I have spent more time than I probably ever have discussing religion and religious topics with Christians who are not LDS. I think there are several good reasons why the LDS faithful and other Christians simply do not understand each other.
First, let me describe what I understand the foundation of most other Christian’s understanding of the world is. They start with the Bible, and then they add on to that limited set of texts the writings and philosophies of people around the Bible. To an LDS believer, this is simply “the philosophies of men, mingled with scripture.” I know there has been considerable effort to go straight to the source, the subject that is called “exegesis” in those circles. But the problem plaguing even this method is that the Bible simply isn’t what they think it is.
Let me explain what I mean. The Bible, to a Christian, is the word of God. As an LDS believer, I believe that too. However, other faiths tend to take it one step further, and consider the Bible to be the unerring word of God. If it were possible that the 4,000 years of recorded history that is in the Bible were passed down without interpretation or changes from Moses’ pen to today’s books, that would be true. But that is not true, and anyone who has looked at the history of the Bible and its many different versions will know it is not true.
That’s not to say that divinity does not still shine throughout the Bible. I’m tempted to say it shows more in the New Testament than in the Old, only because the Old Testament is so many years older than the New. I think most people recognize the inspired passages when they see them. That’s why people tend to refer more to the prophets, particularly Isaiah, the chapters in Genesis referring to God’s actions in the pre-history of the Bible, Exodus, the four gospels, and things like that over Ecclesiastes and Songs of Solomon.
(Of course, there are those who claim to be Christian who do not think the Bible is inspired much if at all, or wholly errant, but I don’t want to spend time condemning them for their insanity.)
(And there are those who cling to the absurd, non-Biblical notion that the Bible is the only word of God. These people are so ignorant it is difficult to help them understand why. Perhaps if they actually read the Bible they claim to believe, they would understand why.)
But I don’t know many Christians who stop at exegesis, and proceed no further. How many Christians today swear belief in texts and thoughts that are clearly outside of the Bible? I think the vast majority do. That’s where we get Creedal Christians, or the various sects and denominations. Even the Latter-day Saints are clearly in this group of people. If the texts and ideas that these Christians adhere to are from God, then they are godly. Otherwise, if they are from man or worse, then they are clearly not relying on God’s word but something else. And that is where trouble lies. When you put your trust into something other than God and his word, you are putting your trust in man or worse. And we know, from the Bible, what happens to those people.
LDS theology, on the other hand, is built on one simple truth: God speaks. He speaks through the Bible, he speaks through other scriptures, he speaks through prophets (both the head of our church and anyone who has a testimony of Christ), and he speaks through a variety of methods and times and places to a variety of people. It isn’t always trivial to figure out which messages are from God or which have another source, but we can be sure that God speaks, and we can be sure that he’ll tell us what is his words and what is not.
And that’s about it. We don’t care much what the method of delivery is, as long as it is from God. I have learned a great deal about God from my Christian friends, because they are inspired and do receive, from time to time, messages from God. I have also learned a great deal from the Bible and the Book of Mormon and the living prophets and answers to my prayers and a visions and dreams and all kinds of things.
To the mainstream Christian, what I just described is utter chaos. It is. I think every living latter-day saint has the same problem trying to sort out what is from God and what is merely nice or what is clearly from another source. That’s why we have measuring sticks, things we know, for a fact, that are true, and are unquestionable. These things are basic doctrines such as the anointing of Jesus as the savior of the world, the validity of the Bible, etc… So if I were to receive a message which I believe is from God that taught me not to rely on Christ’s merits for salvation, I would question the source, and tag it as “obviously not from God”.
To those who believe in exegesis, I think the Latter-day Saints go one step further, delving deep into the mind of God rather than stopping at his written word. No, God does not like to repeat himself, and if we haven’t done our homework (meaning, studied ALL of his written words), then we shouldn’t feel entitled to gain knowledge from the source. But we can, and should, turn our minds and hearts towards God, not just his written works.
And this is where LDS and the other Christians diverge. LDS people put their trust in God, not just his word; it seems other Christians are not ready to take this step of faith and trust in only some of God’s words, leaning on the understanding on men to supplement the gaps.
You can see why the two groups would be so against each other if you think of things like this. Just like Atheists despise Christians for claiming to receive spiritual and physical benefits due to their fantasies, Christians despise Mormons for being able to receive more of God’s word and a clearer understanding of their purpose in life due to their fantasy. While in the former, the fantasy is the existence of God and mission of Christ, in the latter is the fantasy that God speaks to people today.
I think ultimately it boils down to worldliness. If you are unwilling to give up the world and embrace God, you’ll be an enemy to God, whether you want to be or not. Just like the Atheist is an enemy to God, so too are those who refuse to accept the fact that God can and does speak today.
I apologize if my words seem harsh; I am merely trying to find the kernel of truth, which means ignoring any sentiments and embracing the way things really are.