Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Response to Matt Slick or Steve Smoot's Excellent Adventure in Anti-Mormon Zombie Hell (Pt. 1)

"Anti-Mormonism of the evangelical kind has come, with a few exceptions, to bore me intensely."

A popular website for Evangelical apologists (including those who are also critical of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) is the Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry or CARM. This website, hosted by one Matt Slick, is devoted to "equip Christians and refute error". For Mr. Slick, this means debunking religions that he has effectively called "cults"[1]. Some of these religious groups include Islam, Jehovah's Witnesses, Roman Catholicism, Seventh Day Adventism and, of course, Mormonism[2].

Considering that Matt offers some articles on the Book of Mormon, and considering that I just happen to be keeping a blog on Book of Mormon issues, I thought it appropriate to explore some of Matt's ideas and contentions regarding the Book of Mormon[3]. After all, Mr. Slick himself has declared:

Now, before you go slamming me with some irate e-mail telling me I don’t know what I am talking about, first read my material on my site, and if I am wrong, correct me by showing precisely where I am wrong. Document the sources you want to quote to prove me wrong. If you do, I’ll change my page[4].

So, with this in mind, let us begin.

In his article "A Quick Look at the Book of Mormon", Mr. Slick sates that "according to Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon is more correct than the Bible (History of the Church, Vol. 4, page 461) and contains the truths of Mormonism.[5]" Slick then asks, "Why does the Book of Mormon contradict Mormon theology?" Mr. Slick then offers us a helpful answer:

This is because the theology of Joseph Smith didn't really start to go off the deep end until after the Book of Mormon was printed. To harmonize their changing theology with their written scripture, the Mormons gradually redefined common Christian words.

Such an accusation has been explored by Kerry Shirts in the FARMS Review (12/1). Shirts writes:

The methodology the Tanners use to make their case is very simple. They define a religious term as it is used by Latter-day Saints and quote LDS authors to support their case. They then define the term evangelically and give biblical passages to support their ideas. Anyone unfamiliar with scholarly writing will feel this chapter is authoritative both because it has numerous quotations and because it seems easy to follow.

However, anyone who has been taught to write a persuasive paper (and almost everyone who has been to high school has) will notice a major problem with this method: never once do the Tanners bring up those quotations or biblical passages that may in some way bring their definitions into question. To truly make their case, the Tanners would have to look at how the Latter-day Saints use the Bible and what arguments they use to support their interpretation. The Tanners select quotations from certain, perhaps disaffected, Latter-day Saint authors, but they never address the responses that other Latter-day Saints have made to the anti-Mormon material.[6]

Even though Shirts was reviewing a work by Jerald and Sandra Tanner, his words apply equally well to Matt Slick.

Shortly thereafter Matt writes that we should not pray about whether or not the Book of Mormon is true because "you don't pray about truth, you look into the Bible for it"[7]. Matt then offers a series of biblical proof texts (including Jeremiah 17:9[8]) to try and persuade people not to pray about the Book of Mormon. However, as has been shown, the Latter-day Saint approach to determining the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon is biblical, contra Slick[9].

After his tirade against praying about the Book of Mormon, Matt Slick then adds that "the Book of Mormon does not contain Mormonism. It is more Christian than it is Mormon. Mormon theology is about many gods, god being a man, men and women potentially becoming gods, but the Book of Mormon is basically Christian in its teachings." This is a stunning assertion and a classic example of several logical fallacies. First, Slick begs the question by claiming that Mormons are not Christian[10]. He then compliments his logical fallacy by then making a false dilemma and a false premise regarding the doctrines of the Book of Mormon, especially the nature of God[11]. And finally he sets up a straw man by only presenting parts of Mormon theology and then claiming that this is what Mormon theology is. While it is true that the Church teaches that man can become like God (a doctrine with both historical and biblical support[12]) this alone does not constitute "Mormon theology". Mormon theology also focuses on Christ, His atonement, faith, repentance, baptism, service to others, the priesthood (all of which are discussed at length in the Book of Momon) and many other items that Slick has (perhaps intentionally) overlooked.

**End of Part 1**
[1]: On the problematic usage of the word "cult" by anti-Mormons, see Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks in Offenders for a Word. This wonderful book can be accessed online.

[2]: Louis C. Midgley has written some excellent works exploring the zealous Evangelical countercult movement and it's relationship with Mormonism.

[3]: I, of course, am not the first to cross swords with Mr. Slick. Other LDS apologists have also documented problems with Mr. Slick's website in the past. Some examples include this, this, this and this.

[4]: As quoted here.

[5]: "...the Book of Mormon [is] the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book." This is the quote from the entry in History of the Church. However, it is interesting to note how Slick purposely points to the Bible in an attempt to scandalize Evangelicals against these words by Joseph Smith.

[6]: http://www.farms.byu.edu/publications/review/?vol=12&num=1&id=342

[7]: On whether or not it is biblical to pray about the Book of Mormon, see the web page from my good friend Robert Boylan. To access the particular paper, click on the PDH file review of Cork Free Presbyterian Church and scroll down the file until one hits the section on "Praying about the Book of Mormon". Slick also pretentiously accuses Mormons of simply relying on "emotions" and not gaining a sincere testimony from God (he even suggests that any spiritual experience that affirms the Book of Mormon is from Satan). On such, see the following from FAIR.

[8]: An online poster named James has offered some helpful insights into this verse in Jeremiah and the shortcomings of anti-Mormon proof texting in this regard. On another note, Slick also tries to refute James 1: 5 as evidence from the Bible that we should pray to gain wisdom about the Book of Mormon. Bo Reike has said the following on James 1:5.

Wisdom is necessary in dealing with trials and afflictions; it may be obtained
through prayer to God, vs. 5a. With this divine wisdom the readers will be above
to endure suffering with patience and to escape ultimate danger and
temptation…It is likely that James had such sources of “wisdom” [I.e., books] in
mind when he advises his readers to strive after the true wisdom that comes only
though prayer
. [Emphasis added]

See The Anchor Bible: The Epistles of James, Peter, and Jude (Garden City, New York:
Doubleday & Company Inc., 1964), 14. Special thanks to Robert Boylan for pointing out this passage.

[9]: A good place to read about the LDS view of "Moroni's Challenge" can be found here.

[10]: To see just how dismal the anti-Mormon charge that Mormons are not Christians is, see Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks in Offenders for a Word.

[11]: For an excellent discussion on the Nephite understanding of God from an ancient Near Eastern context, see Brant Gardner Monotheism, Messiah, and Mormon's Book. This paper was delivered at the 2003 FAIR Conference and can be accessed here.

[12]: On such, see the works of Daniel C. Peterson, Barry Bickmore and David Paulsen.