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The appeal of the Christmas season is evident in how quickly people, particularly those professing some religious or spiritual conviction, embrace the things associated with it. One such example, is found in a book published by Simon and Schuster entitled The Christmas Box. Originally self-published by its Mormon author, Richard Paul Evans, this book sold over one million copies in 1995 with an additional 825,000 copies printed and released in 1996. The deal with Simon and Schuster, which included rights to his next book, Timepiece, initially netted the author $4.25 million. The Christmas Box was made into a TV movie, which aired during the 1995 Christmas season and was shown again by CBS on Christmas evening, 1996. No doubt it will probably be telecast many more times in years to come.
The Christmas Box is the heartwarming and touching story of the unending love of Mary, an aging widow, for her daughter Andrea, who died in infancy. Her love is expressed through letters written over the years to her deceased child and placed in an ornate box known as the Christmas Box. These letters are discovered by Richard Evans who, along with his wife, Kerri, and small daughter, Jenna (interestingly, these are the same names as the author and his family), have moved in with the woman to help care for her and provide companionship. Through reading the letters and the prodding of the old woman, Richard seeks to discover the first gift of Christmas.
The immense popularity of this book, particularly among Christians, raises questions that must be addressed. Why should this seemingly innocent and family-oriented love story cause any controversy? What harm is there in a book which many say has helped them deal with the loss of a child, or otherwise positively changed their lives? Why are Christians so quick to accept and recommend a book written by a self professed Mormon? What concerns should the Christian community have over this book and why?
The initial area of concern, which leads to others, is due to the fact that the author is a Mormon and, as such, brings his personal ideology and beliefs into his writings. Certainly Evans admits as much when he states, "When I sit down to write, I think about what God would have me say to the world." (Birmingham News, November 19, 1995, p. 3F)
Who is this "God" to whom Evans refers; what will "he" say through the author? The evidence presented in this examination will clearly show he is not the God of the Bible but the god of Mormonism, one of many gods who were once men and have become gods. The message of Mormonism is clearly not the same message which Christ has once and for all delivered. Therefore, as a Mormon, Evans brings a different message/gospel from a different "god" than the God of the Bible.
Like a jack-in-the-box straining to get out, the Mormon roots of The Christmas Box are evident, before reading even the first paragraph, in the book's origin. Evans states that when he began to write, "the book started coming to me in a way I didn't understand. It would just flood into my mind in torrents of inspiration." (Ibid., p. 1F) Where did this inspiration come from? He continues, "I could feel the presence of someone in the room with me. I believe it was Sue, my little sister (who died at birth when Evans was two). I said, 'Sue, you gave me this story for mom.' Instantly what came into my mind from her was, 'Dedicate this book to me.'" (Ibid., p. 3F)
Such involvement with the supernatural or supposed visitations from the dead are not uncommon among Mormons. In fact, the founder of the Church, Joseph Smith, claims to have had such visitations from no less than John the Baptist, Peter, James and John, and other Bible characters. (Doctrines and Covenants 27:8 & 12; sec. 110; 128:21)
LDS Prophet Joseph F. Smith wrote, "[family] and friends who have passed away from this earth, having been faithful...may have a mission given them to visit their relatives and friends upon the earth again, bringing from the divine Presence messages of love, of warning, or reproof and instruction, to those whom they have learned to love in the flesh." (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, p. 436)
Such beliefs are contrary to the teaching of the Bible. In fact, the Scripture clearly teaches not to seek nor accept such visitations from the dead. (Isaiah 8:19-20; Deuteronomy 18:9-13)
As disturbing as the book's origin is, The Christmas Box's contents should be just as troubling for discerning Christians. Typical of Mormonism, the book has a very supernatural or mystical flavor. Angels play a prominent role. While at Mary's house, Richard begins to have dreams or visions of angelic beings accompanied by soft, beautiful strains of music. Finally, one evening he awakes and the music of his dream remains. He traces it to the Christmas box. Examining the box, he discovers it has no musical workings; it is just a box. During this examination he finds the letters it contains and the music stops. Also of interest, and probably unnoticed by the reader, is that near the box he notices a cradle which was covered earlier, is now uncovered. (pp. 65-6)
The subject of angels is very popular in today's culture; many New Agers, and apparently Mormon authors such as Evans, and Betty Eadie, are capitalizing on this alluring phenomenon. Due to this popularity, an author who embraces the presence of angels tends to disarm the average person and gain credibility for himself. Since angels are found in many instances in the Bible one might understandably ask, "Why should placing angels into a story cause any concern?" Good question; here's a better one, "Are the angels of Mormonism the same as the angels in the Bible?" In his book, Evans states:
"I am a believer in angels, though not the picture-book kind with wings and harps. To me angel wings are merely symbolic of their role as divine messengers." (p. 63)
The Bible certainly presents angels as messengers but not like those believed in and taught by the Mormon Church and thus, embraced by Evans. Concerning angels, Mormonism teaches:
"there are no angels who minister to this earth but those who do belong or have belonged to it." (Doctrines and Covenants 130:5)
"In the broadest sense, any being who acts as a messenger for our Heavenly Father, is an angel, be he a God, a resurrected man, or the spirit of a just man.... In the stricter and more limited sense, an angel is, as the prophet Joseph Smith states, a resurrected personage having a body of flesh and bones." (Doctrine and Covenants Commentary, p. 811) This teaching is further affirmed by LDS Prophet Joseph F. Smith (Gospel Doctrine, p. 435) and Mormon Apostle Bruce McConkie. (Mormon Doctrine, pp. 35-6)
According to Mormon teaching, Evans' deceased sister, who supposedly brought him this story, would fall within the definition of an angel. And who is the angel which leads Richard to the letters in the Christmas Box? The reader might correctly conclude from the uncovered crib, it is Andrea who, like the author's own sister, died in infancy. As further evidence of the angel's identity, Evans discovers the young girl's grave and finds the sculptured monument over it is the angel of his dreams. (The Christmas Box, p. 104-6)
Beyond the point of their being messengers, Evans' Mormon view of angels is in direct contradiction to the biblical teaching. In the few New Testament instances where the word angel clearly refers to men, it is equally clear the word is being used simply in its sense of messenger. In most cases, however, the word is naming a different class of beings. Angels, as such, are spoken of as something other than man. They are not men come back to earth or refashioned after death, nor are they men who have not yet been born, or spirits who should have been men. Hebrews 2:16, for example, makes a distinction between men and angels which cannot be explained as merely a temporary condition, different phases or levels of progression, in the existence of beings all of the same order. Clearly two different kinds of being are in view.
Renowned Greek language scholar, William E. Vines, provides the following insight into the Biblical teaching regarding angels: "angelos - 'a messenger' sent whether by God or by man or by Satan, 'is also used of a guardian or representative...but most frequently of an order of created beings, superior to man (Heb. 2:7; Ps. 8:5), belonging to Heaven (Mt. 24:36; Mark 12:25), and to God (Luke 12:8), and engaged in His service (Ps. 103:20). Angels are spirits (Heb. 1:14), i.e., they have not material bodies as men have; they are either human in form, or can assume the human form when necessary. (cf. Luke 24:4 with v. 23, Acts 10:3 with v. 30)'" (Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, "Angel")
Mormonism often redefines the teaching and vocabulary of the Bible. Usually this is accomplished subtly, by usage, rather than by explicit definitions. Thus the reader or listener can often fail to notice the change. This practice is evident in The Christmas Box, as the author artfully rewords a well-known Bible passage, changing it to conform to Mormon belief.
In the story, as Mary lay in the hospital dying, Richard reads Mary's final letter and discovers the first gift of Christmas. "the mother of our Lord found the tomb they placed him in empty. And in this there is hope, my love. Hope of embracing you again and holding you to my breast. And this because of the great gift of Christmas. Because He came. The first Christmas offering from a parent to His children, because He loved them and wanted them back. I understand that in ways I never understood before." (The Christmas Box, p. 107)
Shortly after reading this, Richard figures it out - "The first gift of Christmas was love. A parent's love. Pure as the first snows of Christmas. For God so loved His children that He sent His son, that we might someday return to Him." (Ibid., p. 118; emphasis added)
These passages may sound a heart-warming note for nominal Christians and others only vaguely acquainted with the biblical doctrines of the incarnation, the atonement, and eternal life. A close reading, however, reveals a misstatement of John 3:16 that subtly gives the impression of scriptural authority for the Mormon belief that all humankind are procreated descendants of God, and had a pre-mortal existence. The text actually reads, "For God so loved the world [not 'His children'] that He sent His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have eternal life [not 'that we might someday return to Him']." (John 3:16, KJV)
Substitution of "his children" for "the world" denies the teaching of John 1:12, by implying a familial relationship to God for all mankind by virtue of their existence, and regardless of their response to the gospel. And that God "wanted them back" or to "return to Him" certainly implies the Mormon doctrine of premortal existence. The Mormon Church teaches that a Father (God) and a Mother in Heaven produced spirit children in a premortal existence. Those "spirit children" are eventually born into this world as mortal, flesh and blood infants.
Under the sub-heading "The Premortal Existence," the Encyclopedia of Mormonism states, "Latter-day Saints believe that all humans are spirit children of heavenly parents (see God the Father; Mother in Heaven), and they dwelt with them prior to birth on this earth. In that premortal life, or first estate, those spirit children could not progress fully. They needed a physical body in order to have a fullness of joy, and to be placed in an environment where, by the exercise of agency, they could prove their willingness to keep God's commandments." (Vol. 3, "The Plan of Salvation, The Plan of Redemption")
As Mary nears her last breath, Rick has his final encounter with the supernatural. "She was leaving us I thought. It was then that I heard the music. The gentle sweet tines of the Christmas Box. Softly at first, then as if to fill the entire room, strong and bright and joyful. I looked again at the weary face. It was filled with peace. Her deep eyes sparkled and the smile grew. Then I understood and I too smiled. Andrea had come." (The Christmas Box, p. 117)
It is probably this image that most comforts those readers who grieve over the death of a loved one and claim the book helps them deal with their loss. At death, will it be the deceased's loved ones, who preceded him in death, that will come to receive him? Not according to the Bible. Those who have died in Christ will be received not by their loved ones, but by Christ Himself. (Jn. 6:39-40, 14:1-3; 1 Cor. 15:51-57; 2 Cor 5:8; 1 Thes. 4:13-18) It is this fact that should give comfort to those who have lost a loved one who died in Christ.
The final area of concern is the platform the author is building for himself and thus for his Mormon beliefs. Much of the material one encounters through books, movies, television, etc., is not the product of Christian authors. In fact, most Christians own albums, CDs, books, videos, etc., by persons who do not hold to a Christian belief system. Why view this book any differently? Because, in this case, the Mormon author or entertainer is part of a non-Christian organization which not only presents itself as Christian, but intentionally blurs or covers up distinctions between itself and real, biblical Christianity, for the sake of proselytizing Christians to itself. As Mormon celebrities and their works grow in popularity they make Mormonism itself more acceptable and appealing. Whether or not this is intentional, they thus become active participants in recruiting an unsuspecting public to Mormonism.
When the jack-in-the-box finally pops out, it is startling. Mormonism is more subtle and subversive, striving diligently to avoid startling or offending the objects of its proselytizing program. Evans realizes his being a Mormon is an area of concern for many Christians and readily admits that being a Mormon initially kept the book out of many Christian bookstores. Now, however, he says his story has become accepted by all faiths. "It transcends denomination, and is very accepted by people who are not Christian," he said. "It seems to meet people on whatever ground they're on." (Birmingham News, November 19, 1995, p. 3F)
Does the book really "transcend denominations"? If the author's assessment is accurate, it indicates he is successfully blurring the distinctions between Christianity and Mormonism and thus making Mormonism more acceptable to others. He is giving Mormonism another venue or platform through which to gain credibility, particularly among those who profess to be Christians.
The author's prequel to this book, Timepiece, was released in the first quarter of 1996 with a printing of 600,000. It goes even further to "transcend denominations," appearing to be about a non-Mormon, Christian family. No doubt, Christians will again flock to the bookstores to buy this seemingly "Christian" book, further enhancing the message Evan's god "would have him share with the world." Even as the The Christmas Box entices readers to buy Timepiece, the prequel will send new readers to the store for The Christmas Box. The circle will continue through the author's next book, a sequel, scheduled for release in the fall of 1997.
In Greek mythology, Pandora was given a beautiful box which contained all the troubles of the world. She was told, to open this would be to unleash all these harmful things upon mankind. As the story goes, curiosity got the best of her; and she opened the box allowing all sorts of evil to spew forth. In horror, she tried to close the lid, but too late. Like the mythological Pandora's Box, The Christmas Box is now being opened and very quietly, very subtly, Mormonism gains a new foothold of credibility or acceptability in the world. Unfortunately, this carries over into the Christian community where many have been lulled into a theological coma by that which seems good, harmless, and innocent, and seems to offer such hope and comfort.
Many products, businesses, films, books, etc. are routinely boycotted by groups or organizations when those products, etc. are in conflict with that group's or organization's beliefs or agenda. At times, even Christian organizations have had to call upon the Christian community, as a whole, to support a boycott against some business or entertainment product opposing biblical values. This gives evidence of the growing need in this present culture for Christians to be more selective in what they support.
One cannot be told what product to buy or which book to read, etc.; each person must take personal responsibility for his or her decisions. This highlights, however, the great importance of making informed decisions, particularly regarding where to place one's finances and invest one's time. It is especially important to be discerning as to what one accepts and recommends to others, particularly when encountering that which on the surface seems good. (1 Cor. 8:9-13)
The Bible tells us that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. (2 Cor. 11: 13-14) Jesus also reminds us there are those who come as sheep but are ravening wolves. (Mt. 7:15) With such clear warnings in mind, those who follow Christ must be very careful, exercising discernment as to whom and what they endorse. It must be remembered that not all that tugs at the heart and seems to give comfort is of God. It must pass the test of Scripture; if it does not, it is of no profit and should be avoided.
Rev. Bob Waldrep, MRE, serves as State Director—Alabama at Watchman Fellowship’s Birmingham, AL office. Bob is also an ordained Southern Baptist Minister and serves as Lay Pastor for the Church at Brook Hills. You can email Bob by clicking here.
For more information on Mormonism, please visit our web catalog; or click here to order a free information packet.
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