Faithful Answers to a Critical Letter

There is a letter written by a Jeremy Runnells, entitled “Letter to a CES Director: Why I Lost My Testimony”. This letter has been circulated around the internet for almost the last two years. The writer asserts that a diligent, year long, study of LDS doctrine and history produced for him many problems related to the LDS faith. Enough so that the sum of which was sufficient to deem the religion as false.

It has received some extensive attention. Unfortunately what has not received the same attention is faithful answers to the criticisms presented by Mr. Runnells.

The letter uses a couple of basic attack methods to establish it’s point. The most obvious of which is the “Big List” attack. The idea being to attack your opponent with so many quick arguments that it is impossible for the person to reasonably answer them in a timely and succinct manner. And if they attempt to do so the attacker has more arguments ready, and is simply looking for a single opportunity to claim victory through lack of an answer by the defender.

“Big Lists” are hard to deal with because so often a criticism is allowed to be short and underdeveloped, sometimes being a single line without reference or supporting documentation. But a response is expected to be exhaustive, exact, complete, referenced, and supported. As Daniel C. Peterson aptly states it “..90 pages of quick and dirty objections would take 500 pages to respond to…”. The big list style argument puts all of the onerous on the defender, leaving the attacker in a comfy position indeed.

I will not attempt to deal with all of Mr. Runnells assertions myself. For one, others more qualified have long since dealt with many of these concerns, and are now continuing to deal with them in direct response to his letter. But beyond that, I have not found the sum total of the letter’s concerns to be worthy of the time and attention it would take me to respond point-by-point. This is partly because many of the concerns, if not all, are not new and I found faith beyond them previous to this letter’s publication. But also partly because many of the criticisms are weak and only have any strength as they exist in a vacuum without additional information or the accounting for common assumptions.

Part of the problem with LDS criticism and apologetics is that the criticism usually claims that if there is a “problem”, then a perfect answer is required. If there is not a perfect answer then obviously the criticism is true and the church must therefore not be true in it’s whole. If an answer is given, then that answer only applies to the single question and the entire faith can not be substantiated until all of the questions are answered. So on the one hand a single unanswered question is proof enough for falsehood, but on the other hand a great number of answers are still not enough to be considered proof of truth.

Beyond this, we know full well that we will not be given all of the answers to all questions while in this life a) The scriptures themselves refer to the “mysteries of God” many timesb) And a full understanding of the doctrine of faith demonstrates that each person, to varying degrees and at varying times, must be able to walk in imperfect light c)

Apologetics, when done appropriately, rarely claims to have proven all things. Apologetics from a faithful stance will be an act of walking in faith while analyzing and considering additional information that gives room for faith while either directly opposing the criticism or weakening the stance of the criticism. For some it is hard to accept that we don’t know all. The mind that demands perfect answers in all things must either find comfort in true faith or inevitably be left unsatisfied.

Faith will never be a result of external evidence, instead it will always be a choice. And that choice will not always be the easiest one to make.

Faith can be elusive, difficult, trying, fleeting, and shaky at times. But giving faith the time and nourishment it needs to be sustained will often lead to a blossoming of additional faith. Faith isn’t a weed. It is a tree. Trees take a long time to mature, and while growing they are vulnerable.

We have, in our back yard, a mature Quaking Aspen tree. It stands about 20 feet tall. The top half of the tree is clad in the striking white bark that makes Aspen stands so beautiful. However, the bottom half of the tree is covered with nasty black scars. The scars show the evidence of a battle with a disease that almost killed the tree. The disease is gone, the tree is healthy, strong, very pleasant to enjoy and possibly more beautiful with it’s scars. Faith is like a tree. We have no guarantee that our tree of faith will make it to maturity without a few scars. There is nothing wrong with that. Trees are very resilient, often regrowing even after having been cut to a stump. Faith can be the same way if we give it a chance and continue to nourish it over time.

It has been, for me, an easy task to find enough faithful answers to deal with the concerns brought by the CES Letter. But that is probably a product of my previous experiences and the approach with which I have learned to deal with concerns. However, each person is different, and the faith they carry is different, therefore I do not doubt that the CES Letter has the potential to scar, damage, or even defeat faith. It would be foolish to assume that it is impotent.

So in the interest of helping others to nourish their faith and approach the letter from a faithful perspective (should they even have a reason to approach it) I have compiled below some resources that deal with the same concerns that the Letter expresses.

Some of the below are part of an ongoing effort to developing a “500 page response to a 90 page argument”.

If concerned by the contents of the letter I believe the following references will be beneficial to the faithful student. I am not so concerned with the convincing of the external critic as I am providing a resource of study material for those who sincerely desire increased faith in the face of a doubt or concern.

It is up to each of us to decide our own faith. I implore anyone with concerns regarding the LDS faith to give faith time and allow yourself to make a conclusion based on more than just what the critics say. Allow a place for faithful answers, continued diligence and prayer, and patience. I love you, my brothers and sisters, and I hope peace and joy for each of you.


Resources Related to Letter to CES Director.

1)  This article by Kevin Christensen provides a very good platform for beginning an analysis of the Letter and its contents. It is a Birdseye approach to the Letter as opposed to a point-by-point argument, and is rather fascinating. An audio version is also available.

2) At the 2014 Fair Mormon Conference Daniel C. Petersen directly addressed several parts of the CES Letter in his intriguing presentation.

These first two give good insight into the letter. The following provide additional information and research.

3) The scholars and researchers at have been working on the sort of “500 page response” that we’ve discussed, and it is an extensive analysis.

4) Fair Mormon has also compiled a list of 142 wiki articles that deal with the same issues as the Letter.

5)  Jeff Lindsay has written a really good overview of “Big List” attacks and how they work.

6)  Jeff Linday’s LDS FAQ website is also another nice source of information and so is Mormon Challenges


Follow Me

Luke Hopkin

Father, wilderness addict, Mormon. I believe that we don't give the gospel of Christ the credit it deserves, it is much more effective, deep, and personal than we often realize. I believe in principles of faith, in doctrine, and in revelation. I hope to bring new insights, and a voice for truth, to the conversation. @lukevhopkin
Follow Me

Latest posts by Luke Hopkin (see all)

References   [ + ]