Offering the Book of Mormon to the non-believer

There comes a point of impasse for most readers of the Book of Mormon. Either you can believe in angels, seer stones, and gold plates, or you cannot. If you cannot, the Book of Mormon is likely to forever languish on the shelf next to the Bhagavad Gita that the Hare Krishnas similarly foisted upon you. After all, who can take such a preposterous book seriously?

Therein lies a problem. We merrily flood the world with the Book of Mormon, yet it remains largely unwanted, unloved, the imagined prank of a fraudulent American boy.

Mormons realise this is a high risk game. If it could only be believed (angels! prophets!) it changes everything. If it cannot be believed, then our unspoken admission is that the Book of Mormon holds little of value. In other words, for the outside world we proclaim a Book of Mormon that is either “true,” or it is bust.

What a waste.

There is power in the Book of Mormon beyond Moroni. A recent thread here at BCC demonstrates how a rediscovery of the book’s Christology by modern Mormons has led to a renaissance in the idea of divine grace. That is no small thing, viz., that a careful reading of the Mormons’ own book reawakened them to Christian truths they themselves had lost.

In my own reading I find the Book of Mormon’s visions of a social utopia to be deeply moving, or better put, they are “desirable to make one happy” (to borrow one of its own phrases). When my son was gravely ill with pneumonia I found myself turning for comfort to 3 and 4 Nephi, where the Christian ethic is shown to have produced a people of profound and robust charity. This vision gave me much peace during a dark time. I clung to the Book of Mormon not as a comfort blanket, but as a real and powerful source of light.

There are also beautiful symbols to be found in the Book of Mormon. If you have seen Richard Dutcher’s wonderful States of Grace, you will remember the scene where a hardened gang-banger — in a desperate effort to repent from his life of violence and pain — buries his guns and knives in the back yard. This is an image taken directly and deliberately from the pages of the Book of Mormon. It is not a facile image, either. The story of a people moved to pacifism does not have a tidy ending, but so, also, is life: noble gestures beget awkward consequences. This makes for uncomfortable moments in the book and in the film, but they are real and they are mature.

All these are random vignettes of profundity that I can think of as I type this, desperately missing the large Readers’ Edition that I left in a box in England. I think the Book of Mormon has much to offer, and we should offer it. Whilst I realise that for sound ecclesiastical reasons, the supernatural tale of Book of Mormon origins remains (and will forever remain) a scandal the church must support, I feel strongly that we can break the impasse for many of our readers by offering them something on the other side of that great and terrible stumbling block.

And so I turn to you, fellow Book of Mormon reader. Beyond its use as the ecclesiastical keystone of the church, what else does the Book of Mormon have to offer this weary world?

Comments

  1. Brandon says:

    The book of mormon changed my life and changed the lives of the peoples that I shared it with on a mission. I have found within its pages a dirrection of what I should strive to be and an example of what I should not be. The Book of Mormon has made an immense impact on my life forever.

  2. Steve Evans says:

    Ronan, right on. There is a real power in the book beyond pseudo-chiasmus and allegories. I find there’s something almost totemistic about my Book of Mormon; I flip through the pages and see my missionary-era highlighting and hand-scrawled cross-references to the Book of Daniel, and I smile. Something of that old spirit is transferred to me, not in merely some Proustian time travel sense, but that my former self comes, taps me on the shoulder, and reassures me that it’s all as real now as it was back then.

  3. Ronan,

    Solid solid post.

    The BOM offers spiritual light as mentioned. The Beauty of the BOM is in the text itself. Its that Text and the compelling inspired writing that convinces me of its truthfulness.

    To me the thrust of the book is Faith (Nephi), Repentance (alma the younger), Baptism(alma the elder and the Gift of the Holy Ghost (3 Nephi) and finally enduring to the end (anti-nephi lehis). The essence of the restored gospel.

    It also warns heavily of pride and materialism which speaks directly to todays world.

  4. For me it is that the prayers of a parent can be efficacious.

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    I really like that burying the weapons scene from States of Grace. Powerful stuff.

    A couple that come quickly to mind are the power of gut-wrenching, into the night prayer even for one’s enemies, and the innocence of little children before God.

  6. When thinking about possible stumbling blocks, I always trust in D&C 29: “mine elect hear my voice and harden not their hearts.”

    I think that voice, as found in the BoM, is extremely compelling. Just a few examples:

    Nephi, Alma, Moroni.

    I read their words and I wonder how anyone can read them and not feel what I feel. Sometimes I think that if we could stop talking about the book and just read from it, there would never be a problem or an argument about it.

  7. Darrell says:

    As we read the Book of Mormon, live its principles and make it a part of our lives it cannot help but influence the people around us, through us. A co-worker (who knows that I serve as a Bishop, approached me the other day and asked, “What is the meaning of life.” I was a little taken aback by the question because I work in a construction environment and among the millwrights there seems to be very little talk or even thought of the spiritual. I thought for a second and asked him if he was a father. He said that he was, so I asked him what he wanted for his children and he said, “I just want them to be happy–to have joy.” This, of course led us to a discussion of Lehi and his statement, “Men are that they might have joy.” Which led further to “Behold this is my work and my glory to bring to pass the immortality and Eternal Life of man.”
    This little conversation was the most spiritual event of the week for me (and I could tell that he was touched as well)–all brought about through sharing the principles in modern scripture without once mentioning the Book of Mormon.
    Read the Book of Mormon; live its principles; quote it every once in a while, and it will affect the world.
    This millwright and I will have further discussions. Our relationship has changed because of a truth that he sincerely sought and I was able to provide because of modern scripture.

  8. Ronan,

    Nice post.

    We merrily flood the world with the Book of Mormon, yet it remains largely unwanted, unloved, the imagined prank of a fraudulent American boy.

    I don’t know if it is really that bad. I mean how long has it been now since it first came out? Nearly 200 years. How many people believed in Christ, and in the Bible in the first 200 years since the ascension of Christ?

    For me personally, the strength of the Book of Mormon is the Spirit it brings when I read it. I feel calmer and more at peace when I read the Book of Mormon.

  9. A recent thread here at BCC demonstrates how a rediscovery of the book’s Christology by modern Mormons has led to a renaissance in the idea of divine grace. That is no small thing, viz., that a careful reading of the Mormons’ own book reawakened them to Christian truths they themselves had lost.

    There seem to be a number of comments today that Mormons somehow institutionally forgot about grace for a while. No one seems to be offering support for such statements, and my anecdotal experience and readings suggest otherwise. Perhaps the above quote is better phrased with language that certain individual Mormons have been reawakened to Christian truths taught, but forgot.

  10. It can help with archaeological research. I understand the Smithsonian used to use it to guide their work, though there was some kind of a coverup.

  11. Costanza says:

    Ronan, this just might be the best post I have read in quite some time. I don’t have anything to add yet, but you have given me some wonderful things to think about. Thanks.

  12. The Book of Mormon is my warm blanket. Like Dan, I feel a real warmth when I read/study it.

  13. Ronan, thank you for this post. I used to host a very sophisticated investigator in my home for lessons with the missionaries. One day, in front of the missionaries, he turned to me and asked whey all they would talk about is whether the book is “true” and how it historically happened. I wish I could have expressed things as well as you have in this post but suffice it to say that the missionaries were a little bit shocked when I said that how the book historically came about was not as important to me as some of its messages.

    For me, it is Jesus’ overwhelming love in 3 Nephi 17.

  14. MikeInWeHo says:

    “….for sound ecclesiastical reasons, the supernatural tale of Book of Mormon origins remains (and will forever remain) a scandal the church must support…”

    I’m not so sure. As many have mentioned above, it’s the text that carries the power not the origin accounts. I think, in fact, that eventually the Church will allow members to openly discuss/debate/believe alternative explanations for the book’s origin. The Community of Christ already does this. Some members have powerful testimonies of the BoM, identical to the mainstream LDS view. Others view it as inspired fiction, pseudepigrapha, etc. Here’s how their web site puts it:

    http://www.cofchrist.org/ourfaith/scripture.asp

    The convert retention crisis cannot be staunched until the Church confronts its historical problems. The Seventh Day Adventists were forced to do the same thing when it became clear that much of Ellen White’s writings were plagiarized. They came through that crisis very well, needless to say.

    I read the BoM almost every day and could have written Dan’s last two sentences (Comment #8) myself. Yet, from my perspective it’s not an ancient text in any usual sense of the term. Neither is much of the OT, and (gasp!) some of the New. There are many good, active LDS who in their heart of hearts feel exactly the same way. Why must they all hide??

  15. Mike, I wonder about CoC as the example, though, as they have merged into the Protestant mainstream and seem to this outsider to be losing steam. As far as the Adventists, I understand from my superficial outsider knowledge that they continue to struggle with those issues significantly (also White’s claim to have personally witnessed the Creation). I personally think there’s room in Mormonism for all sorts of beliefs about the BoM’s origins, but I’m skeptical that publicly sanctioning ahistoricism will help with convert retention.

    split-bamboo–no, he meant it was a potent soporific. he didn’t much love the thing.

    My encounters with the BoM tend to be intellectual, a fascination with how the story unfolds, what themes are most important, how participants understood their role in the overall arc. I have also had wonderful spiritual encounters with it over the years, most prominently with Alma’s astral ascension/conversion in Alma 36.

  16. My wife, a returned missionary, only half jokingly says that Jarom and Omni “seal the deal” for her testimony that The Book of Mormon is true. “How could Joseph have made up this stuff?”, she asks when, from father to son to brother, etc., we read: “And I, Jarom, do not write more, for the plates are small…” or “…I, of myself, am a wicked man…” or “…I, Amaron, write the things whatsoever I write, which are few, in the book of my father…” or “…that which is sufficient is written. And I make an end.” Many have noted the profound truths contained in The Book of Mormon, all of which my wife and I love, but it seems that Joseph’s historical claims are easier to swallow when one notes the wide variety of voices and personalities that inhabit the text.

  17. split-bamboo, it was also a pun on the Book of Ether.

  18. Darrell says:

    I know of a former member of the CofC who left that church specifically because of the change of doctrine concerning the history; converted to LDS; and became a full-time missionary serving in my ward. We do ourselves no favors trying to distance ourselves from the “supernatural tale of Book of Mormon origins.”
    For me, the beauty of the book is enhanced by the story of its origin. Without that story, it is just another book.

  19. Kevin Barney says:

    Much of the OT and some of the NT is not an ancient text?

  20. Christopher Smith says:

    >>It can help with archaeological research. I understand the Smithsonian used to use it to guide their work, though there was some kind of a coverup.

    lol.

    The Book of Mormon provides some interesting historical insights into 19th century religious sentiment.

  21. Kevin, I suspect he meant “as old as advertised,” but in my view, if a text is younger than writing, it shouldn’t be considered ancient.

    Christopher, I’m glad you liked my feeble attempt at humor (though strict 19th-century contextualization is an overstatement–I believe that the BoM is more, even if viewed from a secular perspective, than a gumbo of King James, Antimasonry, and Ethan Smith).

  22. I love the Book of Mormon for the power of peace it brings; for its clarity about the mission of the Son of God; for its simple truths that also also contain layers of meaning and mysteries; for the unending fountain of knowledge and understanding that it gives me (“Was THAT verse there before?”); and for the anchor it is to my testimony.

    As a missionary, sitting alone on a bus (rare situation, going to get a greenie), I wondered to myself what made me different from all the other religious folks I had met who claimed to know their churches were true. The answer was clear and unmistakable: The Book of Mormon.

    I think the book can have much to offer anyone, regardless of whether its origins are addressed. But in the end, I agree with Darrell that the book is greatly enhanced by its origin. In fact, I would argue that its full impact cannot be appreciated or felt without a belief in angels and prophets, because both play an important role in God’s “work and glory.” Indeed, they play a key role in the Book of Mormon itself. Said another way, the Book of Mormon holds within its pages the teachings that can validate its origin! :)

  23. This is an excellent post Ronan.

    I will say that the Book of Mormon message, more than any other text, is a testimony of Jesus. Without the historicity of its origins it is still “Another Testament of Christ”.

    The powerful testimony of the Nephite and Lamanite prophets of the reality of Jesus is breathtaking. Unfortunately because of the miraculous nature of its origins, some people just can’t accept the “Angles, Golden Plates, Seer Stones etc..”

    To me the Book of Mormon is the fruit on Joseph Smith’s tree that no one can deny. As absurd as the origins sound, how can anyone explain the nature of this text w/o it being of divine origin as the Prophet has declared. How could a man with as little education and life experience as Joseph Smith in 1830 write such a text?

    I understand Hugh Nibley used make it a project of some his courses at BYU to have any student who wished to write a history of an ancient civilization with all of the nuances included in the Book of Mormon. Several attempted none succeeded.

    I will conclude by stating that the world is a lot better off because of this additional testament of Jesus. I just wish more could get over their pride regarding its origins and understand is message.

  24. I love the passion for Christ that the Book of Mormon has. I love that it’s a fairly expansive history/histories wrapped into a relitivly consise package, and interweaved with this powerful testiomony of Christ.

  25. Moroni 10:3-5 promises that the Holy Ghost will show us the book is true, not that it is fact. In any case, I treasure all the stories that show the goodness of the Lamanites (in contrast with the Nephites), or the coming together of divided peoples.

  26. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 15 Oh for sure, I’m not holding up the CoC as a success story. It was just to point out that there are other ways of handling the issue. I’m not very familiar with the Adventists either, but get the sense they are addressing the historical problems head-on these days. The LDS have struggles that are at least as large (and arguably a lot more challenging), but how is the Church responding? Honestly, all I see is avoidance.

    The missionaries routinely teach things about BoM origins that flat-out aren’t true. The official videos are misleading. What good can come of that?

    re: 21 Yes, I meant “as advertised” not “ancient.” Sorry I wasn’t clear. Anybody check out those OT genealogies lately? I just don’t see much difference between Noah’s ark and Nephi’s curious timbers.

    People seem to confuse the concept of myth with the concept of deception. Myths, paradoxically, are the way societies express their most profound truths. (My liberal theology is showing today….)

  27. This is how I’ve felt. I read the BOM for many years with an agnostic eye regarding origin, and found its truth it the spiritual communion it opened up for me. I would agree with the sections many have already named.

    My understanding is that the BOM’s actual doctrines were de-emphasized, and that it was officially seen as a proof of the restoration. I remember reading an article that even showed that it was rarely quoted in gen. conf. before the 1980s. Can anyone comment more officially?

  28. Lonny Mower says:

    As a provider of medical services, I often find myself in rural locales, to include Navajo reservations in Utah and Arizona. Seventh-Day Adventist chapels see to be the norm on the reservations, while I have yet to see an LDS Chapel. Punch line(s) below, but first 2 true stories/events from my mission (71-73):

    1. Had a companion who confidently stated to investigators that the Smithsonian Institute confered regularly with Book of Mormon scholars and LDS Church Authorities to help find Meso-American antiquities, e.g. roads, edifices, etc.

    2. Recently spoke with a gentleman I baptized (still active) about why he invited us missionaries into his home. With an interest in all things American, like Native Americans, he related that it was because of the question I used in my door approach, something like: “Would you like to know more about the origin of the American Indians? The Book Of Mormon will tell you”

    Punch line 1: Mormon missionaries, even though they be white and delightsome, speak with forked tongue. BofM not used by Smithsonian, and BofM not tell of true origin of American Indian. Where’s Quetzocuatal when I need him?

    Punch line 2: Me not have courage to tell baptizee that BofM not true origin of Indian let alone of James Ferguson. I rationalize that I don’t want to be the downfall of anyone’s faith.

    Punch Line 3: The Navajos have rejected the BofM forked tongue gospel, in the very back yard of it’s author.

  29. Gilgamesh says:

    MikeInWeHo,

    I would be intersted to hear what the “missionaries routinely teach things about BoM origins that flat-out aren’t true.” Also what are the significant struggles that the church is not addressing?

    I am wondering if it is the point of view that is the issue. If Joseph Smith was a prophet, then there is a sense of trust that he produced authentic scripture and led the church with God’s help. If he wasn’t, than yes, I can see where there are some big issues to deal with before the church can claim any semblance of spritual leadership.

    President Hinckley has emphasized numerous times that we as a church need to get back to the roots. Joseph Smith was a prophet, the firts vision was real and the Book of Mormon is what it claims to be, the writings of an ancient people in the Americas.

    I love the scandalous nature of the Book of Mormon. It defies logic and defies criticism. It is either scripture or not, ancient or not. God’s actual words or not. It confounds the wise an brings hope to the unlearned.

    To get back to Ronan’s original point-

    I love that the Book of Mormon demonstrates a loving God that knows each individual, and that the only thing that limits our relationship to God is our lack of faith. If we truly believe, as the Nephis and the Brother of Jared, we can relate personally with God. Outside of Christ’s own teachings, no other scripture is as persuasive that one can not only follow Christ, but can know Christ personally.

  30. To me, the Book of Mormon is about revelation, powerful miracles, and miraculous power.

    The actors (that is those who took action) in the Book of Mormon, did so by revelation, by the command of God, from Lehi leaving Jerusalem, to Nephi building a ship, to Mormon making an abridgement, to Moroni burying the plates. They provided the hands and feet, but it was the power of God that effected so much.

    The authors and compilers wrote by revelation. They wrote as they were inspired, by revelation. And they wrote the doctrines that were given to them via revelation.

    It was brought forth to light by revelation, and the power of God, revealed by an angel, under the direction of God.

    It was translated by revelation, and the power of God.

    It was, and continues to be, promulgated by revelation; preached and distributed under direction by God, via revelation, and by his power.

    The truth of it is given by revelation to the sincere investigator.

    The meanings of the doctrines therein are communicated via revelation to the sincere student of it.

    There is information hidden in it, “written between the lines”, which is revealed to the sincere seeker.

    The book is a lightening rod for revelation, bringing further light and knowledge concerning all areas to those who strive to live its teachings.

    God’s hand and miraculous power are evident throughout the book, its contents, the events it describes, and the mere continuation and preservation of the book and its source documents, throughout the 1000 year Nephite dynasty. What other dynasty in the history of the Earth maintained a 1000 year compilation of records in an unbroken chain? What other object of such detail and such divine information then lay hidden for another 1400 years, untouched by human hands?

    Please excuse the use of a profane word, but the word “magic” is the closest word I can muster to describe the powerful awe and amazement that the Book of Mormon both merits and generates. “Divine” and “miraculous” are more appropriate, but those words are not unique or powerful enough due to being overused and diluted in a religious context.

    It is a totem, but it’s more. It’s almost a magical charm, a talisman, in the way it attracts, focuses and outputs revelation.

    As others have pointed out, the fact that the Book of Mormon exists can at times be more powerful and influential than the teachings it contains. Its existance means the heavens are opened, that God communicates with man, that prophets walk the earth, that the canon is not complete, that miracles have not ceased, that God is not silent, and he has not changed.

    My life has been changed, redirected, uplifted through my discovery of the Book of Mormon 25 years ago. I already had the Bible, and believed in it. But the Book of Mormon is what the Bible was originally meant to be.

    The Book of Mormon seems to have its own Law of Attraction. People are attracted to it, and come unto it, in miraculous ways. The book also seeks out people. Put a few extra copies in your car, office, home, school locker, and see what happens. Seek out a few opportunities to place copies of the Book of Mormon, and see if the windows of heaven don’t open and the Lord blesses you with more opportunities. Do a little, and the Lord will teach and empower you to do more. Exercise faith with the Book of Mormon, and the Lord will confirm it with testimony, and point you to a higher level of faith.

    If you do so, the guardian angels and the deceased ancestors of the people within your sphere of influence will petition the Lord to inspire you to use the Book of Mormon to initiate contact with their charges or descendants. Such is the excitement and efforts that the Book of Mormon creates on both sides of the veil.

    The Lord has sent missionaries all over the world with the Book of Mormon. And because there aren’t enough missionaries, and because some countries won’t accept missionaries, he is bringing his sheep from all over the world to the United States to get the Book of Mormon. I recently witnessed a professor from mainland China get baptized before going back to China.

    Possession of copies of the Book of Mormon, and a willingness to distribute it, and testify of it, will bring further revelation to you on how to carry that out, and empower you to do so.

    It’s a book about ancient revelation, miracles and power. The book itself is revelation, miraculous, and powerful. The study of and the effort to live the book brings you revelation, miracles and power. One’s willingness and efforts to promulgate and distribute the book also brings about revelation, miracles, and power.

    Knowing that a book, just printed words on paper, can bring revelation, miracles and power, it should be no surprise that the Savior, the source of all light and energy in our universe, has as one of his titles “the Word”.

  31. Christopher Smith says:

    >>Christopher, I’m glad you liked my feeble attempt at humor (though strict 19th-century contextualization is an overstatement–I believe that the BoM is more, even if viewed from a secular perspective, than a gumbo of King James, Antimasonry, and Ethan Smith).

    Hey Sam,

    For the record, I doubt Ethan Smith played any direct role in the BoM’s composition, though I do suspect that some of its big-ideas were known to Joseph by word-of-mouth. I am aware that some people (like John Brooke, Richard Bushman, and Jan Shipps) try to give the BoM a broader historical horizon, placing it into a history-of-ideas that stretches back far beyond the 19th century. However, while it may sound scholarly and benevolent to make this mean that the BoM has contextual horizons beyond the 19th c. “even if viewed from a secular perspective,” I don’t think this conclusion actually follows from the above. From a secular perspective, if Joseph Smith is part of a theological history of ideas, he was only aware of this broader history insofar as it was available to him from 19th-century sources. If he made use of ancient hermetic thought, he was aware of it only through the lens of 19th-century hermetic thought. In other words, even if the ideas Joseph utilized had much older roots, he was aware of them as a 19th-century person within a 19th-century context. In this sense he was– from a secular point of view– strictly a product of his times.

    It is remarkable, though, the sheer quantity of 19th-century religious thought that is synthesized and creatively reworked in the Book of Mormon. There are elements of Campbellism, millennialism, Methodism, anti-Masonry, hermeticism, Arminianism, Calvinist Covenant Theology, revival camp-meetings, perhaps even abolitionism and the Kabbalah! In all these cases the Book of Mormon was on the cutting edge. I am doing some research, for example, on the Book of Mormon’s appropriation of Galatians 3:28 in 2 Ne. 26:33, advocating the abolition of distinctions between the races (specifically blacks and whites). This is very similar to the abolitionist use of the verse, starting (I think) with Frederick Douglass a few years later. In other words, Joseph Smith seems to have been the first person to perceive the liberating, rhetorical power of adding “black and white” to this verse. When I finish this research, it is possible I will submit it for publication in BCC Papers.

    -Chris

  32. Christopher,
    Please do. Sounds interesting.

  33. Mike,
    Back in the day, RT wrote a post about the varieties of belief possible vis-a-vis the BoM. It’s interesting reading.

    I think it’s very likely that once a Mormon loses her belief in BoM historicity, it probably ain’t coming back. For such people (and I’m sure there are more than a few) it would be a tragedy if between “all” and “nothing” they feel forced to choose “nothing.”

    My post had the non-Mormon reader in mind. We should not blame anyone for not believing in the story; were it not for the Mormon upbringing that made the stumbling block into something glorious, I would not believe it either. But the Book of Mormon still has much to offer sans Moroni, as States of Grace made clear. That’s what I’m trying to get at.

  34. it would be a tragedy if between “all” and “nothing” they feel forced to choose “nothing.”

    I can’t see that there’s much to be gained by bundling all truth into a package that must be signed for or rejected before the UPS guy leaves the porch, but it seems like a common enough way to introduce the Book of Mormon.

    During a recent discussion with my non-member wife and her sister, the missionaries seemed determined to take “all-or-nothing, take-it-or-leave-it” approach regarding the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, linking it to Joseph Smith, his status as the prophet, the church as a whole, and so on. So far they’ve left it.

    For my part, I tried to emphasize the personal conversion that came from reading in the Book of Mormon and how that affected choices I made that more or less lead to where I am now.

  35. were it not for the Mormon upbringing that made the stumbling block into something glorious, I would not believe it either

    Are you sure? The attempt to wrap the book with it’s history all in one package may be wrongheaded, but it makes some logical sense. It’s hard to imagine that the book is from God if Joseph is a liar.

  36. MCQ, there are many possibilities other than (a) the book is 100%, literal ancient history; or (b) Joseph Smith is a liar.

  37. That’s not what I said, RT. I’m talking about the reasons that the “package” idea is out there. The book itself is convincing when read, in my view. No surprise, that’s its stated purpose. Missionaries and other members of the church tend to package the book with its origins because of the idea that its “convincingness” can be transferred to Joseph and other parts of the church’s history via the logical linkage that I used.

  38. Matt W. says:

    I think the Book of Mormon has many beautiful things in it, but they all become a lot less beautiful if they are not given from God to man. I can not seperate the reality of what the words are from the reality of what the words say without diminishing the value of the words.

  39. I cannot think of a more beautiful description of being spiritually born of God than Alma Chapter 5, and the psalm of Nephi is a shining monument to the humanity of a prophet who let down his guard about always appearing perfect in a fascinating look at his soul.
    The states of grace story also reminds me of the Vicenzo DiFrancesca story where he got into hot water in WWI for sharing the story of the people of Ammon with its truly inspiring message of peace over war.
    At the same time the story of Moroni and the Title of Liberty gives an inspiring affirmation that there are indeed some things worth fighting for. In other words it is balanced.
    I think it is exciting that the book is now available through mainstream publishing so it can just be read by the curious and stand on its own merits. It would be interesting to see if this move ever lead to a literature of the BOM in any kind of comparative religious studies course.

  40. PS- I also think that the most beautiful thing about the BOM is that it is true. In the words of Richard Bushman “if you give up the historicity of the Book of Mormon you are giving up an awful lot.”

    It may not be as black and white as all true or worthless, but it is a huge chasm between the historical and the myth camps. I don’t think anyone can pretend otherwise, But I am enough of a realist to realize that some people just aren’t going to hold to the historicity of it. In these cases, I think we should at least help them to appreciate what their own mind will allow, the truth that they can bear, so to speak.

  41. That some people just aren’t going to hold to the historicity of it.

    Doc, if we’re talking about people outside of the church here, I’d say it is more than “some” people. I’d put it at the vast majority. What I’m trying to say is that we can still engage people with the Book of Mormon without them having to buy the miracle. Call it pragmatism. Again, this is not to devalue the miracle in any way.

  42. Kevin Barney says:

    Norbert #27, the article you are thinking of is Noel B. Reynolds, “The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon in the Twentieth Century,” from BYU Studies, available by free download here. It’s a great article; I highly recommend it.

  43. Ronan: Of course we can engage people with the Book of Mormon without them having to believe in it. It’s as simple as “This book means a lot to me, and I want to give it to you.” or finding core axioms with ala the Golden rule and using them in our dialogue with others. (“There’s a saying in the scriptures we mormons use, when you are serving others, you are serving God.” or whatever.) but how far beyond that can we go, without hitting the either the true or false question of the book or leaping past it and thus foisting our religion upon others?

  44. Doc, I wonder where that quote from Bushman is sourced? In Bushman’s interview with John Dehlin, Bushman made the very different statement that “if you give up the Book of Mormon you are giving up an awful lot,” followed by the explanation that there are ways of thinking of the Book of Mormon other than as an ancient history that allow you to retain belief in it as scripture.

  45. MCQ #37, the problem is that — for all that many people have been led to believe what you say — there probably isn’t a logical linkage between Book of Mormon historicity and the authoritativeness of the LDS church. If there were such a linkage, then beliefs in either the LDS church but not the Book of Mormon as history, or the Book of Mormon as history but not the authority of the LDS church, would be impossible. Yet such beliefs are not only possible, they are attested in the historical record. John Whitmer believed in the Book of Mormon as an ancient history but accepted none of Joseph Smith’s subsequent prophetic acts. The RLDS church has traditionally — and many Josephite Mormons continue in this tradition — believed that the Book of Mormon was an ancient history and that Joseph was a prophet, but that Brigham Young and all subsequent LDS leaders are effectively apostates.

    Why, then, do people think there is a logical linkage of some kind between Book of Mormon historicity and the authority of the LDS church? Because people in power have told them to think this. It’s a strategic, rather than a logical, linkage.

  46. Why, then, do people think there is a logical linkage of some kind between Book of Mormon historicity and the authority of the LDS church? Because people in power have told them to think this. It’s a strategic, rather than a logical, linkage.

    For example, the introduction to the Book of Mormon models the pathway to truth:

    Those who gain this divine witness from the Holy Spirit [that the Book of Mormon is true and divine] will also come to know by the same power that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world, that Joseph Smith is his revelator and prophet in these last days, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s kingdom once again eastablished on the earth

    And in Preach My Gospel (pp. 38, 39) we read about the “all or nothing” claim as well as more about the JS linkage:

    This volume of holy scripture provides convincing evidence that Joseph Smith is a true prophet of God.

    The message of the Restoration is either true or it is not.

    No lukewarm fence-sitters here!

  47. J. Nelson: The fact that people have illogical views doesn’t make an assertion illogical. The logic is straightforward: if the Book of Mormon is ancient, then there is no other remotely plausbile explanation for its antiquity besides Joseph Smith’s incredible story no matter how unparsimonious his claim of angels and miracles may be. So the logic is inductive rather than deductive. However, I agree that such a conclusion doesn’t entail that the LDS Church in SLC is the sole option.

  48. Blake, the problem is that Joseph’s story about the Book of Mormon being true doesn’t logically imply that any other part of his prophetic career was genuine. Indeed, as a matter of logic, it doesn’t even deny the funny recent counter-cult hypothesis that the Book of Mormon was supernatural but demonically inspired.

  49. Thomas Parkin says:

    I just had a funny thought.

    Finding Scattered Israel:

    Two elders approach the door. Hello, I’m Elder Allred and the is Elder Young. We were hoping that your family would help us out this morning by taking a DNA test. Depending on the results, we would like to come back and give you a brief message.

    People who are permanently hung on up on the historicity of the Book of Mormon and find things in the story that they simply “cannot” beleive (though there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio), won’t be converted; not because the story is too outlandish, but because they are looking in the wrong way. If that was the way to conversion, God would make sure all the dates in the BoM match up perfectly with the Mayan calender, or whatever, and, in fact, send angels, rather than the Holy Spirit. What would be the result? No one would ever exercise faith and have their hearts changed by the process of coming to Christ. The other way in time leads to a personal visitation by angels and many other tangible, if personal, evidences, solving, for the individual, the problem of seeing.

    But in so far as your idea is to actually _use_ the content of the book for, it seems to me, what it was intended, (rather than as a theortical, rhetorical, conversational SS game), I think you’re spot on.

    I strongly agree that we have been a little mistaken in presenting a package that must be fully embraced or rejected whole cloth. For one thing, where does this leave learning line upon line, here a little and there a little?

    As an aside, another funny thought:

    I become a prophet someday. Future scholars look up my own various accounts of my leaving and coming back to the church, my second conversion (when did he first call it this? I found a reference on March 8th, 2007), etc. They find many contradictary statments, both about actual events and my own take on doctrines – they would find many. They find that I often speculated in dogmatic language. They find out I spent ten years (or was it 13?? this guy can’t seem to anything right) as a whoremonger, and that I was frequently an enormous jerk to people online, in spite of all the talk about love. Oh, this is all so problematic!!

    ~

  50. Like I said J. Nelson, the contrary hypothesis just don’t have any plausbility. It is possible that JS later fell; but that is totally consistent with the view that BofM historicity entails he had to be a prophet at the time it was translated and therefore the BofM is from God. The demon hypoethsis just has no plausibility at all given its contents.

  51. Blake, the demon hypothesis is mostly the further polemicization of the spiritualist hypothesis, which maintains that Smith was channeling the dead (19th century and later spiritualists occasionally make the claim–i’m including examples in a paper about JSJ among the metaphysicians I hope to finish in the next few months). I’m not sure whether you’re free from that hypothesis on the logical grounds you propose.

  52. Blake, I agree that Book of Mormon historicity entails Joseph having been a prophet in his actions in translating the book. It doesn’t logically entail that Joseph was a prophet in other religious actions he undertook while the book was being translated or in any later actions. Note also that it doesn’t logically entail who Joseph was a prophet for. Either Joseph was a prophet for a truthful supernatural entity — and therefore, considering the contents of the Book of Mormon, for God; or Joseph was a prophet for a sometimes deceptive or crafty supernatural entity, in which case the contents of the book do nothing to help us decide who that entity was.

  53. To me, the fact that the BoM is from God is obvious, because of the spirit I feel when I read it. What that means, in terms of JS and the church, is still open to question, and those questions have to be answered in other ways than the attempted linkage to the BoM, imo (I have answered those quextions for myself, but not through the series of logical links to the BoM that the Church often advocates).

    That said, I don’t blame the church for trying to make the linkage. It requires a logical leap, but not an insane one.

  54. JNS wrote: “Blake, the problem is that Joseph’s story about the Book of Mormon being true doesn’t logically imply that any other part of his prophetic career was genuine.”

    I would replace your word “imply” with “require”. I believe the Book of Mormon does imply that the other parts of his prophetic career were genuine, it just doesn’t logically require it.

    and also: “Indeed, as a matter of logic, it doesn’t even deny the funny recent counter-cult hypothesis that the Book of Mormon was supernatural but demonically inspired.”

    Along that line, perhaps the Spaulding manuscript (if it genuinely pre-dates the publication of the Book of Mormon, I have a suspicion it may itself be a hoax), The View of the Hebrews and The Golden [Flower] Pot may themselves have been inspired by demonic observers who saw what was going on anciently, knew the prophecies, and observed enough clues to later plant seeds that would eventually create doubts and stumbling blocks later on.

    If Satan can inspire and teach dark oaths and secret combinations to those who lean towards him, then maybe he can inspire authors who lean towards him just as easily.

    Spaulding, Ethan Smith, and Hoffman may have been the ones who were demonically inspired. I’m just saying it’s in the realm of possibility once one concedes that spiritual forces (good or bad) can inspire writers.

    And I believe that the Lord often allows stumbling blocks as a test of faith, and as a filter to sift out those who don’t have faith.

  55. JNS, excuse me. After posting the previous, I recalled my mathematics vocabulary and realized that your use of “logically imply” in the mathematical sense (ie, “a” implies “b” ) is already equivalent to “require” in normal English usage.

  56. JNS,
    My source is memory of the Dehlin podcast and may be imperfect, but I am sure that Bushman was answering the question from John what would you say to someone, or is their room for those that take the inspired fiction approach to the BOM. Perhaps I should give it a relisten, but I could swear most the other approach stuff was coming from John.

  57. You have got to be deluding yourself here. If the BOM was not divinely inspired than your original assertion is true, it is a waste of time and energy.

    Any value you find in it beyond that is probably just there to help prop up your cognitive dissonance.

  58. Doc, you should relisten. I did during lunch break. My sense of it is that Bushman was strongly endorsing approaches that partially or fully relinquish historicity but retain faith in the Book of Mormon. I’d be fascinated to hear your thoughts after a re-listen. I might, after all, be misinterpreting.

  59. MikeInWeHo says:

    Is there a link to the Bushman podcast, J? Thanks.

  60. Mike, the podcast is in five parts, and I think the relevant material is in part 4. The whole thing is worth a listen: parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

  61. Another dimension to Ronan’s question are the major categories of non-believers. I would divide non-believers into three major categories: 1) Christians, 2) atheists/agnostics, and believers in non-Christian religions.

    Everyone has their own hurdles to accepting the Book of Mormon, but many people can be approached either by dealing with those hurdles up front, or avoiding the hurdle until they are ready to navigate it.

    Ronan’s question “What does the Book of Mormon have to offer to the non-believer [in the Book of Mormon]?”

    First, to the Christians, it’s indeed another testament of Jesus Christ and his Father. The Book of Mormon provides a welding link, or bridge, between the Old Testament and the New. Many Christians perceive a dichotomy, or gulf, or big change between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Many think that God somehow changed the rules between Malachi and Matthew. The Book of Mormon shows that God did not. True believers had the fullness of the gospel before Christ’s mortal ministry. The Book of Mormon confirms that the prophets of the Old Testament had the Gospel of Christ even when the people rejected it.

    To the mainstream Christian who believes the Heavens are closed, the Book of Mormon should be welcome evidence that they are now open. But, the fact that the heavens are open is usually a hurdle for them, therefore the supernatural origin of the Book of Mormon may not be a good starting point in its presentation.

    The evangelical and charismatic Christians who believe in modern miracles and spiritual gifts, and that God continues to exercise his divine power, and who wish to separate themselves from the spiritual blandness or deadness of mainstream Christianity should not be put off by the supernatural origin of the Book of Mormon. Though their hurdle may be that the miracle of its origin didn’t come through them, the “Not-Invented-Here” syndrome. The promise of personal revelation, which they already strongly believe in, may be the door opener for the introduction of the Book of Mormon.

    The Book of Mormon’s testimony and confirmation of the availability of spiritual gifts to all sincere believers may be a selling point to the evangelical Christian. The fact that the Book of Mormon joins with many evangelicals and charismatics in decrying the blandness, watered-down doctrine, and spiritual deadness of most of modern mainstream Christianity, may a valuable and under-used selling point.

    (Aside: One of the less-known or less-published rivalries between Christian denominations is how many look down their noses at those of other denominations for not focusing on what they focus on, whether it be gifts of the Spirit, scholarly attainment, proselyting efforts, preaching, etc.)

    Therefore, several of the problems or issues that evangelicals and charismatics have with mainstream denominations, are the same issues we LDS have with mainstream denominations.

    Second, to the atheists/agnostics, they also have some issues with Christianity (as a whole) which we also share. They point to things like the Dark Ages, the Inquisition, priestcrafts, preaching for gain, and the horrors and unrighteous dominion done in the name of Christ. That fits right in with our doctrine of the apostasy, and with prophecies mentioned in both the Bible and the Book of Mormon.

    Many atheists and agnostics decry the arrogance and pomp of some institutionalized religions, and at the same time they decry the undignified confusion and cacophony of disorganized non-denominationalists. Don’t we also differentiate ourselves from both of those extremes?

    Therefore the complaints that many atheists and agnostics have against much of modern Christianity are issues where we differ from those same segments or aspects of modern Christianity.

    It is for those atheists and agnostics that we should somewhat embrace the so-called “non-Christian” epithet that much of modern Christendom hurls our way. Because, at least in the eyes of atheists and agnostics, we should confirm that distance between us and what we consider to be apostate (or at the minimum, “unauthorized”) versions of true Christianity.

    For in effect, apostate Christians have, by their example and predominance, defined the terms “Christian” and “Christianity” in use by atheists and agnostics. And we are not Christians under their definition. Our whole definition of Christian differs from the mainstream’s definition of themselves as Christian. Therefore, for atheists and agnostics, we need to embrace that dichotomy, or at least point out our slightly different definition or category. As Jeff Lindsay likes to say “We’re more like 1st century Christians, they’re more like 4th century Christians.”

    In other words, we should, and can, identify ourselves outside of the Catholic/Protestant paradigm to atheists and agnostics to overcome their “anti-Christian” hurdle.

    Finally, in regards to believers in non-Christian religions, I have found that the hurdles to offering the Book of Mormon are much lower and less frequent than expected. My conversation starter is the Book of Mormon in foreign languages, paired with an English copy and presented as ESL material.

    Like the atheists and agnostics, the Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists have many of the same problems or issues with mainstream Christianity that we do. I love this Gandhi quote: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

    There is another situation in which we should welcome the gulf between us and modern mainstream Christianity.

    Back to Ronan’s question about what the Book of Mormon offers to the world. Please expand your thinking of “the world” to include more than just stuffed-shirt, spiritually dead, tasteless white-bread, North American WASPs who belong to the major mainstream Christian denominations, because they are in the minority.

    Offer the Book of Mormon to evangelical, fundamentalist and charismatic Christians who, when pressed, will have to admit that Moroni’s promise is a valid litmus test according to their own doctrine.

    Offer the Book of Mormon to atheists and agnostics and embrace the gulf between us and mainstream Christiantiy, and admit we are not Christians by the mainstream definition of the word. Emphasize that we are outside of the Catholic/Protestant paradigm of Christianity.

    Offer the Book of Mormon to people of non-Christian faiths, and again emphasize our distance from the Catholic/Protestant paradigm.

    Offer the Book of Mormon to the poor, the down-trodden, the poor in spirit, the meek, the travelers, the immigrants who are strangers in a strange land, for are they not the ones whom we are commanded to especially seek out?

    Offer the Book of Mormon in 104 languages to the many immigrants who come here from all over the world for is that not fulfillment of the prophecy that it go to all nations, kindreds, tongues and people?

    Those are the things I think that the Book of Mormon has to offer to people of this weary world.

  62. JNS, that would be an about face from prior positions and would be ill-timed with his recent book. I suspect he was welcoming other viewpoints while retaining his personal belief.

  63. smb, yes, that’s what I meant to say: he was claiming that others should take advantage of ahistorical interpretations to keep faith in the Book of Mormon as scripture, rather than abandoning the book.

    It’s noteworthy that Bushman’s most-often repeated statement on historicity is that the book can’t be seen as a mere amalgamation of 19th-century influences. This perspective is, of course, fully consistent with the perspective that the book is an inspired reinterpretation of 19th-century influences, although Bushman most likely believes that ancient America is also an ingredient (but he makes no such clear affirmation in his interview with Dehlin, for whatever reason).

  64. MikeInWeHo says:

    Just listened to Section 4 of the podcast. What a fascinating man he is. I felt like he was equivocating a bit, and wondered how he would respond to a less friendly interviewer. Dehlin lets him off the hook immediately once they both agree it’s OK for an (active) LDS not to believe in the historicity of the BoM.

    Bushman falls in the middle of a continuum that ranges from FARMS on one side to Grant Palmer on the other. There seems to have been a very slow shift along the continuum in the direction of Palmer. Two decades ago, would a highly respected LDS scholar like Bushman ever have acknowledged that a faithful Mormon might reject the historicity of the BoM?

    That may be your real scandal, Ronan!

  65. #27 and #42 — Noel B. Reynolds, “The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon in the Twentieth Century,” from BYU Studies. Yes, excellent article especially for younger Mormons like me, who can’t imagine a time when the Book of Mormon was undervalued or ignored.

  66. JNS,
    I don’t know if you even still care, but I did relisten and I got the same feeling from the question and answer. Basically, John is asking what his advice would be to someone who could not accept the historicity of the Book of Mormon, and should they leave the church. Bushman then answers first thing “If you give up the Book of Mormon, you give up A LOT.”

    He does state absolutely agree that leaving is not your only option, that there are other ways of interpreting the Book of Mormon in a manner that one may still find belief, and that when you have something good in your life, you need to hold on to it. He suggests retreating to what you can believe. I think this is absolutely the best strategy and it has helped we wade through many, many concerns in the church and come out stronger and better for it.

    However, I still think the reason he stated that if you give up the Book of Mormon you give up a lot is that he was emphasizing his earlier point, there is no way to explain the Book of Mormon away anymore than there is of proving it true. Ultimately he feels it is a choice. Do we want to live in a world where God is immediate, where he works through living prophets or not. That is what he considers one giving up and that is what “A LOT” consists of.

    Therefore, I might modify my original statement, I guess it depends on how strong the “inspired” is in your inspired fiction. If you are convinced it came directly from God to Joseph Smith and don’t believe the historicity of it at all, I guess you haven’t yet given up what he is referring to. My mind has a hard time wrapping itself around that position but I suppose it exists out there.

  67. Marrakech says:

    This post of Ronan’s hits at the heart of everything for me. Can you be a member in good standing and not believe in, or not be sure of, an item of Church history or doctrine? Is it an all or nothing Church? I have been on self-imposed sabbatical from the Church for decades, because I didn’t feel I could accept some of its history and doctrine. No matter how much I liked and believed in the Church and wanted to be a part of it, I kept myself out because I could not give a beaming, rosy testimony on certain doctrinal and historical principles. I still accepted the Church and its people, and wanted to be active, but I didn’t feel like they accepted me. I felt I could be accepted as a Catholic and still question Catholicsm or the Pope, or that I could be accepted as a Protestant and still question Protestantism or Luther or Calvin. I did not feel I could be accepted as a Mormon and still question Mormonism or Joseph Smith.

    Aren’t there lots of people like me, who stay on the outside of this Church looking in, feeling unaccepted and unwanted, because they have some question on doctrine, that they feel everyone else is in 100%, glowing agreement on.

    In comment #36, Roasted Tomatoes writes about the Book of Mormon, “there are many possibilities other than (a) the book is 100%, literal ancient history or; (b) Joseph Smith is a liar.” Please tell me about those “many possibilities.”

    Ronan, Mike, Tomatoes and others, please write more.

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