Academic approaches to scripture sometimes arouse suspicion in LDS circles, especially when they include the Higher Criticism (“Moses didn’t write the five books of Moses?”) or reading the Bible as literature (“So you think this is a work of fiction?”). People using or advocating these approaches often draw charges of privileging the intellectual ways of the world over the pure spiritual truth of God, of trusting in the arm of flesh, or of kowtowing to secular disbelief in the interest of seeming more acceptable.
I suppose my patron saint should be St. Ronan, an Irish Saint whose journey to Brittany and subsequent miracles make him a figure of minor celebrity in Celtic Christianity. With a middle name of James, I can also turn to James the Just, brother of Jesus, or James the Great, son of Zebedee (he of the Camino de Santiago), or the “other James” (son of Alphaeus). Regular readers of the blog will know of our experience on the road to Santiago, and so James the Great it shall be. [Read more...]
In Which I Unpack a Finance-Based Atonement Parable (or Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Work on Wall Street)
Understanding the Atonement is tough.[fn1] To try to understand it, theologians have come up with theories to describe the whys and hows of the Atonement, and stories to illustrate how the Atonement works.
We’ve got a handful of favorite illustrative stories in Mormonism, including bicycles and lickings. I was recently reading chapter 12 of the Gospel Principles manual, and I came across an Atonement story that I haven’t seen in a while: a parable of a debtor and a creditor. What follows are my thoughts as I reread it:[fn2] [Read more...]
The Feast of William Wilberforce, 1833
Leviticus 26:12-13 (KJV), Psalm 146:5-10 (NRSV), Jeremiah 22:13 (KJV), Micah 3:5-12 (KJV), Matthew 25:31-40 (KJV), Galatians 3:23-29 (KJV), James 5:4, 1 Nephi 17:24-26, Mosiah 29:40, Doctrine & Covenants 101:79
The Collect: O Father, Thou who hast raised up Moses to lead Thy Children out of bondage, let us take inspiration from Thy servant, William Wilberforce, a latter-day Moses, to devote our lives in Thy Church to Thy righteousness in accordance with the universal moral law, becoming instruments in Thy hands to advocate the cause of those who are in bondage and learning that we must never become an obstacle to others’ inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; for the sake of Him who gave His life for us, Thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with Thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. [Read more...]
The title of this post is a lie: I’m not going to defend God’s sovereignty, not really anyway. I’m not not going to do it for two reasons. First, because I have no theological belief about God’s nature or power or personality or sovereignty firm enough to qualify as something that I am genuinely capable of “defending.” Frankly, God is a mystery to me, and I tend to believe that He wants it to be that way, for His own mostly unknowable reasons. Second, because to engage in a defense means to present an argument–in this case, one against the position that Jason has sketched out, which presents some questions and possibilities in connection with the idea that the Mormon notion of God presents Him as vulnerable, not sovereign–and while I’d like to think I’m at least minimally well-read in the theological literature, my disagreement with him, and my belief that the God which Christians like ourselves worship is not essentially vulnerable, but rather is essentially sovereign, is rooted in other perceptions that lack the rigor of theological argument. The best I can do, then, is talk about where those perceptions came from, and what they’ve meant to me. [Read more...]
Did the law of consecration become effectively suspended or temporarily replaced by the law of tithing when the early Latter-day Saints couldn’t make it work out? Joseph M. Spencer answers with a definitive “no” in For Zion: A Mormon Theology of Hope. Spencer’s latest book offers an analysis of the law of consecration through a close and detailed reading of selections from Paul’s letter to the Romans and Joseph Smith’s revelation now canonized as section 42 of the Doctrine and Covenants. [Read more...]
Collect: Generous God, whose Son Jesus Christ honored the service and discipleship of Martha and Mary of Bethany: Guide our hands likewise to serve thee in serving others, and open our hearts likewise to know thee and Jesus Christ our risen Lord; who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. [Read more...]
Guest post by Michael Hicks.
I’m not always consistent. But I’ve been consistent about two things for many years.
First, in discussions of Mormon music I always say that the masterworks of indigenous Mormon hymnody are mostly in the Primary Song Book. Second, whenever I hear Janice Kapp Perry spoken of in a disparaging or even mocking way–not uncommon among BYU music majors–I always speak up in her behalf. [Read more...]
Recent events—the death of Jordan Fowles, the shooting of the Stay family in Texas—have prompted some internal BCC discussions about the character of God. Commenters occasionally accuse BCC of being an echo chamber, but our discussions of this topic have turned out to be full of lively debate and disagreement. We’ve decided to bring our discussion to the blog, with several posts on the subject over the next few days. Our collective goal is to stimulate further conversation, not to defend any particular theological position (although some of us might choose to argue vociferously in the comments).
Terryl and Fiona Givens’ The God Who Weeps offers a provocative vision of a God whose heart beats in sympathy with human hearts, presenting this, as its subtitle (How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life) proclaims, as a compelling answer to the difficulties of being human. I want to follow in the spirit of Adam Miller’s thoughtful critique of Weeps in the Spring 2014 issue of Dialogue (subscribe if you haven’t yet) by probing some of the implications of the vulnerable God that the Givenses find in Moses 7:28-29. This probing will be ad hoc rather than systematic, stirring up dust rather than settling questions. With Miller, my aim is not to denigrate the book (pas du tout!), but rather to honor its contribution by allowing it to provoke further thinking.
As Latter-day Saints we have a long, rich tradition of having a plan. We have a respectable and well-deserved reputation- a reputation for responding in times of need, for helping others, for being organized and for having not just a plan, but the Plan.
All of this planning tends to lead us to make very careful choices in our lives—we can almost create a checklist of the steps we will take, from the time we learn Jesus wants us for Sunbeam until we return with honor from our missions and set about finding our Eternal Companions. It’s really nice when all the pieces fall into place and the Plan works out in the ideal manner—I just haven’t met anyone yet for whom that’s the case. We can check all the boxes, we can do everything according to the plan, our desires can be righteous, and we forget that our faith is not a bartering chip with the Lord.
If faith is built upon the premise of exchanging anything with the Lord, it is not faith. [Read more...]
The June 2014 issue of Sunstone hit my mailbox earlier this week. As I glanced at it, I saw it was an anniversary issue, celebrating 40 years of existence since its origins in 1974 (when I was a high school sophomore). The whole issue is a cornucopia of navel-gazing, but I rather enjoy some navel-gazing and after 40 years I think they’re certainly entitled. I just this moment finished reading the issue, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. If you’re not a subscriber, this would be an excellent issue with which to initiate a subscription. [Read more...]
In the comments to Russell’s missionary post, there seems to be a strong consensus potential missionaries need to learn to work hard. And I agree; missionary work demands hard work. A corollary, according to many of the comments, is that kids these days do not, in fact, learn to work hard.
That assertion I find a little more problematic. Partly, it’s because I teach Millennials professionally and, in my experience, many of them do, in fact, work hard. And partly it’s because the accusation of laziness is an evergreen one; every generation, it seems, considers the subsequent generation the laziest ever (conveniently, it seems to me, forgetting their own youthful laziness). [Read more...]
One of my most popular posts ever was a Mormon version of Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary, a satirical version of definitions of words according to Mormon culture.  I thought it was time to expand that first effort. I’ve included original definitions, a few reader suggestions, and added to the list with some more of my own. With this preamble, I bring you Mormon Jargon the Sequel: 2 Mormon 2 Jargon.
The Collect: Heavenly Father, who through Thy Son hast led Thy Chosen People into many wildernesses with the promise that they will blossom as the rose, make us pioneers willing to crucify our old self in Christ’s death to find life with Him in that Undiscovered Country that is Thy Kingdom so that we may then speak peace to those in fear, strengthen the weak hands and confirm the feeble knees, through Thy Son Jesus Christ, who reigns with Thee in Thy Kingdom, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. [Read more...]
This installment: Karen is hopped up on goofballs, and we are visited by the lamest of the Three Nephites.
Steve: GST, apparently Karen is drunk on cold medicine. And she’s not even sick!
GST: I like how she parties
Karen: Hi Greg. I’m Karen and I take cold medicine.
GST: Yeeesss [Read more...]
Despite recent calls to ‘hasten the work’, the church does not seem to be growing in the UK. While there may be pockets of growth, on average, it seems like the number of people baptized is not growing when contrasted with the attrition we are also observing. What is particularly striking is that the absolute growth in membership is substantially lower than what we would have expected if we just followed the increase in membership due to baptisms. This implies that we are both failing to convert new people and appear to be losing some of those who were already members. These statistics do not tell us why this might be happening; it could be due to emigration, death, or resignation. All of these are important but I suspect that there has been at least a small uptick in the number of resignations per year over the last 5 years. Since 2000 the church has not been growing in the UK and this seems unlikely to change in the near future. Taken together, the future looks pretty dim.
All of this is worrying but there is something else that, for me at least, is of greater concern. [Read more...]
Over the past year, I’ve become aware of something which I wonder might be a new trend, or at least a new understanding, abroad in the American church. Specifically, I have seen missionaries (invariably elders; none of my examples involve sisters) returning from their missions early, never (or at least never explicitly) for reasons of disobedience or financial obligations or sin, but rather for reasons of stress, or stomach-aches, or homesickness, or a fear of losing their testimony, or anxiety, or anger management issues arising from conflicts with companions, or depression, or headaches, or some combination of all of the above. I am not in any way disparaging any of those reasons for returning from one’s mission; every one of the half-dozen or so cases I know of personally–and all of those I’ve learned about from others, of which there seem to be many–involve genuine struggle and legitimate concerns, and I have a lot of sympathy for the hard choices these former missionaries (a few of whom being young men I’ve known for years) have had to make. But still, I’ve seen these boys return, and attend church and receive callings and make plans for college or finding jobs or going on dates or returning to the mission field (though that option, while always spoken of, has never actually been taken by any of the ex-elders I’m thinking of), all without dealing with any church discipline or any kind of medical supervision or really from any real social costs that I’m able to see, and I think to myself: man, times have changed. [Read more...]
Miranda Wilcox is an associate professor of English at Brigham Young University where she teaches medieval literature and researches the religious culture of Anglo-Saxon England. She is co-editor, along with John D. Young, of the recent compilation Standing Apart: Mormon Historical Consciousness and the Concept of Apostasy.
This interdisciplinary collection brings together fourteen essays that explore the relationship between the development of Mormon historical consciousness and one of the central tenets of Mormonism—the concept of a universal Christian apostasy from its apostolic origins. [Read more...]
Each summer for the past seventeen years or so Richard Bushman and Terryl Givens have gathered a number of young scholars together to take part in a research seminar on Mormon culture. Bushman and Givens have both benefited greatly from the gatherings—Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling and Givens’s forthcoming Wrestling the Angel were informed by seminar research—but I think the primary beneficiaries have been the participants (myself among them). Now that I work at the Maxwell Institute where the annual gatherings are currently held it’s been a real treat to get to know some of the participants and to reflect back on the great time I had in 2010.
This year the seminar is being directed by Claudia and Richard Bushman. The theme is “The History of the Mormon Family,” which they outlined here. A symposium featuring papers written by this year’s participants is being held this week on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday at BYU. (More info is available here.)
If you happen to be in Provo you might stop in and say hello.
The only aspect of this post I can take credit for is providing the photo which catalyzed a side-splitting bit of fun in the BCC permas (current and emeritus) Facebook group today.
I snapped this on my way into Sacrament meeting this morning. It was only my fourth week attending my new ward and the first time in my life I’ve ever seen reserved stake presidency parking. I shared the image, asked “Is this a thing?”, noted that the stake Relief Society presidency’s reserved spots were conspicuously absent, and then the fun began. [Read more...]
As I walked in to sacrament meeting this morning, I was greeted at the chapel doors by a beaming young girl from Primary, who I would guess is maybe 8 or 9 years old. She smiled broadly, handed me a program and shook my hand as I entered the chapel. [Read more...]
I gave this talk last week. Sorry you couldn’t be there? Guess what! I’m gonna post up the whole thing for you to read. Enjoy. It was a short talk.
Today we’re going to talk to you about hope. I’m excited to talk about hope, because that means obviously I get to talk a lot about President Barack Obama, who is a very popular figure and an obvious inspiration to us. I’m just kidding folks, relax. 
No, specifically I want to talk about how we can gain hope in our lives, how do we get hope. But I also want to talk about how hope impacts our view of the world, how our perception of life changes when we are hopeful. [Read more...]
The 2015 Faith and Knowledge Conference will be held at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, February 27-28, 2015. [Read more...]
As a seven year old, I had a fascination with monster/horror/space films. When my parents weren’t looking, I would leaf through the newspaper to find the page where the theaters advertised their current wares. Inevitably, there were some wonderfully creepy black and white ads leaking out of the bottom of the page: “Blood Monster from Hell” or “The Blob,” or some such. Stuff they never discussed in Primary. When my mother was out of earshot, I’d mention these to my dad, who, knowing better, shared a bit of this interest, or at least he pretended to share it. My mother was one of those practical people who never opened the door to the night.
Most of us recently had lesson 24 in this year’s Old Testament Sunday School curriculum. The main topic of discussion is the story of David and Bathsheba, but an enrichment section at the back of the manual suggests talking about the story of Amnon and Tamar from 2 Samuel 13. In characterizing this story, the manual summarizes: ” 2 Samuel 13 contains the story of David’s son Amnon and David’s daughter Tamar. Amnon was attracted to Tamar and forced her to commit fornication with him.” (Emphasis added) It seems to me that our nameless, faceless, anonymous curriculum committee writers have done Tamar a grave disservice with this formulation. [Read more...]
Today we mourn the devastating and sudden loss of Jordan Fowles, brother of our own John and old friend of the Bloggernacle. We send our love and fellowship to his family at this time and pray most fervently for Andrea and for his children.
There will be time later to write Jordan the eulogy he deserves. In the meantime, the following from Goethe seems appropriate, especially as it was one of his favourites:
Über allen Gipfeln
In allen Wipfeln
Kaum einen Hauch;
Die Vögelein schweigen in Walde.
Warte nur, balde
Ruhest du auch.
Over all the hilltops
In all the treetops
hardly a breath of air.
The little birds fall silent in the woods.
Just wait… soon
you’ll also be at rest.
Please share your memories of Jordan in the comments below.
Kristine A returns to share with us her thoughts about why Rexburg is home to the best ward in the world.
Last week I was strolling around my neighborhood near dusk and ran into a friendly neighbor, let’s call him “Bro. Smith”. As we visited I shared that my husband and I were building a home 5 blocks away (.5 mile and 2 wards away, in Rexburg measurements) and we’d be moving in a few months. Bro. Smith mentioned how sad it was we had to leave our ward, but at least we were staying in the best stake.
He went on to share that when “Bro. Young” from our ward was Stake President, Elder Packer came up to Rexburg and in confidence with Pres. Young, told him the our Rexburg Stake was THE literal best stake in the Church. [Read more...]
Please make sure that the membership software prompts a ward clerk to ask recently-married women about their preference for their surname. It’s 2014. [Read more...]
“Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.” Shakespeare wrote that in All’s Well That Ends Well. Is being trusting a virtue or evidence of lack of discernment? Are Mormons more gullible (as is often asserted or at least implied) than the average person? [Read more...]
…wrote no one, ever.