Listening to the Glory of God


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Knowing this my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (James 1:19–20)

Nobody has understood the LDS worldview better than Ira Ransom, a Utah church-planter of more than 50 years. A few months before Ira’s sudden homegoing, we had lunch together at his favorite diner where he ordered a plain hamburger and black coffee. I asked him how he’d accumulated such a comprehensive knowledge of Mormonism. Without a single hesitation Ira replied, “I’ve always tried to be a good listener.”

Ira had it right, as his many years of productive ministry attest. For reasons unique both to the Bible and to Mormonism, born-again Christians must work to understand their LDS friend’s personal faith as the first step of evangelism.

All too often, born-again Christians view listening as a necessary evil to earn trust, allay fears, or buy equal time. On the contrary, effective listening is a crucial first-step in taking “every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

I would by no means classify myself as a great listener (those who know me well are grinning and nodding), but I desperately want to improve in this area. And you should, too. Here’s why.

Reasons Unique to the LDS Faith

By virtue of the LDS Church’s commitment to an open canon of scripture1 and personal revelation through the “still small voice,”2 Latter-day Saints can have widely divergent theological views.

LDS people often feel attacked by “anti-Mormon” material.3 Anti-Mormon material consists of arguments and/or literature that attacks, disparages, or discourages the LDS faith. In general, Latter-day Saints are taught to ignore such material and to seek out trustworthy sources like LDS scripture or church leaders for help.4 Becoming an effective listener will help keep your conversations in the realm of “healthy inquiry,” which LDS scripture and Prophets encourage (see D&C 88:78–118).

LDS people are taught to reject theology that elicits negative feelings, especially if that theology comes from a source of contention (see 3 Nephi 11:29–30). Thoughtful hearing and calm interaction are essential to helping your friend avoid negativity that undercuts the truth.

Reasons Unique to Biblical Christianity

The Bible clearly commands its adherents to listen first and to listen long. In addition to James 1:19–20, the book of Proverbs is full of admonitions to acquire wisdom, knowledge, and prudence by careful listening and observation (for a few examples, see Proverbs 5:1–2; 8:1-12; and 13:1–3). Perhaps we should think of it like this – God gave us two ears, two eyes, and one mouth. Let us use them in proportion.

The Bible, likewise, condemns a “speak first” attitude as the posture of a fool (Proverbs 18:2). Fools babble (Proverbs 10:8) as their lips lead them into fights (Proverbs 18:6) and traps (Proverbs 18:7) that a wise person easily sidesteps (Proverbs 17:27).

The greatest evangelist of all time (other than the Lord Jesus Christ) was the Apostle Paul, and he was an observant listener. Consider Acts 17:16ff where Paul carefully studied the Athenian religion and Hellenistic poetry prior to preaching the gospel. Because of his careful preparation, his sermon was understood by all and accepted by some (17:34).

Suggestions for Effective Listening

Avoid “set-ups,” which begin with phrases like, “Would you agree with me that …” or “So, what I hear you saying is … .” Phrases like these betray logical traps or gross oversimplifications that your friend will legitimately resent.

Try the “in my own words” approach. When speaking with LDS friends, I typically ask them the following question, “Would you let me restate what you’ve just told me in my own words and if at any point I misrepresent you, you just jump right in and clarify?”

I find this exercise incredibly productive even if slightly tedious. Yes, it builds trust. But most importantly, it greatly clarifies my understanding of the unique person before me.

Place whatever study you’ve done in Mormonism into the background and allow yourself to be surprised by your friend’s individual convictions.

A basic understanding of Mormonism is helpful as a starting point but becomes counterproductive when we try to shoehorn our friend’s theology into a predetermined mold. I find that if I don’t actively fight my own confirmation biases, my Biblical application misses the mark.

Final Thought

“But!” you might say, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). We should, therefore, spend our time proclaiming the truth rather than listening to error!”

Perhaps, but how will you know which of Christ’s words to proclaim if you don’t understand your friend? “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Proverbs 25:11). A “word fitly spoken” can be more literally translated as, “a word spoken on right circumstances.” Perfectly placed biblical admonition has great beauty and power. May God bless your skills as a listener.


  1. See D&C 68:1–4; also, “Fundamental to our Faith” by Dallin H Oaks, Ensign (January, 2011).

  2. For an excellent example of how LDS people are taught to think about personal revelation through the “still small voice,” see “Helping Children Hear the Still, Small Voice” by C. Terry and Susan L. Warner, Ensign (March, 1994).

  3. For a good example of how Latter-day Saints talk about anti-Mormon material among themselves, see the FAIR online article, “What does it mean to be anti-Mormon?”. FAIR is a widely known non-profit whose mission is to defend Mormonism through apologetics.

  4. For an example, see “Q&A: One of my friends, who is active in the Church, has some anti-Mormon literature … ,” New Era, July 2007.