Thursday, January 28, 2010

We have a perfect Savior (not a perfect Church)

I recently enjoyed listening to an interview with Jeff Lindsay on a Mormon Expression podcast. I have a lot of respect, not only for what he says, but how he says it. The following is an excerpt from his concluding remarks that are worth spotlighting. I'd like to add my own hearty "amen":
“This is a very important thing Latter-day Saints need to understand. If you want to be a faithful Latter-day Saint and you want to explore the intellectual issues of the Church and Church history and your own faith, you need to be ready for a world that has a lot of fuzzy elements in it. Issues where there are human errors and human flaws and imperfections at every level. Prayers that go unanswered. Miracles that don’t occur. Tragedies of justice that occur…

…Any time humans are involved you have problems. And it’s so important to me for people to understand our claim is not one of infallibility, and it’s not of a perfect Church and it's not of perfect leaders. We have a perfect Savior, and it's our responsibility to learn who he is and to recognize that in spite of all these imperfections there is a restored gospel of Jesus Christ that’s there to help us come unto Christ and that’s ultimately what it’s about. But otherwise we’ve got to learn to live with this tension between our expectations and the natural disappointments and failures that come in this very human world.”

Monday, January 25, 2010

Spotlight: "Do We Let the Church Get in the Way of the Gospel?"

One of the nice things about the Niblet Nominations (who would've thought that people would be voting for me?!) are that you are alerted to some great posts you might have missed the first time around. Here's one that resonated with me: Do We Let the Church Get in the Way of the Gospel?:
"Like an orange whose peel becomes too thick, drying the fruit and sapping its sweetness, the church that unduly centers its members’ attention on itself rather than on the nourishing fruit of Christ’s message will leave its members spiritually malnourished and feeling “burnt out.” This general concept can be found in the Book of Mormon’s Allegory of the Olive Tree, where the showy branches of the tree outgrow its roots, the unseen source of its nourishment, resulting in bad fruit...

...Accordingly, it seems Mormons might do well to critically examine ourselves by taking an honest look at whether we unduly dwell on “the peel” of the Church (i.e., its institutional structure and forms of worship, its hierarchy and claims to exclusive divine authority, its leaders past and present) at the expense of savoring to a greater degree the nourishing spiritual fruit of Christ’s teachings...

...Although we may be tempted to disclaim responsibility when one of our fold is dissatisfied with his or her Church experience, I think we need to recognize that the mode of worship and instruction laid out in the Doctrine and Covenants vests us with the responsibility to edify one another. Not only does this require thoughtful preparation of our talks and lessons, but perhaps most importantly, requires us to focus on “the fruit” of the Gospel by approaching every discussion topic from a Christ-centered perspective that inspires participants with ways to better live the humble, graceful life exemplified by the Savior. And hopefully, if we each do our part to edify one another by focusing on the nourishing fruit of Christ’s Gospel rather than unduly focusing on the protective peel of the Church, the claim that “we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ” will indisputably deserve an exclamation point, not a question mark."

It's a wonderful post by Andrew Ainsworth, with some excellent probing questions. Reading it saves me the time from writing something very similar!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Purpose of the Book of Mormon

From Mark Brown's "On Re-reading Scripture":

"The title page announces that the purpose of the book is to convince its readers to believe in Jesus Christ. It seems to me that this obvious point nevertheless gets overlooked, even by believing latter-day saints. The book can be understood in many ways, yes, but the more time we spend looking for modern day parallels to the Kingmen, for instance, the more we will miss the message of Christ’s grace and the hope and redemption that he offers.

That is the central message and it is so huge that everything else must be seen as something of a sideshow.
Sideshows can be interesting and instructive, but they can also be distracting. The book consistently seeks to persuade us to believe and repent, and we just as consistently want to talk about something else. We cannot blame other Christians for missing the point of the Book of Mormon when we Mormons often seem intent on missing the point, too."

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Conviction Must Be Undergirded By Love

Regardless of what others may take away from Ravi Zacharias' 2004 sermon at the Tabernacle, here's one of my favorite lines:

“I’m very aware that there are differences in our belief systems and some of them are pretty deep. But we find the common ground on which to meet and talk. Because conviction that is not undergirded by love makes the possessor of that conviction obnoxious and the dogma possessed becomes repulsive. And so whatever our differences may be…it is wonderful that in a world torn by strife and so on, that we can come together, especially on a subject so vast, that at the end of it we are bound to walk away and say we know almost nothing of this, because we are dealing with the loftiest of all personages—our very own Lord Jesus Christ, whom we follow, and before whom one day every knee shall bow.”

The quote begins at minute 3:07 here:

The entire broadcast (well worth the time) can be viewed here:

Thursday, January 7, 2010

In Appreciation of Amazing "Good News"

I deeply appreciated this well written and spot-on column by Jerry Johnston yesterday--Humility only real response to salvation.

Johnston juxtaposes Stephen Robinson's Parable of the Bicycle with Brad Wilcox's take from his book "The Continuous Atonement". I haven't read Wilcox's book, but I like this much:

"I think of the Atonement more like this: Jesus already bought the whole bike. The few coins he asks from me are not so much to help pay for the bike, but rather to help me appreciate it, value it and use it correctly."

Johnson goes on to write that "Wilcox -- like Robinson -- shows that humility and gratitude are the only honest responses, since we have so little to do with redemption. More than that, I like the way Wilcox pulls the emphasis from our 'contributing' to salvation to our 'appreciating' it."

I like that too. After all, "we're not so much partners in salvation as beneficiaries. Being asked to keep the commandments isn't about 'chipping in.' It's about learning to value and put to work what has already been done for us."

The entire column is excellent--but I especially loved the last line: "The old Protestant hymn had it right [all] along: grace, however one defines it, will always be amazing."

While some may initially think this sounds evangelical, I hope they reconsider. Emphasizing "Christ reliance" over "self-reliance" ought to resonate among humble Latter-day Saints. I, for one, could certainly stand to hear more of it. And more often.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Responsible Critique (and Brief History) of the Gospel Principles Manual

We had our first lesson from the revised Gospel Principles Manual last Sunday. I was overjoyed that we actually had a lesson rather than focusing the "first Sunday" Elders Quorum hour yet again on Home Teaching. I loved the chance to think about the material and the way it was presented in the manual. But while I am pleased with the new formatting, I have generally felt a little underwhelmed at the lack of significant revision.

One exception could be the concluding chapter on Exaltation. I was greatly pleased when I saw that a couple of personally troublesome quotes were removed from that chapter. There were some statements which had greatly bothered me because I felt strongly that assertions were made which were unsupportable and which may not even be true at all. I was pleased to see them disappear in the new version. Despite my occasional underwhelming feelings with the way the manual presents the gospel, I felt these revisions were a step in the right direction.

Now lest anyone think that the Gospel Principles manual was intended to be the "end all" or the "one true and living" official presentation of the gospel, I recommend aquinas' post: Gospel Principles Manual: A Brief History. It shares some insight into who wrote it, its original purpose, and its original intended audience.

He also provides an excellent and responsible critique of the first chapter in the manual here: Gospel Principles Lesson 01: Our Heavenly Father. While I hadn't personally thought of some of the points he brings up, they are most definitely worth considering. I highly recommend the post as a great place to discuss the manual and for faithful but critical thinking.