Thousands leaving the LDS Church over the Documentary Hypothesis

Reports have come to FPR that currently there is a massive exodus from the church underway on account of members discovering that their leaders have been shielding them from critical biblical scholarship on the Pentateuch. The realization that the ancient literature that constitutes the first five books of the Old Testament is not history in the modern sense of the word and that the various documents and sources that make up its individual components were written to promote certain ideological agendas in the late pre-exilic and post-exilic communities of Judah has left many feeling betrayed and confused. One male member leaving a chapel in downtown Salt Lake City in a hurry commented, “For me it was the death of the Yahwist that was the clincher. The idea of a Solomonic Enlightenment has been definitely disproved, and much of what has been traditionally defined as the Yahwist are actually late redactional additions. So the notion that the Old Testament can be regarded as anything approaching an adequate basis for modern faith is too much to swallow.” Others are said to be not so much upset about the historical particulars, but that they had not been informed earlier. One sister was visibly emotional, “If only I had learned in Seminary that the P account of creation in Genesis 1 rectifies to some extent the misogynistic tendencies of the non-P account of Gen 2-3.”

Ok, to be truthful, these reports are greatly exaggerated. Not many members of the LDS faith leave or become disaffected as a result of exposure to modern critical biblical scholarship. Most are completely unfamiliar with the type of jargon found above and only a few dedicate a significant portion of their lives to understanding the historical intricacies and complex arguments that are found in contemporary discussions of the origins and literary development of the Bible.

Yet even though the Documentary Hypothesis does not loom large in the personal narratives of those who belong to the current and very real exodus of substantial numbers of life-long church members, the issues that modern scholarship of the Bible raises for faith communities are formidable and are only likely to become more vexing for the LDS community in the coming years. Church leaders have been trying to stave off dealing with the inevitable doctrinal and theological questions and controversies that would result from transitioning to something other than a King James-only translation of the Bible, but this approach is becoming increasingly less viable with younger generations in our media and information-saturated world.

No one knows what the future will bring or whether the church will eventually develop a more constructive engagement with modern scholarship of the Bible. There are times when I am exceedingly pessimistic and fear for a creeping Mormon kind of fundamentalism becoming the rule during the 21st century.

I will tell you what I hope the future brings, however. I hope that sincere and rigorous study of the Bible (or religion more broadly) can be a part of why one stays in the LDS faith, rather than an almost automatic handicap or self-imposed psychological hardship. I hope that seeking for greater light and understanding (where the secular and spiritual intersect) is regarded as a reflection of the deepest theological impulses of Mormonism, rather than a sure sign of apostasy. We of all people, who believe in progressive revelation, should be able to assimilate new truths, even difficult truths.

  • Markk

    Hi Daniel,

    How does this work if new doctrine or thought contradicts the roots of the “restoration?”

  • Manuel

    Well, I do not remember when exactly I learned about the Wellhausen hypothesis, but I do remember I was already a member of the Church, and I also remember it gave me an immense sense of relief because it was the only way I could deal with the “Old Testament God.” That brutal, bloody, warrior-like, cold-hearted god that is extensively used in the Old Testament to justify the brutalities committed by the Israelis against their enemies, against themselves, and against people who didn’t even posed a threat to them. I was happy to find out about the Priestly source and since my youth, I kind of made up my mind this is what Jesus was trying to “fix” when he taught such contrasting principles from those found in the Torah. If anything, it strengthened my testimony of Jesus Christ and it helped me gain perspective on the Old Testament and history in general. At the end of the day, I do not believe history is ever free of a particular agenda, and we simply must come to terms with that.

    Now, all along, I just figured our leaders are mostly clueless about the hypothesis, and I just assumed they don’t talk about scholarly approaches to the scriptures simply because they are probably not very learned in them.

  • RT

    Markk,
    Sorry, my name is not Daniel. What do you mean by the “roots of the restoration”? When I think of JS and the restoration I see a man always asking questions of God and himself, a man striving to transcend the mortal constraints that hold him back from a fullness of understanding, a man who enthusiastically learned Hebrew in order to read scripture in its original language after he had already “translated” the Old Testament through inspiration, a man updating revelations, a man giving revelations that contradicted earlier revelations..

    How this process would work is difficult to say. Generally new learning is a catalyst to new revelation. We don’t ask for God’s light on a subject unless we realize that we “lack wisdom” in the first place. I think once we have clearly defined the problem at hand, solutions will present themselves.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    Modern Bible scholarship might be a problem for Evangelical Christians who believe in one of tgeforms of Biblical inerrancy, but Mormons are committed to accepting the Bible as the word of God only to the extent that “it is translated correctly.” Mormons grow up with four different versions of Genesis 1-2, all of them canonized as scripture. The Joseph Smith Translation has been part of Mormon Bibles since 1980, and Mormon scholars liberally use non-KJV Bible translations to illustrate points in the articles they have written for the Church magazines. Only a Mormon who has a poor understanding of Mormon doctrine about the Bible would think that developments in scholarship must be rejected per se, rather than considered fairly as hypotheses.

  • Markk

    HI RT,

    Sorry, I made the mistake that DCP wrote the OP. What I mean is if a true “deep” study of the Bible is indeed undertaken, and it is interpreted on it’s own merits, then already established core LDS thought will be compromised and changed. You obviously see the restoration as JS, my post was in regards to the LDS claim (by Smith) of the restoration as being the everlasting gospel brought back in its original form, to a lost and broken church, that had apostatized from it. It would also mean that the brethren would have to let scholaship run loose again with their defining LDS thought, which seems to have been reeled in by the shake up at NMI and the end of the GBH presidency.
    What you are saying, and correct me if I am wrong, seems to require that scholarship will move LDS biblical thought forward, and take it out of the “control” of the past and current GA interpretation.

    Thanks
    MG

  • RT

    Raymond,
    Modern bible scholarship presents formidable challenges to all faiths that claim the Old Testament as scripture, including Mormonism. It is not merely an issue of “translation”. It is about where what we today call “scripture” came from and what it was originally trying to say.

    Markk,

    The LDS claim of “the restoration being the everlasting gospel brought back in its original form, to a lost and broken church, that had apostatized from it” is exactly what biblical scholarship complicates and in some important ways contradicts. That’s not to say that the claim could not be adapted or redefined in a way that would still allow LDS to maintain some distinctiveness (e.g. a focus on the mode and process of progressive revelation rather than the literalness of certain historical claims).

    “It would also mean that the brethren would have to let scholaship run loose again with their defining LDS thought, which seems to have been reeled in by the shake up at NMI and the end of the GBH presidency.”

    I’m not interested in a monolithic group of scholars defining LDS thought, especially in the manner of the former NMI (which, by the way, did not engage with or accept modern biblical scholarship, but only in a highly limited and selective fashion for apologetic purposes). I would like more freedom, more diversity of interpretation in the church, and an openness among church authorities to learning from those aspects of scholarship that bear on our historical claims and our interpretation of scripture.

    So no, I would not describe it as taking LDS interpretation of the Bible out of the control of the General Authorities, but more as a potential dialectic or fruitful cross-pollination between the respective parties.

  • http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com Gerald Smith

    I wrote an article for Feast Upon the Word on the DH about a year ago. As you can see from the bibliography, there have been a few studies and articles written by LDS scholars regarding it.

    Note that it is a hypothesis, and not proof of anything.

    That LDS do not belief in scripture being perfect, we do not need to worry about such things. We need to just keep an open mind that some stuff is historical, while other things may be symbolic. I have no problem with any of that. That the Brass plates of Laban may be the source for E (according to John Sorenson), suggests that the LDS claim may even be stronger because of the DH.

    http://feastuponthewordblog.org/2011/12/27/the-book-of-mormon-and-the-documentary-hypothesis-from-gerald-smith/

  • http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com Gerald Smith

    Oh, and BTW, I highly doubt that “thousands” are leaving the Church over this issue. I’d really like to see the stats on such a claim.

  • Jettboy

    I highly doubt thousands are leaving any Church because of this, much less the LDS Church. There are a few disgruntled professors and their students who even consider it important and religiously relevant. The rest don’t care because they have or lose faith for a lot of other reasons.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithpromotingrumor/ Chris H.

    From the original post:

    “Ok, to be truthful, these reports are greatly exaggerated. Not many members of the LDS faith leave or become disaffected as a result of exposure to modern critical biblical scholarship.”

    Y’all missed the sarcasm.

  • Manuel

    I think Markk may be on to something. Every now and then I hear in the Church a peculiar yet not terribly specific notion of “restorationism.” The idea that “all things” must be restored before the second coming, etc. “All things” being the big enigma as the restorationist arguments are usually used to justify Old Testament practices further distorted and embellished by Mormons such as Polygamy. A more objective view on the sources of these practices would come crashing against some ongoing Mormon folk beliefs still founded in Old Testament dogmas.

  • RT

    Gerald (7)
    I was just using the DH as a symbol or representative example of the lack of engagement among LDS with current biblical scholarship. And when I refer to the DH I’m not referring solely to its classical form articulated by Wellhausen, but simply to the idea that there are documents behind the present form of the Pentateuch that originated in certain historical contexts.

    Your citation of Kevin Barney and John Sorenson only underscore how little substantial discussion among LDS there has been. I appreciate the efforts of both to creatively engage their understanding of the DH and to try to bring it to a broader LDS audience, but very little has followed from it as far as I can tell. In addition, the challenges the DH poses to traditional LDS faith and interpretation are far more serious than they seem to be aware.

    Your right that the DH is a hypothesis, but that’s how science and historical reconstruction work. Some hypotheses are very persuasive and some are not. And the only way you’ll know if some are truly persuasive is by fully examining the evidence.

  • Markk

    RT wrote:..”That’s not to say that the claim could not be adapted or redefined in a way that would still allow LDS to maintain some distinctiveness (e.g. a focus on the mode and process of progressive revelation rather than the literalness of certain historical claims).”

    If I am reading into what you are writing correctly, why even bother interpreting the Bible, or any document if one can not do so with a literal translation?

    RT wrote:…”I’m not interested in a monolithic group of scholars defining LDS thought, especially in the manner of the former NMI (which, by the way, did not engage with or accept modern biblical scholarship, but only in a highly limited and selective fashion for apologetic purposes). I would like more freedom, more diversity of interpretation in the church, and an openness among church authorities to learning from those aspects of scholarship that bear on our historical claims and our interpretation of scripture.”
    In doing so, what core LDS thought would be outta bounds, and where would the compromise be? LDS theology demands much that Biblical scholarship would simply not support…i.e. Simple interpretations like the Hebrew names of God that LDS teaching have taught are the personal names of God, or more complex doctrines like Eternal Progression?
    I don’t think the church could survive an open study and interpretation of the Bible.

  • RT

    Markk,
    “If I am reading into what you are writing correctly, why even bother interpreting the Bible, or any document if one can not do so with a literal translation?”
    I don’t understand what you’re saying here. Are you saying that if we don’t interpret Adam and Eve as historical persons then that the church falls? If it is, I think that assumption is totally wrong.

    “In doing so, what core LDS thought would be outta bounds, and where would the compromise be?”
    I don’t look at it that way at all. I simply advocate for becoming aware of problems and tensions with biblical scholarship and then being open to possible solutions and further light and knowledge. I don’t start from the get-go by drawing a big circle around certain traditional beliefs that I believe a priori should remain sacrosanct, because even beliefs that we may consider core now may still be in need of refinement or adaptation later (think of heaven/hell dichotomy and three degrees of glory in LDS history).

    “LDS theology demands much that Biblical scholarship would simply not support”
    What do you mean? I’m not saying that we should simply replace LDS theology with biblical scholarship.
    .
    “I don’t think the church could survive an open study and interpretation of the Bible.”
    Then you not only have little faith in the ultimate goodness of the church and its commitment to truth, but you don’t really believe in Joseph Smith, since this is exactly what he did (he interpreted, of course, with the best tools he had at hand).

  • Jettboy

    I don’t think Markk is a Mormon (maybe he is, but he sure doesn’t sound like one) because a lot of his assumptions about Mormon understandings of the Bible are not what even orthodox Mormons have. Mormons are not ideally Biblical literalists. Remember that one of the things that get Mormons in trouble with other Christians is the belief that that Bible can be translated incorrectly.

  • g.wesley

    such a provocative post, RT!

    (generally typing after having read the comments …) i am surprised sometimes to see (and speculate about) who says the church can’t survive change thus and so, as if the church has not already survived several changes before quite well. it’s not always the uninformed who say it. in fact, i think it is the most damaging when the people who i (in my infinite wisdom) think ought to know better say it anyway.

    but i also have to remember that not that long ago i was one to say the same thing.

    these days, looking back at my own experience and at mormon history (as i understand it), i would say the exact opposite: individual and institutional survival absolutely depends on change.

  • RT

    Thanks g.wesley. Yes, I was listening to some thoughts by Philip Gulley a while back on the evolution of Christian faith, and one thing he said particularly struck me, that as in real biological evolution, religions that do not adapt and change eventually do not survive; to live means to change.

  • Seldom

    Bible scholarship doesn’t just create problems for those that believe the Bible is perfect. It also creates problems for those that believe the Book of Mormon is the most correct book on earth. Nephi quotes parts of Isaiah that scholars agree were written well after he left the old world. Some of Jesus’ words to the Nephites/Lamanites are the same as Bible versus that were almost certainly later additions by scribes. In the long run it’s going to easier for Evangelical Christians to abandon the idea of an infallible Bible, than it will be for Mormons to explain away the contradictions in a divinely translated Book of Mormon.

  • Manuel

    Yes, it will be very interesting (it already is) to see how the biblical interpolations found in the Book of Mormon will fit in the scholarly approach that challenges the traditional biblical timeline and authors.

  • g.wesley

    a thought: the idea of an infallible bible has been around longer than the book of mormon. so we’ll just have to see, i guess.

    but certainly, it cuts both ways and every way.

  • RT

    Seldom (18),
    I agree completely with you. The more LDS scholars understand their Old Testament, the more difficult it will be to maintain that the Book of Mormon is rooted in historical fact.

    But that is a problem for many other posts. Thanks for commenting.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithpromotingrumor/ Chris H.

    “The more LDS scholars understand their Old Testament, the more difficult it will be to maintain that the Book of Mormon is rooted in historical fact.”

    I think that it causes us to deal more closely what we mean by translation when we say that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    I just wonder about the lack of attention to those who do deal with current critical scholarship. I have done so at length in my volumes — and I don’t particularly see it as a problem but an opportunity.

    There are numerous ways to deal with the historicity of the Book of Mormon and Old Testament texts. One can of course take the view that the Book of Mormon just might have something to teach us about how to understand the Old Testament and its textual/oral history as well. I deal with the Isaiah sections in the Book of Mormon. It is unlikely that those who wrote deutero and trio-Isaiah were beginning from scratch and may well have been adapting/expanding a core source or tradition. There is no lack of evidence for such views.

    The real question for me is whether those of you who are new in the academy will deal with the Book of Mormon from a “Mormon” perspective that attempts to deal with the Book of Mormon as a historical text or simply abandon that approach as RT has done. In my view, there is change and then there is change. Change for the sake of simply adapting to current theories and trends and culture is the epitome of apostasy as I see it. It is being inspired by human endeavors rather than listening to revelation. Change for the sake adapting to the needs of members and assisting them to better navigate their culture and world is another thing as I see it borne of love and an attempt to make the gospel message workable. Change for the sake of adapting to revelation is what we should seek in my view — but too often the message is simply that to survive as a religion the faith must capitulate to the demands of scholars and the surrounding culture. A religion that simply reflects cultural imperatives isn’t worth saving.

  • RT

    “Change for the sake of simply adapting to current theories and trends and culture is the epitome of apostasy as I see it.”

    Classic Blake! Thanks for dropping in. I was not trying to denigrate previous LDS scholars’ engagement with biblical scholarship. In fact I think your expansion theory about the translation of the Book of Mormon is far more sophisticated and intellectually honest than much of anything else that has been offered in orthodox LDS circles to explain the Book of Mormon as a whole.

    But recent OT scholarship has moved on considerably from the tradition-historical and form critical approaches reflected in your work, and based on my own research I think this trajectory will continue..

    “One can of course take the view that the Book of Mormon just might have something to teach us about how to understand the Old Testament and its textual/oral history as well.”

    I approached the Book of Mormon for a long time from this perspective, and I admit a part of me still occasionally indulges in it because my deep-seated Mormonness wants to believe that at least a part of the Book of Mormon is historical. But I have been working on this issue for a long time and have simply found that there are so many arguments that can be raised against BofM historicity and so many that place the construction of the text in a post-canonical biblical context that I have for the most part given up.

    This is not at all “simply adapting to current theories and trends and culture”. That description is so far from reflecting my personal experience and long term inner struggle to reconcile the BofM and JS with my historical-critical knowledge that I find it deeply offensive. Blake, you are simply too casual in assuming that you understand the spiritual impulses, motivations, and desires of other people.

    “Change for the sake of adapting to revelation is what we should seek in my view”
    I agree that we should seek to listen to revelation, where ever that comes from. The problem is in defining “revelation” and knowing how much of that “revelation” is human interpretation. Lots of things claim to be revelation or quasi-revelatory, but it is much less clear how much is truly transcendent and inspired.

    While I agree with you that a religion that “simply reflects cultural imperatives” would lack the kind of spiritual core and transcendental dimension that would allow it to challenge ourselves and the world, I came to the conclusion a long time ago that a religion that cannot endure or tolerate open-minded, critical, empirically-invested introspection is also a form of religion that I am not interested in.

  • RT

    Also, a religion that “capitulates” is an obvious negative (who would want to capitulate?), but a religion that seems so slow to embrace truths that spiritually-attuned and thoughtful people the world over have recognized (such as the fundamental equality of all peoples, the inherent dignity of women and their ability to think and wield authority, the necessity of treating homosexuals with greater respect and giving them the rights they deserve–even if your spiritual intuition urges you to maintain some legally-informed distinction between traditional and homosexual marriage, the importance of creating space within organizations for diverse political views, etc) and holds on to views that historical and scientific research seems to contradict raises the question of who is really interested in revelation.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    RT: Don’t be upset. I was not attempting to characterize anything you are doing individually, but a possible trajectory that could follow from the challenges you identify. I would never take you to adopt a simplistic view. Nor would I pretend to understand your spiritual impulses and inner motivations. They are yours and I for one give great weight to such spiritual experiences. I would like the opportunity to sit down with you some day (over diner preferably) and discuss them. I certainly intended no offense.

    However, I am a bit confused by this statement: “But recent OT scholarship has moved on considerably from the tradition-historical and form critical approaches reflected in your work, and based on my own research I think this trajectory will continue.” First, I can cite dozens of recent and contemporary tradition- and form-critical studies. I seriously doubt that OT scholarship has “moved on” from these approaches. Second, in my last two volumes and over 350 pages of discussing critical biblical scholarship, I haven’t once (!) engaged in a tradition or form critical assessment. Have you read these volumes? I treat the ancient Isrealite cosmology(ies) view(s) of the council in heaven at great length in my third volume. I address the New Perspective on Paul on Pauline works at great length in my second volume.

    I have had a very different experience than you have in engaging the Book of Mormon as history. I find that engaging biblical scholarship and the underlying documents and data through the optic of the Book of Mormon to be both fruitful and enlightening. I apparently have a lot less difficulty managing the challenges of such issues than you do. But we are each entitled to our own approaches and what we find works best for us. However, I believe that Mormonism without a historical Book of Mormon will not interest many people — and would not endure very long at all. At the very least, Joseph Smith’s story and revelations would have little credibility. I suspect that you agree that the Church as a whole is not going to adopt such an a-historical view.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    RT: “but a religion that seems so slow to embrace truths that spiritually-attuned and thoughtful people the world over have recognized . . .”

    This is precisely the issue: do the prophets receive revelation or the “spiritually attuned people” that you give priority? What is the criteria of “spiritually attuned”? I suspect it comes down to “people who agree with me.”

  • RT

    Blake: When I referred to tradition-historical and form-critical approaches I was not speaking so much of the methods per se but more the assumptions that have traditionally gone along with them, such as your reference to oral history and “a core source or tradition.” For example, I think the oral history behind the Pentateuch/Hexateuch when it was written was very very little and nothing like what has been generally thought in older scholarship.

    “However, I believe that Mormonism without a historical Book of Mormon will not interest many people — and would not endure very long at all.”

    I disagree. I think Mormonism has interested many people throughout its history for many reasons. I don’t think the precise historicity of certain events and people have been decisive for the majority of believers, at least based on my experience. It is this kind of thinking that leads to problems in the current church. I for one am still interested in Mormonism, even though I have my doubts about the historicity of much of scripture. I can feel the spirit of love, generosity, community, theological dynamism, and creativity that actuated J S and the religious movement he spawned even if the present church has become somewhat ossified and tradition bound (interestingly, the same spirit I felt when I believed that the scriptures were historical).

    The church is fully capable of adapting and finding other ways of making its presence in the world meaningful, and I am hopeful that it will.

  • RT

    Blake: the criteria by which I judge something to be more or less inspired is not objective, but simply what I feel to be right, my personal and best attempt to apprehend the divine will. I do not automatically privilege spiritual sources outside of my Mormon tradition. I seek for truth and sometimes the truth that I find is at odds with my culture and its assumptions.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    RT: Sounds like you would be more comfortable in the Community of Christ to me — and I disagree with you on what is important and essential to Mormonism. I am a big-tent Mormon and don’t believe that folks have to grasp the intricacies of of the DH or priority of Mark and so forth; but I do think they need to believe that Joseph wasn’t lying or crazy — of worse, totally misled by God. I agree with Givens that the Book of Mormon plays a unique role in the history of religions as a winnower of what is permissible and what follows from accepting it as what it clearly claims to be. Frankly, I don’t see why a simple community organization or the Universal Church would not do the job better for you. Don’t get me wrong – I am delighted that you have chosen to stay regardless of your rejection of the central truth claims of Joseph Smith and most of the churches that follow him. I just don’t want to belong to a church that would come out and say “look, all that stuff about Moroni and Mormon was all made up and fabricated for God’s own purposes.” Similarly I don’t believe many would be interested in a religion that said, “look, we made up all that stuff about the resurrection which is just scientifically untenable even before we get to the textual problems with the NT.” For one, I don’t believe anything of the sort is true. Two, no one wants to devote a life of service inspired solely by the Norse gods no matter how great their myth traditions may be. I know that I don’t (even though I love Norse mythology).

    There was a time when the wisdom and stability of age were appreciated I suppose rather than being seen as ossified and tradition bound. But since these old guys are bereft of the ability to get what spiritually attuned people of every culture already get, why bother?

  • RT

    Blake: I don’t want the Community of Christ; I’m a Mormon and Mormonism is just as deeply embedded within me as it is in you.
    I didn’t say that JS was “lying or crazy — or worse, totally misled by God”. Those are your words and ideas. I believe that Joseph Smith was inspired and that the Book of Mormon is scripture (even if I doubt that it is historical, I have difficulty explaining how it originated)
    I can understand why you want to belong to a church with no real ambiguity and that cannot tolerate modifying its views about important issues. A lot of religions have the same problem. When that kind of thinking goes on for a while, it becomes even more difficult to change.
    Which is why I would like to see change sooner rather than later. For me personally the perspective that says the church must be either totally true or totally false is wrongheaded and will ultimately do damage to the church and its members.
    I didn’t say that our church leaders are “bereft of the ability to get what spiritually attuned people of every culture already get”. You seem to love to misrepresent other’s arguments. I believe that many things the church does are good and that the leaders can be inspired. But there is a difference between what I would call practical inspiration and revelation. Practical inspiration works within the framework of a given religious tradition and hardly ever thinks of calling any aspect of it into question. For example, an evangelical minister, a Jewish rabbi, a Muslim imam, and a Mormon bishop could all receive practical inspiration to help them guide and nourish their flocks. But none in doing that need ever question that there is anything wrong or insufficient about their tradition. All could believe that they hold to the one true religion.

    Practical inspiration is good and the world would not function long without it. But people who make use of practical inspiration may still hold to erroneous and even false beliefs and are sometimes narrow and parochial in their views about God and other religions.

    In my view, revelation is of another order because it is inherently about transcending our limits, about expanding our views, about substantive change and continual progression.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    RT: “I can understand why you want to belong to a church with no real ambiguity and that cannot tolerate modifying its views about important issues. ”

    Come RT, this is nonsense, and you know it. You know me better than that. I’m a philosophy major and teacher for h**** sake! However, if Christianity must give up the resurrection and Mormonism the Book of Mormon, I just don’t see much left that could be deemed to be distinctive about them — and would certainly run counter to their truth claims. I for one believe and am committed to these truth claims. But I know plenty who don’t buy either of them and still believe that they accept what is most valuable — though I have a hard time seeing what could be more important than continuing life even after death.

    RT: “For me personally the perspective that says the church must be either totally true or totally false is wrongheaded and will ultimately do damage to the church and its members.”

    Come on. You know I have no such perspective. I like your distinction between practical inspiration and revelation — I just doubt that it will withstand scrutiny. Revelation is both practical and transcendent — and inspiration can be the same. I love that Mormonism is imbedded in your blood and that you are part of the tradition. I believe that we are a stronger people because we have such perspectives among us. I would not want it to be either the sole or dominant perspective. I appreciate the fact that the Book of Mormon is difficult to account for. We all have that same challenge. I am challenged by it every time I read it. But saying that I believe it “must be totally true or totally false” misrepresents what you know to be my views on these issues.

    So are you making a distinction between “revelation” which transcends culture and call us beyond and what the brethren receive? You only mention that they receive practical inspiration. What are instances of revelation in your view given such assumptions?

  • RT

    Blake: I use the terms “practical inspiration” and “revelation” to describe two different levels of revelatory discourse. They only work as labels of certain phenomena that I allude to.

    In my view, both “revelation” and “inspiration” are open to all, but far fewer people are open to “revelation” or have much time to seek for it. They both occur in particular cultural contexts and so are mediated and defined to an extent by that culture. What constitutes “revelation” for one culture or person may be different for another culture or person.

    As to instances of revelation, I would merely say that anything that falls under the general description that I gave above (“about transcending our limits, about expanding our views, about substantive change and continual progression”) would qualify. I’m sure you can think of many examples.

    What is remarkable to me about the church is that it has institutionalized a means of making new revelation a widespread social possibility. I think the church has a lot of potential from this perspective. But too often the culture of the church, which strongly influences the leaders as well, has preferred to dwell in the “practical inspiration” level, assuming that we are living and breathing “revelation”. The claim of revelation is used to reinforce what is actually tradition (which is not to say that revelation does not occur in the church; I think it does sometimes).

  • RT

    Another thing that I should mention is that my concept of “revelation” is centered on humans and their striving after God. Your mention of what the “brethren receive” reflects a more traditional concept of deity being the controlling initiator. I believe that it is human striving and inquiry that leads to insight; divine light is shed when we seek for it, not the other way around.

  • Markk

    Hi RT,
    RT WROTE>>> I don’t understand what you’re saying here. Are you saying that if we don’t interpret Adam and Eve as historical persons then that the church falls? If it is, I think that assumption is totally wrong.

    MARK>>> What I am saying is if you do not have a solid bench mark for the basis and foundation for your faith…what is the point? The LDS church is founded on having that solid foundation; the only true foundation. If LDS scholarship is allowed to redefine the foundation of the restoration to the degree of fictionalizing core LDS thought, then what is the point of claiming to be the restored church? The LDS church has differed on who Adam and Eve were/are, but if you are allowed to define Adam and Eve as fictional historic persons, it makes the restoration a mockery in that while there has been debate as to who they were, they were always real folks according to the GA. Can the church survive too much change of this kind…of course, it is engineered for change, but it will certainly fall from the traditional concept of the church being the one true church, at least in the way I was taught growing up in the church.

    Jetboy is correct I am not a Mormon. I was born and raised in the church but left after 34 years, I have been evangelical for over 20 years. I assume I would be considered a critic of “the church” by most LDS. But I am not here to fight with anyone and will respect your blog.

  • Clark

    “The more LDS scholars understand their Old Testament, the more difficult it will be to maintain that the Book of Mormon is rooted in historical fact.”

    I confess I don’t see this. It could easily be historical fact but allow for complexities in both translation and source documents. I think you’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater as the starting point of the BoM view of the OT is that it was a mess of competing books. There are problems of course such as Isaiah authorship issues. But of course those pale relative to the various NT paraphrases and quotes which suggest we ought be careful assuming too much about translation. (A point I think Brant Gardner makes admirably)

    To assume those issues mean we should throw out all historicity seems a bit much though. It’s like throwing out the resurrection due to the NT authorship issues.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    RT re # 34: I am pretty sure that revelation happens both ways — sometimes through divine initiation and sometimes through human imprecation. Paul (Saul) certainly was not asking. Neither was Alma. God initiated.

    While I am sure that I can identify many instances of revelation given my view, I am still at a loss to see such instances given what I understand to be your view. I still don’t see the distinction that you are attempting to make between inspiration and revelation. Is it that inspiration is just day-to-day decisions that feel right as compared with some deliverance of new knowledge that does not simply regurgitate what the culture offers?

  • RT

    Clark:
    I don’t assume anything. I was just making a general statement based on long study of the issue ( I realize that that it could look like I’m throwing out the baby with the bathwater because I do not describe the historical problems that form the basis of my statement). You should be careful in saying things like “It could easily be historical fact but allow for complexities in both translation and source documents” when you haven’t really dealt with the evidence and critical scholarship. Things are only “easy” when you have a priori suppositions.

  • RT

    Blake: “Is it that inspiration is just day-to-day decisions that feel right as compared with some deliverance of new knowledge that does not simply regurgitate what the culture offers?” Something like that, though inspiration on my view need not be only feelings, they could be words, they could be felt very strongly. On the other hand, “revelation” would still be culturally embedded, but it would be not so much about practical issues and more about knowledge and transcending the status quo; substantive transformation of religion and religious ideas themselves (and it could come through many avenues).

    I know I haven’t worked through this fully. It’s just something I have intuited based on my own experience.

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