, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24), he also told is told his disciples “I am the way and the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). He also said “there is a judge for the one who rejects mean does not accept my words” (John 12:48).  So, it is absolutely clear that Jesus communicated that He is the only way of salvation – He was not a religious pluralist and would not have encouraged people to simply practice whatever faith they had.  She seemed stunned by the information.