Apologetics

When is it Proper to Tell Mormons the Truth?

JAM200-Mormon Tell Truth

Review: JAM200 | by Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson

Book review: David L. Rowe, I Love Mormons: A New Way to Share Christ with Latter‐day Saints (Baker Books, 2005). This review first appeared in the Christian Research Journal, volume 29, number 6 (2006). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal go to: http://www.equip.org

David L. Rowe, a professor at Salt Lake Theological Seminary and a Utah resident since 1975, has pooled his ministry experiences into a “how to” manual for Christians who are interested in sharing their faith with members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter‐day Saints (LDS, Mormons). Rowe describes Mormons as having “their own culture, lingo, and worldview” (back cover).

There are positive aspects to I Love Mormons. The catchy title may prove to be a stumbling block, however, at least for some readers. Many Latter‐day Saints, after all, dislike being called “Mormons” and often complain that this term is only a nickname. The book’s subtitle, A New Way to Share Christ with Latter‐day Saints, may be problematic as well because many Latter‐day Saints think Christ already is the central figure of their religion. The subtitle also might be puzzling to Christians who have been witnessing to Mormons long before this book was published. Rowe’s “new” evangelism model centers on creating relationships with Mormons, which appears to be simply an offshoot of the “friendship evangelism” model that was popularized several decades ago. Is the subtitle implying that Christians who use the “old” model have failed to share their faith with Mormons? Or is it implying that those who use tactics other than relational evangelism hate Mormons, or that they have failed to “learn and respect LDS culture,” as the back cover puts it?

Rowe’s main point in the book is that Christians should avoid the “traditional way” of evangelism, which utilizes what he calls a “warrior saint” approach that uses “jousting games,” because it results in the three‐part sequence of “‘discussion,’ recoil, and shutdown” (17). He seems to jab mainly at the few vocal Christian street preachers who frequent Salt Lake City during the LDS Church’s general conferences, which are held twice a year. He wonders if these “wannabe zealots” may be exhibiting “unharnessed anger hurling imagined God‐bombs at people with a smug pride” (129). He adds, “Generally, ‘Bible bash’ evangelism with its heresy‐hunting rationalism simply squashes the life out of relationships and builds walls, not bridges” (154).

The impression Rowe gives, however, is that anyone who uses tracts or any other “confrontational” methods is not evangelizing using the recommended “wiser, gentler” tactic. If Rowe is merely trying to highlight the fact that Christians can be insensitive by cramming Bible verses down a Mormon’s throat and using inappropriate tactics, then we are in full agreement. Rowe does a disservice, however, to many Christians who practice bolder evangelistic methods while simultaneously exhibit‐ ing a sweeter spirit than those to whom he specifically refers.

Rowe states that Christians generally should not initiate theological discussions with Mormons, but he does not mean that we should not discuss doctrine. In fact, Rowe wants to hammer home” the idea that Christians “need to prayerfully seek and sensitively seize the doors of opportunity God grants us in which our theological knowledge truly counts” (68). We agree wholeheartedly; but there are occasions when there is not enough time to develop long‐lasting relationships, such as when sitting next to someone on a plane or talking to a clerk in a store. Do we set aside our sense of urgency to share important biblical truths merely because we do not have a relationship with the person? The mistaken message Rowe conveys—whether intentionally or unintentionally—is that successful evangelism can take place only after years of friendship.

Culture vs. Cult. One of the more controversial emphases in I Love Mormons is that Mormonism is a culture rather than a cult. Rowe practically apologizes for having his book listed under the category of “cults” that is printed above the barcode on the back cover. He writes, “As an author I have no control over this practice and the institutional bias that drives it. I’m arguing it’s high time we rethink this bias” (29).

This is where we have our sharpest disagreement with Rowe: Mormonism certainly has its own cultural characteristics, but this does not diminish the fact that Mormonism has characteristics that historically have warranted categorizing it as a cult. This designation historically has been applied to groups that insist that they truly represent Christianity while they deny or distort the basic biblical tenets that historically have defined Christianity. We should not intentionally use the designation “cult” as a pejorative, but it does apply to modern‐day Mormonism.

It may surprise some to know that LDS leaders have used this label to describe other groups. For instance, 10th LDS president Joseph Fielding Smith used it to refer to the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter‐day Saints (later changed to the Community of Christ) based in Independence, Missouri (Doctrines of Salvation, 1:284). Twelfth president Spencer W. Kimball described fundamentalist polygamists as cultists (Conference Report, October 1974, 5). Mormon apostle Bruce McConkie even went so far as to say that all Trinitarian Christians had a “false system of worship” with “a false Christ” and were therefore “a false church” and “a false cult” (The Millennial Messiah: The Second Coming of the Son of Man, 48).

For years the word cult has clearly marked the boundary between orthodox and unorthodox groups. It has served as a warning sign to those who may not understand the sometimes confusing doctrines and ideologies of certain groups. Does it really serve the general public, or the Christian church for that matter, to insist that the designation does not apply to the LDS Church just because it might offend someone?

Is Mormonism Changing? Rowe believes that the LDS Church is moving “away from the unorthodox, radically Mormon claims we do not find in the Bible” (166). He insists that the “subject matter of these changes is not just trivial but deals with central, crucial teachings of the LDS Church.” To bolster his point, he compares the 1978 edition of the LDS Church manual Gospel Principles with the more current 1992 and 1997 editions. Rowe correctly notes that the rhetoric on doctrines such as the potential for men to become gods has been toned down.

We would like to share Rowe’s enthusiasm over these changes, but we cannot over‐ look the fact that Gospel Principles is a basic overview of LDS teachings that is used to instruct new converts and those who are investigating the church. The LDS Church often prints this manual in a new language even before they translate the complete set of the LDS standard into that particular language. It is meant to be an introduction to the Mormon faith, so it is not surprising that the LDS Church might deemphasize or even omit doctrines from the manual that might unnecessarily alarm potential converts. Church manuals meant primarily for the instruction of LDS members, on the other hand, fail to demonstrate a departure from Mormonism’s historically heretical positions.

For example, the idea that men may become gods still can be found in the Doctrines of the Gospel, Student Manual: Religion 430 and 431 (which carries a 2004 copyright date). The student manual cites President Spencer Kimball: “Man can transform himself and he must. Man has in himself the seeds of godhood, which can germinate and grow and develop. As the acorn becomes the oak, the mortal man becomes a god. It is within his power to lift himself by his very bootstraps from the plane on which he finds himself to the plane on which he should be. It may be a long, hard lift with many obstacles, but it is a real possibility” (52) (from The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 28).

We would love to see the LDS Church leadership cease promoting heretical teachings, but the evidence from LDS conference speeches and church manuals is not encouraging. Just because a doctrine is not being emphasized fully does not mean it is being denounced.

Shared Concern. Despite our disagreements with I Love Mormons, we do believe that Rowe has a genuine concern for the spiritual welfare of the LDS people. His understanding of the Mormon mindset and the LDS belief system is, for the most part, accurate. Readers who plan to move to Utah or who have LDS friends or relatives certainly will benefit from Rowe’s personal experience of living among the LDS people.

It is unfortunate that the book comes across as offering the only legitimate method to evangelize Mormons. Christians, of course, should treat Mormons respectfully, but we should never think that friendship, apart from the truth of the Word, will convert anybody. Despite its many good points, I Love Mormons seems to be too cautious in this department. We personally know far too many ex‐Mormons who, after being confronted with the doctrinal errors of Mormonism, became Christians because someone who barely knew them spent the time and effort to share the truth in love. Different people and different circumstances sometimes demand different methods of sharing God’s love with the lost.


Bill McKeever lives in Utah and is the founding director at Mormonism Research Ministry (MRM). Eric Johnson is an associate at MRM and teaches high school, college, and seminary classes in Southern California. Together they wrote Mormonism 101 (Baker, 2000).

In the News

On The Kony 2012 Campaign

Just a little over week ago the KONY 2012 video began airing on social media sites and since then has gone viral, having 75,150,482 hits on YouTube as of March 13, 2012. The movie was produced by Invisible Children, which is a non-profit organization setup in 2006 to use “film, creativity and social action to end the use of child soldiers in Joseph Kony’s rebel war and restore LRA [Lord’s Resistance Army] affected communities in central Africa to peace and prosperity.” The video is narrated by Jason Russell, one of the co-founders of Invisible Children. Since Kony’s atrocities are relatively unknown, particularly in the United States, KONY 2012 seeks to launch a grassroots campaign to inform each and every member of the global community and ultimately bring the warlord to justice by December 31, 2012. Part of the campaign includes appealing to 20 culture makers (celebrities, athletes, and billionaires) along with 12 policy makers to address the problem, and among other things a mass poster campaign set for April 20, 2012.

Criticisms that the KONY 2012 video oversimplifies a very complex situation have also been raised. For example, Michael Wilkerson, a freelance journalist who has lived and reported in Uganda, explains, “Well, the biggest issue that I’ve raised or perhaps the easiest to understand to begin with is that the Lord’s Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony, was actually forced out of Uganda by the Ugandan military in 2006. So I came to start paying attention to this ‘Kony 2012’ campaign because all of a sudden on all of the places that I monitor—things happening in Uganda—there were these hordes of people saying stop the war in northern Uganda. Let’s go to northern Uganda and get rid of Kony. And there is no war in northern Uganda anymore, not since 2006,” but qualifies, “The LRA is still what I like to call a regional wrecking ball. It’s still raiding and massacring and abducting in neighboring countries, but northern Uganda itself is peaceful.” Ishaan Tharoor, in an op ed piece entitled “Why You Should Feel Awkward About the ‘Kony2012’ Video,” blogged that “the LRA is no longer thought to be actually operating in northern Uganda….Moreover, analysts agree that after concerted campaigns against the LRA, its numbers at this point have diminished, perhaps amounting to 250 to 300 fighters at most. Kony, shadowy and illusive, is a faded warlord on the run, with no allies or foreign friends.”

There are also responses to the critics. Luis Moreno Ocampo, chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, who also appears in Kony 2012, noted in a BBC interview that Invisible Children had “mobilised the world,” and that “they’re giving a voice to people who before no-one knew about and no-one cared about and I salute them.” Invisible Children has also posted responses to their critics.

CRI has been aware of the activities of Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army for quite some time, and published the 2005 News Watch piece “Terrorizing the Innocents in Uganda: Religion Plays a Deadly Role in the Lord’s Resistance Army” by Steve Rabey. The article highlighted the cultic tactics used by Kony to indoctrinate children, turning them into brutal killers.

I believe Christians are to pray for the Lord to work through people and circumstances to bring Kony to justice and end the terror of the Lord’s Resistance Army. They are to pray for what the Lord would have them do in response to this. Most of all, I believe Christians must prayerfully consider specific ways to strengthen the church in Uganda, so that the Gospel may continue to be proclaimed, for it is the power of God to salvation (Rom. 1:16-17). Moreover, it is on account of hearts and minds transformed by the Word of God that one gains solid theological and spiritual foundations for effective social transformation. There is corruption in the world, but the Christian is the salt and light (Matt. 5:13-14).

— Warren Nozaki