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Monday, September 29, 2008

"Winning" the battle and not knowing it?

In 1998, ten years ago almost to this day, Trinity Journal published an article by Carl Mosser and Paul Owen titled "Mormon scholarship, apologetics, and evangelical neglect: Losing the battle and not knowing it?" in which they warn fellow evangelicals that the anti-Mormon arguments previously published were in danger of carrying less scholarly weight than before.

Their conclusions (remember, this was almost exactly TEN years ago), might startle evangelicals who have not yet read the article. The "call to action" was this (my personal comments interspersed):

The evangelical world needs to wake up and respond to contemporary Mormon scholarship. If not, we will needlessy [sic] lose the battle without ever knowing it. Our suggestions are as follows: First, evangelicals need to overcome inaccurate presuppositions about Mormonism.
This goes without saying as it is the first rule of true scholarship.
Second, evangelical counter-cultists need to refer to qualified persons LDS scholarship that is beyond their ability to rebut.
Good luck with that. Still haven't seen it happen. Many counter-cultists are simply out to make money and the way that they do it is to sensationalize their subject so as to make it appear to be something it's not. Referring scholarship to more qualified persons on items beyond their ability to rebut would put them right out of business.
Third, evangelical academicians need to make Mormonism, or some aspects of it, an area of professional interest.
They have, but all we've seen so far is more of the same...they've just stepped up the marketing efforts and sold more books and movies.
Fourth, evangelical publishers need to cease publishing works that are uninformed, misleading, or otherwise inadequate.
Thank you. This is, in part, a duplicate of #2. We Mormons anxiously await the day when this happens.
Fifth, scholars in the evangelical community ought to collaborate in several books addressing the issues raised in this paper. Related to this, professional journals should encourage articles on these same topics. Finally, might we suggest that evangelical scholarly societies form study groups to assess the claims made by LDS scholars. Members of the Evangelical Theological Society have made a move in this direction with the recent formation of the Society for the Study of Alternative Religions (SSAR). The fact is that the growth of Mormonism is outpacing even the highest predictions of professional sociologists of religion, and is on its way, within eighty years, to becoming the first world-religion since Islam in the seventh century. With such growth, the needs expressed in this paper will become ever more pressing as the twenty-first century approaches.
I would merely add that it would be nice to see more brotherly humility and even evangelicals conceding rather than wresting the scriptures (see comment #14) in a misguided attempt to be "correct" about popular misconceptions of LDS beliefs. The LDS scholars I read are more than willing to say, "I don't know" in a number of instances because, quite simply, the evidence isn't in (yet). But that is fine. It is better to argue from what you know than from what you don't know or don't yet understand. I put more credence in a scholar who says "Let's wait and see if more evidence arises" than ones who say "Not a shred of evidence has ever been found that there were advanced civilizations of the type Joseph Smith described existed in the Americas." and then try to "prove" it by attempting to discredit nearly every archaeological find cited.

Those anti-Mormon authors who did not take the Mosser's and Owens' advice to heart need only look around to see that they were correct and that their predictions have come true. The Church continues to grow in spite of persecution by evangelical "scholars" precisely because of the ludicrousness and sensationalism of their claims against us. Mormon scholars are winning the upper-hand on evidence and arguments quite handily.

In closing, I couldn't agree more with Mosser and Owen in their conclusion:

This spiritual warfare can be considered under the aegis of a contest of the gods, a neglected biblical theme I want to retrieve.... The various religions and their gods appear to be vying for people's allegiance. Competition in religion is not only biblical, it is empirically evident. Vital religions always compete with other's claims. If you can find a religion that is not competitive, you will have found a religion on its last legs. A dynamic religion always wants to tell its story, which adherents think is the best story ever told, and the one most worthy of commitment.
In other words, if your claims can't stand up to criticism and scrutiny, what are they worth to anyone?