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A Mormon's Considered Opinion
on July 14, 2008
I'm the token Mormon in a Bible study group consisting of mostly evangelicals and mainstream Protestants. It has been an enjoyable group to be part of because we are willing to learn from each other and appreciate our differences. We decided to tackle the subject of Mormonism and Dr. Jackson's new book was suggested since several of the groups members knew him. I would have preferred a book written by a Mormon, but after a quick glance at it I agreed that is looked like it was something I could work with. I also figured something written by an evangelical could explain some of our doctrines in terms that other evangelicals could understand since Mormons use some common terms differently than other Christians.
In general, the book met my expectations. Dr Jackson in most cases does a very good job of explaining Mormon history and doctrine. He tended to use LDS sources and mostly reputable non-LDS sources. There was one major source that he used that I consider unreliable, which was Ostlings's Mormon America: The Power and the Promise. Almost every time I read something that I thought was misleading or distorted he referred to this book. Most of those distortions have been addressed by Mormon scholars, which I felt the need to correct with my study group. Another problem I had as a Mormon was his use of demeaning terms to describe some of our history or doctrines.
In the history section there were instances where he brought up controversial or partial facts without bringing out the Mormon response. One key example is where he mentioned the fact that some of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon left the church, but failed to mention that none of them ever denied their testimony and several of them eventually returned to the church. In other areas that are controversial, but true; Jackson was very fair in his presentation. Examples include his discussions on polygamy and the Mountain Meadows Massacre.
In the doctrinal sections, Jackson explains things rather clearly, but sometimes tries to make the Mormon position sound more extreme than it is. An example of this would be how he tries to show that Mormons think other Christians are fools for only believing in the Bible, and implies that for other differences. Mormon's are taught to love and respect people from all religions. Another example is that he makes it sound as though the Mormons have no respect for the Bible. Mormons have a deep love for the Bible and feel that they take it more literally than many other Christian religions. In most cases though, he does explain the doctrines adequately.
Jackson also does some apologetic work explaining why he feels some of the Mormon doctrines are wrong, but mostly uses blanket statements stating that the Bible or early Christians don't agree and moving on. An example is where he absolutely states that no early Christians ever believed in the concept of a pre-existence or another example where he states that early Christians never believed in the Mormon concept of the Godhood. By reading the works of the apostolic fathers, one can see that there were a very wide range of beliefs, including some that are close to what Mormons believe. The whole reason for the great councils of the 4th century was to try to eliminate some of these beliefs. Chapter 9 on the Mormon requirements for salvation is where he does the most apologetic work and does not do a fair job of stating the Biblical arguments that the Mormons have. This is obviously a controversial chapter for Protestants on the subjects of baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost, authority, and faith vs. works. Most of these arguments have been going on between Catholics and Protestants for years. From an apologetics point of view this book is geared toward Protestants, and not Catholics or Orthodox.
Obviously I have mixed feelings on this book. For a book by a non-Mormon explaining Mormon beliefs it does a very good job with the few exceptions I've noted, plus a few others. His research was very impressive, and the way he explained things was very clear. I believe that most Mormons would not like this book due to its tone, but would probably agree that he is mostly accurate. There are enough exceptions that I had to explain to my study group, that I can't wholeheartedly recommend this book. I do believe it would take only a few changes in future editions to make it more acceptable to myself and other Mormons.