A Paradoxical Preservation of Faith: LDS Creation Accounts and the Composite Nature of Revelation

Creation of the Sun, Sistine Chapel

My 2019 FAIRMormon Conference presentation is up now, here. There’s a lot in the footnotes as well.

The takeaway is this: Many LDS have unsustainably fundamentalist assumptions about the nature of revelation, prophets, and scripture. The conflict these cause sometimes leads to a loss of faith, instead of recognizing and reexamining the assumptions.

I draw on a variety of things to argue against these assumptions, to argue that revelation is composite, that is, always contains divine and human aspects, and we should expect those. It’s ok, though, because it’s a progressive, iterative process. As time goes on, the human progresses towards the divine until the categories overlap completely. But we’re not there yet and won’t be for a long time.

So I take Acts 15:28 as my paradigm for understanding Church leadership. “It seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us.”

Paradoxically, it is by recognizing and understanding the presence of the human that my faith in the divine is preserved.

Give it a read.

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Theological Twinkies and our Spiritual Diet

The scriptures contain a number of food metaphors. I’ve been working for a few years on an article talking about them: “milk before solid food,” “feast upon the words of Christ,” etc. But there are also some good ones in recent LDS tradition. Notably, Elder Holland gave a great talk called “A Teacher Come from God.”

The summary takeaway is that

We must revitalize and reenthrone superior teaching in the Church—at home, from the pulpit, in our administrative meetings, and surely in the classroom.

Where do we get superior teaching of the scriptures from? Well, let’s talk about food metaphors. Continue reading “Theological Twinkies and our Spiritual Diet”

Some thoughts on scripture study for adults and youth

George Cattermole, “The Scribe” public domain.

 

A friend asked me about teaching youth about scripture study recently. I happened to have some notes I’d collected, so I wrote it up here. These are things I think LDS adults should know and model to the youth. I’ve grouped them under three logical, progressive headings. Now, I think the Church does a great job getting us to read scripture, and to apply scripture in spiritual and practical ways, but not always how to understand or interpret scripture very well. Continue reading “Some thoughts on scripture study for adults and youth”

“You either believe the scriptures or you don’t”

Ben contemplates his words, at Petra.

“You either believe the scriptures or you don’t.” I have, on occasion, been accused of wresting or disbelieving scripture. More often than not, this accusation has come from well-meaning people of my own faith who don’t understand how interpretation of scripture works. Often, they don’t even understand that interpretation exists.

It is impossible to read scripture without making an implicit claim as to what a passage means, which is “interpretation.” So everyone is interpreting, all the time, consciously or unconsciously. Continue reading ““You either believe the scriptures or you don’t””

Group study: Recycling an old suggestion

My old bookshelf

My old bookshelf

 I have more thoughts on group and family study to supplement replace our lost hour of Church, but in the meantime, this post (originally 2011, reposted last year) might be helpful. 

I plug modern Bible translations one way or another in virtually everything I write and teach. Now that you have two or three translations, how do you integrate them into your family study or teaching? Here’s one suggestion. Continue reading “Group study: Recycling an old suggestion”

The Future Faith of Our Seminary Students

Ben contemplating in Petra.

This is a long post, with four sections, but I ask you to read it because I think it’s important.

I first explain the nature of my concern, the two emblematic issues involved, and conclude by inviting you to do something.

Intro/Why I’m concerned

The 2019 Seminary manual for Old Testament is now available. I skimmed through some early bits, and I’m concerned for the future faith of our LDS youth. Continue reading “The Future Faith of Our Seminary Students”

Gearing Up For Isaiah

My picture, from the Kidron Valley.

Yes, everyone’s favorite book is upon us. I’m not sure there’s any sarcasm there; I know lots of Mormons who love Isaiah, and even have an uncle who memorized the entire book (in the KJV.) The next 5 Gospel Doctrine lessons cover Isaiah, so I wanted to plug a few things.

Of all the books, Isaiah benefits most from both deep connections to the spirit and being able to read in context. I don’t talk much about the former, it’s not really quantifiable, and I’m instinctively distrustful of people who claim personal revelation for their idiosyncratic understandings of Isaiah. That seems to be wielding personal revelation like some kind of manipulative “trust me and buy what I’m selling” tool. So, a focus on the latter.

If you haven’t yet, my Sperry paper on reading the OT in context might be helpful, get yourself a second Bible translation, and then get informed about why it’s different from your KJV.

The Maxwell Institute has a book entirely free called Visualizing Isaiah, which illustrates the material culture, geography, history, and so on.

I think Joseph Spencer at BYU is doing great work on bringing Isaiah to a lay level right now. Check out his book, his recent LDS Living piece, and his recent podcast with LDS Perspectives.

Note that his book is focused on Isaiah as seen through Nephi’s eyes, which is not quite the same as reading Isaiah through Isaiah’s eyes. Nephi bluntly tells us in the former Scripture Mastery passage of 1 Nephi 19:23 that he’s not providing a literal, contextual reading of Isaiah as much as adapting it to the spiritual needs of his own people.

That Nephi is not telling us what Isaiah “really meant” shouldn’t be a surprise.

Nephi “gave, not a literal, but an inspired and interpreting translation. And in many instances his words give either a new or greatly expanded meaningto the original prophetic word.” “Keys to Understanding the Bible” in Sermons and Writings of Bruce R. McConkie, ed. Mark L. McConkie, 290-291.

Nephi is doing what all practical interpreters and preachers must do, namely

make the past relevant to the present —to find some practical lesson in ancient history, or to reinterpret an ancient law in such a way as to have it apply to present-day situations, sometimes at the price of completely distorting the text’s original meaning.”-Eerdman’s Dictionary of Early Judaism, “Biblical Interpretation.”

I don’t think Nephi “distorts it completely” but it’s a twist, certainly. (See this paper and this summary for what he and Jacob may be doing with Isaiah.)

So although Spencer’s book talks about Isaiah through Nephi’s eyes, it’s still useful.

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