After following the missionaries to his house in Plantation, we began the evening with pleasantries and I introduced myself giving a brief introduction to my own background. In the days leading up to the appointment, I had decided that I would present my case for my disbelief in Mormonism to Dr. Reynolds. I would present him with a simple logical proof and proceed to break down how it could not be true. I kept it in the back of my mind as we started our meeting. This is what I had prepared:
Major Premise – The Bible is useful for teaching correct doctrine.I would then proceed to show that the Bible and the Mormon scriptures do not teach the same doctrines, thus the conclusion is false. Therefore, one or both of the premises must be false. This process seemed to me to be a very good starting place for evaluating the claims of Mormonism. Unfortunately, Dr. Reynolds did not see it that way.
Minor Premise – The Mormon scriptures are useful for teaching correct doctrine.
Conclusion – Both the Mormon Scriptures and the Bible should teach the same, correct doctrines.
I asked Dr. Reynolds if he believed that the Bible was good for teaching doctrines and he agreed that it was. I inquired, “But what about the parts of the Bible that contradict Mormon doctrine?” He told me that he was not aware that there were any such areas. I replied that Mormons believe that they can become a god if they are good enough, but that the Bible teaches there is but one God and no other. He rebutted with the statement of Jesus’ “Is it not written in your law, I said, ‘Ye are gods’?” (John 10:34). Furthermore, he told me, all of the early church fathers believed in deification, that is, the idea that Jesus died so that we may become gods (for a more in-depth treatment see Mormon Defense of Deification and Orthodox Defense of Deification). I told him that the verse he and Jesus were quoting was in reference to God-appointed judges which were men who would one day die (see Psalm 82). In short, Dr. Reynolds claimed that any discrepancy between Mormon and Biblical teachings could be chalked up to the modification of the Bible through the ages. Therefore, any thing that I could cite as being a critical difference could be dismissed as error in translation or a later change in the text. My Socratic dialectical was useless.
Dr. Reynolds told me that comparing the two scriptures (or other doctrinal differences or the philosophical difficulty of an infinite number of Gods and universes) was not the correct starting place, instead he suggested that the question to start with is this: was Joseph Smith a prophet or not? A fair question I admit, but as I sit here at my computer reflecting I can’t help but think that that was my starting point. My proof is just a simple way of evaluating whether or not Smith was a prophet. If he was a prophet then his book should teach the same thing as the Bible. But Dr. Reynolds did not agree that a logical proof could confirm the veracity of the Mormon scriptures.
Instead of using reason to evaluate Smith’s claim to be a prophet, he suggested that the way to know whether or not the Mormon scriptures are true is to follow a simple formula found in the Book of Mormon:
“Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts. And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.” Moroni 10:3-5I had read this Scripture before and as it had been explained to me the manifestation of truth that one feels was in the form of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). It wasn’t through reason or tradition, but experience and experience alone that one knows that the Book of Mormon is true. I was about to espouse to Dr. Reynolds the need for other modes of knowing to fully establish a well founded belief from which a solid faith can spring. But before I did I asked him to define what he meant by “God manifesting the truth.” His answer surprised me. He told me that the manifestation of truth was better termed “revelation.” I immediately asked him to define what he meant by revelation and he told me, “It is the still, small voice of God that tells you what to do, or sometimes, what not to do.” Mormons believe that we all receive revelation on a daily basis. We may not all be receptive to the message or heed the instructions, but we all receive them. I have to agree with Dr. Reynolds on this point, I do not deny that God speaks to our hearts through the moral law, but something about this use of “revelation” troubled me. And as I drove back to my house I thought about what he had said.
It seems to me that Dr. Reynolds’ faith is based on what he believes is revelation from God which, though it has its emotional component, is not strictly emotional. It is the revelation that he has received, and continues to receive, that assures him that Joseph Smith is a prophet. The continual revelation is not a part of his faith, but is rather the entire thing. I was shocked when he told me that the Bible and Book of Mormon do not differ in doctrine to any significant degree. I am no great student of the Bible, but I know enough to conclude that the Bible and the Mormon scriptures do not teach the same doctrines. One or both must be incorrect. And in my own sojourning I have found that the Bible is a trustworthy document which I can use to construct doctrine. Dr. Reynolds has the utmost faith in the Mormon scriptures first and makes excuses for the “illusory” inconsistencies between it and the Bible.
Aside from the matter of revelation, I also asked about matters of evidence for the book of Mormon. He cited two examples 1) the use of chiasmus (an ancient literary form only rediscovered decades after Joseph Smith dictated the Book of Mormon), and 2) the discovery of a temple with an inscription of the name of a man who Lehi buried in Arabia on the journey to the New World. I am not going to comment on these two pieces of evidence, because I am not an authority on the subject of ancient literary styles and I know little of the actual facts of Dr. Reynolds’ archaeological evidence. Instead, I will direct you to the following references if you are interested in learning more about these topics: Chiasmus in the Bible, Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon, and Archaeological Evidence for the Book of Mormon. I can only conclude that Joseph Smith did receive information from a source that knew about chiasmus and the temple inscription in Arabia. Who or what that source was is indeed the big question.
In conclusion, I wish to say that I do not think that the Bible and the Book of Mormon teach the same doctrines. A polytheistic view is not supported by the Bible, but is necessary for faith in Mormon teachings. Their beliefs detract from the Christian idea of who God is. And to claim that a mere man can become a god equal to Our Father in Heaven is simply blasphemous. We may become more like him, yes, but we shall never be his equal. The truly sad thing is that these people are sincerely striving to be what they think God wants them to be. They are firmly ensconced in the belief that Joseph Smith was a prophet, but Joseph Smith “professing to be wise, […] became [a] fool, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man.” (Romans 1:22-23). Pray that God opens the eyes of the Mormons.
Quotations from the Book of Mormon taken from http://scriptures.lds.org/
Here is some background information on Dr. Reynolds:
For a short bio click here
To read his critique on Greek philosophy in Christianty click here