Criticism of Mormonism/Video/Search for the Truth DVD/Burning in the Bosom


Jesus Christ/Joseph Smith or Search for the Truth DVD

Special Features: Burning in the Bosom

Claim: "One of the things our Mormon friends tell that the reason they're sure about Mormonism is [be]cause when they prayed about the Book of Mormon; when they prayed about the truth of Mormonism; they had a burning in the bosom. Well, many of us have prayed; I've prayed, and I have tremendous joy in knowing Jesus." - Floyd McElveen

Latter-day Saints are not surprised that other Christians find tremendous joy in prayer and experiencing a personal relationship with Christ. Latter-day Saints also enjoy this same feeling.

Members of the Church believe that God will give the Holy Spirit to them that ask (Luke 11:13). Moreover, one is entitled to and should receive a spiritual witness from the Holy Ghost about the truthfulness of the scriptures (including the Bible and the Book of Mormon) before they accept them as true. This is frequently referred to by some as a burning in the bosom, using the phrase from the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C 9:8), and the same concept as recorded in Luke 24:32. Receiving a spiritual witness of knowledge and truthfulness from the Holy Ghost is biblically sound (see John 14:26).

Claim: "Many of us have that exhilaration, but we don't depend on that. If we did, we might easily be led astray, and here's why: Jeremiah 17:9 says: The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9) The heart of man is wicked. Our feelings betray us all the time. That's why there are so many cults and so many [inaudible] and differences in the gospel of Jesus Christ. So God is saying 'do not depend on your feelings.'" - Floyd McElveen

As explained above, LDS are depending on a witness of the Holy Spirit, not just feelings or what is in their heart and to do so is biblical (John 14:26).

Mr McElveen's narrow view is correct that the Bible is replete with warnings to those whose hardened hearts are uncircumcised, blind, vain, foolish, lustful, or lifted up in pride. It also cautions against those who only pay lip service to God, while their hearts are far from Him. All members of the Church are mindful of God's admonition.

God, however, also speaks in His Word about hearts that are humble, honest, true, who have an eye single towards His glory. How can a deceitful heart "...believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation?" (Romans 10:10) Only Jesus knows what is in the heart of each of us. Only Jesus has the right to make that judgment. Certainly a heart that is pure before God is to be trusted. Certainly feelings and knowledge given by God are to be trusted.

If every heart is always deceitful as Mr. McElveen would have us accept, why would the Lord promise that those He has blessed with a pure heart will see Him? (Matthew 5:8) When the Master spoke those words, He did not confine that glorious experience only to those who have accepted Him as their Savior and have passed from this life. He simply promised that those who are blessed with a pure heart will see God. While still living, Stephen saw the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God as he was being stoned to death (Acts 7:55). Are we to believe Stephen's heart or feelings were deceitful? Whoever the Lord chooses to bless with His presence may see Him. Latter-day Saints believe that this same promise was made manifest once more early in the spring of 1820, when Joseph Smith walked into a small grove of trees near his home in Palmyra, New York.

McElveen's statement also indicates a lack of familiarity with how members of the Church understand revelatory experiences. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that we cannot trust our hearts or our feelings. God has given us additional revelation, to ensure that there is no confusion.

Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things.
Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God? (D&C 6:22–23). (emphasis added)

Notice the information spoken to the mind, and the peace then follows. And, the solution for later doubts or concerns is not reliance on a feeling, but an admonition to recall specific information communicated earlier. A witness of the Spirit confirms information that has been previously learned through other means.

This matches a later scriptural description:

Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.
But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.
But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong... (D&C 9:7–9). (emphasis added)

Again, heart and mind are in unity, or there is no revelation. Things must be clear, logical, and reasonable to us, not just feel good.

The Holy Ghost brings the feelings of peace and joy (Romans 14:17). An absence of the Holy Ghost brings mental and emotional turmoil and confusion. When a Latter-day Saint has experienced the former, the turmoil, aggression, and hate that pervades anti-Mormon materials (such as this DVD) are easy to distinguish. Small wonder that many choose to avoid them—not because they fear them, but because such experiences are unpleasant and distasteful.

Claim: "...Our feelings betray us all the time...So God is saying 'do not depend on your feelings.'" - Floyd McElveen

One must be careful in how one uses the word feelings. To be sure, many members will talk about how they felt when they prayed. When critics begin to attack or mock that which they have never experienced or do not understand, they risk fundamentally misunderstanding what the Latter-day Saints mean. There is no description that a hostile listener could not misinterpret if they chose.

The problem is that there is no good expression for exactly describing the experience of the Holy Ghost to someone else who has not had it. Words like feel and burning of the bosom are used as a convenient verbal shorthand, which works fine among fellow Saints.

A more neutral expression that could avoid misunderstanding feeling or emotion might be experiencing the Spirit. This experience often has nothing to do with emotion (though it may be followed by emotions of joy, peace and gratitude). Elijah described the Holy Ghost clearly:

...And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake:
And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.
And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. (1 Kings 19:11-13) (emphasis added)

Thus, the Holy Ghost may speak words and concepts to the mind—it is not merely an emotional experience. To outside observers, emotion may be the only visible sign of such an experience—the voice will not be perceived by others, but this makes it no less real.

Interestingly, the introductory text to the DVD says:

We pray that it will touch the hearts of all who watch through the grace and truth of Christ Jesus.

The present section of the DVD spends much effort trying to convince the Latter-day Saints not to trust their feelings. Why, then, do the video's producers hope viewers' feelings are touched? Could it be that they realize that the Holy Ghost does work (in part) through the sentiments of the heart?

Claim: "[God tells us not to trust] a burning in the bosom, not an exhilaration, not a suffusion of joy. " - Floyd McElveen

It is very strange to hear a Bible-believing Christian claim that a burning in the bosom is of no importance, since it is taught in the Bible.

Following Jesus' resurrection, He walked with two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They did not recognize Jesus, but listened to Him as "he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself" (Luke 24:27).

After breaking bread with them, Jesus was revealed to the disciples, and vanished.

Interestingly, the disciples did not say to each other such things as:

  • "We should have known it was Jesus because of His scriptural teaching."
  • "We should have known it was Jesus because the scriptures (i.e., the Old Testament since the NT wasn't written yet) tells us that He would walk with two disciples on the road to Emmaus."

Rather, they said:

Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures? (Luke 24:32, emphasis added)

The experience on the road to Emmaus illustrates again that a witness of the Holy Ghost is not just a feeling. The Holy Ghost is both a feeling or experiencing process, but it is not empty emotion. Rather, information is always transmitted with it. Thus, Jesus did not just give the disciples a feeling, but taught them information from the scriptures which gave intellectual or mental insight and satisfaction.

The mental conclusions they drew from that information were simultaneously confirmed by the inward burning that can accompany the Holy Spirit.

Would the critics likewise dismiss Jesus' disciples' witness because it was a burning in the bosom? Would they characterize this experience as merely the emotional?

Claim: "Depend on the Word of God, period." - Floyd McElveen

This claim demonstrates how circular the critics' arguments are. One assumes that Mr. McElveen believes the Bible is the only Word of God.

Where does God tell us to depend only on the Word of God, period, or only and entirely on the Bible? Nowhere.

Jesus tells us in the Bible that we should live by "every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4) (emphasis added). This statement was made prior to the Bible being compiled; none of the New Testament had been written. So, Jesus clearly taught that everything that God said (both prior to His statement, and after His statement) be depended upon.

Even if we presume that the Bible is the only Word of God, how do we know to trust the Bible? It is circular to believe the Bible simply because the Bible tells us to:

Believer - The Bible is the word of God!
Unbeliever - How do you know?
Believer - Because it says so, right in the Bible!
Unbeliever - ???

Like the circular argument above, the Qu'ran tells us to believe the Qu'ran; the Book of Mormon tells us to believe the Book of Mormon. Yet the critics, rightly, criticize this reasoning. Likewise, the Bible cannot be the ultimate source of authority for itself; we need something outside the Bible to confirm the Bible's authority. Who can confirm God's Word, save God Himself by a witness of the Spirit? The Book of Mormon asks us to pray to God to have its truthfulness revealed to us (Moroni 10꞉4).

Mr. McElveen seems to understand this problem, on some level, and changes his story slightly in the next item.

Claim: "Then, you may have wonderful feelings. For instance, the Bible says, "in thy presence is a fulness of joy. At thy right hand are pleasures for evermore." And I love my relationship with Jesus; it's wonderful. Besides that, I know I'm going to heaven. But anything short of that, feelings only decimate." - Floyd McElveen

So, Mr. McElveen trusts feelings insofar as they confirm what he wants us to believe—that the Bible is God's Word, that Jesus saves, and that the believer is destined for heaven.

This is exactly what the Latter-day Saints claim—after learning and implementing true principles (e.g. accepting Jesus as the Son of God) one will be filled with joy. This is the action of the Holy Ghost.

Mr. McElveen just doesn't believe that such an experience can extend beyond the Bible.

But, at least he realizes that the Bible needs something to confirm its status as the Word of God. This fatally undercuts the doctrine of "don't believe anything except what you read in the Bible."

However, the critics continue to have a big problem with circular reasoning.

To read more:

  • J. Cooper Johnson, "Can We Trust Our Feelings?" FAIR link

Claim: "I don't believe what I believe because it makes me happy or because it makes me feel good. I believe what I believe because the Bible says that that's true, and I believe in the authority of the Bible." - Joel Kramer

This is simply more circular reasoning: "I believe the Bible is true because the Bible says it is true." The Book of Mormon also claims to be true (e.g., Moroni 7꞉35; Moroni 10꞉29), but yet critics reject the Book of Mormon. This type of reasoning is unsound.

The bottom line is that basing one's beliefs on the Bible is an admirable and wise way to make decisions about one's faith. LDS believe that God's word is always a good source to use when making such decisions . The major difference, of course, is that the LDS believe God's word encompasses more than just the Bible. We believe that the Book of Mormon is God's word. We believe that the Doctrine and Covenants is God's word. We believe that the Pearl of Great Price is God’s word. We believe that we can receive God's word through modern-day prophets. We believe that we can receive God’s word for us through personal revelations from the Holy Ghost. In short, we believe that the heavens are still open, and that God continues to talk to His children today, the same as he did in biblical times.

Despite the assertion to the contrary, LDS do not make decisions concerning God's word or their eternal condition based solely on what makes them happy or what makes them feel good. However, surely a confirmation of faith from the Holy Ghost would make one happy or make one feel good, but that feeling comes only after much study of God's word and prayer.

To read more:

Claim: "When Paul preached the gospel, he opened the scriptures, Acts 17:2, 3, or you can go to Acts 9, and it says Paul proved from the scriptures that Jesus is the Christ. You can go to Acts 18:28, Apollos, it says he mightily convinced the Jews, publicly proving from the scriptures that Jesus is the Christ." - Dave Hunt

Latter-day Saints agree that preaching from and study of the scriptures is an important way to prepare ourselves to experience the Holy Ghost's witness of truth.

However, Mr. Hunt ignores the many times in the Book of Acts when the Holy Ghost bore witness, instructed, or directed members in ways that were not in scripture (the New Testament writings did not even exist at this point).

Acts 13:2
As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.

There was no Bible or writing to tell the apostles that Barnabas and Saul should be called as missionaries. Should the apostles have ignored this because it's not in the Bible?

Acts 15:28
For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things...

When the apostles were confronted with the issue of circumcision for Christian converts, they actually violated Jewish scriptural commands regarding circumcision. If they had relied only on the Word of God that they had received up to that point, they would have erred. But, they continued to listen to the on-going Word of God through the Holy Spirit. Following reasoned discussion of the issues (mind) their hearts were also in unity and peace about the correct action.

Many more examples are available here.

Claim: "OK, so I'm not just to go by emotion or some burning in the bosom, although I certainly have a convicting power of the Holy Spirit because the Bible speaks to my heart; it's true..." - Dave Hunt

Again, the critics want to have their cake and eat it too. On some level, they seem to realize that the Bible must have something to verify the Bible's authority. So, they claim that the Holy Ghost has used convincing power with regards to the Bible.

Members of the Church bear witness that the same convincing power is present when they read the Bible and the Book of Mormon. They find no conflict between the teachings found in both. So, why should they not accept both?

Critics simply fall back on the non-Biblical claim that the Bible is all sufficient.

To read more:

Claim: "But the Mormon says 'well, in spite of all the evidence, DNA evidence,' and the fact that they can't document anything—that there's no historical evidence, and so forth—it reads like a lot of nonsense in many places. They say 'yeah, but I have a burning in the bosom. Now, if you will just read it, and you'll get a burning in the bosom, and that will prove to you that it is true.'" - Dave Hunt

Mr. Hunt is, unfortunately, bearing false witness. Mormons do not say "well, in spite of all the evidence..." They do not believe in spite of evidence—they are convinced by the evidence which supports the Book of Mormon's claim to be scripture.

Non-LDS Christians make the same sort of decisions all the time—any atheist can provide Christians with evidence for the non-existence of God. Christians reply—quite rightly—that the atheist's evidence is not sufficient to outweigh the evidence which the Christian has for God's existence.

Evaluating evidence involves choice. God will not force us to believe:

The call to faith is a summons to engage the heart, to attune it to resonate in sympathy with principles and values and ideals that we devoutly hope are true, and to have reasonable but not certain grounds for believing them to be true. I am convinced that there must be grounds for doubt as well as belief in order to render the choice more truly a choice—and, therefore, the more deliberate and laden with personal vulnerability and investment. The option to believe must appear on our personal horizon like the fruit of paradise, perched precariously between sets of demands held in dynamic tension. One is, it would seem, always provided with sufficient materials out of which to fashion a life of credible conviction or dismissive denial. We are acted upon, in other words, by appeals to our personal values, our yearnings, our fears, our appetites, and our egos. What we choose to embrace, to be responsive to, is the purest reflection of who we are and what we love. That is why faith, the choice to believe, is, in the final analysis, an action that is positively laden with moral significance.
—Terryl L. Givens, "'Lightning Out of Heaven': Joseph Smith and the Forging of Community," Brigham Young University Studies 45 no. 1 (2006), 5–21. off-site

Those who choose to exercise faith will find evidences which they cannot deny.

Latter-day Saints do not tell people simply to read and get a burning in the bosom. They invite all to read the Book of Mormon, compare its teachings with those in the Bible, and exercise faith by living the principles which it teaches. Those who are not willing to do this will not receive a witness from the Holy Ghost of the Book of Mormon's truthfulness.

It is clear that the critics shown in this DVD have not even compared the Book of Mormon to the Bible. Time and again, they try to teach Latter-day Saints what the Bible teaches, completely ignoring identical teachings in the Book of Mormon. Many examples of this are available here.

To read more:

  • Gene R. Cook, "Moroni's Promise," Ensign (April 1994),

Claim: "When I had doubts and I prayed, I did receive confirmation that it was true. But now, looking back, I see that it was my self-will. I wanted it to be true so badly, because all the reasons why I saw Mormonism as a hope, as a goal, was to do work for my dead family." - Rauni Higley

Could someone deceive themselves about receiving a revelation? Of course—humans are capable of deceiving on just about any subject.

The necessity of having a double check on revelation is one reason why LDS revelation requires "two or more witnesses"—the mind and heart. Elder Neal A. Maxwell remarked on the necessity of such checks:

Reason has these distinct advantages: it can transcend the inevitably limited individual experience, it can checkrein false inspiration; it permits us to use and build on the experiences, testimonies, and insights of others; it makes vicarious learning possible; it permits us to extrapolate from great books and the scriptures for our own lives…
However, reason has some distinct limitations: reason by itself is not able to transcend our native wisdom and intelligence; sometimes reason is applied to skimpy data; often reason rests on false premises which can be very misleading; reason, unfortunately, at times, is divorced from feeling; reason can become an end in itself and people can come to worship the process of logic in a kind of "adoration of the human mind"...
Inspiration transcends reason and experience; it check–reins reason and experience; it aids in the introduction of new concepts… there are some things we understand only by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Inspiration has no disadvantages, per se, but we need to make these additional comments about our own limitations. It has been said that "divine revelation is the opening of a door that can only be unlocked from the inside." This means that when the Lord gives inspiration, it is clearly intended for our use, but this door is not the kind we can knock on without proper personal preparation, nor is it a door we can knock on as a substitute for using our reason and experience.
–Neal A Maxwell, A More Excellent Way: Essays on Leadership for Latter–day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1967), 69–71.

The critics ignore, of course, that one can be just as guilty of self-deception in reading a scriptural text as in seeking revelation. By relying only on their own understanding of the text—and insisting that anyone who disagrees with them is wrong, or even unChristian—the critics demonstrate how self-deception can affect anyone, and be self-reinforcing.

This is why the Latter-day Saints favor the exercise of study and reason in the examination of scriptural texts (or purported scriptural texts, if one does not yet accept them as inspired) followed by revelation which confirms or helps alter one's conclusions.

Claim: "Our relationship with God has to be built upon truth, not upon experience, not upon a sensation that could come from the Kingdom of Darkness. You think it's hard for the Kingdom of Darkness, who obviously has great power... "You want a burning in your bosom, sure, that's no problem; we'll give you a burning in the bosom." That's gonna get you launched down this way that you're gonna believe all this stuff, we can... you know, the Kingdom of Darkness can easily provide that." - Joel Kramer

It is fantastic that Mr. Kramer argues that a relationship with God cannot be built upon experience. What is a relationship if not an experience with another being? When one is born again, is that not an experience?

Mr. Kramer believes that Satan can provide experiences which will be mistaken for the Holy Ghost. The apostle Paul and the Bible argue differently:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

The Spirit brings certain fruits, and Jesus promises that "by their fruits, ye shall know them" (Matthew 7:22). Why would Paul describe certain fruits of the spirit if these were not a reliable method to know the Spirit? Would the critics have us believe that the Bible contradicts itself?

Paul's fruits contain elements of both mind and heart:

  • love, joy, peace: these are "feelings," but obviously more than mere 'emotions'
  • longsuffering, temperance, gentleness, faith: these are mental attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors

Claim: "The reason why we can't trust our emotions when it comes to knowing truth is because the scripture's very clear that the heart of man is evil from conception. So rather than calling upon an emotional experience to determine truth, I think we should take God at His word." - Brian Mackert

As described earlier, the Latter-day Saints are not talking about emotional experiences. But, taking God at His word is always a good idea. What does the Bible tell us? What did Christ say?

And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever....
But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. (John 14:16,26)

So, we are to heed the Holy Ghost, not ignore Him. The Holy Ghost is the Comforter—are we to dismiss His witness because comfort might be thought of by some as an emotion or even an emotional experience?

Note that Jesus emphasizes that the Comforter (in what might be termed an "emotional role") accomplishes His purpose by mental or intellectual means: He teaches and brings things to remembrance. It is this that provides the comfort; it is not mere emotion, but mental light and information which result in joy, peace, and comfort.

Instead, it would seem, the video's producers want you to believe that God would give us a stone when we ask for bread, despite Jesus' command and promise:

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?
Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? (Matthew 7:7-10)

The Bible further commands us:

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. (James 1:5)

Are we to believe then that God will not answer when we knock at the door? That he who asks will not receive? Latter-day Saints believe in these Biblical admonitions to seek God, to commune with the Spirit, and to trust in Him.

When describing the doctrine taught by Joseph Smith which was most dangerous to the devil, Parley P. Pratt wrote that it was that

[y]ou have again revived the doctrine of direct communication with God, by new revelation.
—Parley P. Pratt, New York Herald (25 August 1844): 1.

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