Elder Ballard on Building a Better Boat

In October 2014, Elder Ballard delivered his “Stay in the Boat” talk at General Conference, highlighting “faith crisis” as an emerging problem for members of the Church and likening it to white-water rapids. In October 2015, he followed up with “God Is at the Helm,” extending his metaphor and providing sage advice for how to stay in the Old Ship Zion. Most recently, he delivered a talk to CES religious educators on February 26, 2016, now posted at LDS.org under the rather bland title “The Opportunities and Responsibilities of CES Teachers in the 21st Century.” I think he should have stuck with his winning theme and called it: “Building a Better Boat.” Highlights Everyone ought to read it. Twice. He announced that business as usual in CES just isn’t working anymore: “Gone are the days when a student raised a sincere concern and a teacher bore his or her testimony as a response intended to avoid the issue.” The problem…

“A Supreme Act of Love”

This past Sunday, we covered chapter 6 of the Howard W. Hunter manual titled “The Atonement and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.” The lesson quotes President Hunter as saying that the Atonement “was an act of love by our Heavenly Father to permit his Only Begotten to make an atoning sacrifice. And it was a supreme act of love by his beloved Son to carry out the Atonement.” We lingered on this section for a while, which prompted me to comment. I recalled how I had been asked before, “What does the Atonement mean to you personally?” (Or something along those lines.) This is obviously a deep and rather broad question, but for me, the Atonement sends at least one major message: I’m worth something. I rest this largely on the evangelical favorite John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” In an ancient world full…

Transformation and Flourishing: A Secular Age, Round 2

(Link to Round 1) This post revisits the theme of fullness from Taylor’s introduction that I mentioned briefly in the last post. In the universal quest for the “good life”—the telos that determines what makes life valuable and what is the normative way to live— Taylor distinguishes the believer and the unbeliever by where they locate this fullness (the transcendent or the immanent frame), and what fullness entails (transformation or flourishing). What does Taylor mean by “transformation” and “flourishing”? In short, flourishing is the perfection or fulfillment of our “human material” (i.e. sexual fulfillment, security and success, health and prosperity, etc.), while transformation entails a “radical change in identity” that “takes us beyond merely human perfection”—or requires its very renunciation– in the name of a higher good. More specifically, “the believer or devout person is called on to make a profound inner break with the goals of flourishing in their own case…to the point of the extinction of self in one case [Buddhism],…

Thank you Brother Ward, Sister Ward (no relation), Elder Mantz, and Coach Mostert (probably)

Without much fanfare, Utah has emerged as a per-capita standout in distance running. For a state with a population just under 3 million, Utah regularly produces strong teams and individual runners at the NXN and Footlocker national cross country championships at the high school level, competitive collegians, and a surprising number of postcollegiate standouts. This isn’t entirely surprising: if you give 3 million people the chance to live and train at altitude year-round, good things can happen.

Conditions of Belief in A Secular Age: Secular Age Round 1

sec age

I finished Charles Taylor’s monumental A Secular Age last summer, and it was one of those books that you finish reading and the world feels like an entirely different place. In this book, Taylor examines not only the emergence of Western secularism, but the experience of living in it. His project is phenomenological as much as it is genealogical; tracing the winding paths and new terrain that deposited us in this creedally pluralistic society, while also examining the pathos, the uncertainty, the limitations and fruits of navigating our way through the midst of many plausible alternatives of how to believe and how to live.  For this reason, I found the book not only intellectually enlightening, but spiritually awakening. In this series of blog posts, I hope to sketch some of his insights and observations on the history of our secular condition and the “cross-pressures” we experience within it. I will interweave some musings on some of the implications for or intersections with [my…

Introducing Rachael Givens Johnson


I’m pleased to introduce Rachael Givens Johnson as a guest blogger here at Times And Seasons. Rachael will be doing a series of posts on Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age. Rachael is a PhD candidate in the history department of the University of Virginia. She studies Baroque Catholicism in the Iberian Enlightenment and is writing a dissertation on how marginal social groups preserved corporeal, communal religious practices. She’s blogged at Peculiar People and Juvenile Instructor, and lives in Charlottesville with her hubs, Bryce, and their two cats until archival research takes them to fun and exotic places (gods of the grants be willing). Rachael is the daughter of Terryl and Fiona Givens (which also makes her my sister.) Her first post will be up shortly!

An Americanized Gospel

A chatty post at the This Week in Mormons site, “Americanisms in a Global Mormon Church,” recounts a few of those Americanisms: Scouting, patriotic music in the LDS hymnal, women wearing (or not) pants to church. At a deeper level, the LDS Church has self-consciously embedded itself in the American myth. Consider “The Divinely Inspired Constitution” by Elder Oaks (1992) or “The Constitution: A Glorious Standard” by Elder Benson (1976). The notion that only in the USA could the gospel of Jesus Christ have possibly been restored is part of the Restoration story. Few American Saints really notice the extent to which the Church has Americanized the gospel of Jesus Christ, but non-American Latter-day Saints certainly do. Quietly filtering out overtly American elements of the gospel that just don’t work in a foreign land and culture may solve some of the inevitable difficulties. Is that enough?

12 Questions with Tod Harris, Church Translation Department — Part III

Today I am pleased to present the third and final part of our interview with Tod Harris, manager of scripture translation support for the LDS Church. In Part 1, Tod walked us through the stages of producing a new edition of LDS scriptures in a target language. In Part 2, he discussed the value of ambiguity and literal readings in scripture translation. Today, he talks about the close kinship between LDS scripture translation and translation of the Qur’an,  the profound influence of a midcentury evangelical missionary on contemporary Bible translation,  and a key memo from the First Presidency and Quorum of the 12 that governs the literal nature of LDS translations. It’s fascinating stuff.  Thank you, Tod Harris!    9. Is there a role for members of the Church in translation? How can they be involved in the Church’s translation projects? Are there Church translation resources that could be made available to local members for some of the local translations needs? The short…

The Influence of the Book of Mormon on the Mormon Temple


One of Joseph Smith’s earliest impulses was to build temples. Just 5 months after the Church’s organization, September 1830, Smith sent a delegation to the west to the Lamanites, but also, according to the delegation’s leader Oliver Cowdery, “to rear up a pillar as a witness where the Temple of God shall be built, in the glorious New-Jerusalem.” This was an unusual quest in a world of cathedrals, basilicas, chapels, and synagogues. “During the course of his life,” wrote Richard Bushman, “[Joseph Smith] never built a standard meetinghouse, even in Nauvoo, where the Mormon population exceeded 10,000.” Smith’s singular temple impulse was remarkable, but defining what temple worship should be in a modern world was a mystifying challenge. Smith saw his role as a restorer of truths once lost. But where could he turn for inspiration? To heaven for sure, but what would he restore since, according to Christian tradition, the purpose of the ancient temple had been fulfilled with…

Utah Transcends Political Tribalism

This might be the last place you would expect to see it: a state where Republicans already prefer the inclusive message of Marco Rubio over the divisive messages of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz,* even before Rubio’s strong finish in South Carolina.** That is, if you didn’t know much about Utah. Utah is the reddest state in the Union, with a 36-point gap in party affiliation. Rubio is often called a moderate, so he should be the favorite in a place where the Republicans are tinted purple, like Massachusetts or Vermont, right? Nope! They prefer Trump, by 34 percentage points in Massachusetts and 15 in Vermont! Trump is leading nationally by around 14 points, and in nearly every state. Just look at the polls. Cruz won the Iowa caucus and leads in his home state of Texas and neighboring New Mexico. Otherwise, it is all about Trump right now—except in Utah. How is the reddest state in the Union coming…

12 Questions with Tod Harris, Church Translation Department — Part II

Today I am pleased to present Part II of our interview with Tod Harris (the third great-grandson of Martin Harris!), manager of scripture translation support for the LDS Church. In Part 1, Tod walked us through the stages of producing a new edition of LDS scriptures in a target language. Today, he discusses the value of ambiguity as a feature, not a bug, in scripture translation, the role of the translation process itself in planting new LDS communities around the world, and the priority of literal readings in scripture translation.    5. How do you handle ambiguity in the English text, when there’s not a straightforward way to convey the ambiguity in the target language? How do you ensure that translation choices remain consistent across languages where the original text is ambiguous?  One of the key features of scripture text that sets it apart from most other kinds of text is its multivalency—its ability to mean different things at different…

Faith, Hope, and Charity in an Age of Doubt

Mormon Feminism

Once upon a time, the topic of inoculation was all the rage in the Bloggernacle. Too late for that now; the epidemic is upon us and its primary symptom, doubt, has become a standard feature of LDS discourse. The latest discussion is Patrick Mason’s new book Planted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt, co-published by the Maxwell Institute and Deseret Book. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, so instead I’m going to point you to Boyd Peterson’s post “What To Do If Someone You Know Is Going Through A Faith Crisis.”

12 Questions with Tod Harris, Church Translation Department — Part I


Last November I met Tod Harris at the AAR-SBL conference and immediately began pestering him with questions about his linguistics work in the Church’s Translation Department. He graciously agreed to be interviewed for the blog, and today I am very pleased to share the first part of his peek into the complexities of  the Church’s extensive translation work. Second and third installments are available now.   Tod Harris currently serves as manager of scripture translation support for the LDS Church. Tod has been working in Church translation since 1986. He has a degree from BYU in German Literature and a master’s from Cal State Dominguez Hills in Humanities. Tod and his wife Lisa have three children and live in Salt Lake City, Utah.   1. Describe your role and responsibilities as senior linguist in the Church’s Translation Department. What is your background in terms of education and work experience? How did you come to this leadership role?  I began working as a volunteer in September 1986,…

BYU NT Commentary Summer Seminar

We are accepting application for the second annual BYU New Testament Commentary Series Summer Seminar, to be held for the four weeks of July 5 to July 29, 2016, on BYU Campus, Provo, Utah. The deadline for applications is March 31, 2016. The seminar is open to graduate students and recent PhDs who have research interests in Latter-day Saint readings of the New Testament.

Modern Christology, Part 2

Having covered the general topic in my earlier post, I’m going to pull a few additional topics from a book by Jesuit scholar Gerald O’Collins: Christology: A Biblical, Historical, and Systematic Study of Jesus (OUP, 2d ed., 2009). As a Mormon writing for a largely Mormon set of readers, I’m naturally drawn to topics that complement or contrast with LDS Christological views.

Lay your gifts on the padded bench


During Sunday’s church meeting, a man stood at the pulpit and bore a forceful testimony. Citing Moroni’s closing exhortation to “deny not [God’s] power,” he testified of the reality of miracles unlocked by wholehearted faith and willing belief. “Doubt and skepticism are fashionable in today’s world,” he said, and conceded that these might play a legitimate if limited role for some. But spiritual enlargement and sanctification come to those who “deny not” the power of God but instead affirm it with positive belief. His testimony was not unlike dozens of other testimonies offered from that same pulpit. But this one was delivered with such sincerity and feeling that I was struck anew. The thing is, it didn’t ring a single bell in my soul. My religious experience doesn’t naturally take shape in the language of doubt and skepticism, and certainly I feel no inclination to identify tribally as atheist or agnostic. But I’ve been quite open, both publicly online and in my in-person relationships…

Terryl Givens on What It Means to Sustain

Below is a letter Terryl Givens recently wrote on what it means to sustain Church leadership. It is an outgrowth of an actual correspondence between Brother Givens and a friend, and is posted with Givens’ permission. The friend holds strong feelings about recent changes made to the Church Handbook of Instruction and had asked Givens how someone could sustain a leadership that he or she believed had acted in error or unrighteously. Dear [Friend], I am glad you followed through with your question. [How can I sustain a leadership that I think has acted in error or unrighteously]. It is one that is on a lot of minds these days. The word sustain only appears in the scriptures once, so I think it is a pretty important moment to infer its exact meaning. D&C 134.5, admonishes us to “sustain and uphold” the respective governments in which we reside. Now notice that we don’t have to like or agree with a great deal that…

Two Kinds of Mormons

Or maybe two kinds of Mormonism. Go read Boyd Peterson’s recent essay “Eugene England and the Future of Mormonism” and decide whether you are an England Mormon or a McConkie Mormon. Or whether you prefer England Mormonism or McConkie Mormonism. Or whether, if you were moving into a new ward, you would rather find Bishop England or Bishop McConkie to be your new local leader.

The Provenance of Mormon Baptism

Mikveh in Herodium, late Second Temple period, approximately 69 CE. Photo by Deror avi.

This is the second in a series of guest posts by Gerald Smith covering the release of his book Schooling the Prophet, How the Book of Mormon Influenced Joseph Smith and the Early Restoration. Read the first one here. Fifteen years ago a professor friend of mine at Boston College – a Jesuit Catholic university – walked into my office and asked a puzzling question: Why did the Catholic Church not recognize Mormon baptisms? It recognized the baptisms of other Protestant faiths – Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, etc., but not Mormon. Thus a Methodist converting to Catholicism, for example, would not need to be baptized again; however a Mormon converting to Catholicism would. What could explain this unusual policy? After all some Protestants baptize by immersion just as Mormons do – for example, Baptists or Adventists. The Mormon baptismal prayer invokes the name of Jesus Christ and concludes in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, invoking the Godhead,…

International? Peripheries? Global? In search of a name


What is an adequate label for the areas outside of the so-called “Church’s center”? If it pertains to non-US countries, “international” is commonly used, but semantically it is flawed because the United States itself belongs to the circle of all nations. “Foreign” and “alien” sound non-inclusive for a church that emphasizes worldwide unity and belonging among its members. As a neutral geographical term, “abroad” fails if one wants to include in the discussion ethnic minorities within the United States. Those have become particularly noteworthy as the Church again allows Mormon wards with a foreign ethnic or lingual identity on American soil, such as Cambodian, Korean, or Russian.[1] Within the United States, thousands of immigrant Mormons, or converted after immigration, represent various cultures, languages, and countries. For decades the Church has been struggling to find optimal ways to accommodate their needs. Recognized American racial and ethnic groups, such as American Indian and African American, form similar groups for specific study. Even…

Knitting Lessons

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I’m proud to post a talk delivered by my mother, Christie Frandsen, on January 16, 2016, at the Affirmation conference in southern California. Christie is a longtime seminary and institute teacher, and a scholar of ancient scripture. She is married to Russ Frandsen and is the mother of eleven children and grandmother of 18. Many thanks to Affirmation for planning and hosting a marvelous conference.  My beautiful brothers and sisters, I am humbled and nervous to be speaking to you this morning. I am not at all sure I have anything I can teach you because you are the ones who have been teaching me and have helped me so much the past 2 years, and I thank you so very much for that. But lucky for me and for you, the theme of this Conference is knitting, and even luckier, I was asked to talk about being a mother, and it just so happens I do know a few things…

Policy, Doctrine, and Revelation

Three angels hosted by Abraham, Ludovico Carracci (1555–1619), Bologna, Pinacoteca Nazionale. (Wikimedia Commons)

These three concepts exist, for most Mormons, in a tangled web. This has become especially evident in recent months as members have reacted to the Church’s new policies regarding same-sex married couples and their children that were announced in November. This discussion was stoked again following Elder Nelson’s recent remarks, leading to Dave’s post last week pondering: Policy or Revelation? The subtext to this question seems pretty clear: doctrine (often used synonymously with revelation in this discussions) doesn’t change. (For example, the Encyclopedia of Mormonism states that doctrine is “fixed and unchanging.”) And that’s the subtext that dominates all of these discussions: many members are deeply uncomfortable with the Church’s stance in relation to homosexuality in general and long for a change that would, in their view, follow the precedent of the Church’s 1978 Declaration (which followed after President Kimball “had received… revelation.”) by ending discriminatory policies that were never based in unchanging doctrine. Now, obviously the policy changes that…

The Provenance of Mormonism


Thank you Nathaniel for your introduction, and thank you to Times & Seasons for the opportunity to share my thoughts and observations with you. A curious paradox of modern Mormonism is how Mormons and non-Mormons frame its heritage. Mormonism appeared in early nineteenth century North America as a new religion amidst a largely Protestant setting. Joseph Smith proclaimed new revelation – the First Vision of 1820; followed by a vibrant stream of additional revelations in the decades that followed; and new scripture – the Book of Mormon – introduced in the visions of Moroni beginning in 1823. All of this leads naturally to an outsider’s framing of Mormonism as a revealed religion, but less so as a historical religion with a palpable religious provenance or lineage tracing back through time to an original source. Thus Yale scholar Harold Bloom admired Joseph Smith as an imaginative genius, but he dismissed the Book of Mormon as Joseph’s “first work; it is the…

Introducing Gerald Smith

Schooling the Prophet

I’m pleased to introduce Dr. Gerald Smith for a round of guest posts here at Times & Seasons. He will be sharing a series of posts about his new book, Schooling the Prophet, How the Book of Mormon Influenced Joseph Smith and the Early Restoration (published by BYU Press and the Maxwell Institute.) I was lucky enough to be an early reader for the project, and was really struck by his unique approach to studying the Book of Mormon and how it had shaped the views and beliefs of Joseph Smith. Outside of Mormon studies, Dr. Smith is a business professor at Boston College in the Carroll School of Management, advisor to American and European business leaders, and advisor to leaders and administrators in education. He is an award-winning teacher and has been featured in leading executive programs at corporations and universities throughout the world. In business his latest book, The Opt-Out Effect: Marketing Strategies that Empower Consumers and Win…

Policy or Revelation?

Facebook is ablaze with dismay over statements made by Elder Russell M. Nelson in Sunday night’s Worldwide Devotional, titled “Becoming True Millennials.” Initially, when the details of the new provisions were first disclosed and when Elder Christofferson publicly defended them, they were simply portrayed as a policy. Now, many are suggesting Elder Nelson has declared that the policy regarding Mormons in gay marriages and the status of their children (hereinafter, the “New Policy”) is more than a policy, it is a Revelation. The media is now picking up on this: here is a CBS News story titled “Mormon leader says policy against gay marriage was word from God.” If you go visit the home page at LDS.org, you will indeed find a box with a link to the Elder Nelson broadcast — just below “Youth: Ask Your Questions Here” and a couple of boxes to the right of “Meet the New Presiding Bishopric.” Somehow I kind of expected a new…