Author: Dave Banack

The Life and Times of Parley P. Pratt

Parley Pratt biography

I recently finished reading Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism (OUP, 2011), by Terryl L. Givens and Matthew J. Grow. Most Mormons know Pratt by name from reading the Doctrine and Covenants. A few Mormons have read Pratt’s autobiography, which gives some idea of the extent of his missionary travels, but provides little detail about his influential writings or his busy family life (he had 9 wives and 23 children at the time of his death). Any reader of this biography will come to appreciate just how significant a role Pratt played in the early LDS Church, almost from the moment of his conversion in 1830 right up to his death in 1857. Here are a few of the highlights from the book.

The Day Creationism Died

It was January 5, 1982, the day United States District Court Judge William R. Overton issued his memorandum opinion in McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education. Plaintiffs challenged an Arkansas statute that required Arkansas public schools to “give balanced treatment to creation-science and evolution-science.” The Court found that “creation science has no scientific merit or educational value as science” and that “the only real effect of Act 590 [the Arkansas statute] is the advancement of religion.” As such, it violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and was struck down as unconstitutional. Langdon Gilkey, a theologian who testified at the trial as an expert witness for the plaintiffs, provided an account of the trial in his book Creationism on Trial: Evolution and God at Little Rock (Winston Press, 1985).

Science, Mormonism, Dialogue

The good news: There is more room for dialogue between science and Mormonism than between science and other conservative Christian viewpoints. Most Latter-day Saints don’t feel threatened by science. The bad news: Some Latter-day Saints do come to see the relation between science and Mormonism as one of conflict rather than dialogue, and sometimes science wins that debate in their head. Why do some Mormons see science and Mormonism as an either/or choice rather than a helpful partnership?

Same Old Thing or A New Vision for Missionary Work?

lds missionaries

The reaction to yesterday’s two-hour Worldwide Leadership Broadcast on missionary work has been mixed. Given the pre-broadcast hype, some viewers were undewhelmed; others were impressed. Our friends at BCC live-blogged the event with reader comments ranging from cynically dismissive to excited and energized. Below I’ll give links to media and LDS coverage, offer my own summary, then add some commentary.

The Earliest New Testament

paul writing

This is the third post (first, second) in a series on the New Testament. This post covers what should probably have been the first post: consideration of the seven undisputed letters of Paul, chronologically the earliest documents in the New Testament, written in the 50s. They give us the best information we have on the early Christian churches scattered around the Roman world. Oddly, Paul’s letters receive much less attention in most LDS discussion of the New Testament than the gospels.

Science as Friend or Foe


On a recent long drive, I listened to all 12 lectures of a Science and Religion audio book by Professor Lawrence Principe of Johns Hopkins. A topic of personal interest (see my earlier T&S series here, here, here , and here), the science-religion issue should also be more of an interest to LDS scholars and apologists in general, given the role that science, scientism, or a mixture of the two often seems to play in the thinking of young Mormons who choose to exit the Church. My sense is that most people pick up from the media or general education a rather naive view of the relation between religion and science, and that nothing taught in the LDS curriculum does anything to remedy the situation. It is certainly a topic that deserves more attention and better coverage. On this topic, we are failing our youth.



My previous post on the upcoming BYU New Testament Commentary series was so well received I have decided to do some follow-up posts discussing individual books. I’ll start with Revelation, partly because that will be the first volume in the BYU series but also because I happen to have a copy of Elaine Pagels’ Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, & Politics in the Book of Revelation sitting on my desk for one more week. While a fairly informed reader of the New Testament, I’m no scholar and navigate Greek only with the help of a good interlinear New Testament and various supplements, so my discussion is mainly drawn from the secondary literature and the English text I read in the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), the New International Version (NIV), and of course the trusty King James Version (KJV). But that’s enough to author helpful blog posts. Enough throat clearing: So who wrote Revelation, what is it talking about, and why is…

BYU’s New Testament Commentary

A website for the upcoming BYU New Testament Commentary series has popped up. The short announcement on the main page promises “a multi-volume commentary on the New Testament along with a new rendition of the Greek New Testament texts,” which will “combine the best of ancient linguistic and historical scholarship with Latter-day Saint doctrinal perspectives.” A short post at the Interpreter claims that the first volume, covering Revelation, will be available this summer in e-book format. This promises a dramatic upgrade to the quality of LDS interaction with the New Testament. Here are a few issues (offering both opportunities and challenges) raised by the new series.

18 is the new 19

Six months ago, at the October 2012 General Conference, President Monson announced the missionary age change. Here is his report on how things are going, delivered earlier this month: The response of our young people has been remarkable and inspiring. As of April 4 — two days ago — we have 65,634 full-time missionaries serving, with over 20,000 more who have received their calls but who have not yet entered a missionary training center and over 6,000 more in the interview process with their bishops and stake presidents. It has been necessary for us to create 58 new missions to accommodate the increased numbers of missionaries.

God and Galaxies

A piece of creation: the Andromeda Galaxy

Elder Ballard started out his recent Conference talk “This Is My Work and My Glory” with this description and commentary on the wonder of the night sky: A few weeks ago, on a cold, dark winter’s night, my wife, Barbara, and I looked in awe up at the sky. The millions of stars seemed exceptionally bright and beautiful. I then turned to the Pearl of Great Price and read again with wonder what the Lord God said to Moses: “And worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten” (Moses 1:33). In our day the Hubble deep-space telescope has confirmed the magnitude of what Moses saw. Hubble scientists say the Milky Way galaxy, of which our earth and sun are just a tiny part, is estimated to be only one of over 200 billion similar galaxies. For me it is difficult to…

Sunday Afternoon Session

President Uchtdorf is conducting this final session of Conference, with music by the Tabernacle Choir. Invocation by another female, Sister Stephens — they seem to be everywhere this Conference! Benediction by a male Seventy. Direct quotes of a speaker are in quotation marks, otherwise the text is my summary of their remarks.

Saturday Afternoon Session

President Eyring conducted the afternoon session. President Uchtdorf read a long list of sustainings and releases, notably releasing President Dalton of the Young Women and calling a new President (Bonnie Lee Green Oscarson) and counselors. The annual audit report and statistical report were read: there are now 3005 stakes and 347 missions. In what follows, direct quotations of a speaker are given in quotation marks; quoted scriptures cited where possible; and other text represents my own summary of the speakers remarks. I will try posting updates after each speaker this session.

Saturday Morning Session

President Uchtdorf conducted this opening session. Opening prayer by a (male) Seventy and music by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Direct quotations of a speaker (based on my real-time listening) are given in quotation marks; other text represents my own summary of their remarks.

Socially Constructed Mormonism

This is the second post (see first post) discussing ideas presented in the recently published memoir of retired LDS sociologist Armand Mauss, Shifting Borders and a Tattered Passport: Intellectual Journeys of a Mormon Academic (Univ. of Utah Press, 2012; publisher’s page). After taking five years away from his graduate work to serve as a counselor in a bishopric, Mauss returned to his studies in 1962 at UC Berkeley, where he quickly encountered a serious challenge to his faith.

My Problem With the Couplet


In 1840, almost nine years before being called as an LDS apostle, while he was listening to a friend read from the scriptures, Lorenzo Snow experienced a sudden enlightenment that he apparently regarded as a revelation from God. He summarized his enlightenment in this well known verse (which I’ll call the Couplet): As man now is, God once was: As God now is, man may be. Neither the Couplet, nor any alternative account of Lorenzo Snow’s pre-apostolic claimed revelation, has been canonized. It is not scripture. The first part of the Couplet in particular encourages the belief by rank and file Mormons that, once upon a time, God the Father was just some mortal guy on a planet near Kolob, but that he grew up to be God. This view is contrary to LDS scripture, yet many Mormons have been taught something like this while growing up and seem to assume it is part of the LDS gospel. Now Chapter…

Knowledge or Faith?

Last month, Jacob over at BCC started an interesting series on the philosophy of religion, which I hope he continues at some point. Not being quite ready to spring $120 for a copy of the recommended book, I tracked down a library copy of a shorter and very readable introductory text, William L. Rowe’s Philosophy of Religion: An Introduction (Wadsworth, 2001, 3rd ed.). What I found most interesting in the book was the contrast between knowledge and faith. The discussion seems particularly relevant given how frequently the distinction between knowledge and faith is muddled or simply ignored in LDS discourse.

The Problem With Correlation

Over at Worlds Without End, Seth posted Overcoming Correlation, or Mormon Studies and Pastoral Care. Why do we keep talking about Correlation? Obviously, there’s something wrong, but there are various opinions as to what exactly that is and how one might go about fixing it. After recounting his own scholarly engagement with Mormon Studies, Seth offers a couple of conclusions about Correlation, its problems, and how Mormon Studies might help solve them.

Mauss on Dialogue

shifting borders

I am almost done with the recently published memoir by Armand Mauss, Shifting Borders and a Tattered Passport: Intellectual Journeys of a Mormon Academic (U of U Press, 2012; publisher’s page). Like Leonard Arrington’s earlier memoir, Adventures of a Church Historian, the book is something of a insider’s guided tour of fifty years of Mormon Studies, including the two important books on Mormonism authored by Mauss, The Angel and the Beehive (1994) and All Abraham’s Children (2003). Anyone who reads T&S or the other blog will certainly enjoy the tour.

Bloggernacle Adrift?

For several years now, the Mormon Archipelago aggregator site (which used to be found here) has served as a relatively complete listing of LDS blogs and also provided real-time feeds listing recent posts. It has been something of an anchor for the Bloggernacle. It was handy to see new posts at larger blogs all in one place. MA also pushed traffic to a lot of smaller blogs that otherwise wouldn’t get too many visitors. But MA has been down for over a week now and it’s not clear if or when it will be back. What is to be done? As a short-term fix, I have put feeds of 20 LDS blogs in the sidebar at DMI giving the most recent five posts for each blog. For reference, I also set up a page listing all the blogs that were featured at the MA site.

Thrown Into This Mormon Life

This is the third and final post on Adam Miller’s Rube Goldberg Machines: Essays in Mormon Theology (Greg Kofford Books, 2012; publisher’s page). This post covers the short (two pages) and easy-to-discuss essay “Shipwreck.” It’s about what happens when you discover that you are Mormon. What does that mean? How does it change your life? As theology goes, this is a very accessible question. I expect everyone (this means you!) will weigh in with a comment because we have all at some point made this momentous discovery of Mormonism and grappled with the consequences.

Mormonism: How Thinkable Is It?

This is the second post on Adam Miller’s Rube Goldberg Machines: Essays in Mormon Theology (Greg Kofford Books, 2012; publisher’s page). In this post I’ll discuss Chapter 8, “The Gospel as an Earthen Vessel,” a suggestive symbol that Adam borrows from 2 Corinthians 4:7: “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.”

What Mormon Theology Looks Like

Rube Goldberg Machines

This is the first of several posts discussing Adam Miller’s Rube Goldberg Machines: Essays in Mormon Theology, a little gem published by Greg Kofford Books in 2012 (here’s the publisher’s page on the book). After some preliminary discussion about why there has been so little Mormon theology done (compared to say LDS history) and what Mormon theology might look like, I’ll discuss some of Adam’s observations in Chapter 6, “A Manifesto for Mormon Theology.” Adam, of course, is a permablogger here at Times and Seasons and will likely be adding his own additional enlightening thoughts in the comments.

Can Books Cause Problems? Reflections on Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet

I recently did a quick read of John G. Turner’s Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet and posted notes here. Here is my one-sentence summary: “Turner gives a balanced if candid portrayal of Brigham, one that mainstream Mormons should be able to read without serious difficulties.” But not everyone agrees. Some very bright people think the book might very well cause problems for mainstream Mormons and should therefore perhaps be avoided. It’s a serious question: Can books cause problems? If so, what do we do with those problem books: Ignore them? Hide them in locked cases? Burn them?

On Being Taken Seriously

Once upon a time, the rare article or essay on Mormonism was noteworthy and bloggable. Now, in this extended Mormon Moment, there are so many it is hard to even keep track of them. But Adam Gopnik’s article “I, Nephi: Mormonism and its meanings” deserves special notice, not just because The New Yorker is widely read and respected but because it is a serious and informed discussion. Maybe the media is getting better when it comes to discussing Mormonism.

Mormonism: The Second Century

Christopher Jones has a post over at the fine group blog Peculiar People listing ten books on modern Mormonism. The post deserves more discussion, so I thought I’d post my own short comments on the first four books from the list and invite readers to add comments on the others as well as reflection on the original post by Jones.

Practical Apologetics: Defining the middle path in Mormonism

Rachel’s post a couple of weeks ago, The Threat of New Order Mormons, attracted so much discussion that I would like to follow up with my own discussion of middle-path Mormons. Various terms are used to describe those who self-categorize themselves as something other than fully active, fully believing Mormons: Uncorrelated Mormons, Cultural Mormons, New Order Mormons, Liahona Mormons, and so forth. My view is that there are many paths that lead away from full activity and belief, so it is wrong to expect one label to adequately describe what is actually happening. It’s clear these members move away from the center of Mormonism on some items of belief or practice, but which items are the problem for any given individual varies across the population. Here are some different half-way paths.

Imagining Mormonism

So after several recommendations, I finally got around to reading Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities. The book examines a simple question: how do institutions or nations (the book’s focus is on nationalism) create a sense of identity in their membership or citizenry? It’s one thing to feel a sense of identity with a group whose membership one knows personally: an extended family, a village, a small company. But what about churches or corporations or countries whose members, workers, or citizens number in the millions? The more you ponder that question, the more interesting it becomes. In that light, let’s talk about the strong identity that Mormons seem to feel.

In Harm’s Way: Review of Saints of Valor


A couple of months ago I received a review copy of Saints of Valor: Mormon Medal of Honor Recipients (Greg Kofford Books, 2011; 430 pages in paperback | publisher’s page). I’m going to first discuss two issues related to war and Mormonism: (1) how Mormons serving in the military improve the public perception of Mormonism; and (2) the ambiguous position of Mormonism on participation in war versus pacificism. Then I will provide a short discussion of the book itself. War and Mormonism The willingness of LDS volunteers of the Mormon Battalion to serve in the US Army was largely forgotten by the nation in subsequent decades as Mormons in Utah came into conflict with the federal government. During the Utah War of 1857-58, Mormons took the field against US soldiers, although happily the conflict was resolved without actual combat between the opposing forces. Consequently, the patriotism of Mormons was very much in doubt in the second half of the 19th…

Practical Apologetics: Help, I want to go back to church

Seismic changes at the Maxwell Institute have prompted reflective blog posts on the fate of FARMS and Mormon apologetics in general (The Rise and Fall of FARMS | The Legacy of FARMS | Explosive Tensions within MSR). My view: the FARMS approach has become outdated. Mormon apologetics will become more decentralized and more social as people (both LDS and non-LDS) turn to Google and Facebook rather than the bookstore, the library, or journals to get answers to their Mormon questions. Apologetics will therefore become more personal and more practical. People still want answers., blogs, and Mormon Stories are the shape of the future for apologetics: diverse, personal, interactive. [Disclaimer: I’m not endorsing the agenda of Mormon Stories, whatever it is, just noting the popularity of the format.]

Hit and Miss

I’m not quite up to creating original content today, so I’m going to link and comment to a few posts and articles that caught my eye. It’s really amazing how much coverage Mormonism is getting lately compared to a few years ago.