Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Working Through Disillusionment: Faith-Based Education

Many Latter-day Saints and numerous Christians of other faiths have experienced the disillusionment that can come when facing intellectual assaults on their faith. Whether it's from reading an anti-Mormon book, dealing with a persuasive Darwinist professor who appears to destroy Genesis with science, or facing the writings of intellectuals tearing apart Christian history and theology, many of us have struggled to understand our faith when comfortable assumptions and beliefs are challenged.

When we face such a crisis, I feel it is a dangerous mistake to expect immediate answers. Faith and patience are needed as we sincerely seek for answers. There are reasonable answers in many, perhaps even most cases, but they may take time to find, time to digest, time to develop new skills and insights as prerequisites for the answers, and time for us to revise errant assumptions that make aspects of our faith unnecessarily vulnerable to attack. (And yes, there may be things that are wrong that require revision, but not necessarily abandonment of that which we have learned through revelation from God.)

An example of this "faith-based education" approach to dealing with a crisis of faith comes from the experience of D. Charles Pyle [9-10 update: complete name now used with permission], from whom I received the following account in the past few days. It is shared with his kind permission. Charles has many rich insights into the scriptures and the Gospel, many of which draw upon his expertise in the Greek New Testament. This expertise, and a profound testimony of the Restored Gospel, came through patiently applying faith and intelligence to his own crisis of faith that began shortly after joining the Church. Here is his fascinating account:
Over twenty-four years ago, I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Not long after that I decided to look for LDS books in libraries (I had not thought to look in my own Ward's library. . .). As I searched the shelves I found a few but one in particular caught my eye. It was a large, hardcover book with an image of the Salt Lake Temple on it (the title of the book is not important now) and began reading. The first chapter seemed fair enough, but as I kept reading I grew more distraught. I read for hours. I was shocked and dismayed by what I was reading. I worried that I had been deceived and then began to think that Satan was behind the scenes in the Church. When the library was about to close, I put the book back and immediately walked over to my Bishop's home to question him about what I had read. I was frightened. I was angry. I was shaken to the core.

I began asking the questions that had been raised in the book. The Bishop answered a couple of questions but could answer not more. I was growing more upset by the minute. Finally, my Bishop made a statement that bothered me. He said that I just needed to have faith. He said that the authors and others like them are nothing more than faith killers and testimony thieves and that I should ignore them. I left that day more distraught than ever. I vowed never to return to the Church and stopped attending. People who were members of my Ward would stop by to see me and, out of fear, I had my parents or others tell the people who came to see me that I was not available. I went into hiding. All the while, I was most unhappy. Whereas I had had the light of the Spirit of God in my life on a daily basis, I now had nothing but brief glimpses of the Spirit at times but mostly darkness and fear. I did not know where to turn.

A few months later, I was cornered in a grocery store by a member of the Ward who asked me why I had not been attending Church and who, after a few minutes of discussion, told me that he had missed me and that a number of others there also missed me. All throughout the discussion, I noticed that I had once again felt of the Spirit of God and went home marveling. I kept thinking of how I had felt away from the Church and how I felt during the discussion with that member of the Ward. I kept wondering how something that was of Satan could have such feelings as those, particularly since I had had past experiences with the occult and with Satan's influence, which feels very, very different from those feelings associated with the Spirit of the Lord. I made a decision to return to the Church, even if only tentatively. I was happy again. However, my mind kept reverting to what I had read. Surely there had to be answers somewhere. After another experience with some Jehovah's Witnesses, I became motivated to study my scriptures in depth and went back to the library to check out the book that caused me so many problems. I decided to face my fear.

I started to notice other things as well as I studied. I found that many of the same arguments of the authors could be turned back onto the Bible. I was shocked by this. Again, I felt of the spirit of fear. "What if there was no God? What is all religion was a lie?" I began to think. I had come to a crossroads. I had a decision to make. As I pondered the significance of all that I had done, I also had brought back to my mind my experiences in joining the Church and the feelings I had felt under the influence of the Spirit of God. These were very real to me. In addition to this, what was I to do with a vision of Christ that I had had while investigating the Church? I was torn. I decided the path of faith. And never had my name taken off the rolls of the Church. I have since traveled the country researching the Church and its history and doctrine. Answers came here a little and there a little at times, and at other times, the answers came in floods.

One time I recall vividly as though it were yesterday. I was then in Boston, Massachusetts. I had been reading the Book of Mormon on the ‘T' (the train in the city) on the way home from downtown. A woman approached me and invited me to dinner. I thought that was nice and dropped by her home for dinner the next day. When I arrived, I noticed that there were other people there. I had not been informed that there would be others there and became wary of the situation. Then, others came in. We had a wonderful dinner. Then, the questions began. Questions regarding the evidence for the Book of Mormon were pounded into me and supposed contradictions between the Book of Mormon and Bible were posed rather forcefully. I was able to parry all of them off but one. This question concerned the visitation of Christ to the Americas and how it contradicted a passage of scripture in the Bible that stated that Christ must be retained in heaven until the times of restitution of all things (Acts 3:20-21). The fellow then asked me how it was possible for Christ to visit the Americas when the Bible stated that he would remain in heaven until the end time. I had no answer. I said that I would get back with him on that. Again, I was troubled.

All the way home I prayed and plead with the Lord that he would give me the answers I sought. Almost home, I was beginning to become worried again, as I had not yet received an answer. I made one last attempt in prayer and poured out my soul to the Lord. Suddenly, I heard a voice say, "Go to the Public Library and I will give you your answer there." I was awash with the Spirit of God and filled with light and warmth. I did as directed and began walking through the library. I did not know where I was going or even what I was looking for. I reached an upper floor and felt that I needed to walk a certain way and stop at a certain bookshelf. I still did not know what I was looking for so I stood there for a moment.

Then, the Spirit of the Lord directed me to pick up a book, which was the second edition of A Greek-English Lexicon of the Greek New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. I had no idea at the time what I was looking for and began flipping through pages. One page caught my eye and I turned back to that page. There, on that very page, was my answer! It turned out that Christ had returned to earth to stand by Paul (Acts 23:11), and this was after he had ascended into heaven! I concluded that if Christ could come to earth and visit Paul, he certainly could have visited the peoples of the Book of Mormon after his ascension into heaven. So, I came to the conclusion that either the Bible contradicted itself or the statement earlier in the Book of Acts did not mean what my assailants thought it did. I studied the question further and found that my assailants had misinterpreted the scripture because of reliance on English translation. It was then and there that I fell in love with the Greek language and have studied it ever since. I now read the Greek New Testament fairly regularly. The question had been answered and I immediately returned home to call the woman and let her know I had an answer. I gave it over the phone on her message machine. The result was that I never heard from the woman again and she never made another attempt to contact me or answer my phone calls.

You may ask, "What has this to do with archaeology and its quirks?" It has plenty to do with the subject, as you are about to find out. What I learned, if worded like the critics who attacked Mormonism, I could take such passages in the Bible as those I spoke of and turn them against the Bible, just as the anti-Mormon authors had done in attacking the Book of Mormon and the Church. Many of the same arguments against the Church could be turned back on the Bible. This was a revelation to me and strengthened my resolve to stay a member of the Church and further strengthened my testimony of what I knew to be true by the Spirit of God.

At another time, I actually put some of this knowledge to use in my dealings with an anti-Mormon at work, named Ed. He would attack my faith on a regular basis. This went on for weeks. Finally, I told him that he had better watch out because the selfsame arguments he was posing to me could be turned back on the Bible and Christianity. He told me that he did not believe me. I said that I would be glad to demonstrate and did so. After a couple days of this, I could see the look of concern and worry on this fellow's face. I had seen it on my own face in the mirror a couple years previous. A few days after that, one of his friends who attended the same evangelical church that he did came up to me and exclaimed, "Dude, what did you do?!? Ed just threw his Bible in the trash and he won't come to church anymore!" I told them what I had done. The guy walked away angrily. A few weeks later, Ed's unfaith turned back into faith again and he began attending his own church again. However, he was a changed man. He walked up to me one day and said, "It is a good thing that you serve God! I will never attack your beliefs again." He never spoke with me again and never attacked my faith again, true to his word.
I have gone through similar crises of faith in facing some of the perplexities of Mormonism. There are rough edges and challenging questions, to be sure, but it is amazing how rich the answers are that we do have, and how real the power of the Restored Gospel is in bringing hope and joy as it brings souls to Christ. Don't demand of God that all questions be answered now, but do study and pray and seek knowledge throughout your life, walking in faith and learning to recognize the Spirit and the things which come of God.

Saul, the expert scriptorian and defender of Jewish ways, did not become Paul the Christian Apostle because of the brilliant scriptural answers provided by the Christians or the compelling intellectual evidences that they could offer for the divinity of Jesus Christ.

For those looking for evidence in the days of early Christianity, there was plenty: "witnesses" who attested that Christians raided the tomb, stealing the body of Christ to fake the miracle of the Resurrection; "witnesses" who heard Christ commit blasphemy and other crimes; evidence that Christ used magic tricks or perhaps even occult powers to deceive people with so-called miracles (see the writings of Celsus, for example); the obvious inability of Christ to resist being killed on the cross, proving that He was an ordinary mortal with no divine power; and the fact that all the intellectuals in Jewish society, as well as Roman and Greek society - philosophers, scholars, theologians - saw nothing of merit in Christianity. The dupes known as Christians were generally the poor and uneducated, people who could be deceived by emotional appeals and ambiguous "burning in the heart" (Luke 24) or feeling "pricked in their hearts" (Acts 2), people who claimed that they "knew" Jesus was the Christ not through reliable tools from science, theology, or philosophy, but from their own subjection "revelation" from God (Christ even told his closest believers in Matthew 16:16-17 that it wasn't flesh and blood--you know, the facts, the evidence, the tangible proof--that converted them, but revelation from God).

When Saul the learned persecutor of Christians became Paul the devout Christian Apostle, this change came not from his examination of objective evidence, but from his alleged mystical encounter with the divine, a claimed personal revelation that let him know Jesus was the Christ, in spite of all the evidence against it. And after that, he was incredibly close-minded about the whole subject, unwilling to reconsider that perhaps he was wrong, no matter how much his fellow Jews of the anti-Christian variety reached out to Paul to minister to him in love with beatings, imprisonment, and other tools of the ministry.

Many converts to the Gospel have learned through powerful spiritual experiences that it is true, that they should enter into a covenant to follow Christ and be baptized, and that the Church of Jesus Christ has been restored, but afterwards face a crisis of faith when they learn, as did the early Christians, that the Gospel is spoken against everywhere, and that there are many compelling arguments that intelligent people have raised against it. Some abandon hope and return to old ways, shedding the joy that the Gospel was bringing into their lives. May we help them realize that there are answers, many answers, and that with faith and patience, our faith can become stronger and more, not less, intelligent.

13 comments:

erelis said...

The journey into skepticism of the Restored Gospel and from there towards disillusionment about God and religion in general is something I understand all too well. It's truly a soul-wrenching thing to pass through. The recent publication of Mother Teresa's private correspondance and personal stories such as this make me glad to see that I have had fellow travelers in this journey towards regaining a testimony. Thanks for sharing.

Alma said...

Excellent article, Jeff. It reminded me of comments from Franklin D. Richards about how to handle things we don't immediately understand. He was talking about a specific case; but I think he's illustrating a principle:

Tell the Saints that if this stone does not seem to fit into the great building of their faith just now, to roll it aside. You can help them to roll it aside out of their way, so that they will not stumble against it while at their daily duties, and it will be but a very short time till they will find a place in their building where no other stone will fit, then it will be on hand all right, and will come into its place in the building without the sound of hammer or chisel. (Millennial Star vol. 16, pp. 534-535.)

Marvin Miller said...

Very good post! Thank you. The same was true for me... when I encountered anti-Mormon stuff, I found myself being drawn AWAY from God.

Anonymous said...

That was wonderful! I know the book "Charles P." encountered; I am actually currently re-reading it at the moment, and what he states is correct. For instance, the charge against changing the revelations by Joseph Smith is paralleled by biblical prophets, such as Jeremiah in Jeremiah 52 and 2 Kings 24-25. And let us not forget the different renditions of the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5.

Jeff, do you know when "Charles P."'s book is coming out? Has he told you? I would go into more specifics, but I presume your use of the name is an attempt to conceal identity.

Robert Boylan
IrishLDS87@gmail.com

JayFlow22 said...

My mother has always warned me about throwing stones in glass houses. Here in this fallen world, all of Christianity in general is living in a glass house in that we have no tangible evidence that Jesus is the Risen Christ, but the truth nevertheless remains.
So I say to all Christians...watch where and at whom you throw those stones.
Perhaps this "stone in a glass house" has a connection with that above quote by Franklin D. Richards. If that stone doesn't fit, let's set it aside to be used later...not throw it.

Lars said...

Great story, Charles P, thanks for sharing. So what is a better translation for Acts 3:20-21?

Mormanity said...

He asked me to go ahead and use his full name: D. Charles Pyle. I'll get some info about the book posted here soon. Thanks!

Brandon said...

Great post, great experience! Thanks for sharing.

le35 said...

Everything has fact and evidence to back it up, but without faith, we rarely see the evidence for what it is. Faith is the foundation. First we have faith, then comes the revelation, then comes the knowledge and where we can see the evidence. However, we don't see the evidence first. Even Laman and Lemuel didn't see the angel as someone who testified of God. The evidence was there, but faithless people don't consider that knowledge helpful.

DPC said...

Interesting post. I think that for a lot of people in a crisis of faith, there is a Pascal-like wager going on in their mind. Do I wait and find out, when the evidence appears to be contrary to what I have been taught, and potentially lose out on living my life the way that I want to live (without taking flak from the Man or feeling guilty for any choice that may be contrary to what the Church teaches)? Or do I stick it out, unsure, unsettled, going to a church which I feel might be misrepresenting itself (and taking my tithing money) and feeling out of place and the uncertainties such a path will take? Not an easy decision by any stretch of the imagination. The first choice has an immediate payout that appears certain, while the second choice has a higher payout, but it appears uncertain. The whole situation can be summed up in three words: test of faith.

Ami said...

Thanks for that post, Jeff.

Interesting, DPC, that you should say Pascal-like wager, because I feel like that was how I dealt with my personal crisis.

Basically, I decided that whatever else, I thought the life that obedience to the Gospel encouraged was good for its own sake. If I died and had lived that, and somehow found out at my moment of death that it was truly my last and there was no God, I would not regret the life. If I died and found myself faced with eternity before, I would rejoice.

So I would live the Gospel no matter what, and devote myself to the will of Heavenly Father even though I didn't have evidence. Truly a leap of faith.

D. Charles Pyle said...

Jeff,

I actually have several books in the works (I made the fool decision to work on several at once in hopes that I could finish them all together but things did not work out that way and created more delays for all my projects). I would want people to know about them all but the last time I told someone in a public forum some things I ended up having others in that forum steal my ideas and make the money I could have made themselves.

My wife had a short story she had written pilfered by her instructor years ago and given to one of the instructor’s friends. The guy made tons of money on it while we never knew of it until the statute of limitations ran out. By then, it was too late.

We have been burned too many times, even by members of the Church, and are wary. So, while I would like to tell all, I would hate to have someone else beat me to the punch and cause me to have wasted years of time on something that only would reduplicate effort.

My initial plan was to make enough money off sales of a few books to be able to pay for my being able to devote myself to full-time research and related travel in the service of the Lord and of his gospel without having to worry about my family’s financial situation. There is nothing wrong in this desire, although I have no doubt that there will be those out there who disagree and will see in me some sort of evil or another.

I also have been working here and there on a new translation of the Bible in my spare time. This work still is mostly in the preparation stage. (I am polishing my knowledge of Aramaic so as to be better able to translate the portions of the Old Testament written in that language).

I had hoped to finish it years ago but have not as of yet. I am only one man who does not have a committee to assist with the work. One of these days it will get done.

In it I have adopted a number of approaches to the translation, based upon a passage by passage need rather than by applying the same methodology throughout the translation. It is a novel approach but one which gives far better results, IMO.

Another book (likely the one to which Robert Boylan refers) I will also tell you about, since much of it already is done. I have had a number of setbacks and sincerely believe that Satan does not want anyone to have access to that book. I need to whittle down the text of several sections (I have to do that because of the prohibitive costs of publishing and unwieldy size of the current version of the work) and have to edit the remaining text a bit more (some things are more of interest to me than dealing with apologetics issues, so will be removing those for a later project), as well as to add a little more information to other sections and a few photos of portions of ancient manuscripts. I also have to do a bit of reorganization of content.

Some of the information I passed to others privately from portions of my book actually have been used by some of those people and have made their way onto the internet and in other venues contrary to my express wishes. Those who did this and will be reading this one of these days know who they are. This is one of several of the delays to which I alluded. I also have quoted from other portions in places on the internet when dealing with critics. Some of these are no longer around but some are. I have also been ill and have been set back by that as well. One final delay, the one which my family calls the years of hell, was the worst setback of all. I do not now need to give the details for that. I may write a book about those years but I still am toying with that and trying to find an effective means of doing that that will have positive results rather than negative.

Basically, the book to which Robert Boylan alludes is more a compilation of quotes in combination with my own analysis. Much of the information contained therein can be gathered from a wide number of various sources for a considerable sum of money and time but my work will bring the important, relevant portions of that information under one, hopefully, inexpensive cover. Those with medium to large libraries, and who are familiar with the material, may have no need of my book unless they are interested in the content of my analyses of various passages of scripture from the Bible. I have not yet settled on a title as of yet but have come to like the title What the Critics Won’t Tell You in preference to my previous title of choice, which was to be Verse by Verse Answers to Critical Questions. As I said, I have not yet fixed myself on a title so could change my mind when ready to go to press. It all depends upon the final formatting of the book. It is probably about a year or so off from publication due to recovery from the several previous setbacks abovementioned.

On the matter of Acts 3:19-21, I will offer my translation below, as well as clarify what I meant by “victims of English translation” in my accounting of details. First, here is what I meant about victims. The King James Bible has one of the most logical and theologically consistent versions of translation for the passage and is basically correct overall there. However, this is not the case with the several other English versions in common use in the evangelical community. The most common version used there was the New International Version. One other there at that dinner meeting had the Living Bible and another, the New Revised Standard Version and yet another had the Amplified Bible. Part of what they did was try to convince me that the KJV translation was in error in that part and another pulled the “Well, my pastor reads the Greek and he says that the NIV is more correct than the KJV there” argument. I did not then have the fuller knowledge I have now. I was just starting out in going beyond Strong’s Concordance and Vine’s Expository Dictionary for my word studies during that time.

At that time I also did not own most of the lexicons, grammars, ancient texts and linguistic tools I now have. I also did not have access to most of my books I did have at that time, having left in storage across the country all but my reprint 1830 Book of Mormon and my scriptures. The versions used there at the meeting rendered Acts 3:21 as follows:

He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. (NIV)

For he must remain in heaven until the final recovery of all things from sin, as prophesied from ancient times. (The Living Bible)

who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets. (NRSV)

Whom heaven must receive [and retain] until the time for the complete restoration of all that God spoke by the mouth of all His holy prophets for ages past [from the most ancient time in the memory of man]. (Amplified Bible)

What could I say? I could not then at that time stand against the scholars who translated the text I just cited. I was just barely getting off the ground myself. I could not get past the agreement there between these newer translations I had been confronted with. That was what added to the distress. I thought the scholars were right and the people at that dinner meeting did a pretty good job of convincing me of their position on those verses. I also need to point out that there are now other versions of the Bible used by evangelicals of various stripes and with which a Latter-day Saint might be confronted, each of which says the same or similar things, among them the following, which I quote only partially in the interest of time:

For the time being he must remain out of sight in heaven… (The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language)

whom heaven must keep… (Jerusalem Bible)

whom heaven must keep… (New Jerusalem Bible)

But Jesus must stay in heaven… (The Simple English Bible)

For he must remain in heaven… (New Living Translation)

He must remain in heaven… (Today’s English Version)

But Jesus must stay in heaven… (New Century Version)

But Jesus must stay in heaven… (Contemporary English Version)

At any rate, the KJV is more consistent here not only because the basic thought of the Greek of the passage entertains the notion of welcomely taking Jesus by the hand and leading him up to heaven, and that it was necessary to do so, but that it does not conflict with other passages in the Bible, such as Acts 23:11, that shows that Jesus’ necessary welcoming into and sojourn in heaven does not preclude his visitation to the earth at times of his choosing, in spite of the fact that in the main he must be received into heaven until the times of the restoration of all things. The other translations above cited can lend themselves to the interpretation that Jesus has to stay in heaven until the times of restoration, which could be pressed into service to preclude any visitation of Christ to the Americas.

As to the Greek of the passage, there is a particle in the Greek text that is not translated in verse 21 of chapter 3 of the Book of Acts in most versions. This Greek particle has its own meaning of indeed or of some other affirmative sense of meaning. When found with the article in the same sentence and part of speech as it is here in this passage, it attributes to the sentence a sense of something not necessarily all inclusive, especially if other sentences in the same connected unit of thought or the context are of a contrary nature.

Since such a necessary immediate context is not apparent from the passage, I prefer to render it as indeed rather than to leave it untranslated. It is just as easy to drop it because it presents difficulties to the text by its very nature, and most translations do drop it because in many instances it is untranslatable. It often is difficult to translate in such a way as to get the full meaning while yet giving clarity of thought to the translation, so it is better here to either translate it literally or to drop it. I chose the former at this time. However, it may only be there as a marker to indicate that the passage does not preclude Jesus from visiting during the timeframe he was to be received into heaven.

Notwithstanding, not only does Acts 23:11 refute the stance that Jesus could not visit earth again until the times of restoration, particularly from the vantage point of the Greek text itself, from which is clear that Jesus really did come suddenly and actually stand next to Paul, but such a stance as those wanting to believe this passage teaches that Jesus cannot visit other peoples at different times simply because he ascended into heaven is to place limitations upon Jesus Christ that are unwarranted by scripture as a whole.

All this said, here is my tentative translation of Acts 3:19-21:

You all repent, therefore, and turn your life around so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing might come from presence of the Lord and he will send the One before preached to you, Jesus Christ, whom indeed it is necessary for heaven to receive until the time of the restoration of all which God has said through the mouth of all his holy prophets from time immemorial.

Hope this information is helpful to at least someone. When I originally wrote this, it was late and I was quite tired. Hopefully I made no obvious blunders anywhere.

D. Charles Pyle

Anonymous said...

Charles,

Thanks for providing the information on your forthcoming book; I remember Kerry Shirts' once mentioning it on the FAIR boards (now the MAAD boards) when I was browsing through old threads, and Tanyan on a ZLMB thread mentioned it, too. While I have a good library on biblical scholarship and other works (I am doing a MTh now in biblical scholarship), I will purchase your book, as it should provide new insights into scriptural pericope with your insights on the matters.

Best Wishes on the book projects, and the Bible translation.

As an aside, thanks for suggesting Matthews' book on the JST two and a half years ago, alongside Matthews et al., work on the JST original manuscripts (you suggested them in an e-mail some time ago; I would have e-mailed you back, but your verizon e-mail is dead). They have been of great help for LDS here who have asked me about the JST; that, and I learned a lot from them. Thanks.

Robert Boylan
IrishLDS87@gmail.com