Given the state of our political situation, a lot of people are asking questions about Mormonism. Hence, it is getting plenty of attention these days. It seems that this is creating a tremendous opportunity for Christians to brush up on some apologetic issues. The issues with Mormonism brings up something that is critical to the apologetic endeavor: What is the relationship between faith and reason? Some Christians think that if we try to use reason and evidence, God won’t be happy with us because He can only be pleased by faith (Heb. 11:6). So allow me to give an illustration as to how most Christians can’t avoid using reason in evangelistic encounters. For the follower of Jesus, there is the call to “make disciples of the nations” (Matt.28:19). Any attempt to reach out to a lost and needy world will result in several encounters with people from a variety of spiritual backgrounds.
Which Revelation is True?
Biblically speaking, the acceptance of revelation is of fundamental importance to the Christian faith. The word “revelation” comes from the Greek word “apokalupsis” which means an “uncovering,” or “unveiling.”
One of the most important themes of the Bible is that since God is infinite and transcendent while man is finite, God takes the initiative in revealing himself to mankind. Since Christianity as well as several other faiths claim to be founded on divine revelation, it is impossible to not utilize reason and evidence to examine the revelation claim in its religious and historical context.
The Orthodox Christian claim is that Jesus is both God and man/Jesus is an uncreated being. Jesus is the Jewish Messiah as foretold in the Tanakh (the acronym that is formed from the first three parts of the Hebrew Bible: Torah (the first five books of the Bible), Nevi’ im (the Prophets), and K’ tuvim (the Writings) as well as the second person of the Godhead, equal to the Father and the Holy Spirit (John 1:1; Col. 1:15-19; Phil. 2: 5-11).
Mormonism claims to be founded on divine revelation. Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church, claimed to have received personal revelation from God on the basis of two visions, (the first allegedly given to him in 1820, the second one in 1823). The Bible asserts that Jesus is that He is uncreated (John 1:1-3; Col. 1:16-17) while the Mormon claim is that Jesus is a created being.
Let’s Be Intellectually Honest
The issue of religious experience/personal revelations demonstrates that there needs to be the willingness to implement critical thinking. There also needs to be a call to intellectual honesty. The issue of religious experience brings up an interesting point in apologetic dialogue. Which revelation is true? What god is the individual encountering?
In evaluating any religious claim, here are a few guidelines:
1. What does it claim to know?
2. How does it claim to know it?
3. What is the evidence for it?
Let me go back to Mormonism. The Bible asserts that Jesus is that He is uncreated (John 1:1-3; Col. 1:16-17) while the Mormon claim is that Jesus is a created being. The apostle Paul uses the Greek word “plerophoria” which means “complete confidence, full assurance,” to indicate that the believer has obtained the knowledge of the truth as a result of the Holy Spirit’s work (2 Cor. 2:2; 1Thess. 1; Rom. 4:21; 14;5, Col. 4:12). (1) While we do not want to discount the internal witness of the Holy Spirit, critics object that several other religions that are not compatible with Christianity lay claim to a self-authenticating witness of God’s Spirit. Do not all existential experiences need an external test for truth? In appealing to the Book of Mormon, the Mormon says:
“And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye 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, real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.” (2)
For the Mormon all that is required for truth is the subjective testimony of the Holy Spirit. How does the Christian explain the Mormon’s confidence that the burning in their bosom is really not an authentic experience with the Holy Spirit? Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church, claimed an angel appeared to him and directed him to what are called the golden plates. Smith then showed them to eleven others. Smith is supposed to be responsible for translating these plates into The Book of Mormon.
Like the apostles of Jesus, Smith suffered and died for his beliefs. However, there is a major difference between the eleven witnesses to the gold plates and the apostles of Jesus. (3) While six of the eleven witnesses left the Mormon Church, we have no record of the apostles of Jesus (Paul, James and John, others) even leaving the early Christian movement. (4)
Furthermore, the only possible “private” revelation from God to the early apostles was to Paul (1 Cor. 15:8). But Paul most likely received the oral history of 1 Cor, 15: 3-7 in his visit to Jerusalem (Gal 1:18). The Greek term “historeo” is translated as “to visit” or “to interview.” Hence, Paul’s purpose of the trip was probably designed to affirm the resurrection story with Peter who had been an actual eyewitness to the resurrected Christ (1 Cor. 15:5). Also, Jesus appeared to many witnesses on a variety of occasions (1 Cor 15: 4-7). The first-century apostles were handpicked by the Lord (Matt. 10:1–2; Acts 1:26) and had divine authority (Acts 20:35; 1 Cor. 7:10).
Biblical apostles had to be eyewitnesses to the resurrected Christ (1 Cor. 9:1; cf. 1 Cor. 15:7–8). Also, the revelation given by Mormon prophets and apostles clearly contradicts the revelation decisively (“once for all”) handed down by the first-century apostles (Jude 3). (5)
And while there is a wealth of archaeological confirmation to the Biblical record, this can’t be said for the Book of Mormon. For example, there is a story of about a Nephite civilization in the New World. But unfortunately there is no archaeological evidence to support the onetime existence of such a civilization in North America or a huge battle in New York. The National Geographic Society, in a 1998 letter to the Institute for Religious Research, stated “Archaeologists and other scholars have long probed the hemisphere’s past and the society does not know of anything found so far that has substantiated the Book of Mormon.“ (see http://irr.org/mit/national-geographic.html ). If you want to go deeper and learn more about Mormonism, this is a good place to start.
Faith and Reason: What is the Relationship in Evaluating Revelatory Claims?
There is no doubt that reason is always a necessary element in evaluating any religious claim. In their book, Introduction to Philosophy: A Christian Perspective: Norman L. Geisler and and Paul D. Feinberg show the relationship between reason and revelation. They say the following:
There is some truth in all of the basic views on reason and revelation: (1) “Reason is over revelation” is correct in that reason is epistemologically prior to revelation. The alleged revelation must be tested by reason. (2) “Revelation is over reason” is right in the ontological sense. God created reason and it must be His servant, not His master. (3) “Revelation only” is correct in the sense that ultimately and ontologically all truth comes from God. (4) “Reason only” has some truth, since reason must judge epistemologically whether the alleged revelation is from God. (5) “Revelation and reason” is correct because it properly assigns a role to each and shows their interrelationship. One should reason about and for revelation, otherwise he has an unreasonable faith. Likewise, reason has no guide without a revelation and flounders in error.
1. Craig, W.L. Reasonable Faith. Wheaten, ILL: Crossway Books. 1984, 32
2. Habermas. G.R. and Licona, M. L. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus.
Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004, 27.
3. Ibid, 185-188.
5. Geisler, N. L., & Rhodes, R. (1997). When Cultists Ask : A Popular Handbook on Cultic Misinterpretations Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.