I’ve finally had time to update some Old Testament posts, and run into some technical issues. Patheos is looking into it, and I hope to be caught-up soon.
In the meantime, I had opportunity to record a podcast with LDS Missioncast. Although aimed at missionaries and pre-missionaries, I hope what I had to say will have some insight for everyone. We talked about the problem of proof-texting, or using a verse out of context to prove a point, and why that’s problematic. I then went into how and why the Bible functions differently for Mormons vs. Protestants, which I hope will help us teach differently.
In essence, when we teach Protestants, we are NOT asking them to accept a different, Mormon interpretation of this or that scripture as much as asking them to shift their epistemology, their conception of authority. That is, for sola scriptura Protestants, scripture is the highest authority. Protestants expect Mormons to be able to demonstrate why Mormon doctrines are actually better, more accurate interpretations of the Bible than Protestant doctrines, because that’s how doctrine is made in the Protestant sola-scriptura worldview. (They think we’re like JWs.) Although missionaries often end up talking about specific passages or doctrines, conversion involves a change in religious worldview and epistemology. Mormon missionaries often unwittingly get pulled onto this Protestant ground, and try to prove the Word of Wisdom, for example, solely from the Bible.
In reality, we are asking Protestants to shift from sola scriptura not just to a bigger canon of scripture (Bible+ Book of Mormon, etc.), but to an authority structure that is canon+ modern prophets.
One non-LDS scholar really gets this, better than many Mormons do.
It is important to underscore here the way in which the Mormon restoration of these ancient offices and practices resulted in a very significant departure from the classical Protestant understanding of religious authority. The subtlety of the issues at stake here is often missed by us Evangelicals, with the result that we typically get sidetracked in our efforts to understand our basic disagreements with Mormon thought. We often proceed as if the central authority issue to debate with Mormons has to do with the question of which authoritative texts ought to guide us in understanding the basic issues of life. [That is, is Mormonism just Protestantism with a bigger canon?] We Evangelicals accept the Bible alone as our infallible guide while, we point out, the Latter-day Saints add another set of writings, those that comprise the Book of Mormon, along with the records of additional Church teachings to the canon- we classic Protestants are people of the Book while Mormons are people of the Books.
This way of getting at the nature of our differences really does not take us very far into exploring some of our basic disagreements. What we also need to see is that in restoring some features of Old Testament Israel, Mormonism has also restored the kinds of authority patterns that guided the life of Israel. The old Testament people of God were not a people of the Book as such— mainly because for most of their history, there was no completed Book. Ancient Israel was guided by an open canon [of scripture] and the leadership of the prophets. And it is precisely this pattern of communal authority that Mormonism restored. Evangelicals may insist that Mormonism has too many books. But the proper Mormon response is that even these Books are not enough to give authoritative guidance to the present-day community of the faithful. The books themselves are products of a prophetic office, an office that has been reinstituted in these latter days. People fail to discern the full will of God if they do not live their lives in the anticipation that they will receive new revealed teachings under the authority of the living prophets.
Two other citations on this idea.
Brother Brigham took the stand, and he took the Bible, and laid it down; he took the Book of Mormon, and laid it down; and he took the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and laid it down before him, and he said: “There is the written word of God to us, concerning the work of God from the beginning of the world, almost, to our day.” “And now,” said he, “when compared with the living oracles those books are nothing to me; those books do not convey the word of God direct to us now, as do the words of a Prophet or a man bearing the Holy Priesthood in our day and generation. I would rather have the living oracles than all the writing in the books.” That was the course he pursued. When he was through, Brother Joseph said to the congregation, “Brother Brigham has told you the word of the Lord, and he has told you the truth.”
-Wilford Woodruff, Conference Report, October 1897, pp. 22-23.
The Latter-day Saints do not do things because they happen to be printed in a book. They do not do things because God told the Jews to do them; nor do they do or leave undone anything because of the instructions that Christ gave to the Nephites. Whatever is done by this Church is because God, speaking from heaven in our day, has commanded this Church to do it. No book presides over this Church, and no book lies at its foundation. You cannot pile up books enough to take the place of God’s priesthood, inspired by the power of the Holy Ghost. That is the constitution of the Church of Christ. …Divine revelation adapts itself to the circumstances and conditions of men, and change upon change ensues as God’s progressive work goes on to its destiny. There is no book big enough or good enough to preside over this Church.
-Conference Report, October 1916, p. 55. Elder Orson F. Whitney Quoted by Loren C. Dunn, in General Conference, Ensign May 1976, p.65-66