Review: Stephens and Giberson, “The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age”

Title: The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age
Author: Randall J. Stephens and Karl W. Giberson 
Publisher: Belknap Press/Harvard University Press
Genre: Evangelicalism
Year: 2011
Pages: 356
Binding: Hardcover
ISBN13: 9780674048188
Price: $29.95

If the word “Evangelical” popped up in a word association game, hair-trigger responses might include words like “Republican,” “anti-evolution,” “Jerry Falwell,” or “fundamentalist.” Word association games aren’t usually the best way to understand religion. (When it comes to Mormons, “polygamy” usually tops the list.) Numbering an estimated one hundred million people—sixteen million in the Southern Baptist Convention alone (7, 187)—the American evangelical community is actually more diverse than these labels can hope to communicate. Politically, the spectrum ranges from conservative to liberal (though perhaps heavily weighted toward the former), all bound loosely together by a common commitment to the necessity of being “born again” through Jesus Christ. Such Christians have no central authoritative body and no single all-encompassing creed. But the open marketplace of religion in the United States has provided space for an evangelical “parallel culture,” complete with its own schools, publishing houses, music industry, summer camps, school accreditation agencies, historians, scientists, and family counselors. [Read more...]

Review: Stephen H. Webb, “Jesus Christ, Eternal God”

Title: Jesus Christ, Eternal God: Heavenly Flesh and the Metaphysics of Matter
Author: Stephen H. Webb
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Genre: Theology
Year: 2012
Pages: 368
Binding: Hardcover
ISBN13: 978-0-19-982795-4
Price: $65.00

On a blustery April afternoon in 1844, Joseph Smith stood before a congregation of thousands and fought the wind, and we’re still fighting that wind today. It shuffles the scattered notes of the men who scribbled the funeral sermon Smith was preaching at the top of his lungs. In the midst of creaking tree branches, sentence fragments and shorthand, Willard Richards seemed to catch hold of something crucial Smith was claiming, hold enough to record the gist of it in Smith’s journal:

If men do not comprehend the character of God they do not comprehend themselves.1

Smith had his finger on the pulse of the deepest theological questions. At least since Genesis (“let us create man in our own image”) humans have wrestled with two fundamental questions well-phrased by Catholic theologian Stephen Webb:

“First, what features of human nature—mind, body, soul, gender—best reflect God’s nature? Second, what features of God best provide the source of the image in which we are created?” (177, see also 148, 192, 274).

Webb seeks answers to these and other questions in his amazing new book, Jesus Christ, Eternal God. I’m impressed, exhausted, and definitely taxed.  [Read more...]

Latent Racism, Orientalism and “Magic Underwear” in American Society and Mitt Romney’s Presidential Campaign

African Muslim Men in Religious Attire, source http://www.thingsoftheday.com/?p=3285

As I made my way through the crowded local Costco recently, I stepped back a moment and appreciated the diversity surrounding me. Although approximately 92% of the population in the UK is white, about 45% of the remaining 8% of the UK population that are ethnic minorities live in London. And we’ve enjoyed having a high concentration of this 45% in and around the area of London where I currently reside. We have become accustomed to seeing people in their religiously significant daily dress in all circumstances, from the morning school run, to regular visits to the supermarket, to going to movies in the cinema and just about everywhere else. (In fact, it is not unusual for us to see such dress in our LDS ward on Sunday as investigators from all of these ethnic and religious backgrounds politely keep their commitment to the missionaries working in the area to visit us and see what the Church is all about.)
[Read more...]

Corpus Christi

I don’t think it’s insignificant that Mormons do not have religious holidays, even Christmas and Easter are drawn from western Christian traditions; and thus are usually celebrated by Mormons when the rest of Christendom celebrates them according to the region of the world they are in at the time of those holidays. For instance, Easter in Russia is celebrated by Mormons according to the Orthodox calendar, while Easter in Italy is celebrated by Mormons on the date accorded by Catholic tradition. Christmas in Russia slides by January 7th with little fanfare, culturally crushed by seventy years of Soviet thought. As I’ve mentioned before, while I don’t dislike Christmas, I don’t love it. What holidays offer me is what it means to be Christian as I flesh out day-to-day actions and interactions from all the celebratory traditions that can be overwhelming and at the same time feel meaningless.

In The Exponent II Winter 2011 Issue; Erica Eastley explores some of the practices of new Mormons with non-Christian backgrounds. She notes, “[The] culture of the LDS Church is heav­ily influenced by Protestant culture and practice. This isn’t surprising or nec­essarily a bad thing, but it does affect how the Church and its doctrines are received by people whose background isn’t Protestant.” [Read more...]

Nativities

A Christmas memory: At some point in my teenage years my mother purchased a new nativity set, a Fontanini. I didn’t eagerly await the unwrapping of the nativity scene in the same way I did the Dickens Village; it was a tradition each year for my parents to purchase one new piece for the village. Possibly my favorite Christmas memories consisted of watching the village grow year after year. When I finally left home the Village had become quite substantial. But the preparations for the traditions into which we spoke and enacted every Christmas were not complete until the Nativity had been unwrapped and carefully and lovingly arranged on the table. The placement of the Nativity allowed the celebration to officially commence.

[Read more...]

The Mormon Naturalist

No this isn’t a post about Steve Peck, much as I think that would be fun. Instead, its in the vein I’ve been sort of mining a little here lately. I hesitate to use the tired “Mormonism and Science” title, but what the heck. Why not?
[Read more...]

Monday Morning Theological Poll: Monster Mash Edition

In honor of the holiday, we present the following poll. (multiple answers accepted)

Answers are only considered legitimate if recited three times in the dark in front of a mirror during a sleepover.

Finally Weighing in on the Jeffress-Romney Thing….

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

(I’ve no deep interest in the whole current morass of Republican party politics and anti-Mormonism, partly because I’ve gone through the whole thing before, and partly because many others have weighed in with thoughts much better than my own. Still, last Friday I sent this editorial off to my local newspaper, responding to a piece by Robert “Mormonism is a cult” Jeffress which had appeared that morning, and today they actually ran it, though I had to cut down my essay to under 600 words, which was simply criminal. Anyway, here’s the original, longer version of the piece. Read and enjoy.) [Read more...]

Becoming a Mormon: Thinking about a Brand with Elder Ballard

I am a recent convert to “Mormonism” myself. Not too many years ago you could find me vigorously arguing on Mormon-themed blogs about the importance of avoiding the word “Mormon” as a nickname for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.[1] At the time, it felt like a concession to detractors of our faith to self-identify by the nickname they derisively gave to us in the nineteenth century. Ironically, however, it was precisely our nineteenth-century ancestors in the faith who had made peace with the descriptor and good-naturedly co-opted it to describe themselves, leaving us with the lasting nickname. [Read more...]

Stop Saying That!!

In the last few days, in response to the dustup over Mormonism’s “cult” status, lots of Mormons have been insisting that of course we are Christian, that it’s unkind of Evangelical Christians to say that we’re not. The argument that we are Christians generally includes reference to 1) the name of our church (“Jesus Christ” is even in a big font!), 2) a citation of 2 Nephi 25:26 (“And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins”) 3) personal belief in Christ as Savior, and 4) our efforts to follow Jesus, to “be like Him.” [Read more...]

Review: N.T. Wright, “Scripture and the Authority of God”

Title: Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today
Author: N. T. Wright
Publisher: HarperOne
Genre: Bible
Year: 2011
Pages: 224
Binding: Hardcover
ISBN13: 9780062011954
Price: $25.99

N.T. Wright has been called “the C.S. Lewis for our time.” Like Lewis, Wright is Anglican. Like Lewis, Wright’s overriding purpose is to demonstrate Christianity’s relevance for our times (Lewis with modernism, Wright with postmodernism). Lewis wrote Surprised by Joy, Wright wrote Surprised by Hope. Like Lewis, Wright’s style is cleverly engaging. This particular similarity is evident from the first line of Wright’s latest publication:

“Writing a book about the Bible is like building a sandcastle in front of the Matterhorn. The best you can hope to do is to catch the eye of those who are looking down instead of up, or those who are so familiar with the skyline that they have stopped noticing its peculiar beauty” (ix).

Odds are, if you’ve enjoyed Lewis’s theological or devotional writings, you’ll enjoy Wright’s. Some differences between the two deserve attention. Unlike Lewis, who was content to remain a lay Anglican, Wright once served as Bishop of Durham, and sat in the UK’s House of Lords. Unlike Lewis, who was an armchair theologian and literary critic whose fiction largely outranks his non-fiction, Wright is a distinguished Bible scholar who takes higher criticism much more seriously than Lewis could have. Lewis still serves as a safe source for many Mormons who are pleased to find similar theological ground in the works of a non-LDS author. Wright can easily serve a similar purpose for Mormons in regards to contemporary biblical scholarship.1 He has a knack for making complex academic discussions comprehensible to regular folk like me. It is with this in mind that I recommend his latest book, Scripture and the Authority of God.2 It’s a lot thicker than its 224 pages appear at first glance as evinced by this over-long, chapter-by-chapter review, but at least the prose is almost always accessible and the analogies creative! [Read more...]

On being cultish

This weekend’s flap between a pastor and a political candidate has resurrected the zombie-like discussion of Mormonism and cults. Much could be said about the propriety of the label in today’s religious landscape. It seems to me that objections are more often raised regarding what the word connotes (mind control, creepy hooded figures burning candles in dark corridors?), than regarding what it is supposed to denote (an unorthodox religious group?). Historical usage of the term in regards to Mormonism aside,1 I’m inclined to agree with Martin E. Marty (a distinguished religious historian, author, and professor) who said that the label serves “few clarifying purposes” aside from excluding another group from respectable society. You are weird, we are normal. Because we said so, and a lot of people agree.

Those most likely to use the “cult” word are probably least likely to be convinced by a scholar like Marty, though. Rather than trying to change their minds it might be well to look inside ourselves. In reaction to the pastor’s use of “cult,” I’ve seen a few people point to a list of “cult characteristics” backed by some impressive credentials. Here’s one example: [Read more...]

Pluralism and Persecution in the UK

Despite the Telegraph’s deliberately provocative title (“Christians are more militant than Muslims, says Government’s equalities boss”), which doesn’t accurately reflect the content of the article, the Chairman of the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission recently raised some interesting points and makes some insightful observations about integration, pluralism and claims of religious persecution in modern society (ht:M*). [Read more...]

Measured faces

In recent months I have felt called to consider hypocrisy more carefully than I have in the past. I think by now most of us are aware that the term employed in the New Testament describes people who act, who put on a show. In Russian, the word comes from roots meaning ‘measured faces,’ which represents to me a similar insight. But there is a sense in which hypocrisy is the enactment of religious ideals that is very difficult to distinguish from earnest aspiration. In what I consider a malignant phrase, some modern LDS recommend that people “fake it till you make it,” a phrase that misrepresents holy aspiration and that offends many who accuse LDS of hypocrisy. I think both sides generally talk past each other on this fraught topic. [Read more...]

Where Does It End? The Real Danger in Warren Smith’s Perspective

Dave noted yesterday at Times and Seasons the inherent incivility of journalist Warren Cole Smith’s recent dismissal in Patheos of Mormons’ eligibility for the office of President of the United States precisely because of their religion. I found Dave’s analysis cogent and important. My concern with WCS’s viewpoint runs deeper than whether he and those who share his views have simply departed from the bounds of civil discourse. [Read more...]

BCC goes to Washington

You should all want to know what kind of moisturizer I use, because a couple of weeks ago, I was invited to participate in the White House Roundtable with “Young” Mormons. You can read about it here. Paul Monteiro, who invited us and chaired the meeting, along with Kalpen Modi (yes, you’ve seen him somewhere before), will be guest-blogging here in the next little while about his work with religious communities. You can also read Chelsea Shields Strayer’s more detailed account at Exponent II. Also, if you’re curious about the background of this meeting and the other work the organizers do , you can subscribe to the Office of Public Engagement’s listserv–write to them at public@who.eop.gov with “LDS” in the subject line. [Read more...]

Minnekirken

My daughter Emily ceased involvement with the LDS Church a long time ago, and hasn’t been involved with a church since. But over the last two months, that has changed. She and her boyfriend Gabe have started to attend Minnekirken, which is the Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church in Chicago. From the church’s website: [Read more...]

False dichotomies and Easter: a quick post, sorta

Quick, use up one of your twenty pageviews and read this article by David Brooks. Then go read this response by Andrew Sullivan.

We all back? Good. Brooks is right that most of the folks in Africa (and elsewhere) who join religious movements join because of the creeds promoted, not in spite of them. Sullivan, on the other hand, is correct that we apply our human reason to any particular set of creeds, using that act to determine if they are appropriate for our belief (There is a reason folks go church shopping). So, while I believe that they are both right, I also believe that they are both wrong. They are setting up a false choice between rational and miraculous belief. As a Mormon, I get to believe in both types. We believe that God tells us the truth via our hearts and our minds. So, while both Brooks and Sullivan appear to believe that casual dismissal of Mormonism is de rigueur, Mormonism actually resolves the false dilemma their two approaches create.

Why on Easter? Because we, as Mormons, actually believe that Christ did something rationally impossible. He rose from the dead on the third day, ascended to His Father, and created the means for our return. That doesn’t make us unique (plenty of Christians believe the same), but it does mean that our faith derives from some miraculous moment (in our own experience and in historical experience). At the same time, we derive further meaning from that moment (and many like it) to determine how to live on earth. The derivation of law from experience is the very heart of rationalism. There is no contradiction, really, between the two, or rather, they exist in apparent contradiction, but aren’t, really. We have a Moebius strip of a religion, folks. That’s what gives it power and that is what allows it to appeal to the rational, the irrational, the conservative, the liberal, the fundamentalist, and the revisionist. Christ’s message is to all people; He died & He is Risen.

Amen.

The Seeker: Hell Hath No Fury

Rob Bell, a prominent evangelical pastor in Michigan, suggests that heaven may be universal, and that everyone has a place in heaven, whatever that may turn out to be, regardless of his deeds. [Read more...]

Join BCC this weekend at Restoration Studies

A number of BCC permas will be presenters this weekend at the annual Restoration Studies / Sunstone Midwest Symposium. The symposium kicks off Friday night with an address on the conference theme: “‘A Woman’s Place…’ Ideas, Impacts, and Experiences of Restoration Women” given by Gail Mengel.  (Now retired, Gail was one of two women who became the first female apostles in the RLDS Church, now known as the Community of Christ.)

Russel Arben Fox chairs a star-studded panel that includes our own Kristine Haglund and Tracy McKay, along with Christian Harrison and Chris Henrichsen, in a session entitled “Homemaking Radicalism and Homemaking Realities.”  Kristine will also be joining Stacy Mengel Keenan, JWHA Executive Director Sherry Mesle-Morrain, and Sunstone Executive Director Mary Ellen Robertson, to explore the topic of “Getting Educated: How Attending a Church University (or not) Shapes Restoration Women’s Experiences.”

My own presentation will look at the histories of two small American denominations that initially embraced problematic doctrines that they eventually jettisoned before they each ultimately became “just another Protestant church”.  The Worldwide Church of God (now Grace Communion International) believed in Anglo-Israelitism (the view that the Anglo-Saxons were the lost tribes of Israel), and the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church (now Christ Community Church) famously believed that the world is flat.  How has becoming just another Protestant church worked out in these two examples and what lessons might these experiences hold for the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (now Community of Christ)?

[Read more...]

Outreach, ur doing it wrong

Yesterday I attended a meeting at which Gary Lawrence spoke about the research he conducted which forms the foundation of his book, How Americans View Mormonism.  His firm contacted 1,000 randomly selected Americans and asked 55 questions.  The answers given by the respondents clearly demonstrate that we are doing a poor job of communicating.

[Read more...]

David Holland’s Sacred Borders

Review of David F. Holland, Sacred Borders: Continuing Revelation and Canonical Restraint in Early America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. 275pp. + index

Sacred Borders represents a rigorous and compelling consideration of traditions about the state of the biblical canon in American religion. For bookish Latter-day Saints, this volume will provide much-needed context for early Mormon beliefs about their open canon as well as a subtle and sympathetic view of both sides of the debate over the closed canon. While the style is highly accessible, given the complexity of the subject matter a reader may benefit from having digested a book like Brooks Holifield’s Theology in America (Yale 2005) or perhaps the survey by Jon Butler, Grant Wacker, and Randall Balmer, Religion in American Life (Oxford 2003). Many of Holland’s arguments will make more sense when the reader recognizes some of the actors, concepts, and traditions involved. Even so, I believe that Sacred Borders will be useful even to non-specialist audiences. I apologize that this review is as long as it is: the length of the review reflects the extensive insights of the book as well as the scope of the topic it treats. For expository clarity, I have divided the review into three sections. [Read more...]

Feasting (Way Too Much) Upon the Word of God

The Interwebs are abuzz with news of some research coming out of Northwestern University’s medical school which, according to lead author Matthew Feinstein, says that youth who exhibit high levels of religiosity tend to become chunkier later in life. In layman’s terms, if you send your kids to early morning seminary, you’re condemning them to a lifetime of obesity.[1]
[Read more...]

A Shinto Prayer

With all the respect from the depth of our hearts we ask that the gods hear us, such as the spirit that hears our intent together with the spirits of the Sky and the Land. Take the evil, disasters and sins and purify all.

Kimigayo wa
Chiyo ni yachiyo ni
Sazare-ishi no
Iwao to narite
Koke no musu made.

Parochialism and Church callings

Scott’s excellent post on comparative advantage and using opportunity cost in considering ward callings provided some impetus for me to articulate one of the concerns I currently have with how we approach callings.  Scott noted that ‘supply generally exceeds demand’.  Though there are some areas of the Church where this might not be accurate (i.e. my Ward) I am sure that this is generally true in a wide variety of areas.  Moreover, if this accurate it suggests an excellent question: What do we do when the Ward is saturated? [Read more...]

Ash Wednesday

Miserere mei, Deus

I’m pretty sure I had never seen anyone with ashes on his forehead until I was in college–the imposition of ashes at the start of Lent just wasn’t part of the liturgical life of the Baptist/Methodist/Campbellite town I grew up in.  I was initially puzzled, and then vaguely repulsed by this physical, public acknowledgment of sin and penitence and the messiness of mortality.

Culturally, Mormons aren’t really big on public acknowledgment of sin–we’re optimistic that sin can be contained at home or, at worst, in the bishop’s office.  We speak cheerily of the 4 (or 5, or 7, depending on the teacher’s creativity) R’s of Repentance, a discreet process akin to running the dishwasher.  [Read more...]

UVU to host yet another really cool conference

Just when you thought last year’s Mormon Studies conference at UVU could not be improved upon…

Check this out.

Movie(s) Review: Veggie Tales! Veggie Tales!

They’re a little “loud” for my taste (I prefer a more Mr. Rogersesque vibe in my children’s media), but I have to admit, they’re pretty entertaining and they do a good job of teaching scripture stories.

I haven’t found any material or lessons I find objectionable, and many have surprised me with how much I appreciate the lessons taught. For example, An Easter Carol confronts the evils of consumerism and commercialization of sacred holidays, without going so far into zealotry the other direction that it makes me uncomfortable. Madame Blueberry is a full frontal assault on the idea that material things make us happy, even not-so-subtly sending up Wal-Mart. And Sweetpea Beauty is a perhaps cliche, but still much needed, reminder for girls that beauty on the inside is what matters. [Read more...]

What Love Requires

As lines of people approached long tables filled with grilled tri-tip and baked potatoes, a small loaf of bread, sliced and ready for the taking sat by a large basket of rolls last night at the ward Christmas party. The paper laying next to the crusty loaf labeled it “Gluten Free”.  Cranberry filled Jell-O with a cream cheese underlay was cut into generous helpings and divided into lots. One was gluten-free, the others endowed with a crunchy pretzel crust. Trays of gluten-free, chocolate-oozing dessert were delivered to table after table by the Young Men along with slices of regular chocolate and vanilla sheet cakes from Costco. In addition, a moist gluten-free coffee cake was there for your indulgence. It’s one of the small things we do in our ward for the handful of people who suffer from Celiac disease. That’s what love requires.

We have a handful of brothers in our ward, suffering from diseases not of the body, but of the spirit that caused them to become part of the criminal justice system, and for a time were (or still are) incarcerated. [Read more...]

A Mormon Sermon for Reformation Sunday

Delivered in church on October 31, 2010*

By 1528 at the latest Martin Luther had written the hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”, number 68 in our hymn book, as a homily on Psalm 46. The words to this hymn always turn my thoughts to Luther’s experience in taking refuge in the mighty Wartburg fortress at Eisenach in the German principality of Thuringia in 1521. We can imagine Luther reflecting on his isolation while sequestered in that fortress, in disguise as a knight for his own protection, as he later penned the words. [Read more...]

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