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Approaching Mormon Apologetics
Salt Lake Temple
Mormon apologetic is to be seen as a welcome opportunity to exhibit, celebrate, and display the treasure chest of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is not to be seen as a defensive and hostile reaction against the world and those who promote antagonistic perceptions of the doctrines and history of the Church. The aim here is to commend a mindset of engagement, empowering Latter-day Saints to interact with ideas counter to what we accept and believe to be true. Rather than running away from criticism and antagonism, we engage with reason to challenge skeptics and convert them from their own skepticism. Mormon apologetic promotes intellectual solidarity, richness and spiritual depth of the restored Gospel in ways that can connect with modern culture.
This is accomplished in the following ways:
- Encourages and empowers Latter-day Saint Christians to appreciate the richness of our faith and heritage in order to explain and commend those outside of the Church.
- Aims to establish a moral, intellectual and relational richness of the restored Gospel.
- Reassure members and help people develop their faith in the Gospel.
- Empowers those outside of the Church to realize the compelling vision behind the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Approaching Mormon Apologetic from this perspective alleviates some trepidation. Many feel they lack wisdom and strength in sharing the Gospel in general - more specifically lack wisdom and strength in defending and answering criticisms of the Restored gospel when sharing the restoration of Christ's Church. Our Heavenly Father has given us the gift of the Holy Spirit to help us speak to those individuals who are open to hear the message, while also standing firm in our faith with boldness as we respond to ongoing criticisms of the Church. Through us, the message of the restoration is able to move the hearts of men toward salvation and eternal life through Jesus Christ.
Defining Mormon Apologetics
In general, apologetic comes from the Greek word apologia and means a speech made in defense. Mormon apologetic refers to that speech made in defense of the restored Gospel. Defense being a more reactionary strategy to address any form of misrepresentation or misunderstanding.
There are different approaches when engaged in answering criticism:
- Identifying barriers to faith that may have arisen because of misinformation, misunderstandings or misrepresentation.
- Genuine difficulty over claims of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.
- Discrimination between honest questions a person may ask verses direct criticism to illicit a contentious conversation and attack.
Majority of the time, the variety of difficulties are often intellectually based regarding the evidence for the doctrines of the Church. Other times, these difficulties arise from much more deeper concerns regarding commitment. Regardless, approaching Mormon Apologetics requires a disciplined mindset. This begins with answering our own questions that are difficult in order to understand how to answer the questions of our critics and curious purveyors of religious thought. If we do not answer our own difficulties of doctrine, Church history, modern teachings, and characters of past and present leaders; we will not be able to answer the same questions posited to us by those outside the Church.
This approach helps an individual:
- Forge answers to our own questions in order to deepen our faith and personal testimony of the Gospel. Doing so helps us discover riches and deepens our appreciation for the Gospel.
- Helps us develop a genuine appreciation and reasonableness of the Restored Gospel in order to handle questions others may have.
- We are not merely responding to people outside of the Church, we are also handling difficult questions within the community and fellowship of our individual wards, stake, nation and the world. This is because members face crisis of faith and are looking for explanations and answers.
- Through empathy, we are able to understand the concerns people have and not see them as arguments (or contentions) that might be dismissed lightly. This requires sensitivity in dealing with concerns.
Mormon apologetic becomes more personable with the right attitude and integrity of character within our arguments and analysis of any criticism.
In other words, Mormon Apologetic concerns itself with three distinct themes that brings depth to our personal faith and testimony of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ:
Identify and respond to difficulties or objections regarding the Restored Gospel and help overcome barriers to faith.
Communicate effectively the richness and wonder of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ that will transform a person toward an appreciation of who they are, purpose in this life and where they potentially may possess in the next life.
Translate core ideas of the Mormon faith into language that is reasonable to those outside of the Church.
Mormon Apologetic and Missionary Work
From the Preach My Gospel Manual we read:
As your understanding of the Atonement of Jesus Christ grows, your desire to share the gospel will increase. You will feel, as Lehi did, the "great ... importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth" (2 Nephi 2:8).
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a missionary Church. Because we are commanded by God to take this gospel to all the world ... (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 1998). Part of this missionary effort will bring us into conversations that may challenge our testimony, test our ability to understand and know the doctrines, and provide us an opportunity to give a reasonable answer of our faith. Not all will come to understand and appreciate the message of the restored Gospel. However, there are those who still hunger and thirst after the truth of who God is, the plan of salvation afforded through Jesus Christ, and whether life continues beyond our mortal existence.
Through our efforts, we are inviting people to respond. Because of this, having the ability to respond to criticisms, the groundwork is laid for one to come to understand the richness of the Gospel - restored in these last days. Mormon apologetic aims to establish consent while missionary work aims to establish commitment to the restoration of Christ's true Church. In otherwords, we are establishing a plausibility of the truthfulness inherit within the Church of Jesus Christ. This includes the plausibility of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith's divine call to restore the Gospel, a need of a restoration of the Gospel, priesthood authority, temple worship and other doctrines and practices of our faith.
Knowledge of Truth
Limitations of Mormon Apologetic
In its proper context, and used appropriately, Mormon Apologetics is quite important to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is because of its ability to bring forth a higher quality of intellectual depth to everyday members. Equips each of us with sound reason and response to our own questions as well as to others who question and/or criticize our faith. It is also a relational bridge between our culture and the culture of Christians at large, as well as the culture of our communities in general. However, Mormon Apologetic may be misapplied as well as misunderstood.
First, interpreting key principles of the Restored Gospel in a way that helps people outside of our faith understand may become misunderstood through this translation process. This may reduce the richness of the Gospel principles and discourage people from further investigating or engaging in conversation with us. What is required is to balance out how we communicate the principle truths of the Gospel in a manner that is understood by the general audience, without watering it down in a manner that the principle becomes indistinguishable.
Second, Mormon Apologetic is not a stand alone. While the goal is to provide a reasonable and sound justification for the authenticity of the Restored Gospel. Without missionary work, there is no commitment that brings a person into the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. With this said, there is a disciplined ability to engage in both, apologetic and missionary work that may potentially bring a person from questioning the Mormon religion to having a personal revelation of the truthfulness of the restored Gospel.
FAIRMormon - Staying Mormon
Approaching Mormon Apologetic
1 - Understand the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ
Obvious and true. However, the harm is that without a personal understanding of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ, we are never engaging and always frustrated. How can one discuss the importance of the law of Tithing if the Law is not practiced on a consistent basis? The best way to establish an understanding of the restored Gospel, we ought to continually engage in studying the scriptures, attend regular church services, engage in dialogue with fellow members (especially in Sunday School and Priesthood class settings). Consistently pray and increase in our knowledge and understanding of the principle doctrines of the Gospel.
2 - Understand the audience
Not all people who are asking and challenging our faith are antagonistic. On the other hand, there are those who hold a disdain for what the restoration represents and are ever active in pursuing to "prove" the error of our ways. Within this spectrum, we come across a variety of people, from a variety of cultures, holding a varied perception. How we respond plays a key role in the way the message of the restoration is given. One does not engage in a debate with someone who merely is asking and questioning why women can't hold the priesthood. On the same token, we do not blithely dismiss an aggressive criticism of how racist the Church is (from the perspective of an individual outside of the Church). One example that of Paul when he preached at Mars Hill. He took an opportunity to address the crowd by focusing on what they already believed. Jesus understood the heart and thoughts of the religious leaders and addressed them in correcting the error of their interpretation of the Law. The Book of Mormon was written for a modern day audience, the letters of Paul were written to specific churches of his time.
3 - Communicate clearly
In relating the principle truths of the restored gospel, we must have clear understanding. Along with this, we also need to have clarity in how we communicate so that our audience is able to understand the message.
4 - Rely on common ground
Most of the time, we engage in conversations with others in responding to their criticism. Reliance on common ground helps us build a foundation to engage in honest dialogue. It limits our ability to respond from knee-jerk emotions and focuses more on the information being exchanged.
5 - present the entire restored Gospel message
We are not in the business to cherry-pick what we may or may not like about the Gospel. The restoration is presented in its entirety or not at all. Granted, there may not be time to do so, however, our very own testimony ought to be centered on Christ first, and then the restored Gospel as Christ established in these last days.
6 - Live out the principles of the Gospel
Our very own lives becomes the real testament to Jesus Christ and the restoration of the Gospel. Through our own willingness and commitment to apply the principle truths, we become a greater voice of reason for the purpose and hope we find in being members of Christ's true Church in these last days.
Engaging in the conversations, Mormon Apologetic has a place in each of our lives to represent (as best as we are able to) the richness and genuine authenticity of who Christ is, what His church is all about and how a person might be saved through the ordinances offered. Couple this with missionary work, and we are left with an ability to respond and engage in those conversations in order to bring people into a covenant relationship with a loving Heavenly Father.
Proclamation of the Restoration
Weigh in with your thoughts and experiences
Within and without the Church, we all have some experience engaging in Mormon Apologetics. What is your experience when it comes to defending the faith, sharing the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ, and how have you learned through this process? More specifically, how has this article presented a different light regarding Mormon Apologetics?