Category: Mormon Thought

Doctrine – Theology – Philosophy

YSA and the Bible: Observations from a KJV Conference

On Saturday June 11,  nearly 200 YSA gathered at the Lincoln Center chapel, the same as houses the Manhattan Temple, for a YSA conference that centered on the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. Saturday from 1-4, three one-hour workshops were held on the Bible. Three Bible Nerds were on hand to teach:  Jon H (MA, Biblical Studies, Yale) covered the writing and transmission of the books of the Bible; Jon R (MA, New Testament, Duke) spoke on using modern translations and other study aids, with extensive slides and books on display. We each submitted a brief teaser description. Mine read, How to Read the Bible and Love It– Many LDS are less familiar with the Bible than our other scriptures, and feel more uncomfortable with it when they do read it; the Bible is “weird,” and Bible-reading can seem like a more Protestant kind of thing. However, the Old and New Testaments were central for Joseph Smith and…

Bible, Church, and Mystic

On a recent trip, I took along as reading material Christianity: A Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2004) by Linda Woodhead. Like all of the books in the wildly successful VSI series, the book is short but informative. I want to focus on the author’s analysis of how views about divine power and earthly authority can be used to classify Christian churches and denominations, then try to place Mormonism and the LDS Church within that classification scheme.

Grant Hardy and Personal Scripture Study

Every semester, one of my principal goals in my tax classes is to get my students to engage with the Internal Revenue Code. And it’s harder than you might think: often they don’t read the Code itself, focusing instead on the explanations in their casebook.[fn1] And their aversion to reading the Code is completely understandable: unlike court decisions, the mainstay of law school, there is no narrative flow, no character, no imagery, nothing that we traditionally latch onto in order to immerse ourselves in a text. And frankly, using the casebook isn’t a bad short-term decision. The casebook explains what the Code provisions mean and how they’re applied, at least in simple situations.But in the longer term, relying on the casebook’s explanation does my students a disservice. While it helps them be able to answer my questions in class, and while it likely helps them do decently on my exams, if they rely on the casebook at the expense of…

Grant Hardy’s Subject Problem

Criticisms of the Book of Mormon generally fall into one of two categories: objections to its historical claims on the one hand, and on the other critiques of its literary style. The two prongs are often combined in a single attack, for instance in the suggestion that the awkward style of the book reflects the naïve voice of an unlettered youngster. For their part, the book’s defenders also tend to elide the two categories, arguing that passages of inelegant prose are better understood as latent Hebraisms laboring under English syntax. Most of the time, of course, devout readers of the Book of Mormon simply ignore the book’s style altogether. Grant Hardy, in his new book Understanding the Book of Mormon, wants to uncouple the problems of historicity and literary merit. He brackets the first, setting aside the apologetic debates that have dominated Book of Mormon studies over the past four decades. Instead, he turns his attention to the content of…

Call for Papers: 3rd Brazilian Mormon Studies Conference

3rd Brazilian Mormon Studies Conference Annual Conference of the Associação Brasileira de Estudos Mórmons (Brazilian Mormon Studies Association –ABEM) January 28, 2012 São Paulo, Brazil Call for papers “Mormonism and its relationship with other denominations” The Mormon religious tradition is based on the concept of an apostasy by all Christian denominations and their consequent lack of divine authority, hence the claim to be the “only true and living church.” In contrast, this same tradition emphasizes its members’ broader religious freedom, and even their need, to recognize and seek the whole truth from any source, including other religious traditions. This dichotomy between excluding and including beliefs, practices and institutions has, throughout history, created a rich and complex dialogue between Mormons and non-Mormons. In Brazil, the traditional religious syncretism alongside an increasing religious diversity makes understanding this dichotomy extremely important for the study of Mormonism in our situation. As examples of topics to be addressed, we suggest the following: o       The doctrinal,…

Who Wrote the Gospels?

It always helps to know who wrote what you are reading, and Bible books are no exception. The four gospels, in particular, present interesting questions of how the narratives were composed and who did the composing.

The Parable of the Talented Endowment Tax

Governments impose taxes in order to raise revenue that, in turn, funds government function and services.[fn1] In designing a tax system, tax theorists generally try to create provisions that will raise revenue without significantly altering taxpayers’ economic choices. That is, ideally, taxpayers will act in approximately the same way as they would have in a world without tax.[fn2] But we can’t hit the ideal. The income tax alters people’s actions, because it alters the price calculus. One way is in our work-leisure decisions. Assume with me that I earn $10 an hour. That said, I enjoy not working, too–my leisure is worth $8/hour to me. In the absence of an income tax, if I have a choice between work and leisure, I’ll choose work. Even with a 10% tax, I’ll choose work, because I’ll bring home $9 after taxes, while my leisure is still worth only $8/hour. However, if the income tax is at a 25% rate, I’ll only bring…

A Patriotic Chosen People?

Yesterday in the Sacrament Meeting I attended, we closed singing the Star Spangled Banner (I managed to suppress the urge to yell “Play Ball” at the end). While going through the typical sacrament meeting in the U.S. before the July 4th Independence Day holiday, I couldn’t help thinking about what role patriotism should play in my life.

Handbook 2: Chapter 1—the Plan

Last week I began a series of posts that will examine Handbook 2, the policy handbook that the Church put online last Fall. Since so many local leaders are urged to read and study the handbook as part of their callings, I hoped to provide an interesting forum to do that. Chapter 1 of the Handbook is an overview that tries (I believe) to put the Handbook’s policies in procedures in the context of the plan of salvation. I encourage you to read the chapter before commenting, since you may have more topics to discuss:

Handbook 2: Introduction

After the Church posted the text of the 2nd volume of its administrative handbook (formerly known as the Church Handbook of Instructions—CHI) last fall, a few bloggers looked at the handbook, including our own Dave Banack.

Doctrine and Practice

I enjoyed Alison’s post from a couple of weeks ago, Does Gender Matter?, but I’m a little confused how the pieces fit together. The post appears to accept the nonscriptural, uncanonized Proclamation at face value, stating: “Gender is part of who we are and who we have always been. It is important. It matters.” That makes it difficult to argue for reform of what is identified as a problem: “The church uses gender to delineate authority, callings, and roles.” However, there is a different way to see the issue.

Immigration Where?

When I was on vacation a few years ago I picked up a local paper and found a number of articles about the problems that area was facing because of illegal immigration. Predictably there was crime committed by the illegal immigrants, and a lot of hate towards them. For an American nothing there was unusual–except that I was in South Africa.

Taking Section 89 Seriously

Which revelations we cherish and consider central, and which one’s we sideline and (sometimes literally) forget is surely a result of a complex host of variables. Local culture and politics are obviously a huge deal. The Word of Wisdom is a revelation that is particularly interesting

Personal and Community Responsibility

Yesterday in priesthood we discussed President Monson’s October 2010 Conference address on the Three Rs of Choice. One of the three Rs is ‘Responsibility’ — which led, of course, to discussing personal responsibility. In the discussion it occurred to me that personal responsibility is very closely connected to community responsibility.

The Language of God

I recently breezed through a short book by Herman Wouk (author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Caine Mutiny) titled The Language God Talks: On Science and Religion (Little, Brown and Co., 2010). The book has the virtues of being short, entertaining, and informative as it recounts the author’s quest to relate his deep religious and cultural attachment to Judaism to his equally firm attachment to a scientific worldview. That’s the sort of quest many people in the 21st century are engaged in at one time or another.

Can institutions repent?

A recent news story about the beatification of John Paul II mentioned that the late Pope had led the Catholic Church to “repent” for its anti-semitism. The use of the word “repent” stuck out in my mind, and made me wonder, “Can an institution, such as a Church, repent?”

Making Mormons in the 21st Century

Jan Shipps always has something interesting to say about Mormonism. An essay you might not have run across is “Making Saints: In the Early Days and the Latter Days,” in Contemporary Mormonism: Social Science Perspectives (Univ. of Illinois Press, 1994). It turns out that becoming a Latter-day Saint (or acquiring the characteristics of Mormon ethnicity) involves more than just conversion or joining the Church.

Debating Mormonism

A few weeks ago I judged several rounds of a debating tournament held at the local high school. Teams from all over the state participated. Imagine walking by a high school cafeteria and seeing a couple of hundred students dressed in suits and skirts, chattering like all kids do but also pouring over notes and outlines for the upcoming matches. It was an impressive sight.

Reading Scripture in the 21st Century

I recently read Thinking Through Our Faith: Theology for Twenty-first-Century Christians (Abingdon Press, 1998) by C. David Grant, a professor of religion at TCU. The book might be described as a short prologue to a 21st-century approach to theology, one that takes full account of science, historical criticism, and pluralism — in short, the sort of book you probably would not encounter in a BYU undergraduate religion class.

Regime Change in the LDS Church

I recently finished America’s Three Regimes: A New Political History (OUP, 2007) by Morton Keller, a retired history prof at Brandeis. The author suggests there have been three enduring American political regimes: a deferential-republican regime that lasted from the Revolution until the emergence of true party politics (Whigs and Democrats) during the 1830s; a party-democratic regime marked by strong party identification and increasing voter mobilization that lasted until roughly the Great Depression; and a populist-bureaucratic regime that saw the rise of big government, the rise of the independent media, and the decline of party identification and effectiveness. Can LDS history be parsed the same way? Are there successive LDS regimes (using “regime” in the same sense as Keller did, an enduring, stable arrangement of institutions and practices) that display significantly different ways of running the Church or of constituting the Church as an organization?

The Implied Statistical Report, 2010

A couple of years ago my post The Implied Statistical Report, 2008, looked at what can be learned from a detailed examination of the data the Church releases each April Conference. This conferences’ data includes an additional statistic not found in earlier reports, the number of Church Service Missionaries, which led me to look again at the statistics to see if I might find something else.

Sunday Morning Session

President Henry B. Eyring conducting. Discourses by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Elder Paul B. Johnson, Bishop H. David Burton, Sister Silvia H. Allred, Elder David A. Bednar and President Thomas S. Monson. Perhaps even more so than previous sessions, the theme of this session was the Church Welfare program. President Eyring mentioned the 75th anniversary of Church Welfare in his opening remarks, and the remarks of both Bishop Burton and Sister Allred focused on Welfare.

Saturday Afternoon Session

Pres. Uchtdorf conducted again, and following the customary audit report and statistical report, talks were given by Elder Boyd K. Packer, Elder Russell M. Nelson, Elder Russell J. Maynes, Elder Cecil O. Samuelsen, Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Elder M. Russell Ballard.

A tool for Conference analysis

While we know that gospel principles are eternal, we must also admit that the language used to describe them changes over time. And now we have a tool for discovering and analyzing how Church leaders have changed their descriptions of the gospel over the past 160 years.

Balancing Political Positions with the Church and the Gospel

My earliest memory of conflict over Church decisions came because of a local stake division and boundary changes.I remember my mother venting about how one high councilor in one stake prevented the boundary change from following local political boundaries, which would have, in my mother’s view, give Church members a more unified voice in local politics.

Applying the Golden Rule Collectively

Christian religions, in general, believe in what is widely known as the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. In fact, as I understand it, most belief systems have some version of this idea. It seems to me that it is usually understood individually. But I have to believe that we should also apply it to groups — other countries, other peoples, other races, other sports teams… and other religions.

Tsunami

I am sure that many of you have been following the stunning events in Japan: earthquake, tsunami, meltdown. Our first personal reaction to such events is always concern and sympathy for those swept up in the ongoing human tragedy. The first LDS institutional response, when resources are available, is to forward relief supplies and helping hands to those in need of assistance. But at some later point comes personal and institutional reflection. Is this just the sort of natural tragedy that happens from time to time, or is it a divine sign of the end times? Or both?

International Bibliography 2010

With the growth of the LDS Church worldwide, I think few academics of Mormonism disagree that the Church’s international progress deserve more attention. Even so, I was surprised when I compiled a list of international publications from last year. The list is substantial.

Peace

Sometimes unintentional mistakes lead to interesting lines of thought. A few weeks ago I misheard a speaker in an LDS meeting. The speaker was quoting John 14:27, and either because of the speaker’s mispronunciation or my imperfect hearing, I heard the word “live” instead of the word “leave.” This lead me to think about what it means to live in peace.