On the Fall
Millet explains that the LDS understanding of the fall is different from OC.He states that the fall of Adam was a necessary step forward for humanity, and that the act of eating the forbidden fruit was not self-serving rebellion (93). Instead, the fall allowed humanity to move forward, to make its own choices. Without the fall, there could be no atonement, no joy, and no progression (94).
Since Adam and Eve could not procreate prior to the fall, LDS teach that they could not fulfill God’s command to fill and subdue the earth. In a very real sense, the LDS church views eating the forbidden fruit as the will of God. McDermott responds to this version of the fall by asking some important questions. First, he points out that in Genesis 3:5, God explicitly forbids Adam and Eve to eat of the tree. Given this clear instruction, why would God command them to do something opposite of His will (105)? Second, he asks why there would be any punishment at all if it was a step of maturity or the will of God (104). Third, if the fall was not a real choice, how could it make possible real future choices (104)? The LDS view of the fall is ultimately internally incoherent and has further implications as it relates to humanity’s need for redemption. If humans are good by nature and it is in their power to keep the law without sin, there seems to be no actual need for redemption. If that is the case, why did Jesus have to die (106)?
McDermott clearly presents some key areas in which the Christian and Mormon view of Jesus differ (64). First, Mormons reject OC views of the Trinity and view Jesus as a distinct God (65-79). As a separate God, he is one of at least three Gods who are one in purpose but not in nature. LDS believe that Jesus and humans share the same nature, meaning that humans can all individually attain godhood (71-72). Furthermore, they believe that human spirits were never created, but have always existed (59). Lastly, since Jesus is subject to the rules of the universe, he does not transcend it (75-77).
McDermott asks how it can be that LDS call Jesus “eternal God” but simultaneously claim that He grew into his godhood (54, 58, 70-71). Millet is unable to give a valid response to this question and instead states that it is “a blessed mystery (85).” This is not an intellectually honest answer since he rejects the Trinity on the grounds that it does not make any sense. If he can accept an actual contradiction as a blessed mystery, it should not be a difficult thing for him to accept the Trinity, which poses no such contradiction.
Millet explains that LDS do not believe in the inerrancy of Scripture. Furthermore, Mormons believe that there have been “lost truths” over the years that leave room for texts (i.e., Book of Mormon) that confirm and supplement the Bible (34). Millet states that there is no special need to claim biblical inerrancy (35).
McDermott does not respond to the inerrancy issue because he previously stated that he holds a similar view (9). Instead, he focuses his attention on the Book of Mormon (BoM) and gives four main reasons he rejects it as false. First, he observes that there are four gospel accounts of the Palestinian Jesus and only one of the American Jesus (120). Second, the gospels date back to the 1st century while the BoM arrives on the scene some eighteen centuries later. While there are extra-biblical accounts supporting the New Testament, there are no extant records of Christ’s appearance in the New World; something that seems unlikely if the account were true (121). Third, McDermott states that there are inconsistencies between the teachings of the Palestinian Jesus and the American Jesus (121-122). Finally, there are intra-textual inconsistencies between the BoM and later writings by Joseph Smith (122-123).
Millet is not overly concerned about these issues. He quotes a former Mormon prophet who stated that the test of the truthfulness of the BoM lies in reading the book (132). This line of thinking – so similar to the Muslim claim about the Qur’an – is invalid and commits the logical fallacy of affirming the consequent.
On the Church
Millet describes the Mormon view of “church” as fulfilling a number of roles, such as assisting in the perfection of the saints, involving the congregation in the work of the ministry, edifying the body of Christ, and working toward unity in the faith (138-139).
LDS teach about apostolic succession (147), the authority of administering the ordinances (sacraments), which is passed down. These ordinances are unchanging (148) and include baptism, confirmation, the Lord’s Supper, and ordination to the priesthood (143-144). These ordinances, with the addition of faith, must be followed in order for a Mormon to reach heaven.While there seem to be additional steps to the LDS view of salvation, they have an almost universalist view of heaven. Mormons do not believe in predetermined election (192-193) and teach that nearly everyone will be saved (202-203).
McDermott, who takes a reformed view, compares the LDS view of grace as an opportunity to choose God, (171) to that of the Arminians of mainstream Christianity. Predestination aside, he challenges Millet’s view of the unchanging ordinances by pointing out that there is no evidence of baptism in the Old Testament (160). Instead, baptism takes the place of circumcision as the outward sign of obedience to God’s commands. McDermott misses an opportunity here to address the LDS practice of Lord’s Supper. Since they proclaim that the ordinances do not change, it would be a good point to inquire why Mormons drink water in place of wine, an apparent deviation from the biblical portrayals of the Lord’s Supper. LDS teaching and practice do not seem to line up in application.
Overall, both authors tend to be gracious in their treatment of each other’s beliefs. Millet challenges readers to stretch beyond their spiritual comfort zone (11). At the onset, McDermott spent time explaining that Christians should not condemn Mormons for relying on extra-biblical revelation when Catholics and Protestants do the same (17, 26). Conversely, he explains, Mormons should not cast aspersions about Christian reliance on creeds when LDS hold to similar statements of faith (19). Throughout the book, he makes a concerted effort to highlight the similarities between the two faiths, in an attempt to heal the rift between the two.
My main concern about Millet’s arguments throughout the debate is that he consistently relies on personal testimony and rhetorical questions to support his views (81, 125, 131, 141). For example, rather than defend the LDS view of Christ’s divinity, Millet asks why it even matters if Jesus was always God or became God at some point in time (61). Instead of offering sound logic for the LDS view of the fall, Millet asks why God put the tree in the Garden of Eden if He did not want Adam and Eve to eat from it (93). Lastly, he rejects the Trinity based on finding it illogical and states that he has “a great difficulty” imagining that a person ignorant of the Trinity would come to a Trinitarian understanding from reading the Bible (79-80). This reliance on subjective personal experience undermines the validity of his claims. His “burning conviction” offers no substantive proof; an issue that tends to plague LDS as a whole.
I was not completely comfortable with McDermott’s view of biblical inerrancy (9). His position left him unable to respond appropriately to Millet’s statements on the matter. Since McDermott is supposed to be defending the orthodox view of Christianity, I found this to be of no small account. Furthermore, at times McDermott did not fully develop some key criticisms of Mormon doctrine. For example, while he touches on the plurality of gods which extend before the Father; he could have discussed the absurdity of infinite regression in greater detail (69). Likewise, he did not properly address Millet’s subjective “proof” that you can know the Book of Mormon is true by reading it and having the conviction that it is true.
Weaknesses aside, I found this book to be a valuable asset for learning about the distinct belief system of the LDS church, as well as some surprising similarities to OC. It was written in accessible language for lay Christians and Mormons, and gives straightforward accounts of major doctrines. I would recommend this to believers of both faiths as they endeavor to better understand each other and seek ways to have constructive conversations.
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