The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer … Proverbs 15:28
Consider the scene. Two friends, Joy and Hope, are sitting down for soup and salad. They have a lot in common – their children play soccer together and their husbands love cars. Joy and Hope share an annoying enthusiasm for energetic walks before dawn. After passing each other a handful of times in the dark, the two decided to team up. Joy is a born-again Christian who recently moved to Utah. Hope is a lifelong Utahan with Pioneer Heritage and a Temple Recommend. Joy is determined not just to understand Hope’s LDS theology, but to share the Bible’s gospel with her in a meaningful way. Joy invited Hope to soup and salad, Joy’s treat, for this very purpose.
Let us compare this first religious conversation to a journey upstream. Joy wants to find the river’s source – she wants to get to the heart of the matter. Joy proceeds respectfully and graciously with genuine, yet probing questions. When the river forks, and it often does, Joy has a choice to make. She rightly avoids the tributary called “church matters,” but takes a wrong turn at “Nature of Christ.” After some backtracking and patient listening, Joy finds what she’s been looking for.
And much to her surprise, it isn’t a mountain lake or a subterranean spring, but a continental divide. Joy realizes that her biblically informed faith begins on one side of the divide and Hope’s LDS faith on the other. It’s almost mind boggling that two people who have so much in common in day-to-day life could be so far apart as their theology flows downstream.
The “Continental Divide”
Where, precisely, is that divide? What is the sole issue upon which their faiths diverge? Not to worry, Joy has the intrepid curiosity of a woman who loves vigorous walks at dawn.
After some poking around, Hope casually says something that assaults Joy’s worldview: “I know Joseph Smith is a true prophet. And, yeah, there are problems. I just choose not to think about them. I want to be with my family forever.” Joy blinks, pauses, then asks the million-dollar question, “Is it true that you can?” Hope frowns, thinks for a moment and then says, “I felt the Spirit for the first time when I was 14 and have received a strong testimony since. I know the LDS Church is true. I know what I felt.”
And there we are. In all its awful clarity, we discover the singular difference between Biblical Christianity and Mormonism – it’s a difference of the nature of truth. What is it? Who gets to decide it? How do we confirm it? Each faith answers these questions differently.
Truth in Biblical Christianity
Biblical Christianity holds that God reveals truth about Himself in the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments. Through the Christian Bible, God stands outside of us and makes claims on us whether we like it or not – whether we feel it or not (Proverbs 28:26; Jeremiah 17:9).
God comes to us and says, “This is true. Accept it or reject it” (Psalm 19:9). Never does God tell us to ask Him whether the Bible is true, but for the faith to accept the ramifications of its truth (Mark 9:24; 2 Corinthians 5:7).
Truth in Mormonism
In Mormonism, truth is far more subjective. Let’s quote three LDS Scripture passages to show why people like Hope think about truth the way that they do.
And truth is the knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come; And whatsoever is more or less than this is the spirit of that wicked one who was a liar from the beginning. – Doctrines and Covenants 93:24-25
But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. – Doctrines and Covenants 9:8
And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. – Moroni 10:4
These three LDS scriptures teach a radically subjective view of truth. Truth, according to D&C 93:25, doesn’t stand outside of me; it depends on my knowing it. According to Moroni 10:4, my sincerity and personal holiness determines my access to truth. And according to D&C 9:8, my feelings ultimately confirm what God has said. The upshot is that I, the knower, get to control the truth. It depends on my knowing it, recognizing it, and feeling it. If I don’t, that truth just isn’t true.
How to Respond to the LDS View of Truth
There are at least two responses to this LDS notion of truth that come immediately to mind – one general and one biblical.
First, generally, in no other endeavor of life do we think of truth this way. If the doctor shows me the results of a scan that definitively demonstrate the truth of cancer in my body, I can’t dismiss the doctor’s report by saying, “I have a strong feeling from the Spirit that I’m healthy.” “Feel all you want,” the doctor might say, “but you have cancer that will kill you if left untreated.”
The Spirit of God operates within the reality He created (we call exceptions to these rules “miracles”). If the scan objectively shows cancer, then the Spirit of God intends to help me cope with the reality of the cancer. My feelings do not alter the reality of the disease. If Joseph Smith made objective predictions about the future that didn’t come true, then he was objectively wrong (See D&C 84, 87, and many more). My feelings do not affect his wrongness one little bit. Like it or not, feel it or not, the Spirit of God has some sobering things to say about prophets who are objectively wrong (Deuteronomy 18:21-22).
Second, biblically, God delights to share the truth not with the righteous (or, better said, the self-righteous), but with sinners: “Good and upright is the LORD; therefore He instructs sinners in the way” (Psalm 25:8). “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). “No one seeks for God,” Paul says in Romans 3:3, but God wants “to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:18).
In Mormonism, I clean myself up so that I can experience the confirmation of truth through my feelings. My feelings are determinative.
In Biblical Christianity, God confronts me with the truth of my sin and offers the truth of Christ-crucified to cleanse me from that sin. Once made whole, my feelings are engaged in grateful worship of the one who saved me. My feelings are responsive.
How to Continue the Conversation
Now, let’s get back to Joy and Hope. What should Joy say once she knows where the divide lies? It’s very simple and reassuring. God’s truth is powerful – powerful enough to convert the soul. She needs to offer Hope the opportunity to read the Bible.
Perhaps they can start in the book of John. Or better, Ephesians. And they can talk about what they’ve read as they walk before dawn. It’s risky – the very proposition will terrify Hope. Joy might have to walk alone again. And that’s sad. But Hope is in the dark. And Joy must risk her friendship to communicate the urgency of God’s life-changing truth.