A Journey to Joy from Longing

God found C.S. Lewis among Oxford University’s prestigious lecture halls and dormitories; He found me among Hollywood’s dark, dank dives, firmly seated on one of the many red, cracked vinyl covered barstools. C.S. Lewis was an avid reader from a very early age; one could not pay me to read a book until I reached my early twenties. Despite some very drastic differences in our lives trajectories C.S. Lewis and I do share a very important journey, one from atheism to Christianity. Only I was able to benefit from Lewis’ journey during mine. Looking to his writings and his expressions of what plagued him I was able to put my finger on what it was that also plagued me. Lewis often described a longing sensation that we all share and a journey that that longing produced. It is my goal to discuss in this paper how reading Lewis’ thoughts as he struggled with this feeling of longing, what he comes to call ‘joy’ and his journey helped this average young man come to know the God of the all creation.

The Longing We All Share:

“But words are vain; reject them all – They utter but a feeble part: Hear thou the depths from which they call, The voiceless longing of my heart.”[1] 

 Do you ever pick up a book which you have read more than a few times? Or a movie, have you ever watched one over and again? We all do but why? We know what happens, why read the same thing again? Lewis likens this to a child to whom is told a bedtime story. And when that child particularly likes the story what does she say when the story is through? “Read it again. Read it again!” Why? The plot and its twists and turns are known. There are no more surprises, the end has been revealed. Lewis suggests that we go back to these favorites because we long for the world of the book. It touches us at that place where we long for the only other world where we can really know which is heaven.[2]

Narnia, The Shire, Perelandra, and Neverland, we visit these places in literature as we hunger for something. But it is more than that. This longing extends far beyond the re-reading of stories. In Surprised by Joy Lewis describes one of the first times he sensed this feeling of longing when he writes of his youth and a toy garden his brother had made with moss, twigs and a discarded biscuit tin.

My brother had brought his toy garden into the nursery. It was difficult to find words strong enough for the sensation which came over me… It was a sensation, of course, of desire; but for what? not, certainly, for a biscuit tin filled with moss… and before I knew what I desired, the desire itself was gone, the whole glimpse withdrawn, the world turned common place again, or only stirred by a longing.[3]

Similarly, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader we once again meet up with two of the Pevensie children. Lucy and Edmond express their ever longing to go back to Narnia and hold close the promise of one day returning, “a promise, or very nearly a promise, had been made them in Narnia itself that they would some day get back. You may imagine that they talked about it a good deal, when they got the chance.”[4] But why do we long and what for?

Lewis later writes that “we found ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”[5] I believe this with all I am. I too sense this longing. Whether it be the notion that things are not as they ought to be, or while daydreaming in my office of past adventures and future ones too; the longing feeling is there. Lewis understood this longing as being so central to our lives that he believed it was woven through the major experiences of his own. He called this longing “joy.”[6] Lewis describes this sense of joy as “an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction.”[7] He also makes it clear that the thirst of our longings are not quenched through pleasure and happiness. ‘Joy,’ he writes, “must be sharply distinguished both from happiness and from pleasure.”[8] Lewis then points out that the experience of joy in turn produces a longing to experience it again. And perhaps most importantly Lewis makes it clear that we cannot produce joy on our own. C.S. Lewis put words to this feeling in me that just would not go away. And like Lewis, it was the pursuit of this ‘joy’ that sent me on a journey that would forever change my life.

The Journey from Joy:

“[There] is a craving which makes [man] a pilgrim and wanderer. It is the longing to go out from his normal world in search of a lost home, a ‘better country’.”[9] 

We are all so broken. It’s this realization that sent me on a personal journey leading to the Cross of Christ. And it was this longing, this ‘joy’ that made me weary and aware of my brokenness. How I long to be whole and right. If we are all honest about the longing in our heart and we recognize our brokenness, that longing would send us questing for a fix to the brokenness. About this Lewis writes,

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.[10]

Lewis, through his relationships with friends and many author’s books came to better understand what we have described above. And his recognition of his own brokenness was one of the things that lead to a conversation from atheism to theism and then to Christianity. It is when we all come to this conclusion we see our deficiencies and then our gravitation towards God; or as Lewis put it, “my Adversary began to move.”[11] And it was Lewis’ pursuit of ‘joy’ that lead him to stop asking ‘what did I desire?’ but ‘Who is the desire?’ Bringing him into a “region of awe.”[12] It was then that Lewis for the first time examined himself. “And there I found what appalled me; a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears… My name is legion,” he writes.[13]

Another critical part of our journeys comes once we become aware of our longings and the in ability of earthly pleasures to satisfy them. While we think it is pleasure we are in search of I believe it’s actually something else altogether. In actuality we are not chasing anything but trying our hardest to avoid suffering. We are “far more anxious to avoid suffering than to achieve delight.”[14] This too is an impossibility. Lewis suggests that the desire to avoid suffering stems from a lesser yearning perhaps. He would say, and I agree having experienced this personally, that we avoid suffering because we do not want to be interfered with.

This was my last major obstacle to recognizing God as God. I thought I liked my life. I thought I was pursuing ‘joy’ and gaining on her. In reality though I was refusing to acknowledge what which was the Truth because I refused to bend my knee. I want to “call my soul my own.”[15] Once this attempt proved futile I was His. “The great Angler played His fish and I never dreamed that the hook was in my tongue.”[16]

Where does this journey end, where do the longings cease to be, and ‘joy’ is actualized? This brings us not to the end but the beginning. C.S. Lewis writes that as he made his transition from theism to Christianity that it was only then he started “approaching the source from which those arrows of Joy had been shot.”[17]

The Beginning:

“In Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”[18] 

Our journey of longing, our pursuit of ‘joy’ does not end, not until they are realized in heaven. However, the longings no longer have the significance they once did because they are understood. We have a better perspective but only once viewed from the Christian angle. We can now see that the longings are not intended to be satisfied but instead serve as signs, pointing us to our final ending, which is also our beginning. Lewis compares ‘joy’ to signpost for hikers in the woods. When they are lost a sign is a wonderful sight, helping them again to find their way. The first deserves marvel but once on their proper path they needn’t stop and marvel at them all. Similarly, these longings are there to point us in the right direction, to point us to the glory of heaven, the fulfillment of ‘joy’ and ultimately to God.

            Apparently, then, our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation. And to be at last summoned inside would be both glory and honour beyond all our merits and also the healing of that old ache.[19]


[1] MacDonald, George. Phantastes: A Faerie Romance for Men and Women (London: Daldy, Isbister, 1874) 86. (Emphasis mine)

[2] Root, Jerry, C.S. Lewis: His Thought and Work seminar series at Biola University, Spring 2012

[3] Lewis, C.S., Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (Orlando: Harcourt Brace, 1955) 14.

[4] Lewis, C. S. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader: The Chronicles of Narnia (Harper Collins, Inc.: Kindle Edition, 2008) p. 5: Location 50.

[5] Lewis, C.S., Mere Christianity in The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2002) 114.

[6] Surprised by Joy. 15.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid 16

[9] Underhill, Evelyn. Mysticism (Stilwell, KS: Digireads.com Books, 2005) 90 (as viewed on Googlebooks.com).

[10] Lewis, C. S. The Weight of Glory (Harper Collins, Inc.: Kindle Edition, 2008) p. 25: Location 257.

[11] Surprised by Joy. 209.

[12] Ibid 214.

[13] Ibid 219.

[14] Ibid 220.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid 204

[17] Ibid 222.

[18] Psalm 16:11 (ESV).

[19] Lewis, C.S. The Weight of Glory, p. 41: Location 406.

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Jesus: Just Another Dying and Rising God

Introduction:

“Once upon a time in a land called Jerusalem there was a man named Jesus…”Many would contend that this is how the narrative regarding the life of Jesus should begin. It has been increasingly popular within the skeptical community to make the claim that the accounts of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus are not only similar to what amount to fairytales, but many go further and claim that Christianity’s central doctrines are directly borrowed from the myths of antiquity. Is Christianity simply religious plagiarism, a mere rehashing of the dying-and-rising-gods of ancient mythologies?[1] In this paper we will pursue this question and demonstrate that this is not the case. First we will look at what is popularly believed to be the similarities between these ancient mystery religions and the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We will then critique these beliefs against what is actually known about the mystery religions, comparing and contrasting them with Christ’s death and resurrection story in the hopes of clarifying any ambiguities and correcting misinformation. As a result it will be evident that “there is no clear motif of the dying-and-rising god in antiquity” from which it can be claimed the Gospel writers plagiarized.[2]

Popular Beliefs:

One only has to do a brief Google search for the term “Christ myth,” “Mithras,” or “Horus” to see that it is a popular notion that Christianity borrowed from ancient mystery religions. We would be remiss if we didn’t start this examination with what is considered one of the most popular and well known sources of this information, the internet movie Zeitgeist.[3] Zeitgeist is an independently made movie/documentary which spends its first 40 minutes comparing the Christian narrative to those of the gods from a number of ancient pagan religions. According to this film the ancient Egyptian sun god, Horus “was crucified, buried for three days and thus resurrected.” The creator of the film, Peter Joseph goes on to point out that these “attributes of Horus… seem to permeate many cultures of the world, for many other gods have found to have the same general mythological structure.”[4] He then provides us a list which includes:

  • Attis (1200 B.C.)– “Crucified placed in a tomb and after three days was resurrected.”
  • Dionysus (500 B.C.) – “Upon his death he was resurrected.”
  • Mithras (1200 B.C.) – “Was dead for three days and resurrected.”[5]

Mr. Joseph concludes that “the fact of the matter is there are numerous saviors from different periods from all over the world which subscribe to these… characteristics.”[6] And as such we should conclude that the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection should be placed among them and classified as myths.

Leaving the movie Zeitgeist for another video, this time a debate on Faith Under Fire between Skeptic Magazine’s Tim Callahan and Gary Habermas, a foremost export on the resurrection of Jesus. Callahan in the debate claims that all the major mystery religions include death and resurrection stories which are similar to those found in the Gospels. As an example he mentions Dionysus saying, “all I can tell you is that the myth is that [Dionysus] is torn apart by the titans, eaten and then raised from the dead.”[7] He goes on to defend that “the resurrection of Jesus isn’t original at all. But it is merely a story that is recycled from earlier mythology and mystery religions.”[8]

It’s not just the internet that is flooded with this information. The “Religion” sections of most popular book stores reflect a similar thing. Tom Harper, Oxford University Rhodes Scholar and author has said “far from being an original contribution to the world of religious thought… Christianity was turned in the early centuries into a literalist copy of a resplendent spiritual forerunner.”[9] Harper goes on the say that there is nothing the Jesus described in the New Testament said or did “that cannot be shown to have originated thousands of years before.”[10] In his book, The Pagan Christ, Harper makes the claim that the Gospel accounts of the death and resurrection of Jesus is no exception. He writes that “Horus was crucified between two thieves, buried in a tomb, and resurrected.”[11] Mr. Harper goes further to say “the description of the pierced, wounded, crucified Horus” matches the Gospel account with “unmistakable fidelity.”[12] In fact Harper is so sure that the resurrection of Jesus is a copy of an older mystery religion he writes that he believes “with total assurance” that the Jesus of the Gospels is “Egyptian from first to last.”[13]

John Jackson, atheist author of the short book Pagan Origins of the Christ Myth writes, “The myths and legends concerning such pagan christs as Osiris [and] Horus… were later interpolated into the biography of Jesus.”[14] Mr. Jackson then provides us with what he posits as the sources for the death and resurrection of Jesus as according to the Gospel. “Many gods besides Christ have been supposed to die and be resurrected… This idea has now been traced back to its origin among primitive people.”[15] He tells us that Osiris was the father of Horus and suffered a torturous death and was then resurrected.[16] Jackson goes as far as to say that Mithraist’s believed Mithras to have been resurrected; an event which they celebrate as Easter. He claims that Attis was likewise believed to have been raised from the dead.

Alfred Loisy, an author and former Roman Catholic priest, said of Jesus, “like Adonis, Osiris, and Attis he had died a violent death, and like them he had returned to life.”[17] In “The Christian Mystery” Loisy goes on to claim that Paul was actually influenced by these mystery religions and simply created his own myth.  Loisy chalks Christ’s death and resurrection up to Paul’s imaginative response to the likes of Horus and Attis.

George Holley Gilbert, a religion scholar and author wrote,

The nucleus of the popular cults, as the cults of Attis, Osiris and Adonis, is this: a divine being comes to earth, assumes human form, dies a violent death, rises, and, through union with him… men are redeemed. And what does Paul teach? A being who existed in the form of God appeared on earth in the likeness of sinful flesh, was crucified, and rose from the dead. Men, through their relation to this experience of a celestial being, are redeemed.[18]

These are but a few of an overwhelming number of sources that offer similar claims that the Christian teachings regarding Jesus’ death and resurrection were borrowed from the likes of Horus, Attis, Dionysus, Mithras or Osiris. From just this sampling it seems quite evident that skeptics would have us think that they have uncovered what amounts to a major scandal within the Church. But have they? 

Critique and Examination: Death of Jesus

I was a Criminal Justice major in my undergraduate years at American University in Washington, DC. Being in that location I had the privilege to have access to the top local, state and federal law enforcement agencies in the world. When studying the forgery and counterfeiting of money an instructor from The Secret Service said that they do not teach new recruits using forged documents, instead they learn the originals so well that when a fake is presented the discrepancies literally stand out. Before we examine the claims made above we should take a similar approach here and examine the Christian claims made about Christ’s death.

For our purposes there are six important questions to ask in regards to Jesus’ death.[19]

  1. Who did Jesus die for? Jesus died for someone other than himself. He died for us. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
  2. Why did Jesus die? Jesus died for a specific purpose, our sin. “He gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the resent evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.” (Galatians 1:4)
  3. How many times did Jesus die? Jesus died just once. “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” (1 Peter 3:18)
  4. How do we know that Jesus died? We have an actual historical account of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses.” (Luke 1:1-2)
  5. Did Jesus fight? Jesus died voluntarily without a struggle. “No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again.” (John 10:18)
  6. Was Jesus defeated by the cross? Was his death a defeat? No, it was a triumph. “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory. Where, O death, is your sting. The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:54b-56)

These six questions and the answers are vital in understanding why Christ died and what his death means. Now that we have an accurate picture of Christian thought in regards to the death of Jesus, we are free to see how the gods of the mystery religions stack up.

Critique and Examination: Death of Pagan Gods

First, who did these pagan gods die for? None of the pagan gods of mystery religions died for someone else. ‘The notion of the Son of God dying in place of His creatures is unique to Christianity.”[20]

Why did these pagan gods die? Nowhere in any of the mystery religions is it claimed that their god died for sin. Gunter Wagner writes, “To none [of the pagan gods] has the intention of helping men been attributed. The sort of death that they died is quite different (hunting accident, self-emasculation, etc.)”[21]

How many times did these pagan gods die? The short answer is many. Most of these gods were vegetation deities who played out a continual cycle of death and resurrection in correlation with the seasons. Even skeptics rightly admit this, “There are two principle types of savior-gods recognized by hierologists, namely: vegetation-gods and sun-gods.”[22] In addition, the movie Zeitgeist is replete with references to these gods in relation to the season. Greg Koukl sums it up nicely by writing that “the mythical, ‘resurrected’ deities were invariably tied to the seasons of the agricultural cycle, ‘dying’ and ‘rising’ repeatedly every calendar year, while Jesus’ resurrection was a one-time event unrelated to seasonal changes.”[23]

The forth question has to do with the historicity of these gods. How do we know that any of these pagan gods died? Well, we don’t. We have very little in the way of historical evidence of their existence and even so when compared to the amount evidence in favor of the historicity of the biblical account, to try and compare the two is laughable. These stories are just that, stories; dramas with no ties to actual history. It is clear that the early church believed, as fact, that Jesus died and was raised, and that the foundation of this belief was rooted in history. This knowledge makes absurd any attempt to derive this belief from the mythical, nonhistorical stories of the pagan cults. A.D. Knock expresses it well when he writes,

In Christianity everything is made to turn on a dated experience of a historical Person; it can be seen from I Cor. 15:3 that the statement of the story early assumed the form of a statement in a Creed. There is nothing in the parallel cases which points to any attempt to give such a basis of historical evidence to belief.[24]

Compare this with the fact that “no serious historian of any religious or nonreligious stripe doubts that Jesus of Nazareth really lived in the first century and was executed.”[25] I have searched high and low; no one is willing to make this claim with respect to the gods of the mystery religions.

The fifth question asked above has to do with how these other “savior-gods” die? Did they give themselves over in a similar manor as Jesus did? No they did not. In fact, and again, there is nothing in any of the mystery cults that resembles anything like the voluntary death of Jesus Christ. The Metternich Stele, a stone dating to the third century B.C. which tells the story of Horus, depicts a scene of his death that is utterly different than that of Christ. Here we see that Horus died not by freely giving himself for others. Instead the Stele depicts Horus dying as a result of a scorpion sting. Comparing the manner in which these pagan gods died with Jesus, Princeton theologian John Machen wrote,

Christ is represented as dying voluntarily, and dying for the sake of men, He ‘loved me,’ says Paul, ‘and gave himself for me.’ There is absolutely nothing like that conception in the case of pagan religions. Osiris, Adonis, and Attis were overtaken by their fate; Jesus gave his life freely away. The difference is stupendous.[26]

And the final question we must ask of these gods of the ancient mystery religions is was their death considered a defeat? Nowhere among the stories of these pagan savior-gods do we see a message of triumph come from their death. Followers of these pagan gods wept and mourned the death of their deity. They were distraught. Compare this with the picture we have of Christ. Not only was the message of Jesus’ death a message of victory, even as he was being brutalized and humiliated, he was the true victor. This stands it the starkest of contrasts to the likes of Horus, Attis or Osiris.

Critique and Examination: Resurrection Accounts

Having taken on the task of comparing the death motifs from the pagan myths to Jesus’ own death it is quite obvious that the narratives are vastly different. Now it’s time to turn our attention to the resurrection claims. The two have been kept separate for one very important reason; the resurrection claims of ancient mystery religions are ambiguous at best. While there are clear claims to the death of their god within the mystery religions, this is not always the case in regards to a resurrection accounts. Whether there is actually a resurrection story isn’t the only issue in play here. Also in question are the dates attributed to the accounts. In the examination and critique of these myths we must first ask which of them actually lay claim to a resurrection and then what’s the date of the evidence.

A few pagan myths can be eliminated right of the bat. There are no early texts that refer to Attis having been resurrected at all.[27] To claim otherwise is at best a misunderstanding and at worst a misrepresentation. Also to be mentioned is that all source material for Attis postdates biblical texts. Paul could not have copied from something that had yet to be written.

Similarly Dionysus can be crossed off the list of resurrected gods. While his worshipers did believe in eternal life they never expressed a hope for a resurrection or any kind of faith in Dionysus’ rebirth.

Mithras, the god of Christianity’s early rival pagan religion is victim of a later date. Edwin Yamauchi, Professor Emeritus of History at Miami University, comments that “those who seek to adduce Mithras as a prototype of the risen Christ ignore the late date of Mithraism.”[28] Even so, Mithras cannot be describes as a dying and rising god because no death and resurrection ritual has ever been associated with Mithraism.[29]

Osiris’ resurrection claim suffers a similar fate but in different way. While there is clear and early evidence of a resurrection account from the second century, it’s a leap to relate Osiris’ “resurrection” to Jesus’. The way the myth is told is that Osiris’s body was dismembered and scattered. After his scattered body parts were collected he was resuscitated and became “Lord of the Underworld.” But to relate the Egyptian view of the afterlife to the resurrection as according to the Hebrew-Christian tradition fails miserably. They are incomparable. In fact, Osiris’ “resurrection” might not be conserved a resurrection at all. Bruce Metzger agrees, “Whether this can be rightly called a resurrection is questionable, especially since, according to Plutarch, it was the pious desire of devotees to be buried in the same ground where… the body of Osiris was still lying.”[30]

On this very issue Roland de Vaux, former director of the Ecole Biblique comments,

What is meant of Osiris being raised to life? Simply that… he is able to lead a life beyond the tomb which is an almost perfect replica of earthly existence but he will never again come among the living and will reign only over the dead… This revived god is in reality a ‘mummy’ god.[31]

As with the other gods of mystery religions examined the comparison of Osiris to Christ just simply does not lead one to conclude that any of the Gospel authors or Paul turned to these false pagan myths as source material.

Conclusion:

So, is the resurrection and death account of Jesus dependent upon the “dying and rising” gods from Hellenistic paganism? Through the examination and critiques of these pagan gods of ancient mystery religions as compared to the Jesus story we are left with no other option but to conclude that the claim that Jesus is a copycat god is purely false. As such one must agree with Tryggve Mettinger that “There is, as far as I am aware, no prima facie evidence that the death and resurrection of Jesus is a mythological construct, drawing on the myths and rites of the dying and rising gods of the surrounding world.”[32]

So does the Christian story resemble a fairytale from long ago? Should we begin the narrative “Once upon a time…” as we read in Sleeping Beauty or Snow White? Where a woman is in distress, surrounded by evil only to be then saved by a prince galloping on a white horse; where they ride into a new kingdom to reign happily forever together? If it does, you have it exactly backwards. Fairytales sound like this. If the death and resurrection accounts of Christ are not true then this is a false religion and we should move on.[33] But if the death and resurrection accounts are true then it is the most amazing story of all time and it’s deserving of everything we have. It is my contention that the latter is true and fairytales pale in comparison to the glories gained through Christ’s death and resurrection.


[1] Koukl, Greg. Solid Ground, “Jesus, the Recycled Redeemer.” Stand to Reason Ministries. Sept./Oct. 2009.
[2] Licona, Michael R. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. (Grand Rapids: IVP, 2010), 536.
[3] Zeitgeist and the various updates have compiled well over 10 million views on YouTube, making it the most watched movie in relation to this subject.
[4] Joseph, Peter. 2010. “Complete Original ’07 Zeitgeist With 20120 Updates by: Peter Joseph” Youtube. Flash video file. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=guXirzknYYE (Accessed April 14, 2012).
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Strobel, Lee. 2011. “Jesus’ Resurrection vs. Ancient Mythology” Youtube. Flash video file. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_jhHvuNpACc (Accessed April 25, 2012).
[8] Ibid.
[9] Harpur, Tom, The Pagan Christ: Is Blind Faith Killing Christianity? (New York, Walker & Company, 2004), 10.
[10] Ibid 10.
[11] Ibid 84.
[12] Ibid 208.
[13] Ibid 90.
[14] Jackson, John G., Pagan Origins of the Christ Myth (Austin, American Atheist Press, 1988), 28.
[15] Ibid 23.
[16] Ibid 16.
[17] Loisy, Alfred. “The Christian Mystery,” The Hibbert Journal, v. 10 (1911-1912): 51 (accessed online at http://archive.org/search.php?query=The%20Hibbert%20journal%20AND%20collection%3Atoronto).
[18] Nash, Ronald H. The Gospel and the Greeks. (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P& R Publishing, 2003), 159.
[19] These six observations are borrowed from Ronald Nash’s The Gospel and the Greeks. This technique has proven effective for me when debating this topic. I have elaborated on them.
[20] Nash, 160.
[21] Wagner, Gunter. Pauline Baptism and the Pagan Mysteries (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1967), 284.
[22] Jackson, Pagan Origins of the Christ Myth, 23.
[23] Koukl. “Jesus, the Recycled Redeemer”, 3.
[24] Knock, A.J. Early Gentile Christianity and Its Hellenistic Background, (New York: Harper & Row, 1964), 107.
[25] Licona. The Resurrection of Jesus. 63.
[26] Machen, John G. The Origin of Paul’s Religion (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1921) 315.
[27] Nash, The Gospel and the Greek. 162.
[28] Yamauchi, Edwin M. “Easter: Myth, Hallucination, or History,” from Leader U, http://www.leaderu.com/everystudent/easter/articles/yama.html (accessed on May 12, 2012).
[29] Wagner 67-68.
[30] Nash, The Gospel and the Greeks, 162.
[31] Ibid.
[32] Mettinger, Tryggve. The Riddle of the Resurrection: “Dying and Rising Gods” in the Ancient Near East. (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International. 2001), 221.
[33] This is fairytale comparison has been adapted from many lectures and sermons by Clay Jones. Thank you Dr. Jones for the illustration.

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Are Mormons Christian? The Great Apostasy, a dividing doctrine

The Great Apostasy and a Restored Church

Apostasy: the abandonment or renunciation of a belief or principle.[1] 

Introduction

At first glance there are a number of views shared by the Evangelical Church and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. However, once many of these views are explored it becomes clear that there are actually many differences as well. Herein we will explore one very major difference, the Mormon belief that the New Testament documents have been tampered with, leading to a falling away of the church early in Christian history and in the belief that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, through the “prophet” Joseph Smith is a restoration of the one true church. It’s our aim to first understand what it is that the Latter-Day Saint believes and why. From there we will review biblical scriptures, putting those claims to the test. We will close by looking at the historical reliability of the biblical narrative and what textual criticism says about them in the hopes of addressing a major issue of difference between the Mormon Church and orthodox Christianity. As a result we should be able to come to a conclusion on whether the early church fell away and if the New Testament documents can even be trusted.

The Mormon Belief One – The Apostate Church

The Mormon belief that the Christian Church was witness to a total apostasy finds its foundation in 1 Nephi 13 where we read that the New Testament documents were tampered with.

And after they go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, from the Jews unto the Gentiles, thou seest the formation of that great and abominable church, which is most abominable above all other churches; for behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away.

And all this have they done that they might pervert the right ways of the Lord, that they might blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men.

Wherefore, thou seest that after the book hath gone first through the hands of the great and abominable church, that there are many plain and precious things taken away from the book, which is the book of the Lamb of God.[2]

In examination of this passage Dr. Kent P. Jackson, the associate dean of professors at Brigham Young University, long time teacher of Ancient Scripture and Latter-Day Saint writes that contrary to what many believe, this passage from the Book of Mormon does not represent monks or medieval scribes as the ones intentionally removing portions of scripture so to further their own personal agendas.[3] No, according to Dr. Jackson what was written in 1 Nephi should be interpreted as a corruption of the text very early in Christian history. It should be believed that if a corruption took place it would have had to have happened prior to the Bible being spread throughout the Near East and later the world. He goes further and explains that since there is evidence in early Christian writing that the biblical text was being circulated as early as the second century then the apostasy or falling away had to occur even earlier in the Church, most likely in the first and second centuries. Though no specific time period is referenced Dr. Jackson concludes, “The Early Church died from internal, self-inflicted wounds brought about by the introduction of alien ideas that gained widespread acceptance at the expense of the pure doctrine of Christ.”[4]

Jackson isn’t the only scholar who believes this falling away happened early in Church history. Dr. James Talmage, a Mormon scholar and apologist, in his book The Great Apostasy writes that “a general apostasy developed during and after the apostolic period…”[5] Dr. Talmage goes further than Dr. Jackson writing that “the primitive Church lost its power, authority and grace as a divine institution, and degenerated into an earthly organization only.”[6] Due to this total apostasy, history witnessed what Talmage and Jackson describes as revolts against the church. Listing among these revolts “the revival of learning,” the Reformation, and even the rise of the Church of England. All of which he considers proofs not only that the Church had lost its way but also that there was a need for a restoration.[7]

Mormon Belief Two – A Needed Restoration

In the introduction to the publication History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which is by Mormons considered to be an official history of the LDS Church, we read, “Nothing less than a complete apostasy from the Christian religion would warrant the establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.”[8] Out of the idea that the Christian Church had been corrupted through apostasy flows the call for a restoration of the true church. This claim and later call was of the utmost importance. This is a statement that Evangelicals should be able to agree with: if the current Church is not following the original principles and precepts of Christ, as the Latter-Day Saints posit, then it should be our most pressing concern to get back that which was lost. As such we must now look at the origins of this doctrine and it’s validity. To do this we turn to Joseph Smith himself and his History of the Church.

In Joseph Smith – History I, found in the Pearl of Great Price we read the account of Mr. Smith’s life and general experiences with different religious sects during his early adult life.[9]  He recalls a time of great excitement, one in which he attended several meetings of different Christian denominations, eventually becoming partial to the Methodists though he did not join with them do to “great confusion and strife among the different denominations.”[10] As a result of these inter-denominational “strifes” young smith was left questioning which way was the right way. In his struggles he secluded himself in the local woods to pray for guidance. And in Chapter 15 of his History we read what is known as Joseph Smith’s First Vision, laying the groundwork for the foundation for the formation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the one true and restored church according to its members. Smith records, “I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me… When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages… standing above me in the air”[11] Smith explains that these two “personages” were God the Father and Jesus Christ. Composing himself Mr. Smith then asks “which of all the sects was right” and which one he should join? The response he claims to have received is of the utmost importance to this discussion. Smith writes,

“I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: ‘they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but the deny the power thereof.’ He again forbade me to join with any of them.”[12]

It is due to this “vision” that Joseph Smith felt the need for a restoration and it in large part served as the catalyst for Smith to further investigate spiritual things and eventually write The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, restoring what he thought to be a church in apostasy.

Similar to what we looked at by Talmage above, B.H. Roberts in his A Comprehensive History of the Church writes that the society surrounding him at the time provided “an emphatic confirmation of what Joseph Smith in substance promulgated a century ago” in that first vision.[13] Roberts goes on to point to a growing agitation within the Roman Catholic Church brought on by the modernist movement, and with it the “readjusting the Christian attitude towards modern knowledge… [and] a clear call for the rejuvenation of Roman Catholicism… harmonizing [the church’s] teachings with the thought of [the current] age.”[14] Roberts argues that this modernist call for readjustment presupposes something gone wrong, a deadness or something out of synch with modern truth.

Roberts further supports the claim that what Smith saw on that night in the woods was a revelation of the truth from God by pointing to the culture within American colleges during the century that followed. He describes an article written in a popular magazine, The Cosmopolitan Magazine, concluding that there was a unified “voice from the American colleges condemning all the churches.”[15] He goes on to express the notion that the colleges also thought that the church was not only wrong in the present time but had been for centuries. Dr. Roberts concludes that the mere recognition of these things is an admission that the claims of Joseph Smith are correct, that all the church were wrong and an abomination to God and that the Mormon Church is the one restoration of the one true church.

With the passage of time the claims of apostasy and a falling away have not become fewer. Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints have been consistent in the defense of this as well as the position that the Latter-Day Saints are the only pure church. Take the following statements into account as we head into the next phase of our journey.

  • “The Christian world, so called, are heathens as to their knowledge of the salvation of God.”[16]
  • “All other churches are entirely destitute of all authority from God: and any person who receives Baptism or the Lord’s Supper from their hands will highly offend God, for he looks upon them as the most corrupt of all people.”[17]
  • “In the process of what we call the Apostasy, the tangible, personal God described in the Old and New Testaments was replaced by the abstract, incomprehensible deity defined by compromise with the speculative principle of Greek philosophy.”[18]
  • “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has taught since its beginning that there was an apostasy of the Church that was founded by Jesus during his earthly ministry and led by the apostles after his ascension. This is a fundamental belief of our religion: if there had not been an apostasy, there would have been no need for a restoration.”[19]

It is quite clear that Joseph Smith and his fellow Latter-Day Saints believed that the church was standing in apostasy, having fallen so far from the original teachings of Christ to warrant the label “abominable church.” It’s also clear that the Mormons believe their church to be the restoration to that which became corrupted. In defense of these positions LDS members refer to a number of scriptures from the New Testament as proof texts. As such let us now turn our attention to the word of God and begin our examination of their claims.

Claiming Apostasy and Restoration from Scripture:

Smith has been compared to the likes of Christopher Columbus, not in search for a new world but on a quest for an ancient and lost truth.[20] The search resulting in what Smith and fellow Latter-Day Saints claim to be a restoration. As Columbus used celestial navigation and a compass in search of a new land, Smith and his predecessors used Scripture as a guide and proof to their claims. It is here that we will examine the claims made and begin to offer a rebuttal, if possible, with the end goal of forming a conclusion on the Mormon claims put forth above. Below we will examine two of central scriptures used in support first of a complete apostasy and then a restoration.

Acts 20:29-30 – Apostasy Foretold

Andrew Skinner, dean of religious education at Brigham Young University and well known author writes,

We affirm that the Apostasy and the Restoration occurred just as foretold… Supported by scripture and the words of prophets, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches unequivocally that there was an apostasy from the Lord’s one and only true church following the deaths of Christ’s early Apostles.[21]

In that article Dr. Skinner refers to Saint Paul’s words in Acts 20:29-31 as “the most pointed and succinct description in all of scripture of how the great apostasy of the early Church came about.”[22] Let’s look at the passage together,

For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears. [23]

Mormon scholars agree that Paul’s words here are of the utmost importance and point to the knowledge of the apostles that apostasy would take place and greatly affect their work. Kent Jackson tells his audience that Paul here, and other New Testament passages, that are where one must begin in order to start to understand what occurred in the early church.[24] Jackson and other Mormon scholars render Paul’s words as a prophecy that an apostasy would not only occur but had in fact already begun. Their reading of these two verses provides a basis for the belief that false teachers (the wolves) would infiltrate the church, devouring all members of the Christian church (the sheep); not one would be spared. As a commentary on this very verse Talmage tells his readers “it is evident that the church was literally driven from the earth… But the Lord in His mercy provided for the re-establishment of His Church in the last days, and for the last time… This restoration was effected by the Lord through the Prophet Joseph Smith.”[25]

But is Paul foretelling a complete falling away; an apostasy as Latter-Day Saints suggest? According to Robert Bowman, the manager of Apologetics and Interfaith Evangelism at the North American Mission Board, the answer is no. In his article LDS Apostles and Prophets: What Did the New Testament Apostles Say?  Bowman writes that while, yes, the New Testament prophets and writers repeatedly warned of coming false prophets  they “never once expressed concern about the church losing its way,” nor do they allude to or predict a “top-down worldwide church polity after the departure of the apostles.”[26]

It would seem that Mormon scholars have misapplied Paul’s words in Acts. When the biblical authors wrote the letters of the New Testament they did so with intent and purpose to a specific audience. It has been suggested that perhaps this is where some Latter-Day scholars err in their application of Acts 20:29-31. Paul wrote Acts to address a very specific group of people, the church in Ephesus. Actually it’s even more specific than that, he is writing to the leadership of the church, the elders.[27] You see, Paul was issuing a warning, but not to all churches present and future. He was issuing a very direct warning to the elders of the Ephesian church.

In support of this view and in the hopes of correcting the misapplication of Acts 20 by Latter-Day Saints we can turn to the late F.F. Bruce, the world renowned biblical scholar and expert in the New Testament. In his famous commentary on Acts, Bruce explains what Paul most likely meant when issuing this warning,

That this development did in fact take place at Ephesus is evident from the Pastoral Epistles and from the letter to the Ephesian church in Rev. 2:1ff. The Pastoral Epistles tell of a general revolt against Paul’s teaching throughout the province of Asia, and John is bidden to reproach the Christians of Ephesus for having abandoned their first love. Foreseeing these trends, then, Pal urges the Ephesian elders to be watchful.[28]

 

It is quite obvious, as Bruce tells us and from a general reading of this scripture in context that Paul’s words here cannot, and should not be thought to mean that the Christian church as a whole would turn its back on the Gospel message completely. If, as the LDS Church propagates, Paul meant that a great, universal, and complete apostasy would occur he would not have also written, “Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.”(Emphasis mine)[29]

As my hermeneutics professor in seminary, Ben Shin says, it’s all about context, context, context. It can rightly be concluded that, at least in this instance, the belief of a great apostasy is founded to be based on a passage of scripture taken out of context. As such it can be logically concluded that the use of Acts 20 to support the notion of a great apostasy is due to an inaccurate rendering of Paul’s words.

Acts 3:20-21 – Restoration Foretold[30]

As we have explored, the Latter-Day Saints believe that due to the great apostasy there is a need to reestablish God’s truths and the gospel as a whole to all people. And, as we have seen, that belief can be explained by the taking of a verse out of context. But is the claim of a future restoration accurate according to the biblical text? On the LDS website under the “Scriptures” section there is a list of additional verses referencing support that “the gospel of Jesus Christ was lost from the earth through the apostasy… That apostasy made necessary the restoration of the gospel.”[31] Acts 3:20-21 is listed as a primary proof text of this claim.

Before we look at the text it is important to understand that the Mormons consider the restoration of the gospel started by Joseph Smith’s First Vision as vital to millions of people worldwide (and in the world not seen).[32] As such, we should approach this subject with respect and honesty.

Now, let us read Acts 3:20-21 together: “[A]nd that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.”[33] From an initial reading it can seem that Paul is telling us that there will be a restoration following a time of apostasy. LeGrand Richards, former president of the LDS Church, member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, a prominent missionary and author writes of this passage:

“When looking for the second coming of the Christ as herein promised, we much realize that he will not come before there is a “restitution [restoration] of all things.” It is obvious that there cannot be a restitution of that which has not been taken away. Therefore, this scripture is another very plain prediction of apostasy – the taking of the gospel from earth – with a promise of the complete restoration of all things spoken by all the holy prophets since the world began.”[34]

Again, at first glimpse this seems to be an accurate statement. After all, why would there be a need for a restitution of something that hasn’t been removed? And here the restitution spoken of, according the Mr. Richards and his LDS brothers and sisters, is the gospel. The event that is of such importance here is the coming of the original gospel message by way of the one true church, restored by and through the Latter-Day prophet Joseph Smith. Dr. Jackson writes, “The Book of Mormon stands as an ending of the restoration of the gospel through the Prophet Joseph Smith, held up to the world as evidence of God’s love for his children today.”[35]

As we saw in Acts 20 though, sometimes first impressions are not truth revealing. So let’s look now again at Acts 3. There are a number of interpretations of this passage. The more popular of which is outlined well by Ron Rhodes in his Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Mormons while discussing this passage. Rhodes explains that the phrase “restitution of all things” more than likely refers to the restoration of Israel. To come to this conclusion we again have to think of the context in which Paul is writing Acts. His audience is the “men of Israel” and he tells his readers about the fulfillment of all the earlier prophecies. Rhodes offers good insight by way of Dr. Craig Keener, an academic professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary, who writes “that Jewish people expected Israel’s restoration; this was a central message of the Old Testament prophets… and Peter seems to have it in view here.”[36]

Though there are other renderings of meaning, such as the “restitution of all things” carries a more general meaning referring to judgment day, we can be sure of what Acts 3:20-21 cannot mean. Again, context, context, context; nowhere in the surrounding text is there any mention of a total apostasy in which the entire church will lose its way. This is true also when looking at the larger context of not only the New Testament but the entire biblical narrative, as Keener alludes to. The accepted Mormon rendering of Acts 3:20-21 simply reads something into the text that isn’t there. Rhodes points out that the Latter-Day Saints are guilty of eisogesis (reading meaning into a text) instead of practicing exegesis (drawing the meaning out of the text). He writes, “By allowing the text to speak for itself, a person would never come to the conclusion that Acts 3:20-21 is referring to a complete apostasy” and restoration of the church.[37] He then offers Matthew 16:18 as an example of the conflict that would arise if this were not so. “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”[38] In claiming that the entire Christian church fell into apostasy and was in need of a restoration the Mormon is in direct conflict with the words and teachings of Jesus.

Similarly Ephesians 3:21 reads, “to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”[39] What is the need for a restoration if the church never falls away as we see here? Look at the claims of Peter in 1 Peter 1:25, quoting Isaiah 40:8 that “’the word of the Lord endures forever.’ And this is the word which was preached to you.”[40] There is only one way to interpret this passage, which is the Word of the Lord truly “endures” throughout all of history. Peter is unequivocally claiming that what he and the other apostles are teaching is the true word of God.

Historical Reliability of the Biblical Narrative

Mormons, when confronted with their conclusions drawn from scripture,  often claim that the biblical narrative, specifically the New Testament has been corrupted as according to 1 Nephi 13:26-28.  But is this true? Kent Jackson thinks so and says that following the death of the apostles the “doctrinal unity which the Twelve were guardians had dissolved, and groups with every diverse teaching… were competing for power in the Christian community.”[41] Kent Brown, professor of ancient scripture and the director of ancient studies at Brigham Young University writes that what was witnessed in the late first century is a “church full of dissensions.”[42] The result is a corrupted text. However, what does the historical evidence say?

 

It would seem that the accuracy of the biblical record actually stands in direct conflict with the idea that there was an early apostasy as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints claims. In fact there is a “continuous line of historical evidence from as early as A.D. 95-100 showing that the Christian community considered the writings of Jesus’ apostles the supreme doctrinal standard.”[43] We can be confident that by the late first and early second century there was all but universal agreement among Christian groups world-wide regarding the inspiration and accuracy of at least 20 of the New Testament books. By the end of the 4th century there was universal recognition of all 27 books of the New Testament.

The early believers viewed the apostolic writing as sacred. Much of this is actually due to the fact that the witnesses and apostles were dying or dead. Instead of this providing an opportunity for apostasy to creep in, it motivated the early church to make sure an accurate account of the events were recorded.

We are able to conclude that the New Testament is accurate and reliable because we can compare a multitude of manuscripts. This is a line of argument all but ignored by Mormon scholars. Between the second and fifteenth centuries, the time the falling away is claimed to have happened by the LDS, 5,366 partial and complete New Testament manuscript were reproduced.[44]  Compared to each other we see amazing accuracy and likeness. If there were deliberate changes being made by a variety of decenter there would be a large number of discrepancies between the texts, especially if the changes began early on.

Even more amazing is time that transpired between the original writings and the first copies. We have most of the New Testament manuscripts dated within 200 years of the events. We have some books dating to within 100 years of the events. And we have one fragment that comes within a generation. There simply was not enough time for heresy to creep in and gain footing.

Also, compared to any other ancient text the New Testament stands in a class of it’s own. “Not only are there thousands more manuscripts and portions of the New Testament than other ancient books, but the oldest New Testament manuscript portions are centuries earlier,” resulting in the ability to reconstruct them with a greater degree of accuracy than any other ancient book.[45] If one is to doubt the authenticity of the New Testament documents then one must also doubt all ancient writing. Something no group, Latter-Day Saints included, is too willing to do. (The chart above was taken from http://carm.org/manuscript-evidence)

Textual Criticism      

The process used in determining to what degree any ancient document corresponds to its original is called textual criticism.  Lower criticism deals the authenticity of the text. Textual critics try to recreate the original texts of the lost document by comparing copies of the writings, in this case the ancient New Testament documents. The results? We can be confident “that the Bible has not only been preserved in the largest number of manuscripts of any book from the ancient world, but that it also contains fewer errors in transmission.”[46] Of these errors only 10 percent affect the meaning of the passage, none effecting Christian doctrine.

In light of these evidences and the work of textual critics we can be certain that what we’re reading today, “line for line, word for word, and even letter for letter”, is the “Word of God as originally written.”[47] What’s more is that we can be sure that the Mormon position that the texts were corrupted early in Church history is not an accurate one, eliminating the need of a restored church due to the fact that church history as been so well preserved. It also becomes clear that nowhere in the thousands of manuscripts and copies do we see anything close to resembling what Joseph Smith and his Mormon followers believe to be the restored church.

Conclusion

            In conclusion and after careful examination of both the evidence and the claims to apostasy and a restoration propagated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints it has become clear that the Mormon church is mistaken. We’ve seen that the proof texts from Scripture and the historicity of the Bible support the orthodox, Evangelical view that what we read today is what the Apostles wrote; no central doctrines have been removed or added. As such we can be sure that the Church is not apostate and therefore there is no need for a restoration of any kind. However, this is not to say the claims of the Latter-Day Saints should be dismissed with a cavalier attitude. Claims such as the ones investigated above pose a very real challenge to orthodoxy and as Saints we are called to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks… But do this with gentleness and respect,” and our prayers should echo that of the Psalmist, “Teach me Your way, O Lord, that I may walk and live in Your truth; direct and unite my heart to fear and honor Your name.”[48]

        

[1] Soanes, Catherine, Angus Stevenson, ed. 2004. Concise Oxford English Dictionary (Eleventh Edition). Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press. 61.

[2] Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 13:26-28.

[3] Jackson, Kent P. From Apostasy to Restoration (Salt Lake City: Desert News Press: 2010, Kindle e-book) locations 319-366.

[4] Jackson. 354

[5] Talmage, James E. The Great Apostasy: Considered in the Light of Scriptural and Secular History (Salt Lake City, Desert News Press, 1968). Preface.

[6] Ibid

[7] Jackson, Kent. From Apostasy to Restoration. Chapter 7 and Talmage, James E. The Great Apostasy. Chapter 10

[8] Roberts, B.H., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints – Period I. Salt Lake City, UT: Desert News, 1902. XLII As accessed online at http://books.google.com/books?id=EylEIEiOmZAC&pg on 12/01/2011)

[9] It is recommended that the reader here break and read all of Joseph Smith – History, found in the Pearl of Great Price in order to place discussion in context. It can be found at: http://lds.org/scriptures/pgp/js-h/1.1-26?lang=eng#0

[10] Pearl of Great Price: Joseph Smith – History Ch. 8

[11] Ibid 16-17

[12] Ibid 19-20

[13] Roberts, B.H. A Comprehensive History of the Church: Century One (Salt Lake City: Desert News Press, 1930). 62.

[14] Ibid, 62-63.

[15] Ibid, 65.

[16] Young, Brigham. Journal of Discourses (London: Latter-Day Saints Book Depot, 1854-1856). 8:171.

[17] Pratt, Orson, The Seer. Washington DC: NP, 1853-54. 255.

[18] Oaks, Dallin H. “Apostasy and the Restoration.” Ensign Magazine, May 1995. 85.

[19] Jackson, Kent. From Apostasy to Restoration. 138.

[20] Bennion, Lynn M. and J.A. Washburn. History or the Restored Church (Salt Lake City, Desert News Press for Desert Sunday School Union Board, 1960). 11.

[21] Skinner, Andrew C. “Apostacy, Resotration, and Lessons in Fiath.” Ensign Magazine December 1995. p. 1 http://lds.org/ensign/print/1995/12/apostasy-restoration-and-lessons-in-faith?lang=eng&clang=eng (accessed November 28, 2011)

[22] Ibid. p. 1

[23] The New King James Version. 1982 (Ac 20:29–31). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[24] Jackson, Kent. From Apostasy to Restoration. 173.

[25] Talmage, James Edward. The Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City, Desert News Press, 1899). 206-207.

[26] Bowman, Robert M. “LDS Apostles and Prophets: What Did the New Testament Apostles Say?” 4Truth.net: New Religions and Cults section. http://www.4truth.net/fourtruthpbnew.aspx?pageid=8589952803 (accessed October 29, 2011)

[27] See Acts 20:17.

[28] Bruce, F.F. The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Book of Acts (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988). 417.

[29] The Holy Bible: King James Version. 2009 (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version.) (Eph 3:21). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[30] It should be noted that if it is shown that the belief of an all-encompassing and great apostasy is be false then there would be no reason to examine the Mormon claim that there is a need for a restoration. No apostasy equals no restoration. But due to the limits of this paper, specifically the time and space we will only be looking at two scriptures from Acts, there are more examples referenced by Mormon apologists and scholars.

[32] Jackson, Kent. From Apostasy to Restoration. 1202

[33] The New King James Version. 1982 (Ac 3:20–21). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[34] LeGrand, Richard. A Marvelous Work and a Wonder (Salt Lake City, Desert Book Company, 1973). 35

[35] Jackson, Kent. From Apostasy to Restoration

[36] Rhodes, Ron. Reasoning from the Scriptures. 44. Referring to Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary (Downers Grove, IL, InterVarsity Press, 1993). 332

[37] Rhodes, Ron. Reasoning from the Scriptures. 45.

[38] The New King James Version. 1982 (Mt 16:18). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[39] Ibid (Eph 3:21).

[40] New American Standard Bible : 1995 update. 1995 (1 Pe 1:25). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[41] Jackson, Kent. From Apostasy to Restoration. 154

[42] Brown, S. Kent. “Whither the Early Church.” Ensign Magazine (October 1988) 7-10. http://lds.org/ensign/1988/10/whither-the-early-church?lang=eng (accessed October 27, 2011)

[43] Wilson, Luke P. “Lost Books and Latter-Day Revelation.” Christian Research Institute Online. http://www.equip.org/articles/lost-books-and-latter-day-revelation (accessed November 7, 2011)

[44] N. Geisler and W. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible. (Chicago, Moody Press, 1986). 385

[45] Ibid 405

[46] Ibid 489

[47] Ibid 489

[48] 1 Peter 3:15; Psalm 86:11

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The Contemporary Appeal to Tolerance – Letter to a fictional editor

Dear Editor:

            I found the latest issue of Modern Morals quite engaging, and more specifically the article titled Tolerance: America’s greatest virtue allowing for moral relativism. In it the author, James Jinks puts forth an argument for moral relativism from tolerance. Jinks attempts to show that moral relativism is true using as a foundation that moral absolutism (existence of objective morals) is intolerant. The moral relativist, in this case Jinks, claims that we should be tolerant of all cultures and individual’s differing moral principles. Going further Jinks argues that it is actually intolerant to question or criticize other individuals or people groups on moral grounds; leading us to believe that we should all be moral relativists.[1] On it’s face these statements seem agreeable and appealing but if given the opportunity it’s my contention that this argument is severely flawed for a number of reasons.

            First and foremost Jinks misrepresents what the definition of tolerance is. He defines tolerance as accepting all ideas and morals as being equal. He even states, “it is intolerant not to respect all ideas of others and other cultures.” But the notion that we must respect all ideas is foolish. For example, we would not respect the idea that the earth is flat or the dark side of the moon is made of cheese.[2] The person holding to these ideas should be respected but not the ideas themselves. In actuality tolerance is closer to what we know as civility. Tolerance relates to how we treat people with whom we disagree, not how we treat their ideas. Tolerance requires the respectful, courteous treatment of the person, no matter what their view, not that all views are equal or true.[3]

            Now that we have a corrected working definition of tolerance we can expose Jinks’ argument as being inconsistent as it relates to morality and ultimately self refuting. He claims that morality is cultural or even personal. This implies that there are no objective moral standards. However, the article is replete with objective moral statements. Jinks, speaking if Dr. Francis Beckwith a professor at Baylor University, says “Dr. Beckwith ought to stop criticizing relativists.” And, “Beckwith should just live and let live.”[4] Even his primary statement and focus of the article is asserting of an objective moral standard, “we should become moral relativists.” If moral relativism where true then both these claims would be false because Jinks is holding that tolerance is required of everyone, making tolerance the absolute standard. Therefore tolerance cannot be based upon relativism.[5] As a matter of fact at this point we see that the premise as a whole starts to collapse on itself because it’s self refuting. Jinks in arguing we should all be tolerant is implying that tolerance is an objective moral standard. His argument, and the stance of the moral relativists is rendered ineffective.

            The next flaw with Tolerance: America’s greatest virtue allowing for moral relativism is the notion that we should never criticize someone on moral grounds. But sometimes it is appropriate and necessary to criticize someone on moral grounds. For example, if someone tries to break into your house and steal your personal property, it is appropriate to object on moral grounds. But if Mr. Jinks and the moral relativist were correct we would have to simply dismiss the crime as that individual simply having a different standard of right and wrong. In that instance we do not have to be tolerant. It could even be argued that it is immoral in that instance to hold to the relativist’s definition of tolerance. It needs to also be noted that the statement that it’s not right to criticize some on moral grounds is itself and objective moral statement. You see Mr. Jinks, every step of the way has proved his own article wrong.

            In sum, the belief that tolerance is required of everyone is the right belief, proves relativism is false. If tolerance is required of everybody as the article asserts, then the absolute is tolerance, and the people holding the view are no longer relativists but absolutists. In light of this if you are going to establish tolerance, you can not base it upon a moral relativist frame work. And, if you are going to establish relativism, you can not establish it upon tolerance. It simply doesn’t work, proving the article completely self contradictory and does not lead to morality but away from it.

            “If we interpret normative relativism as requiring tolerance of other views, the whole theory is imperiled by inconsistency. The proposition that we ought to tolerate the views of others, or that it is right not to interfere with others, is precluded by the very strictures of the theory. Such a proposition bears all the marks of a non-relative account of moral rightness, one based on, but not reducible to, the cross-cultural findings of anthropologists…But if this moral principle [of tolerance] is recognized as valid, it can of course be employed as an instrument for criticizing such cultural practices as the denial of human rights to minorities and such beliefs as that of racial superiority. A moral commitment to tolerance of other practices and beliefs thus leads inexorably to the abandonment of normative relativism.” – Tom Beauchump[6]

Thank you for your time,

JRN


[1] Beckwith, Francis, “The Case For Moral Absolutes” Defending the Faith Lecture Series, (Biola University, La Mirada, CA, 2011).

[2] Beckwith, Francis, “The Case For Moral Absolutes

[3] Beckwith, Francis, “The Case For Moral Absolutes

[4] Beckwith, Francis, “The Case For Moral Absolutes

[5] Beckwith, Francis, “The Case For Moral Absolutes

[6] Beckwith, Francis, “The Case For Moral Absolutes

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It Doesn’t Matter What You Believe – As Long as You’re Sincere

           In his book, True For You But Not For Me Paul Copan addresses a response often given today by people who disagree with another’s set of beliefs based upon the sincerity or fervor of the people involved. Simply put, some people argue that it really doesn’t matter what your beliefs on a certain subject are, as long as you are sincere in those beliefs. But is this legitimate?

            We live in an increasingly pluralistic, postmodern age were some would say truth is becoming less critical. In fact it would seem that the earnestness of a person is often more important than the truth of the matter at hand. Especially when dealing with spiritual things. But once explored, this assertion shows itself to be problematic for a number of reasons.[1]

            Someone’s sincerity regarding a belief does not make that belief true. In fact, we need only look at today’s news headlines to see this. Wouldn’t you say that Osama bin Laden was “sincere” in his belief that killing Americans was acceptable, even commendable? All by itself, sincerity proves to be inadequate. Copan points out that the focus should be on whether the basis for one’s beliefs is firm, not how sincere they are.[2] In light of this it makes one question if we even know what is meant by the saying, “as long as he’s sincere in his beliefs”?

            Why do we not focus on integrity or goodness? We could say, “as long as the person has good motives…” or “as long as their happy…” Copan argues that it’s “arbitrary to single out sincerity as the central factor.”[3] In fact many sincere people may be closed-minded to the truth; or they may lack goodness or humility. You see the focus should be on whether the belief is morally right, not how passionately the person holds the belief.

            Perhaps the most important area in which to understand that one’s sincerity does not make their view true is in regards to faith and ultimately salvation. This is paramount because one’s eternity is in the balance.  We are saved by God’s grace, and only God’s grace. To believe that sincerity is a criteria for salvation implies that “salvation is merited or deserved.”[4] It’s important to understand that sincerity in a belief is a result of the grace of God, not the basis of God’s grace.

            In response to this the pluralist will object, saying that there are “good people” from all religious groups. In doing so they clearly misunderstand the human condition. We are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God.[5] Any goodness we exhibit is a direct result of God’s grace. What’s more, “any acceptance God could offer us based on our sincerity is less than nothing compared to the underserved loving-kindness he offers us in Christ.”[6]

            A few weeks ago I engaged in an online discussion with a good friend regarding the federal funding of Planned Parenthood. The discussion briefly turned to things of a spiritual nature and after a few exchanges back-and-forth my friend wrote me saying that she has a faith that drives her thoughts and actions as much as my beliefs drive my thoughts and actions. She wrote, “I know that there are a lot of religious perspectives in which I don’t measure up but I have just as much faith in my own beliefs, in which trying your best to be a good person and doing your best to balance the effects of good and evil that seem to always exist in our world count for something.”

            This is a perfect illustration of the issue at hand. She is obviously very sincere in her beliefs regarding Planned Parenthood, abortion and God but does that sincerity make those conviction true? And more importantly, does that sincerity and obvious effort to be a good person necessarily lead to salvation? To both questions we have to answer no.

            As we explored above the sincerity of the person holding a view does not make that view right. A visit to any mental hospital in the world will illustrate this point. Countless people sincerely believe they are someone or something they are not. If tomorrow I believe I’m a heart surgeon, would you allow me to operate on you are anyone you know? Even if I believed I could do it with all the fervor of a real surgeon, I would not be able to join a hospital team. Similarly here, her fervor does not make her belief true.

            Of more interest are the comments on measuring up to religious standards and that doing good effects a balance of good an evil. Salvation is not gained by doing good works, just as salvation is not gained by sincerely believing in something. In fact, salvation is not something to be gained at all. Salvation is a free gift from God by His grace, thru faith.[7] No amount of good work done can offset evil. In many ways to think this way “conveys that salvation is merited or deserved – a kind of ‘boasting’ before God.”[8] But in Romans Paul writes, “Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by law of faith.”[9] The sincerity of one’s beliefs are a result of grace and no amount of good works will lead to salvation. In her response my friend ignored the merits of the basis of the thoughts by appealing to the sincerity with which she held to the thoughts as the basis.

            In closing it’s also extremely important to note that our sincerity as believers likewise does not make us right. We must note that our fervor is a result of the greatest gift we could ever get, the gift of God’s grace. So, it’s all the more important to know what it is we believe and why, while remembering Peter’s words, “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”[10]


[1] Copan, p. 183.

[2] Copan, p. 184

[3] Copan, p. 184

[4] Copan, p. 185

[5] Romans 3.23

[6] Copan, p. 185

[7] Ephesians 2:8

[8] Copan, p. 185.

[9] Romans 3:27 (NIV)

[10] 1 Peter 3:15 (ESV)

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RUN! By Carter Conlon

It’s while listening to this short message I become so convicted and feel such a sense of priority to take the claims of God both more seriously and to share them with all I know. There is nothing more important than what we do with the claims of Jesus Christ and the Gospel! I truely believe that we hear God through these word!

Run by Carter Conlon:

“We have got to lay our lives down for the purposes of God.  This is not a Sunday school picnic for the church of Jesus Christ; this is not an invitation to have continuous good times.  This is a war for the souls of men.

Come out from among them. Run for your life. Because this is about your life. This is not just about an opposing viewpoint or conflicting theology; this is about your life.

My mind is forever branded with the stories I heard of police officers from the city of New York.  As people were fleeing from a crumbling building, there were police officers and firemen and others that were running toward the building saying, ‘Run for your life!’  At their own peril and in some cases I think they knew they were going to die, but there was a sense of duty.

I was crying out to God, ‘Oh God, Jesus, don’t let my sense of duty be any less for Your Kingdom then these beloved firemen and policemen were for those that were perishing from a falling tower.’

We are living in a generation when truth is falling into the streets.  I want to be among those that are not running away from the conflict but are running toward into conflict saying, ‘Run for your life.’

Run from Gospels that focus only on success and prosperity, run.

Run from those that use the name of Christ only for personal gain,

Run from those that are picking your pocket in the name of Jesus, run!

Run from Gospels that only focus on self-improvement, run!

Run from churches where men and not Christ are glorified, Run!

Run body of Christ run. Get out! Don’t touch the unclean thing.

Run from churches where there is no Bible, there’s no cost in its theology, no soul searching Word, there’s no repentance from sin, there’s no mention of the blood of Jesus, Run! It’s unclean, run.

Run from churches where you’re comfortable in your sins. If you come into the house of God and you’ve got sin in your life and you’re not convicted of it, you’re at a table of devils.  Run from pulpits that are filled with political men who are using the pulpit of God for a personal, political agenda. Run!

Run from those that preach division between races and cultures, run!

Run get out, turn it off, get away from it.  They know nothing of God.

Run from ungodly, spasmodic movements and aimless empty prophesying; beloved church run for your life.

Run from preachers that stand and tell stories and jokes; run like you’ve never run before. Run! Run! Run!”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K6qNCIDtyCw&feature=BF&playnext=1&list=QL&index=1

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Christians Are Narrow Minded?

Dear Editor:

I read the article “Why Christians Are Narrow Minded” and would like to have an opportunity to respond. As you are probably well aware this objection to the Christian faith is nothing new and is far from controversial. In fact most Christians wouldn’t even argue with two of pieces main premises. First, Christians do believe that Jesus is the only way to salvation exclusively; this is not debated. And the second, that this claim has been the focus of opponents to the faith since it’s beginnings and, as your article proves, still flourishes today.[1] Also discussed in “Why Christians Are Narrow Minded” the real issue isn’t whether or not people think that Christian particularism is narrow minded, but whether Christian particularism is in fact narrow minded. And going a step further, even if it is does that justify the rejection of it altogether? Below we will explore both of these as well as their implications.

Prior to exploring the author’s primary assertion of whether Christianity is narrow minded we should explore why it even matters. For even if Christianity is narrow minded, what logically follows and can that serve as a solid rejection of Christianity all together? In response, and contrary to your publication, I would say this is not a solid objection and in fact it doesn’t hold any weight at all. Christianity makes truth claims and in order to pose a logical and good objection one would have to address those truth claims directly. In other words a good objection to the Christian faith should try to show that the claims of Christianity are false directly. For example, showing that the resurrection did not happen because of curtain witness account or the like. You see, your argument of narrow mindedness does not attempt to do this. Even if the claims of Christianity are narrow minded it does not follow that they are false. Narrow mindedness and truth have nothing to do with each other; there is no logical inference moving from one to the other.[2] It should also be noted that as an editor of a major publication you have an intellectual responsibility to accept or reject a view based not on emotional grounds but on its truth or falsity. And it’s here that the objection to Christianity on the assertion that it is narrow minded fails.

At this point I would like to address the primary claim of “Why Christians Are Narrow Minded” directly. Is Christianity narrow minded? One issue with this question has to do with the term “narrow minded.” It would seem that term is being confused with exclusivity. This is an important distinction because truth by definition is exclusive, but not necessarily narrow minded. With this distinction it becomes clear that any view which claims to be true at the same time claims all contrary views to be false. Therefore that view is exclusive. For the interest of the topic at hand, it would make no sense for one person to claim that Jesus is the only way to salvation and another the say that Jesus is not the only way and say that they are both true. At least one of these people is making a false claim. Both of these views are exclusive.[3]

In light of this, it is fair to say that “Why Christians Are Narrow Minded” is making an exclusive claim. Is it therefore a narrow minded view? You see, your view is just as exclusive as the Christians view. So, by your logic both views should be considered narrow minded because both oppose anything making contrary claims. And this brings us full circle. The author of the article seems to be confusing the term “exclusive” with the term “narrow minded.” This is a very important distinction of terms. Just because someone is making an exclusive claim does not mean that they are narrow minded. They very well could be but it does not necessarily follow. The term “narrow minded” has nothing to do with what it is that you believe. It deals with how you believe it.[4] The author of this article is not narrow minded because his views differ from mine (what he believes). But an attitude of unwillingness to consider another view would make him narrow minded (the how). Briefly, it should also be pointed out that the argument itself is self refuting, which could be the biggest problem of all. By arguing that the Christian is narrow minded because the make exclusive claims one because “trapped” in their own reasoning.[5]

Now let’s take a second look at the main premise of the article in question in light of what we’ve discovered. I think we would both agree that the main motive for exploring topics such as this one is to find the truth and expose falsities. So, it would seem that using the correct definition of narrow minded, the Christian claim to salvation is not that. I would like to note that as a Christian I in fact consciously try to be as open-minded as possible while considering evidences, trying to discern the truth of differing world views.

On a personal note it should also be said that I wish salvation was offered to everyone no matter what their beliefs. I would love to believe that all roads lead to heaven and ultimately to God, but that just is not where the evidence, reason and logic lead. And in light of this it seems to me that the author of “Why Christians Are Narrow Minded”, in expressing a pluralistic view of religion, is in fact the one expressing a narrow minded view because he is rejecting the claim of salvation through Jesus alone on emotional grounds. Instead of reviewing the evidences available he is uncompromisingly defending the view he already holds regardless of whether that view is true or not. He then goes on to present a case with the objective of labeling a group of people holding a certain belief. Is this not a classic example of being narrow minded?

In sum, I think it is fair to say that to object to Christianity on the basis of it being narrow minded is not a valid argument. It ignores facts and ultimately the truth, while dieing to itself as self-refuting. My main purpose for writing this to you is to clarify this old objection in the hopes of allowing for a more open minded approach in the future. It’s my strong belief that if you are willing to approach this issue in the future by focusing on the facts and have your ultimate goal being truth you and your staff may be surprised where you end up. Thank you for your time.

Always,

JRN


[1] Lewis, Kevin, “Responding to the Cults” Defending the Faith Lecture Series, (Biola University, La Mirada, CA, 2010)

[2] Koukl, Greg, “What About Those Who Have Never Heard the Gospel” Defending the Faith Lecture Series, (Biola University, La Mirada, CA, 2010)

[3] Koukl, Greg, “What About Those Who Have Never Heard the Gospel”

[4] Koukl, “What About Those Who Have Never Heard the Gospel”

[5] Koukl, “What About Those Who Have Never Heard the Gospel”

 

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