I grew up attending church and believing in God. I was what some would call a “nominal” or “cultural” Christian, that is—I believed in name only, but was not really a committed follower of Jesus Christ in my heart or life. It was not until my freshman year of college that I became a Christian at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.
One fascinating aspect of how I came to faith in Christ is the role that Mormonism (Latter Day Saints) played. My exploration of Mormonism was in one sense a catalyst for me to actually consider who God is and what I would believe. Mormonism ended up being a step in the journey for me to faith in the God of the Bible—a God who I now understand to be VERY different from that which is portrayed in Mormon theology. (If you are a Mormon reading this post, thank you for reading this post. Please take the time to read it all the way to the end. For those with little understanding of the differences between Mormonism and a biblical Christianity, click here or here, and read on).
Here’s my story how I was converted to Christianity and the role that Mormonism played.
Growing Up in Nevada
I grew up in a small town in Nevada. I had lots of Mormon friends and even a few Mormon girlfriends. I deeply appreciated the friendships and connection I had with the Mormon community. In high school, some of my friends and I formed a ska band and we almost named it “Tom and the Mormons”—thankfully we settled on the much better name “Toad Repellent.” We had great times together and it was a sweet privilege to be part of their lives. I also appreciated the families of my Mormon friends; they were kind to me and welcomed me in. In addition to this, we also had quite similar moral values, and I appreciated that common ground.
Yet, despite having all these friendships, I had never really taken the time to explore Mormon theology. It was not really a priority to me; other things were far more important, things like having friends, having a girlfriend, and pursuing the joy of playing music. Little did I know that my lack of interest in studying theology would soon radically change.
Exploring Mormon Theology
My exploration of Mormon theology began when I was 17. I had just broken up with a Mormon girlfriend and was heart-broken. I was searching for answers and began asking deep questions about God and the truth of reality. Up to that point, I had not really thought through what I believed or why I believed what I did. I just considered the Bible true. But I never explored how a historic Christian Faith compared to Mormonism.
Breaking up with a Mormon girlfriend gave some impetus to study the Mormon religion. One reason we had broken up was the fact that I was not a Mormon. This got me wondering if I myself could believe in the God of Mormonism, and thus my search for truth began.
In the state of my searching, I had a sweet friend who was a Christian who sat down and explained a bit of the Bible to me. She explained about some of the differences between a biblical understanding of God and a Mormon understanding. She also encouraged me to look to God and not a girl to find my happiness. This helped for a little bit, but that aching in my heart remained and my search for truth continued.
In the process of searching I also had conversations with my Mormon friends. I spent some time studying and talking about the Bible with them and even attended one of their services. I asked them questions and kept thinking about the topic. While this was happening, I was often encouraged by my Mormon friends to simply read the Book of Mormon and pray about whether it is true or not (see this post one why a person should not do this).
During all this, I told my parents that I was curious about Mormonism and wanted to learn more about it. I was helpfully given a book that laid out some of the basic differences between a biblical view of God and a Mormon view. I was astonished to learn just how radically different the two views were! Some of the basic Mormon teachings which were the most shocking included the view that Jesus and Satan are brothers, that Heavenly Father was married and had multiple wives, and that one day we ourselves could become gods with our own planets.
In my limited study of Mormonism, I became persuaded that it was a far cry from the Bible, and that if I were to accept the Bible as true, I could not accept Mormonism as true. I also could not accept the idea that Joseph Smith was a true prophet from God if what he taught was so different from the Bible. It did not matter how many human testimonies ‘with burning bosoms’ I heard, if the Bible was true than Joseph Smith could not be a true prophet.
This study of Mormonism helped me to begin thinking more deeply about God and the Bible. In a fascinating way, by rejecting the errors of Mormonism I then started to become more interested in theology and the knowledge of who God really was. However, at this point I still had not surrendered my life to Christ: I was still trying to find my life in relationships with girls and through music.
CONVERSION TO CHRISTIANITY
At the age of 18, I moved to Las Vegas to study music at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. I presumed I would easily make the top band and be one of the best trumpet players there. In reality, I was probably the worst trumpeter in the studio. I did not make the top music ensemble that year, or my sophomore or junior year—I did make it my senior year, but even then, I was still only last chair! I was humbled and broken-hearted. One of the things I built my life upon—music—was not something I could use to feel good about myself or form my identity, unless my identity was ‘worst trumpet player at UNLV.’
At the same time, I was in a new location without my high school friends and without a girlfriend. I was lonely. To remedy this, I thought it might be a good idea to start attending a Christian student group on campus. So, in a quest mainly for new friends and a girlfriend, I began attending our school’s chapter of Campus Crusade for Christ.
The weekly meetings consisted of teaching, worship songs, and prayer. There were also testimonies and Bible study. One of the student leaders met with me and shared the gospel with me. I thought I already was a Christian and what he shared was old news. But I soon became disabused of this notion as I spent time with the Christians of Campus Crusade for Christ.
During some of our group’s meetings we would break up into pairs and share what God had been teaching us in the Scriptures. I really struggled to share anything or even understand the notion of knowing God of God “teaching us” things. Other students, however, spoke about God in a way that I had never known to be possible: they talked about God as though they had real personal knowledge of Him in their hearts and lives, that God played a key role in their thoughts and hopes, that God was the treasure of their lives. I began to wonder if I really ever was a Christian.
During this season, I believe God was drawing me to Himself. I continued to hear the gospel regularly—God is loving and holy, our sin has alienated us from Him and caused a relational separation from Him, Jesus died for our sins and rose again, all who turn from their sin and trust in Christ will be saved from their sin and be restored to a right relationship with God. I also read an apologetics book called “More than a Carpenter” by Josh McDowell. I never really struggled with evidence for God or Christianity, but I was impressed to learn how intellectually compelling Christianity was, especially the case for Jesus’ resurrection and the reliability of the Scriptures.
At some point I learned that if one is to be a Christian, they must put God first in their life. And at the end the McDowell book, there was a prayer to surrender your life to Christ and put your faith in him. In the half-lit darkness of my dorm room, from the mattress of a twin bed, I prayed to God “Lord, I don’t know if I am a Christian yet, but I want to be one. I want you to be first in my life.” I believe that is when I became a Christian.
A new joy and light began to flood my thinking and heart. I marveled at God and the fact that I could know Him. I loved and treasured God! I started reading the Bible regularly (a KJV I had from growing up) and I started praying. I found that I suddenly enjoyed singing worship songs and I experienced a sweetness of drawing near to Him that filled my heart with gladness and wonder. I even started telling others about Christ—something which would have been utterly foreign before. I started writing songs about knowing God. (You can find some of the songs I wrote later on here).
I also experienced a conviction of sin and an awareness that I was a sinner. What I had done in high school in relationships with girls, who were clearly not my wife, was wrong and evil. Trying to live for music or friends or being in a relationship with a girl instead of God was wrong and evil. God is God and deserves our love and worship; to forsake God and put other loves before Him is a form of spiritual adultery (see the book of Hosea). In an act of repentance, I called up one of my ex-girlfriends and apologized. I also took a year off dating anyone to focus my attention on knowing God. In addition to this, I sensed a conviction of sin over other areas of my life: God was showing me how absolutely clouded my life was with sin, but also how deep and amazing was His grace, love, and mercy toward me in Christ.
Through all this, God was comforting my heart and filling me up with the knowledge of Him. I began to know experientially that God really is the “God of all comfort” (2 Cor 1:3). He comforted me in my pain and confusion, He comforted me with the truths of the gospel and His love for me. This was a love truly better than any other love I had known, one that was better than life (Ps 63:3).
Along with experiencing God’s comfort, I began to delight in Him and His ways. Learning about God was thrilling and sweet and walking in His ways were freeing and good. God was shaping me to be more like Christ; He was helping me to say no to temptations and walk away from spiritual darkness. I was now living a life of “walking” with God and living for Christ (Col 2:6-7). Of course, my walk with Christ was not without its faults and failures—as it is still not without them today—but I saw God growing me to be more like Jesus and keep my close to Him.
REVISITING MORMON THEOLOGY
In the newness of the life I experienced in Christ, I also revisited the stark differences between a historic biblical Christianity and that of Mormonism. I spoke with Mormon friends at college and Mormon missionaries on campus. I studied and studied and studied. I read the Bible and I read parts of the Mormon Scriptures, and I read books about on the topic.
I found out that the more I studied, the more I realized how utterly different Mormonism is compared to Christianity. Though the two religions use the same words, they often have completely different meanings for these words. I began to become even more convinced that if the Bible is true, then Mormon theology is not and Joseph Smith could not be a true prophet.
One of the most fundamental differences is found in the doctrine of God. Mormonism teaches that God the Father is a created being (along with Jesus and the Holy Spirit as created beings), and that God the Father was once only a man who became a god after a prolonged obedience. Thus, in Mormon thought, God the Father had a god before He was god. And, so did that god before Him, and the cycle continues—in Mormonism this is called “the doctrine of eternal progression.” This means that in all of reality there are countless gods in the universe—even if Mormons say that “for them there is only one” they worship. This is a FAR cry from the Bible, which teaches that there is only one God in all of existence and reality (Isaiah 43:10, 44:6), a God who eternally exists in three persons (Father, Son, Holy Spirit). A biblical view of God is monotheistic, while Mormonism holds to a form of polytheism (though they claim to worship only one god, they are polytheistic in claiming there is more than one true God in all of existence). A biblical view of God holds to the view that God is eternal and uncreated in his nature (Psalm 90:2), while Mormonism teaches that there was once a time when Heavenly Father was not or did not exist.
PRAYING FOR MORMON FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS
Since my earliest days as a new Christian in college I have HAD countless conversations with Mormons (missionaries and non-missionaries), and I continue to have conversations with Mormons. Though I believe they are teaching a false gospel (Gal 1:6), I know that God calls us to love them and speak the truth in love.
If you are a Mormon reading this blog, I encourage to watch this video with an open mind. It is called the gospel for Mormons.
If you are not a Mormon, but are considering Mormonism, perhaps read this blog I wrote on why you should NOT pray about the Book of Mormon—at least you should not pray about it in the way that Mormon missionaries would encourage you to pray about it.