The Value of an Outsider’s Perspective

Several years ago I was asked to accompany an investigator to church.We showed up a few minutes early and sat in the chapel. On the way to church, this investigator explained that he had never been to a Christian service before. He seemed quite eager to take in the experience.

After I briefly introduced what takes place in a sacrament meeting service, we sat quietly in the chapel. Several moments went by as he looked around, and then asked, “What does that mean?” He was pointing to the organ pipes mounted on the front wall of the chapel. I quickly explained that they in fact didn’t mean anything; they were only the pipes of the organ. He seemed not fully satisfied with the answer, but went back to sitting quietly in preparation for the service. Continue reading “The Value of an Outsider’s Perspective”

Wheat and Tares Apologetics

Apologetics has obviously been on my mind recently. In previous posts I discussed how certain kinds of apologetics might be pursued at places such as BYU. Indeed, I believe that religious institutions such as BYU should produce apologetics in the sense of scholarship that explains, explores, and defends the truth claims of Mormonism. I also believe that this scholarship should be fit for a university, meaning that it should largely meet the criteria of scholarship within the broader academic community.

In this post, I’d like to discuss one kind of apologetics. An apologetics represented in pieces such as Greg Smith’s review of Mormon Stories. This kind of apologetics is one part of the classic FARMS approach to apologetics. And unlike other parts of the classic FARMS approach, this approach is inappropriate for places such as BYU. I might even go so far as to venture that a determination to pursue this approach, despite its shortcomings, is largely responsible for the desire to replace some of the leadership at the Maxwell Institute.

The kind of apologetics I want to discuss is what I call Wheat and Tares Apologetics. Wheat and Tares Apologetics is aimed at sifting the good guys from the bad guys. It aims to answer the basic question–is This Person/Organization a trusted source for learning about Mormonism? Or, more broadly, should LDSs trust This Person/Organization? Since apologetics tends to be done in defense of a perceived threat, most of Wheat and Tares Apologetics is geared toward showing why some individual or organization is a “tare” rather than a “wheat.” Continue reading “Wheat and Tares Apologetics”

On the Malleability of Gold Plates: Mormonism and Modern Biblical Scholarship

From the time I first came to understand the nature of  pseudepigrapha, I felt comfortable with the idea that many of these extra-scriptural writings were written under assumed names. Somewhere I had picked up the idea that it was a common and accepted convention for works of antiquity to be attributed to someone famous. There are ancient books of Adam, of Enoch, of Abraham, all written by later authors under a prophetic moniker to give their writings authority and status. Even our book of Psalms in the present canon includes poems with headings “A Psalm of David”—(lᵊ dawid).  This has traditionally been understood to denote Davidic authorship, even though Biblical scholars agree that some of these were post-exilic. As Jana Riess puts it:

The Hebrew preposition “l” can, like many Hebrew words, mean a variety of different things. Often translated “of,” it can also mean “to” or “for” (a Psalm for David) or “in the manner of” (a psalm that’s like something David might have written if he were still with us; R.I.P.).

In his work, “The Book of Psalms,” UC Berkeley Hebrew professor Robert Alter taught that “it was a regular practice in the later biblical period to ascribe new texts to famous figures of the past.” This is what I had always heard.

Not so! says Bart Ehrman in his groundbreaking treatment of the subject. In the 2011 book Forged,  Ehrman asserts that writing in the name of a famous prophet or biblical figure was just as scandalous in ancient times as any forgery would be today. Continue reading “On the Malleability of Gold Plates: Mormonism and Modern Biblical Scholarship”

Faith, Scholarship, and Teaching at BYU Series

For the series announcement and the question to which I am replying, see here.

I believe that the dichotomy between the “intellectual” and the “spiritual” in religious education is a false one. Instead, I would prefer to appropriate for my approach to this important issue the German adjective geistlich (or Hebrew ruchi): a word that sees the spiritual and the intellectual as part of a synthetic whole that also includes an appreciation for the aesthetic. I believe that by adopting this perspective one may more fully comprehend, and so more successfully fulfill, the scriptural injunction to seek God with all one’s heart, soul, and mind (Mark 12:30). Moreover, this approach attempts to eliminate the dualistic impulse that tries to separate the spirit from the material, an impulse which I believe Mormonism confronts and rejects (D&C 88:15; 131:7).

Of course, one could easily recall numerous Mormon axioms for the importance of the life of the mind, including, “The glory of is intelligence” (D&C 93:36), and the divine command to obtain out of the “best books words of wisdom” and to “seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118; cf. D&C 90:15; 109:7, 14). But I believe that perhaps the best argument from a Mormon perspective for the organic integration of what is sometimes artificially conceptualized as a division between the “mind/intellect” and the “spirit/soul” is the Prophet Joseph Smith himself. Here Mormons have an authoritative religious example who valued and who aspired to combine truths of personal experience, divine revelation, and academic study. He was brave enough to question and to study things out in his mind (cf. D&C 9:8), while also being humble enough to seek out answers from both God and the collective wisdom and learning of other peoples, faiths, and traditions. He truly was an example of learning “by study and also by faith,” someone who fully believed that Mormonism could bravely accept all truth, whatever its source.

Although requiring methodological rigor and pedagogical sensitivity, I genuinely believe that Mormonism has nothing to fear in studying or honestly teaching the methods and results of modern academic disciplines. Indeed, I maintain that such geistliche Studien in fact are a divine obligation that will only enrich an already wealthy tradition that I deeply love and cherish. And, finally, I believe that such engagement is crucial if Mormonism wishes to retain and nourish its rising generations in this ever-increasingly globalized world, and also if it wishes to make an even greater contribution in the next century to that broader world it is called to serve.

TYD

Apologetics in the Academy

In line with Daniel Peterson’s recent comments, I see significant points of congruence between apologetics and religious studies. I also see no reason why the same institution cannot pursue both endeavors—particularly a private religious institution such as BYU. I do think, however, that much of the apologetics advocated by Peterson is better off done at another venue (congratulations to those involved with the new Interpreter project). At the same time, a more appropriate kind of apologetics can (and should) remain at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute.

In this post I’d like to articulate a significant overlap between religious studies and apologetics. This overlap creates a shared space where apologetic efforts can be seen as appropriate or inappropriate for academic institutions such as NAMI. Continue reading “Apologetics in the Academy”

Knowledge For the Strong and the Weak

In 1 Cor 8, Paul give some advice to the “strong” who know something that the “weak” do not know.  He argues that even though the strong are in the right, and that what they know is fully true, they should keep such knowledge to themselves.  The reason is that, “by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died might be destroyed” (1 Cor 8:11).  Paul suggests that one’s primary duty is to good of the community as a whole, not to the truth.  It even seems that Paul is saying that the liberal, more open minded people should cede ground to the more close minded precisely because they are more capable of handling the disparity.

Continue reading “Knowledge For the Strong and the Weak”

Apologetics Into Doctrine: Romney’s Impact

It appears that Andrew Sullivan published something on Mormons yesterday.  How do I know this without reading Sullivan?  Because there’s a zillion Mormons responding to his comments at sites far removed.  In fact, there’s a bumper crop of Mormon apologetics springing up all over the place and I’m detecting a bit of a common theme.  It is, I think, something of a South Park approach.

Continue reading “Apologetics Into Doctrine: Romney’s Impact”

Canon and Culture: The Scriptures Made Me Do It!

Fundamentalism is the belief that all that the scriptures and revelation say are to be taken as factually accurate. This view is clearly problematic, but I’d like to address its cousin, foundationalism. Foundationalism admits that the scriptures are not factually accurate in all things (though they may be in some), yet argues that they still give us clear moral, ethical, or doctrinal guidance. The scriptures, when properly interpreted, are the secure foundation for our doctrines about the “important” things, like the nature of God, human beings, gender relations, sin, etc, if not science and history. This modernist notion is deeply problematic.

Continue reading “Canon and Culture: The Scriptures Made Me Do It!”