Apologetics, Journal Topics

Extraterrestrials and Christianity

NASA’s highly successful planet-hunting Kepler mission is bringing back to the fore questions about life beyond Earth. Thanks to Kepler, we now know that Earth-size planets orbit other stars like the Sun. Does this mean that life beyond Earth is common? Are there other intelligent beings?

Even before Kepler was launched in 2009, it was already clear that our Solar System is not typical. Our familiar neighbors tend to have circular orbits, with the big planets located safely distant from the small ones. The Solar System is not the template for all planetary systems as astronomers once believed. Does this mean the Solar System unique in its habitability?

In 1996 NASA scientists claimed to have discovered evidence of ancient life in a Martian meteorite. While that evidence has not held up, scientists are still searching. Would discovery of life on Mars have implications for the way we view ourselves? How would it affect the Intelligent Design argument? What about the discovery of an extraterrestrial civilization? Would it render ridiculous the claims of Christianity? Some have claimed it would.

What do our prior Christian beliefs imply about the existence of extraterrestrials? Should Christians be more optimistic or less than atheists?

Guillermo Gonzalez, Ph.D., is an associate professor of astronomy and physics at Grove City College in western Pennsylvania. He is author of nearly eighty scientific papers and co-author with Jay W. Richards of The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery (Regnery, 2004). His feature article, “Would Extraterrestrial Intelligent Life Spell Doom for Christianity?” on which this post is based appears in the Volume 35, No. 1 special origins issue of the Christian Research Journal available by donation.

For future issues of the Christian Research Journal subscribe or renew your subscription or give a gift subscription.

Guillermo Gonzalez will join Hank Hanegraaff on the Bible Answer Man broadcast in February to discuss the pivotal apologetic topic of origins! Tune in daily at 6PM ET at our website, www.equip.org! The Bible Answer Man can also be heard daily on Sirius-XM satellite radio on Family Talk channel 131.The Bible Answer Man can also be heard on local radio stations. Click here for stations and times.

Apologetics, Journal Topics

God & Evolution

For Christians, the question of “God and evolution” is becoming more acute. For decades, of course, liberal Christians have found ways of accommodating their theology to Darwin’s theory of evolution. But these days, otherwise conservative evangelicals and orthodox Catholics seem to be doing the same thing. For evangelicals, there seems to be a desire to overcome the “Scopes Monkey Trial” stereotype that has prevented reasonable discussions of the subject for over eighty years. Orthodox Catholics, for their part, seem intent to overcome the “Galileo stereotype” that says the Catholic Church is anti-science. So now we’re seeing all sorts of proposals for reconciling Christianity and Darwinism.

But surely any attempt to reconcile scientific claims with theological claims should determine (1) what those respective claims are, and (2) what is true. When it comes to Darwinian evolution, however, that’s easier said than done. That’s because the word “evolution” means all sorts of different things and it’s not easy to separate the evidence for Darwinian evolution from its marketing.

In God and Evolution, the contributors and I try to provide some much-needed clarity to the debate, so that disputants will not argue past each other. We decided not to weigh in on specific theological controversies such as the historicity of Adam and Eve (though that is a very important question).

Clarity requires asking the right questions. The most common question I am asked when dealing with this issue is something like: “Isn’t evolution just God’s way of creating?” Regrettably, that question begs all the good questions, such as: What is “evolution?” What evidence is there that natural selection and random genetic mutations can create new biological systems? And my personal favorite: Can God guide an unguided process?

— Jay W. Richards

Jay W. Richards, Ph.D., is the author of Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem (HarperOne, 2009). His feature article, “Think Clearly about God and Evolution” on which this post is based appears in the Volume 35, No. 1 special origins issue of the Christian Research Journal available by donation.

For future issues of the Christian Research Journal subscribe or renew your subscription or give a gift subscription.

Jay Richards will join Hank Hanegraaff on the Bible Answer Man broadcast in February to discuss the pivotal apologetic topic of origins! Tune in daily at 6PM ET at our website, www.equip.org! The Bible Answer Man can also be heard daily on Sirius-XM satellite radio on Family Talk channel 131.The Bible Answer Man can also be heard on local radio stations. Click here for stations and times.

In the News, Journal Topics

Biblical Misconceptions?

I came across a CNN Belief Blog op-ed piece entitled “My Take: The 3 Biggest Biblical Misconceptions” by former Episcopal bishop of Newark, New Jersey, John Shelby Spong. In it he purports three misconceptions  people have about the Bible that make it hard to understand.

First, he contends “people assume the Bible accurately reflects history. That is absolutely not so, and every biblical scholar recognizes it.” One reason Spong offers for this assertion is a liberal presupposition that the Gospels were written late, between AD 70–90, making them subject to mythological corruption. The fact, however, that the four Gospels and the rest of the New Testament make no mention of the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy concerning of the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple in AD 70is one of several compelling reasons for dating the entire New Testament prior to AD 70. Moreover, even if we were to grant the liberal dating, there still would be no justification for worrying over the accuracy of the New Testament given the remarkable reliability of the oral culture within which the New Testament was produced to transmit history and teaching accurately.

The second misconception, according to Spong, is “the distorting claim that the Bible is in any literal sense ‘the word of God,’ ” which he bases upon the apparent evil of Yahweh ordering the “genocide” of nations, and a fundamental misunderstanding of Old Testament imprecatory psalms.

Finally, Spong suggests people are under the misconception that “biblical truth is somehow static and thus unchanging,” which he bases upon the apparent difference between the “tribal deity” in Exodus who orders the death of every firstborn male and the God who commands people to love their enemy. The God of the Bible, however, does not change; rather, He progressively reveals different aspects of Himself in biblical history. He is both just, sending wrath upon sinful Egyptians for their mistreatment of others, but also merciful in teaching His people to love their neighbor.  

Is there any basis for Spong’s assertions? None at all. He is, as Hank Hanegraaff puts it, a “fundamentalist on the left.” Hank addresses and refutes Spong’s claims in his recent book, Has God Spoken: Memorable Proofs of the Bible’s Divine Inspiration (Thomas Nelson, 2011).

— Warren Nozaki

For further refutation of Spong’s claims,  see the following equip.org resources:

Is The Bible Myth?

Killing the Canaanites: A Response to the New Atheism’s “Divine Genocide” Claims

Was Revelation Written Before or After the Destruction of the Temple in AD 70?

Moses: The Author of the Pentateuch

How Do We Know That The Bible Is The Word Of God?

Recent Perspectives on the Reliability of the Gospels

Facts for Skeptics of the New Testament

Does Homosexuality Demonstrate that the Bible is Antiquated and Irrelevant?

When Literal Interpretations Don’t Hold Water

Hateful Vindictive Psalms?

We also recommend the following bookstore resources:

Has God Spoken
B1045/$22.99

Is God a Moral Monster?
B1030/$14.99

The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ
B387/$18.00

Apologetics

An Interview with Sandra Tanner Part 3

The following is a transcript of Hank Hanegraaff’s interview with Sandra Tanner, co-founder of Utah Lighthouse Ministry aired on 10/10/2011. Sandra is the great-great-granddaughter of Brigham Young and a leading expert on the Mormon religion.

HANK HANEGRAAFF: On the line, the great-great granddaughter of Brigham Young, the second president of the Mormon Church; her name’s Sandra Tanner, co-founder of Utah Lighthouse Ministry. We’re talking about Mormonism, it’s in the news, particularly animated today about an article that I read in the Charlotte Observer, in which you had a pastor, a Baptist pastor, come right out and say Mormonism was a cult, and Romney was not a Christian. Then you had Bill Bennett denouncing the pastor for bigotry against Mormons, which of course begs the question, how do we deal with the whole issue of Mormonism in a way that reaches as opposed to repels, and how do we communicate the truth in love to the very people we want to reach? Mormonism is gaining worldwide credibility. I’ve seen that even in my trips to China, where I was asked by officials of the Communist Party—personally asked—about Mormonism, whether Mormonism was in fact an acceptable form of religion that would not disrupt China. Particularly in their case, they were concerned from a sociological perspective. How should we think about Mormonism? Because Mormonism is making inroads in China, just like it is in a lot of places throughout the world.

One of the things we discussed last week on this broadcast, Sandra, was this notion that not only do Mormons communicate that Christ did not exist from all eternity, but they contend that our Lord was conceived in heaven by Heavenly Mother and then came in flesh as the result of Heavenly Father having sex with the Virgin Mary. Now in evidence of that, I quoted quite a few different Mormon authorities, and yet, Mormon callers and communicators in all kinds of venues contacted our ministry and said, “We do not teach that.” Your response—

SANDRA TANNER: Well, the Mormon has usually heard the phrase: Jesus is the literal Son of the Father in the flesh. That’s a common phrase used in Mormonism: literal Son of the Father in the flesh. The question—the problem—is the Mormon doesn’t think through the implications of the statement. Because they believe Heavenly Father once lived on another earth, died and was resurrected, and achieved godhood, that makes God have a physical body. And when they speak of Jesus being the literal Son of the Father in the flesh, their church leaders have said at various times over many years that this was in a natural course of things. That Jesus was begotten and born of Mary in the same way that every mortal man has been fathered and brought forth into mortality. So it has to mean that God had sex with Mary. I don’t understand how the Mormons can understand it any other way. Bruce McConkie, one of their apostles, just within the last twenty years, he said, “There is nothing figurative or hidden or beyond comprehension in our Lord’s coming into mortality. He is the Son of God in the same sense and way that we are the sons of mortal fathers” [1].

HANK: I might add that Mormon apostle Orson Pratt, who incidentally was an original member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, once explained that “the fleshly body of Jesus required a Mother as well as a Father. Therefore, the Father and Mother of Jesus, according to the flesh, must have been associated together in the capacity of Husband and Wife: Hence, the Virgin Mary must have been, for the time being, the lawful wife of God the Father” [2]. So what we are communicating here is simply what Mormons communicate, but, Sandra, as we talked before, their revelations are ever-changing; it could be that a current revelator in the church changes this doctrine.

SANDRA: Well, there’s no official statement changing it. They just want to skirt around the wording. But they still always say Jesus is the literal Son of the Father in the flesh, and making a distinction between we are all God’s literal children in heaven, we were born to God in this life, in a pre-earth life, and so when they say that Jesus is the literal Son of the Father in the flesh, they mean here in mortality, God was His father, not just God was His father in this pre-earth life, but He was His father here on earth. Their leaders have made it very specific at times that this was a natural act. Now the average Mormon may not have connected the dots on what that all means, but it would be the logical conclusion from all their statements about Jesus being the literal son of a physical resurrected man.

HANK: But what I’m actually alluding to here, Sandra, is something else; what I’m trying to underscore here and get your comment on is that—well, lets use this example: Back in 1978, the President and Prophet Spencer Kimble, he changed official doctrine when it came to men of African descent holding the priesthood. So what I’m suggesting is, if Mormons really don’t like this notion of the Father literally having sex with the Virgin Mary, as a glorified man, if they don’t like that, their current president could, as the revelator in the church currently, he could change that doctrine. So if they don’t like it, change it.

SANDRA: Yes, they could change—they could any of their doctrines. They started out condemning polygamy, then Joseph went into polygamy and they for fifty years or so they preached it was the only way you got exaltation in the celestial kingdom, and then in 1890 they said nope, we’re doing away with that; we’re not going to practice polygamy anymore. That has been another issue that’s changed. Just like on the Blacks, before ‘78 a Black couldn’t hold priesthood, then in ‘78 God evidently told the prophet that now they can. We see many changes through all of Mormon history of an evolution of thought. Through Joseph Smith’s lifetime, I can show they’ve changed over a fourteen-year period. He changed his view of God. He changed his view of marriage. He changed his view of polygamy. He changed his view on Masonry. He introduced new temple rituals that weren’t part of Mormonism in the beginning. There is this constant flux of change, but to the Mormon, they say, “Well, he’s God’s prophet, so yes, we can have change. That’s not a problem.” But then, how can you say that Mormonism is supposedly a restoration of New Testament Christianity? You can’t say something is a restoration and also keep changing it.

HANK: And we’re talking about the difference between the Mormon authority and the Christian authority. When we look at our authority, we say that the Bible is the infallible authority of redemptive revelation, and, therefore, it becomes the final court of arbitration. There are no new revelations; all revelations in the present must be ultimately judged by the revelation that God has already given us.

In the remaining moments, Sandra, I want to deal with the most salient issue, and that is what Mormons look forward to in eternity. You’ve touched on this, but I want to unpack this a little more, because Mormons contend that they will appear before Heavenly Father dressed in fig-leaf aprons, holding good works in their hands, and according to the Latter-day Saints virtually everyone qualifies for heaven. Talk about their plan of salvation, and their concept of eternity, and the distinction with that given through orthodox Christianity.

SANDRA: Well, in Christianity, we look to Jesus’ words, that in the end times, the sheep will be separated from the goats, and there’s a narrow way and a broad way, and the Christian understanding was that the narrow way led to heaven and the broad way led to hell. Mormons have reversed this, so that the broad way leads to heaven, almost everyone’s going to go there, and just a few people go to hell. In their theology, it’s almost a universalism. Everybody, practically everybody, is going to go to some level of heaven. But the Mormon hopes for more than heaven. He hopes for the highest level of the Mormon heavens. They have it three tiered: telestial for bad people of the world, they’ll still go to heaven and be saved. Then the terrestrial where the good people of the world like you and all nice Muslims, Baptists, Hindus, doesn’t matter what your religion is, if you’re a good moral person, then you can go to the terrestrial, the middle kingdom. But the Mormon’s aim is celestial kingdom. In order to have the Mormon concept of the eternal life—which to them is different than being saved—to have eternal life means you can progress to be a god over your world someday. So all this temple ritual they go through, this work for the dead, it’s all with the hope that this will add up to enough to qualify them to have the reward of eternal life, whereas the Christian looks to Christ for eternal life through the grace of Christ that’s given to us—not because of any merit of our own, but because of the merit of Christ. Mormonism says, “Well, yes, Christ’s atonement was necessary to get us into heaven, but in order to go to that top level and become a god, we have to achieve that. That is a reward for our faithfulness as a Mormon.” And only Mormons receive eternal life; the rest of us get some sort of sub-heaven and are not in the presence of Heavenly Father.

HANK: Talking to Sandra Tanner. Sandra is co-founder of Utah Lighthouse Ministry, and we appreciate your ministry and certainly appreciate your contribution to the Bible Answer Man broadcast today.

SANDRA: Thank you.

HANK: God bless you, Sandra Tanner. Again, Sandra Tanner is the great-great granddaughter of Brigham Young, the second president to the Mormon Church. She is an authority on Mormonism, and we’ll call upon her from time to time as the war for the rhetoric for words continues to heat up. Again, some strong words in the paper today, chronicled from a conference, and once again underscores the fact that we need to be ready always to give an answer, a reason for the hope that lies within us with gentleness and respect.

Notes:

1. cf. Bruce McConkie, Mormon Doctrine (Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, Inc., 1966), 742.

2. Orson Pratt, The Seer (Washington, D.C.: n.p., 1853–54), 158–59.

Apologetics

An Interview with Sandra Tanner Part 2

The following is a transcript of Hank Hanegraaff’s interview with Sandra Tanner, co-founder of Utah Lighthouse Ministry aired on 10/10/2011. Sandra is the great-great-granddaughter of Brigham Young and a leading expert on the Mormon religion.

HANK HANEGRAAFF: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) was birthed in 1820 by an alleged vision in which two celestial personages appeared to Joseph Smith, claiming all existing churches were wrong, all their creeds were an abomination, and all their professors were corrupt. According to these personages, Smith had been chosen to restore (not reform, but restore) a church that had disappeared from the face of the earth. The Mormon doctrines that have evolved from that vision compromise, confuse, or contradict the nature of God, the authority of Scripture, and the way of salvation. Talking about that with me on this broadcast: Sandra Tanner, she founded, along with her husband Jerald, Utah Lighthouse Ministry. It’s a Christian nonprofit organization, an important nonprofit organization reaching Mormons with the truth and love that only the Jesus Christ of Christianity can bring to the human heart—not the Christ of Mormonism. These are two different Jesuses. This broadcast prompted in part by an article I read today in the Charlotte Observer, in which a pastor, not just a pastor but lead pastor, at First Baptist Church in Dallas called Mormonism a cult and said Mitt Romney was not a Christian and latter was denounced by Bill Bennett for bigotry against Mormons, and then Mitt Romney himself talked about this “poisonous language which doesn’t advance our cause” and that we need to remember that “decency and civility are values,” values that should be adhered to. I want to contextualize this, Sandra, in that it is true that we are called to communicate the gospel with gentleness and with respect. The question now becomes: Is it right to call Mormonism a cult from a theological perspective?

SANDRA TANNER: Well, certainly, it represents a great heresy. If we’re going to say we’re Christian, we’ve got to adhere to some sort of standard; otherwise Buddhists could say they’re Christians. If the test of Christianity is morality and good living and being a nice neighbor, I’m sure people in all kinds of religions would qualify under that kind of a definition. But Christianity has always embodied a certain set of doctrines, and one of those doctrines is the absoluteness of the one eternal God, and that Jesus has eternally been God. Mormonism rejects both those concepts. Christianity has traditionally said God has spoken through the Bible, and that the New Testament is the standard for Christian beliefs. Mormonism rejects that and takes additional books of scripture that they believe supersede the Bible. The Bible is only secondary in their chain of authority; their other scriptures are paramount. So they get to redefine all the terms. But we also have to keep in mind that Joseph Smith himself was claiming that Christianity was in a total state of apostasy when he started Mormonism in 1830, and that what he established was the “only true church.” So when people become excited because we want to say Mormonism doesn’t fit under the Christian umbrella, you have to understand that Joseph Smith didn’t claim to fit under the Christian umbrella. He said he was doing something totally different than the Christian churches.

HANK: I want you to address an issue that comes up from time to time. That is: a lot of people feel that it is dangerous for me right now to be talking about Mormonism because it could hurt Mitt Romney’s chances to be President of the United States, and therefore, we should hold back, because they are suggesting that right now that is the only solution for our country. He’s likely to be the GOP [Grand Old Party/Republican] candidate running against Barack Obama. Therefore, we should probably temper our criticism of Mormonism. How would you respond to that?

SANDRA: Well, what happens in the political arena is I believe in God’s hand. I don’t think that discussing Mitt’s religion is a matter of attacking him on a political agenda. It’s simply stated: Mormonism does not fall under the umbrella of standard Christianity. And then the Mormons and the media want to make this some sort of Mormon bashing. Is it Mormon bashing—I mean is it bashing for the Mormon to say they aren’t part of standard Christianity? When they say there’re the “only true church,” that’s attacking my belief. So it’s sort of a funny game they get into here on what’s acceptable. We aren’t out putting out slanderous statements about Mitt Romney; we’re simply talking about what his Church advocates. This is their theological position. I think anyone, in evaluating the candidate or thinking about Mormonism, needs to look at the core doctrines of Mormonism. Regardless of how they vote, they need to be informed on what Mitt Romney stands for, just like you would want to consider if the candidate was Jehovah’s Witness. It would have certain implications about medicine and all sorts of issues with them. If a person were opposed to going to war—was a pacifist or something—that would have an impact on how you viewed them for running the country. If a person was a Muslim, it would make a difference on how you view them in terms of international affairs in the military. Everyone’s belief systems do rely to some degree on how they would perform in the office of President. This is just one aspect of Romney—it’s one—but it’s an aspect of everyone that runs for office, we want to know what their core values are, what they really believe in, what they hold sacred and special in their own thoughts, how would this affect how they would run the country. I think those are fair questions.

HANK: Just in fairness, let me add that I have over the years been very critical about the statements made by Barack Obama with respect to the Bible. When he says that the Bible teaches slavery and that eating shellfish is an abomination, or he says that the Bible teaches you to stone your child if he strays from the faith, I’ve been very critical about those statements and pointed out in no uncertain terms that this belies the fact that he has not learned to mine the Bible for all its wealth or certainly not to read the Bible for all it’s worth. In fact, it sounds at times that he got his cues from the once-famous West Wing series.

I want to ask you a question, Sandra, with respect to eschatology. In fairness, this is something that Mitt Romney himself has been rather candid about. He felt compelled to underscore the Mormon notion that during the Millennium that Jesus will reign from “two places—Missouri and Jerusalem,” then added, “Throughout the Bible, Christ appears in Jerusalem, splits the Mount of Olives to stop the war that’s coming in to kill all the Jews. Our church believes that. That’s when the coming of Christ in glory occurs. We also believe that over the thousand years that follows, the Millennium, He will reign from two places, that the law will come forth from one place in Missouri, and the other will be in Jerusalem” [1] And I might add, and this is something I think in terms of going back to the history of Mormonism, millennial madness so gripped Joseph Smith that he laid a cornerstone in Jackson County, Missouri, at the exact location he supposed the millennial temple would be constructed. And not only did Joseph Smith believe that Christ would setup the millennial reign in Independence, Missouri, but he supposed Western Missouri, not Southern Mesopotamia, to be the location of the Garden of Eden, and therefore, believed that the first man Adam would return to the state of Missouri to prepare the way for the thousand-year reign of Jesus Christ upon the earth. Of course, in Christian theology the coming of Christ forever rendered the notion of an earthly temple, whether in Jerusalem or in Missouri, obsolete. But I find interesting, Sandra, that Mormon has—I mean Mitt Romney—has been pretty forthcoming with respect to his Mormon eschatological beliefs.

SANDRA: Yes, but when he says that most people don’t understand that when he speaks of Christ reigning out of Missouri, that is through the Mormon Church, that the Mormon Church will be set up as the kingdom of God when Christ returns. So, yes, he admits to the Missouri part, but people don’t understand the implications of that statement. This will mean Mormonism will be God’s church on earth and be the ecclesiastical authority ruling the world at that time.

HANK: Beyond that, how significant do you think, if at all, the prophecy by Joseph Smith was that one day the U.S. Constitution would be hanging by a thread only to be saved by the elders of the LDS Church. Does that comport with what you just said?

SANDRA: Yes, now there are Mormons, who will always point out to me that is not a doctrine set in their scriptures; however, it is commonly understood and known within the Mormon community of this prophecy, and I have since this whole thing with Romney got going, I had one guy write and tell me, Well, we see it coming true, the Constitution’s hanging by a thread, and we now have a Mormon to step in and save the day. So Mormons are certainly thinking that this is about to be fulfilled through a Mormon president.

HANK: Talking to Sandra Tanner, she is the founder, along with her husband Jerald, of Utah Lighthouse Ministry. It’s a Christian nonprofit organization providing humanitarian outreach to the community and printing critical resource and making that resource, research, and documentation on Mormonism available. Again, that ministry, an important ministry, Utah Lighthouse Ministry and Sandra Tanner, my guest today, as we talk about Mormonism. When we get back from the break, I want to broach a very significant subject that has been previously dealt with on the Bible Answer Man broadcast. Some of you will remember last week there were some very strong statements made by Mormons on this broadcast about my contention that they teach Jesus Christ was conceived by sexual intercourse between God and the Virgin Mary. So I want to talk to Sandra Tanner about preexistence as a concept with respect to Mormonism, and then talk about how in Mormon theology Jesus Christ is conceived and how that differs dramatically from Christian orthodoxy. We’ll be right talking more with Sandra Tanner in just a few moments.

Notes:

1. Mitt Romney, interview on WHO radio, Covington, Kentucky, n.d., video online at http://www.youtube.come/watch?v=i0rcAByKUFM, accessed December 21, 2007.

Apologetics

An Interview with Sandra Tanner Part 1

The following is a transcript of Hank Hanegraaff’s interview with Sandra Tanner, co-founder of Utah Lighthouse Ministry aired on 10/10/2011. Sandra is the great-great-granddaughter of Brigham Young and a leading expert on the Mormon religion.

HANK HANEGRAAFF: We want to do a special edition of the Bible Answer Man broadcast today as a direct result of Mormonism being increasingly in the news. As well, we have a particular offer that we want to put into your hands. It’s more important now than ever before: Memorable Keys to the M-O-R-M-O-N Mirage flipchart. I say “more important now than ever before” in that it is incumbent upon Christians to understand not only what they believe and why they believe what they believe, as well as who they believe, because virtually every single theological heresy begins with a misconception of the nature of God. But it is important for us to be able to use the deviations of Mormonism as opportunities to share the truth and life and grace and love that only the Jesus of Christianity can bring to the human heart. I’ve asked Sandra Tanner to join me on the broadcast today. The ministry they founded has had a transcendent impact in terms of reaching Mormons with the gospel.

Now today some might say that is a divisive thing to do, because Mormons are already Christians. And that is the topic for today’s discussion: Are Mormons really Christians?

Jerald and Sandra Tanner founded Utah Light House Ministry. It is a Christian nonprofit organization providing humanitarian outreach to the community and printing critical research and documentation on the Mormon Church. A particular note is that Sandra Tanner is not only an authority when it comes to Mormonism, but she is the great-great granddaughter of Brigham Young, the second president of the Mormon Church. The Tanners have authored over forty books on the subject of Mormonism; therefore, you will not hear a greater authority on Mormonism anywhere at anytime. I think her voice is desperately needed at this particular juncture in American history, in world history, in Christian history, because we unfortunately are falling for “political correctness,” popularity, and all that goes with it in the Christian church. At stake are the lives of people from a spiritual perspective.

This is about whether you inherit eternal life. This is about what it takes to be reconciled to the One who spoke and the universe leaped into existence, the One who knit us together in our mother’s womb. This is about more than jobs. This is about more than the economy. This is about a kingdom that will never end. So the issues of today’s broadcast are transcendently important. They’re not spoken out of any divisiveness—certainly not out of bigotry—but motivated by love. If you are a believer today, listening to this broadcast, I underscore the reality that you need to know what it is that you have given your life to. This is important in that we now stand in the shadow of the Bible, rather than standing in the pages of the Bible.

Before I bring Sandra Tanner on, I do want to bring your attention to an article in the newspaper this morning, and this has to do with a headline entitled “Romney” who is saying that we have to “Be Civil about Faith.” Here I’m talking about Mitt Romney now running for the Presidency of the United States. Before I read just a portion of this article, let me underscore again that this is not about politics; this is about spirituality. This is about making an eternal decision to reconcile your self to the real Jesus, the real gospel, and therefore we have to know the distinction between that which is false and that which is true. As we make comments on today’s broadcast, remember when people say we’re not to judge, that’s dead wrong. Jesus never taught us not to judge; He taught us not to judge self-righteously or hypocritically. Indeed, Jesus taught us to judge and when we judge, we are to judge by a right standard.

The article says this: “Questions about his faith plagued Romney’s 2008 presidential run, but he had been able to keep them at bay so far this time….That changed when Robert Jeffress, the lead pastor at First Baptist Church in Dallas who introduced [Rick] Perry to cultural conservatives, called Mormonism a cult and said Romney is ‘not a Christian’” [1]. That prompted Bill Bennett at the same conference to denounce Jeffress for bigotry against Mormons. Mitt Romney echoed that sentiment, he said, “We should remember that decency and civility are values, too….Poisonous language doesn’t advance our cause. It’s never softened a single heart nor changed a single mind” [2].

In part, I would agree with that. Poisonous language doesn’t advance any cause. But we have to remember that tolerance when it comes to personal relationships is a virtue, but tolerance when it comes to truth is a travesty. The question ultimately is: What is a cult? At the Christian Research Institute, we make a very clear distinction with respect to terminology when we talk about those who are involved in cults, because the moment you say the word cult, the media-driven definition surfaces. Cults can be defined from a sociological perspective. We think of Heaven’s Gate or Jonestown or Waco where people are controlled in virtually every dimension of their lives by a charismatic leader, someone who controls them from a sociological perspective. But when we’re using the term cult today, we are not talking about sociology per se, but theology, which is to say, we’re talking about what essential Christian doctrine teaches and by contrast what Mormonism teaches. So we need to be very careful that we define the word cult.

What did Joseph Smith say? In founding the Mormon Church, he said the existing churches were wrong. Their doctrines were an abomination. He took on essential Christian doctrine head-on. Is it bigotry really to suggest that Mormonism is not Christian? Mormons today are seeking to convert Christians all the time. They’re showing up on their doorsteps trying to convert people from Christianity to Mormonism. There is a difference, the difference is substantial, and no one better to discuss that with than Sandra Tanner who joins me now. Sandra, good to have you on the broadcast.

SANDRA TANNER: Thank you!

HANK: When we talk about Mormonism, you have overtly said that when someone takes Mormonism and makes it sound the same as evangelical Christianity, they’re making a big mistake because the distinction is as big as the distinction between a dog and a cat.

SANDRA: Absolutely! Mormonism uses the verbiage of standard Christianity, but they’ve redefined all the words. And just like, I have a dog, but if I told you, “I have a cat,” and then you saw my dog, you would say, “That’s not a cat.” “Well, I have four legs, I have a tail, I have pointed ears…” You know, so, Mormons can list a lot of similarities, but it does not make them part of the Christian community. Historically, Christianity has always been known for being monotheistic: one God, absolute, eternal, never changing. That’s the Jewish view as well: One God eternally existing. But in the Mormon Church, they’re saying that the god they pray to was once a human on some other world system where some other god was in charge. This man went through a human experience, married, died, was resurrected on this other world, went to heaven, and we don’t know how long it takes, but after millions of years he progressed to becoming a god over his own world. So the god that the Mormon prays to is not the God that Christians are talking about. My God’s eternally existent; their god has not eternally existed as God.

HANK: I think one of the things that we have to get to the bottom line of on this broadcast is what the Mormons teach with respect to revelation, because their doctrine is continuously in a state of flux, because their revelations are ongoing. Therefore they have present day revelations that negate previous revelations. Touch that issue, because from a Christian perspective, we say that the Bible is the repository of redemptive revelation, that it has been demonstrated to be true through history and evidence, that you can build a cumulative case that the Bible is divine as opposed to merely human in origin, whereas the Book of Mormon has been utterly discredited by both anthropology and archeology.

SANDRA: Absolutely! The Book of Mormon just has Joseph Smith to attest to it and his followers. It has no prior history from him. He’s the one who brings forth supposedly a manuscript that he says he got from plates that no one ever saw. So that his new book of scripture relies completely on Joseph Smith’s word, there’s no archeology, no artifacts, nothing to establish this people mentioned in the Book of Mormon ever existed. But that’s not their only book of scripture; that’s the one they take to the public because it sounds the closest to the Bible. But they have two other books of scripture besides the Book of Mormon. They have the Doctrine and Covenants, which is Joseph Smith’s revelations to the Church. And then they have The Pearl of Great Price, which is supposedly the hidden record of Moses and Abraham. These other books of scripture, these three books of scripture, all take precedent over the Bible. So that when a Christian talks to a Mormon and brings up a Bible verse, in a Mormon’s mind the Bible is an unreliable source. They believe it’s been changed and corrupted and their scriptures become paramount. So Mormon doctrine is always defined through Mormon revelation; truth is defined through the president of the church. A Mormon today listens to conference to their church leaders every year and what those leaders say could take precedent over anything that was written before even in their own scriptures. Their prophet is seen as like Moses, who could at any time change any doctrine in the church, and they would accept it because he’s God’s mouthpiece.

HANK: Talking to Sandra Tanner. She is probably, I would say conservatively, the foremost expert on Mormonism alive today. We rely on her research. It’s carefully researched. But we also rely not just on facts that she presents but the method in which she presents those facts, because her passion—her love—is to reach, not repel. This is not about bigotry against Mormons; this is about reaching Mormons trapped in a web of false teaching. When we get back from the break, I want to ask Sandra Tanner direct-on: Is it true that to say Mormonism is a cult from a theological perspective is, somehow or another, bigotry against Mormonism? How should we refer to Mormons? What’s the best way in the battle to reach as opposed to repel? We’ll also talk about Mitt Romney again—not about his politics, but about the significance of possibly having a Mormon in the White House. We’ll be talking about all of that and more as soon as the broadcast resumes right after this break.

Notes:

1. Kasie Hunt and Charles Babington, “Romney: Be Civil about Faith,” Charlotte Observer, http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2011/10/09/v-print/2676273/romney-be-civil-about-faith.html.

2. Ibid.

Apologetics, In the News

Hank Hanegraaff’s Response to MSNBC’s “Mind over Mania”

Summary Critique: Mind over Mania, MSNBC, aired Sunday, November 6, 2011

Teen Mania Ministries (TMM), the youth organization founded by Ron Luce, was portrayed as a mind control cult in a November 6, 2011 MSNBC exposé titled Mind over Mania. In reality, the MSNBC piece is a case study in sophistry, sloppy journalism, and sensationalism.

In Mind over Mania, Doug and Wendy Duncan, billed as experts specializing in recovery from mind control, seek to establish the allegation that all eight criteria of Robert Jay Lifton’s Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of Brainwashing in China are active in the teachings and practices of TMM [1]. In reality, the anecdotal evidence they provide clearly fails to establish the outrageous brainwashing” allegations. Moreover, many of the arguments proffered against TMM could just as easily be used to establish historic Christianity as a thought reform cult. Equally significant is the fact that cult mind control as a sociological model has been utterly discredited. If brainwashing techniques did not work in the 20th century reeducation camps of communist China, it is sophistry to suppose it to be effectively employed in the ESOAL (Emotionally Stretching Opportunity of A Lifetime) weekend retreat of TMM’s Honor Academy.

Furthermore, while it is viscerally arresting to watch sensationalistic images of teenagers gagging on organic worms, it should be noted that footage hyped ad nauseum by the MSNBC promotion machine was recorded during the heyday of NBC’s Fear Factor, a TV program that elevated consumption of worms to veritable cult status. Nonetheless, Teen Mania leadership readily acknowledges that such practices were unwise and thus have rescinded them. As well, participants were clearly warned that the ESOAL event was designed to be physically and mentally challenging and were free to end their participation at will.

Finally, on a personal note, I have been acquainted with Ron Luce and TMM for over twenty years. I have found Ron to be a passionate father, husband, and ministry leader. Indeed, I still remember how impressed I was upon initially meeting one of his daughters. Since then I have recognized him to be thoughtful, teachable, and thoroughly committed to the essentials of historic Christianity. While I strongly disagree with Ron on various secondary matters, I stand shoulder to shoulder with him on the doctrines that form the line of demarcation between the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of the cults. It is likewise noteworthy that TMM is a member in good standing with the Evangelical Council of Financial Accountability (ECFA) and operates under the oversight of a credible board of directors, which includes Paul Nelson, former director of ECFA [2].

—Hank Hanegraaff

Hank Hanegraaff is president of the Christian Research Institute, host of the Bible Answer Man broadcast, and author of many bestselling books, including Christianity in Crisis: 21st Century.

Notes:

1. The following are Lifton’s eight criteria of thought reform as presented in Mind over Mania:

Milieu Control. Control of information and communication from without and within the group environment resulting in isolation.

Mystical Manipulation. The claim of divine authority or spiritual advancement that allows the leader toreinterpret events as he wishes.

Demand for Purity. The world is viewed as black and white and group members are constantly exhorted to strive for perfection.

The Cult of Confession. Serious sins, as defined by the group, are to be confessed either privately to a personal monitor or publicly to the group at large.

The “Sacred Science.” The doctrine of the group is considered to be the ultimate truth, beyond all questioning or dispute.

Loading the Language. The group interprets or uses words and phrases in new ways so that often the outside world does not understand. This jargon consists of thought-terminating clichés, which serve to alter members’ thought processes to conform to the group’s way of thinking.

Doctrine over Person. The personal experiences of the group members are subordinated to the Truth held by the group.

Dispensing of Existence. Those outside the group are unspiritual, worldly, satanic, “unconscious,” and they must be converted to the ideas of the group or they will be lost.

2. See http://www.ecfa.org, http://www.teenmania.com/finances/, and http://www.teenmania.com/staff/.

Apologetics, In the News

Myths and Truths about Mormonism

Mormon journalist Joanna Brooks recently published an op-ed piece for the Washington Post entitled “Five Myths about Mormonism.” What Brooks purports to be myths are, for the most part, facts spun in favor of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS).

The idea that “Mormons aren’t Christian” is for Brooks a myth, who contends millions of members of the LDS pray in the name of Jesus Christ, receive “a bread-and-water sacrament memorializing the body and blood of Christ,” and discuss Christ’s teachings in Sunday school. In her youth, she remembers being accused of belonging to a “cult,” knowing about “anti-Mormon films” being screened at local churches, and receiving “anti-Mormon notes” taped to her school locker. But she resolves, “Ask my Jewish husband if he thinks his Christmas-celebrating, New Testament-reading Mormon wife is Christian, and his answer will be absolutely yes.”

Here it is important for discerning Christians to scale the language barrier. Mormonism uses Christian terms like “Jesus Christ,” but twists them with a theologically cultic redefinition. It is important to remember that Mormon founder Joseph Smith declared that all churches were wrong and all their creeds an abomination. In 1839, Smith purported seeing an angel named Moroni and receiving new divine revelation on gold plates written in “reformed Egyptian,” out of which came the Book of Mormon. Smith and other Mormon prophets received further revelations, which were then codified in the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. Yet, it does not stop with this “quad” of books, and Mormon prophets continually purport to receive new divine revelations. From these new extra-biblical revelations, the Mormon learns that God was once a man who progressed to godhood [1] and that people can likewise progress to godhood [2]. They also learn that the polygamous “Heavenly Father” has many wives who are collectively called “Heavenly Mother” [3]. They moreover learn that Jesus was the child of the sexual union between God the Father and Mary [4] and is the spirit brother of Lucifer [5]. Mormons, moreover, reject the essential Christian doctrines of the Trinity [6], original sin [7], and salvation by grace through faith [8]. These beliefs distinguish Mormonism as a pseudo-Christian cult (see “The Basics of Mormonism,” “A Different Jesus? Worse: A Different God, Gospel and Faith,” “Is Jesus Christ the Spirit Brother of Satan?Pinning Down Mormon Doctrine Part 1, Pinning Down Mormon Doctrine Part 2 and “Philosophical Problems with the Mormon Concept Of God”).

There may be a grain of truth to what Brooks’ labels as myths, such as “Mormons practice polygamy,” “Mormon women are second-class citizens,” and “most Mormons are white, English-speaking conservatives.”

Brooks also correctly points out that polygamy was practiced by Mormons, that Joseph Smith had multiple wives, that due to “political pressure” the LDS “phased out the practice,” that mainstream Mormons anticipate polygamy in the afterlife (the Mormon Millennial Kingdom), and that there are fringe Mormon “splinter-groups” maintaining the practice. Nevertheless, the Bible condemns polygamy on either side of eternity (see “Does the Bible Promote Polygamy?”).

The belief of a Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother on the surface appears egalitarian; however, as mentioned above, the Mormon belief is in a polygamous Heavenly Father with many wives who are spoken of collectively as “Heavenly Mother.” One can even make the case that women are not really liberated in polygamous societies; rather, it is the uniquely Christian idea of monogamy coupled with the sexual ethics of the Bible that became a social structure contributing to the empowerment of women.

Mormonism even has a worldwide presence with converts from many different people groups; however, this is in spite of the fact that the LDS has through the years struggled with doctrines promoting discrimination and inequality, such as black skin being a curse on account of being less valiant people in their preexistence, and the former banning of blacks from the priesthood (see “LDS Church Acknowledges Anniversary’s Ban on Priesthood for Blacks”).

There are certainly a number of Mormons in public office, including Presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney (R) and Jon Huntsman Jr. (R), but also others including Senator Harry Reid (D). Brooks, however, considers the idea that “a Mormon president would blur the line between church and state” to be a myth and even notes that “for 2012, the church has asserted its neutrality and instructed employees and officers not to donate to, endorse or campaign for any candidate.” Still, it would be a mistake to think the religious beliefs of civic leaders have no influence on the policies they make, albeit a creed or confession is not a “deal breaker” when it comes to voting for a political candidate (see Is it Permissible for a Christian to Vote for a Mormon?).

— Warren Nozaki, Research

For further insights into the doctrinal errors of Mormonism, please consider Hank Hanegraaff’s latest resource Memorable Keys to the M-O-R-M-O-N Mirage

The following resources are also available through the CRI bookstore:

Mormonism 101
B587/$15.99

The Bible vs. The Book of Mormon
DVD725/$8.00

DNA vs. The Book of Mormon
DVD723/8.00

Lifting The Veil Of Polygamy
DVD736/$9.99

Mormonism’s Greatest Problems Package
PK904/$25.00

Notes:

  1. The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City, UT: Desert Book Company, 1979), 345.
  2. Milton R. Hunter, The Gospel Through the Ages (Salt Lake City, UT: 1958), 104.
  3. Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine (Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1966), 516.
  4. McConkie, 546-547, 742; Orson Pratt, The Seer (Washington, DC: n.p., 1853-54), 158-59; Brigham Young, Desert News, October 10, 1866; Ezra Taft Benson, The Teaching of Ezra Taft Benson (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988), 7.
  5. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Gospel Principles (Salt Lake City, UT: Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints, 1992), 17–19.
  6. The Mormon belief is polytheistic, seeing a plurality of gods from the beginning, and the three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three separate gods, as opposed to the Christian concept of the Trinity, which is there is one God who is revealed in three in coequal coeternal persons (cf. Joseph Smith, Jr., History of the Church, vol. 6. [Salt Lake City, UT: Desert Books, 1978] 473–479)
  7. cf. McConkie, 550; James E. Talmage, Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City, UT: Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints, 1982), 476.
  8. cf. 2 Nephi 25:23; According to Joseph Fielding Smith, “to enter the celestial kingdom and obtain exaltation it is necessary that the whole law be kept” (Joseph Felding Smith, The Way of Perfection [Salt Lake City, UT: Desert Book Company, 1970], 206).
Journal Topics

Did Muhammad Believe in Women’s Rights?

If I turn on the news and watch a report on women in Islam, I might hear a Muslim woman talking about the revolutionary status Muhammad gave women through his revelations and teachings. In the United Kingdom, I might see an advertisement from the “Inspired by Muhammad” campaign proudly proclaiming that Muhammad believed in women’s rights. Yet, what would I find if I read through the basic Muslim texts: the Qur’an, the Hadith, and the Sira literature? Would the current push to reconcile the view of women in Islam with the Western ideology of women’s rights go hand-in-hand? No. The view of women established by the trilogy of Muslim texts does not provide much in common with Western ideology; specifically that which is based in Christian theology.

Muhammad was a sixth-century man, who unapologetically commanded a sixth-century view of women. Through the Qur’an, he instructed that women are provisions or possessions for men as are children, cattle, hoards of gold and silver, and well-tilled land (Surah 3:14). Men may have up to four wives with additional sexual slaves (Surah 4:3, 24; 33:50). He mandated the beating of women by men as punishment for rebellion (Surah 4:34). He also declared the woman as an intellectually inferior being (Surah 2:282) whose lack of common sense is one of the reasons women are a majority of those in Hell (Sahih Muslim #142).[1] Even in Paradise—in the afterlife—a woman is to be married to her earthly husband, serving him when called. (Sahih Bukhari #3820, 4879).

This picture of women contrasts the picture the apostle Paul and Jesus gave of women; which was counter-culture to the first century. Paul instructed that a wife should submit to her husband, but in the context of a husband loving his wife as himself; treating her as if she were his own flesh (Ephesians 5:28-31). Paul has seemingly created a paradox in that one spouse is to submit to another while equal respect is required in love. He additionally describes this love as the love Jesus Christ has for the church. How is this accomplished? Further, when Jesus is questioned concerning the resurrection and marriage, he declared that none are given in marriage in heaven (Matthew 22:30). Yet, in Islam, the woman is forever married to the man in heaven as part of his reward.

— Mary Jo Sharp

  1. Which view of women, when rooted in the texts and outworked philosophically, actually provides a foundation for the equality of the sexes in essence?
  2. Was Jesus’ view of women aligned with first-century culture like Muhammad’s view of women was aligned with sixth-century culture?
  3. Why are we seeing such a push in America by Muslims to reconcile their doctrine on women with Western philosophy?

Notes:

[1] There are at least 48 individual hadith on this one topic.

Mary Jo Sharp is the founder of Confident Christianity Apologetics Ministry and a graduate of Biola University. She participates in public, formal debates on Islam and appears on the Aramaic Broadcasting Network show, Jesus or Muhammad, engaging in live debate with callers from around the world. She will join Hank Hanegraaff on the Bible Answer Man broadcast on Oct. 11, 2011 to discuss her Christian Research Journal (Vol 34 #5) article about Islam and women on which this blog post is based. Tune in at 6PM ET at our website, www.equip.org to listen to their conversation on 10/11. To read the full article by Mary Jo, please subscribe to the Journal (6 issues for $39.50).

Journal Topics

Of Butterflies, Peacock Tails and Poppycock

To his credit, Charles Darwin recognized there were instances of extravagant beauty in the living world that could not be explained by his original theory of evolution by natural selection, so in The Descent of Man he developed his theory of sexual selection to fill the explanatory gap. There he argued, in essence, that the butterfly has extravagantly colored wings, the better to attract a mate, reproduce and pass its beauty pageant qualities on to future generations.

Darwin’s theory of sexual selection is brought in to explain problems like the peacock’s tail. While Brad Pitt’s good looks might have no survival-of-the-fittest downside, a peacock’s pride and glory can get him killed. His enormous tail slows him down, making it easier for predators to catch him. So why would nature select for bigger and bigger peacock tails? Because, according to Darwin’s theory of sexual selection, pea hens are attracted to them.

The theory has a superficial plausibility, but a problem emerges if you scrutinize it long enough. Imagine you have a population of pea fowl. Most of the peahens select their mates in the standard natural-selection way—according to how fast the peacocks can take off, by how well they can handle themselves in a fight with other peacocks, that sort of thing. But over a serious of generations a line of peahens develop with a pronounced artistic streak, leading them to start sidling up to peacocks with bigger, brighter tail feathers. So far, so good. We now have peahens selecting for big, bright tail feathers, which presumably will tend to lead to bigger and brighter peacock tails in future generations. But the question is: Why would natural selection prefer these pea hens with their impractical disposition over pea hens with survival-oriented selection criteria? In other words, why would these artistically inclined peahens evolve in the first place? Darwin’s theory of sexual selection doesn’t give us an answer. It moves, rather than solves, the problem of the impractical peacock tail.

Common reason would urge a person to at least consider the possibility that a great artist lay behind the many instances of extravagant beauty that we find in the living world, but for many Darwinists, common reason has been ruled out of court ahead of the evidence.

Questions:

1. Often times the more attractive animal is the healthier, fitter animal. And certainly these animals will generally have an easier time finding mates and reproducing. How is this age-old insight different from what Darwin was claiming with his twin theories of natural selection and sexual selection?

2. Socio-biologist Edward O. Wilson emphasizes that even the works of artistic genius need to be explained in purely evolutionary terms. How might this view transform the way people think about great art, music and literature?

3. The investigative rule known as methodological materialism insists that scientists only consider natural causes for natural phenomena, never intelligent design. Is this more reasonable or less reasonable than being willing to follow the evidence wherever it leads, even if the evidence points to intelligent design?

— Jonathan Witt

Jonathan Witt, Ph.D., is a senior fellow with Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture and co-author of A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the Genius of Nature (IVP Academic, 2006) and Intelligent Design Uncensored (IVP Books, 2010).

Listen to Hank Hanegraaff’s interview with Jonathan Witt on the design and genius of nature featured on the September 20, 2011 Bible Answer Man broadcast.

CRI also recommends: Jonathan Witt, “Darwin vs. Beauty: Explaining away the Butterfly,” Christian Research Journal, 34, 5 [2011]: 42-43. (This issue is forthcoming). CRI also offers United States and Canadian residents a 1 year (6 issues) subscription to the Journal for $39.50 US. A 1 year (6 issues) foreign subscription is also available for $79.00 US. Click here to subscribe.