But for people who think they have absolute certainty in their faith, it is very tempting to pounce on others who ask questions. All sorts of unintended consequences can then happen. For folks who go on and ask questions anyway, there are times where it can get them into trouble. Just ask Rachel Held Evans.
Sadly, the problem is, if left unchecked, doubt can lead people down a road that takes them to places far away from faith in the God of the Bible. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it, the problem with the human condition is not simply that humankind is sick. The problem is that we are in rebellion against God. Unfortunately, runaway doubt leaves us with no one but ourselves to look to, and it merely imprisons us in our own rebellion.
This being the case, it is understandable why so many Christians wish to discourage doubt completely. Just have faith. Just have faith. But I would contend that this is wrong-headed. Sometimes doubt can be a good thing, too. Just ask “Doubting Thomas” (John 20:24-29).
Here is what I mean: Thomas doubted the resurrection of Jesus, but the Lord did not immediately rebuke him. Instead, He invited Thomas to put his finger into the nailed scarred hands. The resurrected Jesus had a real, physical body. He was not some spirit without a body. The Bible preserves this story for us as further evidence for the truth of Christ’s bodily resurrection.
However, sometimes faith can be presented in a way that looks good at first, looks solid, but upon closer examination, it is built on the wrong foundation. There are more than a few of us humans who do recognize our rebellion from God, and so we run to God, in the arms of faith. But the “faith” we cling to with such certainty is itself confused, the terminology gets all muddled, and the knowledge of truth suffers. We think we are being obedient, but that obedience fails to measure up to the plumb line of God’s Word.
Indeed, doubt can easily misdirect us. But a misdirected faith can also take us in the wrong direction. If our faith is not firmly planted in the truth, we can easily persuade ourselves that what we believe is true is consistent with the Jesus of the Bible, when in fact, we are only confused as to the object of our faith. Here is a good recent example of what I am talking about.
Mormon Theology and the Plumb Line of God’s Truth
Liberty University has perhaps the largest evangelical Christian program of higher education in the world, boasting over 100,000 students, including those online. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, the founder, Jerry Falwell, had a vision that Liberty University would become a fundamentalist version of Catholic Notre Dame. It would be the greatest bastion for Bible truth in higher education in the whole world. Faith would be paramount at Liberty and triumph over doubt.
So I was rather puzzled that Liberty invited the popular conservative political commentator, Glenn Beck, to give the recent university convocation address.
Glenn Beck is a very outspoken person. I do not see him as the type of person who is given over to doubt very much. He is indeed a man of faith. But who or what is the object of his faith?
Glenn Beck is a confident member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS). As a Mormon, the doctrine taught in Beck’s faith community has historically been considered by evangelical Christians, the type of people who would send their children to Liberty University to get a good Christian education, as a dangerous form of false teaching. Some attitudes appear to be changing.
If you ever tried to investigate Mormonism, you can see why there is suspicion… and confusion as well. I actually forced myself to listen to the entire Book of Mormon in audiobook form last year. Let me tell you, there is good reason why Mark Twain considered the book to be “chloroform in print.” It was an exhausting experience. If I ever hear the phrase “and it came to pass” one more time, I think I will go insane.
Yet without going into too much detail, I soon learned that for the most part the theology in the Book of Mormon is not too terribly bad. For example, I was surprised to discover that the Book of Mormon condemns polygamy (Jacob 1:15). Go figure. Actually, a large chunk of the book is simply a set of direct quotations taken from the 1769 (or later) printing of the King James Bible, complete with the printing errors preserved in Smith’s revelation, according to historian Grant Palmer. This is partly why Mormon beliefs sound so appealing, and why more and more traditional Christians are now trying to defend Mormon views. Why knock such faith? Mormon people are pro-America, pro-family and pro-God. On the surface, the Mormon message actually sounds pretty good.
However…. once you go further into the later scriptural documents, like the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price, as well as the 19th century sermons from prominent Mormon teachers, it gets really complex to say the least, if not just plain bizarre… yeah, like the whole polygamy thing (Doctrine and Covenants 132:61-62). And then there is the problem of all of that added history, from the record of Jewish presence in the ancestry of Native Americans, including the anachronistic elephants and horses living among them in the days before Columbus, to the famous First Vision experience(s?) of Joseph Smith (these are websites run by Mormons that I am linking to, by the way). Keeping track of all of the nuances of Mormon beliefs is a lot more complicated than the 66 books of the Christian Bible. Yes, you do get Jesus Christ with Mormonism, but with a whole lot of other things added on top.
Glenn Beck and Faith in the Heart of Conservative, Evangelical Christianity
So, why did such a prominent Bible-based institution like Liberty University invite a Mormon to speak at their convocation? Perhaps it was simply a respectful exercise in dialoguing with different points of view, as Glen Beck himself maintains. Nevertheless, a controversy over the meaning of “faith” has followed. What did Glenn Beck say at Liberty?
You might want to view the following YouTube video below of the convocation address to find out. Glenn Beck made the following statement:
“I share your faith. I am from a different denomination. And a denomination that I’m sure can make many people at Liberty uncomfortable—I’m a Mormon—but I share your faith in the atonement of the Savior Jesus Christ.” (14:38-15:04, emphasis mine)
If that statement does not make you at least scratch your head, then I would suggest that you need a little dosage of doubt to balance against such a statement of unwavering faith. At the next point in his speech (15:05-18:02), Glenn Beck related part of the story of the death of Joseph Smith, complete with a valuable relic in hand, Joseph Smith’s pocket watch. Beck told the crowd that days before Joseph Smith was “martyred” that he wrote to his followers to “put down your guns, no matter what happens, and trust in the Lord.” This is an interesting anecdote. If someone could find a credible source for this, I would like to know. But for Beck, this incident is truly inspiring, and it helps to sustain his faith.
The problem is that Mr. Beck neglects to tell the rest of the story. According to official Mormon history records, someone smuggled a gun into the Carthage jail where Joseph Smith shot and killed two men before being himself killed. How does this story square with Joseph Smith being a “martyr” for the faith, and promoting non-violence?
Many evangelical Christians would agree that a lot of what Glenn Beck says in his address is commendable. Furthermore, as I have argued here before on Veracity, Mormonism is indeed undergoing massive change. But I am not sure exactly where Glenn Beck is in the middle of this seismic shift within the LDS movement. What I do know is that just because someone claims to have faith in God does not mean we should uncritically accept everything being said without considering the evidence. We need to go back to the plumb line of God’s Word in the Bible (Detailed evidence on Mormonism, both biblical and historical, can be readily found towards the end of my previous blog post on this topic). In your evaluation of the evidence, what do you think? Is Glenn Beck on solid ground, or is he confused?
Encouraging Others in Their Faith with “Creative” History Lessons?
This is not the first time Glenn Beck has said some remarkable things. Even when it comes to some of the non-Mormon historical rhetoric in his speech, he can be… let us say… rather creative? For example, earlier in the speech (10:04), Glenn Beck made the claim that the Nazis sent some people to concentration camps and made them wear purple triangles because they were “Bible scholars.” Beck’s lesson for Liberty’s students is that the Nazis persecuted people for studying the Bible. Anything worth something that we should be investing in, like studying the Bible, may cost you your very life. It is an inspiring message.
However, any informed understanding shows that in the 1930’s, the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany referred to themselves as Bibelforscher , “bible students” or “bible researchers.” The “bible student” terminology goes back to the origins of the Jehovah’s Witnesses founded by Charles Taze Russell in the late 19th century. The term “Jehovah’s Witness” was only a then recent term introduced to describe the movement starting in 1931 in the United States. The Jehovah’s Witnesses were the ones imprisoned with purple triangles because they refused to salute Hitler, not necessarily or strictly because they studied the Bible. Their faith forbids them from offering pledges of allegiance, which is true in the United States as well. Somehow I do not think that Beck is urging Liberty students not to salute the flag of the United States. Nor is he encouraging young people at Liberty to become Jehovah’s Witnesses. So, what is the faith orientation behind Beck’s … er… “creative” weaving of the historical narrative?
The irony is that Glenn Beck urged his audience to have spiritual discernment (20:01-20:40). I agree with that statement, but I am not convinced that Mr. Beck and I are talking about the same “discernment.”
I have my doubts. And I think that is a good thing.
The point is this: If left to run amok, doubt can easily misdirect us away from Jesus, and this is true. But we must also realize that faith, if left to run amok, can easily misdirect us into some wrong understandings of that faith. Faith and doubt are not necessarily enemies. We need a healthy balance of both faith and doubt if we really want to know the truth in the light of Scripture.
Are you short on time and just need some tips on how to best talk with some of your Mormon friends, or need some ideas on what to say when a Mormon evangelist comes knocking on your door this summer? Then read these selections from apologist Michael Licona’s short book, Behold, I Stand At The Door And Knock, or just download the book in PDF form from his RisenJesus.com website. Mike has written an easy-to-follow set of brief essays introducing the high points of Mormon beliefs and history… and… oh, yeah,… he is a Liberty University graduate to boot!