Lately I’ve been paying attention to the advice that some Christians give to others regarding the Mormon at the door. It often sounds like this: “Do not try to engage Mormons if you have not studied Scripture. Mormon missionaries have a thorough knowledge of the Bible and you cannot afford to be bested in a religious disagreement. So if you’re not ‘studied up’ don’t even bother.”
I find this kind of counsel troubling not only because it suggests closing yourself off until reaching some (ambiguous) level of biblical/theological expertise; but also because the underlying reasoning here could be extended not just to the Mormon at the door but anyone, anywhere, on practically any subject simply because you lack specific knowledge. That is, if you should avoid the Mormon at the door, then you should also avoid the Muslim in the elevator or your Jehovah’s Witness brother-in-law or your atheist coworker, all for the same reason.
Avoidance is the wrong move in this kind of circumstance. There are a number of Scriptures (Matthew 28:19; Colossians 4:3-6; 1 Peter 3:15) that reinforce the notion that we should engage others and zero Scriptures to suggest that we should wait until the right time to speak or act. Also, Jesus tells us that we have no reason to be afraid to engage (see Matthew 10:26, 28).
I’d like to underpin my comments here by sharing a story about what I did when two Mormon missionaries came to my door.
Shortly after becoming a Christian I decided that I wanted to deepen my knowledge of God; so I enrolled in Religion at a university. I was only halfway through my second semester when, one day, I heard a knock at my front door. Two very polite Latter Day Saints smiled and asked if they could share with me the message of Jesus Christ. I invited them in and offered them something to eat and drink (see Hebrews 13:2). As we all sat down on the couch I quickly assessed everything I had heard about Mormons: They believe God was once a man. They believe Jesus and Satan are brothers. And I’m pretty sure there is something going on with magic underwear.
So faced with this fundamental lack of knowledge and my own undeveloped theology at the time I decided to take the direct approach. I said, “Look guys, I’m a new Christian; I think you would classify me as Protestant. I know we have some things in common but I’ve also heard we differ in certain areas. So why don’t you just tell me where we differ?” And then I sat back and let them share their message.
The two took turns speaking with me for about an hour. They were very genial and gracious. I stepped into the conversation when I wanted clarification or when I noticed differences in our beliefs. All in all the exchange was relaxed and pleasant. Now, I’m not going to give a play by play of my entire interaction because, over the course of three meetings, I spent four hours chatting with them. But I do want to highlight the tactics that I employed to engage in the particular kind of conversation I wanted to.
In inviting them to tell me where our two faith systems disagree I put all the work on their shoulders. I didn’t have to memorize all the relevant verses that counter their doctrine or the particular rejoinders offered by my church. All I did was sit back and listen. And when they finally touched on an area that I was familiar with I offered challenges in the form of questions. For example, at one point they explained to me the verification system for their religious claims, otherwise known as a burning in the bosom. They characterized this experience as an overwhelming feeling given by the Holy Spirit that the information they are reading/hearing/thinking about is true. And then they encouraged me to read the Book of Mormon to see if I would get that same feeling.
By the way, this method is entirely problematic. Each and every one of us, including Mormons, has had good feelings about something that turned out to be a bad idea later. Even God says, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it” (Jeremiah 17:9)? So feelings alone are a horrible basis for religious faith. This is actually one of the reasons I’m a Christian and not a Mormon because, Christianity (as a system) is rooted in evidence. Yes, I know many Christians trade on their own experiences. But if that’s all they trade in then there’s nowhere else to go when Mormons reference their own experiences.
I wanted to express all these thoughts without coming across as abrupt or too confrontational. So I looked at them and I gently asked, “How do you know that your feelings are from the Holy Spirit?” I think this question is entirely legitimate to ask a Buddhist or Muslim as well as a Mormon. By the way, it’s also a great question to ask a Christian, especially those who like to divinize every thought, feeling, and emotion. If feelings are the primary basis for one’s faith then he’ll have a difficult time answering this question. The only thing the Mormons told me in response was, “For me, I believe it is the Holy Spirit.”
We went round and round this issue (as well as others) and, when our time was up, I thanked them for the interaction and they left. Before leaving I got their email addresses with the possibility of further discussion if I had more questions. So to recap: First, I placed the responsibility on their shoulders by asking them to explain their faith to me. Since they were at my door with information they wanted to share, they might as well do the work. This freed me up to choose the particular moments I wanted to step in and engage. Second, when I did engage, I did not plumb the depths of my memory to find the pre-rehearsed Mormon-at-the-door script. I asked pointed questions to take the conversation where I wanted it to go.
All of this is a long way of showing that we need not fear interacting with the Mormon at the door. Even if I only asked one question or offered one rejoinder, I still engaged them as a relatively uninformed believer and lived to tell the tale. So don’t think that you have to be “studied up” in order to engage. Just engage. The more you do it the better you’ll get. And, if you can interact in such a manner that is friendly and nonconfrontational, you’ll be in a better position to get them thinking about the message you have to share.*For those interested in the tactics I used, get this book by Greg Koukl.
 Or Jehovah’s Witness or whoever is at your door.