In 2000, McKeever and Johnson published the cleverly-named Mormonism 101
, a guide to Christians about what Mormons believe, complete with "witnessing tips" at the end of every section. The Mormon apologetic machine predictably responded with Mormonism 201
, an online chapter-by-chapter refutation of points made by McKeever and Johnson. Of course, no Christian interested in witnessing to Mormons is likely to read 201
, and the few Mormons who read 101
are not going to be much influenced by it. So why were so many otherwise busy people were willing to spend a good deal of time writing the 18 chapters for 201
Mormons feel chronically misunderstood by the rest of Christianity. This is understandable, given the persistence of the silly question "Are Mormons Christian?" But apologists and missionaries alike seem certain that there are simple and correct answers to all questions or criticisms of Mormon doctrine, teachings, and history, and that they, as Mormons, can provide these explanations. Of course, when Bruce R. McConkie, a Mormon apostle, tried his hand at a systematic exposition of Mormon doctrine, it was deemed to be riddled with errors by his fellow Mormon leaders. Christian apologists should thus take heart--it is clear that no one can properly explain Mormonism. This fairly obvious point seems lost on the growing Mormon apologetic community, which continues to crank out "explanations" to every criticism, invariably noting that the critic just doesn't understand Mormon doctrine or history.
A more attainable goal is to teach Mormons about Christianity. A lot of Mormons have never read the Bible (which Mormons accept only "as far as it is translated correctly") and don't know much about the twenty centuries of Christian tradition they reject under the empty label "The Great Apostasy." I suppose one can say the same of many Christians, but the zeal with which Mormonism proclaims a fallen Christianity lays a special burden, I would think, on Mormons to at least understand what they condemn. I know, condemn is a strong word, but here are Joseph's own words: "[T]he Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors [i.e., Christian ministers] were all corrupt," and so on (JS-History 1:19).
In fact, there's a good deal to be said for Christian creeds and ministers. They are neither abominable nor corrupt (which is not to say they are necessarily correct or saintly). I don't think Mormons who take Christianity 99R, "Remedial Christianity for Mormons," are likely to change denominations, but it would certainly make them more tolerant and ecumenical. Furthermore, seeing the diverse doctrinal interpretations that Christians draw from the Bible should make Mormons more open to the range of interpretations that can be drawn from Mormon scripture and history. If your fellow Mormon has a different take on Mormon doctrine than you do, that doesn't mean he's wrong. If the Mormon tent were spread wider, I think the Church and its members would be the better for it.
The agenda for 99R is simply to try and read the New Testament and general Christian history without "Mormon glasses" (that's a metaphor, not a reference to the Urim and Thummim). I don't know anyone who has tried to do this for a Mormon audience with anything but apologetic motives, either for or against, so I will make the attempt in successive "99R" posts to follow. If any reader has particular doctrines or texts of interest, feel free to email me with requests.