Is Faith Irrational or is Revelation Rational?
Are Evangelicals ‘Anti-Mormon’, are Mormons anti-evangelical?
I gained a valuable and interesting insight into the thought processes of a Mormon as he considers the relationship between Scripture and the Spirit. A correspondent wrote of the importance of the Spirit in gaining knowledge of the truth. Arguing from 1 Thessalonians 1:5, he insisted that finding truth requires “a mystical experience which transcends rationality”, further stating, “It is only by the Spirit one understands the will of the Father (John 14:21)”. Anyone familiar with Mormonism will recognise this oblique allusion to the famous “Moroni’s promise” which assures readers of the Book of Mormon that if they will pray sincerely God would reveal its ‘truthfulness’ by “a mystical experience which transcends rationality”, as my friend eloquently states it.
Now while, to many, this typifies the problem with Mormonism, i.e. an irrational experience by which ‘truth’ is established, a faith that believes in spite of the evidence not in light of the evidence, to a Mormon this makes perfect sense. What is more worrying is that it characterises for many people what faith is in general, whether Mormon, Evangelical, or any other, i.e. irrational and based on warm fuzzies. However, Christianity relies on no such experience to help us understand what the Bible is telling us.
Let’s take the text he quotes from Thessalonians clause by clause and see what it is telling us:
“Our gospel came to you not simply with words”
The gospel does come with words, i.e. it is capable of being understood plainly by someone with a grasp of the language into which Scripture is faithfully translated and with a basic understanding of Bible interpretation. The notion that there is some sort of spiritual insight to be gained by becoming a Mormon, or a Presbyterian, or Catholic etc. is simply not true. When Jesus declared, “No one comes to the Father except by me” you don’t need a degree in advanced celestial linguistics to understand that he meant he was the only way to the Father.
This is important because, if we have a special insight available only to the initiated and spiritual, then those without the insight cannot be judged. However Paul tells us that we all stand condemned because God’s truth is made plain (Romans 1-3). It cannot be plain if it is, at the same time, hidden to the uninitiated. The question, of course, is not whether you know the truth but whether you believe it and will act upon it.
“…but also with power”
This is important because it is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16) and it must have an impact for real change in people because that is what it promises. We can understand it because it comes in words that we understand, and we can trust it because it self-evidently does what it says it will do.
“…with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction”
We can understand it because it comes in words that we understand, and we can trust it because it self-evidently does what it says it will do, but man is rebellious and it is the Holy Spirit that convicts us and brings us to repentance in the face of what we have already understood (so we are without excuse) and what has already been demonstrated to us as powerful to save (because we have seen it in others).
Depend upon some mystical experience, like Moroni’s promise, to give insight to plain truth and we negate what God makes plain in Scripture and end up inventing excuses for why people leave, or find fault with the Mormon Church, i.e. they’ve “lost the Spirit”. It is easier, I’ll grant you, than facing and dealing with the serious criticisms people bring but in the end it is not a godly way to behave and, frankly, it is rather weak.
Doubt is not a healthy preoccupation but neither is it a sin if it causes us to question closely our preconceptions. If we find, after such investigation, that we were right all along then our faith is strengthened. If we were wrong then the sooner we find it out and change the better.
This article appeared originally in the Summer 2006 Reachout Quarterly