An ongoing series of articles on some common and recurring weak arguments that Christians make against Mormonism.
“The Book of Mormon doesn’t have a trace of orthodox, mainstream Biblical Christianity in it.”
Why It’s Weak:
As previous articles in this series have pointed out, this argument is weak because it’s untrue.
1) The Book of Mormon is largely orthodox
To segue off of the the last article in this series, from a theological perspective, the biggest problem with the Book of Mormon isn’t the content as much as the origin story and how it’s used by Mormonism – that is, as Joseph Smith’s prophetic credential. If you strip away the baggage of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon origin story you’re left with a piece of Christian literature that’s more akin to “Pilgrim’s Progress” or “The Screwtape Letters” than “Dianetics”. In fact, the following mainstream protestant doctrine can be found in the Book of Mormon:
- The Book of Mormon teaches that Jesus is Eternal God. And as such, Christ was neither created or procreated.
- The Book of Mormon says that God is eternal and unchanging.
- The Book of Mormon states that God is a Spirit.
- The Book of Mormon states plainly that there is only one God.
- The Book of Mormon states plainly that the One God consists of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – that is, the Book of Mormon teaches the doctrine of the Trinity (albeit with a strong modalistic skew).
- The Book of Mormon states that God created via nothing but His word – that is, “ex-nihilo” (out of nothing).
- The Book of Mormon condemns Polygamy.
- The Book of Mormon states that there is only heaven and hell.
- The Book of Mormon denounces universalism as a “false doctrine”.
- The Book of Mormon denies that there is a second chance to repent and receive the gospel in the next life.
- The Book of Mormon states that baptism isn’t an absolute requirement for salvation.
- The Book of Mormon states that man was created by the power of God’s word not procreated by spirit parents.
- The Book of Mormon makes a clear distinction between men and angels.
- The Book of Mormon states clearly that Jesus Christ atoned for the sins of the world on the cross.
2) The Golden Bible’s “Campbellism Improved”
So, ironically, the Book of Mormon, if properly understood and applied, can actually be of great benefit in arguing against the truth claims, doctrine, and theology of modern Mormonism. That’s because it contains so much 19th Century American Protestantism – “Campbellism” for example.
Campbellism refers to the form of Christian Primitivism developed and taught by Alexander Campbell during the 19th Century Second Great Awakening in America. Essentially the movement claimed that the Christian Church after the death of the Apostles fell into apostasy and needed to be restored to it’s pure, New Testament roots. According to the “Faith Defenders” website other key other Campbellite doctrines include:
- The Christian Church disappeared in the first century. The “true” Gospel was lost at that time.
- The Roman Catholic Church and all Protestant Churches are apostate organizations, and are not to be viewed as “Christian” churches.
- All the historic creeds and confessions are worthless and should be ignored.
- God raised up Alexander Campbell to “restore” the “true” Gospel and to re-establish the Christian Church. He restored the pure “Apostolic” Church.
- The Millennium was going to be ushered in during their lifetime by the “Restoration” Movement.
- The “true” Gospel teaches that “baptism unto remission of sins” is essential for salvation. The “Restorers” spoke of this as “baptismal regeneration.”
- The “baptism” given by all other churches is not saving. You have to be re-baptized in accordance with the Campbellite doctrine of baptism to be saved.
- Only Bible names should be used in the name of a church. It is wrong to use such names as Baptist, Catholic, Presbyterian, etc. Even though they first called themselves “Reformed Baptists,” they later took up such names as “Disciples of Christ,” “the Churches of Christ” and “The Christian Church.”
By the way, on that last one, the original name of the Mormon Church was “The Church of Christ”. And isn’t it interesting that the current name still adheres to this Campellite doctrine as well? Further, did you notice what happens with number four if you substitute “Joseph Smith” for “Alexander Campbell” in it? What are you left with? Answer: Mormonism.
This is nothing new, the fact that Campellism can be found throughout the Book of Mormon is a well established fact. My article “Campbellite Doctrine in The Book of Mormon” briefly discusses where many of the above doctrines can be found in the Book of Mormon. On the other extreme, Mormon Anthropologist Daymon Smith has written an entire series of books on the subject. The more interesting question is how did so many of Alexander Campbell’s teachings get in there to begin with? Some, particularly proponents of the Spaulding-Rigdon Theory, argue that Campbellite doctrine entered the Book of Mormon through Early Mormon leader and high ranking Campbellite minister, Sidney Rigdon. As Mormon scholar Scott G. Kenney notes:
Both [both Mormons and Rigdon’s Campbellite Church] were restorationist and taught the formula of faith, repentance, baptism, and the Holy Ghost. Faith was considered to be an intellectual exercise. Both called on believers to come forward and have their sins immediately washed away. The similarities were so striking that one newspaper article carried the headline, “The Golden Bible, or, Campbellism Improved.”
There were differences, to be sure, but they tended to occur at points where Mormons agreed with the Rigdonite critique of Campbellitism. Both Rigdon and Smith believed in a literal and far-ranging restoration that would include prophecy, priesthood authority, and gifts of the Spirit. Smith too believed that the ancient patriarchs and prophets were Christians who were called to prepare the way for Jesus, that the current age was a short preparatory period to prepare for Christ’s millennial reign.
Speculation aside, exactly how the “Golden Bible” (aka The Book of Mormon) became to be equated with “Campbellism” (let alone, the “improved” version) isn’t as important as the fact that it did. And while a lot of Christians don’t think much of Campbellism even to this day, the fact remains that Book of Mormon and Early Mormon teachings were more aligned with the established Christian orthodoxy of Joseph Smith’s day than unaligned.
3) As well as a 19th Century Kitchen Sink
The Book of Mormon also contains parts and pieces of other 19th Century Protestant sources. As Mormon Historian, Grant Palmer notes, “Seventy-five percent of the content of the book [the Book of Mormon] is accounted for by Joseph Smith’s use of six, nineteenth-century sources of which he was very familiar. Twenty-five percent came from the Bible and another twenty-five percent came from the Methodist religion. The remaining twenty-five percent came from three other sources.” For example, let’s consider Mr. Palmer’s analysis of how King Benjamin’s farewell speech parallels one by period Methodist leader Bishop William McKendree.
We have not taken Joseph Smith seriously enough when he stated that he had an “intimate acquaintance” with evangelical religion and that he was “ somewhat partial” to the Methodists. Protestant concepts appear to abound in his [Joseph Smith’s] discourses and experiences. For example, a Methodist camp meeting was held one mile from Palmyra, New York, on 7 June 1826 – a pivotal time in Joseph’s life. Preparations for a camp meeting included leasing and consecrating the ground. Thus the “ground within the circle of the tents is considered sacred to the worship of God, and is our chapel.” The Methodists referred to these “consecrated grounds” as their “House of God” or temple. The Palmyra camp meeting reportedly attracted over 10,000 people. Families came from all parts of the 100-mile conference district and pitched their tents facing the raised “stand” where the preachers were seated, including one named Benjamin G. Paddock. This large crowd heard the “valedictory” or farewell speech of their beloved “Bishop M’Kendree [who] made his appearance among us for the last time.” He was the Methodist leader who “had presided” over the area for many years. The people had such reverence for this “sainted” man “that all were melted, and … awed in his presence.” In his emaciated and “feeble” condition, he spoke of his love for the people and then delivered a powerful message that covered “the whole process of personal salvation.” Tremendous unity prevailed among the crowd, and “nearly every unconverted person on the ground” committed oneself to Christ. At the close of the meeting, the blessings and newly appointed “Stations of the Preachers” were made for the Ontario district.
This is reminiscent of King Benjamin’s speech to the Zarahemlans in the Book of Mormon, whose chronicler describes the setting:
The people gathered themselves together throughout all the land, that they might go up to the temple to hear the [last] words which [their beloved] king Benjamin should speak unto them … [T]hey pitched their tents round about, every man according to his family … every man having his tent with the door thereof towards the temple … the multitude being so great that king Benjamin … caused a tower to be erected … [And he said from the platform,] I am about to go down to my grave … I can no longer be your teacher … For even at this time my whole frame doth tremble exceedingly while attempting to speak unto you. (Mosiah 2: 1, 5-7, 28-30).
So given The Book of Mormon’s pedigree of cobbled together and plagiarized 19th Century Protestant sources, it’s only natural that it would be filled with at least some orthodox, mainstream Biblical Christianity isn’t it? In actual fact, it’s filled with a lot. Therefore, to say that it’s devoid of any, as the weak argument presented here does, is simply wrong.
The Stronger Arguments:
All of the stronger arguments are basically a variation on just one: “So the Book of Mormon’s got Protestant doctrine in it, so what? Modern Mormonism still can’t be found in it.” Let’s consider the following case study to see how this works tactically:
1) Dr. Ridenhour is right . . .
Dr. Lynn Ridenhour is a former Liberty University professor and an ordained Southern Baptist Minister who, despite the fact he has never been baptized into any Latter Day Saint church, has a Mormon-style testimony of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith. He has been warmly embraced by both Brighamite (that is members of the LdS Church) and Josephite (that is members of the RLDS/Community of Christ church and it’s splinter groups) Mormons as, “a witness of the Restoration”. Consider this excerpt from a BYU article on Dr. Ridenhour:
Shortly thereafter, his new neighbor handed him a copy of the Book of Mormon. Lynn [Ridenhour] retorted, “Sir, that’s a Book of Mormon—I thought this was a Christian community.” Undeterred, the neighbor left the book, and Lynn decided to read it as a courtesy and with the intent of lifting his neighbor out of darkness. Lynn described what happened next: “I opened that precious book of the stick of Joseph, and I did not get out of the first page. When I read, ‘I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents,’ I knew! From then on, I knew I was reading the divine word of God, I really did. That was in May of 1985, and I haven’t stopped. I tell my Baptist friends I have been born again—again!”
Every so often Dr. Ridenhour gets rediscovered by Latter-day Saints. They get excited and start touting him as living proof of the veracity of Mormonism as well as the epitome of what a truly honest, spirit-led, and enlightened Protestant/Evangelical Christian looks like. Recently, this was the case when some Mormons rediscovered Dr. Ridenhour’s (circa 2001) article, “The Baptist Version of The Book of Mormon: Protestant Doctrines within the Book of Mormon” in which he outlines the following Baptist doctrines found in the Book of Mormon: Born Again Experience, Plan of Salvation, Plan of Redemption, Salvation, The Lord Jesus Christ, Repentance, Faith, and Grace. Suddenly social media was flooded with posts from Mormons about this exciting new and enlightened Baptist minister who “gets it, really gets it!” And, indeed, the Book of Mormon proof texts that Dr. Ridenhour cites in support of his thesis, if taken strictly at face value, do indeed reflect modern mainstream Protestant doctrine. So Dr. Ridenhour is largely correct when he concludes:
The two go hand in hand, really–Protestant doctrine and the Book of Mormon. They’re not at odds. The Book of Mormon is filled with Protestant cardinal doctrines, believe it or not. In fact, I discovered, the Book of Mormon is more “Baptist” than the Baptist hymnal in places. I know that’s hard to believe, but it’s so. I read the Book from cover to cover and found as a Baptist minister, there is absolutely nothing in it that contradicts the Bible.
For example, the book uplifts the blood of Christ (Mosiah 1:118), declares that salvation is only by God’s grace (2 Nephi 7:42), defends the grand theme of salvation (Mosiah 1:108), and proclaims that salvation comes only through faith on the Lord Jesus Christ (Mosiah 3:8,9). Other themes such as repentance, atonement by Christ’s blood, redemption, and forgiveness run like a scarlet thread through the book as well (Alma 3:86, Helaman 2:71, Alma 13:13, Mosiah 2:3,4). Thus, our “tongue ‘n’ cheek” title, The Baptist Version of the Book of Mormon. I’m telling you, the grand themes of Protestantism are found recorded through and through. From cover to cover.
But does he really “get it” folks? Answer: No.
… but so what?
Dr. Ridenhour’s evidence is sound, however, his “leap of faith” conclusion that the book was divinely inspired and testifies of Joseph Smith’s legitimacy as a true prophet of God isn’t. After all isn’t this abundance of 19th Century Protestantism exactly what we would expect to find in the Book of Mormon given the sources that Joseph Smith synthesize, compiled, and plagiarized it from? Why is any of this astounding, surprising, or deserving of over-the-top hyperbolic gushing like . . .
What a book!
Perhaps the late [Mormon educator and writer] John Henry Evans (1872-1947) said it best when he penned an overview of the Prophet’s life with typical nineteenth century eloquence:
“…Here is a man,” says Evan, “who was born in the stark hills of Vermont; who was reared in the backwoods of New York; who never looked inside a college or high school; who lived in six States, no one of which would own him during his lifetime; who spent months in the vile prisons of the period; who, even when he has his freedom, was hounded like a fugitive; who was covered once with a coat of tar and feathers, and left for dead; who, with his following, was driven by irate neighbors from New York to Ohio, from Ohio to Missouri, and from Missouri to Illinois; and who, at the unripe age of thirty-eight, was shot to death by a mob with painted faces.
Yet this man became mayor of the biggest town in Illinois and the state’s most prominent citizen, the commander of the largest body of trained soldiers in the nation outside the Federal army, the founder of cities and of a university, and aspired to become President of the United States.
He wrote a book which has baffled the literary critics for a hundred years and which is today more widely read than any other volume save the Bible…”
—Joseph Smith, An American Prophet, 1933 preface
Joseph Smith “…wrote a book which has baffled the literary critics…” So true.
Really? Well, I don’t know of any scholars who are “baffled” by the Book of Mormon. I have no idea where John Henry Evans and Lynn Ridenhour are getting this from. For example, literary critic Harold Bloom (who devoted an entire chapter to Smith entitled, “The Religion-Making Imagination of Joseph Smith” in his book, “The American Religion”) certainly wasn’t baffled when he stated plainly:
With the Book of Mormon, we arrive at the center of Joseph Smith’s prophetic mission, but hardly at any center of Mormonism, because of Smith’s extraordinary capacity for speculative development in the fourteen years that remained to him after its publication. The Book of Mormon was not only his first work; it is the portrait of a self-educated, powerful mind at the untried age of twenty-four. It has bravura, but beyond question it is wholly tendentious and frequently tedious. If one compares it closely to Smith’s imaginings in the Pearl of Great Price and Doctrine and Covenants, it seems the work of some other writer, and I don’t mean Mormon or Moroni
So how and why would one conclude that because Joseph Smith was able to put together a 19th Century work of fiction (and one that’s merely a reflection of the Christianity of his time) that he was a prophet of God? Should we declare John Bunyan a prophet for writing “Pilgrim’s Progress”, or C.S. Lewis for writing “The Chronicles of Narnia”, “The Screwtape Letters”, or “The Space Trilogy”? After all, many moderns sense the same spark of the divine in those books that Mormons do in the Book of Mormon. So if the Book of Mormon is a legitimate prophetic credential for Joseph Smith why aren’t these works for these authors? With all due respect to Dr. Ridenhour, this is beyond an irrational leap of faith – it’s patently absurd!
This is especially true when one considers what Smith followed the Book of Mormon with. The Book of Moses, The Book of Commandments, Doctrine & Covenants, The Book of Abraham are filled with heresy of the type that any qualified ordained Southern Baptist minister would and could never endorse – let alone bear witness to someone who as a true prophet of God! Oh, and by the way, the Book of Mormon does indeed contradict the Bible repeatedly – on that point Dr. Ridenhour is simply wrong. OK, but that said, even if I’m generous and go along with his premise that, “the grand themes of Protestantism are found recorded through and through from cover to cover” in the Book of Mormon . . .
So what? Modern Mormonism still can’t be found in it.
Second Suggested Strong Argument: There has to be a Morning After
As noted previously, the other works that Joseph Smith produced both during after the Book of Mormon’s “translation” and publication process were full of heresy. Therefore, after you’re done saying, “So what?” to the Protestantism in the Book of Mormon you can simply focus on the heresies of those later works instead. We’re talking about things like:
- God the Father was once a man, on another world (Kolob), and progressed to godhood by following perfectly the commands and precepts of his Father God.
- God the Father is a person with a body of flesh and bones.
- The Father, Son and Holy Ghost are separate gods, “one in purpose” only but not one in being.
- There are a plurality of gods but we only worship the God of this world, God the Father (aka “Heavenly Father”)
- God the Father, Jesus Christ, Joseph Smith and other sons of the Father did not create the universe and earth out of nothing, but “organized” them from eternally existing matter that pre-existed God the Father.
- The Most faithful and worthy Mormons can progress to godhood in the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom, where they can obtain their own world and with their wife (or wives) procreate spirit children for eternity.
- The “new and everlasting covenant” of polygamy is necessary for exaltation to godhood.
- Mormons who are unmarried in this life and do not marry in the next life, cannot be exalted, but will become servant ministering angels to exalted Mormons in the next life.
- Every human being will find a place in one of the three degrees of glory (or “heaven” in plain English).
- Temples and temple ordinances pertaining to endowments are necessary in order to pass through the veil and enter the presence of God the Father, and consist of temple marriage, new names, secret key words and handshakes that will be used as an identification of the person in the next life.
- Baptisms for the dead must be performed by proxy in this life for those who did not accept the gospel in this life, so that their sins can be forgiven and they can enter the Celestial Kingdom after they accept the Mormon gospel message in the next life.
- Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother procreated the spirits of every human being that has lived, is now living or will ever live on this earth.
- The spirits procreated by Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother lived with their father on his world as angels in the “pre-existence” before being sent to earth to inhabit human bodies.
- Jesus Christ is the brother of Lucifer (Satan), every human being past and present, and the angels.
- Jesus Christ made atonement for sins in the Garden of Gethsemane.
This list was compiled from the article entitled “Mormon Doctrine Not Found in the Book of Mormon”. You will find full documentation for each and all of these non-Book of Mormon heresies there.
Third Suggested Strong Argument: That was Then This is Now
Finally, since the 19th Century Protestant doctrine in the Book of Mormon discredits much modern 21st Century Mormon Doctrine you can make the Book of Mormon your biggest ally. I won’t go into further detail on this here since the prior article in this series contains several tactics and tips on how to do this in the “Stronger Arguments” section. Finally, specific passages from the Book of Mormon that can be used in support of this effort can be found in the article, “The Book of Mormon v. Mormon Doctrine”.
Summary and Conclusion:
This article is weak because it simply isn’t true: The Book of Mormon contains a lot of orthodox, mainstream Biblical Christian doctrine. However, it’s still irrelevant: You still can’t find modern 21st Century Mormonism in the Book of Mormon – in fact the Book of Mormon discredits the Mormonism of today. Once this is realized, the Book of Mormon can actually become your most potent weapon against the heresies of the modern LdS Church. So don’t despise the Book of Mormon, use it!
 See the following:
Fred W. Anson, “Weak Arguments #6: ‘Mormon doctrine was heretical from the very beginning.'”
Fred W. Anson, “The Book of Mormon v. Mormon Doctrine”
 This list of orthodox Protestant doctrine in the Book of Mormon was originally extrapolated from the article, “The Book of Mormon v. Mormon Doctine”. A fuller explanation of each of these points – including scripture references – can be found there or by using the embedded links I’ve included in the list on key points in the list.
 Uncredited, “Faith Defenders” website
 Scott G. Kenney, “Sidney Rigdon Mormonism’s Co-founder”
 Please see my previous article, “Weak Arguments #6: ‘Mormon doctrine was heretical from the very beginning.'”, for a fuller exposition on this.
 Grant Palmer, “Six Sources Joseph Smith May Have Used In Composing The Book of Mormon”, MormonThink website.
 Grant Palmer, “An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins” (Kindle Locations 2123-2138). Signature Books. Kindle Edition.
 Keith J. Wilson, “A Witness of the Restoration”, BYU Religious Education website.
 Here are some things for Mormons to consider in regard to Mr. Ridenhour:
1) Lynn Ridenhour practices Pentecostal-style tongues speaking and thinks that all Mormons should too. Which is why he considers himself more RLDS/CoC than LdS. (see http://www.greaterthings.com/Ridenhour/me_in_restoration/CharismaticRLDS.htm )
2) Mr. Ridenhour has never been baptized into ANY Mormon church – be the LdS Church, the RLDS/CoC, or any other Mormon denomination. He has a small following with the RLDS/CoC folks but that’s about it. He is neither RLDS or LdS, he’s cobbled together his own form of Mormonism – much of which I suspect you would disagree with strongly. (see http://www.greaterthings.com/Ridenhour/Bio/baptized.htm )
3) One reason why Mr. Ridenhour has never been baptized into any Mormon group is because he (like us) has real concerns, issues, and differences with some of the things that Joseph Smith taught after the Book ok Mormon. To my knowledge Mr. Ridenhour has never published anything in this regard but he has told several people (in one-on-one settings, never in a group) this verbally.
Therefore, Mr. Ridenhour is more aligned with the RLDS/CoC stance that at some point Joseph Smith became a fallen prophet rather than the LdS stance that Smith was faithful and true to the end.
I’ve found that most Brighamite Mormons who spend some “quality time” time on Mr. Ridenhour’s websites find their enthusiasm for this “witness of the restoration” waning since he’s not really as aligned with the LdS Church as they had originally thought. Here are the links to those websites:
Lynn Ridenhour (new website) http://www.lynnsbridgebuilding.com/
Lynn Ridenhour’s Winepress Ministries (old website) http://www.greaterthings.com/Ridenhour/
 Lynn Ridenhour, “The Baptist Version of The Book of Mormon: Protestant Doctrines within the Book of Mormon”, CenterPlace.org website. Bolding and italics are in the original article. The links to online 1908 RLDS edition of The Book of Mormon have added for this article.
 Ibid, Ridenhour.
 Harold Bloom, “The American Religion” (Kindle Locations 1184-1189). Chu Hartley Publishers. Kindle Edition.
 See Sandra Tanner, “Bible and Book of Mormon Contradictions”,
and Luke P. Wilson, “Contradictions Between the Book of Mormon and the Bible”
 “Translation” in quotes because a book produced using a seer stone in a hat with source documents nowhere in sight (a folk magic process called “scrying”) can hardly be called “translating” can it? See the LdS Church’s “Book of Mormon Translation” Gospel Topics essay for the faithful perspective and MormonThink.com’s “Translation of the Book of Mormon” essay for a more neutral perspective on this.
 Fred W. Anson, “Weak Arguments #6: ‘Mormon doctrine was heretical from the very beginning.'”
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