The Gospel of Jesus Christ, when preached to the intellectual Greeks and Romans of New Testament times, was simply laughable. The concept of a physical resurrection and many other core elements of Christianity flew in the face of what was commonly accepted by the elite of those societies. Eloquent and well educated critics such as Celsus were able to spin the message of the Christians as a work of fraud based on the deceptions of Jesus, a man “proven” to have questionable integrity and known to dabble in the magic arts. Uneducated peasants might fall for cheap tricks and babbling rhetoric, but no intelligent man could accept the so-called Gospel. Indeed, the arguments of the snickering elite in the early days of Christianity had much in common with the “intellectual” assaults on the LDS faith today (see, for example, Celsus And Modern Anti-Mormonism by Aaron Christensen, available at FAIRLDS.org).
Efforts to resolve the conflict between Christianity and modern “science” and philosophy after the second century resulted in several significant changes in doctrine, in my opinion – and some “Christian apologists” were at the forefront of the doctrinal corruption. Interestingly, I find myself in the curious position of occasionally being accused of apostasy in my efforts as an LDS apologist to resolve some of the apparent conflicts between modern scientific views and Mormon views.
For example, I don’t see any religious need to believe that the Creation took place in six 24-hour days and that the earth is young. My testimony will not be shot if the flood was actually a dramatic but local event in which Noah’s ark did not need to hold all 4,000 species of cockroaches and 400 species of monkeys. My strong personal testimony of the divinity of the Book of Mormon does not depend on propping up the common misreadings of the text that are now attacked by DNA evidence from Native Americans (e.g., the notion that Lehi’s tiny group in 600 B.C. and a boatload of Jewish “Mulekites” should be the primary source of all Native Americans). But in making such statements, I have sometimes offended and disappointed those who grew up with other views and who have not confronted scholarship on such issues. It’s odd to be viewed as a driver for modern apostasy, but I also recognize that I may be wrong in many of my views. If I’ve all been fooled by tricks of physics and chronology in missing the evidence for a rapid Creation, then I’m sorry indeed. My religious opinions may be no more valuable than my stock tips, so do your own due diligence.
In trying to deal with issues such as DNA and the Book of Mormon, my desire is not to modify LDS doctrine to be more acceptable to the world. But sometimes I do need to challenge popular misconceptions of Latter-day Saints that are not consistent with what the Book of Mormon actually teaches. Some of our paradigms for interpreting the text may be off, but the Book of Mormon itself is truer than ever, in my opinion, and will stand the test of time.
In saying this, I do not think that the evidence for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon will be allowed to become overwhelming and unquestionable anytime soon. Sorry, but faith has got to remain an essential element for accepting the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And that’s why intellectual pride will keep many learned people from ever seeing the power and beauty of the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s always going to seem lame, crazy, and even dangerous to the princes of the world. There is powerful intellectual beauty and wisdom in the Gospel but it will remain hidden to the world. That’s how Paul described things in 1 Corinthians 2:
1 And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.
2 For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
3 And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.
4 And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:
5 That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
6 Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought:
7 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory:
8 Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
9 But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.
10 But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.
11 For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.
The wisdom of the Gospel will remain hidden to the blind, but to those honest in heart willing to open their eyes and see with the power of the Spirit, there is power and richness beyond compare. I speak of the core of the Gospel – the Atonement of Jesus Christ, the Bible and Book of Mormon, the power of the priesthood and the Temple, etc. – and not of every aspect of the Church or the dealings of fallible Mormon mortals.