Steven Pynakker, host of the Mormon Book Reviews YouTube channel, shares with us his story of how he gained an avid interest in Mormonism growing up as an Evangelical Christian.
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In Part 2 Steven thinks that the author of The Late War, Gilbert J Hunt is 14 years old. I can’t see how that could be possible. In Rick Grunder’s analysis of The Late War, he says that the 1820 census shows Hunt and his spouse as less than 45 years old, with multiple children.
Toward the end of part two, Jen said she had to pause from getting emotional at one time during the interview because she didn’t know so much. I understood that to mean she was hearing some things for the first time. Jen seemed to think the Church should have been more open about many things. She said her faith crisis was about a year and a half ago.
Jen and anyone else who has gone through, or is going through, a faith crisis has my sincere sympathy. I have related many times, in the comments of the Mormon Stories Podcasts, that I think a Mormon faith crisis is often more difficult than the loss of a close loved one.
John then talked about someone writing about some of the more controversial topics in a more simple way that was not anti Mormon. In my opinion, as a mainstream Christian, the topic of who God and Jesus really are is one of the main things that that separates those in the Latter-day Saint faith from those in mainstream Christianity.
I posted a short article I wrote about the topic previously but that posting was over a year ago. I think the article fits well with the discussion at the end of part two because it describes a major issue that I think divides mainstream Christians and Latter-day Saints. Although it is becoming more common for those in the Latter-day Saint Church to claim to be Christians, there are few mainstream Christians who would accept someone who aspires to become a god or goddess himself or herself some day as a fellow mainstream Christian. I hope the article will add some clarity to why I think the last sentence is true.
Although there are many doctrinal differences between mainstream Christians and Latter-day Saints, I think the most significant doctrinal differences are related to a message Joseph Smith gave at the funeral of an elder named King Follett. That is the message, sermon or discourse that changed Latter-day Saints from being creatures who worshiped a divine creator . . . to creatures who had the potential to become gods or goddesses themselves some day . . . and to be worshiped by the creatures they themselves brought forth through celestial sexual relationships.
Since I am not a Latter-day Saint, I invite correction from anyone who thinks any part of what I will paste below is not correct. My intent is to be accurate in presenting this information. Please let me know if I am misrepresenting the Latter-day Saint perspective in any way. The article I wrote follows this paragraph.
The Latter-day Saint god and Jesus
As I understand the teachings of the Latter-day Saint Church, the Church teaches a different god and Jesus than the God and Jesus of mainstream Christianity. The god and Jesus taught by the Latter Day Saint Church are different persons than the God and Jesus of the Bible. It is very clear from the 1838 First Vision Account that the two personages seen by Joseph Smith during his vision held the Bible and the teachings of the Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian churches of that time in utmost contempt. Those two personages are said to be the Heavenly Father (God) and Jesus of the Latter-day Saint Church.
The personages who appeared to Joseph Smith told him not to join any of the churches of his day because they were all wrong and their creeds were an abomination. The creeds those churches were teaching had to do with the essential Biblical teachings about God, Jesus and the Gospel. They are essentially unchanged in the mainstream Christian churches of today. Both personages in the First Vision Account of 1838 seemed to agree that the Biblical teachings (what the Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian churches of that day believed) about God, Jesus and the Gospel were an abomination ( a very serious condemnation).
I spoke to an Elder from the Latter-day Saint Church who told me he loved the Bible. He and his companion Elder also told me they worshiped the personages who spoke to Joseph Smith in the 1838 account of the First Vision. Since it was apparently Jesus who spoke in that particular First Vision account, I could not understand why the Elder loved the Bible that the Jesus of the 1838 account of the First Vision seemed to view with contempt. Why love a book your Jesus told Joseph Smith was essentially deceiving all of the Bible believing churches of his time. The churches of his day were preaching and teaching from the Bible but Joseph’s Jesus condemned them for their teachings.
To mainstream Christians, the God of the Bible is an unimaginably great being. He is the eternal creator of the entire universe. He is Spirit. He does not have flesh and bone. Neither God nor Jesus had to earn exaltation. Both existed as God from eternity past. According to God Himself, as revealed to the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 43:10, “I am he: before me there was no god formed, neither shall there be after me.” I think that quote from Isaiah clearly states the position of the God of the Bible.
According to the teachings of Joseph Smith (initially presented in the King Follett Sermon), the god of the Latter-day Saints has a body of flesh and bone. According to Latter-day Saint Church teachings, Jesus previously existed as a spirit child as a result of the physical sexual union of Heavenly Father and one of his wives. The Latter-day Saint Church teaches that everyone who ever previously lived or does currently live on the Earth was once a spirit child who was conceived in the same manner as Jesus. Satan and the fallen demons are also taught to have originally been spirit children. Satan is therefore a spirit brother of Jesus and the rest of humanity.
As also first noted by Joseph Smith in the King Follett Sermon, or Discourse, men can become gods just like their Heavenly Father. Men who are now members of the Latter-day Saint Church are taught that they have the same opportunity for progression and exaltation as the personage they now worship as their Heavenly Father. In my opinion, this teaching of the Church is one of the most harmful things that it teaches. The teaching runs clearly contrary to the position the God of the Bible holds about Himself.
In fairness to the teachings of the Latter-day Saint Church, the Church does not teach that men who become gods will replace the god they now call Heavenly Father. That god will continue to progress in his current position. As I understand it, men who progress to become gods will have a separate world in which to produce offspring with their own goddess wives.
Since I am a mainstream Christian, I could misunderstand Latter-day Saint teachings. In order to provide support for my understanding of Latter-day Saint teachings about their god, I will provide a quote from someone who identified herself as “From Joseph to Jesus”. This comment was made in the comment section of a Sean McDowell YouTube video discussion with an active Latter-day Saint. The title of the YouTube video is: Are Mormons Christian. The quote follows in the next three paragraphs.
“I grew up LDS being taught clearly, that Heavenly Father was a man of flesh and bones, who was once a mortal man, who went through the same steps of obedience to his own god, who needed a savior himself and who, by his own works of righteousness, earned his own exaltation meaning, earned his own godhood. He sexually procreated with his celestial wife/wives to give birth to our spirits; he then sent us to this earth, and here the cycle began again, the making up of the next generation of gods.
All LDS men have as their ultimate goal, to become gods themselves, who will repeat this process: create new worlds and be worshipped as gods by the people in their planets, who will pray to them and call them their “heavenly father”.
Once I began studying the Bible apart from Smith’s interpretations, I saw how eternally devastating such gravely erroneous doctrines truly are, as they could never be reconciled with what God has already revealed of Himself in both Testaments. To the biblical God, Smith’s conception of deity is an extreme abomination, as he attempted to reduce the One who always was, is and forever will be God, into man, whom He created.”
I think the preceding three paragraphs are a pretty good summary of what the Latter-day Saint Church teaches about God . . . from a former Latter-day Saint. It is very clear that the god taught by the Latter-day Saint Church is not the same God who revealed Himself in the pages of the mainstream Christian Bible. The former Latter-day Saint described Joseph Smith’s conception of deity as an extreme abomination. She also said Smith attempted to reduce God into man, who was a creation of God.
I absolutely agree that Joseph Smith tried to reduce God from His Biblical position of unimaginable greatness and glory to a much lower position of being an exalted man. In my opinion, that is a severe and significant insult to the God of the Bible. It is also my opinion that Latter-day Saints who aspire to be gods or goddesses themselves could be putting themselves in a position of significant danger.
If you are a current Latter-day Saint reading this article, I would ask you to very seriously think about how the God of the Bible would view a belief that lowers His standing as God and elevates yours as a man or woman. Do you think the God of the Bible will be pleased that you are viewing Him as a lesser god and viewing yourself as someone who can achieve near equality with Him?
Part of the reason I am writing this article is to warn Latter-day Saints to think very carefully about how they might be judged by the Biblical God if He thinks they are trying to achieve a very similar status to the one He holds. Even if they are not trying to replace the God they worship, they do expect to become gods and goddesses themselves and to be worshiped and prayed to . . . at least according to the former Latter-day Saint I quoted.
An additional reason I wrote this article is to allow former Latter-day Saints to see that the god they worshiped and prayed to while active Latter-day Saints is not the god of the Bible. Since it is my understanding that many former Latter-day Saints are now atheist or agnostic, I want those people to know that the god and Jesus they worshiped as Latter-Day Saints are not accurate representations of the God and Jesus of the Bible. For that reason, any unanswered prayers to god made while still a believing Latter-day Saint were not prayers to the real God of the universe. While God is not a genie in a bottle who answers every prayer in the exact way we want it answered, He does answer prayer. I just don’t think it is nearly as likely to have god answer prayer when the prayer is addressed to one of the personages who appeared to Joseph Smith in the 1838 First Vision Account.
I did not write the prior paragraphs to be mean spirited. I have spoken at length with many people who are active Latter-day Saints. In all my conversations, I tried to speak with gentleness and respect. I really care deeply for those I have met and have spoken with. I am not writing the words in the prior paragraph out of hostility or anger. They are written out of Christian love and concern for a group of people who I think have been deceived. The words are written as a warning . . . just as I would warn someone in the path of an oncoming vehicle to get out of the way. They are intended to be words of help, not words of hurt.
For those who have left the Church and no longer believe in God, I agree with you that the god taught by the Latter-day Saint Church is not worthy of worship. On the other hand, I think it is extremely reasonable to worship the God of the Bible.
Joseph Smith taught the following about his god in the King Follett Sermon. ” . . . If you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form — like yourself in all the person, image and very form as a man . . . ” . In an email communication I had with a Latter-day Saint, I was told the image of god the person had been taught about was a six foot three inch tall white male with a white beard. That is just the kind of god Joseph Smith seemed to be describing in the King Follett Sermon. Someone just like you and me.
In order to get some clarification about the God and Jesus revealed in the Bible, let’s look at some Bible passages that describe times when God or Jesus appeared to men. Of course, Jesus appeared as a man while He was incarnate on the Earth but things were different after he ascended to heaven. He did initially appear to the disciples in the form of a man so He certainly could appear that way . . . but that was not the only way He appeared after his resurrection.
Two other appearances of Jesus after he ascended to heaven, one to an enemy and one to a friend, are described in the Bible. The first appearance was to an enemy of the newly established Christian church that was forming after Jesus died. It is recorded in Acts chapter 9. The enemy of the church was Saul, who later became known as Paul. When Jesus appeared to Saul, there was no talking as a man talks to another man. When Jesus appeared in the form of heavenly light, Saul fell to the ground. When he got up, he was blind. Saul and Jesus spoke but it was not some easy going, friendly man to man conversation.
The appearance to a friend was to the apostle John. It is found in the first chapter of the book of Revelation. Verses 12 through 15 describe the appearance of Jesus. The description is probably not a literal description since Revelation is written in an apocalyptic style of writing. Whatever the actual appearance of Jesus it was that John saw, it caused him to fall at Jesus’ feet as if dead.
Remember, this was the same John who probably reclined next to Jesus as they ate the Last Supper together (my understanding is that they did not use chairs). He was one of Jesus’ closest friends while Jesus was on the Earth in the form of a man. In spite of their close relationship while Jesus was alive on the Earth, seeing Jesus in a glorified form knocked John off his feet. In order to comfort John, Jesus laid His hand on him and said “fear not”. I understand that to mean John fell down in fear. The appearance of Jesus frightened him significantly.
My point in relating these two appearances of Jesus is to show that Jesus can now appear in a magnificent and glorious form. The vision of a glorified Christ caused both enemy and friend to fall down because they seemed to be afraid of what they were experiencing. These two interactions were not the type of man to man interaction Joseph Smith spoke about when he gave the King Follett Sermon. Jesus is no longer a man like us. Even though He chose to make a number of appearances to His disciples and others in the form of a man, shortly after his resurrection, He also appeared in a much more glorious form on at least two other occasions.
The two dramatic appearances of Jesus show clearly that He is not the man like us god that Joseph Smith claimed. It is my opinion that if Jesus appeared to you or me today, we would also be unable to stand in His presence unless He strengthened us as He strengthened John when He appeared to His close friend and disciple.
There are also a number of instances of the appearance of God in the Bible that terrified the men who experienced His presence. The experiences of Moses, Job, Isaiah and Ezekiel are all recorded in the Bible. All of them experienced a presence of God that frightened and amazed them. Once again, the God they experienced was not even close to Joseph Smith’s man like us god. That god is an idol of Joseph’s imagination. It does not represent the God of the Bible.
The King James Version states the following in Proverbs 9:10. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding”. The New King James uses the term holy one instead of just holy. In other words, fear God and know Him in order to understand who He is. My understanding of the word fear in regard to this verse would mean a deep reverential respect. In order to have knowledge and understand God, it is necessary to read the accounts God has given of Himself in His word . . . the Bible.
For active and former Latter-day Saints, you have a choice. You can either believe what God has revealed about Himself in the Bible or you can believe what Joseph Smith said about Him in the King Follett Sermon. Either the Bible is right or Joseph Smith is right. They both can’t be correct.
If you decide Joseph Smith was right, don’t forget that he also married the wives of other men (polyandry), used a stone in a hat to translate the Book of Mormon and clearly had no idea that the Egyptian papyrus he was trying to translate for the Book of Abraham was nothing more than an Egyptian funerary (funeral) document. All of these things and much more can be found in the official Church Essays.
In conclusion, I think there is a significant problem with the Latter-day Saint Church teachings about God and Jesus. I think the problem exists because Joseph Smith created a god and Jesus in his own mind who were very different from the God and Jesus found in the pages of the Bible. If you want to know the God and Jesus of the Bible, you will have to read the Bible with as few Latter-day Saint preconceptions as possible. Only then will you be able to more fully comprehend how much the God and Jesus of the Bible were misrepresented by Joseph Smith.
Thank you for taking the time to read what I have written. I hope you will find it helpful. There is much more I could write about this subject but hopefully anyone reading will have a better understanding of why I think the god and Jesus taught by the Latter-day Saint Church are so different from the God and Jesus revealed in the Bible.
I honestly do not understand how Mr, Pynakker’s thoughts and theories about how the Mormon church (and Catholic church, too, among others) should change to become more in line with his faith and beliefs is a valid use of time. Why is his idea of how a god operates and wants people to behave something anyone else should emulate? All of these religions are based on what men have said and written down and called as divine and none of them have any more right or any less right to call their version the correct and true one.
In Part 3 Steven mentions the Pentecostal movement of the early 20th century. I used to be part of an LDS forum and I mentioned in the forum that I had come across Zina Huntington Jacob’s diary online and how she talked about speaking in tongues. Another forum person, who happened to be a member of Assemblies of God and was so surprised to hear that the practice of speaking in tongues was happening in the early 19th century.
I would also like to add a correction. Joseph Smith III was 11 years old when his father died. Emma was pregnant with David Hyrum in 1844. I’m kind of surprised that no one corrected Steven when he thought JS III hadn’t been born by the time of JS Jr’s death.
Hands down one of my top favorite episodes! Thank you
Toward the end of part two while discussing whether or not Steven believes there were actually Golden Plates delivered to Joseph by Angel Moroni he claims that this is where faith comes to bear by mentioning the empty tomb of Jesus and suggesting there were two explanations for this. Either the body was taken by grave robbers or it was resurrected and walked out on its’ own.
In truth there are unlimited ways of explaining the phenomena if we’re willing to allow for anything goes mythology. Perhaps the body grew into a bird and flew off, or transformed into a fish and swam away or perhaps it simply vanished into thin air. Having faith in magic is simply unproductive if not down right harmful to our species. Faith, in and of itself, is not a virtue but rather a two edged sword that has produced great works of art and bloody inhumane wars.
I have faith that together humanity can and will discover the true nature of our existence and the universe we are an integral component of if we don’t destroy ourselves and/or the planet first. I have no faith that we’ll get there by faithfully clinging to mythologies about the way things actually work here on planet Earth. If the mythology of the empty tomb is an actual accounting of an event there is really only one explanation and faith does not, nor should it, have any part in the calculus.
The final segment was so beautiful and moving. Thank you, Steve, for putting yourself out there and being vulnerable. And thank you, John, for your kind and compassionate interview. I agree w Steve that God is working through you.
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