James White and Kevin Johnson, Bethany House Publishers, 1998, 158 pp. $7.99
Reviewed by Malcolm Ross
One of my favorite all-time comic strips is, without a doubt, Bloom County. I always loved the antics of Bill the Cat, and the penguin Opus. As I read Mr. White’s and Kevin Johnson’s latest contribution to the world of books, I was reminded strongly of a statement once made by Opus: “…Simply bad beyond all infinite dimensions of possible badness. Well, maybe not THAT bad, but Lord, it wasn’t good.”1
I have only read one or two other books that have sickened me as much as this one.2 The book makes liberal use of sensationalism, loaded language, and insults. It is replete with logical fallacies, contradictory statements, and tons of scripture taken out of context or misapplied. In an email to Darryl Barksdale, James White deplored the fact that Darryl focused on the “youthy” language of this book rather than the more “scholarly” work he did in Is The Mormon My Brother?3 I would contend that Mr. White’s work as a whole can be judged by the language and arguments used in What’s With the Dudes at the Door? (hereafter “Dudes”).
“Dudes” is a major departure from White’s previous work in that it makes use of such a staggering amount of invective and ad-hominem attacks. In the past, as White has so carefully noted, he has tried to avoid such language. In his book Is The Mormon My Brother?, for instance, White says that:
“There are many others, however, who have no doubts whatsoever about the LDS faith in general and Mormons in particular. ‘It’s a devil-inspired cult’ they say, ‘and that’s all there is to it.’….Yet many who would provide the strongest denunciations of LDS theology and practice are the very ones who have done the least work in seriously studying LDS writings and interacting with LDS viewpoints. Consequently, a large body of literature exists that is based not so much on fair, even-handed study of primary source documentation as upon a very large dose of emotion and bias. Such literature normally emphasizes the sensational, seeking to arouse the emotions of the reader against the LDS faith.”4
One has to wonder why White would co-write a book which epitomizes this principle, especially since, as he notes, LDS scholars “have little difficulty demonstrating inconsistencies and half-truths” in such literature.5 If the majority of the work is Mr. Johnson’s, one has to ask why Mr. White allowed his name to be attached to this book.
The book includes in its list of cults such religions as: Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Oneness Pentecostals, the International Church of Christ, Bah’ai, Christian Scientist, the Unification Church, Unitarian-Universalism, and The Way International. The majority of the book, however, is an assault on Mormonism, with Jehovah’s Witnesses running in second place (the others are mainly mentioned in the chapter entitled A Quickie Cult Catalog). I will be concentrating on what the book has to say about the LDS. It should be noted that, given the amount of invective leveled at the LDS – not to mention false statements, several grains of salt should be taken with anything this book says about any religion.6
Insults, Slurs, and Loaded Language (or How to Kill with Words)
What is some of the language used by Mr. White? Some of it is very colorful, which I assume has something to do with the target audience of this book, namely teens. Yet such language, as shown below, is designed ultimately to do one thing: “arouse the emotions of the reader against the LDS faith.”7 Some examples:
“[Cults] follow fake faiths. Goofed-up gospels.” (p.12)
“…they don’t know the real God of Christianity.” (p.12)
“…deadly snakes…the ones that wrap around your neck, that drop from trees, that gnaw you to nothing. Or murder you with one fang.” (p.12)
“That doesn’t mean that cults don’t slither in the grass…[or] make their bites any less spiritually deadly.” (p.13)
“…weirdo cults…on the news – the ones that more or less kidnap people and vacuum out their brains.” (p.13)
“[Speaking of cults at your door] But they also sound like vacuum cleaner salesmen – the harmless vroom-vroom-get-the-dirt-out-of-your-carpet kind, not the hazardous brain-suctioning kind. If that’s what you think, think again – while you still possess your brain.” (p.13)
“Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are the two largest counterfeit Christian groups in the world.” (p.14)
“What cults teach, spiritually speaking, is an eternal enchilada short of a Tex-Mex combo.” (p.17)
“…their beliefs can’t be called Christian.” (p. 26)
“Cults bring spiritual death to those who cling to their misshaped gods.” (p.36)
“…those guys had a spiritual death ray fixed on your forehead.” (p.42)
“…grossly moldy Heresy Hotdish.” (p.45)
“The scariest cults browbeat you and give you a cyanide-punch gargle. The smoothest cults deceive you with sweetness – a toothy little bit country, little bit rock ‘n roll,” (p. 50)
“Cults abuse and misuse Bible teachings…” (p.67)
“…Mormons…the cultists you’re most likely to run into.” (p.74)
“It sounds wacko…” (p.88)
“No one can stop cultic groups from offering funky versions of God.” (p.111)
“However weird or wonderful they may look on the outside, cults are all spiritually deadly. They swallow you whole. They digest you down to the bone and then dispose of your soul.” (p.132)
“That’s the shot you need to kill the faith-eating bacteria of the cults.” (p. 141)
Lovely language? I think not. The book is full of such terminology. Mr. White described this as ‘youthy.’ If I had used language like this in my youth, the best I could hope for would be that my mother would wash my mouth out with soap. While Mr. White and Mr. Johnson are entitled to their opinions, such language does little to help teens understand other religions, or to attract them to the authors’ version of Christianity. In the book under the heading “Don’t Make Like a Beanbag,” the authors say that “your goal isn’t to bash what they believe.” (p.150) Yet what is it that the authors are doing here? Is this how they wish to show teens how to “pass on the hope [they] have in Christ”? One would sincerely hope not.
How to Define a Cult (or What’s in a Name?)
Let’s also look at their use of the word “cult.” They ostensibly try to avoid the more pejorative use of it, and even have a whole section devoted to a discussion of the various ways that this term has been used and abused by Christians. But is it accurate? Let’s find out.
They start out on page 28 by saying that the word cult “can mean a lot of things,” which is true. They even go so far as to admit that under one definition, namely “a group of people dedicated to the teachings of a particular religious leader,” even Christians (as defined by the authors) can be called cultists, and they conclude by saying “‘cult’ means nothing if we don’t define it carefully.” All this I can agree with.
Then they begin trying to define what a cult isn’t. A cult isn’t “everybodybutus.” “Anti-God beliefs don’t make someone a cultist.” Non-Christian religions are not cultists (which would be a shock to Bob Larson). It sounds good, doesn’t it? Sure it does. What they’re saying here is that atheists, agnostics, and non-Christian religions are not cultic. They’re also saying that just because someone disagrees with you or your beliefs doesn’t make them a cultist. All well and good. Of course, they also say that the “everybodybutus” mentality only applies to “how [they] see non-Christians.” This is partially true, but it can certainly also apply to variations within Christianity itself, as the authors themselves seem to admit in the next little section.
They continue on, this time discussing Christianity, by saying that “Different styles of Christian faith doth not a cult make,” and “Different beliefs don’t necessarily make a cult.” Wow! One would think that the LDS would fit right in. After all, “Christians disagree in wads of ways.” But alas, for some reason, the authors feel they need to eliminate Mormonism – not to mention those other religions – from Christianity.
The authors go on to describe a definition that they feel most describes a cult:
“A cult is a group that claims to be Christian – often claiming that they alone are the true Christian church – but denies the core teachings that define the Christian faith.”8
One has to wonder where the authors got this definition. Did they make it up? It certainly is not in the dictionary, which is the one source that can be said to define the English language’s meaning. What does our friendly dictionary tell us?
cult (kult) n. [[< L cultus , care, cultivation, orig. pp. of colere , to till: see WHEEL]] 1 a) a system of religious worship or ritual b) a quasi-religious group, often living in a colony, with a charismatic leader who indoctrinates members with unorthodox or extremist views, practices, or beliefs 2 a) devoted attachment to, or extravagant admiration for, a person, principle, or lifestyle, esp. when regarded as a fad [the cult of nudism] b) the object of such attachment 3 a group of followers; sect cult ic adj. cult ism n. cult ist n. 9Where does one find the authors’ definition of a ‘cult’? I am hard-pressed to find anything remotely like their version. The fact is that the authors are aware that under the standard definition of a cult they cannot undermine the Christianity of any of the religions they wish to name as a cult. They were right the first time: Difference in belief or doctrine does not make a religion into a cult.
Later on in the book, White and Johnson discuss “How to Cook Up a Cult.” Their discussion consists mainly of two points: 1) “Start With a Hot Leader;” and 2) “Bake Up a Fresh Bible.” Or, as they more simply put it, “A cult needs a leader, and it needs a fresh source of authority, most often some type of revered writings.” Taken from the perceived view of the authors, Jesus Christ is a cult leader, and all Christians are cultists. Christianity is basically an extension of Judaism (and heretical to boot, according to the Jews). Jesus reinterpreted the Mosaic Law, and said that he was the only way to God. The early Christians wrote down his sayings and doings, and revered them as scripture. This means that Jesus Christ was a cult leader, and the books written based on his sayings are a “fresh source of authority,” allowing the early Christians to undermine the Jewish underpinnings of their faith willy-nilly10. Therefore, Christianity, according to the authors’ own understanding, is a cult. And, since the dictionary definition of the word ‘cult’ also supports Christianity being one, their whole argument on this issue is without merit.
As we can tell, then, the authors are just slinging the word ‘cult’ around in a manner that makes it essentially meaningless. So they have to find some other way to eliminate the so-called ‘cults’ in their book from Christianity. They propose to do this by defining the Christian principles or doctrines that all Christian religions believe in, but that these cults supposedly don’t.
What’s a Christian? (or Misrepresentations ‘R’ Us)
What, then, are the points of Christianity that the authors feel “define the Christian faith”? They say that there are three points upon which Christianity rests, namely:
- Who God is;
- What God has done in Jesus;
- How we know (e.g. the Bible).11
Let’s look at these three points further:
Who God is
The authors correctly note that God “gets glory when we know him.” (p.34) (They don’t, of course, recognize that this means that God’s glory can increase, which leads to some interesting thoughts.) Their big section on this is on pages 54 to 61, so let’s look at that. They note that there is but one God, who IS God, has always been God, and always will be God. Sounds good. Then they go on to try and explain the Trinity, and that’s where they open the can of worms.
They try to argue that God is “just one BEING.” They say that ‘being’ defines what something is. I have to agree with this; I am, after all, a human being. My cat is a cat being, and not a human being. God, then, must be a God being.
Now, though, things get complicated. They argue that the God being is “possessed by three PERSONS,” namely the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. In other words, there is but one “being” (existence, if you will) of God, which consists of three Persons. This sounds like Christ isn’t really God, but a person who is a part of God’s being. The same goes for the Father, and the Holy Ghost. None of the three is really “God,” but a “mode of being” (see a dictionary) of God. Yet, the Athanasian Creed, which defines the Trinity, admits that each of the three ‘persons’ is in reality a God. but then turns around and says that they aren’t allowed to say that there’s more than ONE God.12 If you ask someone, “Is the Father God?,” odds are that they will say yes. If you ask, “Is the Son God?,” again, they’ll most likely say yes. If you ask if the Holy Ghost is God, they’ll again say yes. To me, this sounds like there are three Gods, yet I am assured that there is but one.
If we continue the discussion about the number and interrelation of these three, it quickly becomes even more difficult: If each one is God (as admitted to by the Athanasian and Nicene Creeds), and there is but one God, then must all three appear before you in order to “see” God? Even more puzzling is that the Bible reassures us that in Christ “dwelleth the fullness of the Godhead bodily,”13 which I am assured means that Christ possessed “not only the divine attributes but also the divine nature.”14 So, if Jesus Christ is 100% God in the flesh, then how can God/Father and God/Holy Ghost also be God? As basic mathematics will show, if Christ equals 100%, then God/Father and God/Holy Ghost can equal only 0%, or nothing, which drops them down to being NOT God. Period. Yet they will insist – vehemently – that God/Father and God/Holy Ghost are still God, and if you argue about it, they’ll tell you that YOU just don’t “get it.”
If you’re scratching your head over this, don’t feel bad; you’re not alone. Even Athanasius, who supposedly helped define the Trinity, once said that he found the Trinity incomprehensible.15 If Athanasius can’t even figure this out, why do the authors feel that they can? I am constantly reassured by Christians on AOL that the Trinity is incomprehensible; on this I must sadly agree. And it is this very point that I find most dangerous: An incomprehensible God cannot save, for the scriptures tell us that eternal life consists of knowing God and Christ (Jn. 17:3). If you can’t comprehend Him, you can’t know him, and you can’t have eternal life.
A few final points on this subsection: One, they insist that Christ, God, and the Holy Ghost are EQUAL. This is not Biblical, for Christ Himself taught that his Father was greater than He.16 Two, the authors insist that it’s okay that the word “Trinity” isn’t in the Bible, because the “idea” is (p.59). I would be most pleased if the authors could show me where the term “homoousios” (Greek for “consubstantial”) is in the Bible. This word is, after all, one of the most important points of defining what the Trinity is, and how it is to be understood.
With this point the authors wish us to understand that all Christians agree on all these points concerning the nature of God; the authors try to argue (implicitly and explicitly) that all Christians agree on all of the points they make about God. This is inaccurate. For instance, the Greek Orthodox church does not believe in the filioque clause, which claims that the Holy Ghost proceeds from both the Father and the Son, but instead they believe that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father alone, and even go so far as to describe this clause as introducing a false God into the Church.17 You will note that the Greek Orthodox are not included in their list of cults. Also on this issue, Jesus Christ certainly gave no indication of accepting his equality with God/Father, and certainly did not accept the term ‘homoousion,’ which only came into use several hundred years after his death and resurrection;18 would the authors also argue that Jesus Christ founded a pseudo-Christian cult? It certainly would seem so.
Since Christianity as a whole does not necessarily agree with the point that the authors here raise, I see no reason for anyone else to accept this argument’s validity.
What God has Done in Jesus
Amazingly enough, I agree with almost every single thing that Mr. White and Mr. Johnson say about Christ in this section, with one major exception: It appears that the authors do not understand how other faiths view grace, faith, and works. As a matter of fact, in their brief list of scriptures given for this (p.64-5), I cannot locate several verses dealing with the grace/works controversy, most notably James 2. I suppose that’s all right, since the great Reformer Martin Luther didn’t like James either (of course, he didn’t like the Sermon on the Mount much either; both contradict his doctrine of “salvation by grace alone”). Or is it all right? James 2 tells us that “faith without works is dead,” and “by works is a man justified, and not by faith alone.” And Jesus tells us that “not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” (Matt.7:21)
The authors try to accuse the LDS of trying to throw away the free gift of grace (and, by extension, eliminate the LDS as a Christian faith). This is inaccurate. We are perfectly aware that our works will not save us, but we also know that if we do not do the works, then we do not truly have faith (believe). And if we do not believe, then how can we attain grace? Many anti-LDS groups try to overstress the LDS emphasis on works to the point that they wrest scripture.19 The scriptures are quite clear on this issue: It is by grace that we are saved through faith. We are to show our faith by our works. By doing the works, we show the faith, and the faith makes us worthy of grace.
I am puzzled, though, by one aspect of Mr. White’s involvement here on this issue. Mr. White is a confessed Calvinist. Calvinists believe that each individual is predestined to either heaven or hell, which would seem to indicate that the grace of Christ’s sacrifice (supposedly available to all) is insufficient to save some (even UNavailable to them). I do not raise this particular issue to attack Mr. White, but to show that the concept of Christ’s salvation is understood in different manners by different faiths. I am sure that Mr. White would fully reject Arminianism (which denies predestination). He would also reject the Roman Catholic’s belief in both grace and works being necessary for salvation (notably, the Roman Catholic church does not show up on his brief list of cults). Would he still insist upon these different faiths being Christians? I suspect so.20
As there is dispute among Christians on this issue as well, constituting exactly how what Christ did affects us, and how we are to obtain that grace, I cannot accept this as a basis for the rejection of any religious group from Christianity. The authors are assuming facts not in evidence: They are assuming that only their understanding of grace is valid. As they have not, and indeed cannot, prove this to be true, they cannot use this as a checkpoint for validity.
The Bible is Enough
Their final checkpoint is that the Bible, as presently constituted, is complete, and we need no more scripture.21 Since we are discussing a fact that all Christians believe, perhaps we should determine exactly which Bible we are referring to. The Protestant Bible contains 66 books between the OT and the NT. But this is not the only Bible: The Roman Catholic Bible contains the Apocrypha as scripture, beyond the other 66 books. The Greek Orthodox Bible rejects the Revelation of John, but includes several other books as deuterocanonical. Some of the earliest known lists of canonical books eliminate Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, Jude, 2 John, 3 John, and Revelation. These same lists include other books not now recognized as scripture, such as the Shepherd of Hermas, the Apocalypse of Peter, or the Wisdom of Solomon (plus a number of other books). Other Christian religions recognize other writings, such as 1 Enoch or the Ascension of Isaiah, as canonical.22
Let’s assume that the Bible is complete and we don’t need any further scripture. Fine. Where does the Bible say this? 2 Tim. 3:16-17 uses the term ‘graphe’ to denote Scripture. This is often used in reference to the Old Testament, which is only logical since the NT didn’t even exist at the time this verse was written.23 As a matter of fact, all it really says is that “ALL Scripture is God-breathed and is useful….” (emphasis mine). This is true, but the verse does not pretend to define what scripture is, nor does it indicate that the Bible is complete. 2 Peter 1:20-21 only says that scripture is written by men through the Holy Ghost; it does not say that the Bible is complete. The other verses are more of the same.
The authors say, “When anyone comes along and says, ‘Hey, the Scriptures aren’t enough. You need ______,’ be on guard. Jesus and the apostles taught that the Bible was God speaking, and they didn’t tell us to look to anything else.” (p.66) Several problems flow from the assumptions underlying this verse. One, Jesus never said that the Bible (using the modern definition, which the authors are also doing, which refers to the 66-book Bible) was God speaking, nor did he tell us to not look to anything else. This brings us to Two, which is that the argument proposed by the authors fits precisely what Stephen Robinson once wrote:
“To invalidate the canonical exclusion it is only necessary to show that in other circumstances other Apostles and prophets have added to the canon of scripture without ceasing to be Christians. Since there is no biblical statement closing the canon or prohibiting additional revelation, and since Apostles and prophets have in the past added to the canon-even to the Christian canon -without offending God, the canonical exclusion must be invalid. The logic can be expressed like this:
1. No one who adds to the canon of Christian scripture is a Christian.
2. Joseph Smith adds to the canon of Christian scripture.
3. Therefore Joseph Smith is not a Christian.
But, on the other hand,
4. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, and Paul also added to the canon of Christian scripture.
5. Yet we know that Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, and Paul are Christians.
6. Therefore premise number 1 (the canonical exclusion) is false.”24
On p.102, the authors tell us that “the Bible is the ultimate uncovering of God’s truth. It’s God’s Word. Our final source of authority. The final word in an argument. The Big Kahuna of truth standards. It’s ‘God-breathed.’ It’s God talking to you, first person. It’s God’s utterly unique utterances.” They would still have a problem if they had stopped here, but they go on: “The cults, though, aren’t happy letting the Bible speak for itself. How could they be? If they taught the obvious meaning of the Bible, nobody would buy what they say, since they teach things that directly contradict the Bible – or at least go way beyond what the Bible actually says.” (p.103) Several problems present themselves here: Where does the Bible indicate that it is the “final source of authority”? Are the authors in a cult for going beyond what the Bible says, or teaching things that contradict the Bible? (Several examples of this are available in this review.) And how can a text “speak for itself”? That is unadulterated claptrap. No text can speak for itself. He who reads the text always puts his own personal understanding and bias into it. Of course, the targeted audience, teenagers, probably wouldn’t know this, would they?
Where do we draw the line? Post-NT books, such as the Shepherd of Hermas or the Ascension of Isaiah, are accepted as canonical by some groups of Christians, while other books found in the Bible today were rejected as scripture by some early Christians. The authors try to tell us that because some groups accept more scripture than those of the Bible, they are not Christian, yet they fail to clarify which Bible is the correct one, or even where the Bible itself says that God has stopped talking. Given this, I must again reject this point’s validity in determining someone’s Christianity.
On all three points, the authors have failed to demonstrate that their own beliefs are Biblical; that the beliefs of the ‘cults,’ where there are differences, are wrong; or how these differing beliefs by these cults are any different than the differing beliefs among Christians. As the authors themselves said, “Different beliefs don’t necessarily make a cult,” and they haven’t shown how differences on their three main points (and they are there, despite the authors’ claims to the contrary) make anybody into a cult either. None of their arguments have any validity, and occasionally seem contradictory.
How do we define Christianity? Christians argue over everything, from the nature of God right on down to whether baptism is essential for salvation (not to mention what type of baptism). There is not one belief of Christianity that has not been argued over at some time or other, and some of these arguments are still going on today. So, what is a Christian? How can you know one when you meet one? The answer is really quite simple: A Christian is someone who professes to follow Jesus Christ and/or his teachings.25 The Baptists profess this, as do Calvinists, Presbyterians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roman Catholics, etc., etc. In the Bible, when the apostles met a man who cast out devils, but did not follow them, they forbade him to do so; yet Christ told them to “Forbid him not, for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is on our part.” (Mark 9:39) Not all modes of belief are precisely the same, even if the end goal is. If Christ can recognize this fact, why can the authors not do likewise?
This is not the only area where the authors get things wrong. Let’s continue.
Misunderstood, Misrepresented Mormonism
The authors assault the LDS faith mainly on LDS understanding of who God is. They also assault the issue of theosis, or how man can be made divine. Both of these topics are also covered in White’s other book, ITMMB?.
Who is God? LDS Style
The authors begin the attack on the LDS concept of God by noting that the LDS believe that each member of the Godhead is a God in his own right, and that they are not the “same being.” It must be noted that the Bible nowhere indicates that God and Christ are the same being; as a matter of fact, the Bible is quite clear that they are separate. John 1:1 speaks of God being with God in the beginning; Psalms 110:1 speaks of Jehovah and Adonai as two separate beings. Jesus Christ himself, recognized as God on earth (Matt. 16:16; also John 10:33), recognized God the Father as his God (John 20:17; note that this is after the resurrection!). Since the Bible itself teaches that they are both Gods, and not the same being, I believe that the LDS are on firm footing here.
They then attack the LDS belief (not doctrine) that God was once a man. I found especially enlightening their statement, “they aren’t teaching that God became a man – like Jesus came ‘in the flesh’ – but that God was once a slob like the rest of us.”(p.76) This is misrepresentation at its finest. Not only do they misunderstand (at best) LDS theology, they misrepresent Jesus Christ! The LDS take seriously the statement that Jesus Christ once made, namely, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth: and he will shew him greater works than these, that ye may marvel.” (John 5:19-20) We believe that God the Father once did exactly the same things that Jesus Christ did, which included taking on a mortal body, living, and dying. This does NOT mean that the LDS believe that God “was exalted to the status of a god,” (p.76) any more than Jesus Christ was. I will discuss this further under theosis. And just out of pure curiosity, wasn’t Jesus Christ a “slob” just like us?
We are then treated to a statement by Joseph Smith to the effect that God was not God from all eternity. Joseph Smith certainly did say this,26 and then he went on to discuss precisely what I briefly discussed in the previous paragraph, namely that both God and Christ came down and took on mortal bodies, and were tempted. It is my personal opinion that both God and Christ, while being tempted, were fully man so that they could truly be tempted, and possibly sin if they chose to. It is a testament to their character that they did not choose to sin, but to do that which is right. Thus, for a brief time (or perhaps longer), God would not have been God. Is He God? Yes. Was He God before that? Yes. The verse cited by the authors (Ps. 90:2) does not refute this idea, for it states: “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou [art] God.” The majority of this means that God was God before the earth was ever formed – an idea the LDS wholeheartedly agree with – and the part about “everlasting to everlasting” also does not refute it, for “everlasting” is not the only definition of the word “‘owlam,” which can also mean:
1) long duration, antiquity, futurity, for ever, ever, everlasting, evermore, perpetual, old, ancient, world
1a) ancient time, long time (of past)
1b) (of future)
1) for ever, always
2) continuous existence, perpetual
3) everlasting, indefinite/unending future, eternity27
You will note that several possibilities exist. God was God from before ancient times to the indefinite future; or God was God from antiquity to forever. Both of these would fit into the context of the verse, without denying that there may have been a time when God the Father was not God.
They then turn from this to addressing the fact that if God was at one time not God, then there must have been a God before Him. This may be true; it is certainly logical. John the Beloved once said, “And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him [be] glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.”28 Jesus Christ made us kings and priest unto God and his Father. Whose father? God’s father. Which God? Jesus Christ’s God. So, the Father of Christ also has a Father. One can try to argue the meaning of this verse, but the KJV translation is a fairly literal rendition of the Greek. However, this entire topic is mere speculation.
So, who is God? He is the Father of Jesus Christ our Savior. He created the world we live on, and everything in it. He is my Father, and I want to return and be with Him.
Theosis, or Becoming like God
A point of difficulty for the authors is that the LDS are very serious about the purpose of our existence here on this earth, as well as who we really are, and what we can become. The simple term for this is “theosis,” which simply means “becoming like God.” The LDS understand this to mean that we are literally the children of God, and – if we do that which God commands – we can be joint-heirs with Christ, inheriting that which Christ inherited. It does not mean that we will somehow be equal to, or surpass, God; such is patently illogical and impossible. Let us look at what the authors say and why I believe them to be wrong in their misunderstanding of the LDS faith.
First off, the authors attempt to say that the LDS somehow exalt themselves to Godhood (p.88). This is untrue. God is the one who does any exalting (Ps. 110:1; Rev. 3:21). It is when men try to exalt themselves above God by their own power that they are cast off by God (much as with what happened with Lucifer in Isaiah 14). If God deems someone worthy of the honor of sitting on His throne with Himself and Christ, then what is it to Mr. White or Mr. Johnson? Those that do this will do this by the grace of God, and not by their own power; there is no other way.
The authors also try to claim that “nowhere does the Bible even begin to picture heaven or Christ’s work on our behalf in those terms.” (p.89) It doesn’t? What are we to make of such statements by Christ that believers could become “one” with God, even as Christ and God were one? (Jn.17:11,21) When Paul says that we are joint-heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17), was he just kidding? When Christ tells us we can inherit all things, what are we to understand by this? (Rev. 21:7; to see that Christ also inherited all, see John 3:35, John 13:3, Heb. 1:1) Hugh Nibley has defined the term “atone” by dividing it up: “At one.” The atonement makes us “at one” with God. And if God sees fit to give His children all that He has, what of it? We see that the Bible does indeed picture Christ’s work in such terms.
Lorenzo Snow’s couplet is often heard: As man now is, God once was; As God now is, man may become. This is a fairly close restatement of what Irenaeus once said: [B]ut following the only true and steadfast Teacher, the Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who did, through His transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself.29 Well, what is Christ? According to some, he is “man in communion with God.”30 This would seem to deny his divinity. The LDS hold that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, our Savior and Redeemer. He is the way, the truth and the life. He IS God. And if we become what he is, inheriting all that he has, then we will also be gods. Can we bootstrap ourselves to this position? Absolutely not.
There are many questions in our lives, but perhaps the big three would be: Who are we? Why are we here? and Where are we going? It is likely you have asked yourselves these very questions. In light of theosis, I would like to give brief answers to these questions31:
We are God’s literal children. Paul, citing the poet Aratus, calls us the “offspring of God.”(Acts 17:29). The word underlying “offspring” is “genos,” which means:
1c) stock, race, nation (i.e. nationality or descent from a particular people);
1d) the aggregate of many individuals of the same nature, kind, sort or species.”32
As the children of God, we have a great deal of potential.
2) We are here on this earth to be tested. God wishes to see which of us will be obedient to Him in all things without Him being. (Abr. 3:24-25) If we do that which God commands us without Him being with us all the time, then we will also perform according to His will if He gives us from His power, and not abuse it.
3) Where we go depends on what we do while we’re here. If we do what we have been commanded (e.g. pass the test), then we will be with God, who will then give us of His power and authority, according to His mercy and grace, and we will be just as He is. Our continued works will continue to bring glory to God (the best form of respect is imitation). If we fail the test, we won’t be with God, and the whole issue is moot.
Theosis is not all that complicated, but is easily misunderstood or misinterpreted, as the authors have done. LDS theosis does not involve surpassing God, or bootstrapping our way into such a position, and it most certainly does not deny the Atonement. Without the Atonement, none of htis would be possible in the least.
Other mistakes (or Miscellaneous Balderdash)
The authors don’t only get these points wrong; they misunderstand and misrepresent a number of other theological points about the LDS. Some examples:
On p.90, they have a parenthetical aside telling women that they can’t “apply for membership in this Future Gods of the Universe club.” A similar claim is made on p.121. What they won’t tell you is that a man can’t join this (nonexistent) “club” either without his wife. Men and women need each other to attain the highest glory that God offers us. (1 Cor. 11:11; D&C 131:1-4). On p.90-2, we are told that sinning to know good from evil (as Adam supposedly did) is wrong. Agreed. However the authors misunderstand two very important things: One, You can’t sin if you don’t know good from evil (Adam knew neither in the garden; he broke the law without really understanding what he did), and Two, the Book of Mormon does not advocate sinning; it merely states that man had to know good from evil in order to choose the good. Their example of Christ (with the exception of the misinterpreted verse) is perfect: He knew good from evil, and chose not to sin. One does not have to sin to know good from evil. That is the real purpose of Adam’s Fall: to give us knowledge, so that we can make informed, righteous choices.The authors appear to be believers in salvation by grace alone, as they assault Moroni 10:32 for saying “come unto Christ and be perfected in him, and deny yourself of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourself of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ.”(p.92) What’s their problem? It tells us to DO something in order to obtain grace. Horror of horrors. (Have they forgotten Matt. 5-7 so soon?) I would suppose that the authors believe that just anyone is saved? No matter what? Not likely. Regardless of their opinions, this verse says that God’s grace will make us perfect in Christ. It doesn’t say we will be able to do all that God requires of us. We are to do our best, but even the best of us is not perfect. So we have to try; we have to accept Christ and run the race. Not doing that is a guaranteed denial of any grace whatsoever. (See also Mosiah 2.)The authors note that the LDS have the Biblical belief that all must be baptized in order to enter into the kingdom of heaven. (p.93) Since Christ is the one who taught this (John 3:5), and he didn’t make any exceptions, the question of “What about those who don’t hear the gospel?” arises. The LDS believe that God will allow proxy baptism for those who have passed on without accepting the gospel. Biblically, we always point to 1 Cor. 15:29. (We also accept other revelations on this issue.) The authors may not like the idea, but can certainly not disprove its necessity or Christianity, thus they mock it for a paragraph.They then try to claim on p.94 that the LDS somehow believe that we can save ourselves without God’s help, but are singularly unable to demonstrate where we believe this.They claim that there is “a long history of racism in the Mormon Church.” (p.105). Where? Are they referring to the priesthood being withheld from the blacks? They are aware that the priesthood in the Old Testament was withheld from otherwise worthy Levites due to a lack of lineage, as well as due to lineage itself? Is this somehow “racist”? God chooses to save only the Jews; isn’t that “racist”? What it boils down to is this: God commanded that blacks not get the priesthood; when things changed, God changed His command. This has been the case since 1978. Historically, LDS treatment of the blacks was excellent; we even sided against the South in the Civil War (despite the offer of statehood should we help them).The authors oversimplify the story of the Book of Mormon, claiming that “the evil, dark-skinned Lamanites wiped out the good, light-skinned Nephites.”(p.105) One, the Nephites at that time were not righteous any more. Two, due to mixing, there were light- and dark-skinned Nephites and Lamanites; there was no clear delineation. They also claim that the last battle took place in New York; this is quite likely not the case, as there is no evidence that Joseph Smith thought that the hill near his home was Cumorah.The authors overgeneralize about the Book of Mormon again, and seem to not be up on current scholarship. The Book of Mormon does not have the Lamanites or the Nephites “tooling around in horse-drawn chariots,” or “swashbuckling with steel swords.” (p.106) While the Book of Mormon certainly mentions these things, they are not wide-spread, and the evidence (or dearth of it) has been fully discussed by competent individuals.33 On the same page, they also say that linguists cannot find any trace of “Reformed Egyptian.” Studies of the so-called Anthon Transcript (currently owned by the RLDS), which is the only known possible representation of characters from the Book of Mormon, show that it may be related to Meroitic.34 Meroitic is certainly a form of Egyptian; one could possibly call it reformed.On p. 120, the authors state that “Mormonism says God and man are of the same ‘species,’ directly contradicting the Bible (Isaiah 29:16).” I would say that this is an example of Christians “in the bad habit of reading the Bible and picking the parts they like and parts they don’t – or parts they’ll obey and parts they won’t,” (p.107). I can’t see where Isaiah 29:16 refutes the idea that God and man are of the same species. Furthermore, how can they say that it contradicts the Bible when Paul himself taught it (see earlier discussion on Acts 17:29)? Whether some LDS believe that Jesus won’t “receive the ‘fullness of exaltation’ until he takes wives and has children” (p.120-21) is wholly irrelevant. This is not doctrine, and preaching it as such is misrepresentative.They claim that the LDS believe the gospel focuses on our becoming “a god,” and thus somehow removes the focus from the God. I fail to see such a dichotomy between the two goals: to become like God (see Matt. 5:48), and to worship God. If we become gods through the grace of God, then we will automatically worship God, and His glory will increase.The authors briefly discuss the endowment (p.121), and say that “Christian ministers and…theology were mocked in the LDS endowment ceremony.” Patently untrue. There was a representation of a minister in earlier ceremonies, but he was not “mocked;” nor is Christian theology mocked in the temple; such would be at odds with LDS claims that we are Christians, as well as at odds with the spirit of the temple.Speaking of the endowment, I have just completed a brief paper on early Christianity which discusses secret ceremonies at that time. Strangely, they seem very…familiar to me as a Mormon.On p.90, they say “They may teach that God came from another planet (the Mormons).”35 This is a standard anti-Mormon misunderstanding of Abraham 3:9. Kolob is only addressed as being “set nigh unto the throne of God,” and is not spoken of as God’s dwelling place. Sadly, any postcards you send won’t reach Him if you send them there.On p.44, they claim that “Mormons direct you to their ‘Prophet’ for the final word on what the Bible really means.” While partially accurate – the prophet is, after all, God’s representative here on earth – the final authority for any LDS individual is the Holy Ghost.36 It is the duty of any LDS person to determine for him/herself if what the prophet says is truly the word of God, and the only way to do that is through the Spirit.37The authors inform us that “[b]ack when Paul wrote to the Romans, he said that people try to tip God off of his throne, grab a honkin’ ladder, and climb up there themselves. (Romans 1:18-24)” (p.82) I am puzzled at this particular interpretation, for nowhere do these verses indicate that people tried to “grab a honkin’ ladder” and throw God from his throne. They do indicate that some who had great knowledge of God turned away from Him in their pride, but there is nothing like what the authors indicate.The authors claim that “Mormonism is polytheistic.” (p.78) This is inaccurate at best. Some LDS would refer to themselves as henotheistic.38 Much as Paul, we believe that “there be gods many, and lords many); but unto us there is but one God, the Father…and one Lord Jesus Christ….”39 There is evidence that the early Jews were also henotheistic.40 Mr White has also been taken to task by Dr. Richard Mouw, president of the Fuller Theological Institute, during a discussion on AOL in December 1997. Mr. White asked a self-serving question about his latest book, ITMMB?, and Dr. Mouw responded: “I don’t see it in exactly those terms. Most OT scholars see the early stages of OT thought as henotheistic, i.e., the view that there are many Gods but that Jehovah is the supreme deity before whom we should place no other. Similarly, Paul in Colossians seems to suggest that there are many powers, but we should not placate them, because everything holds together in Jesus Christ. I think the important thing is that we acknowledge that only the God and father of JC is worthy of our worship and obedience.”41 It is also good to note here that Muslims (who are strict monotheists) find the Trinity to be very polytheistic in nature. The authors note that “Many cult groups produce moral people. They emphasize family. They demonstrate commitment to wives, husbands, and children. They take care of their own folks, feed the needy, and build good educational systems. Their people sacrifice time and money to further their cause. To non-Christians, all these things make them good. Even Christian….Good works please God. Real good works, that is….All the good works in the world won’t make a cultist a Christian….Only Christ makes Christians.”42 This whole argument seems surreal. These “cultists” demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit,43 they demonstrate pure religion,44 and they profess to believe in Christ, yet they are not Christians?! What sort of argument is this? Apparently the authors do not believe in salvation by grace alone (as I earlier surmised), but instead salvation-by-grace-plus-doing-those-things-that-WE-determine-are-Christian, with “we” being the authors. Fascinating. By what right do they ignore not only what the Bible teaches, but also try to usurp Christ’s place? After all, they do say that “real” good works come from a heart that is right with Christ,45 and isn’t it God who knows the hearts of men?46 This seems contradictory, not to mention practically blasphemous.The authors tell us that the LDS use a circular argument to prove the Book of Mormon: “The Book of Mormon is from God because a true prophet gave it, and Joseph Smith is a true prophet because God says so. And so on.”47 What they don’t tell you is that this is precisely the same argument that is used to prove that the Bible is from God. A simple solution: To know if something is from God, why not ask Him?48How Would YOU Feel?There are numerous other errors in this book. I have only dealt with some of those that directly relate to Mormonism.49 As you can see, the entire book is based on shoddy logic and the authors constantly misrepresent and misunderstand what the LDS truly believe. Early on in this book, the authors ask:
“How would you like it if people constantly lied about you, telling others you’re something you’re really not? And what if you had to watch people misinterpret and dislike you based on a pack of falsehoods?”50
I have done just this. I have watched the authors tell their audience that I’m something I’m really not: A non-Christian cultist. I have watched the authors misrepresent, misinterpret, and mock those teachings that I hold to be from God. I already know from personal experience that one of the authors does not like us, and I have seen him try to get others to dislike the LDS as well. And I answer: I don’t like it one little bit. It is heinous, unChristian behavior, and Mr. White ought to be ashamed of himself.
The sad part is, Mr. White won’t be ashamed, and he’ll continue to write these books – books which defame and denigrate his fellow Christians. And Christians we are, regardless of Mr. White’s personal opinion. We believe in Christ, our Savior. Nephi expressed it best:
And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.51
Too bad Mr. White and Mr. Johnson don’t understand this.
My advice to readers of this review is to go find something more interesting, educational, and accurate to read.
1 Bloom County Babylon, by Berke Breathed, The Washington Post Company, 1986, p. 62.
2 Just for comprehension purposes, I will say that I read on average 4-5 books a week. When I was younger (in high school), I would sometimes read two books a day.
3 Subj: Re: My Review…; Date: 98-07-08 22:00:33 EDT; From: Orthopodeo; To: LDSApolog. A copy of this email is in my possession.
4 ITMMB?, p. 17
5 ibid. Reviews of his ITMMB? are underway, including one by myself.
6 On this note, I feel impressed to wonder why not practicing Christmas makes the Jehovah’s Witnesses a cult. (See p.43.) The Puritans also did not practice Christmas, as they could not find it in the Bible, and they attributed it to paganism and “popery.” (See Robinson, Are Mormons Christian?, p.37.) The authors would be hard-pressed to describe Puritanism as a cult (as they choose to define the term). Why, then, do the authors feel it necessary to list this particular belief of the Jehovah’s Witnesses7 In all fairness, I suppose I should note that the language of this review is intended to arouse the emotions of the reader against this book, and to convey my absolute disgust and contempt for it.
8 “Dudes,” p. 32.
9 Excerpted from Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia, 1995.
10 It should be noted that just about every new prophet in the OT could also be seen as a ‘cult leader,’ since they claimed to be God’s spokesmen, and then wrote down what they claimed God said to them, which was then revered as scripture.
11 “Dudes,” p. 33.
12 “So the Father is God, the Son God, and the Holy Spirit God; and yet not three Gods but one God. So the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Spirit Lord; and yet not three Lords but one Lord. For like as we are compelled by Christian truth to acknowledge every Person by Himself to be both God and Lord; so are we forbidden by the catholic religion to say, there be three Gods or three Lords.” (Athanasian Creed)
13 Colossians 2:9
14 Wycliffe’s Bible Commentary, p.1340.
15 “”The great Athanasius himself,” wrote Gibbon in a well-known passage, “has candidly confessed, that whenever he forced his understanding to meditate on the divinity of the Logos, his toilsome and unavailing efforts recoiled on themselves; that the more he thought, the less he comprehended; and the more he wrote, the less capable was he of expressing his thoughts. In every step of the inquiry, we are compelled to feel and acknowledge the immeasurable disproportion between the size of the object and the capacity of the human mind.”” (Nibley, CWHN 3, ch. 7)
16 John 10:29; John 14:28.
17 “Theologians of the Eastern churches insist that the filioque introduces a false concept of the nature of God-even a false god-into Christianity: “By the dogma of the Filioque [the Western Trinity] the God of the philosophers and savants is introduced into the place of the Living God By the dogma of the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father alone [the Eastern Trinity], the God of the philosophers is forever banished from the Holy of Holies. “” (Stephen E. Robinson, Are Mormons Christians?, p.78)
18 See Darryl Barksdale’s review of Is the Mormon My Brother?, found on the FAIR website, for some quotations concerning the Trinity.
19 Peter seemed to be aware that people would misunderstand Paul, for, in speaking of Paul’s epistles, he said, “As also in all [his] epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as [they do] also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:16)
20 I say this guardedly, for Mr. White has a section of his website dedicated to the Roman Catholic faith, which I have not viewed due to lack of interest. The same also goes for his book, The Roman Catholic Controversy. There are anti-groups out there who do classify the Catholic faith as non-Christian; one would hope that Mr. White did not follow this illogical thought process.
21 See also “Dudes,” p. 111. Where, pray tell, does the *Bible* say that it’s complete?
22 See Are Mormons Christians? by Stephen E. Robinson, or Offenders for a Word by Daniel Peterson and Stephen Ricks for further information.
23 Wycliffe’s Bible Commentary states that 2 Timothy was probably written between 61 and 63 A.D., whereas the Gospel of John was written about 80 to 90 A.D., or perhaps even later. Was John’s Gospel, then, not scripture? The authors’ argument seems to indicate this.24 Are Mormons Christian? by Stephen Robinson, p.48-49.
25 This definition, or one similar to it, can be found by simply looking in your dictionary.
26 Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, ed. Joseph Fielding Smith (1938), p.345. Strange that Mr. White and Mr. Johnson didn’t supply this reference.
27 Strong’s Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, number 5956.
28 Rev. 1:6; see also the Lutherbibel; cf. the Einheitsuebersetzung.29 Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Vol. 5: Preface; TANF vol. 1, p.526. In AH 4:38, Irenaeus says, “For we cast blame on Him, because we have not been made gods from the beginning, but at first men, then at length gods; although God has adopted this course out of His pure benevolence, that no one may impute to Him invidiousness or grudgingness.”
30 This is a direct quote from Iconodule, a friend of Mr. White’s, with whom I was involved in a discussion on 5-1-97 on AOL.
31 These answers are not complete, but only express my views of these questions in light of the current topic.
32 Strong’s Theological Wordbook of the New Testament, number 1085.
33 John Sorenson’s An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon is perhaps the best yet. Hugh Nibley also discusses the Book of Mormon, and much of what he cays can be found in the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley (13 volumes at present).
34 Book of Mormon Authorship, ed. Noel B. Reynolds, ch. 5 “Two Shots in the Dark,” by Hugh Nibley. See also Nibley’s other writings, such as Teachings of the Book of Mormon, or Since Cumorah.35 You will also find this charge on p. 15, p.77, and p.120.
36 1 Cor. 2:9-14.37 Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, vol.4, p.123; also Brian H. Stuy, ed., Collected Discourses, vol.3, Discourses of George Q. Cannon; also the General Conference Reports, October 1955, p.105, talk by Elder S. Dilworth; and others.
38 Henotheism is the belief in more than one god, but the worship of just one God. Bruce R. McConkie described the LDS belief in terms very similar to those of Trinitarianism, although he insisted that each personage in the Godhead is also an individual God. (Mormon Doctrine, “Monotheism”) Although he describes henotheism as “apostate,” his language here is fairly close to that description.
39 1 Corinthians 8:5-6.
40 The Great Angel: A Study of Israel’s Second God, by Margaret Barker, is a good place to start. Some articles on this may also be of use: Monotheism: A Misused Word in Jewish Studies?, by Peter Hayman, Journal of Jewish Studies 42 (1991), p.1-15; also El and Yahweh, by Otto Eissfeldt, in Journal of Semitic Studies 1 (1956), p.25-37.41 A copy of this entire online discussion is in my possession, and is most likely also available from Christianity Online on AOL.42 “Dudes,” p.46-47.43 Galatians 5:22-23.44 James 1:27.45 “Dudes,” p.47.46 1 Samuel 16:7; 1 Kings 8:39; 2 Chron. 6:30; Luke 16:15; Acts 1:24.
47 “Dudes,” p.107
48 See James 1:5; Luke 11:9-13.
49 And I didn’t do all of them; please do not assume that because I did not address it, that it is therefore valid. Such would be a mistake.
50 “Dudes,” p. 34.
51 2 Nephi 25:26.