MCKEEVER AND JOHNSON’S MORMONISM 101: A REVIEW

Who are McKeever and Johnson?

Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson are on staff at Mormonism Research Ministry (MRM), an organization dedicated to “propagating the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to critically evaluating the differences between Mormonism and biblical Christianity”[1] This has been an interest of McKeever since his conversion to Christianity in 1973.  Having been raised in area of Southern California that “has a high LDS population,”[2] McKeever became interested in the evangelism of his Mormon[3] friends and neighbors upon his conversion.[4]  This interest led to his founding of Mormonism Research Ministry in 1979.  He has written three books on the subject of Mormonism.  Johnson holds a Master of Divinity from Bethel Seminary and has contributed to several Christian apologetics resources, in addition to being the co-author of Mormonism 101: Examining the Religion of the Latter Day Saints with Bill McKeever.  Johnson’s interest in Mormonism began in “1987 when he served with Youth with a Mission at a summer Utah outreach.”[5]

The Book’s Purpose: Examining the Latter Day Saints

Its authors opened up the expanded edition of Mormonism 101 by sharing the accounts of two notable and recent Mormon speeches.  The first was given in 2012 by (LDS) Apostle Robert D. Hales at a Mormon general conference and was entitled “Being a More Christian Christian”. (9)  The second was given by popular American political commentator Glenn Beck at a Liberty University[6] student body convocation in 2014.  Beck echoed Hales by claiming that Mormonism was a part of the Christian religion.  Beck stated to his Christian audience, “I share your faith. I am from a different denomination and a denomination quite honestly that I’m sure can make many people at Liberty feel uncomfortable. I am a Mormon, but I share your faith in the atonement of the Savior Jesus Christ.” (10)  This is a claim, a rather pertinent one given that the Mormon Church boasts worldwide membership of 15,634,199[7], with which McKeever and Johnson disagree.  These two Christian men, who have “spent a combined total of more than seven decades studying the religion of the Latter-day Saints,” (10) wrote Mormonism 101 out of their “concern for those who belong to the LDS faith as well as for those Christians who want to better engage Latter-day Saints in healthy dialogue.” (15)  Written from a “conservative Protestant-Christian” (14) perspective that holds that Bible as an “authoritative guide” (15), Mormonism 101 provides information about and an examination of the theology, history, and practice of the LDS religion.

LDS Theology, History, and Practice

Mormonism 101 is presented in six parts, each which examines a specific concept of Mormon theology.  These concepts include: God, Humankind, Scripture, Salvation, Ordinances, and Revelation.  Each of the six parts contains three chapters.  Nearly every chapter begins with a section of “Mormonese” [8] words, which are terms with theological meanings specific to the LDS religion.  Neither the six parts nor their associated chapters are presented in any chronological order and are meant to stand on their own as a source of relevant information about the LDS.  At the same time, the six parts combine to form what is essentially a systematic theology of the Latter Day Saint religion, as well as a concise history of the LDS church.[9]

God

There is a triune Godhead which includes the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.  However, unlike that of Christianity, the LDS Godhead consists of three gods who are distinct beings.  These gods are neither eternal nor immutable.  God the Father (also known as “Heavenly Father” and “Elohim”) has a physical body and has progressed from a state of mortality to godhood.  Mormon Apostle Orson Hyde explained the Mormon concept of God by stating, “God, our heavenly Father, was perhaps once a child, and mortal like we ourselves, and rose step by step in the scale of progress, in the school of advancement; has moved forward and overcome, until He has arrived at the point where He now is.” (35)  Christ, “the Son” is the son of God in more ways the one.  As Jehovah, he is the first born spirit child Heavenly Father and his wife, Heavenly Mother.  As the human Jesus, he is the result of physical copulation between Elohim and “the virgin” Mary.   The Holy Ghost is merely a spirit being who influences the world.

Humankind

All humans preexisted on or near a planet named Kolob as spirit children of Heavenly Father and their Heavenly Mother.   This preexistence is known as “the first estate.”  Mortal existence on earth is known as the “second estate” and existence in the various states of the afterlife is known as the “third estate”.  Demons, too, existed as spirit children in the first estate.  However, they rebelled against Heavenly Father at the behest of their spirit brother Lucifer (the devil) during this period.  This rebellion was a rejection of the accepted plan, formulated by a council of gods on Kolob, for the creation, population, and salvation of Earth.  According to this plan, Elohim’s spirit children were to be sent to earth, for the purpose of testing and maturation, and given mortal human bodies; an essential aspect of the plan was the ability of a human to make a free choice to follow or reject God upon their arrival to Earth.  Lucifer insisted upon an alternate plan which denied free choice; he and his followers (the demons) were cast down to Earth without bodies for this act of insurrection.  The first humans to populate the earth, Adam and Eve, fell into sin because of their willful disobedience in the Garden of Eden.  Jesus was sent to enact Elohim’s plan of salvation for humankind.  In doing so, he founded the church.  Unfortunately, the church Jesus started disappeared after the death of his original Apostles and was absent during a 1,700 year period known as “The Great Apostasy” until it was restored by LDS founder Joseph Smith in 1830.

Scripture

The eighth LDS article of faith proclaims the King James Bible (KJV) to be authoritative scripture “as far as it is translated correctly” (112).  This terminology is misleading given that Mormons actually have doubts about the correct transmission of the Biblical text.  Whatever the correct terminology is, the reality is that Mormons have serious doubts about the reliability of the Biblical text.  LDS leadership has stated that “the most reliable way to measure the accuracy of any biblical passage is not by comparing different texts, but by comparison with the Book of Mormon and modern-day revelations” (112).  Along with the KJV, The Book of Mormon is one of four “standard works” that the LDS consider to be authoritative scriptures.  The other two are The Pearl of Great Price and The Doctrine and Covenants (D&C). The Pearl of Great Price includes sections of the biblical books of Genesis and Matthew (as interpreted by Joseph Smith), excerpts from Joseph Smith’s LDS testimony, LDS articles of faith written by Smith, and “The Book of Abraham” which is Smith’s translation of ancient Egyptian papyri containing an account of the Jewish patriarch.[10]  The D&C “consists of revelations and teachings that Mormon leaders (especially Joseph Smith) received from God” (140).  This part of the Mormon scriptural canon is open given that current LDS leadership is able to add to it if new revelations[11] from God are received.

Salvation

Atonement and repentance are key concepts in Mormon soteriology.  This, too, is true of biblical Christianity. However, the Mormon concepts of atonement and repentance are quite different from those of biblical Christianity.  The atonement took place, not upon the cross, but in the Garden of Gethsemane as Jesus sweated blood. “The atonement allows people to be resurrected and gain eternal life if they repent and keep the commandments.  Repentance is the process by which a member (of the LDS Church) receives forgiveness.” (155)  Not only does repentance include a confession of sins but successfully abandoning them.  Salvation, because it is contingent on keeping God’s commandments, is works-based.  It is also multi-faceted.  There are three degrees, or levels, of heaven.  The highest degree is the celestial kingdom, where faithful Mormons can be exalted to godhood. The lower two degrees are the terrestrial and telestial kingdoms; these levels are reserved for “lukewarm”[12] Mormons and the world’s wicked people, respectively.   Outer Darkness, which is essentially Hell, is reserved for Satan, demons, and apostate Mormons.

Ordinances

As is the case with Protestant Christian churches, there are two primary LDS church ordinances: baptism and the sacrament.  The latter ordinance is similar in practice and intent to the Christian practice of observing the Lord’s Supper; however, it utilizes different elements.  Mormons observe the sacrament in their weekly church services by ingesting bread and water.  The earliest Mormons used wine to observe the sacrament until an 1830 revelation received by Joseph Smith proscribed its use.[13]  Mormon baptism is a “saving ordinance” that “must be administered by one who has proper authority from God”.  (220)  Unless one is baptized, he cannot enter the celestial kingdom.  A baptism is not valid unless it is witnessed by two men who hold the Melchizedek priesthood,[14] is done according to the baptismal formula specified by the D&C, and completely immerses in water the person being baptized.  In addition to practicing baptism for living church members, Mormons also perform baptismal rites for dead people within their ornate and secretive temples.   Proxy baptisms for the dead are performed in the hopes of opening up the possibility of salvation to those people who never had a chance to hear the Mormon gospel during their lives.  In addition to performing baptisms for the dead, Mormons also engage in a number of other religious rights inside of their temples.  It is within Mormon temples that marriages are sealed for eternity.  LDS outsiders are not allowed inside of Mormon temples.  Only Mormons who have completed an interview process and been deemed worthy of a temple endowment may enter an LDS temple and participate in the various and important ceremonies that within take.

Revelation

The LDS religion is founded upon the various revelations received by its founding prophet, Joseph Smith.  In the early 1800s a prayerful Joseph Smith was visited by God the Father and God the Son instructed not to join any of the extant Christian churches because they were corrupt.  Sometime after this visit, the young Smith was visited by an angel named Moroni.  Moroni was the descendent of ancient Jews who had left Israel before the fall of Jerusalem into Babylonian hands and sailed to the Americas.  With Moroni’s guidance, Smith was able to retrieve a set of golden plates which contained the recorded the history of Moroni’s people and provided another testament of Jesus Christ.  Smith, using special seer stones, translated these plates from their ancient language (a theretofore undiscovered language known as “Reformed Egyptian”) into English.  This translation became known as The Book of Mormon.  Smith garnered a large following of religious converts and led the Mormon Church as its prophet until his death at the hands of an angry mob in 1844.  Since his death, the Mormon Church has been led by a series of living prophets known as “Presidents” of the church.  The LDS President is supported by a quorum of 12 Apostles selected from among faithful Mormon men.  According to Mormon teaching, “the words of the living prophet have more importance than the standard works.” (312)  Mormons are strongly encouraged not to criticize LDS church leaders.

Mormonism 101 and Christianity 102

In Mormonism 101, McKeever and Johnson did a fair and thorough job of providing overview of Mormon theology and history, often from primary sources.  In addition to explaining Mormon beliefs, McKeever and Johnson compared Mormon theology to biblical teaching in each chapter of their book.  The Christian reader of Mormonism 101 will not only learn about the aberrant nature of LDS theology but be provided with specific biblical bases by which to refute it.  Nearly every biblical doctrine perverted by Mormon teaching has been correctly explained and supported with biblical evidence by McKeever and Johnson within the pages of Mormonism 101.  In addition to providing a theological review of Mormonism, McKeever and Johnson provided information about the historic flip-flops (most notably on the issue of plural marriage) of Mormon leadership, especially those of Joseph Smith.  The controversial, dishonest, and mischievous life of the original Mormon prophet and his successive leadership is laid bare within chapters 17 and 18 of Mormonism 101.  By excoriating LDS leadership at the end of their book, McKeever and Johnson have done their Mormon readership a service.  Mormons are programmed not to think ill of current of past LDS leadership, especially Smith. By first demonstrating the unbiblical, untenable, and often arbitrary nature of Mormon doctrine, McKeever and Johnson have made it easier for LDS members to doubt the character of the leadership of their church.  McKeever and Johnson also did a service to Christian readers who wish to witness to their Mormon neighbors by providing them with a list of fallacious arguments commonly used by Mormons to defend their beliefs from criticism.  Overall, Mormonism 101 is a fine book.  It should edify any Christian who reads it and plant biblical seeds of doubt in the mind of any Mormon who is willing to compare the teachings of his church with biblical doctrine.

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

Intellectual Reserve, Inc. “Facts and Statistics.” Newsroom. September 01, 2016. http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/facts-and-statistics (accessed September 18, 2016).

McKeever, Bill and Eric Johnson. Mormonism 101: Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints. Revised and Expanded ed. Baker Books, 2015.

—. Mormonism 101: Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints. Ebook edition. Baker Books, 2015.

Mormonism Research Ministry. “About Us.” Mormonism Research Ministry. http://www.mrm.org/about (accessed September 19, 2016).

—. “Testimony of Bill McKeever.” http://www.mrm.org/bill-mckeever (accessed September 18, 2016).

 

[1]Ministries, Mormon Research. “About Us.” http://www.mrm.org/about. http://www.mrm.org/about (accessed September 19, 2016).

[2] —. “Testimony of Bill McKeever.” http://www.mrm.org/bill-mckeever (accessed September 18, 2016).

[3] Members of the “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” (LDS) are commonly known as “Mormons”

[4] McKeever himself is not a former Mormon.  His conversion to Christianity was from a general irreligious state.  His video testimony can be found at http://www.mrm.org/bill-fronthttp://www.mrm.org/bill-front.

[5] Ministries, Mormon Research. “About Us.”

[6]Liberty University has long been known as an institution steeped in conservative Baptist theology.  It was founded as “Lynchburg Baptist College” in 1971 by Thomas Road Baptist Church and its fundamentalist pastor, Jerry Falwell.  (http://www.liberty.edu/aboutliberty/index.cfm?PID=33803) According to the school’s own website, it is the “world’s largest Christian University  (http://www.liberty.edu/).

[7] Intellectual Reserve, Inc. “Facts and Statistics.” Newsroom. September 01, 2016. http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/facts-and-statistics (accessed September 18, 2016).

 

[8] Some of these words are identical to Christian theological terms in spelling and pronunciation but insidiously different in meaning.

[9] In the six subsections below, I provide a summary of LDS theology as explained in Mormonism 101.  The theology is explained as the LDS teaches it.  The language with which I explain LDS doctrines and claims should not be confused with an affirmation of those doctrines and claims.  These doctrines and claims are ably refuted, from a biblical perspective, by McKeever and Johnson throughout the various chapters of Mormonism 101.

[10] The ancient Egyptian papyri which Smith “translated” were later identified by Egyptologists as documents describing funeral rites.  These documents were dated to a period hundreds of years later than the time Abraham lived. (see page 146 of Mormonism 101)

[11] These are the “modern-day revelations” referred to above.

[12] To be “lukewarm” is to believe LDS doctrine but fail to live it out its requirements successfully.  See page 202 for more detail.

[13] Specifically the use of wine purchased from enemies is proscribed.  A later revelation to Smith allowed for wine to be used if it is of Mormon making.  Since the Mormons are a teetotaling people, such a product is not easily available and water continues to be used to observe the sacrament.  See pages 218-219 for more detail.

[14] There are two priesthoods in Mormonism: the Aaronic priesthood, which can be held by qualified males of at least 12 years of age, and the Melchizedek priesthood, which can be held by qualified males of at least 18 years of age.  These priesthoods where originally conferred on Joseph Smith by various biblical figures.  See page 9 for details.

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