I was chided recently by someone who was upset with me because of my extensive dialogues with Mormon scholars. "How can you engage in friendly conversations with people who believe such terrible things?" he asked me. I tried to explain that if we are going to criticize Mormonism, it should be on matters that they actually believe, not on what we think they believe. I said the best way to know Mormon beliefs is to actually engage in dialogue with Mormons.
"You don't need to have dialogue with Mormons to know what Mormonism is all about," the person retorted. "All you have to do is read Walter Martin! He had those folks figured out!"
As a high school student in the 1950s in New Jersey, I was a Walter Martin fan. He was not as well known in those days as he would be after 1965, when he published his much-reprinted Kingdom of the Cults. But he was already a dynamic speaker who could stir up an evangelical audience with his engaging, sharp-witted critiques of Mormonism, Christian Science, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Seventh-day Adventists (this last group he would later remove from his list of dangerous cults).
I wanted to explain to my critic that I had been exposed to Walter Martin's views on Mormonism long before he had discovered Martin's writings, but my critic made it clear that the conversation was over. Even more than touting my credentials as a Martin reader, I would like to have said that in my dialogue approach, I was following good counsel that I learned from Walter Martin himself.
'It Looked Like a Grackle'
The advice came while I was a college student, in a tribute that Walter Martin wrote to Donald Grey Barnhouse. In addition to serving for 33 years as pastor of the historic Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, Barnhouse ...