Précis on “The New Mormon Challenge”, by Francis J. Beckwith, Carl Mosser, and Paul Owen, Editors

Part I: Mormonism’s Appeal, Growth and Challenges

Introductory Essay

Christians often make the mistake of viewing Mormons as unintelligent, uninformed, or dishonest.[1]

1.      The Apologetic Impulse in Early Mormonism: The Historical Roots of the New Mormon Challenge, by Craig Hazen

Mormonism arose in 19th century America at the end of the Enlightenment[2] and in a period of religious competition in America[3] that was marked by desire for a restoration of Christianity to its pure roots that became known as primitivism (or restorationism).[4]  Mormonism’s logic resonated with the intellectually curious “religious seers” of the day.[5]  It answered many doctrinal concerns raging against Roman Catholicism and Protestantism at the time. [6]  Also appealing was Mormonism’s promise of the restoration of true Christianity.

Mormonism was attested by miracles, though not of the sort performed by Christ (raising people from the dead, walking on water, etc.).[7]  Miracles in Mormonism amounted to “reports of healings” and occasional exorcisms.[8]  Mormonism was also attested by “eyewitnesses”.[9]  Some of these “eyewitnesses” claimed to have seen the gold plates of Joseph Smith’s vision experience.[10]

Brothers, Orson and Parley Pratt, were “two of the original twelve apostles,” and considered the first intellectuals in the Mormon Church.[11]  Their writings purported to resolve significant doctrinal issues in what they considered to be apostate Christianity.  Brigham Young, who succeeded Joseph Smith, led a great emigration to what is today the State of Utah.[12]

The resolution of perceived doctrinal issues in the Christian church led to a form of Mormon apologetics that was timely in Mormonism’s first century, given its rise during the Enlightenment and a period of religious competition.[13]  Modern Mormon apologists have a different environment and a different task.  Theirs is not just to argue for a restoration of true Christianity, but to defend their actual beliefs and the history of their faith.[14]  The “apologetic impulse”[15] that drove the growth of the movement in the early years must and is changing to respond to a new set of challenges.

2.      And the Saints Go Marching On: The New Mormon Challenge for World missions, Apologetics, and Theology, by Carl Mosser

Mormonism is the most successful religious movement of the past 250 years.[16]  The LDS church is wealthy, which accounts for much of its success.[17]  But, the most impressive aspect of this movement is its worldwide missionary force and the explosive growth it has experienced.[18]  From 1969 to 2000, the Mormon Church grew from 2.6 million members to 11 million members, with more than half of them living outside the U.S.[19]  Even though There are approximately 60,000 missionaries serving on the field for the Mormon Church,[20] and they are responsible for more than 300,000 conversions per year.  Mormonism has “an increasing voice in the academy,” not only because of its growing private educational institutions, but because a shift in attitudes  is occurring that is leading students  into theological, philosophical, and related fields of study, particularly at the graduate level.[21]  The Mormon Church is producing apologetics works in defense of Mormonism.[22]  There has been “an explosion of historical scholarship”[23] in the Mormon Church in recent decades, which has become foundational to “Mormon Neo-Orthodoxy.”  Neo-orthodoxy in Mormonism is a theological movement that finds more common ground with orthodox Christianity than the theology formulated in early Mormonism.[24]  This theological shift within Mormonism, combined with the ever-increasing growth of the movement, has created a new apologetic challenge for evangelicals who seek to win converts from among its ranks because its errors are less evident than before.[25]  There is now a need for academic specialization in Mormon studies to help address the new apologetic challenge.[26]

Part II: The Mormon Worldview

Introductory Essay

Mormonism and historic Christianity present two opposing worldviews.[27]  Orthodox Christians believe that God is the Creator ex nihilo of everything that exists that is not God.  Mormons deny creatio ex nihilo in favor of belief in eternal matter.[28]  Mormons claim that this is the correct view from Scripture and that the orthodox Christian view was a result of capitulation to ancient Greek philosophy.[29]

3.      Craftsman or Creator? An Examination of the Mormon Doctrine of Creation and a Defense of Creatio ex nihilo, by Paul Copan and William Lane Craig

Section I: The Doctrine of Creation in Mormonism and in Christianity

Mormons assert that God created human beings spiritually before He created them physically – Moses 3:5, 7.[30]  The doctrine of ex nihilo in orthodox Christian theology states that all things are ontologically dependent upon God for their existence and the universe had a beginning.[31]

Section II: Biblical and Theological Support for Creatio ex nihilo

Creatio ex nihilo is implicit in Gen 1:1,[32] and it is supported in two important texts in the New Testament (Rom 4:17, Heb 11:3).[33]  Extra biblical support for Creation ex nihilo includes Augustine,[34] the Qumran writings (of Dead Sea Scroll fame),[35] and the Odes of Solomon.[36]

Section III: Philosophical and Scientific Support for Creatio ex nihilo

Creatio ex nihilo was formulated into an apologetic argument by John Philoponus in the 6th century.[37] A deductive argument in support of creation ex nihilo is the impossibility of an actual infinite.[38] An inductive argument is based upon the increasing expansion of the universe.[39] A further inductive argument relies upon the entropy laws which state that the universe is winding down and will eventually experience heat death.  If the universe had no beginning, it would be in heat death now, which it clearly is not.  The universe had a beginning.[40]  Eventually, LDS scholar Keith Norman admitted that the Mormon[41] Church should consider rethinking its theology on creatio ex nihilo, given the likelihood of Big Bang cosmology.

4.      The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph Smith?  God, Creation, and humanity in the Old Testament and Mormonism, by Jim W. Adams

The cosmogony of ancient Israel stood in stark contrast to that of Egypt and Mesopotamia.[42]  Yet, they shared a common cultural proximity that made each aware of the other’s views.[43]  Mormonism is closer to the cosmogony of Egypt’s and Mesopotamia’s cosmogonies than Israel’s.  Adams considers the Enûma Elish Mesopotamian document on cosmogony,[44] which indicates the pre-existence of matter,[45] the creation of gods (theogony), polytheism, and other differences with ancient Israel’s cosmogony.[46] Ancient Near Eastern cosmogonies depicted gods (pantheism) that were subject to natural laws, as in Mormonism.[47]  Curiously absent from the Bible and ancient Israel’s cosmogony is any mention of the creation or origin of God.  Unlike Mormonism, God is presumed in Israel’s theology to have existed eternally.[48]  In the Old Testament, God is regularly depicted as being ontologically singular.[49]  Mormonism holds that God and humans are of the same species.[50]

5.      A Tale of Two Theisms: The Philosophical Usefulness of the Classical Christian and Mormon Concepts of God, by Stephen E. Parrish with Carl Mosser

Classical Christianity and Mormonism differ radically on the concept of God. Parrish give a description of the God of historical Christianity, particularly from the point of view of moral and non moral attributes.[51]  Mormons assert that their view of God should be taken from the “Standard Works”: the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.[52]  Parrish coins the term, Mormon Monarchotheism, to differentiate Mormon theism from Christian theism.[53]  God is one of many gds, but is their superior.[54]  On Mormon theology, God is essentially embodied, meaning that He is made of “flesh and bones.”[55]  He is not the Creator of the universe, but rather the organizer of pre-existent matter.[56]  God is contingent (it is possible that he not exist) and not self-existent.[57]  God is one of many gods who began as humans and became gods, however, He is the “Head God.”[58]  Though Mormonism holds that God is omnipotent, He is contained within the “space-time universe” and subject to its laws.[59]  In Mormon theology, there is a sense in which God is finite, since He had a beginning.[60] Mormonism is tri-theistic.[61]  Mormonism holds that the universe is a necessary being and that God is a contingent being.[62]  Mormonism asserts objective moral truth, but its system cannot sustain it, since the universe, rather than God, is eternal and non-contingent.  The universe is impersonal and cannot be the source of objective moral laws.[63]  Mormon philosophers argue against Christian theism using the problem of evil.[64]  Parrish concludes that Christian theism is superior in explanatory power over Mormonism.[65]

6.      Moral Law, the Mormon Universe, and the Nature of the Right We Ought to Choose, by Francis Beckwith

LDS theology teaches that there is a moral law that is “eternal and unchanging.”[66]  It also teaches that God is a created being who began as a man and was exalted to godhood.  This God is contained within the time-space universe and is subject to its laws.[67]  Since God is not the Creator of everything that exists that is not God, then He is not the progenitor of the moral law or its sustainer.[68]  God is, thus, distinct and exists independently from the moral law.[69]  It is not grounded in Him or His nature.[70]

Beckwith argues that moral laws are communicated from one mind to another, [71] which does not leave room for Mormonism’s claim that the moral law exists apart from God or any other deity.[72]  Mormonism’s view of moral law is more consistent with some form of “moral Platonism” than historic Christianity.[73]  Mormonism leaves no room for Divine Command Theory, the concept that things are moral because God commands them.[74]  Blake Ostler objects to the classical view that God is good and thus gives moral commands out of His nature.[75]  The objection is that God’s commands are arbitrary and ignoble since they flow from His nature, over which he has no control.[76]  But, this does not aid the LDS view.  Ostler further argues that God actually could do wrong, and is, thus, greater than the God of historic Christianity because the God of Mormonism is nobler since He could do wrong, but somehow restrains Himself.[77]  Conversely, on the Christian view God does not have an obligation or duty to act in accordance with the moral law since He is good, the moral law is grounded in His goodness, and He cannot act in a manner inconsistent with His good nature.[78]

Beckwith considers and dismisses three possible LDS approaches to the problem: Social Contract theory, Aristotelian Final causes, and Emergent Moral Properties.  He concludes the essay by restating his thesis that Mormonism’s view of the source of moral law is untenable, since it is not grounded in God.[79]

7.      The Absurdities of Mormon Materialism: A Reply to the Neglected Orson Pratt, by J. P. Moreland

Most Christians hold to a “dualistic anthropology.”[80]  That is to say, humans have “a material body and an immaterial soul,” each being distinct from the other. [81] Mormons, however, deny the existence of immaterial things and assert that “all spirit is matter.”[82]  Orson Pratt argued in his “1849 publication The Absurdities of Immaterialism” that spirit exists in a physical state that occupies spatial dimensions in time, but is simply “more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes.”[83]  Pratt’s test for existence relies upon one’s ability to imagine something existing.[84]  Pratt insists that a human person is made up of a combination of units of matter called “corpuscles.”[85] These corpuscles are a mixture of two types of matter, gross and spirit, which are combined to make a whole person.[86] Moreland concludes that Pratt’s theory of existence fails for lack of any “independent justification”.[87]  In defense of his position, Moreland discusses the existence of immaterial objects such as numbers, which do not satisfy Pratt’s theory since they do not occupy space and timePratt’s theory also confuses “properties with events.”[88]  He believes that thoughts, for example, are not events.[89] Pratt holds that each atom of spirit matter thinks and acts in unison within the body of a human being.[90]

Part III: Mormon and Christianity

Introductory Essay

Mormonism claims to be a Christian faith, but major objections are raised by Catholics and Protestants.[91]  Mormon scholars claim that early Judaism and Christianity were not monotheistic,[92] a major point of contention between Mormonism Christianity.[93]

8.      Monotheism, Mormonism, and the New Testament Witness, by Paul Owen

Paul Owen argues that the Old Testament religion was monotheistic and continued as such beyond the Babylonian Exile and into the New Testament.[94]  He further argues that Jesus and the Holy Spirit were included in the worship of God and not considered separate deities.[95]  Owen references the Jewish Shema’s statement “the Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut 6:4-5) as evidence of Israel’s monotheism.[96] Adela Yarbrough Collins claims that Deuteronomy’s monotheism was “novel” and that the book was edited during the Exile.[97]  But, even Mormon scholars claim that it was written prior to the Exile.[98]

Owen shows that God “acts alone” in Gen 1:1, which indicates that there are no other gods.[99]  Owen references several passages in Daniel to show the utter sovereignty of God, precluding the existence of other true gods.  Owen then responds to three objections to his arguments concerning Judaism’s and Christianity’s monotheism.  The first objection asserts that “pre-exilic Israelite religion was largely polytheistic.”  Gregory Boyd, in particular, seems to suggest that other gods subordinate to God were responsible for evil in the world, but this is unsupported in Scripture.[100]  The second objection is that the “Angel of the Lord” appearances in Old Testament Scripture argue for polytheism.[101]  Owen shows that these appearances were Theophanies.[102]  The third objection is an appeal to a “Divine Council motif” that suggests that there is depicted in the Old Testament images of God presiding over a group of second-tier gods.[103]  Owen agrees that the imagery exists, but claims it is no threat to monotheism,[104] since the lesser gods depicted therein are other heavenly beings, but not gods.[105]  The apocryphal and Qumran writings support monotheism.[106]  Jesus and Paul affirmed the Shema (which is monotheistic).[107]  The New Testament shows that early Christianity was monotheistic, and Owen cites several texts.[108]  References to the “Son of Man” in the Old and New Testaments are descriptions of God Himself in a second Person.[109] Jesus as the Word of God is another God, but an expression of God in a second Person.[110]  Owen cites Jesus’ Great Commission reference to the singular name for the three Persons of the Trinity as further evidence of monotheism in the New Testament.[111]  There is a consistent “triadic pattern” throughout the New Testament.[112]

Hayman’s objections to a Jewish monotheism prior to the Middle Ages are based on misquotes of his sources, the use of sources that are not corroborated by other scholars, and the use of apocryphal works.[113]  Hayman argues unsuccessfully from both the New Testament and the Qumran writings that believers become angels at death, which Hayman believes makes them gods.  Owen rebuts Hayman with a quote from Philo asserting Judaism’s monotheism.[114]

Owen rebuts Barker’s claim of the Angel of the Lord being a second god in the same way he rebuts Hyman’s claim.[115]  Barker’s objections to monotheism in ancient Israel is more or less the same as Hayman’s.[116]  Barker makes unsubstantiated assertions, denies large portions of the New Testament and quotes Philo out of context.[117]

Peterson argues that Jesus claimed to be a second god in John 10.[118]  Peterson attacks the LXX for covering up polytheism.[119]  Owen says that the “gods” in Psalm 92 were really references to pagan gods (which don’t really exist).[120]  Peterson’s claim that El and YHWH were separate gods is nonsensical.[121]

9.      Is Mormonism Christian?, by Craig L. Blomberg

Mormon scriptures declare that Christianity between the apostolic age and 1830 was “abominable” and “founded by the devil.”[122]  Mormonism claims to be the true and restored version of Christianity.[123]  Mormon claims of corruption in Christianity are largely unsupported.[124]  Mormonism must either argue that the New Testament is corrupt or that there are other books we now do not have that show Christianity’s corruption.[125] Mormonism’s doctrines preclude it from being a new form of Christianity.[126]  At its beginning, Mormonism looked more like the Disciples of Christ movement, but changed over time.[127]  Mormonism seems to refine, reinterpret, and change Christianity in much the same way that Christianity altered Judaism.[128]  The term “Christian” can only refer to the regenerate.[129]  Mormonism is a separate and distinct religion from historic Christianity.[130]

Part IV: The Book of Mormon

Introductory Essay

Joseph Smith founded Mormonism when he was allegedly shown by the angel Moroni (resurrected son of prophet and author, Mormon) gold plates with ancient writing, which he subsequently translated into English.[131]  The book details the travels of Israelite, Lehi, who escapes Jerusalem and makes his way to the New World.[132]  LDS scholars claim that the Book of Mormon is an obvious authentic document of antiquity since it shows evidence of genuine Near East culture, language and character names.[133]

10.  Does the Book of Mormon Reflect an Ancient Near Eastern Background?, by Thomas J. Finley

Mormon scholars insist that the Book of Mormon shows parallels with the Ancient Near East (ANE).[134]  Finley argues that true parallels “cannot be explained by general human experience” and that they cannot be anything Smith found in the KJV.[135]  Parallels have to be consistent across contexts, could be accidents and fail if they include anachronisms.[136]  The gold plates are not numerous enough to contain the book of Mormon.[137]  Much of the Book of Mormon is either an attempt to imitate, or comes from, the KJV, especially Isaiah.[138]  Finley demonstrates that there are easy and logical explanations for the names that appear in the Book of Mormon. [139]  There is no way to validate the geography of 1 Nephi.[140]

11.  Rendering Fiction: Translation, Pseudotranslation and the Book of Mormon, by David J. Shepherd

The essay surveys current studies in translation as its own interdiscipline, and then compares the results to the Book of Mormon.[141] Shepherd explains several types of translations,[142] and then compares the Book of Mormon to the New Living Bible (paraphrase).[143]  While the comparison is warranted, Shepherd concludes that the Book of Mormon is a pseudotranslation, since it reworks the Bible and does not actually translate a document of antiquity.[144]

Final Conclusions

Beckwith, Mosser, and Owen suggest that there is more work to be done to respond to the New Mormon Challenge, and that they have made every attempt to be cordial and invite dialogue and reflection.[145]


[1] Page 28

[2] Page 51

[3] Page 33.

[4] Page 37

[5] Page 33

[6] Page 41

[7] Page 39

[8] Page 40

[9] Pages 49-50

[10] Page 49

[11] Page 51

[12] Page 54

[13] Page 55

[14] Page 56

[15] Page 55

[16] Page 59

[17] Page 60

[18] Ibid.

[19] Page 61

[20] Page 68

[21] 72

[22] Page 74

[23] Page 78

[24] Ibid.

[25] Page 83

[26] Page 84

[27] Page 90

[28] Page 91

[29] Ibid.

[30] Page 100

[31] Page 106

[32] Page 113

[33] Page 109

[34] Page 121

[35] Page 122

[36] Page 124

[37] Page 127

[38] Page 129

[39] Page 138

[40] Page 143

[41] Page 150-151

[42] Pages 154, 179

[43] Page 155

[44] Page 156

[45] Ibid., 179

[46] Pages 157-162

[47] Pages 168, 182-183

[48] Page 170

[49] Page 173-178

[50] Page 184

[51] Pages 196-199

[52] Page 199

[53] Page 200

[54] Ibid.

[55] Page 201

[56] Ibid.

[57] Ibid.

[58] Ibid.

[59] Page 202

[60] Page 203

[61] Ibid.

[62] Pages 206-209.

[63] Page 211

[64] Pages 212-217

[65] Page 218

[66] Page 222

[67] Ibid.

[68] Page 224

[69] Page 226

[70] Ibid.

[71] Page 227

[72] Page 228

[73] Page 230

[74] Page 232

[75] Ibid.

[76] Page 233

[77] Page 234

[78] Page 236

[79] Page 240

[80] Page 244

[81] Ibid.

[82] Ibid.

[83] Ibid.

[84] Page 248

[85] Page 249

[86] Ibid.

[87] Page 251

[88] Page 260

[89] Page 261

[90] Page 262

[91] Page 268

[92] Ibid.

[93] Ibid.

[94] Page 272

[95] Ibid.

[96]  Page 273

[97] Page 274

[98] Ibid.

[99] Page 275

[100] Page 279

[101] Ibid.

[102] Page 280

[103] Ibid.

[104] Ibid.

[105][105] Page 282

[106] Page 283

[107] Page 285

[108] Pages 286-287

[109] Pages 288-289

[110] Pages 290-292

[111] Page 293

[112] Page 294

[113] Page 297

[114] Page 298

[115] Page 301

[116] Pages 302-307

[117] Page 308

[118] Page 310

[119] Ibid.

[120] Page 312

[121] Page 313

[122] Page 317

[123] Page 318

[124] Page 319

[125] Pages 320-321

[126] Page 322

[127] Page 323

[128] Page 324

[129] Page 328

[130] Page 331

[131] Page 334

[132] Ibid.

[133] Page 335

[134] Page 338

[135] Ibid.

[136] Ibid.

[137] Page 340

[138] Pages 342-352

[139] Pages 353-359

[140] Page 366

[141] Page 369

[142] Pages 370-371

[143] Pages 379-380

[144] Page 387

[145] Pages 397-400

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