For Zion — Part 8

Chapter 9, “Zion as Project”, gets right down to business. Having previously and rather brilliantly tied up his various scriptural themes and contexts — Old Testament eschatology, early Christian history, Pauline hope, faith and love, the Book of Mormon’s revision of Pauline hope, early Restoration history — Spencer brings these all to bear on the earliest version of the consecration revelation that eventually became D&C 42. He focuses on what are now verses 29-37. (I link to the modern D&C for convenience, but of course the earliest version was different, and those differences are a major focus of the analysis.) Spencer initially assesses the basic outline of the primitive form of Restoration consecration: the transactional process by which a member of the church would irrevocably deed his property to the Church, and would be in turn given a portion of property commensurate with his needs to be held under his stewardship for his family’s use — the rich would receive…

For Zion — Part 7

Chapter 8, “Zion in Prophecy,” marks an important transition in Joseph Spencer’s For Zion. Opening with a tour de force theological dissection of hope in Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, followed by a thoughtful interlude on the Book of Mormon’s conceptual bridge between Paul’s early Christian hope and the Zion of the Restoration, the book turns in chapter 8 to what most of us came expecting: Spencer’s close reading of Joseph’s latter-day revelations on consecration and Zion. The analysis opens with an overview of the historical moment into which the revelation eventually known as D&C 42 arrived. Soon after Joseph’s arrival in Kirtland in February 1831, he recorded the earliest version of the revelation, introducing the Saints to the law of consecration and sketching the order in which the Saints were to live. Over the ensuing months and years, additional revelations arrived, gradually filling in the details of the new Zion in Jackson county. This gradual crescendo came to a…

Grace Is Not God’s Backup Plan

Romans Front Cover

I’ve published a new little book, Grace Is Not God’s Backup Plan: An Urgent Paraphrase of Paul’s Letter to the Romans. It’s an experiment both in reading Paul and in self-publishing. My family and I were reading N. T. Wright’s “Kingdom Translation” of Romans and the kids were having a blast. Paul’s a great read in contemporary English. They loved, especially, Paul’s rhetorical questions (“Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? Certainly not!”) and I loved, especially, the force of the letter when read out loud.

A Mormon Maximalism


I’ve been practicing a kind of Mormon maximalism for a long time now. This impulse toward maximalism is itself religious in spirit. More, the impulse is aesthetic. It’s driven by a kind of wild hunger for the feel (literally, the aesthesis) of words, facts, theories, things, and people. I’m roaming the earth, eating everything in sight.

A Mormon Minimalism

Kazimir Malevich, Black Square, 1915, 79.5 x 79.5 cm, oil on canvas, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

I’ve been practicing a kind of theological minimalism for a long time now. This impulse toward minimalism is itself religious. And it’s aesthetic. It doesn’t have to do with whether particular things are true or false (though, rest assured, such judgments must also be made), it has to do with the feel (literally, the aesthesis) of Mormonism as it’s lived.

For Zion – Part 6

One more time, from the pen of Ben Peters: One of the most tempting yet misplaced complaints lodged against Joseph Spencer’s For Zion: A Mormon Theology of Hope might be that, for all its talk about Zion, For Zion does nothing to suggest actionable proposals or bullet points for how to build Zion.

Questions and Doubts

An article in the March 2015 Ensign is stirring up all kinds of discussion: “When Doubts and Questions Arise.” Read the article and you will see what the fuss is about. On the positive side, this and other recent articles and talks addressing faith questions at least provide acknowledgement that many faithful Mormons have issues with certain features of LDS doctrine and history. The new essays in Gospel Topics at likewise provide groundbreaking official responses on several troubling topics. But the Ensign really has to do better than this polarizing and dispiriting discussion.

For Zion – Part 5

From the pen of Ben Peters (see previous post): Chapter five in Joseph Spencer’s For Zion turns to what he calls “the space of hope.” Here his discussion focuses on the space of “what remains to be seen” and to a similar effect as chapter four on the time of hope.

For Zion – Part 4

From the pen of Ben Peters: I’m thrilled and humbled to take part in this roundtable. By way of introduction, I’m Ben Peters, a husband, a father of four, a media historian and information technology theorist (more on my work here), a lifelong member, a long-time T&S reader, and first-time poster. My family has lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma since 2011, following an education trek stretching from Provo and Stanford to New York and Jerusalem. A disciplinary mutt, I have no real business commenting on the work of professional philosophers, especially chapters likely to trip up readers more careful than I am. Those wanting a scholarly review of his argument will have to look elsewhere. With that warning, read on as I think out loud in three installments about the central proposition of the second quarter of For Zion (chapters four through seven): all we have to hope for and consecrate, even that which remains to be seen, is already present.  —————————————————— “The…

They Spoke in General Conference as Ones That Had Authority


“And they were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes.” –Mark 1:22 (see also Matthew 7:29) This scripture is often read to mean that Jesus expounded doctrine directly, rather than citing repeatedly what others had taught before (see some detailed discussion here). As Ellicott puts it, “It is the prophet, or rather, perhaps, the king, who speaks, and not the scribe.” This scripture led me to wonder how leaders in the modern Church refer to different types of authority in their teaching. So I went through a single General Conference – the most recent, from October 2014 – and tallied up quotes of authority of different kinds. I separated the quotes into four categories: Scriptures: This includes only the four canonical books of LDS scripture. High LDS Authority: This includes General Conference talks (by General Authorities or auxiliaries), other recorded talks or Ensign articles by General Authorities or auxiliaries,…

Black History Month: Elijah Ables in Cincinnati, 1842-1845


  To purchase Black Mormon: The Story of Elijah Ables or For the Cause of Righteousness: A Global History of Blacks and Mormonism, 1830-2013, click here or here. As the first documented priesthood holder of African descent, Elijah Ables already enjoys a singular place in the history of black Mormonism. But in most discussions of Ables’s place in Mormon history, he serves as a foil for understanding the origins and development of the Mormon priesthood restriction on the black community; seldom does he enjoy the full subjectivity and personhood that a person of his accomplishment and stature would demand. Indeed, no phase of Elijah’s life highlights the troubled relationship between the early LDS and black communities in the way that Elijah Ables’s time in the slums of East Cincinnati does. Likely a runaway slave from western Maryland (a probability borne out by the fact that 4/5 of the black residents in the area were slaves), Ables had been slowly winning Joseph Smith’s favor since…

For Zion – Part 3

I’m honored to participate in this roundtable on Joe Spencer’s book For Zion: A Mormon Theology of Hope.  I’ll be tackling chapters 2 and 3 today; Adam treated chapter 1 here. Like many T&S readers, I presume, I come at this book as an amateur: I was trained in literature, not philosophy, and the densely analytical style of philosophy can be challenging — though always rewarding — for me to work through. These chapters are full of interesting ideas and new readings. Rather than react or respond to Joe’s theology here, I’m just going to do my best to summarize the argument as completely as I can. At my level, that’s always a necessary first step. So here goes. Chapter 2: Faith and Hope In chapter 2 of his book, Spencer takes on the fourth chapter of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, which focuses largely on the relationship between faith and hope. Paul takes as his starting point Abraham’s faith, as expressed in Genesis…

When Symbolism isn’t Symbolic

969 - Batman Featured Image

A few weeks ago I listened to an episode of This American Life with an unfortunate title: Batman.[1] The title, which really doesn’t set the right tone for the episode to follow, refers to Daniel Kish, a blind man who taught himself to echolocate as a child. He gets around the world relatively unaided (including, for example, riding a bike) by clicking and then listening to the echoes. This ability has made him world famous, but it really shouldn’t be so unusual. And perhaps the most chilling thing is the fact that most blind kids will intuitively start clicking or snapping or stamping to test out their environment with sound. But they are so often discouraged that they never get the chance to develop their skill to the level Daniel did. They are discouraged, of course, because clicking or snapping repetitively isn’t conducive with normal social expectations. Thus far the tale is sad, but it is not unusual. The idea that social conventions can be…

The Branch of Love: A Black History Month Tribute to Valentine’s Day

William P. Daniels

To purchase For the Cause of Righteousness: A Global History of Blacks and Mormonism, 1830-2013, click here. This piece tells the story of a long-forgotten black Latter-day Saint, William P. Daniels, who enjoys a singular position in LDS history: the only known black branch president to function in his office without holding the priesthood. William P. Daniels loved to cook and looked dashing in a three-piece suit. A tailor by trade, Daniels had a charisma about him. Missionaries adored him, church leaders trusted him, and his name rang throughout the Church. No one enjoyed reading the Book of Mormon more than he did, and no one was more aggressive in handing out copies. But Daniels also had a problem. He was a black man in the white South Africa Mormon Church of Mowbray. Daniels knew well the kinds of doctrines that the Saints believed about his people. Daniels had visited Utah himself in 1915 and asked Joseph F. Smith to his face why…

Is excommunication a medieval solution to a modern problem?

I believe it was Joanna Brooks who first formulated the idea that “excommunication is a 19th-century solution to a 21st-century problem.” It bears the marks of her elegant, intelligent phrase-making. Since it was first uttered, this idea has fed a swelling criticism of the practice of excommunication, following from the high-profile disciplinary action against Kate Kelly and now John Dehlin. This particular criticism is separate from — though often prompted by — the specifics of the Dehlin and Kelly cases: it’s a denunciation of the practice in general, either for apostasy or for any transgression. To expel a dissident from a community is “medieval, punishing, barbaric,” as Dehlin put it in his recent Radio West interview, a throwback to the brutal religious ideology that motivated the Inquisition. In turn, this criticism has prompted several defenses of the practice’s sociological utility and spiritual legitimacy. It’s a complicated question, and I respect voices on both sides. As with many issues, I hesitate…

For Zion – Part 2

The first chapter of For Zion lays the groundwork for Spencer’s reading of Paul’s theology of hope. It focuses especially on Paul’s letter to the Romans. Understanding the details of this “theology of hope” is crucial to understanding Spencer’s full account of what’s at stake in the law of consecration.

For Zion – Part 1

Whatever happened to Zion?  Whatever happened to the law of consecration? Aren’t these things from a long time ago? Or for some time way in the future? No. They are only ever for now. Saying that we’re not ready for Zion is like telling a guy lost in the desert he’s not ready for water.

Who gets to be a Mormon?

I have a few questions about boundaries and numbers that I would like to put before the group for your collective insight. While the questions are related, they are not building any particular argument. 1. If the Church excommunicated everyone who quietly disbelieves any or all of the core doctrines that John Dehlin has rejected, how many people would we lose? 2. If the Church dropped from its rolls all those people who have slipped or stomped out of activity, those who opt out of meetings and callings and the home and visiting teaching programs, how big would be the fold of the Lamb of God? 3. Can people remain “Mormon” without belief and/or activity? Has our church been around long enough to have secular Mormons? What does it mean to be a Mormon? 4. John Dehlin has said that he will continue to call himself a Mormon, but “Mormon” is trademarked. Is the Mormon Stories Podcast vulnerable to legal…