Currently, as I noted in a previous post and many others have discussed on other blogs, there are issues going on about whether LDS apologetics have run their course. Some are stating that LDS apologetics in general, and FARMS’ apologetics in particular, are evil and making the Church look bad.
When we look at the early Christian Church, we see that there were many divisions and sects. Several scholars, such as Bart Ehrman, have written extensively on the early Christian Fathers and the apologetic battle for the soul of Christianity.
On one side were the proto-orthodox, who sought to establish a faith based upon Christ as Savior, who resurrected and paid for our sins.
They competed with two major sects: first the Jews.
Second, various Gnostic sects (and other Christian sects) were vying for primacy. Among their beliefs:
- Elohim was an evil god who forced mortality on mankind, while Jehovah is a righteous god who seeks to save them
- Jesus was a mortal man, who at baptism was “possessed” by the god Christ
- When on the cross, Jesus proclaims “My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” It is because Christ left him to die alone. This means that God never did suffer for mankind, only the mortal Jesus did.
- As a reward for his sacrifice, Jesus was resurrected.
And many other such teachings were being pushed by the Gnostics. Early Christian Fathers, such as the apostle Paul, Origen, Justin Martyr, and others had no choice but to defend the early faith from attacks on all sides.
From Paul, we see both apologetic (defense of one’s own faith) and polemic (attack on the teachings of others), when he attacked the Jewish-Christians for circumcision and works. He fought against the Roman gods, like Diana. And he warned of “wolves in sheep’s clothing” that were entering the flock and rending them.
Had it not been for these early apologists, the Christian Church would look very different today. Had Jewish-Christians won, we would be another sect of Judaism, with Jesus as Messiah. Had a Gnostic sect won (and they came close to doing so), we would not believe that Jesus is the Christ, but that Jesus and Christ are separate beings. We would not believe in the resurrection, or being heirs of God and joint-heirs of Christ, as Paul taught the Romans.
Today’s apologists should seek to accomplish the same thing. Without such apologists anciently, Christianity would not be a global religion today. It may be we would be worshiping the Persian/Roman god Mithras, or perhaps the pantheon of Greek gods.
The work done by Nibley, Sorenson, Welch, Peterson and many others have given us a foundation to strengthen our faith and to defend it from the attacks of others. It has helped us to better understand our own faith, by forcing us to look at our own beliefs, and testing them against the scholarship that has been done. For example, more and more members are believing in the Limited Geographical Model, which causes us to read and understand the Book of Mormon in an entirely different way. The scholarship recently done on grace and atonement helps us to redefine our own view, based on what the scriptures really say.
So, when a critic claims we believe strawman-X, and we can then show that we do not, then we have strengthened our position. Or if a critic condemns us because we believe in the Godhead, it is good to have the ability to defend our position.
I am thankful for apologetics (and some polemics) being in the Church. I know it has strengthened my testimony of the gospel of Christ. It causes me to think beyond the basic Sunday School lessons, to see what really can be found in the scriptures. I’ve learned to critically study the text of the scriptures, in order to squeeze as much understanding from them as I can. Had it not been for FARMS and other such groups, I would probably not be the gospel student I am today. My testimony would not be what it is without them. I personally thank those apologists for their great work: Paul, Origen, Tertullian, Justin Martyr, Eusebius of Caesarea, Joseph Smith, Neal A Maxwell, Hugh Nibley, John Sorenson, John Welch, Daniel Peterson, William Hamblin, John Tvedtnes, Scott Gordon, and the dozens of others that have defended the Church. I thank FARMS, FAIR, and the many other organizations that seek to advance faith in the restored gospel.
If we ever stop defending the Church, I fear the day will come when there will be nothing left to defend. Hooray for apologists!