Friday, February 26, 2010

Wishing I Were There...

If only I still lived in Provo. I'd drop everything to attend the Church History Symposium today. Just look at who's speaking! Like the Olympics, I wish they had sponsors for these kind of things! Instead, I've decided to check out some books on Mormon History from my local library.

I'm already intrigued by the preface to The Mormon Experience:
“Both authors of [The Mormon Experience] are believing and practicing members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints…To the non-Mormon reader, who might believe us unduly favorable to the Mormon point of view, we can only say that we have tried to be fair and have called them as we have seen them. To the Mormon reader, who might be surprised at our frank recognition of problems within the faith, at our willingness to assign blame to Latter-day Saints, and at our sincere goodwill to the historical opponents of Mormonism, the answer is really the same."

Looking forward to some good reading...

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Major Kudos

Major kudos to both SmallAxe and aquinas for blogging (much better than I could) about topics I most certainly had in mind when I wrote my last post. Dave has already spotlighted both of these posts at the Bloggernacle Times, and I'll simply pass on the recommendations.

In Joseph Smith’s Revelations on Preexistence and Spirits, aquinas lays out an important foundation about the doctrine of spirits which I would argue the modern Church membership has largely forgotten, or in some cases unwittingly rejected. (More on how and why will be forthcoming in a series of posts--so stay tuned to the Pierian Spring.)

SmallAxe, in Imposed Openness, shares great insight into "how the LDS Church can have a theological approach that welcomes 'a variety of viewpoints', yet have manuals and a membership that is inclined to suppress diversity and openness in most discussions of most topics." (Well said, Dave. And great post SmallAxe!)

I also cannot agree any more than I already do with SmallAxe's later comment (#50), quoted below. I give it a word for word "ditto":
[For what it's worth], I agree that [Sunday School] is not the forum to deride the manual; nor is it the personal soapbox of the instructor. I do think, however, that one can tactfully present alternative views in [Sunday School], even those that disagree with the manual. The text for SS is the scriptures and if a passage of scripture could be or has been understood three different ways, I see no harm in presenting each of them as well as the arguments for and against each reading. In personally teaching SS this way, a number of students have expressed how “nourished” they felt because they realized that it is okay to believe in either of these readings and still be faithful members of the church.

I would argue that any approach that latches on to one reading, dismissing other legitimate readings, actually does more harm than good, even if it follows the reading provided in the manual. Creating the appearance that LDSs must believe a certain way in issues that do not require such uniformity of belief does damage equal to not nourishing our students with the good word of God. To follow the Packer analogy above, it would be like forcing people to have a diet constituted of bread and bread only; and man cannot, of course, live by bread alone.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Wide Latitude of Possible Beliefs In Mormonism

Last night I finished reading an excellent article by Blake Ostler entitled: "The Idea of Pre-existence in the Development of Mormon Thought". It's a fascinating glance at how varied the ideas have been within Mormonism concerning the nature of spirits. (Another excellent and enlightening article on this topic is "The Development of the Doctrine of Preexistence, 1830–1844" by Charles R. Harrell). Whether people realize it or not, there is a richness and diversity within Mormon thought. I've been a Mormon all my life and I feel like I'm only now beginning to scratch the surface. I like how Blake Ostler put it at the end of his article:
Many Mormons, and probably most non-Mormons, have failed to grasp the wide latitude of possible beliefs which can be tolerated within the tradition of Mormon thought. Although many view Mormon thought as restrictive, it is in fact more inclusive than exclusive, more thought-provoking than thought-binding.

For instance, an individual member's beliefs may range from an absolutist view to a traditionally heretical, finitist view of God and man and still remain well within the bounds of traditional Mormon expressions of faith—a latitude far beyond the tolerance of Protestantism or Catholicism. The Church's reluctance to clarify its theology on an official level has left it up to individual members to think through and work out their own understanding of and relationship to God. In short, the burden of a consistent theology and vibrant relationship with God in Mormonism is not a corporate responsibility; indeed it cannot be. Rather, it is an individual burden that reflects the unique relationship of God with each member. And each member must be willing to face the implications of his or her beliefs.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

We Can Do Better

And now for some gentle (hopefully) reprooving with sharpness: Latter-day Saints can and should do better in trying to not misrepresent traditional Christian beliefs. We often express how it feels when we're misunderstood and caricatures of our beliefs are perpetuated. But there is indeed two sides to every pancake, and we can be guilty of this too--even unintentionally.

Now it must be said that I think we generally do a pretty good job at this. Our current general authorities in particular not only strive to represent our own beliefs well, but whenever they do address other faiths, they overwhelmingly do so responsibly and charitably. Nevertheless, two recent public examples caught my attention and made me recognize that there is one matter in which we could (and should) do better.

Like many other Christians who quite unintentionally misunderstand the doctrine of the Trinity, many Latter-day Saints also often misunderstand, and therefore risk misrepresenting it. Although it happens quite often, it's somewhat understandable (and even forgivable) since this is a complex doctrine for anyone to get quite right. Nevertheless, if we expect others to be careful in understanding our doctrine, we too must be careful (especially when addressing a public audience) to make sure we most accurately represent traditional Christian beliefs.

Recent example #1: a BYU-Idaho fireside where Elder Ballard spoke. He said that "it always bothered [reporters] when we would say that we just don't believe that the Lord Jesus Christ was praying to himself when he often prayed to his Heavenly Father for guidance."

Implying that other Christians believe that Christ is praying to himself has the potential of bothering any informed Christian. Because that's not what informed Christians believe. According to actual trinitarian doctrine, Christ wasn't praying to himself. (See, for example, "That They May Be One As We Are One").

Recent example #2: At the last General Conference--while making some otherwise great points--Elder Callister didn't quite accurately portray the doctrine of the Trinity. (Although I was actually more concerned with his line at the end that seemed to suggest that salvation is found in the Church, rather than in Christ--now that's asking for misunderstanding).

Far more common, however, is an almost mocking attitude about the Nicene Creed--and this despite the fact that the only part of the Nicene Creed that Mormons would not agree with would be the statement that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are of "one substance".

While the nuances of the current doctrine of the Trinity (developed even more at the later Council of Chalcedon) are not particularly easy to comprehend, Mormons have nuanced doctrines too. More respect is called for, in both cases. The more I've learned about the doctrine of the Trinity, the more of a healthy respect I've developed for it. If we want respect from others--and better understanding--we have to reciprocate. We can do better.