Editor's Introduction:
An Unapologetic Apology for Apologetics

Editor’s Introduction:
An Unapologetic Apology for Apologetics

Daniel C. Peterson

Apologetics (from the Greek word απολογία,
“speaking in defense”) is the practice or discipline of defending a
position (usually, but not always, a religious one) through the use of some
combination or other of evidence and reason. In modern English, those who are
known for defending their positions (often minority views) against criticism or
attack are frequently termed apologists.1 In
this essay, I will, unless I say otherwise, be using the word apologetics to refer to attempts to prove or defend religious claims. But the fact is that
every argument defending any position, even a criticism of Latter-day Saint
apologetics, is an apology.

Some people turn their
noses up at the thought of apolo­getics. Apologists, they declare, are not
concerned with truth; what apologists do isn’t real scholarship, and anyhow, as
one hostile Internet apostate put it, apologetics is “a fundamentally
unethical and immoral enterprise.” Or, alternatively, in the words of
another anonymous Internet ex-Mormon, “Each of us is either a man or
woman of faith or of reason. . . . All apologetics is, is faux logic, faux reason designed to lure
the wonderer back into the fold. Those of faith are threatened
by defectors to reason.” “Apologists,” he continued in a
subsequent post,

try to shill an explanation to questioning members as though
science and reason really explain and buttress their professed faith. It [sic]
does not. By definition, faith is the antithesis of science and reason.
Apologetics is a further deception by faith peddlers to keep power and
influence. 2

But this attitude seems to reflect a fundamental
misunderstanding—like any other form of intellectual enterprise,
apologetics can be done competently or incompetently, logically or illogically,
honestly or not—and it certainly ignores the venerable tradition of apologetics,
which has enlisted some very notable writers, scholars, and thinkers (e.g.,
Socrates/Plato, St. Justin Martyr, Origen of Alexandria, St. Augustine, al-Ghazālī,
Ibn Rushd [Averroës], Moses Maimonides, St. Anselm, St. Thomas Aquinas, Hugo
Grotius, John Locke, John Henry Newman, G. K. Chesterton, Ronald Knox, C. S.
Lewis, Richard Swinburne, Alvin Plantinga, Peter Kreeft, Stephen Davis, N. T.
Wright, and William Lane Craig).3 It is risible to summarily dismiss the apologetic writings of such men as “fundamentally
unethical and immoral” and flatly irrational. Within the Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints, although the term has rarely been used, there has
been apologetic activity from the very beginning. (The brothers Parley and
Orson Pratt, Oliver Cowdery, Orson Spencer, John Taylor, B. H. Roberts, and
Hugh Nibley represent some of the high points.)

Still, a few faithful members of the church profess to
disdain apologetics as well.

Some, for instance, seem
to believe that it is inherently evil. They seem to use the word apologetics to mean “trying
to defend the church but doing so badly,” whether through incompetence,
dishonesty, or mean-spiritedness. But, again, apologetics, as such, is a value-neutral term. Just like
historical writing, carpentry, and cooking, apologetics can be done well or
poorly. Apologists, like attorneys and scientists and field laborers, can be
pleasant or unpleasant, humble or arrogant, honest or dishonest, fair or
unfair, civil and polite, or nasty and insulting.

If it is argued that apologetics promotes faith, a critic
might respond that bad apologetics and “faith-promoting fictions,”
even lies, can strengthen faith too. And this is undoubtedly correct. It is
possible, in science and politics and every other field, to hold correct views
for faulty reasons. Young Latter-day Saint missionaries have, we must candidly
admit, sometimes used questionable stories and quirky arguments, often passed
down from one missionary generation to another, to build and sustain faith in
their investigators as well as in themselves. That is one of the reasons why,
for many decades now, they have been encouraged to use standard,
church-approved lesson plans in their work. Members of the Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints are almost certainly not alone in circulating
edifying myths and rumors; probably no group is immune to such things.

But this seems no
adequate reason, in itself, to oppose the enterprise of supporting beliefs via
evidence and argument. After all, in medicine, placebos sometimes help. Does
that mean that there is no value in real medicines or that medicine itself is
worthless? Do bad philosophical arguments invalidate or discredit
philosophy as a whole?

But most (if not all) bad apologetic arguments were once regarded
by somebody, somewhere, as convincing. How can one be sure that a supposedly
good apologetic argument is actually a good one and not a bad one? One must
evaluate it as one does any other form of reasoning from evidence, just as one
distinguishes logically sound arguments from those that are not, and solid
historical writing from poor or dishonest historiography. Most now-discredited
scientific theories were once regarded as true by many if not all scientists.
Catastrophism, the four bodily humors, the universal ether, stress-induced
ulcers, steady-state cosmology, Lamarckianism, the Ptolemaic view of the solar
system—all of these and many other now-abandoned scientific theories
were, in their day, widely accepted. Some enjoyed overwhelming consensus
support for many centuries.

But this does not
invalidate science. And even though one cannot claim infallibility for anything
produced by humans, we move forward with cautious faith—something that
apologetics will never supplant. We take elevators high up into buildings
constructed by fallible workers on the basis of plans developed by fallible
architects, and we allow ourselves to be inoculated with medicines that can
guarantee neither complete effectiveness nor even complete safety; we cannot
pause life or stop the presses until we have attained absolute human certainty.

Defending Which Book of Mormon?

objection that has been advanced against some of the work prominently done at
the Maxwell Institute holds, for instance, that any apologetic effort
attempting to defend the antiquity of the Book of Mormon, the Book of Moses,
and the Book of Abraham inescapably makes faulty assumptions about the
verifiability of those texts. Why? Because the versions of these scriptures
that we have today are in English and date from the nineteenth century, and
because we do not possess (and, hence, cannot examine) the putative
original-language texts from which they are claimed to have been translated.
Accordingly, the objection runs, they cannot plausibly be read, used, tested,
or analyzed as ancient historical documents. They can only be read as documents
of the nineteenth century, as illustrations of, and in the light of, that
period. This is, we are told, an insurmountable problem.

But it isn’t. Scholars routinely
test the claims to historicity of translated documents for which no
original-language manuscripts are extant and, also routinely, having satisfied
themselves of their authenticity, use them as valuable scholarly resources for
understanding the ancient world. A few instances should make the point evident
beyond reasonable dispute: 4

•   Slavonic
(2 Enoch) is probably the classic example. Coptic
fragments of this work, which is commonly dated to the first century AD, have only recently been found.
Although the text is generally regarded as having been written in Greek, or
perhaps even in Hebrew or Aramaic before that, it survives in its entirety only
in Old Church Slavonic, in medieval manuscripts dating from the fourteenth
through the eighteenth centuries.

•   Similarly, 1 Enoch—or,
as it is also called, Ethiopic Enoch or simply the Book of
—was probably written somewhere between 300 BC and the close of the first century
before Christ, in either Aramaic or Hebrew or some combination of the two.
Fragments survive in Aramaic, Greek, and Latin, but the entire text is known
today only in the Geʿez language of Ethiopia,
preserved in manuscripts dating to the fifteenth through eighteenth centuries.

•   The
pseudepigraphic Apocalypse of Abraham was probably composed between
roughly AD 70 and AD 150, in Hebrew. It survives today,
however, only in medieval Slavonic.5 (The Slavonic version may have been translated directly from the original or,
alternatively, from a Greek translation of the author’s Hebrew.) Recall the suggestion
mentioned above that the Book of Mormon, Book of Abraham, and Book of Moses
cannot legitimately be read or evaluated as ancient documents because we have
them only in purported nineteenth-century translations. The Apocalypse
of Abraham
is generally regarded by scholars as a crucial document
for understanding the earliest roots of Jewish mysticism; to the best of my
knowledge, nobody has argued that it can validly be employed only to understand
the Slavic Middle Ages.

•   The Gospel of
exists in a corrupt fourth-century Coptic manuscript. A tiny
fragment of it exists in Greek, though, and Greek is thought to be the original
language. Debate rages about whether it should be seen as a first- or second-century
writing. Nobody suggests that it can shed light on only the world of
fourth-century Coptic speakers.

•   The Discourse of
the Abbatôn
exists only in Coptic. It claims to be a translation of
an original kept in Jerusalem, but nobody knows whether this is true nor what
the original language might have been if it wasn’t Coptic.

•   The kabbalistic Sefer
, or “Book of Secrets,” was found in the Cairo
Genizah but was pieced together and recognized at the University of Oxford in
the middle of the twentieth century. The most important extant manuscript
witnesses for the text include Hebrew and Judaeo-Arabic fragments and a
thirteenth-century Latin translation. It contains some passages in Greek
written in Hebrew script, but those portions go back to an Egyptian original.
There is almost universal consensus that the original text dates to the early
fourth or late third century after Christ.

•   The Gilgamesh
and Atrahasis epics are known from Akkadian versions, but they derive from lost
Sumerian originals.

•   The biblical
book of Daniel features large portions in Aramaic, although it is often thought
that they were originally Hebrew. The original setting of the book is quite disputed.

•   The (still
unpublished) Book of the Temple was first discovered in a Greek manuscript, but
now there are copies in Demotic, hieratic, and hieroglyphs, and it is known to
be an Egyptian original.

•   Likewise,
several of the apocrypha (such as Ben Sirach) were known only from the Greek
translation of the Hebrew Bible known as the Septuagint and were argued to have
been originally composed in Hebrew before Hebrew manuscripts actually appeared.

•   Origen’s De
, or On First Principles, is known only from the Latin
translation of Rufinus, dating to roughly a century and a half after Origen,
and from a few quotations in Greek by other authors.

•   Only one of
Irenaeus’s works (Against the Heresies) is known in an original Latin

•   Some of the
works of the important early Greek-speaking Christian historian Eusebius are
known only in Armenian translations.

•   Likewise, as much as a quarter of the oeuvre of the prolific
Greek-speaking Jewish thinker Philo of Alexandria (d. AD 50) has reached us only through Armenian versions dating
to the late sixth century. Nobody thinks that they tell us only about
late-sixth-century Armenia and nothing about first-century Philo.

•   The
third-century-BC Egyptian
historian Manetho is known only from later quotations, some written in Armenian
and Latin and only a small portion written in his original Greek.

•   The New Testament Gospel of Matthew is
thought by many scholars to have originally been written not in the Greek form
in which we know it today, but in either Hebrew or Aramaic. Statements to this
effect go back as early as the second century. Yet this Semitic urtext, if it
ever existed, hasn’t been seen by anyone for many centuries.

The principle that, because they claim to be translations of
unavailable ancient texts, the Book of Mormon, the Book of Moses, and the Book
of Abraham can legitimately be studied only in the context of the
nineteenth-century United States is unreasonable. If it were generalized to the
study of the ancient world, it would cripple much of the study of Egyptian,
Mesopotamian, Jewish, and Christian history. No scholar of antiquity of whom I
am aware would agree to so indefensible and arbitrary a limitation.

Room for Faith and Reason

A few members of the church appear to reject apologetics in
principle, regarding it as inevitably, no matter how charitably and competently
it is done, more detrimental than beneficial. They seem to do so on the basis
of something resembling fideism, the view that faith is independent of reason,
and even that reason and faith are incompatible with each other. In some
cases, they may perhaps have adopted this attitude under the influence of a
philosopher of religion like the late D. Z. Phillips (though he himself
rejected the label of fideism). “The words reasoning and evidence trouble me,” writes one anonymous Latter-day Saint message board poster.
They seem, he says,

to imply that things like Hebraisms and the NHM inscription
will validate my commitment to Mormonism. This is absolutely and patently
untrue and false. Reasoning and so-called evidences are illusions, in a world
that requires faith.

There is no rationale for angels, gold plates, and a
corporeal Divine visit(s).

There is no rationale for a resurrection, atonement, or
exaltation. These things defy reason and logic. There is no possible evidence
for these things either.

My faith, my redemption, my
happiness/peace are the reasons and evidence for my devotion.

Now, obviously, to treat
God solely as a hypothesis, a conjecture, or a topic for discussion is very
different from reverencing or submitting to God in a spirit of religious
devotion. There are few if any for whom reason is sufficient without faith.
Ideally, from the believer’s perspective, God comes to be known in a personal
I-Thou relationship, as an experienced challenge and as a comfort in times of
sorrow, not merely as a chance to show off in a graduate seminar or, worse, to
grandstand on an Internet message board. And many of those who know God in that
way—certainly this must be true of simple, unlettered believers across
Christendom and throughout its history—may neither need nor desire any
further evidence. Moreover, most would agree—I certainly would—that
it is impossible, using empirical methods, to prove the divine. And it is
surely true that faith is best nurtured and sustained, not by immersion in
clever arguments, but by the method outlined in Alma 32. Emulation of the Savior,
loving service, faithful home and visiting teaching, generous fast offerings,
earnest missionary work, prayerful communication—these are the fundamentally
significant ele­ments of a Christian life. Not everybody, I reluctantly
concede, needs to read the FARMS Review or the Journal of the Book of
Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture
in order to come to faith. And for nobody would reading such journals
be enough by itself.

For the vast majority of people, today as in premodern
times, faith isn’t a matter of reason or argumentation, but of hearing the
testimonies of others and of coming to conviction on the basis of personal
experiences. Each fast Sunday, Latter-day Saints are privileged to hear often
beautiful testimonies that offer neither syllogisms nor objective data.
Missionaries quickly discover that it is testimony that changes hearts, not
chains of scriptural references, let alone a book from the Maxwell Institute.

But that is not to admit
that evidence and logic are wholly irrelevant to religious questions.
Apologetics is no mere luxury or game. Someone who has been confused and
bewildered by the sophistry of antagonists—and often, though not always,
that is exactly what it is—might well justly regard apologetic arguments
as a vital lifeline permitting the exercise of faith, as a way (in the words of
one message board poster) of “keeping a spark going long enough to
rekindle a fire.” Testimony can see a person through times when the
evidence seems against belief, but studied conviction can help a believer
through spiritual dry spells, when God seems distant and spiritual experiences
are distant memories. Even faithful members who are untouched by crisis or
serious doubt can be benefited by solid apologetic arguments, motivated to
stand fast, to keep doing the more fundamental things that will build faith and
deepen confidence and strengthen their all-important spiritual witness. Why
should such members be deprived of this blessing?

Furthermore, the Internet commenter cited above is simply
wrong. There is, in fact, a rational case to be made for such propositions as
the actual existence of the gold plates of the Book of Mormon and the
resurrection of Christ.6

Will apologetic arguments save everybody? No. The Savior himself
aside, nothing will—and, in fact, at least a few determined souls will apparently forgo
salvation despite even his gracious atonement. But the fact that some remain
unmoved by them no more discredits apologetic arguments as a whole than the
enterprise of medicine is rendered worthless by the fact that some patients don’t
recover.7 Some illnesses are fatal.

The children of God have different temperaments,
expectations, capacities, personal histories, interests, and paths, and we dare
not, it seems to me, close a door on someone’s journey that, though perhaps
unnecessary to us, might be invaluable for that person. The fact that I can
swim doesn’t justify my standing on the shore watching while someone else
drowns because she can’t. As C. S. Lewis put it, speaking of and to
well-educated British Christians,

To be ignorant and simple now—not to be able to meet
the enemies on their own ground—would be to throw down our weapons, and
to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defence but us
against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if
for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.8

With Lewis expressly in mind, the English theologian and philosopher
Austin Farrer (d. 1968) wrote:

Though argument does not
create conviction, lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not
be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned.
Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which
belief may flourish.9

If the ground is encumbered with a lush overgrowth of
critical arguments, the seed of faith of which Alma speaks cannot take root. It’s
the duty of the apologist, in that sense, to clear the ground in order to make
it possible for the seed to grow. Faith is still necessary. (I’m unaware of
anybody who claims that religious belief derives purely from reason; for that
matter, I’m confident that unbelief doesn’t either.) Apologetics is simply a
useful tool that helps to preserve an environment that permits such faith to
take root and flourish.

The Obligation to “Apologize”

“Be ready,” says the New Testament epistle of 1
Peter, “always to give an answer (α¹ολογιαν)
to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness
and fear” (1 Peter 3:15). That’s the King James Version rendering of the
passage. “Always be prepared,” reads the New International Version, “to
give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that
you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” The Greek word
rendered “answer” in both translations is apologia, which is
manifestly cognate with the English word apologetics.

One might, of course, respond that the author of 1 Peter is
telling Christians to be willing to testify of Christ and their hope for salvation,
something quite distinct from a call to use reason to defend a particular
religious claim. And, obviously, the biblical apostles would indeed want us to
stand as witnesses for Christ. But does 1 Peter 3:15 exclude the use of
rational argument in such testifying?

It seems highly unlikely.
The word that is translated as “reason” by both the King James
Version and the New International Version, cited above, is the Greek λογος, or logos. It is an extraordinarily rich term, and much has
been written about its meaning.10 Logos can refer to speech, a word, a computation or
reckoning, the settlement of an account, or the independent personified “Word”
of God (as in most translations of John 1:1). A central meaning, however, is “reason,”
and it is from logos that the English word logic derives—as do the names of any number of
fields devoted to systematic, rational inquiry (e.g., anthropology, archaeology, biology, cosmology, criminology, Egyptology, geology, meteorology, ontology, paleontology, theology, and zoology). It is rendered
in the Latin Vulgate Bible’s version of 1 Peter 3:15 as ratio (“reason,”
“judgment”), which is obviously related to our English word rational. Furthermore,
when Paul spoke before King Agrippa at Caesarea Maritima—arguing that,
among other things, Christ’s resurrection fulfilled the predictions of Moses
and the other prophets—he was making his “defense,” and he used
a Greek verb closely and directly related to apologia: apologeisthai. The Apology of Plato, similarly, reports the speech that
Socrates offered before his Athenian accusers.

It seems that 1 Peter’s exhortation to “be ready always
to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in
you” charters and legitimates the use of reasoned argument in support of
the gospel of Jesus Christ. Frankly, the idea that active Latter-day Saints
might (or even should) feel no obligation to use what they know in order to
defend the church against its critics, or to help struggling Saints, strikes me
as exceedingly strange. Our responsibility as members of the Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints to love and serve the Lord with all our heart,
might, mind,
and strength implies such an obligation, and our temple covenants absolutely entail that we sustain and defend the kingdom of God.11

In a sense, the scholar, thinker, teacher, or writer who
places his or her skills on the altar as an offering to God is no different
from the bricklayer, knitter, carpenter, counselor, administrator, dentist, accountant,
youth leader, farmer, physician, linguist, genealogist, or nurse who donates
time and labor and specific abilities in the service of God and the Saints and
humanity in general.

Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the
foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,”
it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear
should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,”
it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body
were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an
ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts
in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all
one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one
body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the
head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” (1 Corinthians
12:14–21, New International Version)

As C. S. Lewis put it, “All our merely natural
activities will be accepted, if they are offered to God, even the humblest, and
all of them, even the noblest, will be sinful if they are not.” 12

Now, one might conceivably argue that while, as a Christian,
one is under a divine mandate to bear witness, one is not obliged to use reason
to defend specific truth claims, or that, whatever covenants they may have
taken upon themselves, Latter-day Saints are not obligated to defend their
specific church by the use of such rational arguments as they can muster.

The scriptures, however, seem to
teach otherwise. Jesus himself, for example, appealed to miracles and to
fulfilled prophecy as evidence that his claims were true. To his disciples, he
said, “Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else
believe me for the very works’ sake” (John 14:11). To the two Christian
disciples walking along the road to Emmaus immediately after his resurrection,
he said:

O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets
have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into
his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them
in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:25–27)

Speaking to other Jews, the original Christian apostles
likewise employed fulfilled prophecy and the miracles of
Jesus—particularly his resurrection—to demonstrate that Jesus was
the Messiah. Consider, for example, how, in his sermon on the day of Pentecost,
Peter appeals to all three:

“Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was
a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did
among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you
by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men,
put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead,
freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to
keep its hold on him. David said about him:

            ‘I saw the Lord
always before me.
                 Because he is
at my right hand,
                 I will not be
            Therefore my
heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
                 my body also
will live in hope,
            because you will
not abandon me to the grave,
                 nor will you
let your Holy One see decay.
            You have made
known to me the paths of life;
                 you will fill me with
joy in your presence.’

“Brothers, I can tell you
confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here
to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath
that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was
ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not
abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus
to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.” (Acts 2:22–32, NIV)

In dealing with non-Jews, the apostles attempted to
demonstrate the existence of God by appealing to evidence of it in nature.
Thus, for instance, in Acts 14, when the pagans at Lystra were so impressed by
the miracles of Barnabas and Paul that they mistook them for, respectively,
Zeus and Hermes, the two apostles were horrified.

They rent their clothes, and ran in among the people, crying
out, and saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions
with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the
living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are
therein: who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways.
Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave
us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and
gladness. (Acts 14:14–17)

Addressing the saints at
Rome, Paul declared that

the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all
the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their
wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has
made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible
qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly
seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
(Romans 1:18–20, NIV)

Such appeals to the evidence of nature are also found in the
Old Testament: “The heavens declare the glory of God,” says the
Psalmist; “the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:1,
NIV). Historical evidence also plays a role. Addressing the Saints at Corinth,
the apostle Paul ticks off a list of witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus as
evidence for the truth of what they have been taught:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first
importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he
was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,
and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that,
he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of
whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to
James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also. (1
Corinthians 15:3–8, NIV)

During his stay in Athens, Paul “reasoned in the
synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the
marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there” (Acts 17:17,
NIV). And, most notably, he presented a logical case to some of the city’s
Epicurean and Stoic philosophers on Mars Hill, near the Acropolis, even citing
proof texts from pagan Greek poets in support of his doctrine (Acts

It’s clear that both Jesus and the apostles were perfectly
willing to supply evidence and to make arguments for the truth of the message
they preached. Did this mean that they didn’t trust the Holy Ghost to bring
about conversion? Hardly. Instead, they trusted that the Holy Ghost would work
through their arguments and their evidence to convert those whose hearts were
open to the Spirit.

Moreover, according to the Book of Mormon, a similar mixture
of preaching, testifying, and appealing to reason was employed by the inspired
leaders of the pre-Columbian New World. Consider the case of the antichrist called

And he did rise up in great swelling words before Alma, and
did revile against the priests and teachers, accusing them of leading away the
people after the silly traditions of their fathers, for the sake of glutting on
the labors of the people. Now Alma said unto him: Thou knowest that we do not
glut ourselves upon the labors of this people; for behold I have labored even
from the commencement of the reign of the judges until now, with mine own hands
for my support, notwithstanding my many travels round about the land to declare
the word of God unto my people. And notwithstanding the many labors which I
have performed in the church, I have never received so much as even one senine
for my labor; neither has any of my brethren, save it were in the
judgment-seat; and then we have received only according to law for our time.
And now, if we do not receive anything for our labors in the church, what doth
it profit us to labor in the church save it were to declare the truth, that we
may have rejoicings in the joy of our brethren? Then why sayest thou that we
preach unto this people to get gain, when thou, of thyself, knowest that we
receive no gain? (Alma 30:31–35)

Alma even appeals to a simple kind of natural theology to
make his point:

And then Alma said unto
him: Believest thou that there is a God? And he answered, Nay. Now Alma said
unto him: Will ye deny again that there is a God, and also deny the Christ? For
behold, I say unto you, I know there is a God, and also that Christ shall come.
And now what evidence have ye that there is no God, or that Christ cometh not?
I say unto you that ye have none, save it be your word only. But, behold, I
have all things as a testimony that these things are true; and ye also have all
things as a testimony unto you that they are true; and will ye deny them?
Believest thou that these things are true? Behold, I know that thou believest,
but thou art possessed with a lying spirit, and ye have put off the Spirit of
God that it may have no place in you; but the devil has power over you, and he
doth carry you about, working devices that he may destroy the children of God.
And now Korihor said unto Alma: If thou wilt show me a sign, that I may be
convinced that there is a God, yea, show unto me that he hath power, and then
will I be convinced of the truth of thy words. But Alma said unto him: Thou
hast had signs enough; will ye tempt your God? Will ye say, Show unto me a
sign, when ye have the testimony of all these thy brethren, and also all the
holy prophets? The scriptures are laid before thee, yea, and all things denote
there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of
it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their
regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator. And yet do ye go
about, leading away the hearts of this people, testifying unto them there is no
God? And yet will ye deny against all these witnesses? And he said: Yea, I will
deny, except ye shall show me a sign. And now it came to pass that Alma said
unto him: Behold, I am grieved because of the hardness of your heart, yea, that
ye will still resist the spirit of the truth, that thy soul may be destroyed.
(Alma 30:37–46)

And the same mixture of
preaching, testimony, and reasoning has been enjoined upon members of the
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in this modern dispensation as
well. “Behold,” the Lord told William E. McLellin in a revelation
given through the Prophet Joseph Smith on 25 October 1831, at Orange, Ohio,

verily I say unto you, that it is my will that you should proclaim
my gospel from land to land, and from city to city, yea, in those regions round
about where it has not been proclaimed. . . . Go unto the eastern lands, bear
testimony in every place, unto every people and in their synagogues, reasoning
with the people. (D&C 66:5, 7)

McLellin was to proclaim the gospel, yes, and to bear
testimony, but he was also to reason with his audience—which sounds very
much like a description of a type of apologetic argumentation. Indeed, it is
difficult to conceive of a method of testifying that in no way includes the
faculty of reason. Even to say something as simple as “I have felt divine
love, so I’m confident that there is a God who loves me” represents an
elementary form of logical argument. Likewise, according to a revelation given
at Hiram, Ohio, in November 1831,

My servant, Orson Hyde, was called by his ordination to
proclaim the everlasting gospel, by the Spirit of the living God, from people
to people, and from land to land, in the congregations of the wicked, in their
synagogues, reasoning with and expounding all scriptures unto them. (D&C

Leman Copley, too, called along with Sidney Rigdon and
Parley P. Pratt on a mission to his former associates among the Shakers by a
revelation given at Kirtland, Ohio, in March 1831, was told to

reason with them, not according to that which he has received
of them, but according to that which shall be taught him by you my servants;
and by so doing I will bless him, otherwise he shall not prosper. (D&C

On 1 December 1831, in the wake of a series of newspaper articles
written by an apostate named Ezra Booth, the Lord told the members of his
little church:

Wherefore, confound your enemies; call upon them to meet you
both in public and in private; and inasmuch as ye are faithful their shame
shall be made manifest. Wherefore, let them bring forth their strong reasons
against the Lord. Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you—there is no weapon
that is formed against you shall prosper; and if any man lift his voice against
you he shall be confounded in mine own due time. (D&C 71:7–10) 13

Not surprisingly, the church’s contemporary missionary program,
too, encourages and trains its representatives to give reasons, as the
missionaries have always been expected to do. Preach My Gospel, the
contemporary guide to missionary service, lists scriptural passages by the
scores at appropriate places in its lessons for investigators.14 Missionaries are plainly intended to use these to reason with those they are
teaching, to explain the claims of the Restoration and to support and ground
them in revealed scripture.

Who Needs to Do Apologetics?

I have been arguing that
there is an obligation “to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give
the reason for the hope that you have.”

Does that mean that every believer is under an obligation to
engage in scholarship designed for apologetic use? No. Not everybody has the
capacity to do it, frankly, and most are not interested. But I think that every
believer is obliged to use what he or she knows in order to defend the church
against its critics when the occasion arises, or to help struggling
Saints—and that believers should be steadily improving their knowledge of
church doctrine, Mormon history, and the standard works so as to (among other
things) meet obligations more effectively. (If we are to do something, it seems
to me obvious that we should try to do it well.) Is every believer obligated to
seek out opportunities to engage critics? Again, no. Some may feel so inclined.
Most do not, will not, and should not. “The Kingdom of God,” Martin
Luther once said, “is like a besieged city surrounded on all sides by
death. Each man has his place on the wall to defend and no one can stand where
another stands, but nothing prevents us from calling encouragement to one
another.” 15

The Islamic tradition makes a useful distinction between
duties that are incumbent upon the Muslim community as a whole but not
necessarily upon each person (farḍ al-kifāya),
and duties that are obligatory for each individual within the community (farḍ al-ʿayn).
The classic example of the former is jihād—however that
controversial term is defined—while daily prayer would be a fine specimen
of the latter.16 In
the Latter-day Saint context, daily prayer and regular temple attendance and
active involvement in a local ward or branch are obligations resting upon all
members of the church, but that, while it is essential that there be those who
are ready and willing to defend the claims of the Restoration and to argue
affirmatively for them, apologetics in the strict sense of scholarly
advocacy and defense is very much a farḍ al-kifāya.

To the critic of apologetics who
contends that apologetics is neither necessary nor essential to the gospel of
Jesus Christ, an obvious rejoinder is that an ability to speak Samoan isn’t
essential to the gospel either. But the fact that at least one member of the
church has been able to speak Samoan has certainly helped Samoan speakers find
salvation. In much the same way, those who may need reasons and evidence to
help them along their path to a spiritual witness of the gospel—who, as
it were, speak that language—can be benefitted by those able to
communicate with them in the most appropriate manner. In this, as in every
other way, members of the church do well to imitate their Lord, who speaks “unto
[his] servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they
might come to understanding” (D&C 1:24).

are very many Latter-day Saints who will never write a book or an article in a
journal, or make a conference presentation, but who nevertheless, in their own
sphere and style, stand as witnesses for God and defend the cause of God as
they understand it. They would seldom if ever label such a thing “apologetics.”
They may well not know the term.

This is as it should be. And we
should all be continually improving our ability to be such witnesses, in
whatever manner suits our abilities, interests, and inclinations. (There is no
one, single, right way.) In a revelation given through Joseph Smith at
Kirtland, Ohio, on or about 27 December 1832, the Saints were given

a commandment that you shall teach one another the doctrine
of the kingdom. Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may
be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law
of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient
for you to understand; of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the
earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come
to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the
perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a
knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms—that ye may be prepared in
all things when I shall send you again to magnify the calling whereunto I have
called you, and the mission with which I have commissioned you. Behold, I sent
you out to testify and warn the people, and it becometh every man who hath been
warned to warn his neighbor. Therefore, they are left without excuse, and their
sins are upon their own heads. He that seeketh me early shall find me, and
shall not be forsaken. Therefore, tarry ye, and labor diligently, that you may
be perfected in your ministry to go forth among the Gentiles for the last time.
(D&C 88:77–84)

It seems axiomatic that if one is going to hold a position,
one has the responsibility to defend it. And, unless we’re catatonic or
asocial, we all routinely do it. We all give reasons. We don’t just say, “Because!”
Even someone arguing that we ought not to do apologetics is, ironically,
offering an apologetic for that position.

Now, a critic of apologetics might respond that she prefers
carrots to broccoli but that she sees no reason to defend her position against
somebody who likes broccoli better than carrots. The problem with this implicit
analogy is that taste in food is entirely personal and subjective; famously, De gustibus
disputandum est—“There is no disputing
about tastes.” But—at least to most believers—religious truth
is not merely a matter of taste. There must be and really is something Out
There, however difficult it may be to verify, that is objectively real.

In an Internet discussion, R.
Scott Lloyd proposed much better examples that clarify the distinction between
subjective tastes and matters of more or less objective fact: “The Beatles
are my favorite band” would be an expression of preference. It’s a matter
of personal predilection, and it would be rather odd for somebody else to
marshal statistics or photographs to try to prove you wrong about your own
taste in music. On the other hand, “The Beatles are the greatest and most
influential band in the history of rock music” would be a position,
perhaps to be advocated or to be refuted. One could amass facts in support of
it—such as statistics on record sales, data regarding influence on other
bands, musicological estimates of Lennon and McCartney as songwriters, the
duration of their popularity decades after their breakup, and the
like—and the propositions can be meaningfully discussed and debated.17

Some Latter-day Saints who object in principle to the
apologetic enterprise may hold to a slightly different faith—or, at
least, affirm the faith a little differently—than do most members of the
church. A hypothetical situation was proposed to one such objector, and his
response was revealing. “Suppose,” a questioner wrote,

that a friend or family member approaches you and says “I
am beginning to have doubts about my testimony. There are things from the
history of the Church which I never knew about, but which concern me. For
example, my friend said that Joseph Smith stole the temple endowment from Freemasonry.
I was told the endowment was revealed by God, and now I am really having some
confusing doubts.”

What would you do? Would you say, “Well, your problem
is that you are using ‘reason’ to assess the claims of the gospel. I think what
you need is more faith. If you just have faith and pray about it, it will be
okay.” Would you say something else? What would you do? 18

In response, the objector
said that he would answer that,

yes, Joseph Smith used Masonic rites to develop his endowment
ceremony. If they want to ask more questions, I’d give them more answers: No, I
don’t think they are based on actually ancient rituals. Yes, I find them
beautiful and meaningful nonetheless. No, I don’t think they are magically efficacious.
Yes, I believe that God uses them to bind us into communities to build the
Kingdom of God, etc.19

The appropriate way to respond to our critics, he
continued, “depends on the criticism.”

Sometimes the proper response is: Yes, you are right. Sometimes
the proper response is to point out poor argumentation (which could be equally
done by a non-believer). Sometimes the response is “I don’t know.”
Other times the only response is: Perhaps, but it doesn’t matter.

What I find striking
about this response is what it doesn’t say, and even, in a sense, what it doesn’t
allow. Believers are permitted to admit that the critic is correct, to assert
that the criticism doesn’t matter (which, one might think, could require at
least some minimal reasoning to establish), to point out some errors in the
critic’s argument, or to declare ignorance. There seems no permission here,
though, to assert, let alone to defend, the traditional Latter-day Saint view
that the ordinances of the temple represent a restoration of ancient things.
Yet I am far from alone, not only in my belief that the traditional view is
correct but in my conviction that there is solid evidence to support that
view—positions that the objector seems to rule out of court in advance,
the expression of which he appears to regard as illegitimate. Are people such
as I obliged to remain silent? If so, on what possible grounds? 20

Positive Apologetics

As I’ve said, I believe that some form of “apologetics”
is incumbent upon all Christians, and because of the covenants that they have
taken upon themselves, perhaps even more so upon Latter-day Saints. Those
covenants culminate in the temple, but they begin at baptism. “Behold,”
said the prophet Alma,

here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called)
and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his
people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;
yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those
that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times
and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that
ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first
resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—Now I say unto you, if this
be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name
of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with
him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his
Spirit more abundantly upon you? (Mosiah 18:8–10)

But how, precisely, are we to “stand as witnesses of
God at all times and in all things, and in all places”? I answer, “in
various ways.” Defense is good and necessary, with regard to advancing the
gospel as in playing football, chess, soccer, basketball, checkers, rugby, and
baseball. However good one’s offense may be, if there is no defense one will
lose. The story of Nehemiah’s rebuilding of the temple and other structures in
Jerusalem following the Babylonian captivity, accomplished against considerable
local opposition, offers an instructive metaphor:

And it came to pass from that time forth, that the half of
my servants wrought in the work, and the other half of them held both the
spears, the shields, and the bows, and the habergeons; and the rulers were
behind all the house of Judah. They which builded on the wall, and they that
bare burdens, with those that laded, every one with one of his hands wrought in
the work, and with the other hand held a weapon. For the builders, every one
had his sword girded by his side, and so builded. (Nehemiah 4:16–18)

Those builders would surely have preferred to devote their
full attention to constructive labor, but, under the circumstances, they simply
couldn’t. I like to call the corresponding form of apologetics “negative apologetics,” meaning not that it’s mean-spirited but that its task is the
negatively defined one of rebuttal and defense. I contrast such undertakings
with what I term “positive apologetics,” the constructive effort of
affirmatively advocating the claims of the Restoration. It could be viewed as
the act of planting the seed in the ground, while “negative apologetics,”
rebutting the attacks of antagonists, is analogous to clearing the ground of
weeds, and keeping it clear, so that the seed has a chance to take root and
grow. Both kinds of apologetics are necessary, just as both sowing and weeding
are required in the garden.

A good recent example of negative apologetics would be the responses
of Latter-day Saint scientists to certain DNA-based arguments against Book of
Mormon historicity. Contemporary genetic research was supposed to constitute a “Galileo
moment” and to deliver a fatal blow to Mormonism. But upon examination,
the critics’ arguments were found to be deficient. They were based on misconceptions
about what DNA can and cannot prove and upon long-held but unsustainable assumptions
about Book of Mormon geography and populations. Thus, what looked like a bed of
weeds that threatened to choke out the seed of faith was cleared away by good,
solid apologetics. Plainly, occasional weeding is just as necessary to the
flowering of faith and the harvest of testimony as are planting and

But like those ancient postexilic workers in Jerusalem, most
of us—I emphatically include myself in this, even though I’ve certainly
devoted a great deal of time to countering critics—will naturally prefer
affirmative apologetics, building a positive case for our beliefs. For most
people worldwide, Mormonism is not what William James, in his classic essay “The
Will to Believe,” called a “live hypothesis.” Belief in it
simply isn’t possible for them, given what they know, or believe they know,
about the gospel and about the universe, and given where they are at in their
lives. It is the challenge of positive apologetics, or so it seems to me, to
attempt to make the gospel a “live hypothesis” for as many more of
the Father’s children as we can.

How? There are innumerable ways. The positive task has (at
least) two parts: (1) Obviously, those we hope to bring to Christ and to his
church need to believe that the gospel is true. (2) But they also need to
believe that it’s desirable. (I suspect that the priority or order of these two
aspects will vary from one person to the other and will even be mixed in
various idiosyncratic ways. Conversion is always individual.) The second task
opens up the realm of apologetics far beyond those who are specially skilled in
scriptural argument or in building historical arguments. In fact, it may not
require arguments at all. C. S. Lewis, for example, continues to show millions
of people how a Christian worldview can satisfy, inspire, and
fulfill—and, although he wrote many brilliant books of apologetic
argument, he also does it, in very many cases, via his fictional Chronicles of
Narnia series and his so-called Perelandra trilogy.

I argue that no expertise is required for demonstrating that
the gospel is desirable. Or, rather, no unique expertise, no special training.
All have the ability to do this.

The Suggestion

I make no secret of the fact that, when I was a missionary
in German-speaking Switzerland eons ago, I disliked tracting. I knew how little
I would welcome a couple of strangers peddling religion at my front door, and I
wasn’t at all surprised that housewives alone at home were unenthused about
admitting two foreign men to their apartments. But I disliked street contacting
even more. Couples strolling along the shore of the Vierwaldstättersee, or Lake
Lucerne, on a pleasant afternoon didn’t usually enjoy being accosted by what
they regarded as religious zealots, and I didn’t much blame them. I used to
daydream about how nice it would be to serve in a visitors’ center, where the
people came to you because they were interested in hearing what you had to say.
I thought it would be nice to visit people who had expressed interest on guest
books at such visitors’ centers, or, at the least, who had been referred to us
by others who thought they might be interested.

I’m convinced that we can now replace tracting—which
is extraordinarily inefficient and often somewhat noxious—with something
that is much more like a visitors’ center. Or, if we can’t quite replace it, we
can at least make it a relatively less significant portion of our missionary
effort. Every member of the church, as we’ve long been reminded, should be a
missionary—and referral-hungry full-time missionaries have long yearned
for the day when that would be true, when they could spend more time teaching
than trying to find people to teach. As the late Truman Madsen used to say, “Every
member a birddogger!”

Living in Utah Valley, though, teaching at Brigham Young University,
I’ve wondered how I might be able to discharge the evangelizing obligation
that, I fully understand, still rests upon me even decades after my release as
a full-time missionary. But one answer to that question is now obvious: the
Internet. Every one of us can now reach the world. Sitting in our pajamas, in
our basements, even in the heart of Mormondom, we can now, at virtually no
cost, reach people in Perth, Western Australia; Yamoussoukro, Côte d’Ivoire;
Lower Piddle on the Marsh, Gloucestershire; and Hong Kong. Fear has often prevented
us from being member missionaries, but there is nothing inherently scary about
doing something missionary related on the web. For years, the Internet has
allowed us to be our worst selves. Why not our best?

Now, according to the scriptures and despite Rodney Stark’s
fascinating projections of church growth,21 believers in the Restoration will always be a minority (pending the Millennium,
at least):

And it came to pass that he said unto me: Look, and behold
that great and abominable church, which is the mother of abominations, whose
founder is the devil. And he said unto me: Behold there are save two churches
only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of
the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God
belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is
the whore of all the earth. And it came to pass that I looked and beheld the
whore of all the earth, and she sat upon many waters; and she had dominion over
all the earth, among all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people. And it came to
pass that I beheld the church of the Lamb of God, and its numbers were few,
because of the wickedness and abominations of the whore who sat upon many
waters; nevertheless, I beheld that the church of the Lamb, who were the saints
of God, were also upon all the face of the earth; and their dominions upon the
face of the earth were small, because of the wickedness of the great whore whom
I saw. (1 Nephi 14:9–12)

But there are probably millions, if not tens of millions,
who would accept the gospel if they only knew about it.

For there are many yet on the earth among all sects,
parties, and denominations, who are blinded by the subtle craftiness of men,
whereby they lie in wait to deceive, and who are only kept from the truth
because they know not where to find it. (D&C 123:12)

The question is how to reach these people efficiently. What
is or would be most effective? One problem is that they don’t all live concentrated
in major towns. And we’re shorthanded. In my day, in Switzerland, most areas of
the country were simply ignored. We might have had two missionary pairs for the
entire federal capital city, Bern, but towns like Meiringen, Adelboden, and
Langnau would simply never be visited by missionaries at all, because we didn’t
have enough to go around. And I can’t see that this is likely to have changed
anywhere, whether in Japan or Italy or Kansas. But now, with the Internet,
distance is largely irrelevant—at least as regards finding those who are
interested. People sitting in Alice Springs or in the suburbs of Libreville can
and do find websites that interest them, websites that may originate on the opposite
side of the globe. The web allows us to be potentially much more effective
member missionaries than the old Book of Mormon testimony program did.

Are the media hostile? Yes, frequently. Or, at least, often
dismissive and condescending. But now, with the so-called new or alternative
media, we can do an end run around contemptuous journalists. We can learn from,
and even become, bloggers. Information sources have multiplied, and they
continue to do so. We should be well represented among them.

In the days of the first Christian apostles, the expansion
of the church was greatly assisted by what was known as the Pax Romana,
or “Roman peace.” Vast areas of the ancient world had been subdued by
Roman arms, and it was possible to travel along the excellent Roman roads for
long distances and in a security that earlier peoples could never have
imagined. Missionaries in this dispensation have been benefitted for decades by
what might, with equal justice, be called a Pax Americana. But that “American
peace” may have done for us most of what it could do, and may now even be
declining somewhat; and, in any case, we should always be seeking improved ways
of spreading the good news of the gospel.

Fortunately, the Internet seems to have emerged as a modern
network of “Roman roads,” a more efficient, inexpensive, and
far-reaching “information highway” than the world has ever known. It
is, in its way, the Pax Americana reborn. “There are conversations going
on about the Church constantly,” Elder M. Russell Ballard observed in a
commencement address given at Brigham Young University–Hawaii on 15
December 2007.

Those conversations will continue whether or not we choose
to participate in them. But we cannot stand on the sidelines while others,
including our critics, attempt to define what the Church teaches. . . . Now,
may I ask that you join the conversation by participating on the Internet to
share the gospel and to explain in simple and clear terms the message of the

Church members should be free to make personal statements, to
use their personal creativity. Everyone is to hear the gospel in his or her own
language and in his or her own way. (Some, as indicated above, may be best
served by apologetic arguments.) We can never know precisely what will touch a

As an illustration of
this point, I offer a woman that I met in the Swiss town of Biel (or, since the
place is thoroughly bilingual, Bienne), at the foot of the Jura Mountains, in
the late summer or early fall of 1973. For some reason long forgotten, I was
visiting for the day from the mission home in ZŸrich, and I was introduced to a
lady who, as I recall, had been an “investigator” with the
missionaries for seven years. (In our missionary jargon, we sometimes called
such people “profis,” for “professional investigators.” The
term wasn’t meant to be disrespectful; it was more an expression of our
resignation.) We spoke very briefly about an area conference of the church that
President Harold B. Lee had recently presided over in Munich, Germany—and
which she had attended—but mostly we talked about the beautiful weather.
The whole conversation lasted, at the most, about five minutes. I never saw her
again. But a week or so later, I was told that she had requested baptism and
that she had explained that it was her conversation with me (not even the area
conference!) that had been the turning point for her.

Now, I tell this story
not to boast of my missionary prowess. The fact is that I was totally mystified
by the report and that I still have no idea what element of that seemingly
insignificant conversation could possibly have proved decisive in her
conversion. My German was relatively good, and I had sometimes rather smugly
thought, after teaching a lesson, that surely these investigators must be persuaded by my peerless eloquence
and my halfway decent twenty-year-old’s command of the scriptures. But they
never were. And then this lady came along.

Plainly, conversion is the work of the Spirit, and we can
never know when or how or through what vehicle the Spirit will reach somebody,
or when that person will be receptive. So our job is to just keep on trying, in
every way that we can, and to leave the rest to the Lord.

Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should
come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith,
Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments; and also gave
commandments to others, that they should proclaim these things unto the world;
and all this that it might be fulfilled, which was written by the
prophets—the weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the
mighty and strong ones, that man should not counsel his fellow man, neither
trust in the arm of flesh—but that every man might speak in the name of
God the Lord, even the Savior of the world; that faith also might increase in
the earth; that mine everlasting covenant might be established; that the
fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto
the ends of the world, and before kings and rulers. Behold, I am God
and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner
of their language,
that they might come to understanding.
(D&C 1:17–24)

There is a vast wealth of
material that we can employ online. We can, of course, create our own essays
and photo displays and YouTube videos. We should be ourselves. If we have a
second language, we can use it. Do we, perhaps because of a mission or a family
connection, have a special interest in a particular country? We can focus on
it. There is literally no telling what hook might be most effective in capturing
someone’s attention as we set out to be fishers of men, so there should be as
wide a variety of lures out there as we are capable of creating. If nothing
else, we can use our own websites to draw readers to online materials produced
by the church, such as the new and very effective “Mormon Messages”
series (e.g., “Why Mormons Build Temples” and “None Was With Him”).
We can provide links to Mormon.org. There is also the website of the Neal A.
Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship and that of the Foundation for
Apologetic Information and Research, both easily located by searching under
those names.

Our initial task is to show how beautiful and attractive the
gospel is when it’s accurately understood. Not to talk ourselves into it, nor
to engage in wishful thinking, but because those who don’t find it attractive
almost certainly won’t ever give it serious consideration. We want to create
interest. And because our personalities and backgrounds are unique, every one
of us who finds the gospel compelling, inspiring, moving, or profound has
something unique and individual to say on that topic.

My own contribution, so far, to the ongoing conversation described
by Elder Ballard is a steadily growing website called “Mormon Scholars
Testify,” which I invite all and sundry to visit.23 Some
critics, misunderstanding the purpose of the site, have complained that it
offers very few arguments for the truth of Mormonism. But I haven’t asked contributors for arguments. (Many, including myself, have published such
arguments elsewhere, and we’ll continue to do so.) I’m much more interested in
hearing what special thing, in particular, people love about the gospel.

We shouldn’t hesitate to emphasize distinctives. If
Mormonism had nothing to offer beyond what readers already have in their own
faiths, what would be the point of examining it further? And we shouldn’t
assume that they understand us. We have our own jargon (e.g., stakes, wards, bishops, keys, priesthood, sealings, temples, General
) that we take for granted but that may pass right over
the heads of our desired audience. Moreover, as Dr. Gary Lawrence has demonstrated
in an extraordinarily important study that I hope many Latter-day Saints will
read and carefully consider, while non-Mormons may vaguely associate us with Proposition
8, Big
, polygamy, the Osmonds, and Glenn Beck, they probably know next
to nothing about the Book of Mormon, the extraordinarily profound plan of
salvation, or our church’s claim to be a restoration of original Christianity.24

There’s no time to be wasted. Once, during the first two
weeks of my mission, my companion and I were invited into an apartment after a
long day of knocking ineffectually on suburban Swiss doors. I was quite
thrilled. It soon became apparent, though, that the man who had invited us in
was very resistant to what we had to say, and quite argumentative. We were only
in it for the cash, he declared. The church was merely after money and power.
After a few minutes of this, my senior companion stood up, thanked him politely
for allowing us to speak with him, and said that we needed to move on. When we
were back out in the sunlight, I asked my companion, a bit puzzled, why he had
terminated the visit. It wasn’t as if we had an overabundance of teaching
opportunities. “Brother Peterson,” he said, “the Lord has told
us not to cast our pearls before swine. There are thousands and thousands of
people in this town who deserve the opportunity to hear the message that we
have. We need to move on and try to find them.”

Obviously, the saying of Jesus from Matthew 7:6 to which he
alluded seems a harsh one (“Give not that which is holy unto the dogs,
neither cast ye your pearls before swine”), but I’ve reflected on it, and
on this experience, time and again over the years, and I think there are important
lessons to be learned from it. For one thing, some of us—mostly men, I
think—can waste hours fighting with hostile critics solely because we
like to win. Moreover, when the church has been attacked, or when we ourselves
have been personally attacked (I know something about this), it’s impossible
not to want to respond, and it’s very difficult not to do so. But it seldom
does any good. Mostly, it only generates what the Book of Mormon condemns as “the
spirit of contention.” And it’s not about you (or me) anyway.

In the meantime, millions are waiting. So we can’t waste our
limited time and energy on those who want only to resist.

This know also, that in
the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own
selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents,
unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers,
incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded,
lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but
denying the power thereof: from such turn away. . . . [They are] ever learning,
and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 3:1–5,

We turn away because our numbers are few and our time is limited,
not because their souls aren’t precious, nor because it’s hopeless. And we don’t
turn away forever. We don’t give up on them. We continue to pray for them, and
to watch for signs that they’ve become more teachable.

Pending that, we use the principle of triage. In medicine,
triage is the process of determining treatment priorities based on the severity
of patient conditions and the likelihood that medical attention will help them.
Doing so is essential when resources of supplies and personnel are insufficient
for all to be treated immediately. In spiritual things, when we, God’s fallible
and finite mortal servants, can see no way to help an individual, it may
sometimes be necessary or advisable to focus on those who are willing to listen
to us and who seem to harbor some desire for greater things. We hope that God
can find a way to soften the hearts of those we cannot help. “All flesh is
in mine hands,” he tells us, “be still and know that I am God” (D&C
101:16). “Therefore . . . let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with
the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be
revealed” (D&C 123:17).

Everyone in the church can do something in this cause. If
you don’t have any computer ability, you can set out to gain it, or to support
those who do. Financial contributions will surely be welcome, or you can offer
to help.25

The story is frequently told of two men who found themselves
walking toward each other one warm, sunny morning on an otherwise deserted
beach. One of the men was in his early twenties, while the other was obviously
considerably older. The sand was damp and wet, and it was littered with
thousands of starfish that had washed onto the beach during high tide. When the
tide ebbed, they were left stranded there, doomed to die.

The young man watched the older man pick up starfish after
starfish, one at a time, and toss each back into the ocean. “Why is he
doing that?” the young man thought to himself. “He can’t possibly
save them all.” As they neared one another, the younger man spoke up. “You
know,” he said, “you can’t save them all. It’s futile. Most of them
are going to die. What you’re doing really won’t make any difference.” The
older man studied the young man silently for a moment. Then, unperturbed, he
bent down, picked up a starfish, and tossed it into the water. He smiled at the
young man and said, “It made a difference to that one.” And he walked
on, picking starfish up and tossing them back into the sea.

We’ve probably all seen the bumper sticker that reads “Think
globally, act locally.” The web permits each of us to do precisely
that—no matter where we’re located or how inadequate we may otherwise
feel—cheaply and efficiently. I hope that we will each resolve to do
something. Sooner rather than later.


The Book of Mormon tells us, regarding Alma the Younger and
the sons of Mosiah, that

as they were going about rebelling against God, behold, the
angel of the Lord appeared unto them; and he descended as it were in a cloud;
and he spake as it were with a voice of thunder, which caused the earth to
shake upon which they stood. . . . For with their own eyes they had beheld an
angel of the Lord; and his voice was as thunder, which shook the earth; and
they knew that there was nothing save the power of God that could shake the
earth and cause it to tremble as though it would part asunder. (Mosiah 27:11,

Many years later, Alma still remembered the power of that
experience and the angel who “spake unto us, as it were the voice of thunder,
and the whole earth did tremble beneath our feet” (Alma 36:7; compare 3
Nephi 8:6). (Such power seems a divine prerogative; the Greek god Poseidon was
also known as “Earth-Shaker.”) It turned Alma’s life around. Ever
afterward, he remained acutely aware of his status as a convert who had been
saved from destruction by divine grace (see, for example, his sermon in Alma 5
and his famous chiastic testimony at Alma 36), and he wished that all could
have an analogous experience:

O that I were an angel,
and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the
trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!
Yea, I would declare unto every soul, as with the voice of thunder, repentance
and the plan of redemption, that they should repent and come unto our God, that
there might not be more sorrow upon all the face of the earth. But behold, I am
a man, and do sin in my wish; for I ought to be content with the things which
the Lord hath allotted unto me. I ought not to harrow up in my desires, the
firm decree of a just God, for I know that he granteth unto men according to
their desire, whether it be unto death or unto life; yea, I know that he allotteth
unto men, yea, decreeth unto them decrees which are unalterable, according to
their wills, whether they be unto salvation or unto destruction. Yea, and I know
that good and evil have come before all men; he that knoweth not good from evil
is blameless; but he that knoweth good and evil, to him it is given according
to his desires, whether he desireth good or evil, life or death, joy or remorse
of conscience. Now, seeing that I know these things, why should I desire more
than to perform the work to which I have been called? Why should I desire that
I were an angel, that I could speak unto all the ends of the earth? For behold,
the Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach
his word, yea, in wisdom, all that he seeth fit that they should have;
therefore we see that the Lord doth counsel in wisdom, according to that which
is just and true. (Alma 29:1–8)

“Behold,” the Lord told his fledgling church on 27
December 1832, “I sent you out to testify and warn the people, and it
becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor” (D&C
88:81). But who is my neighbor? Jesus gave an answer to that very question,
recorded in Luke 10:29–37, that must have surprised many in his Jewish
audience. Today, though, in the Internet age, our neighbor can
be—is—anybody, anywhere. I have a vision of tens of thousands of
Latter-day Saints, and perhaps many more, reaching out across the entire world
by means of the new technological tools that have been placed in the hands of
almost all of us. They weren’t given to us merely for computer games. And if
they can be used to retail pornography, they can certainly also be redeemed and
used to spread the supremely good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion
on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no
shepherd. Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but
the labourers are few; pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will
send forth labourers into his harvest. (Matthew 9:36–38)

On 22 July 1837, the first seven LDS missionaries to Britain
(namely, Heber C. Kimball, Orson Hyde, Willard Richards, Joseph Fielding, Isaac
Russell, John Goodson, and John Snider) arrived in the market square of
Preston, Lancashire. The town was alive with election fever that day, as
politicians campaigned for their respective parties and flags and banners fluttered
in the breeze. Heber C. Kimball later recalled that

I never witnessed anything like it in my life. Bands of
music playing. Flags flying in all directions. Thousands of men, women and
children parading the streets, decked with ribbons characteristic of the
politics of the several candidates. Anyone accustomed to the peaceable and
quiet manner in which the elections in America are conducted, can scarcely have
any idea of an election as carried on in England.26

“One of the flags,” Elder Kimball continued,

was unrolled before us, nearly over our heads, the moment
the coach reached its destination, having on it the following motto: ‘Truth
Will Prevail’ in large gilt letters. . . . We cried aloud ‘Amen! Thanks be to
God, Truth Will Prevail.’ 27

And indeed it will. Each of us has a role to play in that
ultimate triumph, if we will but rise up and assume our proper place. And
apologetics, too, has an entirely legitimate and proper function in the
struggle to establish truth in the minds of people around the world.

This will be the last number of the FARMS Review.
But not, I hasten to add, because we’re going out of business. (Lay not that
flattering unction to your souls, unfortunate critics and complainers!) No,
this is simply one more stage of growth. What began as the Review of
on the Book of Mormon eventually surrendered its wonderful
acronym, ROBOTBOM,
in order to become, first, the FARMS Review of Books and, then,
. Each new title reflected the periodical’s expanded vision
and scope. This process will continue when, with volume 23, number 1, our
favorite semiannual becomes the Mormon Studies Review. The change
also reflects readjustments over the past several years in what is now known as
the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship; the old title, FARMS,
no longer reflects the way we’re organized. (And it was always problematic,
anyhow. Our receptionists grew weary of taking phone calls about 4-H projects
and pig-breeding techniques.) We look forward to continuing under the new name.
And, in order to illustrate continuity amidst change, volumes will continue to
be numbered from the first issue of ROBOTBOM, published in 1989.

Editor’s Picks

Although always a difficult task, we hereby undertake to
assign levels of merit to the books that are reviewed in this issue of the Review.

This is the scale that we use in
our rating system:

****          Outstanding,
a seminal work of the kind that
only rarely

***            Enthusiastically

**              Warmly

*                Recommended

now for the results:

****          Royal
Skousen, The
Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text

***            Mark
Lyman Staker, Hearken, O Ye People:
Historical Setting of Joseph Smith’s Ohio Revelations

**              Christian
Smith, Souls
in Transition: The Religious and
                  Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults

**              Mark
D. Regnerus, Forbidden Fruit: Sex and Religion
the Lives of American Teenagers

**              Kenda
Creasy Dean, Almost Christian: What the Faith
Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church

**              N.
T. Wright, Following
Jesus: Biblical Reflections
                  on Discipleship


We thank Alison Coutts for editorial review and typesetting,
Don Brugger and intern Rebekah Atkin for manuscript editing, and Paula Hicken,
Shirley Ricks, and Sandra Thorne for proofreading.


This essay
expands upon remarks first delivered in the closing session of the twelfth
annual conference of the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research
(FAIR), which was held 5–6 August 2010, in Sandy, Utah. That accounts for
the hortatory tone of the last portion of the essay, which is atypical of the FARMS Review.
In this expanded form, it responds to some of the comments, mostly online, that
followed my August presentation.

1. For reflections on the place
of apologetics within the overall program of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for
Religious Scholarship, see Daniel C. Peterson, “The Witchcraft Paradigm:
On Claims to ‘Second Sight’ by People Who Say It Doesn’t Exist,” FARMS Review 18/2
(2006): ix–xviii.

2. I’m willing to wager, by the
way, that although these critics want believers to stop responding, they do not
intend to stop criticizing. There is no question that any team will score more
easily if the opposing team’s defensive players leave the field, but I’m
unaware of any athlete with the chutzpah to make the request.

3. Notable “apologetic”
works of al-Ghazālī (The Incoherence of the Philosophers)
and of Ibn Rushd (The Decisive Treatise) have been published by Brigham
Young University’s Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship as part
of the Middle Eastern Texts Initiative.

4. I appreciate the help of my
friends John Gee and William J. Hamblin in compiling the following list of
documents, which could still be expanded several times over.

5. Alexander Kulik, Retroverting
Slavonic Pseudepigrapha: Toward the Original of the Apocalypse of Abraham
Brill, 2004), attempts to reconstruct the Hebrew original. (My thanks to William
J. Hamblin and David Larsen for this reference.)

6. On the corroborating
witnesses to the gold plates, Richard Lloyd Anderson has long been the
preeminent authority. See, for example, his classic Investigating the Book of
Mormon Witnesses
(Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1981) and a number
of his other substantial studies; also David Whitmer Interviews: A Restoration Witness,
ed. Lyndon W. Cook (Orem, UT: Grandin, 1991), and John W. Welch and Larry E.
Morris, eds., Oliver Cowdery: Scribe, Elder, Witness (Provo, UT:
Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, Brigham Young University,
2006). As an example of writing about the plates themselves, see Kirk B.
Henrichsen, “How Witnesses Described the ‘Gold Plates,’ ” Journal
of Book of Mormon Studies
10/1 (2001): 16–21. There are
numerous articles on ancient parallels to the Book of Mormon plates, among them
William J. Hamblin, “Sacred Writing on Metal Plates in the Ancient
Mediterranean,” FARMS Review 19/1 (2007): 37–54. For Christ’s
resurrection, see any number of publications by such authors as Gary Habermas
and William Lane Craig, as well as Stephen T. Davis, Risen Indeed: Making Sense of
the Resurrection
(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993), and N. T.
Wright, The
Resurrection of the Son of God
(Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003).

7. Even completely solid
arguments for truths that are, effectively, universally accepted in far less
contentious fields than religion leave some people unconvinced. Some, I’m told,
continue to believe that the moon landing was faked on a soundstage in Houston,
that the earth is flat, and that Bob Dylan can sing. That is why the standard
for conviction in criminal trials is “beyond reasonable doubt,” not “beyond
dispute by determined cranks and loons.” “Even though I managed to
raise the dead,” says Jesus in a (possibly inauthentic) statement
attributed to him by the great medieval Islamic thinker al-Ghazālī, “I
have never been able to cure an idiot!” See al-Ghazālī, “O
Son!,” trans. David C. Reisman, in Classical
Foundations of Islamic Educational Thought
, ed. Bradley J. Cook (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press,
2010), 103. (I am not, by the way, pronouncing all who fail to accept the
claims of the Restoration cranks, loons, and/or idiots.)

8. C. S. Lewis, “Learning
in War-Time,” in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (New York:
HarperCollins, 2001), 58.

9. Austin Farrer, “The
Christian Apologist,” in Light on C. S. Lewis, ed. Jocelyn
Gibb (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1965), 26.

10. Not least of which is Faust’s
meditation on John 1, which, he finally decides, should be rendered “In
the beginning was the Deed” (Im Anfang war die Tat). See Johann
Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust, act 1, scene 3, lines 1210–37.

11. See Doctrine and Covenants
4:1–4, and note the clear missionary context of the passage. Compare Mark
12:28–31, which draws on Deuteronomy 6:4–9 and Leviticus 19:18.

12. Lewis, “Learning in
War-Time,” 54.

13. One could argue that even God
himself does not appear to disdain the use of reason with his children. See,
for example, such passages as D&C 45:10, 15; 50:10–12; 133:57; Isaiah

14. Preach My Gospel: A Guide to
Missionary Service
(Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints, 2004).

15. Cited in Eugene England, Dialogues
with Myself: Personal Essays on Mormon Experience
(Midvale, UT:
Orion Books, 1984), 185–86.

16. I have strong opinions about
the real meaning of jihād, but this essay is absolutely not the place
to set them out.

17. I’ll spare you the trouble,
though: The Beatles are the greatest band in the history of rock music,
and very arguably the most influential.

18. For several reasons, I have
not identified either party to this exchange. The identities of the writers are
not material to the topic, for example, but, most of all, I do not want to
personalize the discussion—which, frankly, became more than a bit acerbic
and unpleasant on the message board where this conversation originally
occurred. My purpose is certainly not to publicly criticize (let alone to
embarrass or stigmatize) the person whose position I reject—and who was,
in any case, posting under a pseudonym.

19. There is, I might note, room
within the church for differing views among believers about the nature and
extent of Masonic influence on how the temple endowment is presented—that
there was some such influence seems to me undeniable—and I certainly
agree that the rituals of the temple are beautiful and meaningful and that they
help “to bind us into communities to build the Kingdom of God.” That
is a beautiful and profound insight, and I appreciate it.

20. I note, too, the apparent
insinuation that mainstream Latter-day Saints regard temple rites as “magical.”

21. Professor Stark’s essays on
the topic are now gathered, along with other, related pieces, in Rodney Stark, The Rise of
, ed. Reid L. Neilson (New York: Columbia University Press,

22. M. Russell Ballard, “Sharing
the Gospel Using the Internet,” Ensign, July 2008, 61, 62. The
speech, something of a charter for what I’m advocating here, is well worth
careful consideration. Other significant discussions of using the Internet to
share and teach the gospel include Michelle Stocking, “Finding and Sharing
the Gospel Online,” Ensign, October 2009, 22–26; and Elizabeth
Stitt, “Positive Uses of the Internet,” Ensign, June 2010,
12–15. All can easily be found online.

23. http://mormonscholarstestify.org/.

24. Gary C. Lawrence, How
Americans View Mormonism: Seven Steps to Improve Our Image
CA: Parameter Foundation, 2008). For online information about the book, see
http://www.howamericansviewmormonism.com/index.html (accessed 11 November

25. I’ve already mentioned the
Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship and the Foundation for
Ancient Research and Mormon Studies. There are a number of such efforts that
could benefit from help, financial or otherwise. Another group that is doing
extraordinary work is the More Good Foundation: http://www.moregoodfoundation.org/.

26. Orson F. Whitney, Life of
Heber C. Kimball
(Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1888),

27. Whitney, Life of
Heber C. Kimball
, 134.