“The work of the expounder has scarcely begun”

“The work of the expounder has scarcely begun” May 4, 2022

 

The Edicule in the Grabkirche
The traditional tomb of Jesus within the rotunda of Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher, from above, as it appeared on a spectacularly uncrowded day in 2010. (Usually, the place is absolutely packed. But today actually wasn’t half bad.)

Wikimedia Commons public domain photograph

 

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Here’s a new piece from the weekly Interpreter Radio Show:

 

Audio Roundtable: Come, Follow Me Old Testament Lesson 20: “Rebel Not Ye against the Lord, Neither Fear” Numbers 11–14, 20–24

The Interpreter Radio Roundtable for Come, Follow Me Old Testament Lesson 20, “Rebel Not Ye against the Lord, Neither Fear” on Numbers 11–14, 20–24, featured Neal Rappleye, Jasmin Rappleye, and Hales Swift. That roundtable has now been extracted from the 3 April 2022 broadcast of the Interpreter Radio Show.  An archived recording of the complete broadcast, shorn of extraneous interruptions, may be accessed at no charge at https://interpreterfoundation.org/interpreter-radio-show-April-3-2022/. The Interpreter Radio Show can be heard each and every week on Sunday evenings between 7:00 PM and 9:00 PM (MDT), on K-TALK, AM 1640.  Or alternatively, you can listen live on the Internet at ktalkmedia.com.

 

And I think that, amidst my jet-lagged travels (travails?), I may have failed to call attention to this, which features Steve Densley, Matthew Bowen, and Mark Johnson:

 

Interpreter Radio Show: Review of Under the Banner of Heaven

Under the Banner of Heaven is an 2022 American true crime drama television miniseries based on the nonfiction book of the same name by Jon Krakauer. The miniseries will start this week. There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the book since it juxtapositions two histories: the origin and evolution of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a modern double murder committed in the name of God by brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty, who subscribed to a fundamentalist version of Mormonism.

The book and miniseries were reviewed and discussed during the Interpreter Radio Show on Sunday, April 24, 2022, to provide a faithful context for them.

 

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And, while we’re under the banner of heaven, here are three fairly serious discussions of that new FX/Hulu miniseries.  The first and third of these links are from writers who are unaffiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

 

“‘Under The Banner Of Heaven’ Adds Nothing To The Conversation On Religious Extremism”

 

“FX’s ‘Under the Banner of Heaven’ Adaptation Rejects Reductive Elements of Krakauer’s Book, but Confirms that ‘Mormonism Breeds Dangerous Men'”

 

“‘Under the Banner of Heaven’ Grapples With Contradictions of Faith: The new FX series suggests there is a thin line between believer and zealot; faith and madness; and, most provocatively, church and cult”

 

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Over the years, I’ve run into the comment — often, but not always, from embittered and hostile ex-Mormons — that the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a shallow faith, lacking any and all intellectual or cultural merit, satisfying only to unreflective middlebrow business types (if not, indeed, only to dimwits).

 

Some years ago, Thomas Cahill was attempting, in his best-selling book How the Irish Saved Civilization, to explain the ancient Manichaean religion, and in the course of his comments, insulted Latter-day Saints and their beliefs out of the sheer blue sky by saying something to the effect that Manichaeism, like “Mormonism” today, had no depth in it that would satisfy a serious mind.

 

I’ve heard the assertion many times, and I’ve seen it several times just recently.

 

My Latter-day Saint Scholars Testify website was launched, in part, as a response to Cahill’s gratuitous and uncharitable remark.  Under the pressure of other obligations, I’ve let that project slide in recent years; I need (when and if I can) to crank it up again.

 

Probably the first problem that I see with the claim is that, in my judgment, it’s simply not true.  (Of course, it might be responded that I’m a conspicuously shallow mind myself, so who cares about my “judgment”?)

 

Although the Latter-day Saint intellectual and cultural tradition is still young — we were, until fairly recently, a small and relatively rural group, concentrated and largely isolated in the Great Basin West — I think it’s beginning to come along. (There were few if any genuinely great Christian literary figures, philosophers, artists, or composers, let alone architects, at a comparable period in early Christendom — i.e., around the early third century.)  To provide just three examples, I suggest a serious engagement with the works of Blake Ostler, Terryl Givens, and the late David L. Paulsen.

 

Moreover, I believe that there is enormous depth, as yet still largely crying out for exploration, in our doctrine.  As B. H. Roberts put it,

 

I believe “Mormonism” affords opportunity for disciples of the second sort: nay, that its crying need is for such disciples. It calls for thoughtful disciples who will not be content with merely repeating some of the truths, but will develop the truths; and enlarge it by that development. Not half — not one-hundredth part — not a thousandth part of that which Joseph Smith revealed to the church has yet been unfolded, either to the church or to the world. The work of the expounder has scarcely begun. The Prophet planted by teaching the germ-truths of the great dispensation of the fulness of times. The watering and weeding is going on, and God is giving the increase, and will give it more abundantly in the future as more intelligent discipleship shall obtain. The disciples of “Mormonism,” growing discontented with the necessarily primitive methods which have hitherto prevailed in sustaining the doctrine, will yet take profounder and broader views of the great doctrines committed to the Church; and, departing from mere repetition, will cast them in new formulas; cooperating in the works of the Spirit, until they help to give to the truths received a more forceful expression and carry it beyond the earlier and cruder stages of development.  (B. H. Roberts, “Book of Mormon Translation,” Improvement Era 9/9 [July 1906]: 713.)

 

But, viewing the question from another angle, I can’t help but think that the matter of “depth” — if what is meant by depth is simply the kind of complexity with which intellectuals and academics love to play and to show off — is largely irrelevant.

 

It would be fatuous in the extreme for someone sitting in a crowded movie theater to ignore a scream of “Fire!” simply because it came from a lower class “rube” or “philistine,” someone whose hands are (ugh!) soiled with trade or calloused by manual labor, or because it was expressed in an uncouth way, or voiced in an unsophisticated accent, or unsupported by allusions to recent developments in critical literary theory.

 

I doubt that every early Christian was an elite intellectual, capable of holding his or her own with the philosophers of Athens or the scholars of Alexandria.  But so what?

 

Could the Greek sophists Protagoras, Gorgias, Thrasymachus, and Cratylus have tied their rough contemporaries Ezra and Nehemiah in intellectual knots?  Very possibly.  But what would that matter?

 

Moreover, admonitions to kindness, charity, service, and other such positive attributes are always worthwhile, even if they’re dismissed as lacking “depth.”  I would rather live in a society characterized by such qualities than among a colony of supremely clever intellectuals who lack them.  (That might actually be a good description of Hell.)

 

And I have little patience for anybody disposed to reject the good news of Christ’s resurrection, or of the appearance of the Father and the Son to Joseph Smith, on the grounds that these accounts lack intellectual subtlety.  Simple or not, if they’re true they’re of incomparable importance.

 

Posted from Jerusalem, Israel

 

 

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