The Weeping God of Teryl Givens

Teryl and Fiona Givens were recently on a tour of British ward houses giving a series of talks entitled “The Crucible of Doubt”. The point of the talk seemed to be to encourage Mormons who may be struggling with doubts. One attendee recorded the talk and shared it.  Another attendee took notes on the talk and shared those notes.  I’ll set aside the content of Givens’ apologetic arguments in order to focus on something he said about Protestantism.

According to those notes, Givens stated the following:

When we talk about the First Vision, we often quote what the Lord told Joseph about the creeds of man being an abomination to Him. But what creeds did He mean? Joseph recorded it, but he wasn’t talking about the Nicene Creed or the Athanasian Creed, of which he knew nothing. Later on when Joseph talks about the creeds of Christianity, he’s talking about the Westminster Confession and the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England. It is these ‘creeds’ that state that God is a being ‘without body, parts, or passions.’ To this day, Protestant Christianity believes in a God who is incapable of human emotions. The idea of a loving God may be all the rage among Christians, but the creeds don’t say that, and in Joseph’s day no one taught it. In fact, it was always considered that part of the joy of Heaven would be to look down upon the millions burning in hell for eternity. But Joseph Smith revealed a God who loves us, a God who weeps for us.

I’m not sure where Givens has gained the insight that God was not speaking against the Nicene Creed or Athanasian Creed, but rather the Westminster Confession.  It seems an odd minority position. Joseph’s knowledge of the Nicene Creed seems hardly consequential if we are to believe these are Heavenly Father’s words and not Joseph Smith’s.

Of greater importance, I was utterly discouraged to hear Givens describing Protestantism in this way. This is an utter distortion of Protestantism and the Westminster confession. Given his academic standing and the high respect he has garnered within Mormonism I frankly expect more.

It seems that Dr. Givens is confused by the word “passions” in the Westminster Confession.  A simple Google search revealed the following:

Here is the definition of “passion” from Noah Webster’s 1828 edition:

1. The impression or effect of an external agent upon a body; that which is suffered or received.
“A body at rest affords us no idea of any active power to move, and when set in motion, it is rather a passion than an action in it.”
2. Susceptibility of impressions from external agents.

To say that God is without passions is to say that God cannot be acted upon by an external agent. There is nothing in the universe powerful enough to change God from what God wants to be or from what God is by His very nature. Nor would we want there to be an external agent more powerful than God, nor would we want God to change.

Not only does Dr Givens argue that the Westminster Confession is a creed binding on all Protestants, he completely misunderstands (or misconstrues) it to be saying that God is without emotion. This kind of mistake is mind-boggling for some one of Givens stature. In addition he contradicts his own characterization in the very next sentence. Even if the creeds don’t say that God is loving; every Protestant’s favorite verse says “God so loved the world. . . ”  Clearly we recognize that God has emotions, “for the Bible tells me so.” In addition to love, Protestants recognize that God is capable of wrath, anger, jealousy, delight, sorrow and a host of other emotions.

This characterization of Protestantism causes a great deal of head scratching for me.  I pray that the driving premise of the Givenses’ book “The God Who Weeps” is not that only within Mormonism will you find a god who experiences emotion.

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76 thoughts on “The Weeping God of Teryl Givens

  1. I think Givens should have made a distinction here.

    Certainly Protestants themselves believe in a feeling God, because it’s really impossible to even remotely admire or relate to a God who cannot feel. So yeah – the people believe in a feeling God.

    But the theology doesn’t Tim. Especially not the Calvinist variety.

    I’ve debated enough of them. They always seem to get their jollies off saying how nothing we do can move God from his state of shining enjoyment of his own glory and perfection. The ultimate good for God is to enjoy himself and his own perfection. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that assertion from armchair Protestant theologians across the Internet Tim.

    So yes, Protestants believe in a feeling God – but they do so in admirable rebellion against their own theology.

    Even C.S. Lewis fell prey to this theological trap in his book “The Great Divorce” where an exalted woman explains to her wretched unsaved husband how she is beyond feeling sorry for him anymore because of the wonderful glorious heaven she lives in now.

    You can’t get around it. The concept of “unmoved mover” has real implications. And they’re often rather ugly.

  2. Exactly.

    In many places we see that God has emotions.

    Jesus says that “I and the Father are one.” “If you have seen me then you have seen the Father.”

    The shortest verse in the Bible is “Jesus wept.”

  3. Seems Givens has been getting rather sloppy lately. Not related to Protestantism, but he published an article at Mormon Interpreter where he said:

    [B. H.] Roberts’s whole dilemma was born of a faulty assumption he imbibed wholesale, never questioning, never critically analyzing it—that Lehi arrived on an empty continent, and that his descendants alone eventually overran the hemisphere from the Arctic Circle to the Straits of Magellan.

    But it turns out that Roberts did grapple in-depth with the LGT.

    Kind of just leaves me shaking my head. I really want to like Givens, but if I committed these kinds of historical or theological errors in my graduate classes, I’d be getting my wrists slapped.

  4. What Mormons say in church is often different than what the same Mormons say in academic capacity. Surprised?

    I don’t blame Given’s too much. I think the ignorance of Protestantism is at a deep level for most believing Mormons raised in the Church. It took me years to feel like I could take Protestantism seriously on its own terms, or get an inkling of what it feels like to be a Protestant as opposed to a Mormon. I think the conceptual shifts needed to move from a Mormon worldview to a Protestant worldview are greater than most people think they are.

  5. theoldadam – that demonstrates very little.

    Very often people like to write off the entire emotional component of God onto Jesus. Jesus is the emotional face of a God that Protestant theologians have repeatedly reassured us is unmoved by human beings.

    Putting aside Jesus’ mortal experience theoldadam – is your God capable of weeping or not?

    And if he is, how do you theologically justify a God that can be moved, changed, or impacted by the actions of mere filthy humans?

  6. The differences between Mormonism and other brands of Protestant Christianity are more rhetorical than anything: the further removed one is from both, the more inconsequential they appear. You say “passion” (and mean one thing), while they say “emotion” (and mean something else). (Compare how similar Buddhism and Hinduism appear to outsiders, even though they see one another very differently, not utterly without reason.)

    To me all portraits of divinity are at once beautiful and hideous. The unmoved mover has a certain beauty that is also inherently ugly (when you adjust your perspective appropriately). And the same is true of the passionate divinity who loves the world so much that he sacrifices himself for it. He too is beautiful and ugly–awful and a source of awe. People are the same way, individually and collectively. I am constantly amazed by the qualities people possess–qualities which manifest sometimes as great acts of service and other times as crimes. Love is a wonderful and terrible thing. I adore it and I loathe it. Apathy is a wonderful and terrible thing. I adore it and I loathe it. I need both in order to survive. I need all your gods, whether they exist or not as you may imagine them. I need them. I love them, and I also loathe them–the same way you feel about mine (even when I am an atheist: that is just a different rhetorical approach to the same game).

  7. Seth, are all Protestants hyper-Calvinist?

    Unmovable passions is intended to be a reflection of His character not his feelings.

  8. The differences between Mormonism and other brands of Protestant Christianity are more rhetorical than anything: the further removed one is from both, the more inconsequential they appear.

    I used to think that. . .but I tend to think there are real experiential differences and emotional consequence for fitting the mind into the Protestant groove rather than the Mormon one.

  9. No they aren’t Tim. But I haven’t really seen the Arminians give a good theological reconciling of the “Unmoved Mover” with responsiveness to the human condition.

    The Open Theists I’ve read did a good job addressing it, but I haven’t seen a lot of it elsewhere.

    Hermes, terminological differences are a possibility I guess.

  10. And aren’t feelings an outgrowth of your character? It doesn’t really make any sense to me of talking about someone’s feelings not being reflective of who someone is.

  11. Jack, while I did find Rollo Tomasi’s post compelling enough to at least show that BH Roberts played with the idea of limited Book of Mormon geography, the rest of the article was an assertive dogmatic chore to read.

    “BH Roberts was a SCHOLAR – so we no when he said the Book of Mormon offered no possibility of other people, we KNOW it’s legit…” (paraphrasing)

    Rollo is being an idiot.

  12. Seth

    You can never separate Jesus’ mortal existence, He is the exact imprint of his nature. Nonetheless, we are told very early in the Bible that God grieves.

  13. Seth,

    Do your children affect your emotions? Does their effect on your emotions change your status and obligations to them as their father?

    We can certainly develop a different character because of our emotions. The point the Westminster Confession is trying to make is that God experiences emotion but his character is not impacted by it. What ever God is after grieving over our sin or circumstance is exactly what he was beforehand.

    God is love; that is true of God whether or not we have been created. God hates sin whether or not we are sinful.

    If you or Givens don’t like how the Westminster Confession words that expression is a matter of your personal preference. What is not okay is misconstruing that notion into something we expressly state is not our intent.

    As far as CS Lewis’s concept in The Great Divorce, I believe he’s expressing the notion that being in proximity to God’s glory puts our sadness into an overwhelming perspective. Striking out in the 3rd isn’t a concern when celebrating the championship after the 9th.

  14. The “unmoved mover” is an expression of God’s self-sufficiency and his relationship to cause and effect.

    To apply it to God’s capacity for emotions is to make a category fallacy. It’s like saying yellow must be loud because it has the prefix “yell”.

  15. Tim, are you saying the things that we do change God?

    If you are, I’d agree with you – but it’s theologically problematic for you, to say the least.

  16. Jack, while I did find Rollo Tomasi’s post compelling enough to at least show that BH Roberts played with the idea of limited Book of Mormon geography

    Thus rendering Givens’ claim that Roberts never thought about nor challenged the hemispheric model completely false.

    the rest of the article was an assertive dogmatic chore to read.

    “BH Roberts was a SCHOLAR – so we no when he said the Book of Mormon offered no possibility of other people, we KNOW it’s legit…” (paraphrasing)

    Rollo is being an idiot.

    And you’re being a jerk.

  17. Tim, are you saying the things that we do change God?

    No, I’m saying that God has emotions concerning us. I’m not in any way saying that we change God. (but I would argue that we can change God’s mind through prayer).

    [ If you wish to say that a change in God's feeling or decision making is a fundamental change to God's character, you're imposing a hyper-Calvinistic interpretation on Christianity. It may serve your purposes to create a straw-man that's easy for you to knock down but it doesn't in any way help you understand Protestant thought.]

  18. The first observation one would expect from Givens is that while WCF 2.1 does say God is without passions, it also says that God is, “most loving, most gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him…” This doesn’t describe a loving God?

    Anybody with an internet connection has access to 17th books where “passion” is used variously to describe movement in astronomy, individual suffering, and human appetites or desires. These aren’t obscure, being in the title, you don’t even have to read the book to find it.

    The third observation someone would expect is that “passion” comes in the middle of a section that has been described as ensuring that God is not to be compared to his creation, and contextually this has nothing to do with emotions.

    If this talk was meant to help people struggling with doubt, what is going to happen when they find out Givens couldn’t be bothered to give them an accurate account?

  19. Seth,

    Of course God is capable of weeping. He is capable of anything and everything!

    Jesus IS the human face of God. He and the Father ARE one. He said so. Unlike us, though, He is no liar.,

  20. Tim: I have always wondered where the statement that God is a being “without passions” came from, since it seemed so contrary to everything I was taught as a Protestant and certainly contrary everything the Bible teaches about God. But I learned something valuable by reading your post; the meaning of “passion” has shifted, so the phrase doesn’t mean what I thought it did. That’s good to know.

    You said:

    Joseph’s knowledge of the Nicene Creed seems hardly consequential if we are to believe these are Heavenly Father’s words and not Joseph Smith’s.

    We don’t have an exact quote from God in this account of Joseph Smith’s first vision, and since we are seeing the vision through Joseph Smith’s understanding, there could be some relevance. But I agree with you that Givens seems to be (to paraphrase you considerably) grasping at straws here.

    My interpretation of this part of the canonical account of the First Vision is that the abomination wasn’t so much the content of the creeds (whose errors, while real, hardly appear to me to rise to an abominable level), but how they were being used by competing sects to bash each other and to act as agents of exclusion rather than of inclusion. That’s certainly a minority view among Mormons (I haven’t heard anyone else say it except for me, so maybe I’m in a minority of one), but it seems reasonable to me in the context of Smith’s account as well as of the religious climate of the day.

    This kind of mistake is mind-boggling for some one of Givens stature.

    I fully agree (assuming, of course, that the account we have of Givens’ presentation is accurate).

    The point the Westminster Confession is trying to make is that God experiences emotion but his character is not impacted by it. What ever God is after grieving over our sin or circumstance is exactly what he was beforehand.

    A question I’m asking out of curiosity, and not particularly because it has anything to do with Mormonism or the Givenses: Would it be accurate to say that this issue is at the heart of the debate over open theism? Or by asking that am I misunderstanding what open theism is? What little (very little) I’ve read about open theism has sounded appealing to me, so I’m curious how you (or others here) react to it.

  21. Jack, if you’d simply posted the primary quotes about BH Roberts’ work on the topic with nothing more, I probably would have agreed with you without further comment. It does seem BH Roberts dealt with this issue more than Givens gives credit for.

    But if you want to post to an ideological rant about how “Mormon apologists” are full of crap in their limited geography conclusions (which is what Rollo’s post was), and link it for the neutral readership here to consume, then expect a response to the article.

    Rollo’s data about BH Roberts encountering the LGT was relevant. The rest of his post was tedious, and hopelessly ideological. By linking to him, you were encouraging the readers to read his full post and engage with it. And there wasn’t even a disclaimer.

    You can get useful tidbits of information off that message board. But to get at that information, you inevitably have to wade through a complete ocean of biased grandstanding – from both sides of the debate. Linking over to that website is rarely ever a matter of presenting limited true data points. It’s a package deal.

  22. At the risk of kicking this dead horse one too many times . . .

    When I did the Amazon search to find the Kindle Edition of Givens’ book look at what one of the “hits” was:

    I guess someone forgot to tell best selling Protestant Evangelical authors Joni Eareckson Tada and Steve Estes that, “To this day, Protestant Christianity believes in a God who is incapable of human emotions.”

    Oops!
    (Oh BTW, the way this book was published in 2000 so apparently Protestants have been making this silly mistake for some time now! Maybe we need the Givens to do some firesides with us to straighten us out!)

  23. I’m John Burton. The notes you quote in this article are mine – I wrote them. I do not wish you to quote my notes as being the words of Terryl or Fiona Givens. I posted them on a facebook group with the clarification that they only represent my “take” on what was said, should not be quoted as their words, and are designed for personal study only. Please respect that.

  24. It does seem BH Roberts dealt with this issue more than Givens gives credit for.

    Givens doesn’t give Roberts any credit for addressing the issue. He tells his readers and listeners that Roberts uncritically accepted the hemispheric model and never even considered the LGT. Either he’s never carefully read what Roberts wrote on the matter, or he’s deceiving his audience.

    But if you want to post to an ideological rant about how “Mormon apologists” are full of crap in their limited geography conclusions (which is what Rollo’s post was), and link it for the neutral readership here to consume, then expect a response to the article.

    This is a load of horse crap. Rollo didn’t even use the word “apologist” in his post except at the end where he said that a more serious apologist should avoid such misrepresentations. All Rollo said was that the LGT theory isn’t supported by internal textual evidence from the Book of Mormon—which (oh my goodness) it isn’t. B. H. Roberts came to the same conclusion. And you call him an “idiot” over that? Your vitriol was and is completely uncalled for.

    Sounds to me like the only person on an ideological rant here is you.

  25. He was clearly trying to say LGT isn’t allowed by the text of the Book of Mormon.

    Which is rubbish.

  26. James Burton makes an important point regarding the citation attributed to the Givens that’s at question here. However, it should be noted that the same theme runs throughout the Givens book, “The Book Who Weeps”. The most salient passage is this one:

    “Certainly we all, just as Sarah Edwards or Moses, would prefer to worship a God who is merciful and tender in contrast to one who is wrathful and unyielding. But the implications can be troubling, and a moment’s reflection suggests why the God of Augustine and Pascal and Luther and Edwards prevailed so long in the minds of so many. Tenderness suggests sensitivity. A loving heart, like an exposed nerve, is by definition susceptible to pain. Do we really want to believe in a God who is thus exposed, unshielded from human sin and evil? Not merely as God incarnate, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Man who suffered, bled, and died—but as God, the Eternal Father, the Everlasting One, the Man of Holiness.

    The Christian church’s first theologian, Origen, was sure this must be so. “The Father, too, himself, the God of the Universe, ‘patient and abounding in mercy’ and compassionate, does He not in some way suffer? Or do you not know that when He directs human affairs He suffers human suffering . . . on account of us.” Unfortunately, Origen’s vision of a suffering God was eventually overwhelmed by the God of the creeds, who lacked “body, parts, and passions.” For the suffering God was a possibility that horrified theologians.”
    — Teryl and Fiona Given, “The God Who Weeps”, Kindle Edition, postion 48.1

    This is a recurring theme throughout the book – the same thing is said a number of ways. Simply put, take away the thesis that, “Protestant Christianity believes in a God who is incapable of human emotions” and the Givens no longer have a book.

    So personally, I have no doubt that Mr. Burton’s notes accurately reflect what the Givens have been telling Mormons in these fireside talks.

    Never-the-less, if there has been an error here this information is now public so the Givens can easily address it and offer a correction to any misconceptions that either their book, their lectures, or the reports of their lectures have caused.

  27. Exactly Jack. That is the tone I was talking about. “What a bunch of retards for not agreeing with BH Roberts.”

    From what Rollo wrote, I got the impression that BH Roberts felt that the LGT was unlikely from the Book of Mormon text or even ruled out. Which Rollo tries to spin into a decisive rubbishing of the LGT. If BH Roberts was of the opinion that the Book of Mormon text completely ruled out LGT – then he was as mistaken as Givens has been claimed to have been.

    Book of Mormon textual analysis hasn’t sat in a stasis chamber since the 1920s. Scholars at BYU, FARMS and even FAIR have taken analysis of the text far beyond where BH Roberts was. That’s not saying Roberts was stupid, lots of intelligent people in history have been passed by in their research. But Rollo ought to be taken to task for not recognizing this possibility.

    It’s just plain stupid to say “well X smart guy in the early 20th century thought the LGT was ruled out – so that must mean the LGT is ruled out.” And when “X” smart guy happened to agree with the position you already had to begin with – it really doesn’t pass the smell test.

    It’s appeal to authority, it’s dismissive of the more modern research (which half the population of MDB seems to be doing its darndest to avoid acknowledging), and it tries to make hay out of very little.

    Not to mention loaded with contempt for anyone who believes the LGT is actually compelling.

  28. On the topic of Givens however.

    I’ve known of several scholars who made very erroneous statements when they stepped outside their own area of expertise. The real question that matters is whether the erroneous statement was within an area where the scholar in question should have had mastery, and therefore really should have known better. This may be the case with Givens, jury is still out for me.

    But I will say that I listened to Givens interview with John Dehlin on “Mormon Stories” podcast. I liked the interview overall, but there were several points where I felt Givens dropped the ball.

    John Dehlin on several occasions put out a certain problem for believing in Mormonism that I felt was simplistic and naively ignorant of the responses Mormon scholarship has already repeatedly published. And Givens just blithely said “yeah, that’s a problem.”

    And here I am thinking “no it isn’t – that was a total softball from Dehlin – there have been decisive answers to that point Dehlin brought up that throw it into total dispute. Aren’t you aware of the debates going on here?”

    So yeah, irritation with Givens for having faulty conclusions goes both ways – I personally thought he coddled bad anti-Mormonism arguments that ought to have been summarily dismissed.

    Can’t be an expert at everything, I guess. The question is whether Givens should have been an expert on the areas he flubbed up on.

  29. Seth, what was the question, “that certain problem for believing in Mormonism that I felt was simplistic and naively ignorant of the responses Mormon scholarship has already repeatedly published” that John Dehlin asked – I couldn’t seem to make it out in your post.

    And I would agree with your assessment that one can’t be an expert at everything. However, if you’re out of your area of expertise you probably shouldn’t publish there – as Richard J. Mouw proved so convincingly with his inept Mormon Studies book (see http://beggarsbread.org/2012/08/13/scolasticus-cum-peter-principle/ )

    However, I would think the answer to the rhetorical question that you pose regarding the Givens “flub” would be obvious given Terryl Givens credentials and background alone:

    “Terryl Lynn Givens (born 1957) is professor of literature and religion at the University of Richmond, where he holds the James A. Bostwick Chair in English. Givens teaches courses in 19th century studies and literary theory, and he focused his early research and publications there, but he is best known for his books and articles on Mormon history, culture, and theology.”
    (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terryl_Givens )

    So that answer, based on his bio would appear to be “Yes, he flubbed it badly.”

  30. Hi John, thanks for further clarifying that these are your notes and not direct quotes. I feel I adequately noted the source of the quotation. But if you feel there is a particular phrase or idea that was your own and not something expressed by the Givenses I would sincerely appreciate a clarification.

    That being said, it appears based on the direct quote from the Givenses book it that they have a pattern of misinterpreting the Westminster Confession and subsequently all of Protestantism.

  31. Eric, how do you reconcile those views with the LDS “Articles of Faith” and the uses of questions of orthodoxy in temple recommend and baptismal interviews?

  32. Tim, could you clarify the question? I’m not sure which views you’re talking about, and the closest there is to a question about orthodoxy is “Do you have a testimony of the restoration of the gospel in these the latter days?” and I’m quite comfortable with that.

  33. Well for example CD-host was denied a baptism because he did not believe the book of Mormon to be a historical record.

  34. Here are the first two baptism questions. There are billions of Christians excluded by the second question.

    Do you believe that God is our Eternal Father? Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Savior and Redeemer of the world?

    Do you believe the Church and gospel of Jesus Christ have been restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith? Do you believe that [current Church President] is a prophet of God? What does this mean to you?

  35. Obviously I’m missing something, but I’m still not sure how the question relates to anything I’ve said. In any case, as to the baptismal questions listed, I can readily answer them in the affirmative. I guess the last one you have listed isn’t a yes-or-no question, but in the modern context I see the prophet as someone called as the earthly leader of the church, which shouldn’t be too unorthodox in LDS circles.

  36. Eric, I would NEVER answer the second question to the affirmative. Neither would billions of mainstream Christians. I believe THAT is what Tim is referring to.

    However, I’ve gotta tell ya . . . speaking as Biblically orthodox Christian I couldn’t answer question #1 with a clean conscious either knowing what the internal LdS coding of “God is our Eternal Father” means.

    Further because the questions are asking, “Do you believe” they are in fact creedal statements. (see http://etymonline.com/?term=creed )

  37. Thank you for your desire to bring forth truth. In this context, l hope we can continue to refrain from a bashing of people who believe differently especially as we all seem to believe in a God of love (and in the greatest commandment to be the one to love). This way, this interesting meeting point for people with different religious backgrounds could continue to fulfill its purpose.
    Many issues could be discussed here, but I would like to address just the following ones, as they refer to the basis of Tim’s original statement, causing this long string of varied contributions:
    A) What would seem to really count, as far as the Westminster Confession’s meaning is concerned relating to the words “without body, parts and passions”, is a definition from around 1646, not 1828. It counts what the originators of the text meant with the term passion, and not what was (at least, partly) meant by it around 1828, the time of the founding of the LDS Church.
    B) How the term “passion” has been used over time (including in 1727, e.g., when the St. Matthew’s Passion was presented for the first time) seems to provide a strong indication that your suggested definition may NOT have been the one meant in 1646, especially as it would not fit at all to the row of words in the text of the WC, as quoted (The quoted 1828 meaning of passion seems to fit as well (or bad) as the following sequence of names: Moses, Abraham and Michael Jackson. That is, not very well at all ;-).
    C) Teryl Givens is not an official representative of the Church I belong to. Additionally, my personal, active relationship with my Heavenly Father and Savior started many years before Teryl Givens entered the publishing arena. What the Holy Ghost has spoken to my heart and mind over the years is independent of what others, including Mormon researchers and philosophers, have expressed as their personal understanding.
    D) I believe in a God, and His work and gospel, as described in Isaiah 55: 8, 9: It is, therefore, not too easy for all of us to comprehend all that He does comprehend, intend, do and say. Therefore, I hope to consider that in all of our interactions, and joint learning. It may be all of us who are wrong every now and then, even then, when it is very hard to “imagine” and “understand”.
    Thank you very much for all of your efforts to grow in mutual understanding, and – even jointly! – closer to God. The fruits of God’s spirit in our lives, especially love for God and each other, may speak the final words in all of our interactions.

  38. Eric,

    My apologies for not clarifying where I was directing my question. You said:

    My interpretation of this part of the canonical account of the First Vision is that the abomination wasn’t so much the content of the creeds (whose errors, while real, hardly appear to me to rise to an abominable level), but how they were being used by competing sects to bash each other and to act as agents of exclusion rather than of inclusion.

    So I’m wondering how you square that we the LDS church’s forms of exclusion based on tests of orthodoxy.

  39. Ah, I finally figured out what you were getting at, Tim. It’s the inclusion vs. exclusion thing I mentioned.

    My point was that in many of the churches at the time, and such appears to be the case in upstate New York, according to what I’ve read, pastors would often preach hellfire and brimstone and claimed that those who viewed Christianity differently than they do were destined to hell. It was this sort of thing that troubled the young Joseph Smith — it wasn’t just that the churches were competing for converts but how they competed, by trying to scare people away from other churches. They were consigning those who disagreed with their creeds to hell. There are reasons that that part of New York in the early 19th century has become known as the “burned-over district,” and it’s no coincidence that the same region that spawned Mormonism also spawned other spiritual movements, including spiritualism, utopianism, Shakerism and the predecessor of Adventism. It was a pernicious sort of Christianity that was often taught in that region, and creeds were used as a bludgeon. Put in that context, Smith’s recollection that God viewed the creeds as an abomination makes perfect sense. The creeds could be 95 percent correct and still be an abomination because of the way they were used.

    In contrast, as Givens pointed out (correctly, this time), a doctrine — “The Vision” — was revealed very early in the church Joseph Smith founded, a doctrine that said that none (or essentially none) were destined to the hell of eternal punishment. It is now found in D&C 76. He taught that God would find a way to bring essentially all to heaven, and even the lowest level of heaven would be a place of immense glory. It was a type of universalism that was in sharp contrast to many of the teachings of the day (although there were universalists around, including apparently Joseph’s father).

    In this sense, what Joseph Smith taught was an inclusive religion rather than an exclusive one.

    All that said, I agree with you (and others here) that there are standards of belief that we use in the church that function much as creeds, even though we don’t call them that.

  40. Ha! I started that comment before you re-asked the question. But it looks like I answered what you were getting at.

  41. Eric,

    I don’t think your view that the Burned Over District was a hotbed for creedal based secularism matches the historical reality but, I would love to know your sources.

  42. It has been a while since I did much reading on the topic. If I pursue the matter again, I’ll post something here.

  43. I’m looking forward to reading about the prevalence of this bludgeoning, pernicious sort of Christianity that reigned over New York with fire and brimstone.

  44. You might. I’ve said before I’d respond to something eventually and then post a year later. So you never know.

  45. Seth ~ Exactly Jack. That is the tone I was talking about. “What a bunch of retards for not agreeing with BH Roberts.”

    That wasn’t the tone I was going for at all. My point was that you seem to think Rollo is an idiot for rejecting the LGT, but somehow I doubt you would attribute that pejorative to Roberts. You don’t even get how petulant and prejudiced you’ve sounded on this thread. I’ve always spoken up for you as a reasonable and sensible apologist and believing Mormon when your name came up with critics, but I’d be embarrassed to direct them to your posts on this thread.

    Which Rollo tries to spin into a decisive rubbishing of the LGT. [SNIP] It’s just plain stupid to say “well X smart guy in the early 20th century thought the LGT was ruled out – so that must mean the LGT is ruled out.”

    I didn’t get this from Rollo’s post at all. He only pointed out that Roberts saw no textual basis in the BoM for the LGT—a contention that critics today happen to agree with. I’m pretty sure that if you asked him to articulate his reasons for rejecting the LGT, “because B. H. Roberts didn’t believe in it” wouldn’t even be in his top 20.

    My personal theory? I think you don’t like the man because he’s made trouble for apologists elsewhere and because of the malicious crap that gets said about him in other circles that you frequent, and you allowed that to color your reading of his post.

    Book of Mormon textual analysis hasn’t sat in a stasis chamber since the 1920s.

    So what? Critical textual analysis of the BoM hasn’t sat in a stasis chamber, either, and critics aren’t rejecting the LGT out of ignorance of Sorenson, FARMS, etc.

    It’s appeal to authority, it’s dismissive of the more modern research (which half the population of MDB seems to be doing its darndest to avoid acknowledging)

    I don’t doubt that most of the population of MDB isn’t actually reading articles by Sorenson, FARMS, etc. on the LGT. But if you think that posters like Rollo Tomasi, Simon Southerton, beastie, Dan Vogel, Brent Metcalfe, Chris Smith, or myself are merely living in avoidance of the research you cite, then the real ignoramus here is you.

  46. For Seth R.:

    A couple of points in response:

    1. The theme of my essay was to point out that Terryl Givens, in his fireside talk and in his “Letter to a Doubter” essay, seriously misrepresented B.H. Roberts concerning the LGT. As I pointed out at least twice in my piece, Roberts proffered a limited geography model as a “possibility” and one which he clearly likes because it would solve a lot of questions. But, despite its attraction, Roberts admitted that an LGT does not square with the Book of Mormon text, and, therefore, rejected it. I do so for the same reason. Btw, I have revised my original post on “Mormon Discussions,” addressing specifically language in Givens’s “Letter to a Doubter” and bringing up a part of the Book of Mormon that I believe disproves Sorenson’s LGT.

    2. Here is what I actually said about Roberts’s intellectual honesty when it comes to scholarship:

    “Roberts was a scholar; he would not embrace a theory to explain away a problem that he knew was not supported by the evidence.”

    I stand by this. I’ve studied quite a bit about Roberts’s life, and he was, when it comes to scholarship, very frank about what he saw as the truth and the evidence. And this doesn’t just apply to his studies of the Book of Mormon, but everything he analyzed. This is why Roberts would not accept the LGT — because the evidence as he saw it (i.e., the Book of Mormon text), precluded the LGT (particularly in Mesoamerica). As I read Roberts, he would have loved to jump on that bandwagon because it solved so many questions, but (using his words to Riter) he felt “compelled” to admit that the LGT did not work with the Book of Mormon text.

    3. Yes, I was disdainful of LDS apologists in my piece, because I generally have found their arguments failing, and some even absurd. Prior to all this, I generally respected Givens’s writings, but I think his recent foray into apologetics is a serious mistake.

    4. Btw, I have not rejected the LGT entirely. I, like Roberts, concede it is possible, and if it is true, then I think the limited geography should be placed in the midwestern or eastern regions of North America, NOT Mesoamerica.

  47. I am actually very surprised to hear Givens’ mistake regarding B.H. Roberts and his failing interpretations of the creeds. I think he seems to be doing what many smart religious folks do, — gerrymandering. He thinks the Mormon view of the weeping God is really cool and so makes it the seminal disagreement with Protestantism. I like his scholarship, but I think apologetics is a different animal.

  48. In my opinion this might just be another instance of the Mormon trope “Yeah we’ve got problems, but what are you going to do; become a Protestant? You know you don’t want to be a Protestant.”

  49. Rollo, I would like to clarify that I did not think you were stupid to begin with. I said you were “being an idiot” which is something fairly smart and intelligent people do on a regular basis.

    That said, I appreciate the measured response.

    I still think that “Roberts was a scholar; he would not embrace a theory to explain away a problem that he knew was not supported by the evidence” is very much an appeal to authority, and I really didn’t care much for how you used it in a narrative sense.

    I personally feel that LGT is not explicitly stated by the Book of Mormon, but it is nonetheless demanded by the numerous coherent geographical references scattered throughout the book (one of many things that I hold as evidence of the book being beyond the means of a mortal fiction author), especially in the book of Alma, but many other places as well. The text absolutely demands a limited geographic scope. BH Roberts had never crunched the numbers and mapped out the book to the extent modern scholarship has, so he wouldn’t know this.

    BH Roberts isn’t an idiot for not believing in the theory, and neither are you. But not believing in a theory is one thing – trying to craft a narrative where believing the theory is stupid and unreasonable is quite another.

    It smacked of message board antics to me. Which I’ve always regarded as it’s own brand of pantomime idiocy, where otherwise educated people, and semi-educated (like myself) decide to “cut-loose” for a bit and act like fools. I’ve been on message boards before myself and acted the idiot. I think the medium simply naturally brings it out of people.

    I don’t have an opinion about you one way or the other at this point. I’ve heard detractors and defenders. But really, it was none of my business in the end, so I decided to afford myself the luxury of deciding it all canceled itself out. I was simply responding to the tone and narrative of the post.

    You’ve revised the post? I suppose I’ll have to take a look. Thanks for taking the time to stop by however. I do appreciate your remarks.

  50. Just an off-topic aside,

    I would say most of the reasons for placing the Book of Mormon in North America lie with focusing on what Joseph Smith said in life (and being selective in even that), and most of the reasons for placing the book in Mesoamerica lay in the pages of the Book of Mormon itself.

    I prefer giving precedence to the latter.

  51. “Yeah we’ve got problems, but what are you going to do; become a Protestant? You know you don’t want to be a Protestant.”

    This is how I felt, I can see how Givens may be there as well. Growing up LDS in the bible belt makes you extremely suspect of Protestant ways of thinking. They were generally dismissed without thought as unsupportable in LDS contexts. The fact that most Protestants were clueless about Mormonism and could only give a simplistic and often flawed account of Protestantism bolstered this sentiment. Most of the time it seemed like they didn’t take all of the Bible seriously.

  52. For Seth R.:

    With respect to whether the Book of Mormon or Joseph Smith takes precedence in connection with geography, I’m gonna go with Joseph Smith. According to Mother Smith, Joseph was tutored about Nephite culture, cities, etc., from the last Nephite himself — the Angel Moroni — before Joseph had even obtained the Gold Plates. We are told by eyewitnesses (I believe Woodrow Woodruff, in particular) that Joseph received a “revelation” about the identity and origin of Zelph. There are other instances as well when Joseph used a hemispheric perspective. I think Joseph knew more about the Nephites and where and how they lived than any other scientist, apologist, or critic alive today. And as I point out in my revised essay about Givens, an LGT in Mesoamerica would seem to dispel any relevance to the Lehites of Nephi’s vision (in 1st Nephi 13) concerning important events on the eastern seaboard of North America (such as the American Revolution). Just my $.02.

  53. This is the full paragraph of the Westminster Confession from which this quotation is taken. Note that it identifies God as “most loving”, so it is rather a misrepresentation to say that the framers of the Westminster Confession did not believe in a loving God:

    “There is but one only living, and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a
    most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity,
    transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him; and withal most just and
    terrible in his judgments; hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.”

  54. I don’t really see stuff about Columbus and the Revolution being any less relevant if said by someone in Guatemala – since both events were hemispheric events, and not just continental events.

  55. I’ll have to read Givens’ book now to figure out if he’s equally sloppy therein, because misrepresenting (as a contrast) other religious traditions (esp. protestantism) is an old tired Mormon habit that needs to die fast. And if Teryl Givens of all people can’t give us fresher, better informed arguments for why Mormon theology matters, we’re in trouble. There are legit critiques to be made out there, but I don’t see anyone taking the plunge.

  56. Yeah Christian….

    That’s definitely a uniquely MORMON habit, that…

    You never find other religious folk doing that.

    Seriously, what is with those Mormons?

  57. I.e. “Tu quoque?”, Seth? (I appreciate that you may not be attempting a logically watertight argument here, and also that Protestants often seriously misrepresent Mormonism.)

  58. Seth, a little self reflection would do us all some good. Saying, “well Protestants do this too, so the OP is invalid” – would be straight up lame. Its already been heavily acknowledged by the adults around here that Protestants do this to Mormons big time. Goes without saying.

  59. No, it doesn’t “go without saying” Christian.

    gundeck, I wouldn’t call the apostasy a misrepresentation. Parts of how it’s been explained have been, I think, misrepresentations. But that’s a far cry from saying the idea is simply wrong.

  60. For Seth R.:

    Nephi’s vision of Columbus, the Pilgrims, and the American Revolution is relevant because those events all occurred on or near the eastern seaboard of North America AND part of what Nephi considered to be his Promised Land. Givens argued in his fireside talk that the word “land” as used in the Book of Mormon to describe Lehi’s inheritance (i.e., Promised Land) only comprised the limited geography of Lehi’s colony, somewhere in Central America. If true, then Nephi’s vision would have no real relevance to the Lehites, because Columbus, et al., were no where near the limited “Promised Land” in Central America. Nephi also saw in the vision that Columbus (in the Bahamas) discovered “the seed of my brethren,” Obviously, then, the seed of Laman and Lemuel were far from the small area in Central America.

  61. People didn’t talk with forensic precision back then, the way our anal-retentive “gotcha” fact-checking society today does.

  62. Seth said

    Even C.S. Lewis fell prey to this theological trap in his book “The Great Divorce” where an exalted woman explains to her wretched unsaved husband how she is beyond feeling sorry for him anymore because of the wonderful glorious heaven she lives in now.

    I just finished reading “The Great Divorce” and your interpretation of this scene is either amusing or tragic.

  63. Yeah, the classic – “reading comprehension fail” idea.

    Or maybe I did read it, I did understand it, and I just didn’t like the message as much as you did. That’s possible too.

    I read all that bit about joy being so awesome in heaven that everything else takes a back seat. About how evil cannot have the final victory, etc.

    I get it.

    And I didn’t like the message.

  64. And in this particular scene you like the idea that the husband can still destructively manipulate his wife via pity? — tragic.

  65. Who said anything about manipulating. I recognized what the husband was attempting. His plots have nothing to do with it.

    This is zero-sum game sort of thinking – where a victory for you means less for me. Why shouldn’t she feel pity? And should she not feel pity simply because it would mean a victory for him?

    What are we – twelve year olds on the Call of Duty forums?

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