The fourth reason offered by Mormon apologist Dr. Dan Brown in his defense that Mormons are Christians centers on a theological term very few actually use anymore in everyday parlance, but Mormons cite to dupe those who don’t know any better.
That theological term, which has been revised and perverted to mean something wholly other than what the Bible discusses about it, is atonement.
So, let’s talk about Reason #4: Wrong Atonement.
Before we get to Dr. Brown’s reason, let’s look at what atonement is, first, to familiarize ourselves with the genuine before we get to the counterfeit.
The Hebrew word for “atone” is kipper or kofer, which basically means, in relation to the idea of salvation, to “cover,” “reconcile,” or “forgive.”
It does not mean “at-one-ment,” as some have creatively, if not perversely, imagined.
The Greek word, which is usually translated as “propitiate” or “propitiation,” is hilasmos, means basically the same thing as kipper: to “forgive,” “pardon,” or “reconcile.”
Another Greek word, katallegé, is used four times in the New Testament (Rom. 5:11; 11:15; 2 Cor. 5:18-19) and carries with it the meaning of “reconciliation,” “restoration of the favor of God,” and “reestablishment of friendship” with God.
Unger defines atonement thus,
In accordance with the force of theses terms ["Heb. kaphar, to 'cover, cancel'; Gr. katallagé, 'exchange, reconciliation'"] of Scripture the atonement is the covering over of sin, the reconciliation between God and man, accomplished by the Lord Jesus Christ. It is that special result of Christ’s sacrificial sufferings and death by virtue of which all who exercise proper penitence and faith receive forgiveness of their sins and obtain peace (The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, 123).
According to G. E. Ladd, the idea of propitiation or atonement throughout Greek literature means “to appease a person who has been offended. Traditionally, theology has recognized in [the] words of Paul [the apostle] a sense in which the death of Christ has effected an appeasing of the wrath of God against sin by virtue of which the sinner is delivered from God’s wrath and made the recipient of his gracious gift of love” (A Theology of the New Testament 2001: 470).
Finally, John Frame argues that the atonement was sacrificial (Jesus offered himself as the sinless Lamb of God), propitiatory (Jesus bore the wrath and anger of God that was due to human sin), conciliatory (the sinner is no longer an enemy of God’s), and redemptive (Jesus’ sacrifice purchased for God his own possession. “So, we belong to God both by creation and by redemption”) (Salvation Belong to the Lord 2006: 148-50).
In summary, the Christian concept of atonement may be defined as the covering of sin by a perfect blood sacrifice, whereby when it is applied, reconciles the sinner to God and turns him from an enemy to a friend, from a sinner to a saint.
Now, how is the Mormon idea of atonement vastly different, which leaves the Mormon, once again, on the outside looking in when it comes to actually being a Christian? Dr. Brown wrote,
4. We are Christians because “we believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel” (Articles of Faith No. 3). Indeed, there is no other way to salvation.
Two fatal flaws are made by Dr. Brown which distinguishes the Mormon concept of atonement from the ones described above.
First, Brown, like all Mormons, wants to incorporate his personal efforts into the concept. He even cites the Mormon Articles of Faith as evidence that unless the sinner is obedient to God’s laws, then he cannot be atoned for.
The second fatal flaw in Dr. Brown’s argument has to do with exclusivity. There is no other way to salvation unless there is a mixing of Christ’s atonement and the sinner’s keeping of the law. What a bunch of diabolical nonsense.
What Dr. Brown is essentially repeating is the argument raised by some legalistic Judaizers in the early formation of the Christian Church. They had no problem in believing in Jesus, at least verbally. It was their inclusion of the obligation of keeping the Law of Moses that was the problem.
At the Jerusalem Council, found in the Bible, the Book of Acts, Chapter 15, it was resolved that it was God’s grace that redeems; not the Law.
That is not to say that the Law was unholy or non-beneficial. It is to say that the Law was not intended to redeem, but to condemn. Therefore, anyone wanting to mix grace and law as the means to activate Jesus’ atonement unto salvation, only placed themselves under a curse instead (Gal. 3:10). It did not set them free.
This is the very thing the Mormons are repeating today in their redefinition of atonement. Oh, Jesus atoned for sin, alright, but it is incumbent upon the sinner to fully put into effect that atonement by willingly placing himself back under the burden of trying to do something that even the Jews could not do: obey the law perfectly unto salvation.
See James 2:10 on the necessity of keeping the law perfectly and the consequences for failure to do so.
Therefore, Reason #4 that Mormons Cannot Be Christians is simply that whatever atonement they’re speaking about has nothing to do with the atonement that Jesus completed.
Because when Jesus went to the cross to atone for sin, it was final. There was nothing left to do. All man had to do was believe.
Otherwise, when Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished!” (Jn. 1930), he would have been lying, since there would have been something left for the sinner to do, namely, atone for his own sin, through legalistic means, which would have rendered Jesus’ death on the cross null and void (Gal. 2:21).