July 9, 2009

"Born-Again Mormon" Review, Part 9: Shawn's Army

This is the final segment of my review of Shawn McCraney's I Was a Born-Again Mormon. See part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8

In time, Born-Again Mormons will play a significant role in completely eliminating the superfluous human made aspects of Mormonism…As Born-Again Mormons gather in number and strength, it is anticipated that the present Church…will become less esoteric in its religious adherence and more biblically inclined...Eventually all the peculiar practices and beliefs which presently serve as important doctrines of salvation to the Saints will begin to fade in the light of biblical truth and open praise for the Lord (McCraney, pp. 283-84). 
McCraney believes he has outlined the proper standards and approach for converting Mormons in I Was a Born-Again Mormon, as compared to the flawed efforts by other anti-Mormon ministries. The biggest addition to the second edition of the book is a recounted conversation between McCraney and the producer of his television program, in which he explains how his approach differs from that of other “anti-Mormon ministries.” I include it in full to give the reader an idea of the general tone of McCraney's book:

“So tell us about the name, Born-Again Mormon,” Denny asked over a small green salad and bubbling glass of soda water.

“Well,” I replied contemplatively “the name is understandably controvertial [sic] but in a way it is what differentiates our ministry and methods from the standard anti-Mormon approaches that have been used in the past.”

Denny, a soft spoken and affable man, sort of nodded and waited to hear more.

“For starters,” I continued, “I was an active member of the LDS church when the Lord stepped in and took over my life. I was unquestionably saved and yet I was still a Mormon. So in one sense, our title represents the idea that individual members of the LDS Church can be born-again while being actively engaged in the LDS Church.” 

“Do people have a problem with that?” Denny asked.

“There are people who have spent their lives fighting Mormonism who have a problem with everything about our ministry and methods. For over a century, their approach has been to try and extract Mormon people from the LDS Church first and to then attempt to lead the extracted to Jesus. Having been LDS, I know that this approach only works on a small percentage of active LDS people.”

Denny took a drink of soda and then rested back into the booth.

“And how is your approach different?”

“We believe that it is often spiritually irresponsible to pull out the rug of faith out from under peoples [sic] feet who have not experienced Jesus personally. Therefore we believe that we should lead with Jesus first. Once a Latter-day Saint has come to know Jesus intimately, we leave it up to Him to lead the person out of Mormonism, or wherever He wants them to go.”

“Oh, I get it,” Michele chimed in, “you let Jesus take the lead in the Mormon people's lives.”

“Exactly,” I replied, extatic [sic] that someone was grasping our methodology so quickly...

We ordered our meals then continued with the discussion.

“You know, we get a lot of heat over the title of the ministry, but we [sic] also constantly attacked for telling Latter-day Saints that if they want to stay in the Church they can.” 

“Yeah,” Denny said quizzically, “what's that about? Don't you think people need to get out of Mormonism and into a Bible teaching Church?”

“Of course I do, Denny, of course I do,” I said. “But having been LDS I know some things about my LDS brothers and sisters that many of my critics tend to ignore or have forgotten.”


“Like the fact that membership in the Mormon Church, for many people, is a life-encompassing experience. It is their everything. As a result, leaving 'the Church' can be a very difficult process.”

“Well, said Denny, “(name withheld) said that the minute she came to know the truth about Mormonism, she and her husband walked away from it.”

“That's fine for (name withheld),” I replied, “but it is also a bit ego-centric to think that just because she reacted to a set of circumstances in a specific that everyone on earth needs to do the same.”

At this we shared in a nice respite of laughter. I decided to add some finishing thoughts on the matter.

“You know,” I said amidst the cheer, “people really get wrapped up in making rules and regulations for other when it comes to God. They take certain biblical verses and apply them to their pet position then spend their lives cramming theses passages down everybody elses [sic] throats. I just don't see Christianity this way, you know, in such a narrow application…Our ministry is frankly against Mormonism. Mormonism teaches another gospel. Mormonism regurgitates the Law and reimplements [sic] it in the lives of trusting people…”

Michele interrupted me, “But Mormons - the people - may not buy into all that Mormonism teaches?”

“Exactly!” I almost shouted. “So our ministry is a two fold [sic] approach. On the one hand, we renounce Mormonism. I mean, we are literally anti-Mormonism when it comes to doctrine. But on the other hand, we embrace Mormon people by even going so far as to give them the benefit of the doubt when it comes to salvation” (pp. 270-274).

I Was a Born-Again Mormon was written largely as a guide to help "Born-Again Mormons" proselyte fellow Latter-day to be born again themselves-- something McCraney believes is practically impossible within the LDS Church. One interesting aspect of McCraney’s story that is absent from his book is his desire to lead the charge of Born-Again Mormons himself by attempting to rejoin the Church. After requesting excommunication in 2002, McCraney says he planned to be rebaptized, this time as a “true Christian.” An excerpt from his website that has since been removed explained:

“The bornagainmormon [sic] mission is to bring other members of the Church to Jesus. I'm convinced that part of this mission is for me to be rebaptized in the Church as a Christian and ONLY as a Christian. I've met with our kind Stake president many times regarding the subject. I've committed to be active, serve, keep the commandments, keep my mouth shut and even shut my website down (if commanded) but they will not let me re-join because I will not accept Joseph Smith nor will I acknowledge that the LDS Church is the ONLY true Church on the face of the earth. This whole concept is difficult for many Christian's [sic] to understand let alone Latter-day Saints. But bottom line, I am a doctrinal Christian through and through - who appreciates the earthly organization of the Church. God willing, this ministry will help other Latter-day Saints know the Lord in the same living way.”1

McCraney said his request for rebaptism was denied because he would not accept Joseph Smith as a prophet of God, leading him to conclude that, according to the Church, Joseph Smith is more important than Jesus Christ. However, McCraney failed to note that he would also be denied baptism if he believed Joseph Smith was a prophet, but rejected Jesus Christ. As Jesus taught in the New Testament, people must accept his servants in order to accept him, and accept him in order to accept the Father:

“He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me” (Matt. 10:40-41; Matt. 23:29-35; Luke 10:16; D&C 84:36-38). 

McCraney will only allow the Bible to speak for God, and he does so through the lens of his own interpretation.Thus, while he claims “A Born-Again Mormon is not concerned about religious forms, titles, or dogmatic claims” (p. 291), throughout the book he repeatedly asserts that truly being born again will result in a “correct” view of the Bible, in addition to other changes in the life of a Christian (p. 335). In a list of the orthodox doctrines of "real" born-again Mormons McCraney explains “A Born-Again Mormon does not attach any religious affiliation, ordinance, or denominational demands to salvation through Jesus Christ” (p. 289), though he is presenting a new affiliation, denominational demands, and dogmatic claims.

True born-again Mormons will recognize the Bible as the “final, perfect, and only authoritative Word of God” (p. 255). Most “stalwart Latter-day Saints,” on the other hand, are utterly incapable of truly understanding the Bible (p. 226).

Even the vocabulary of a Mormon will seamlessly change once they are born again:
Latter-day Saints have been collectively reticent to use the name ‘Jesus’ due to his theological place in LDS theology and the born again Christian use of the name. Typically, Jesus is called ‘the Savior,’ ‘the Lord,’ ‘Jesus Christ,’ ‘Christ’ and ‘the Son of God.’ This was sensible and logical to me as an active, unsaved member of the Church. But worship comes with rebirth, and once I had experienced the miracle of spiritual regeneration, I could not help but using His first given name (even in its Hellenized form) (p. 286). 
 McCraney believes “the unintended but natural tendency to use words and phrases common to reborn Christians (e.g. Jesus, God, the Word, the Word of God, Lord, Praise God, blessed)” is a sign of true spiritual rebirth (p. 114). Journalist Randall Balmer explained that such Evangelical vocabulary made it difficult for him to get in-depth answers from many Evangelicals whom he has interviewed, causing him to steer clear of some Evangelical leaders who were especially “adept at that parlance of piety known as ‘God talk,’ and I suspected it would be tedious, perhaps impossible, to penetrate this verbal veil in order to tease out useful answers. ‘How, Reverend ones, do you account for the success of your church?’ ‘It’s just the work of the Lord...the Lord has blessed our ministry here.’ There’s nothing wrong with such answers, I suppose, and I have no reason to question the sincerity of those responses. It’s just that I have the same reaction to them as I have to weather forecasters on television.”2

At the end of the book McCraney offers a “practicum” with advice for Born-Again Mormons who wish to remain in the Church to help convert others. Though he was unable to rejoin the church to lead this army, he outlines the methods to be used:
A Born-Again Mormon would never disrupt a meeting, class, activity, or service to correct, confront, or chide a member of the Church on doctrine, policy, or practice but would instead express his or her Christ-centered opinions in a private, proper, and peaceful setting…A Born Again Mormon would seek to adapt the Church-prescribed material to fit biblical truth without fanfare or attention…A Born-Again Mormon would refrain from ‘bashing’ with anyone, anywhere, or anytime (pp. 290-291). 
McCraney hopes his efforts will lead to a subtle integration of Latter-day Saints individually and then collectively to reach authentic Christianity by eventually denying the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith, and any other unique LDS belief, thus becoming part of McCraney’s “Body of Christ.”
This is the point to Born-Again Mormon: to patiently and peacefully get members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to give Jesus a real, straightforward, holding-nothing-back try. To take Him from the footnotes of theology and place Him in their hearts. When they do, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will become a Church of Jesus Christ of Born-Again believers, and millions of individuals, along with their families, will freely and openly give praise to God Almighty for the gift of new life instead of the constant manta [sic] of praise to the man (p. 288).
In the end, I must agree with McCraney’s brother, who after seeing the book told McCraney that the title “Born-Again Mormon” is redundant. McCraney responded that while he is “certain there are plenty of Latter-day Saints who have genuinely been spiritually regenerated by God through their faith on Jesus Christ, [most members of the Church] do not possess any semblance of the true, spiritual rebirth.” To McCraney, this is “nothing but a gigantic (and wholly avoidable) religious and spiritual tragedy” ("Introduction").

Despite the problems I see in I Was a Born-Again Mormon, McCraney’s encouragement for Latter-day Saints to become born again can be welcomed by Latter-day Saints who are seeking spiritual rebirth through the Messiah:
Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters…and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God (Mosiah 27:25-26).
Missing that inheritance would be a gigantic spiritual tragedy.

This explanation can still be seen at http://www.4witness.org/ldsnews/bornagainmormon.php (accessed August 31, 2008). McCraney also describes this attempt at rebaptism in order to “rejoin the Church as a Christian” during one of his Sunstone presentations. See “On the Verge: Will Mormonism Become Christian?” Salt Lake Symposium, 14 August 2004, at the 55:40 mark.

Randall Balmer, Mine Eyes Have Seen The Glory: A Journey Into the Evangelical Subculture In America, (Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 9.

July 7, 2009

"Born-Again Mormon" Review, Part 8: The Failure of Anti-Mormon Literature

Continuing review of Shawn McCraney's I Was a Born-Again Mormon. See part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 9. It's a long one.

By no measure can Born-Again Mormon be considered “anti-Mormon literature” as I have purposefully omitted anything that attacks the Church through its unique history or the failures of its founders (McCraney, Introduction, no pg. number).
During McCraney’s loss of faith he reports having delved into various books critical of LDS history and doctrine, but in attempting to share the “damning” evidence he found most members uninterested. McCraney then “recognized some inherent difficulties with most anti-Mormon literature. First, it does not lead to anyone's feeling good about themselves (relative to the religion), and since most people generally only want to feel good about that to which they give their time and allegiance, it is highly ineffective to attack Latter-day Saints in this way. Second, I came to see that most genuinely anti-Mormon literature has been written to embarrass the Church and its members, so as a means of discovering absolute truth it is inferior. Finally, anti-Mormon literature (films, videos, presentations, websites) generally does as much to unify the Saints as to destroy them. Certainly there are casualties from the stuff, but more often than not, Latter-day Saints, finding themselves under attack, rally to the banner of the cause.1 In light of all these dynamics, I ultimately concluded that most anti-Mormon efforts would not be a tool the Lord Jesus would resort to or approve of. If I was going to get to know Him, Mormon or not, it would have to be through other means”(pp. 60-61). Based on his own experience McCraney has valuable insights for other ministries seeking to save Mormons, though as will be shown, he does not fully follow his own advice.

Critics who attack the Book of Mormon are wasting their time, he declares:
For reasons still unclear, most writers who attack the authenticity and/or origins of the Book of Mormon do so on some of its more inconsequential aspects and fail to see the book for what it really was intended to be: a second witness of Jesus Christ. And while thousands of books, articles, and pamphlets have attacked the Book of Mormon, its author, and its origins, most of them go to great lengths to prove it false through comparative studies that are inconclusive, subjective, and generally not very important to people who join or remain active in the Church...what they all fail to understand is that it is not facts or true academic research that makes people accept the Book of Mormon, but it is their desire to find, know and please God; their desire to do good; their desire to belong to a worthy cause that overwhelmingly guides their religious live and families (pp. 174-175).
This is an astute recognition; Saints generally believe a spiritual witness of the Book of Mormon is more important than material proofs in the form of archeology or otherwise. Still, in spite of this admission McCraney attacks the authenticity and origins of the Book of Mormon on some of its more inconsequential aspects and fails to investigate the book for what it really was intended to be: a second witness of Jesus Christ. He spends pages 150-177 and 187-208 claiming the Book of Mormon is the product of Joseph Smith’s environment, imagination, and the King James Version of the Bible.2

Another problem McCraney found with much of the anti-Mormon literature he read was its being too far-fetched:
Anti-Mormon authors tend to depict young Joseph Smith as indolent, lazy and oriented toward get-rich-quick schemes. These characterizations are unfair since the majority of all teenage boys are typically lazy, indolent and interested in get-rich-quick schemes[!]...[H]ad he actually lived up to even half of the character assassinations leveled at him, it is doubtful that he would have had any followers at all. It's time for anti-Mormon writers and speakers - if they are truly to be considered Christian - to take another approach in enlightening Latter-day Saints (pp. 121-122). 
In spite of this admonition, McCraney spends pages 119-148 directly borrowing material from Grant Palmer, Dan Vogel, D. Michael Quinn, and Craig Hazen describing Joseph Smith as a well-intentioned fraud. McCraney’s account completely demonstrates a preference for naturalistic explanations, though he relegates a few other LDS viewpoints to a directive footnote. People can compare his summary to the writings of “Dean L. Jesse [and] Jim Allen”[sic] (p. 146).

McCraney appears to believe his approach is something new. Perhaps it is, as far as many Evangelical criticisms are concerned:
Born-Again Mormon is not a regurgitation of early LDS history or an expose on the life and times of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Porter Rockwell, or any other significant LDS figure of the past. I do discuss the early life of Joseph Smith but omit anything that could be considered an ‘anti-Mormon attack.’ I only recount those circumstances which I believe contributed greatly to the make-up of the man ("Introduction"). 
Why did McCraney include so much “damning” information on Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon if he felt such an approach was ineffective in other anti-Mormon literature? He says such information is included to keep people informed in their faith. However, McCraney defines faith as independent of- and reliant upon- natural evidence, whichever best suits his case at any given time (pp. 183-184). “No group or person is truly making a choice or exercising faith when she or he avoids the facts of a matter,” he explains. “They are only choosing to believe what they want. It is imperative that every Born-Again Mormon search for himself or herself all that he or she can find about the Church, its history and its doctrine before they decide to reject it, re-embrace it, or attack it. Factual evidence is there, Saints of Latter-days, but it must be sought, sorted, admitted, and understood in context and ultimately digested before anyone can deny or accept the truth that the Church proclaims” (pp. 141-142).

There have been many responses to the historical interpretation McCraney advances and I join him in encouraging all Latter-day Saints to be well-informed on the history of the Church. But such investigative rigor, according to McCraney, need not apply outside of Mormonism, especially in regards to the Bible:
Some people might argue that the same examination should occur when considering the tenants of Christianity. But the comparison is not a good one. As mentioned earlier, the Bible stands firmly on a foundation of historical, genetic, and linguistic proofs and supports while the Book of Mormon, the keystone to the LDS faith, stands on nothing. Informed belief is good. Ignorant belief is merely an extension of ignorance (p. 344). 
It is unclear how the continued existence and verifiability of the city of Jerusalem proves the resurrection of Christ, or other Biblical miracles. Still, throughout I Was a Born-Again Mormon all of the Bible’s claims are foregone conclusions solidly verified, as is McCraney’s remarkable claim that nothing in the Book of Mormon indicates ancient origin.3 Questioning the Book of Mormon is imperative, but doing the same in regards to the Bible is evidence of a fallen, unredeemed nature:
Born-Again Mormons study the Bible and trust solely in the truths it provides the world…When people from the alleys of higher criticism attempt to discredit the Bible and shake believers loose from its fruitful bows, we see it as an attempt of the unregenerated to impose their limited views on the human soul (pp. 219-220).
Finally, to McCraney's credit, he aptly recognizes that some anti-Mormon material is extremely offensive to active Latter-day Saints when it ridicules LDS temple rituals. While drawing parallels between a dream by Joseph Smith Sr. and the Book of Mormon, McCraney stops short, explaining “there are parallels to other LDS rites practiced today which, out of respect, will not be mentioned here” (p. 135). McCraney respectfully steers clear of discussing the temple in detail, other than hinting at ties to masonry (p. 210), claiming temples are no longer needed for Christians (p. 218), and that certain unexpressed changes were made to the ceremony in 1990 (p. 259).

Thus, McCraney's views of anti-Mormon literature are confusing, and he ends up indicting himself on several counts. Most notably, McCraney's television program, "Heart of the Matter," often flies in the face of what he describes as ineffective methods he would never attempt. In one recent episode, McCraney donned a homemade American Indian costume with an old bandana, feathers, and silly clown-like face paint, in order to discuss the Mountain Meadows Massacre. His brash and combative behavior on television stands in stark contrast to his professed desire to proselyte Mormons in ways Jesus Christ would approve.

As Brigham Young once stated: “If you let us alone, we will do it a little more leisurely; but if you persecute us, we will sit up nights to preach the Gospel” (Journal of Discourses 2:320). An interesting description of the reaction some members of the Church have to anti-Mormon literature and criticism is found in Michael R. Ash’s book Shaken Faith Syndrome (FAIR, 2008).

McCraney goes on to state: “…the Book of Mormon is no more threatening to Christianity than any biblically based piece of fictional literature, and no less impressive in its claims of Jesus Christ as Savior of the world…No, it cannot in any way be considered holy writ or canon. No, it is not the work of the ancient inhabitants of the Americas…But Born-Again Mormons place [it] on the same shelf as any work of fiction that seeks to exalt Jesus as the author of human salvation.” The rub, McCraney explains, citing Dan Vogel’s Making of a Prophet, is that instead of admitting he wrote it to solve the religious controversies of his day, Joseph Smith lied about having received it from God (see pp. 175-176).

According to McCraney, “the Book of Mormon has yet to find one single linguistic, historical, genetic, or geographical material support. In fact, there have only been material discoveries that refute Book of Mormon claims” (p. 184). For “authoritative insights into recent scientific findings,” he sends his readers to a deeply flawed DVD entitled DNA versus the Book of Mormon, created by Living Hope Ministries. For reviews of the film, see FAIR’s topical guide of review points at http://www.fairlds.org/apol/ai195.html and also a number of essays on DNA issues and the Book of Mormon in FARMS Review 15/2 (2003) and 18/1 (2006). McCraney avoids any mention of scholarship that puts the Book of Mormon on a solid footing geographically, archaeologically, linguistically, culturally, and so on. For one convenient source that covers much of this ground, see Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and John W. Welch, eds., Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2002). On the discovery of the name NHM on altars in southern Arabia that date to Lehi’s time and corroborate the historicity of the place-name Nahom in the Book of Mormon, see S. Kent Brown, “‘The Place Which Was Called Nahom’: New Light from Ancient Yemen,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8/1 (1999): 66–68; and Warren P. Aston, “Newly Found Altars from Nahom,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 10/2 (2001): 57–61. For a review of archaeological findings over the past fifty years that increasingly support the historicity of the Book of Mormon and that augur well for future discoveries, see John E. Clark, “Archaeology, Relics, and Book of Mormon Relics,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 14/2 (2006): 38–49. In stating that “the Church, in association with Brigham Young University, has an entire department called [FARMS] ...that has, on occasion, been consumed with the idea that it can present and/or locate infallible material proofs that will somehow legitimize the Church’s claims on the historic [sic] veracity of the Book of Mormon” (p. 182), McCraney falsely implies a skepticism on the part of the Church of Jesus Christ and BYU.

July 6, 2009

"Born-Again Mormon" Review, Part 7: The process of becoming born again

Continuing review of Shawn McCraney's I Was a Born-Again Mormon. See part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, and 9

I have always thought that God looks at an unregenerated human being very much like a bucking bronco running about in a large, beautiful corral. Some colts are broken and ready to have a saddle on their back very early in life while others may grow old and gray before they can be tamed. Only God knows the time, place, and way to touch each person and He certainly won't do it before or after anyone is ready. (McCraney, pp. 104-105).
McCraney describes being born again as something unique to the individual and helpfully includes a list of characteristics one will develop through spiritual rebirth. Much of his description easily resonates with Latter-day Saint belief, though McCraney notes no similarities.

McCraney holds that spiritual rebirth leads to a stronger desire to gratefully praise God for blessings and a yearning to share the gospel. Desire for sin and worldliness decreases as strength to overcome temptations increases (pp. 112-117). Charitable acts resulting from being born again are prompted by God’s grace, causing the believer to bear fruit of good works. These descriptions are found repeatedly in LDS scripture.1 The entire Book of Enos in the Book of Mormon succinctly encapsulates both the process and result of being truly born again through grace, while still emphasizing Enos’s individual role in the process. After feeling convicted of his personal sins and acknowledging them by repenting with faith in the Messiah, Enos is filled with forgiveness, gratitude to God, and a powerful love and concern for others:
And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; … And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed… And I said: Lord, how is it done? And he said unto me: Because of thy faith in Christ, whom thou hast never before heard nor seen…wherefore, go to, thy faith hath made thee whole. Now, it came to pass that when I had heard these words I began to feel a desire for the welfare of my brethren, the Nephites; wherefore, I did pour out my whole soul unto God for them… and I prayed unto him with many long strugglings for my brethren, the Lamanites. And it came to pass that after I had prayed and labored with all diligence, the Lord said unto me: I will grant unto thee according to they desires, because of thy faith (Enos 1:4-11, emphasis added).
McCraney also addresses several of what he calls “myths” regarding the process of spiritual rebirth. For example, he holds it is false that a person must belong to a certain denomination or that a person must be “worthy” in order to be born again. These assertions deserve more careful and respectful contemplation than they receive in the book. (After hearing a young woman give a talk on living worthily to recognize the Holy Ghost’s promptings McCraney “had to actually pray for strength to refrain from attacking her well-intentioned ignorance after the meeting” (107-109). While LDS thought, as explicated through King Benjamin, would agree that people cannot become “worthy” or earn salvation on their own merits (see Mosiah 2:20-26), McCraney is conflating being born again with the LDS belief that worthiness is usually requisite for recognizing the continuing influence of the Holy Ghost.2

Another myth is that spiritual rebirth is always instantaneous. To the contrary, McCraney says declaring a time, date and place of a spiritual rebirth is like casting pearls before swine and that a moment of spiritual rebirth does not automatically make a person perfect; such a doctrine is “straight from the heart of hell” (pp. 106-107, 111). Born-Again Mormons, he asserts, have a decreased desire for sin and despite continuing mistakes, “peacefully see all people as failing in the flesh and, with patience and love, accept [other] born-again believers as forgiven works in progress” (pp. 111-112). One danger McCraney sees in believing a person automatically becomes perfect is in setting up unrealistic expectations. After his own born again experience he describes backsliding after neglecting to study the Bible, pray, or fellowship with other Christians (ie, non-Mormons).3 His failures were devastating; “[I] found myself in a far deeper spiritual pit that I had been before I ever knew the Lord”(p. 88). McCraney’s tendency to desire perfection carried over from his days as a believing Latter-day Saint, and some current Saints place so much pressure on themselves to achieve perfection they become exhausted, forgetting about the support offered them through the grace of Christ. Former LDS Church president Howard W. Hunter lamented this tendency:
It has always struck me as being sad that those among us who would not think of reprimanding our neighbor, much less a total stranger, for mistakes that have been made or weaknesses that might be evident, will nevertheless be cruel and unforgiving to themselves. When the scriptures say to judge righteously, that means with fairness and compassion and charity. That’s how we must judge ourselves. We need to be patient and forgiving of ourselves, just as we must be patient and forgiving of others.4
Another myth McCraney counters is that merely saying a simple sinner’s prayer produces spiritual rebirth. According to McCraney, such a prayer cannot result in being born again because no action on the part of the sinner can. In his view, God decides “when, how, where and if it will ever occur in the heart of one of His creations”(p. 105). Thus, the issue of human agency is ambiguous throughout the book. One might ask McCraney why God doesn’t simply cause all His creations to call on Him now. Whereas LDS doctrine openly and clearly includes grace and works, God and man, divine will and human agency in the process of salvation, McCraney insists it must be one or the other, but vacillates by claiming “Born-Again Mormons recognize salient arguments from both Calvin and Arminius and stand on biblically sound theology regarding salvation” without explaining exactly what that means or how it is possible (p. 152). His soteriology is logically untenable and presents a solid double-standard:
There is no act, deed, amount of money, service, work, diligence, ordinance, attendance, temple rite, testimony, or self-sacrificial offering of any kind that could ever take any part of restoring fallen humanity to the presence of God. I cannot emphasize this point too emphatically. Such faithless acts or attitudes aren't needed, aren't worthy, and would never meet the demands of perfect justice that God demands for sin and rebellion. Few human ideologies more readily mock God, religious or otherwise, than for human beings to think they could ever do anything to contribute to the suffering, sacrifice, payment, or atonement of sin Jesus gave on the cross. And yet it happens all the time (p. 30).
After removing human will from the salvation equation he later describes what one must do in order to be saved:
“First, resign yourself to the fact that you are a sinner...Next, ask out loud for Jesus to take over your sins and life...Tell God that you accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of your life and that you turn your will and ways over to Him” (p. 116).
In order to be meaningful these actions would require the agency and action of the believer which is impossible from a Calvinistic stance that God saves His elect through irresistible grace; the entire process beginning to end being directly caused by God alone. McCraney makes no distinctions to reconsile free will with predestination or anything else. In short, he tells readers they can do nothing in order to be saved, and then tells them exactly what they must do to be saved. This double-standard is captured in one sentence: “We are not at all in control of the situation but we must relinquish control to God” (p. 105). I cannot see how it is possible to relinquish what one never possessed. McCraney must either openly state without exception that true salvation by grace can involve absolutely no effort, choice, or works on the part of the saved, or he must recognize that his disagreement of LDS doctrine is only quantitative, not qualitative. As David Paulson pointed out:
The idea of God asking that we do something before the fullness of his blessings is conferred is quite common in Christendom, even if it is believed that all he asks is that we accept Christ as our personal Savior.5
From an LDS view, the acknowledgement of individual agency makes a truly loving relationship between God and man possible wherein humans are more than mere creatures which God, in His mysterious wisdom, elects to save or damn. Humans are God’s children to whom He freely offers love and desires love in return. Certainly such a relationship seems to contradict the omnipotent, unmovable God of the creeds because there appears to be a limitation to the power of God. This limitation is beautifully and tragically represented by Jesus Christ’s lament atop the Mount of Olives overlooking the city where His own had rejected His offer of love: 
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! (Matthew 23:37, emphasis added).
In his intensive study on Mormon thought, Blake Ostler describes the relationship between God’s grace, love, human works, and salvation:
Even though we do not earn or merit God’s love, it is revealed that God is loving toward us. It is not a matter of the works we have done to merit his love; rather, it is a matter of the kind of person God is. He is loving…Rather than mere vessels of clay, God has chosen to create us as children in His image. His love entails that He seeks our interests as His own and that, to the extent possible, he saves all who can be saved in the context of freely returned love.6
McCraney believes it is impossible (or at other times he frames it as simply difficult) for Latter-day Saints to actually extend love to God in this way. “More often than not,” he says, they "have difficulty turning their total heart to God because they are so accustomed to taking matters into their own hands…This is partly due to the theological idea…that Man is really good at heart instead of constantly prone to self-interest, pride, anger, and other evils of the spirit.” Because of this view, McCraney asserts, “there really is no good push, focus, or purpose for spiritual rebirth among the Saints. In the same vein, I’ve yet to hear a reasonable explanation of why Jesus said that we must be born-again, if we were born good or without a sinful spirit in the first place” (p. 106).

His question can be avoided altogether once one understands that Latter-day Saints do not deny they are fallen and must wrestle with the flesh and yield to the Spirit, relying “wholly upon the merits of Christ” in order to put off the natural man through His grace (2 Nephi 31:19; Mosiah 3:19). McCraney is correct, and Saints should take note: when one believes they are self-righteously in no need of Christ’s grace they are unlikely candidates for having a soft heart toward God and their fellowmen, and are thus likely to overlook their need for Christ’s atonement.

In the next segment I will look at McCraney's explanation of why "anti-Mormon literature" generally fails.

LDS scripture is replete with admonitions to be born again. Those who are being born again are told they will “be filled” with charity, the pure love of Christ, rather than filling themselves (see Mosiah 2:4; Alma 38:12; 3 Nephi 12:6; Moroni 7:47-48.; Moroni 8:26). King Benjamin’s sermon in Mosiah 2-5 provides an insightful description of being born again. As David Paulson explained, “Latter-day Saints have consistently taught that it is not our works that save us, while simultaneously teaching that some of the blessings imparted by God’s grace…are dependent upon our complying with the conditions he specifies for appropriating that grace” (Paulsen, “Work, Worship and Grace,” FARMS Review 18:2 (2006) 108).

See 1 Thes. 5: 19; Jacob 6:8; and James E. Faust, “Did You Get The Right Message?” Ensign, May 2004.

Throughout the book McCraney repeatedly asserts that Mormons are not Christians. For a solid critique of this view, see Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks, Offenders For a Word: How Anti-Mormons Play Word Games to Attack the Latter-day Saints, and Eugene England’s brief but powerful essay “What It Means to be a Mormon Christian,” Dialogues With Myself: Personal Essays on Mormon Experience, (Signature Books, 1984), pp. 173-190.

Howard W. Hunter, “The Dauntless Spirit of Resolution,” BYU Devotional, 5 January 1992, Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, p. 34.

Paulson, Walker, opt. cit., p. 97.

Blake T. Ostler, Exploring Mormon Thought Vol. 2: The Problems of Theism and the Love of God (Kofford Books, 2006), p.384.