on 25 February 2012
"The New Mormon Challenge" is, in my own experience of reading extensively on the subject, the most challenging book about L.D.S. Mormonism with which to cope in reading from cover-to-cover. Poring through it studiously was exhausting; sometimes I had to put it down for awhile before picking it up again because the level of discourse is so densely scholarly, philosophically and theologically, that coping with it could become fatiguing at times. However, it most assuredly is worth the effort! I have subscribed for many years to the most important of the learned periodicals that L.D.S. Mormons publish with the content of which these collaborating authors are intimately familiar and with which they deal. Anyone who has read these academinc L.D.S. periodicals regularly will realise the stature to which L.D.S. Mormon reasoning and writing have attained, with great sophiscation, in recent decades. (Not that Mormons lacked significant thinkers from earlier times, e.g. Brigham H. Roberts, to whose thought the authors frequently refer, James E. Talmage, and others.) It is not at all so simple to refute Mormon claims as most Protestants or neo-Evangelical or Fundamentalist sectaries assume, nor is their Christian literature from the past really sufficient to deal with the claims of Mormonism as the new L.D.S. intellectuals present and defend them. On the part of Mormons and believing Christians alike it is crucial to rely on sound arguments; coming up with facile explanations for their respective stands is not enough; arguments must be able to stand up fully to scrutiny, even if this means tossing out "pet" explanations or points of attack or defense that seemed useful in the past. Also important is to deal with what today`s L.D.S. Mormons themselves believe, relegating to the margin such matters of past Mormon teachings which most Mormons today either do not accept (or even know about) or which seem irrelevant now to them.
This book makes no attempt to deal with all of the teachings of Mormonism, but rather with those which are most critical. (One is referring to the doctrine of the L.D.S. Mormon group, not also to the R.L.D.S. Community of Christ, which is another religious group based on the ministry, teachings, and writings of founder Joseph Smith Junior, that, at least in the past, has been much more in accordance with historic Christianity.) These matters concern, doctrinally, Mormon theism (i.e. polytheism, henotheism, whatever one chooses to call it), especially the Unity of God, true Christology, and the importance of Christianity`s teaching about the Holy Trinity vs. Mormonism`s denial thereof, as well as the nature of physical reality and God`s Creation, and also concern, documentarily, an examination of the shaky claims of the "Standard Works" of L.D.S. Mormonism (especially the dubious historicity of the "Book of Mormon", but the claims of the others, as well) and of the "Inspired Version" Bible (a.k.a. the Joseph Smith Translation) to have any real claims to authority and credibility. Matters of less importance (from baptism for the dead to "holy underwear" and the like) are pushed aside to strike at the very root of L.D.S. Mormonism`s gravest and most fundamentally significant errors and truly to come to grips with the sophistication with which the new Mormon intellectuals propound and defend such teachings. Thus, the book is not complete in itself; the Christian apologist needs to read other, more comprehensive books about these and other Mormon topics, by L.D.S. authors and Christian apologists alike. However, this really is the cornerstone of the issues that divide L.D.S. Mormonism from credal and biblical Christianity (Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant, or sectarian). A new honesty is required; "baiting and switching", haranguing, proof-texting, and so forth no longer are acceptable as what is adequate in the face of the new Mormon challenge!
The book`s massive number of references are essential to read. It is unfortunate that they are "end-references", rather than footnotes, since this requires constant flipping from text to the notes section which can become tiresome, nonetheless is essential if one is to profit from this book to the maximum. The notes cite a marvellous harvest of relevant literature; thus, in the absence of a separate bibliography, it is important to keep abreast of this literature through the notes, rather than to skip them in order to consult a bibliography (lacking) afterwards. There are many "substantive" notes among the bibliographical ones; often there is very important information embedded in such notes that the serious reader cannot afford to pass over unread. The index to passages from Christian (Bible, deutero-canon, and Pseudepigrapha) and L.D.S. Mormon scripture (what the Mormons refer to as "the Standard Works"), as well as other ancient writings is very helpful, as is the general index.
If the reader is serious about witnessing to L.D.S. Mormons the fulness of Christian truth vs. the uttermost extent of Mormon theology and speculation, he needs this book, among whatever others he consults. Mormons themselves will find the book a challenging and enriching read, too. The authors deal respectfully, without rancour, with Mormon teaching, and L.D.S. Mormons themselves as well as Christians equally can read and use this book profitably.