From Benjamin Park: A Statement Regarding a Recent Review Essay

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Today we’re pleased to share a guest post from Benjamin Park. The post refers to his review essay “The Book of Mormon and Early America’s Political and  Intellectual Traditions,” which is available to read at the Maxwell Institute site here, or as a Google document here. We have also published a follow-up comment from David Holland, whose book is one of the subjects of Park’s essay.  We have closed the post to additional comments. We will now turn the time over to Brother Park. [This is a response to the number of posts and comments dealing with a review essay of mine, “The Book of Mormon and Early America’s Political and Intellectual Traditions,” which appears in the most recent issue of Journal of Book of Mormon Studies. In the essay, I reviewed what I found to be two smart and important books: David F. Holland’s Sacred Borders: Continuing Revelation and Canonical Restraint in Early America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011) and Eran Shalev’s American…

Taking Control of Your Gospel Doctrine Class… Because You’re the Teacher

I’ve wondered how much blame for  “uninformative” (Pres. Kimball’s description) or “uninspiring” (Elder Holland’s paraphrase) teaching in Gospel Doctrine comes from collective failure. Yes, a good teacher can do wonders, but if many classes don’t really talk about the scriptures in question, it’s because virtually no one but the teacher has read them.

For I am not ashamed…

Draw the Line

This past Monday one of the radio talk shows I listen to asked about what happened in Church during the weekend. In the wake of the grand jury decisions in Ferguson and Staten Island, the host, Brian Lehrer, asked how the religious sermons given in the region had confronted these decisions. Of course, in LDS congregations this past Sunday was Fast Sunday, leaving the subject of the testimonies given up to those who chose to speak. In my own case, I heard no hint of a mention of these subjects, or any controversial current events, in the testimonies given or in lessons taught. Should there have been?

Hypersensitivity and Trolls: A Codependent Dysfunction

2014-12-08 Troll-No-Powers

Introduction My first posts at Times and Seasons were about epistemic humility, which is the awareness of the limits of knowledge. One of the common responses I got at the time was to ask how conviction was compatible with such an emphasis on uncertainty. The quote I led with (“The wise man doubts often, and changes his mind.”) seemed like a perfect setup for the ominous lines from Yeats’ The Second Coming: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.” The answer is that even if one accepts the adage that “all models are wrong,” one ought to go all in and accept the entire adage: “essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful” [emphasis added]. Copernicus’ model of the solar system was wrong because he believed the orbits are circular. They are not; they are elliptical. But he still got heliocentrism right, and later on Kepler[1] added in the elliptical orbits. Newton’s theory…

The Mormon Challenge, Part 1: Creation

Continuing with my project to actually read the LDS books I buy, I’m now reading The New Mormon Challenge (Zondervan, 2002), a serious book about Mormonism by a bunch of Evangelical scholars, edited by Francis J. Beckwith, Carl Mosser, and Paul Owen. Apart from our mere existence, two things about us really trouble Evangelicals: our relentless growth (which has apparently leveled off since the book was published) and our huge corps of missionaries (which has ballooned since the book was published). We are a threat. That perhaps explains why Evangelicals feel justified in disparaging Mormons from their pulpits, classrooms, and publishing houses. But this book is by academics, not pastors, and is a serious discussion, not a slam. So I was a little disappointed with Chapter 3, the first meaty chapter, which defends ex nihilo creation and critiques the LDS belief in creation out of preexisting but unformed matter.

Teaching Like The Prophets

I think the recently announced changes to the CES and BYU Religious Education requirements could be really great. Far from paying less attention to the scriptures, as some have worried, I suggest the new model pays more attention to the scriptures, in what might be the most important way. In the scriptures, Christ and the prophets focus their teaching on true doctrine above all, and refer to prior accounts to support this goal. The scriptures are designed to teach us spiritual truths, and these should be the primary focus of teaching today. The scriptural texts are one of the main ways we learn these truths, but they are the vehicle through which we learn, the lens through which we see, not the focus themselves. The point of the Book of Mormon, as described on its title page, is “the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ.” D&C 1 and Luke 1 announce similar purposes. When we…

Recommended NT Resources, part 3: History and Commentary

(Cross-posted at Benjamin the Scribe.) First, Amazon is offering 30% off any physical book you buy for the next two days, by entering HOLIDAY30 at the checkout. Great time to pick up that hardcover Jewish Study Bible,  Jewish Annotated New Testament, NRSV, or similar “expensive” hardcover you can’t get otherwise. Amazon link to the details. Short list. This was really hard to put together, much more than my OT list. 

Day 2 of Gratitude

Jenna

Prayers of Gratitude—Sunday, November 9 . . . was the annual Primary Program, one of my favorite Sundays of the year. Though many find this day difficult, I simply have to smile at the unpredictable entertainment, as well as the sincere belief and sincere silliness of little children. Moreover, there is the pleasure of watching someone else discipline my rowdy children while I sit and enjoy whatever message I can glean from the too-close-to-the-microphone yelling of three-year-olds. This year I did get a message.

When to Disobey

2014-11-24 Naughty Dog

I’ve been having some interesting conversations about the high cost of membership in the Church. We believe, in general, that the cost of being a Mormon is high and that this is a good thing. Sacrifice leads to faith. We pour a lot of time and a lot of energy into the Church, and this helps us value our membership more than if the Church asked less of us. But it can be taken to extremes. There are reasons to say “no” to something our leaders ask of us, and foremost among those is the sake of our families. The Church exists to serve the family. Families do not exist for the purpose of serving or repopulating the Church. My bishop—a man I admire greatly—made this point explicitly at the start of priesthood opening exercises last week. He enumerated the very large number of activities planned for the ward between now and the end of the year, and then he…

Short Musings on the Wu-Tang Clan, Ezekiel, and Church Curriculum

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Yesterday at a restaurant with my parents, I heard a nice bluesy instrumental over the audio system. I’m a blues fan, and liked it so much I flagged down the waitress to ask what it was. She went to check, and reported to our mutual surprise, that that particular song was “Slow Blues” by the Wu-Tang Clan! I don’t know much about Wu-Tang or the ODB, but I’m familiar enough to know that this is not their usual genre. Most of their music, from what I can tell, is fairly explicit rap. I imagine their CDs (if they still exist) would likely have the parental warning on them. If one of your kids came home with a Wu-Tang CD with the “explicit lyrics” warning, you might be concerned. (First question- “They still make CDs?! Why are you buying CDs?!”) Indeed, even if they explained they’re only listening to the blues song, it still might be of concern. Selective listening gives a…

Announcing the BYU & Maxwell Institute 2015 Summer Seminar

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UPDATED: The original version of this post didn’t include the link to the application form. That link was added on Dec 10, 2014. In the summer of 2015, the Neal A Maxwell Institute at Brigham Young University, with support from the Mormon Scholars Foundation, will sponsor a summer seminar for graduate students, CES educators,  and other qualified individuals, on “ORGANIZING THE KINGDOM: PRIESTHOOD, CHURCH GOVERNMENT, AND THE FORMS OF LDS WORSHIP.” The seminar continues the series of seminars on Mormon culture begun in the summer of 1997. This iteration will be conducted by Terryl Givens, Professor of Literature and Religion and James A. Bostwick Chair of English at the University of Richmond. Givens writes: This particular seminar will continue a series begun five years ago on the history of Mormon thought. More specifically, we will study LDS ecclesiology, focusing on the origin and development of church organization, the evolution of public worship services and practices, and related topics. We will…

My morning with McBaine and Wiman

As happens every now and then, I had a furious, fortuitous conjoining that so filled the boughs with fruit that they now creak and threaten to break. And language—especially quick language—isn’t likely to succeed in conveying the experience. What follows is a quick, momentary set of notes. But I don’t want to let it pass or hold back; I want to attempt to capture and share a moment of clear resonation. Riding in to work I was reading two books: Christian Wiman’s utterly unparalleled My Bright Abyss (review forthcoming) and Neylan McBaine’s desperately needed Women at Church. The one prepared me for the other, but I’ll share them in reverse order. At the end of Chapter One Sister McBaine seems to strike right at the heart of our paradox with women’s issues: “How do we protect the traditions, practices, and truths of our earliest progenitors while holding sacred the rebel explosion of the Restoration?” I’ve no desire to dilute or…

Mormons and Politics

Readers may be interested in a recent episode of the “Research on Religion Podcast,” featuring Quin Monson (BYU) and Dave Campbell (Notre Dame) discussing their new book Seeking the Promised Land: Mormons and American Politics (also co-authored with John C. Green). The book is the first full length study by professional political scientists of the place of Mormons in contemporary American politics. Scholarly discussions of Mormonism tend to be dominated by those trained either as historians or else (more recently) in religious studies. The work of Monson, Campbell, and Green is important because it brings in a bit more disciplinary diversity to the discussion. Among other things, they have actual new data on Mormon political attitudes — as opposed to opinions based on political discussions in the foyer at church — and a social scientist’s sense for what is unique about Mormons and what is not. The podcast provides a nice summary of a some of their research. Enjoy!

Reading and Writing (Genesis): Books, books, and more books

I have a few things in my way before being able to work full-time on Genesis 1– a recalcitrant article draft, some travel, volunteer work, etc. In the meantime, I’m making slow but good progress. I’m beginning to suspect the most important parts of the book will be the first two sections dealing with groundwork/assumptions and LDS entanglements with Genesis, not the last two sections on the ancient Near Eastern context or the text/translation itself. I’m interested in a lot of things that are secondary or tertiary to the main thrust of the book, such as the history of biblical interpretation, the history of interaction between science and religion, history of science, and how other religious traditions have handled the challenges to tradition, authority, doctrine, etc. It’s terribly difficult to avoid spending too much time filling out these secondary areas, but I really can’t afford the time to read everything relevant; there is a TON of relevant scholarship. Below are a few…