Discussions of Book of Mormon issues and evidences, plus other topics related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Mormon Info at Patheos.com

Patheos.com has an interesting team of people engaged in polite sharing of various religious views. Ben Spackman has been active in sharing LDS perspectives there. For example, see Ben's recent article, "Doctrinal Sources and Authority."

Patheos offers a Mormonism portal.

The Public Square is place for comparing religious views with a topic that changes every two weeks.

Intelligent, civil discourse. Nice.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Shocking Statements in the LDS Scriptures: An Apologist Explains Why They May Actually Be Somewhat Compatible with the Bible

I'm about to share a troubling excerpt from a rather annoying blogger. This writer has compiled a list of "shocking statements" in the LDS scriptures that are clearly at odds with mainstream Christianity, for they point to the divine potential of humans and hint at some deep doctrines about which we actually know very little (you know, doctrines involving terms such as "gods"). LDS folks and investigators exploring the LDS scriptures might run into these passages and be confused, so by presenting them here with my response, I hope I will just be inoculating people. Using some advanced apologetic techniques and even a touch of logic, I intend to show that these passages, troubling and revolutionary as they may seem, are in some ways compatible with the Bible, when viewed through the right lens and given the right framework for understanding. It may seem like an impossible task, but stick with me on this one. So here's the excerpt:

Shocking Statements in the Mormon Scriptures about "Gods" and the "Divine Potential" of Humans

The Mormon scriptures contain numerous disturbing statements strongly at odds with several established doctrines of modern normative Christianity regarding what Mormons call "the divine potential" or "divine nature" of human beings. Rather than give my spin, I will let the Mormon scriptures--the "standard works" that form the foundation of official Mormon doctrine--speak for themselves. I will also present a few quotes from widely recognized and respected Church leaders affirming these doctrines. Then I will ask Mormons if they can explain why their doctrines are so out of whack with the rest of Christianity.

From the official Mormon Scriptures (all references use the Mormon Church's 1979 printing of the Mormon "Standard Works"):
  1. "I said, Ye are gods? . . . he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came." - Spoken by the Mormon Jesus. The LDS Church has never questioned this verse, never repudiated it, and still prints it and teaches it. Enough said! (Mormon Standard Works, Vol. 2, p. 1346)

  2. "[We are] the sons of God, and . . . when he [Christ] shall appear, we shall be like him." - Like him?? Like Jesus, the Son of God? (Vol. 2, pp. 1557-8)

  3. "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne" - Humans sitting with Christ in his throne? (Vol. 2, p. 1569)

  4. "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together." The text then speaks of "the glory which shall be revealed in us." - Joint heirs? Glorified together? Folks, I'm not interpolating - this is what the Mormon scriptures say! (Vol. 2, p. 1426)

  5. "God is God of gods, and Lord of lords" - Once again, enough said! (Vol. 1, p. 271)

  6. "[T]here be [those] that are called gods . . . (as there be gods many, and lords many)" - This verse of officially canonized Mormon scripture came from an early Church leader. (Vol. 2, p. 1447)

  7. "Thou hast made him [mortal man] a little lower than the angels [originally "gods"!], and hast crowned him with glory and honour." - This example nicely illustrates the principle of change in the Mormon scriptures. The word "gods" was used in the original version of this verse, but some felt that the use of "gods" in this verse was just too controversial, and so it was later "translated" to give a more socially acceptable result: "angels." As shameful as this kind of scriptural cover-up is, even the watered-down version reinforces the lofty status of mortals as potentially divine beings, linked to angels and destined for glory and honor in Mormon doctrine. But I say we should hold Mormons accountable for what this verse originally said: "gods"! (Vol. 1, p. 718)

  8. "I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High." - No wiggle room here! (Vol. 1, p. 768)

  9. In one passage of Mormon scripture, Jesus prays that his followers "may be one as we [Christ and the Father] are"! Shortly after that, he prays "that they also may be one in us" and then offers this zinger: "And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one." Again, the LDS Church refuses to repudiate this passage. It is a core part of what Mormons are asked to believe, being in one of their cherished "standard works" and commonly used. If this passage doesn't expose the monumental gap between the norms of modern Christianity and LDS theology, I don't know what does. Absolutely shocking. What's even more shocking is that most Mormons don't even see the problem with this kind of doctrine or recognize how far it strays from the rest of Christendom. (Vol. 2, p. 1345-6)

  10. "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God." - Honestly, I'm not making this up! (Vol. 2, p. 1489)

  11. "According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness . . . Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature. . .. Wherefore . . . give diligence to make your calling and election sure." (Vol. 2, p. 1551) This troubling passage also reminds us of the Mormon idea, typically found in the context of many of the previous passages, that diligence or obedience is needed in the quest to receive the gift of "the divine nature" or "godliness."

There are further passages in these volumes of scripture that reinforce these doctrines. Mormons will tell you that they don't know much about it, which is true, but there's no denying that it is taught in the Mormon scriptures and that it is far removed from the acceptable standards of normative Christianity. Mormons will say that it is not part of the core teachings that are discussed in their classes, their General Conferences, and Church publications, but it is there, indisputably, and Church leaders have frequently referred to it. Here are some quotes from respected Church leaders and theologians:
  1. "Jesus Christ . . . become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself."

  2. "Do we cast blame on him [God] because we were not made gods from the beginning, but were at first created merely as men, and then later as gods? Although God has adopted this course out of his pure benevolence, . . . he declares, 'I have said, ye are gods; and all of you are sons of the Most High.'"

  3. "The Word of God became a man so that you might learn from a man how to become a god."

  4. One leader taught that in the beginning men were "made like God, free from suffering and death," and that they are thus "deemed worthy of becoming gods and of having power to become sons of the highest."

  5. "But he himself that justifies also deifies, for by justifying he makes sons of God. . . If then we have been made sons of god, we have also been made gods."

  6. "The Word was made flesh in order that we might be enabled to be made gods.... Just as the Lord, putting on the body, became a man, so also we men are both deified through his flesh, and henceforth inherit everlasting life."

  7. "He [Christ] became man that we might be made divine."

So, Mormon teachings in official scriptures and the teachings of early Church leaders and theologians, are far different from normative Christianity today. So how do you account for the huge gap between what you Mormons believe and teach, and what the rest of the established Christian world has? Your doctrine regarding the "divine potential" of human beings is simply shocking, disturbing, and unacceptable from the standards of normative religion, and this fact needs to be faced and understood.
Well, I hope that hasn't shaken your faith too bad. Hang on folks, because I'm going to apply my skills as a Mormon apologist to show that these shocking doctrines aren't entirely remote from the Bible and original Christianity. Hold on just a second while I get my spinnamometer out and, uh, let's see. I can bear my testimony of the Gospel . . . trust that warm feeling you're getting now . . . well then, turn up the heat -- any better? Not working? OK, let me try this. Let's check out the sources cited above. Ah, that's it. Let's see, the 1979 printing of the LDS standard works, volumes 1 and 2 - ah, that would be the Old Testament and the New Testament.

So here are the chapter and verse citations, instead of the page numbers from the LDS printing of the King James Bible, given in the same order presented above: John 10:34; 1 John 3:2; Revelation 3:21; Romans 8:16-18; Deut. 10:17; 1 Corinthians 8:5; Psalm 8:4-5; Psalm 82:6; John 17: 11, 20-23; Philippians 2:5-6; and 2 Peter 1:3-4,10. Others could be cited. In Psalm 8, by the way, the Masoretic (Hebrew) text has "gods" but the King James translators decided to put down "angels" instead.

As for the Church leader quotes, well, it turns out they are all from the early Church of Jesus Christ, from men recognized and respected by modern mainstream Christianity as genuine early Christians, not heretics or apostates. (Hey, this whole thing looks rigged! Talk about annoying!) The quotes, in order, come from Irenaeus (two quotes), Saint Clement of Alexandria, Justin Martyr, Saint Augustine, and Saint Athanasius (two quotes). The quotes were compiled by Stephen Robinson in Are Mormons Christians? (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1991, pp. 60-70), with a slight correction on the first quote from Irenaeus. The relevant excerpt from Robinson with sources for the quoted early Christian leaders are given on my LDSFAQ page, "Theosis, the Divine Potential of Mankind: LDS and Early Christian Perspectives." So who was that annoying blogger I mentioned?

Boy, that was a close call! Instead of having to do a lot of hand-waving to make the quotes from the LDS scriptures somehow appear consistent with the Bible, I just had to point out that they actually were from the Bible, the largest source of LDS scripture. Whew! And the wacko quotes from Church leaders, in this case, turn out to be wacko quotes from early Christianity, whose doctrines are sometimes remote from the socially acceptable standards of today, but in this case appear to be remarkably close to that of the Bible and strangely close to some controversial doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Wow, it's almost like some sort of Restoration occurred. But that's just one possible explanation. I'll leave it to you to sort things out.

Sorry if I shook anyone's faith, but sometimes it's best to face these important theological issues head on.

I should also add that we really don't know much about this doctrine and what it really means. I would be more comfortable if the scriptures said our destiny was to be glorious angels or something, but that jarring word "gods" is hard to avoid. But being godlike Beings does not detract from the glory of the Father but adds to it. We do know that all glory is to the Father and that we are and always will be subservient to Him. We are the fallen, weak mortals who are saved by a perfect and always sinless Savior, acting on behalf of His even greater Father (John 14:28: "My father is greater than I"). See also John 5:19. I see no scriptural or logical basis for the allegation that we think that people will one day worship us or that we somehow replace God. We worship God the Father and always will. Those who do inherit all things from the Father and sit with Christ in his throne and become "like him" nevertheless--and of course--worship God and give glory to Him (and the Savior). Consider Doctrine and Covenants 76:
92 And thus we saw the glory of the celestial, which excels in all things--where God, even the Father, reigns upon his throne forever and ever;
93 Before whose throne all things bow in humble reverence, and give him glory forever and ever.
Even those beings the Lord chooses to call "gods."

Jan. 31 Update: I should note, as I have in the comments already, that I don't think the early Christian fathers whose writings are extant were just early Mormons who saw everything the way we do. The philosophical issues they faced and debated were much different than those relevant today, and the assumptions and paradigms that they had, in addition to the revealed word of God, surely affected their viewpoints in many ways. They were also writing in a time when the Hellenization of Christianity was well underway and apostolic leadership had already been lost. However, there are persistant references to human deification or theosis that at least appear to reinforce what we understand the scriptures to teach on this topic. My reading of their writings suggests that when they talk of mortals becoming "gods," it is a reference to participating in the grace of Christ and being made, by grace, more like Him, for we are sons and daughters of God with the potential to receive the divine nature. This, however, is what I believe is the core of the LDS doctrine: a recognition that we are actual children of God (see Acts 17: 28-29 and Heb. 12:9) with the potential to become somehow "like" Jesus and more like the Father, sharing in their fullness. They are the Creators and sources of grace, life, and salvation, and we are the grateful recipients of their mercy, but in receiving these blessings, we become more like them and thus the scriptures dare use the term "gods" to describe an intrinsic potentiality in mortal man, enabled by the grace of the Messiah. We are sons and daughters of God, undeserving recipients of grace and mercy, allowed to share in the blessings of Eternal Life and become "joint heirs" with Christ, having that intrinsic divine potential revealed through Christ, thereby becoming what the scriptures and some early Christians called "gods"--I find that fully compatible with LDS doctrine and believe that the early Christian fathers, in spite of seeing some things differently, would see an awful lot of common ground with modern LDS views on the divine potential of human beings.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Rejecting Living Apostles and Prophets: A Deceptively Easy Path to Righteousness

One commenter here at Mormanity explained how Mormons are in an untenable position due to our belief in modern prophets and divine authority, for we have to defend EVERY prophet from Joseph Smith to Thomas S. Monson, and each one did dozens of things that can be questioned. One slip, one false prophecy or wicked act, and the show is over, for the prophet is proven false and the whole house of cards comes falling down. He, on the other hand, informed us of his much more enviable theological position with a faith that could not be so easily assailed, for all he needed was Jesus and the Bible.

In Jesus' day, of course, all people needed was Moses and the scriptures from before the time of Christ--not heretics like Jesus or His followers, and certainly not His ordained but fallible apostles who could be and were rejected or criticized on numerous counts.

Elijah, Isaiah, Samuel, and Moses, for example, all were easy to criticize and reject.

Rejecting the messengers the Lord sent is a deceptively easy path to righteousness, or rather, an easy path to self-righteousness. False prophets need to be rejected, of course, but the common instinct to reject the very notion of modern prophets and apostles does not necessarily put you on the winning side of this debate, and may put you among those spoken of by Jesus:
Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city...
-- Jesus Christ, in Matthew 23:34
Rejecting modern prophets and apostles avoids the challenges of unsanitized, recent history. Recent history comes with the burden of conflicting accounts and witnesses, such as the witnesses who claimed to have seen the Resurrection faked or who claimed that Jesus was a sinner, or who could not accept that the son of a local carpenter could also be the Son of God. It comes with accounts of those who knew and disliked Peter or Paul or Moses. Claiming to need nothing but Jesus also avoids the challenges of dealing with mortal weaknesses in leaders and prophets. No need to explain or excuse the apparent blunders of Peter, Paul, or Moses. It's much smoother sailing with nothing but Jesus.

Ironically, the "nothing but Jesus" mantra does not come from Him, just as the doctrine of "nothing but the Bible" is a most unbiblical addition to the words of scripture. Christ told us that he would send prophets. His Church was organized with apostles and prophets in it for a sacred purpose:
11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;

12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:

14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
The day of unity has not yet come, thus there remains a need for prophets and apostles in His Church. The world despises modern prophets, as the early prophets and apostles knew so well. But Paul warned against these, teaching us to "despise not prophesyings" (1 Thessalonians 5:20). The principle of ongoing revelation through living prophets is an ancient and true pattern in God's dealings with man. Indeed, Amos wrote that "Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7).

It is comforting to think that we don't need to look to any other humans for help or guidance, that it's just us and Jesus, a viewpoint which I fear may be a step close to human self-sufficiency than its proponents will admit.

Jesus, on the other hand, made a great point of organizing disciples and establishing the principles of authority and ongoing revelation to guide His Church. "As my Father hath sent me, even so I send you" (John 20:21). Prophets and prophecy were important before He came. They were important while He was here. And the scriptures tell us they will continue to be important right up to the end. For example, in the book of Revelation, in chapter 11, there is a prophecy of what will be happening in the last days in Jerusalem, right before the Second Coming of the Lord. Two witnesses of God will be killed in Jerusalem. These two witnesses are described as prophets, and they will be prophesying. Most people will reject them. Will you? Will you be among those who say that there can't possibly be any more prophets from God, and that you don't need further witnesses/prophets and their message because you've already got the Bible and Jesus and need not a word more?

Prophets and prophecy will still be going on right up to the end. Angels will still be involved in the work of bringing the Gospel message to the earth (Rev. 14:6) - something even more sure to be mocked and rejected than the concept of prophets. Pity the Church that dares to declare that angels still speak and that prophets still speak. Worst of both worlds. In fact, something not of this world at all.

Yes, as a Latter-day Saints there are many angles from which modern prophets can be attacked, and there are reasonable points of view among those who have examined the Church and rejected its claims. I would say that the arguments commonly used to reject Joseph or Gordon B. Hinckley or others can be effective - so effective that they could also reject fallible mortal prophets of the past like Abraham the polygamist, Joshua the easily tricked (see Joshua 9), Jonah the irritator of endangered whales, or Paul the annoyingly long speaker who killed a man from speaking too long. Don't forget to add Jesus to that list, the Man who offended many and was found guilty of serious crimes by the most respected political and religious leaders of His day. He did not live up to the preconceived notions others had regarding a prophet or the Messiah, and the combination of paradigm-breaking words and deeds coupled with conflicting reports, allegations, and theological misunderstanding made following Him a difficult matter that required great faith. It's still that way today.

Feel free to reject the very concept of modern prophets and believe it's just you and God, or even just you, but don't be deceived into thinking that you have a theologically fireproof position or that you have nothing to defend. Rejecting those whom God sends does not somehow give you a pass or make you spiritually superior.

If you are a serious Christian but, for various reasons, reject Joseph Smith and what I believe to be the restored Church of Jesus Christ, I think it would then be appropriate to consider where to look to find authority and modern revelation on the earth, rather than assuming that we must not need prophets and apostles anymore just because we don't seem to have them. Perhaps you will look to Roman or Orthodox Catholicism, or some other source. But I suggest you look, think, and search with an open mind, and not fall into what I consider to be the deceptive trap of thinking that you need nothing more than what you have. Keep seeking!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

I Love It When a Plan Comes Together: The LDS A-Team of Young Women and Young Men Leaders

I'm just in awe today after an incredible "Super Saturday" event for the youth of the Appleton, Wisconsin Stake, and would like to point out what amazing things local youth leaders can achieve. This extra-mile Stake effort brought youth together for carefully tailored events to kick off the year of activities for the youth. I can think of hundreds of ways for a big Saturday event to fall flat, but fortunately, they didn't come to me for my ideas. Our Stake Young Men and Young Women leaders, working closely with their ward and branch counterparts and with a committee of young people, planned a spiritually uplifting, instructive, and fun event that exceeded all expectations.

I only caught a few glimpses of the action because my wife and I were getting food ready in the kitchen, but what I saw and heard was so impressive, and the feedback from the youth was very positive.

The leaders expected 120 youth to show up. Their publicity and planning efforts, coupled with a lot of work from unit leaders, resulted in nearly 150 attending--not bad for a cold winter day. I was also amazed at how many adult leaders and parents came to help out--at least 30 adults. The Stake leaders with family and other helpers spent many hours the day before and morning of the event making physical preparations, including hundreds of 3-D "bricks" made from cleverly assembled paper bags to build the towering walls of Jericho in the cultural hall across the stage and across the floor at the sides of the stage. The youth first heard some inspiring words about how they face walls in their lives that need the help of the Lord to be brought down. The youth then had a blast raising their voices on cue to simulate the noise that the camp of Israel made as they faced the walls of Jericho, and then the walls came tumbling down as adults behind the walls knocked them down and walked through the crumbling walls, representing angels and mortal helpers the Lord can use to help us conquer the overwhelming challenges we may face.

The youth got to put on skits relating to theme of the event and had other activities before they were served dinner. As the dividers in the middle of the cultural hall were pushed open, the youth were pleased to see 20 tables all set up with food ready to eat. I'm so amazed at the planning of the Stake Young Women leaders who came up with a menu, purchased all the food, and gave us instructions on exactly what to do. In the final hour before the meal was to be served, about a dozen additional adults joined us in the kitchen for some of the hectic final preparations, and wonderfully, everything was ready, just perfect, really, exactly on time. Hawaiian haystacks, based on rice with a cream of chicken sauce and lots of toppings to choose from, with salad, rolls, and dessert were all ready, hot and delicious, with just seconds to spare. I know how hard it is to do that, how many things can go wrong, but thanks to extra-mile preparations and plenty of help, the meal came together and created a pleasant "wow" factor for the youth. And by being ready to eat on the tables, 45 minutes were saved compared to having a buffer with long, slow lines. Smart!

More fun events occurred afterward, including some dance training. The event lasted a little over five hours for 150 young people who came, but involved many, many hours from those doing the planning and preparations (including my son, who was on the youth committee). Lots of fellowship, learning, and fun. I'm so grateful for those in our Stake who understand how important our young people are and who make such sacrifices to help them grow. Youth events of all kinds, including Scouting events, demand a lot from those who make them happen.

Thank you, youth leaders everywhere, for what you do your our young people!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Winter Cold Can Reveal New Beauty: Frost on Queen Anne's Lace

Here are portions of two photos I took on the way to work yesterday. Bitter cold brought out new beauty in a field of weeds near my home. Maybe there's purpose to the seasons of cold in our own lives. For us in Wisconsin, there'd better be. (Click to enlarge.)

A couple other plants:

Monday, January 18, 2010

David Whitmer: "Oliver has told you the solemn truth, for we could not be deceived."

One of the most solid and respected veteran scholars of the Church, the impeccable Richard Lloyd Anderson, gave the Neal. A. Maxwell lecture at BYU on March 20, 2009, where he offered his insights about the authenticity and integrity of the New Testament record. His lecture was just published in the Farms Review of Books, Vol. 21, No. 2, 2009. He points out some serious errors by modern scholars who say that the story of the Gospels are not based on eye-witness accounts but evolved from story-telling over decades. He also turns to the Joseph Smith story, including the First Vision and the Book of Mormon. He is most well known for his work dealing with the latter, for he has been a leader in collecting and analyzing extensive records dealing with the witnesses to the Book of Mormon. His scholarship has amply refuted the allegations of critics regarding the witnesses and has shown with overwhelming evidence that these primary witnesses never denied their witness of the Book of Mormon, even when some had left the Church over other issues, and even when they had nothing to gain and everything to lose for their stand.

One relatively unknown tidbit that Brother Anderson shared comes from an 1871 notebook by William McLellin. The notebook was long missing and only recently acquired by Brent Ashworth. It describes a scene in 1833 when McLellin was being sought by mobs in Missouri, shortly after Bishop Partridge had been tarred and feathered. Armed men were out looking for McLellin and Oliver Cowdery, who were in hiding in woods west of Independence. They met with David Whitmer there, and McLellin recalls his conversation there with two of the Three Witnesses in those dire circumstances, facing death for their religion:
I said to them, "brethren I never have seen an open vision in my life, but you men say you have, and therefore you positively know. Now you know that our lives are in danger every hour, if the mob can catch us. Tell me in the fear of God, is that book of Mormon true?" Cowdery looked at me with solemnity depicted in his face, and said, "Brother William, God sent his holy Angel to declare the truth of the translation of it to us, and therefore we know. And though the mob kill us, yet we must die declaring its truth." David said, "Oliver has told you the solemn truth, for we could not be deceived. I most truly declare to you its truth!!" Said I, boys I believe you. I can see no object for you to tell me falsehood now, when our lives are endangered."
The faithful and adamant testimony of the Book of Mormon from every witness of the gold plates, to the end of their lives, is one of the most insurmountable barriers yet to be scaled by those who claim there were no plates, no angel, no divine record translated by the power of God, but merely a fraud concocted by a charlatan. As one observer (can you remind me who?) quipped, it's one thing to talk about seeing an angel, but it's quite a different thing to introduce him to your friends.

Here is the Testimony of the Three Witnesses, three honorable and respected men who experienced the miracle of the Angel Moroni showing them the gold plates and declaring that it was of God.

Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That we, through the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, have seen the plates which contain this record, which is a record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites, their brethren, and also of the people of Jared, who came from the tower of which hath been spoken. And we also know that they have been translated by the gift and power of God, for his voice hath declared it unto us; wherefore we know of a surety that the work is true. And we also testify that we have seen the engravings which are upon the plates; and they have been shown unto us by the power of God, and not of man. And we declare with words of soberness, that an angel of God came down from heaven, and he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the plates, and the engravings thereon; and we know that it is by the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, that we beheld and bear record that these things are true. And it is marvelous in our eyes. Nevertheless, the voice of the Lord commanded us that we should bear record of it; wherefore, to be obedient unto the commandments of God, we bear testimony of these things. And we know that if we are faithful in Christ, we shall rid our garments of the blood of all men, and be found spotless before the judgment-seat of Christ, and shall dwell with him eternally in the heavens. And the honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen.

Oliver Cowdery
David Whitmer
Martin Harris
There were others also, such as the Eight Witnesses, who saw the plates under less miraculous conditions and testified of their reality, never departing from that. So who were these witnesses, and what is the importance of their persistent, consistent, and insistent eyewitness accounts? It's worth considering.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Best Spanish Pro-LDS Websites? Dealing with MormonCult.org and Its Resources for Spanish Speakers

Someone asked me a question about Spanish resources being offered on the ever-dangerous MormonCult.org website. It has a resources page (I would be crazy to give you the URL) with some Spanish articles and links. Since I'm not very familiar with the Spanish-side of LDS religion, can you suggest to me your favorite LDS resources (PRO-LDS, that is) that I can share with others to fight misinformation on the web?

MormonCult.org tends to be the #1 search result when you Google "Mormon cult" and is #4 or 5 for "Culta de los Mormones". That's unacceptable. With your help, we can do something about that and bring down those Spanish placement numbers. #4 or 5 is way too high for such a pathetic site.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Extra-Mile Teaching

I've been touched by the various efforts that some teachers put into their callings to be diligent and to help their class. There are many different approaches that committed teachers take, depending on their time, resources, and skills. While some may go way too far in preparing, any efforts toward preparation are usually a step in the right direction and appreciated by the audience, especially given the pain that poorly prepared lessons can cause (at least for me).

Sometimes the depth of preparation is obvious and visible with such things as extensive handouts or beautiful crafts and artwork. Equally extensive preparation may be less visible, having been in the form of careful study, thought, and prayer. Some teachers provide resources that can last and be shared by many, such as website resources and commentaries. If I recall correctly, Brant Gardner's extensive commentary on the Book of Mormon, now published as a six-volume set, had its origins with Gospel Doctrine preparation. Another example I ran into this morning comes from Utah's Hunter 35th Ward Gospel Doctrine Class, where the teacher puts information on the website Gospel-Doctrine.com. Wow. (FYI, the teacher, Jeff Stone is also a master magician and innovator of some very cool magic effects: see StoneColdMagic.com. Gospel Doctrine students, please note that this is not the kind of magic that required stoning in Old Testament times or today in certain nations, but it sure looks supernatural.)

I'm interested in knowing what extra-mile teaching efforts have made a difference in your lives? Do visible preparation results like beautiful table displays have an impact on you? Have you been changed by someone's intellectual preparation? What really works and makes a difference?

As I said, preparation can go too far. The most "prepared" lesson I ever saw was from Dr. Hugh Nibley in the Provo Ninth Ward back when my wife and I were students at BYU. He was teaching a lesson on the Book of Abraham in Gospel Doctrine class. His topic was Facsimile #2. No, more specific than that. His topic was the wadjet eye of Facsimile 2 (the stylized Egyptian eye in the upper right-hand corner of the figure). He came with a thick stack of cards with excerpts from numerous authorities on the deep meanings of this symbol, many of which shed light on what Joseph Smith had to say about it and created a tantalizing network of connections and inferences. It was a terrific lesson, except he never bothered to tell anyone just what the wadjet eye was, where it was on Facsimile 2, and why it mattered. All that was presumed as common knowledge on our part. Off he went at high speed for nearly an hour. Partway through, two elederly women sitting in front of me turned their heads toward each other to ask if the other had any idea what he was talking about. I think very few had any idea. Should have raised my hand to interrupt--but this was Hugh Nibley, the great scholar. I didn't dare. And so the great guru (and he truly was great), exuding a lifetime of preparation at an overwhelming rate during this hour, completely missed and befuddled his audience. "What was that?" was about all the class members could say at the end. I suppose extreme table top displays can do that, too.

Update: Some critics wish to mock the Church for its stand on the need to stick with the manuals prepared for teacher. That's a foolish reason to complain. Teaching in the Church is a privilege. It is not a platform for sharing regarding whatever theories we want, whatever gossip or rumors we want, whatever doctrines we want. The Church has a mission of teaching people the Gospel and bringing souls to Christ, and has every right - indeed, the obligation - to ask that what is taught be approved material.

There is plenty of room for meeting the needs of students, for inspired guidance and insights, for being prepared and eloquent, for being intelligent, while usiing the content given in the manuals and following the material prepared for presentation. Lessons need to be tailored to the class, but it is right for us to teach what we are asked to teach and not make stuff up ourselves.

I've been on both sides of this, and have taught way too many lessons my way. I enjoy adding tidbits and factoids along the way, but have come to realize that I really need to follow the manuals. I am there to teach the basics, not to entertain my way. I've been as wrong as Nibley in that case, and really should have done better.

Monday, January 11, 2010

An Ah-Hah Moment Captured: "Now I Understand Why I Had to Come to Mortality and Receive a Physical Body"

At a young age, my grandson suddenly realized why he needed a physical body and what mortality is all about. Yes, there is a purpose to this life after all!

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Away from the Heartland: Joseph Smith, John Lloyd Stephens, and a Mesoamerican Setting for the Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon Archeology Foundation has decided it's time to speak out against what they believe are misleading efforts to promote what is called the "Heartland Model" of the Book of Mormon, a model which proposes the Great Lakes area and other parts of the current United States as the primary setting for the Book of Mormon. I agree that the Heartland Model fails for many reasons, while Mesoamerica makes much more sense. They now offer a page criticizing this model, including links to the following resources:I highly recommend the last article by John Tvedtnes to gain an understanding of just how many LDS voices over the decades have been pointing to Mesoamerica. Very valuable reference. But the one I wish to focus on for this post is Ted Dee Stoddard's "Joseph Smith and John Lloyd Stephens." Stoddard reminds us of the profound effect that the widely publicized writings of Stephens had on Joseph Smith, offering what appeared to be strong vindication of the Book of Mormon in showing that there were great cities and civilizations in the ancient Americas like those described in the Book of Mormon. Importantly, he also argues that this information from Stephens influenced Joseph away from a hemispheric view of Book of Mormon geography to one focused in Mesoamerica, and indeed, to one that excludes Panama as the narrow neck of land to one where the narrow neck must be to the north, in Mesoamerica, as is accepted today by many LDS scholars.

Stoddard's analysis of Joseph Smith and Stephens also reminds us that a Mesoamerican-centric view of Book of Mormon geography is NOT a modern invention to dodge recently fired bullets from modern science and DNA studies.

Here is an excerpt from his thorough article, which I encourage you to read and ponder it is entirety.
Not long after John Lloyd Stephens’s 1841 Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan was available for sale to the public, Joseph was given a copy of the two-volume set as a gift. We have no reliable information about the extent to which Joseph read Stephens’s volumes or discussed them with Church-member colleagues. On June 25, 1842, he noted the following: “Messrs. Stephens and Catherwood have succeeded in collecting in the interior of America a large amount of relics of the Nephites, or the ancient inhabitants of America treated of in the Book of Mormon, which relics have recently been landed in New York.”

At this point, Joseph clearly and unequivocally shows his support for the thinking that the Nephites lived in Mesoamerica. The date of June 25, 1842, is a year later than the first mention of Stephens’s Mesoamerican explorations in the Times and Seasons under the title of “American Antiquities—More Proofs of the Book of Mormon”:
We feel great pleasure in laying before our readers the following interesting account of the Antiquities of Central America, which have been discovered by two eminent travellers who have spent considerable labor, to bring to light the remains of ancient buildings, architecture &c., which prove beyond controversy that, on this vast continent, once flourished a mighty people, skilled in the arts and sciences, and whose splendor would not be eclipsed by any of the nations of Antiquity—a people once high and exalted in the scale of intelligence, but now like their ancient buildings, fallen into ruins.
Following this June 15, 1841 introduction, this issue of the Times and Seasons contains a lengthy article about lectures given by Stephens and Catherwood. The article was originally published in New York City in the Weekly Herald. Though Joseph Smith was not the editor of this issue of the Times and Seasons, we can assume that he approved of its content. . . .

In the July 15, 1842, issue, which was “edited, printed and published” by Joseph Smith, an article entitled “American Antiquities” was printed. We can assume that its author is Joseph Smith for two reasons: (1) the article ends with the notation “-ED” (editor) to signify that Joseph Smith possibly wrote or dictated the article, definitely approved it, and clearly approved the concluding statement that precedes the notation of “-ED” and (2) in the March 1, 1842, issue, Joseph had forthrightly told the readers that he alone would be responsible for all forthcoming articles attributed to his role as editor. The concluding paragraph of the “American Antiquities” article refers to Stephens and Catherwood:
If men, in their researches into the history of this country, in noticing the mounds, fortifications, statues, architecture, implements of war, of husbandry, and ornaments of silver, brass, &c.—were to examine the Book of Mormon, their conjectures would be removed, and their opinions altered; uncertainty and doubt would be changed into certainty and facts; and they would find that those things that they are anxiously prying into were matters of history, unfolded in that book. They would find their conjectures were more than realized—that a great and a mighty people had inhabited this continent—that the arts sciences and religion, had prevailed to a very great extent, and that there was as great and mighty cities on this continent as on the continent of Asia. Babylon, Ninevah, nor any of the ruins of the Levant could boast of more perfect sculpture, better architectural designs, and more imperishable ruins, than what are found on this continent. Stephens and Catherwood’s researches in Central America abundantly testify of this thing. The stupendous ruins, the elegant sculpture, and the magnificence of the ruins of Guatamala, and other cities, corroborate this statement, and show that a great and mighty people—men of great minds, clear intellect, bright genius, and comprehensive designs inhabited this continent. Their ruins speak of their greatness; the Book of Mormen unfolds their history. -ED.
Though difficult to determine because of inadequate documentation techniques, the major part of the article should probably be attributed to the Antiquarian Society, which disputes the claim that existing native Amerindians of the United States could be responsible for archaeological findings that were taking place at the time: “To this we respond, they never have: no, not even their traditions afford a glimpse of the existence of such things, as forts, tumuli, roads, wells, mounds, walls enclosing between one and two hundred, and even five hundred acres of land; some of them of stone, and others of earth, twenty feet in thickness, and exceeding high, are works requiring too much labor for Indians ever to have performed.” That is, to the typical United States resident at the time, Amerindian natives of the United States were savages who were incapable of constructing the artifacts that archaeological endeavors were beginning to uncover or discover in the Mesoamerican territory of “this continent.”

The point to note here—in 1842 based on the content of articles in the Times and Seasons—is that Joseph Smith was conceivably shifting his focus from the United States to Mesoamerica in pinpointing the peoples of the Book of Mormon and the area where the events of the Book of Mormon occurred. His thinking was clearly influenced by the writing and thinking of John Lloyd Stephens. . . .

The September 15, 1842, issue of the Times and Seasons, which again was “edited, printed and published” by Joseph Smith, begins with a lengthy quotation from Stephens’s Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan. The content deals with Palenque. Following almost four pages of direct quotation from Stephens, Joseph Smith (at least “Joseph Smith” by virtue of his approval as editor) states the following: “The foregoing extract has been made to assist the Latter-Day Saints, in establishing the Book of Mormon as a revelation from God. It affords great joy to have the world assist us to so much proof, that even the most credulous cannot doubt.”

The Times and Seasons article then reads as follows:
Let us turn our subject, however, to the Book of Mormon, where these wonderful ruins of Palenque are among the mighty works of the Nephites. . . . Mr. Stephens’ great developments of antiquities are made bare to the eyes of all the people by reading the history of the Nephites in the Book of Mormon. They lived about the narrow neck of land, which now embraces Central America, with all the cities that can be found. Read the destruction of cities at the crucifixion of Christ, pages 459–60 [of the first-edition Book of Mormon]. Who could have dreamed that twelve years would have developed such incontrovertible testimony to the Book of Mormon? surely the Lord worketh and none can hinder.

The October 1, 1842, issue of the Times and Seasons continued to reflect the influence that Stephens had on the Prophet’s thinking about the lands and peoples of the Book of Mormon. The issue begins with the following paragraphs that deal with Stephens’s findings about Quirigua, Guatemala:
Since our “Extract” was published from Mr. Stephens’ “Incidents of Travel,” &c., we have found another important fact relating to the truth of the Book of Mormon. Central America, or Guatimala, is situated north of the Isthmus of Darien and once embraced several hundred miles of territory from north to south.—The city of Zarahemla, burnt at the crucifixion of the Savior, and rebuilt afterwards, stood upon this land. . . .

It is certainly a good thing for the excellency and veracity, of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon, that the ruins of Zarahemla have been found where the Nephites left them: and that a large stone with engravings upon it as Mosiah said; and a “large round stone, with the sides sculptured in hieroglyphics,” as Mr. Stephens has published, is also among the left remembrances of the, (to him,) lost and unknown. We are not going to declare positively that the ruins of Quirigua are those of Zarahemla, but when the land and the stones, and the books tell the story so plain, we are of opinion, that it would require more proof than the Jews could bring to prove the disciples stole the body of Jesus from the tomb, to prove that the ruins of the city in question, are not one of those referred to in the Book of Mormon.

It may seem hard for unbelievers in the mighty works of God, to give credit to such a miraculous preservation of the remains, ruins, records and reminiscences of a branch of the house of Israel: but the elements are eternal, and intelligence is eternal, and God is eternal, so that the very hairs of our heads are all numbered. It may be said of man he was and is, and is not; and of his works the same, but the Lord was and is, and is to come and his works never end; and he will bring every thing into judgment whether it be good, or whether it be evil; yea, every secret thing, and they shall be revealed upon the house tops.
Almost hidden among the words of this quotation is some quasi-revelatory information either stated by or approved by Joseph Smith as editor. Based on the content of the above quotation, if the Isthmus of Darien (Panama) were the narrow neck of land, then Guatemala would have to be in the land northward. However, the quotation clearly suggests that Zarahemla was located in what today is known as part of Mesoamerica (Guatemala). In the Book of Mormon, Zarahemla is unequivocally located in the land southward, which means that (1) Guatemala is in the land southward, (2) the Isthmus of Panama cannot be the narrow neck of land, and (3) South America cannot be the land southward. Those facts lend quasi-revelatory support for Mesoamerica being the location of the New World events of the Book of Mormon.
Interesting issues. I'm not sure I prefer the term "quasi-revelatory," but I do think there is a strong case for seeing that Joseph Smith was learning about the marvelous book he had translated, gaining new insights from the findings of scholars that helped him update his own understanding of the text. It's one of several fascinating issues where we can see that the text of the Book of Mormon is "smarter" than Joseph Smith and not merely his fabrication.

Joseph's new awareness of the potential of Mesoamerica as the setting for the Book of Mormon, if Stoddard's treatment is correct, was soon snuffed out by his martyrdom. As the Saints fled from the mobs and began the challenge of an exodus and eking out a living in the Rockies, those insights appear to have slipped away in the popular understanding of the Book of Mormon. The details of geography probably didn't matter for many decades, but today I would say that those details matter more and for some, may be a valuable topic of study and reflection.

More recommended reading: "Archaeology, Relics, and Book of Mormon Belief" by
John E. Clark, discussing some of the New World evidence for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. Also consider "Mormon's Map Puzzle Solved?" by John P. Pratt. Might mention both of these on my Book of Mormon Evidences page.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Open-Mindedness Alert: Non-LDS Observer Reports on His Visit to a Candidate for Nephi's Bountiful

"Kharfot Searching for Mormons" is the title of an article written by author and photographer Pinaki Chakravarty for Oman Today, a publication of Apex Press in Oman, the small Arab state on the eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula which many LDS scholars believe contain the place that Nephi and group called Bountiful (see, for example, MormonEvidence.com). For those who have been told that there isn't a scrap of evidence for the Book of Mormon, a refreshing new openness might follow when evidence from the Arabian Peninsula is considered. It should give one pause, for example, to consider that there is actually a plausible candidate (perhaps two or three plausible candidates, in fact) meeting many criteria found in the First Nephi for such a place, including being nearly due east of the place Nahom where Ishmael was buried, a place that appears to match well with the ancient burial place called Nehem, now bearing recently discovered ancient altar showing that the related tribal name Nihm (or just NHM in ancient Semitic languages) was in use there in Nephi's era.

Pinaki is remarkably neutral in his article, and has obviously done some homework learning about the views of some LDS writers regarding Kharfot as an excellent candidate for Bountiful. He could have taken the easy way out and chortled that there could never have been such a place as the lush Bountiful in the vast stretches of arid sand that fill Arabia, as others have done, but he is writing for an audience in Oman where the existence of lush coastal regions is no secret. While a visit to Kharfot was difficult by modern standards and took significant time and effort, even with the help of modern transportation, Pinaki made the effort to go see for himself and learn why some Mormons are excited about this remote and rarely visited section of the Peninsula. A refreshing case of open-mindedness! Thank you, Pinaki (and good luck with the books on your adventures in Oman that you are preparing!).

Hat tip to Warren Aston.

Update, 1/8/10: I am honored that Pinaki dropped by and shared some further insights in his comments, such as the editorial constraints in Oman that affected what he could say. Interesting! The original version of his article is at http://pinaki.info/om_sea_kharfot.htm. That version includes additional photographs of the area. Very nice! [Jan. 2015: Pinaki.info has died and now just ad bait. But you can see what Pinaki wrote via Archive.org, starting with this page.]

Pinaki mentions that Mormons may have found iron ore at Bountiful. Yes, iron ore is available in the area, as the Book of Mormon indicates--and that's actually a big deal given the rarity of iron ore in the Arabian Peninsula. For details, read my post, "'Whither Shall I Go for Ore?' - Another Subtle Requirement for Bountiful's THREE Excellent Candidates. Worth considering. Surely the iron ore finds must good enough at least for a bit of scrap iron, and that ought to be considered next time someone says there isn't a scrap of evidence in faavor of the Boook of Mormon. Not even a scrap iron scrap?