Why Would Scholars Leave Mormonism? Interview with Author Corey Miller

Corey Miller is the president of Ratio Christi, an organization that brings apologetics to the university campus. He was also a classmate of mine in the Philosophy program at Talbot Theological Seminary. As a former Mormon, Corey has a special interest in reaching people in the LDS church. He has compiled a fascinating and unique book called Leaving Mormonism: Why Four Scholars Changed Their Minds. I had the chance to endorse this book and highly recommend it. If you are interested in reaching out to the Mormon community, this book is a must-read.

Check out this brief interview, and then I hope you will consider getting a copy of his excellent book:

SEAN MCDOWELL: Corey, you are a Christian leader but grew up in the LDS church. What caused you to leave Mormonism?

COREY MILLER: I was invited by a friend to spend the summer in California with his family on the condition that I attend a one-week summer camp at Hume Lake Christian Camp. I had a religion and certainly wasn’t looking forward to the camp for religious reasons, but I overlooked it because I could spend the rest of the summer at the California beaches.

The camp speaker preached on hell and literally scared the hell out of me and heaven came right into me. I’d never thought about the reality of hell much in Mormonism and it created in me an urgent need for grace, yet another concept which I never greatly appreciated until then in light of Mormonism’s near universalist focus. Hell isn’t a serious concept in Mormonism. It made me think seriously about sin in general and my sin in particular. I became immediately aware of my utter sinfulness and need for a savior. Christ’s death became very meaningful to me like never before.

Simultaneous with the message, I also saw the love of Christ, not religion, in people unlike any time in the past. This was intensely attractive. I was invited by that family to return to California for my junior year of high school and be discipled within the church I went to camp with. It was one of the most seminal years of my life.

MCDOWELL: What motivated you to write Leaving Mormonism: Why four Scholars Changed their Minds?

MILLER: Many years ago I saw a vacancy in the literature relative to Mormonism and Christianity, even by those writing at the highest level yet lacking some important element. I knew that I could be one among others to fill that vacancy if and when I would obtain a PhD.

There are many who write as post-Mormons against Mormonism but who are not Christian. There are many who write as Christian scholars who lack background insight as a former Mormon insider. There are many who write both from a Mormon background and are now Christian, but not writing with the highest of academic credentials, an arena where dialogue is now taking place. I knew that originality in publishing would create space and there was an important place in the dialogue that should be filled by those who were former Mormon, current Evangelical, and possess the highest academic credentials.

When completion of my PhD was near, I searched for contributing authors who met this three-fold criteria and discovered only six in the world, four of whom agreed to join the project and one of whom became my co-editor, a former BYU professor, Lynn Wilder.

MCDOWELL: Given the many books on Mormonism, what makes this book so unique?

MILLER: There is no other book like this one all of whose authors are former Mormon insiders, possess an academic doctorate, and pursue Jesus as the love of their lives. We have a unique perspective, not just with Mormon theology, but also with Mormon psychology and sociology given that we all lived in Utah at one time or another.

I have appreciation for the claim that Mormonism is a non-Christian cult, with its unorthodox aberrant theology, but also for the claim that Mormonism is a culture. Our being scholars doesn’t make us smarter than others. But it does enhance our credibility and signals that there are thinkers at the highest levels who have defected from Mormonism, but not defected from Christ as is all too common amongst post-Mormons. In fact, our love for Christ is more meaningful now than it ever was in Mormonism.

MCDOWELL: In your experience, what are the main reasons scholars leave Mormonism? How does that compare and contrast with why non-scholars leave the faith?

The reasons are often complex varying from person to person. Our four testimonies can be found in our book. As one might expect, scholars in Mormonism are typically impacted more by intellectual concerns than the average Mormon. But some LDS remain in the LDS church for pragmatic reasons even after rejecting intellectual foundations.

I know of no one at present, nor have I ever known anyone, to become LDS for intellectual reasons. That isn’t its attraction, even though plenty have rejected Mormonism for such reasons. Its attraction is generally more emotional and sociological than intellectual and theological.

MCDOWELL: What advice would you have for people who want to reach their Mormon friends (whether they are scholars or not?)

MILLER: First, in addition to a wealth of great websites and books, I have two back to back articles coming out in December and March in the Christian Research Journal addressing this question, as well as sections in the current book, Leaving Mormonism (https://tinyurl.com/ycxb6kdh), and both yours and Eric Johnson’s forthcoming book according to which I was graciously invited to be a contributor.

Second, beyond the resources mentioned, I recommend people stay focused on the questions concerning who God is and how to get to heaven, both of which have their connection in the person and work of Christ. Don’t get sidetracked on interesting or important secondary items. Although not an essential doctrine, it is a centrally important element to address the nature of “testimony,” something I cover in my dissertation or in various ways in many of the written resources I mention above. I think it is crucial to the dialogue and often omitted by the average Christian even though it is the epistemic buck stopper for the average Mormon.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, walk by the Spirit and be Jesus to your Mormon friend. She needs to see a more robust alternative to her own community.”

MCDOWELL: Can you briefly share some background info about the contributing authors?

Dr. Eccles is a research astrophysicist professor at Utah State University and grew up in Utah as a Mormon. Dr. Scott has written over a dozen books and is a former BYU grad student who then went on to complete a PhD in biblical studies. Dr. Wilder was a convert into Mormonism during grad school and was then recruited to teach at BYU until she became a Christian. I was a sixth generation Mormon with an ancestor being a body guard of Joseph Smith. I’m now the President of Ratio Christi (http://ratiochristi.org), an international apologetics campus ministry on nearly 200 campuses, and I teach adjunct at Indiana University in philosophy and comparative religions.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.

Sean McDowell is a gifted communicator with a passion for equipping the church, and in particular young people, to make the case for the Christian faith. He connects with audiences in a tangible way through humor and stories while imparting hard evidence and logical support for viewing all areas of life through a biblical worldview. Sean is an associate professor in the Christian Apologetics program at Biola University. He is the Resident Scholar for Summit California. Sean still teaches one high school Bible class, which helps him have exceptional insight into the prevailing culture so he can impart his observations poignantly to fellow educators, pastors and parents alike. In 2008, he received the Educator of the Year award for San Juan Capistrano, Calif. The Association of Christian Schools International awarded Exemplary Status to his apologetics training. Sean is listed among the top 100 apologists. He graduated summa cum laude from Talbot School of Theology with a master’s degree in theology and another in philosophy. He earned a Ph.D. in Apologetics and Worldview Studies in 2014 from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Traveling throughout the U.S. and abroad, Sean speaks at camps, churches, schools, universities and conferences. He has spoken for organizations including Focus on the Family, the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Backyard Skeptics, Cru, Youth Specialties, Hume Lake Christian Camps, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Association of Christian Schools International. Sean has also appeared as a guest on radio shows such as Family Life Today, Point of View, Stand to Reason, Common Sense Atheism and the Hugh Hewitt Show. Sean has been quoted in many publications, including the New York Times. Sean is the author, co-author or editor of over 18 books including The Fate of the Apostles (Routledge, 2015); A New Kind of Apologist (Harvest House, 2016); The Beauty of Intolerance (Barbour, 2016); Same-Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God’s Design for Marriage, with John Stonestreet (Baker, 2014); Is God Just a Human Invention? with Jonathan Morrow; and Understanding Intelligent Design, with William A. Dembski. Sean has also written multiple books with his father, Josh McDowell, including The Unshakable Truth, More Than A Carpenter and an update for Evidence that Demands a Verdict (2017). Sean is the general editor for The Apologetics Study Bible for Students. He has also written for YouthWorker Journal, Decision Magazine and the Christian Research Journal. Follow the dialogue with Sean as he blogs regularly at seanmcdowell.org. In April 2000, Sean married his high school sweetheart, Stephanie. They have three children and live in San Juan Capistrano. Sean played college basketball at Biola and was captain his senior year on a team that went 30-7.

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