As we embark on the next iteration of the 4-year curriculum rotation for Sunday school curriculum, I find myself grateful that I live in an age where Book of Mormon scholarship has produced many fine choices for the student of the Book.
The way I see it, every generation seems to have individuals who long nostalgically for a prior age where, it would seem, we were better off economically, spiritually, or culturally. While perhaps none of us can escape those thoughts from time to time, the present looks mighty good in terms works on the Book of Mormon.
In our age, who is shaping our discourse on the Book of Mormon? Every voice shapes our discourse, yet there are three scholars in particular whose work seems unavoidable today (not that you would want to avoid them!) and who seem to be instrumental in advancing our discourse in new and fruitful directions.
Terryl Givens, By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a World Religion (Oxford University Press, 2002).
Terryl Givens, The Book of Mormon: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2009)
I still remember first reading By the Hand of Mormon. During lunch with a friend of mine I remember sharing Givens’ argument that early Mormons understood the Book of Mormon’s importance for what it signifies, rather than important for the message it contains. Living in a Post-Benson Latter-day world, my friend was skeptical of such an argument and was not persuaded. I, on the other hand, was intrigued by the claim and didn’t need much argument to be convinced. Read more…
As early as July 2009, news of a revised and updated version of the classic 1978 Gospel Principles manual hit the Mormon blogs, causing no small commotion. There were questions about how much it was really revised (it wasn’t revised much). Some observed that Bruce R. McConkie citations were eliminated (in reality only about 4 citations were removed but the material remained, and frankly never needed a citation to back it up anyway as it was rather standard and uncontroversial). Some were excited about “getting back to basics” (as if we hadn’t been studying “the basics” since introducing the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church series in 1998).
But aside from all of that, the most interesting phenomena I observed was an extremely large amount of hope that this new and improved Gospel Principles manual was going to solve one of the most deeply problematic issues facing church membership today: the quality of Gospel instruction in Church meetings. News of the arrival of the new manual became an opportunity (or outlet) for Mormon bloggers to reflect on the fruits of Correlation and the failures of Church Sunday School classes to challenge, engage, and inspire.
After the dust had settled, it seemed to me that the general consensus was that the anonymous and faceless generic Church manual was the culprit. “The Manual”—that relic of correlation was the cause of all of our problems. Read more…
This post is part V in the Understanding the Fall in Mormonism series. See all parts here.
We have been exploring the development of the Mormon concept of a positive fall. While some observers point to Lehi in the Book of Mormon as the originator of the fortunate fall, the Book of Mormon, taken as a whole, views the Fall as a result of man’s disobedience and caused by the temptations of the devil. The Book of Mormon labels the fruit of the tree as “forbidden,” and the Book of Moses spoke of Adam’s actions as “sin.” The Plan of Salvation as expounded in the Book of Mormon is the response to the Fall.
What I’ve attempted to show is the driving forces or undercurrents developing in Mormonism, propelling it towards a positive view of the Fall. Such forces include the expanding role of Adam as prophet and patriarch with connections to priesthood, his post-mortal identity as Michael the archangel. Michael’s role would expand from the traditional archangel role to a joint-creator of the earth in premortal councils. Once the doctrine of pre-mortal existence developed, the fall of man was seen opening the floodgates; the act that allowed all the billions of spirits waiting in premortal existence the opportunity to experience mortality. How could that act—so crucial to the salvation drama—be wrong? Read more…
This is Part IV in a multi-part series exploring the concept of the Fall in Mormon thought. This post will explore the ways in which the Fall has been influenced by the plurality of worlds idea. See all parts here.
Perhaps the most significant impetus to Mormonism’s positive view of the fall is the revelation known as the Book of Moses. This revelation came to Joseph Smith in June of 1830—only two months after the organization of the Church, and three months after the publication of the Book of Mormon.
The Book of Moses is perhaps best described as a prequel to the creation account as given in the Book of Genesis. God shows Moses a piercing vision of the world that increases in resolution as the vision unfolds. Read more…
“Although we cite scholarly sources we intend this book for general readers and have followed widely accepted editing practices aimed at ease of reading.” “Readers can verify the facts in our book by consulting the sources cited in the notes, which we have deliberately tucked in the back so as not to interrupt our narratives.”
So begin Richard E. Turley and William M. Slaughter in the Preface of their book How We Got the Book of Mormon. The reassuring tone of the Preface reveals the authors’ perceptions that the general reader is, perhaps, wary of books with citations and references. Turley, in a recent interview states “We feel that general readers can benefit from excellent work done by scholars in recent years, but many general readers won’t approach works written by scholars for scholars.” The reassuring Preface doubles as a challenge. The authors throw down the gauntlet to the adventurous reader and encourage her to “verify facts,” thus raising the bar for books produced for a general audience. Every reader will be better off for having read the book. Read more…
Most scholars accept that the author of the Gospel of Luke is also the author of the Book of Acts. In this post, I will refer to the author of the Gospel of Luke and Book of Acts as Luke. All scriptures are from the New Revised Standard Version.
Some time ago I was sitting in Sunday School and the lesson (New Testament Lesson 30) covered Acts 10. As I read Acts, something about the Lukan account of Peter bothered me. Luke has Peter relate to Cornelius and those that were with him the details of his ‘trance’ and subsequent understanding of its meaning.
But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.’ The voice said to him again, a second time, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ (Acts 10:14-15).
You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean. (Acts 10:28).
Did not Jesus already provide this kind of instruction to the apostles? For example, Mark and Matthew have Jesus tell the apostles: Read more…
Earlier this year we explored some of the historical challenges for telling the story of “spirit birth” in Mormon theological history. In this post, we will turn our attention to the philosophical challenges raised by “spirit birth.” Again, here we are less concerned with tracing the teaching to Joseph Smith as we are examining the implications of spirit birth given our tradition. Some of the most detailed treatment of the topic is given by Parley P. Pratt and Orson Pratt. However, developing a coherent theology of spiritual birth is something Mormon theologians have not been interested in doing. Blake Ostler, for example, says little about this doctrine in his multi-volume series Exploring Mormon Thought, other than to conclude it probably does not originate with Joseph Smith. Indeed, others may feel little is to be gained from developing a theology of spirit birth. However, for those who are interested in developing a coherent theology of spirit birth several challenges exist.
1. Early Mormon thinkers believed that our spirits are fashioned from spiritual element or spiritual matter. Thus, God has complete control when he configures each of our spirits. Parley P. Pratt and Orson Pratt understood intelligence as an attribute of spiritual element. Thus, given this metaphysics, God is the one who determines the intelligence of our spirits, and therefore the question arises as to how fair it is to judge us according to our intelligence when this is predetermined by God when he creates us. Parley P. Pratt recognized this dilemma and argued that God does not create this intelligence. The level of intelligence, rather, is a function of the particular element used to form our spirits, and element differs in its level of intelligence. Pratt should be credited with acknowledging this dilemma even if his solution doesn’t quite solve the problem. One can presume that God still has control over the particular element used in the organization of our spirits. Isn’t there some consequence in how God creates our spirits? Is there any significant difference between God creating our spirits from preexisting spiritual element and God creating our spirits out of nothing? Doesn’t this lead to a kind of determinism? Read more…