Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson. Mormonism 101: Examining the Religion of the Latter-Day Saints. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2015 update. ISBN 9780801016929. $19.99 (paperback).
I’m certain it’s happened to you, too. You’re sitting at home, or you’re out to eat at a local restaurant, and you encounter two conservatively dressed, clean-cut young men with name tags, reading “Elder X” and they’d love to talk to you about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Now what do you do? Speaking as someone who has been interacting with LDS missionaries for two decades, I will be the first to tell you that it isn’t uncommon to see LDS missionaries tie your average Christian in knots; this normally happens due to two reasons: (1) the rampant and rising levels of biblical and theological illiteracy in ostensibly “Christian” churches, and (2) a criminal level of ignorance of the theology of the Church of Latter-Day Saints. This updated edition of Mormonism 101 by McKeever and Johnson aims to educate Christians as to what Mormons believe and why they believe it.
The work is composed of eighteen chapters divided into six sections that (mostly) follow the traditional structure of systematic theology: Prolegomena/Theology Proper, Anthropology, the Scriptures, Soteriology, Ordinances, and Revelation. So, for instance under the traditional rubric of Theology Proper (“Examining the LDS Concept of God”), the authors cover the beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints as they relate to God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Trinity. The second section, “Examining the LDS Concept of Humankind” (Anthropology), the authors examine the Mormon doctrines of pre-existence and the second estate, the Fall, and apostasy. The third section examines the LDS understanding of Scripture, covers the topics of the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. Section four covers the Mormon understanding of soteriology, looking at LDS doctrine concerning Atonement, grace and works, and heaven and hell. Section five looks at the LDS ordinances: communion and baptism, the word of wisdom, and the temple and its various ceremonies. Finally, section six looks at the LDS doctrine of revelation, examining the Lamanites, Seed of Cain, polygamy, Joseph Smith, and the church and its leadership.
As the authors progress through the various chapters, the sheer amount of research involved in this undertaking becomes readily apparent. Hardly a page goes by without some reference to the LDS scriptures (The KJV [as correctly ‘translated’ by Joseph Smith], the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price) or to a work by the general authorities, all of which are considered authoritative by the Latter-Day Saints. The authors of this work are to be commended for the diligent research they conducted in order to present an accurate picture of the state of Mormon doctrine as it existed at the time this book was written (which I’ll say more about shortly).
As I read this work, I found myself repeatedly impressed with the authors’ ability to take very difficult concepts from Mormon theology and present them in ways that were clear and concise, and also with their willingness to let the general authorities of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints speak for themselves. One excellent example is where the authors quote Apostle Dallin Oaks on the relationship between the LDS church and the Bible in chapter seven:
What makes us different from most other Christians in the way we read and use the Bible and other scriptures is our belief in continuing revelation. For use the scriptures are not the ultimate source of knowledge, but what precedes the ultimate source. The ultimate knowledge comes by revelation.
Chapter seven also does an excellent job of explaining what the LDS church means when it says in the eighth Article of faith, that they “believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly…”. What exactly do they mean by translation in this article? The process of taking words from one language and putting them in the words of another language? Or are they referring to the transmission of the text of the Old and New Testaments? I’ll let you read the book and find out, but this chapter was very, very beneficial.
It should be noted, however, that as one of the central dogmas of the Mormon faith is that a living prophet is superior to a dead one, this book is by the nature of the case only accurate up to the moment it was published. As the LDS church continues to elect a new Apostle to replace the preceding one, the shape of Mormon dogma will continue to change. This should not been seen, though, in any way as a critique of the book itself. There is no way to continue to add on to a book indefinitely and also get it published! Nevertheless, the Christian actively engaged in countercult ministries should always be aware of the changes in the LDS leadership that will effect the state of Mormon dogma, and react accordingly.
My only note of critique, and it is a very minor one, is regarding the structure of the book itself. The chapters in the final section of the book really should have been placed earlier as part of the section on Scripture, as it would have made it very clear that while the LDS church pays lip-service to the concept of Scripture, their canon is neither closed nor stable. I think this should have been drawn out more, and that it could have been done well by placing the chapter on the Lamanites, seed of Cain, and polygamy right after the chapter on the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. Nonetheless, this is an excellent work, and it deserves to be on the shelf of every believer who may come in contact with Mormon missionaries.