Those who assert that Mormons aren’t Christian face a fundamental problem in the Book of Mormon, which is more densely packed with references to Christ than even the Bible. Book of Mormon prophets living before the birth of Christ testified of His coming far more explicitly than anything found in the Old Testament. The most important portion of the book focuses on Christ’s visit to a group of people in the ancient Americas following His resurrection. Prophets living after that time testified of the reality of His life, the importance of His mission, and the coming day when He will return again. For a supposedly non-Christian book, the Book of Mormon is almost tedious in its Christ-centered focus.
The response of Book of Mormon critics is to dismiss these references with a wave of the hand, saying something to the effect of, “The Book of Mormon Jesus is a different Jesus.” As if the “Book of Mormon Jesus” is covered in tattoos and riding around on a Harley. It isn’t a completely irrational way to dismiss the deeply Christian nature of the Book of Mormon, considering that most non-Mormons (including, it would appear, many of its critics) will never come close enough to it to poke it with a stick, much less actually read it. So if you can give them a sound-bite rejection of the book that they can rely on without reading, they’ll accept it.
But what does the accusation actually mean?
Does it mean that the Book of Mormon Jesus is not the Creator? Because the Book of Mormon proclaims that Christ is “the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning.” (Mosiah 3:8).
Does it mean that the Book of Mormon Jesus was not the son of the virgin Mary? Because the Book of Mormon prophet Nephi saw in vision a virgin, who would be “the mother of the Son of God.” (Nephi 11:18).
Does it mean that the Book of Mormon Jesus was not the Son of God? Because in that same vision, Nephi saw the coming of “the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father.” (Nephi 11:21).
What makes the Book of Mormon Jesus so foreign to Christian critics? Is it that He would “come among the children of men, to take upon him the transgressions of his people, and that he shall atone for the sins of the world?” (Alma 34:8). Is it the warning that “there is no other way nor means whereby man can be saved, only through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ?” (Helaman 5:9). Is it His proclamation that “my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father?” (3 Nephi 27:13).
Are critics offended by references to the “Holy One of Israel….[who] numbereth his sheep, and they know him…and he shall feed his sheep, and in him they shall find pasture?” (1 Nephi 22:24-25). Or is it the proclamation that “the redemption of the people” would be “brought to pass through the power, and sufferings, and death of Christ, and his resurrection and ascension into heaven?” (Mosiah 18:2).
Does the Book of Mormon fall short because it recounts the story of a people who “talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins?” (2 Nephi 25:26).
Perhaps the problem is the declaration of the resurrected Lord Himself: “Behold, I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world. And behold, I am the light and the life of the world; and I have drunk out of that bitter cup which the Father hath given me, and have glorified the Father in taking upon me the sins of the world, in the which I have suffered the will of the Father in all things from the beginning.” (3 Nephi 11:10-11).
If this is not the Christ that the Christian world worships, then who is?
The Book of Mormon testifies of that Christ that was prepared from the foundation of the world to be the Redeemer of mankind. It bears witness of Christ the Creator, Savior, and Judge. It proclaims that Jesus Christ suffered for our sins, was crucified, and was resurrected. It bears record that He is the Only Begotten of the Father, and that no man can return to the Father, but through His merits, grace, and atoning love.
The only way to discover the Jesus of the Book of Mormon is to open the book and discover Him for yourself, which is the last thing critics of the book would have you do. But if you read the Book of Mormon and find nothing of value, all you will have lost is time. My experience, however, has been that the Book of Mormon enriches and deepens my understanding of Christ and helps me draw closer to Him by trying to be more like Him. I think that anyone who reads with an open mind will discover the same. They will find that same Christ who walked the shores of Galilee, and they will recognize the voice of their Shepherd.