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A Tale of Two Stories: Mormonism vs. Christianity – The Gospel Coalition

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Wait a second. . . . Those big, beautiful warriors are elves?
I was so confused watching The Lord of the Rings for the first time. I hadn’t read the books (gasp!) and was finding out the magical creatures of Rivendell were unlike any elves I’d ever heard of. In my understanding, elves were small—they lived in trees baking cookies or at the North Pole assembling toys. They scurried around more like ants than archers.

But J. R. R. Tolkien’s elves (brought to life by Peter Jackson) were elegant, striking, powerful, and—I later discovered—immortal.
It was the same word (“elf”) but a different dictionary. And a different dictionary because it was a different story.
The only other time I felt as confused by words with such divergent meanings was when I started living around Mormons. This confusion demands a better approach to reaching them with gospel grace.

Surrounded by LDS Neighbors

I live in Queen Creek, Arizona, a Phoenix-area suburb, and I’m surrounded by neighbors who belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). More than 6 percent of Arizona residents are LDS, and Mormonism is visible in my community in all kinds of ways:

  • One of the tallest LDS temples in the world was built just off a nearby freeway.
  • Before new neighborhoods are finished being constructed, a local LDS meetinghouse is typically already built—always with a crossless white steeple. With construction booming, white steeples are visible as far as the eye can see.
  • Almost every public high school has an adjacent LDS seminary, so students can take a portion of their day to walk next door for religious instruction. (One local Christian church, Rock Point Church, has effectively followed suit, providing something similar for non-LDS kids.)
  • It’s common to see LDS missionaries riding their bikes in white shirts and ties or walking around a neighborhood in long skirts. Almost everyone has experienced them knocking on the door.

It doesn’t take long to start building relationships and friendships with LDS people, who are almost always kind. But once the conversation turns to spiritual matters, the confusion begins.

Same Words, Different Dictionaries

Unless you know better, it’s easy to think Christianity and Mormonism aren’t that different. Inexperienced Christians often have conversations with LDS friends or missionaries and report, “I think we were kind of saying the same thing.”
After all, Mormons use similar words—God, Jesus, atonement, grace, Savior, eternal, spirit, Scripture, heaven, and more. But they define these words differently.

Mormons use similar words. But they define these words differently.

Mormons use similar words. But they define these words differently.
Most resources that help Christians do evangelism and apologetics highlight the definitional differences between such words. This is helpful work. But it misses something critically important: the different stories.
This difference in “metanarratives” is key not only to grasping how Mormonism differs from biblical Christianity but also to sharing the good news of the true Jesus.

Different Stories

Imagine I’m talking to someone about elves. Remember, my understanding was they were short creatures with pointy hats and shoes—but now I’m encountering someone who believes elves are tall, powerful, and ageless. We could have lots of back-and-forth about what elves are:
“They’re short and live in Santa’s workshop!”
“No, they’re immortal warriors!”
Likewise, this is how many conversations between Christians and Mormons go—and how many of us are trained to engage:
“The atonement is based on the finished work of Christ!”
“No, the atonement is the blood of Christ plus your endurance to the end!”
Round and round we go. There must be a better way.
Here it is: focusing on the competing stories of Christianity and Mormonism. In the same way that your understanding of elves is determined by the story being told (is this Santa Claus or The Lord of the Rings?), the Mormon understanding of atonement—or any other concept—is determined by the story they’ve been told.
Fortunately, there’s a convenient way to contrast these stories—YouTube.

1. LDS Story

The official LDS YouTube channel has made it easy to understand the Mormon macrostory in a brief overview called “Our Eternal Life.”

The Mormon understanding of atonement—or any other concept—is determined by the story they’ve been told.

The Mormon understanding of atonement—or any other concept—is determined by the story they’ve been told.
In this story, humans have always existed as the spirit-children of the Heavenly Father. Earth is created and bodies are inhabited as testing grounds. Humanity fails and sins, so Jesus is sent to show us a better way to live. According to the LDS video, if “we can repent and follow Jesus’s example, we can become clean and live with God again.”
Any well-taught Christian will be able to discern that the story of the LDS video isn’t the biblical story. When I showed this to my kids a few years back without any setup or explanation, they exclaimed, “That’s not the true story!”

2. Biblical Story

Many solid theologians have labored to make the Bible’s macrostory accessible. (One of my favorites is The True Story of the Whole World by Michael Goheen and Craig Bartholomew.) There’s also a well-made animated video, “Heaven and Earth,” created by The Bible Project.
In this story, God eternally exists and humans are created as part of his good creation. After humans rebel against God, though, he selects a people (Israel) to whom he reveals himself. But even the chosen people rebel. Eventually, God himself comes, as Jesus Christ, to sacrifice himself for sinners and, by the Spirit, to initiate the renewal of creation. Divine forgiveness and renewal are available to any who repent of sin and trust in Jesus’s finished work.
The LDS story and the Bible’s story are as different as Santa’s workshop and Middle-earth.

Little by Little

How might this approach look in real life? Consider asking your LDS friends questions like these:

  • Why do you think we’re using so many of the same words but meaning such different things?
  • If the LDS teaching were a movie, how would you walk me through the major plot points?
  • Can I share with you how I understand the big-picture story of the Bible, and you can share with me how it compares with your understanding?

Once you’re able to discuss the differences in the stories, all the other differences will make more sense. And, with God’s help, you can show your friends that the biblical story is a story worth trusting.

How might this approach look in real life? Consider asking your LDS friends questions like these:

  • Why do you think we’re using so many of the same words but meaning such different things?
  • If the LDS teaching were a movie, how would you walk me through the major plot points?
  • Can I share with you how I understand the big-picture story of the Bible, and you can share with me how it compares with your understanding?

Once you’re able to discuss the differences in the stories, all the other differences will make more sense. And, with God’s help, you can show your friends that the biblical story is a story worth trusting.
It’s not easy to communicate the true gospel to LDS friends. Spiritual and relational forces make them among the toughest to reach in our community. Widespread confusion—and the inability of Christians to share their faith—isn’t helping.
We need a story-based approach that, even if rejected, at least makes the differences clear.
The back-to-school season is stressful for moms and dads. New rhythms of school, sports, and other extracurricular activities can quickly fill up a family’s already busy calendar. Where do busy parents look for resources on discipling their family well? Aside from prioritizing church, what else can Christian parents do to instill healthy spiritual habits in their household?
Matt Chandler and Adam Griffin cover these questions and more in Family Discipleship: Leading Your Home through Time, Moments, and Milestones. And we’re excited to offer this book to you for FREE as an eBook today.
Click on the link below to get instant access to your FREE Family Discipleship eBook now!
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Luke Simmons is lead pastor at Redemption Church Gateway in Queen Creek, Arizona, and serves pastors with his resource and coaching ministry, Faithful and Fruitful.
Well over 40 percent of our New Testament papyri come from the single site of Oxyrhynchus. And there’s been a major new discovery.

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Written by: Christianity Today

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