Interpreting Scripture, History, Science, and Creation: A Free Course by Me!

Red brick store in Nauvoo, where the first endowments were done on May 4, 1842.

Edit: I’ve added this syllabus to the main menu at left, and simplified the url for easy access, to http://BenSpackman.com/syllabus

May 4th holds significance in LDS history: it’s the day Joseph Smith introduced temple ordinances in the upper room of the red brick store in 1842. The temple ties together a number of questions, like: Continue reading “Interpreting Scripture, History, Science, and Creation: A Free Course by Me!”

Literal Interpretation of the Scriptures: Why We Need MORE

Melvin Cook, famous chemist and ardent LDS young-earth creationist, thought scripture should be interpreted literally, e.g.

My analysis is intended to be strictly literalistic; in my view, intellectual honesty requires literalism in the interpretation of the scriptures.

President Joseph Fielding Smith also made repeated statements about the necessity of reading scripture literally.

I agree with them. But I’ll go one better and do something they never seem to have done: I’m going to define the term “literal.” Continue reading “Literal Interpretation of the Scriptures: Why We Need MORE”

The Philosophies of Men, Mingled with Monopoly

Something insidious infects our children from the moment they’re born. It’s unstoppable. It surrounds us, burrows in deep, far below our conscious minds, and like a computer virus, writes subtle programming that dictates our worldview, our attitudes, and assumptions, shaping our very reflexes… Ahem. Shifting away from threatening apocalyptic movie-trailer voice, I’m speaking, of course, about culture and tradition,  Continue reading “The Philosophies of Men, Mingled with Monopoly”

Translation and Context: Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra, Isaiah and Job at Ugarit

Communication involves not just words, but the context, culture, and worldview in which they are embedded. Simple translation of words alone, reading words alone, however “clear,” will fail to communicate the entire message, because this kind of information is tacit and unstated. Sometimes we can tell we’re missing an intangible something, but most often we can’t even tell that, illustrated extensively in Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes.

Here are some modern examples. Continue reading “Translation and Context: Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra, Isaiah and Job at Ugarit”

Suggestions for Missionaries in Lockdown

I have a young friend currently serving a mission in Norway, who is confined to her apartment except for groceries and cabin-fever prevention walks. She asked me to send her some reading, which prompted this post.

Missionaries tend to be out and about. Being in an apartment with minimal internet or personal connection can lead to feelings of wasted time and lack of utility. But it’s also a real opportunity for missionaries to dedicate time they wouldn’t otherwise have to some intensive and important study, about our own scriptures (especially the Book of Mormon), scripture we share with other Christians (especially the New Testament), or Church history and doctrine. Continue reading “Suggestions for Missionaries in Lockdown”

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”