Winning the Battle and Not Knowing It
by Justin Hart

There is a battle afoot; a great battle pitting the minions of the deceived against the armies of truth. This battle is not being fought with guns, spears, or daisy cutters (at least it hasn’t come to blows for the last 100 years). Rather, this is a battle of words, geared to expose Mormonism as a movement, a religion, fraught with errors and rife with gospel perversions. But take heart, if you’re reading this article, you’re likely on the winning the side of this battle, for up against the most intense scrutiny by those who would pull it down, the gospel of Jesus Christ fares well. Let me explain.

In 1997, two evangelical scholars published an article in a scholarly journal entitled: “Mormon Scholarship, Apologetics, and Evangelical Neglect: Losing the Battle and Not Knowing It?”. In it they examined anti-Mormon literature and Mormon apologetics. What did they find? Well, in their own words:

Mormonism, has, in recent years, produced a substantial body of literature defending their beliefs… In this battle the Mormons are fighting valiantly. And the evangelicals? It appears that we may be losing the battle and not knowing it.

Their purpose in publishing the article was hardly to concede the battle. Indeed, their efforts were “to serve to awaken members of the evangelical community to the important task at hand.”

With this article, these two scholars, Carl Mosser and Paul Owen, walked away from traditional anti-Mormon approaches, namely: belittling, ignorance, and flat-out lying. Instead, the authors actually visited FARMS at BYU and met with many prominent scholars of the church. They read the major works on both sides of the debate and presented their findings openly and honestly. Their approach was seen by many in the LDS community as a fresh step in a lengthy debate.

“Their scholars are qualified, ambitious, and prolific.”
Owen and Mosser start their article by disbanding several myths that have been persistent among evangelicals regarding the church:

  1. “There are few, if any, traditional Mormon scholars with training in fields pertinent to evangelical-Mormon debates”
  2. “When Mormons receive training in historiography, biblical languages, theology and philosophy they invariably abandon traditional LDS beliefs in the historicity of the Book of Mormon and the prophethood of Joseph Smith”
  3. “Liberal Mormons have so shaken the foundations of LDS belief that Mormonism is crumbling apart”
  4. “Neo-orthodox Mormons have influenced the theology of their Church to such a degree that it will soon abandon traditional emphases and follow a path similar to the RLDS or the World-Wide Church of God”

From their research, Mosser and Owen come to several conclusions:

  1. “There are, contrary to popular evangelical perceptions, legitimate Mormon scholars.”
  2. “Mormon scholars and apologists. have, with varying degrees of success, answered most of the usual evangelical criticisms.”
  3. “There are no books from an evangelical perspective that responsibly interact with contemporary LDS scholarly and apologetic writings”
  4. “The sophistication and erudition of LDS apologetics has risen considerably while evangelical responses have not. We are losing the battle and do not know it.”
  5. “Most involved in the counter-cult movement lack the skills and training necessary to answer Mormon scholarly apologetic”

From the Mormon perspective these are unprecedented and stunning admissions. Many members (including myself) can speak to the frustrations involved in defending the church from debunked attacks that are more than a century old. Modern-day anti-Mormon literature will frequently insert whole tracts from19th century criticisms and call it a day. Still others will dabble in psycho-analytics around Joseph Smith and early church members. Up until Owen and Mosser, there have been very few critiques that had addressed Mormon scholarship at all.

The article goes on to briefly examine many Mormon apologetic works. From Hugh Nibley to David Paulsen, from C. Wilfred Griggs to Stephen Robinson, their conclusion is reiterated: “Mormons have the training and skills to produce robust defenses of their faith.”

Still, further in the piece, Owen and Mosser examine some prominent anti-Mormon works and find: “.a refusal to do serious scholarly investigation. It is either the result of apathy or inability.”[6] In response to this vacuous space they exclaim: “The silence has become deafening. And it is getting louder.”

These musings have led to a series of interesting and worthwhile exchanges. Over the coming weeks we will examine this sea-change. Next week: How Wide the Divide?

Note: All quotes and citations are taken from “Mormon Scholarship, Apologetics, and Evangelical Neglect: Losing the Battle and Not Knowing It?”. Trinity Journal Fall ’98, p179-205.


2002Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.