The Problem of Revelation for Mormons and Evangelicals

A guest post from Jared C

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Something that I have been thinking about while reading the interesting back and forth between Tim, our Evangelical friend and us Mormons is our theories of revelation. This may be a bit controversial for some of my fellow Mormons but I would like to hear a reaction from all sides:

Both Evangelicals and Mormons accept and rely on revelation for understanding of God. LDS and Evangelicals as groups, take all scripture very seriously as inspired of God. Both groups generally reject revisionist descriptions of biblical authorship and both generally agree that the books of the Bible were written by unique inspired men. (e.g. they both generally believe in one Isaiah, not three). They reject the so called “liberal” scholarship that explains away the miraculous and supernatural in the text.

Evangelicalism and Mormonism seems to be equally rooted in the idea that although people can and do receive messages, callings, inspiration, guidance from God. Evangelicals believe, however that the Bible is the ultimate and final source of truth and all other revelation and inspiration needs to be gauged and measured against it. This is because the Bible is considered free from error and therefore can be used prove and reprove doctrine and ideas brought up in the church. Although the Bible was written by men, was directed and brought forth by God, much as the director of a play with the scripture authors as the actors. Mormonism challenges the notion that the Bible is the only possible source of such inspired and directed truth and contends that the play is not over, but in another act.

Latter-Day Saints cogently point out that (1) there is nothing in the Bible that says future revelation is not possible and (2) it is not consistent with how God has operated throughout the bible to refrain from speaking to his people through revelation.

Even if you reject the Book of Mormon, even if it was a proven hoax, these objections would remain. There appears to be no biblical reason to limit God in such away as to preclude Him from sending down additional scripture that should be considered as important as canon. Further, knowing what we know about the prophets and patriarchs in the Bible, we cannot rule out someone from scripture authorship for any particular character flaw. There is no reason to limit a God whom prophets have foretold would use the weak things of the world to pull down the wise.

However, there remains a serious problem, from my perspective, for LDS to be able to coherently explain this process of revelation to the rest of Christianity. Without a coherent explanation of how prophets work that jibes with history of those who were purported to be prophets (Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, etc. along with Biblical prophets.)

From one perspective, I can understand the Evangelical position. Opening up the canon opens up Pandora’s box in a theological sense. Without a standard, that is taken unquestioned and closed, you are left open to question (or accept) almost any doctrine or idea inside or outside the Bible. The ultimate standard of the Spirit, which LDS believe teach to be the test of all Scripture and Prophets, in practice does not yield the ideological and doctrinal unity that a large organization craves in order to remain intact as a global organization. This is, of course, due to the accepted idea within Mormonism that the Spirit effects men differently and blends with their prejudice in a way that even allows Prophets to firmly believe doctrines that no one (now) accepts as inspired (i.e. the Adam-God theory).

What I see happening in the Church is a process of refining and reforming doctrine and history to make it cohere into a more unified package. The problem I see is that this process appears as political and “people centered” as the Council of Nicaea that is so often scorned by LDS. The “correlation” of LDS doctrines and teaching into a more coherent whole, in principle, appears no different than the consensus and tradition method that traditional brands of Christianity have followed. We knock off and disregard the more “radical”, unpopular, or “speculative” ideas, without really strong reasons for preferring the less-radical, non-“speculative” sides of the issue . Some LDS, I think reasonably, are resentful of the “correlating” that seems to nip and tuck doctrines to make the church more compatible with more traditional notions about God. Doctrines that were clearly held to be absolutely inspired by previous prophets are essentially forgotten or disregarded by current leadership and membership (i.e. polygamy). It is like Nicaea with the added drawback of being LESS transparent and open.

So, from where I sit, while Evangelicals don’t have a good answer for why they firmly reject the idea of writing new Scripture, Mormons really don’t have a good explanation for why some inspired writing is Scripture and some not. Without such an coherent explanation that matches previous practice, I think Mormons will have a hard time convincing the hundreds of millions that cling to the Bible as the final word, to open themselves to the thousands that have claimed to be Prophets since the canon was closed.

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68 thoughts on “The Problem of Revelation for Mormons and Evangelicals

  1. i suppose a relevant question might be as follows:

    how is truth to be discerned?

    ultimately, i assume that might solve the issue of modern revelation and it’s veracity.

    how are we to discern what is an opinion of an alleged “prophet” and what is God’s actual true teaching?

    1 corinthians 7 :25 – Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained amercy of the Lord to be faithful.

    Paul seemed to teach his opinion at times, but are we to take that as God’s official commandment, or Paul’s own thoughts?

  2. For the sake of argument, I’m willing to concede the point. The canon isn’t closed. The set of scriptures we have is not directly dictated by God. It’s formed by Christian tradition.

    My question for LDS is why should I accept LDS scripture into the canon? The organizers of the Bible had a set criteria which I can investigate, debate, and critique.

    LDS apparently accept this criteria because they don’t violate the biblical canon in any way. They don’t add or subtract from the Bible with any other ancient near eastern text. So if it’s good for the Bible, why can’t we continue to apply that criteria.

    What criteria should we use?

    What I see happening in the Church is a process of refining and reforming doctrine and history to make it cohere into a more unified package. The problem I see is that this process appears as political and “people centered” as the Council of Nicaea that is so often scorned by LDS.

    Robert Millett when asked what he’d like to say to Evangelicals said something like “cut us some slack, we’re new at this and only half way to Nicea”. Interesting comment in light of your post.

  3. Paul seemed to teach his opinion at times, but are we to take that as God’s official commandment, or Paul’s own thoughts?

    clearly when Paul tells us it’s his opinion, it’s his opinion.

  4. so, hypothetically speaking, what if Paul were to teach his opinion without saying that it were his opinion? that would lead us back to the original question of how truth is discerned and distinguished from opinion. if we can answer that question, we can answer this question: “My question for LDS is why should I accept LDS scripture into the canon?”

    what exactly was the set criteria that the organizers of the Bible had in mind while they went about their business?

    maybe the point of this question isn’t evident right now, but i promise it makes sense in my head…

  5. I quickly typed “how was the canon formed” into Google. This was the first link and gives a pretty good history.

    http://www.westarinstitute.org/Periodicals/4R_Articles/Canon/canon.html

    The basic criteria (roughly) was that it each book was written by an apostle or close associate of an apostle. Each book had to been in doctrinal agreement with the Old Testament and the non-disputed books of the New Testament. And each book was to have been mentioned and in agreement with the writings of early church fathers.

    As far as Paul’s writing being his opinion, Peter, gave instruction to read Paul’s letters. So we have early indication from other church leaders that they were edifying for believers.

  6. I want to point out that this post is coming from one who is fully open to new prophecy and scripture, I just don’t think we have an explanation for this process that is particularly compelling.

  7. On Robert Millet’s comment. I personally reject the Nicaean approach, but I do think Mormons are following the same model, I would expect that a coherent theory of prophecy would require a shake up of a lot of traditional notions many Mormons currently hold about prophets.

  8. i guess i wasn’t as clear as i thought with the wording in my question. i’m not doubting that Paul’s writings were edifying for believers or anything to that extent, but what i meant was this:

    let’s say that Paul happened to teach his opinion without telling people it were his opinion. that wouldn’t change the fact that it was still his opinion, right? but that would lead us to my previous question, how is one to discern between opinion and doctrine if there is no clear separation between the two? (I.E. Paul doesn’t tell us it’s his opinion kind of thing.)

    that link is interesting, but does that necessarily mean that that is the only way by which one is to judge whether or not a book merits “canon” status? does God have authority over the Bible, or the Bible over God?

  9. let’s say that Paul happened to teach his opinion without telling people it were his opinion. that wouldn’t change the fact that it was still his opinion, right? but that would lead us to my previous question, how is one to discern between opinion and doctrine if there is no clear separation between the two?

    Well the very fact that Paul chooses to pause and tell us that it is his opinion, tells us that he had the assumption as he began to write that his letters were something more than his own personal thoughts. I don’t at all think that means that we shouldn’t view those letters first and foremost as pastoral letters to those specific churches. But Paul seemed to think that was he was teaching them was directed by God. Since he chose to clarify what was his opinion I don’t know of any compelling reason to view anything as his merely his opinion unless he says otherwise.

    Why don’t you just go ahead and say what you’re trying to get me to say. It will save us a lot of time.

    that link is interesting, but does that necessarily mean that that is the only way by which one is to judge whether or not a book merits “canon” status? does God have authority over the Bible, or the Bible over God?

    As I started out saying, the canon is a tradition. I don’t think you’ll even find a Catholic willing to say that tradition holds authority over scripture (even the tradition to define scripture). And I’ve never heard anyone say that scripture holds authority over God.

    But in a context where everyone seems to have their own “voices from God”, it’s a good idea to test those new words from God against what we already agree are from Him.

  10. “But in a context where everyone seems to have their own ‘voices from God’, it’s a good idea to test those new words from God against what we already agree are from Him.”

    agreed.

    basically, what i am trying to say (excuse me for beating around the bush) is that there must be some way of knowing what is scripture besides pointing to something that is in the scriptures. if we agree that the canon isn’t closed, are we to assume that the way in which the Bible was formed is the only way by which scripture becomes scripture?

    as for my statements about Paul, what i said was hypothetical. if Paul wouldn’t have told us what he said was opinion, how would we be able to distinguish between it and what the real doctrine of God is?

    my view is that of a typical LDS person. how do we know that the Bible is true? from secular knowledge? from conclusive historical essays? i would say that is not the case.

  11. “But in a context where everyone seems to have their own ‘voices from God’, it’s a good idea to test those new words from God against what we already agree are from Him.”

    agreed.

    basically, what i am trying to say (excuse me for beating around the bush) is that there must be some way of knowing what is scripture besides pointing to something that is in the scriptures. if we agree that the canon isn’t closed, are we to assume that the way in which the Bible was formed is the only way by which scripture becomes scripture?

    as for my statements about Paul, what i said was hypothetical. if Paul wouldn’t have told us what he said was opinion, how would we be able to distinguish between it and what the real doctrine of God is?

    my view is that of a typical LDS person. how do we know that the Bible is true? from secular knowledge? from conclusive historical essays? i would say that is not the case. (insert cliché rambling about praying and asking God here.)

  12. I think that, at root, Evangelicals have basically the same problem as Mormons, in that they have to have a coherent explanation of why it is appropriate to include some things in the canon and exclude others. It seems like if you have a traditional process that requires inerrancy to include something in the canon, you would start taking stuff out of the canon once you find errors. I don’t know much about the rejection of the Catholic apocrypha from the Protestant canon but it would appear that once you start throwing stuff out you should critically examine everything in the canon by similar standars.

    It appears reasonable that there should be some justification for the tradition that formed the canon and that justification would seem to allow for a revision of the canon as new information came to light.

    (I am sure there is been thought and writing on this by protestants and catholics and would be happy to be pointed to some.)

  13. In the end, the fact that LDS have the same problems and approaches as other churches should surprise no one. We too are human beings. Like most guys, I put my pants on one leg at a time in the morning.

    The clincher for me is that one religion is theologically positioned to receive more of God’s word and the other is not.

    However theologically cautious the LDS Church’s stance may have been of late, the door is still open for radical new changes according to God’s will. The door is not similarly open in other Christian faiths. If God were to attempt a new sort of revelation, He would first have to get permission from the Bible. And I’m not just talking about stuff that is at odds with the Bible, I’m talking about stuff that does not contradict the Bible, but is nonetheless new and not found in the present Bible. In either case, God’s new word would have to be rejected because it does not jive with the accepted biblical exegesis.

    Now, are the LDS adopting similar stances? Sure. There’s a sort of hardening orthodoxy forming as a bit of a check on excesses. Of late, we have not had bold new theological strokes of the kind Joseph Smith delivered.

    But this is not a real concern to me for a few reasons:

    1. I have no reason to believe this current stage of theological caution is anything but temporary. Mormonism is still young. We aren’t talking about a very long time really. The Bible is rife with periods of heavenly silence – a lot of them exponentially longer than the entire history of the Mormon faith.

    These happened for a variety of reasons. One is that it is not always necessary to have God’s Church in a period of theological movement. Sometimes that which has been given sufficeth.

    Another reason that I have suspected is that the current LDS population is simply not ready for something new. They ask not, so they receive not. Nowhere in the LDS Church’s truth claims is a claim that the LDS population will always be righteous or hearkening to God’s voice. In fact, the rebuking language of several sections of the Doctrine and Covenants suggests quite the opposite. Like the children of Israel before the Mount of Sinai, perhaps modern Mormons are hiding their faces and begging Moses to go talk to God in their stead because they fear to receive God’s word directly.

    Lack of faith very often can silence the Heavens. God will only give what is asked. If there is a lack of theological movement in the LDS Church, perhaps that is our own fault.

    However….

    2. The LDS Church is theologically well-positioned to break that trend, and break it very quickly. Keeping an ear toward heaven and accepting new ideas is programmed into the theology, however cautious the membership may be at the moment. Each member is enjoined to keep himself or herself spiritually attuned to the voice of God.

    We are not in as stagnant and cautious a position as a Church as might first appear. I think there is a resiliency and intrepidness sleeping in the Mormon population that could be woken. This makes me hopeful for our future.

    And alternatively…

    3. It could simply be that what light and knowledge we have currently is “sufficient for the moment” and the work we have before us. God is not obligated to chatter on for our own personal amusement value, or to prove to our critics that revelation is still a force in His Church.

    Let me just state, I do not really think this is the case since there are some rather important theological concerns that would be very relevant for our time (in my own prideful opinion) that remain unresolved. My own bias is toward an unwilling membership that simply is not interested in receiving more of God’s word. But I thought that this third possibility needed to be put out there – since I could very well be wrong.

  14. Seth,

    I am not really challenging the notion that the LDS church is ahead by being open in principle to new scripture while others are not. I also agree there are lots of ways to explain why the Church has not gotten new revelation in the way Joseph Smith did while he lead the church. However some of this is beside the point.

    The challenge I am putting before the Church is to come up with an explanation of prophecy that takes into account the full history of prophecy and scripture and to be able to give an account of why some things are scripture and others are not, even when they both come from a prophet who believed both to be inspired. Admittedly this is a very tall order but I think its critical. I don’t know of anyone who has tackled this sort of project (let me know if you do)

    The reason why it is critical to have such answers, from an LDS perspective, is that:

    (1) that many people (including Evangelicals such as Tim) are open to accepting the idea that God could inspire post-New Testament scripture

    (2) The messages from modern day prophets such as Joseph are really compelling.

    People who are open in principle to new messages will be closed from these new messages if we don’t have a good explanation for how we institutionally define prophecy and scripture for the world that takes into account our own history as well as biblical history.

    If we had such an explanation I think the Church would have better luck in gaining acceptance by open minded members of other sects.

    Also, Mormons should acknowledge that searching for such answers is the best way of receiving them in an inspired way.

  15. I think Seth is onto something. Compared to early Mormons living in the days of Joseph Smith, there is a very different feeling concerning the excitement about new revelation. And with that feeling a conviction to act on the new revelation. When the prophet “suggests” something in the church today just listen to the complaining, whining, moaning, etc. of the membership.

    Considering that it was these early Mormons who were rebuked for taking the revelations of God too lightly says something about the contemporary church.

  16. holdinator,

    As for me, I have on occasion wondered if we aren’t currently in a minor state of apostasy of our own. But I’m probably just being overly dramatic, and in any case, I’m no prophet to be about crying repentance to the people anyway.

    Jared, I can appreciate the desire for something more rigorously thought-out on the subject. Do you see Evangelical-Mormon dialogue as helping to provide it in some way?

  17. Seth, your comments are interesting, but they don’t really have anything to do with Jared’s post.

    It appears reasonable that there should be some justification for the tradition that formed the canon and that justification would seem to allow for a revision of the canon as new information came to light.

    (I am sure there is been thought and writing on this by protestants and catholics and would be happy to be pointed to some.)

    If we found a lost letter from the disciple Thaddeus, that we could confirm was from the first century, I’m pretty sure we’d see it included in the New Testament. I’d be all for including it at least.

    For the sake of argument, I’ll even say that I’m willing to listen to a modern day prophet and include his work into the canon. But even IF I conceded this big hurdle to you, WHY should I accept any Mormon scriptures as being authentic? It resembles fiction, it doesn’t even really try to give evidence that it’s about real people in a real place.

    The typical Mormon response is that I should seek a mystical experience that will tell me it’s authentic. But none of books in the Bible are inserted by reason of mysticism. As I’ve tried to illustrate, the New Testament books were scrutinized for their time and authorship not for their ability to deliver spiritual experience.

    Jared, with a quick google search you can learn more about the apocrypha and why Catholics include it and Protestants don’t (Protestants are following a Jewish example). Even though Catholics include it in their canon they consider it less than scripture.

  18. Seth,
    you said:
    I can appreciate the desire for something more rigorously thought-out on the subject. Do you see Evangelical-Mormon dialogue as helping to provide it in some way?

    My answer is “maybe” since if we can give a cogent explanation of revelation to evangelicals, those who believe in prophecy but not in Mormonism, we will have an real explanation. I am skeptical that a purely internal discussion of the subject would be critical enough, you almost need somebody who is set against you to point out the problems and counter-examples in order to determine what warrants further explanation.

  19. Tim says:

    But even IF I conceded this big hurdle to you, WHY should I accept any Mormon scriptures as being authentic? It resembles fiction, it doesn’t even really try to give evidence that it’s about real people in a real place.It resembles fiction, it doesn’t even really try to give evidence that it’s about real people in a real place.

    I suppose its the same reason you can accept the Book of Job or Genesis, Jonah, Joshua or many other unsubstantiated stories from the Bible. If you are going to apply those standards to Book of Mormon, shouldn’t you apply them to the Bible?

    I think there is as much evidence for the veracity of the accounts of the Book of Mormon as there is for Genesis, in fact I would say more. It is filled with completely improbable and unsubstantiated accounts.

    I say this not necessarily to cast doubt on Genesis as scripture but to point out that without an explanation of what makes scripture its hard for me to explain why you should accept the Book of Mormon in the way you accept Genesis.

    I think the idea that Genesis is in the Bible because it is traditionally thought of as inerrant just doesn’t fly. I suppose I am arguing that Evangelicals should be open to the idea that scripture does not have to be free of factual error or substantiated by history in order to be scripture. I think this is true by their own tradition.

    On a practical level I think that I have had experiences with the book of Mormon and its ideas and teachings that were on par or more enlightening to those that I have had with the Gospels or any other Biblical text. I can imagine that you too could have similar experiences but can see that you haven’t. I would echo Mormon understanding and say that nothing less than the voice of God may not convince you to accept the Book in spite of its faults. (Mormons would also agree that it is possible to gain access to that voice).

  20. i’m a broken record. how does everyone here know that the writings in the Bible are God’s words? is it because of “holy tradition”? is it because someone convinced you with archaeological evidence? probably not. so, if that’s not the case, how do we know?

  21. “But none of books in the Bible are inserted by reason of mysticism. As I’ve tried to illustrate, the New Testament books were scrutinized for their time and authorship not for their ability to deliver spiritual experience.

    but you’ve already stated that the canon is open. if it is indeed open, and we accept the possibility that God can, if he were to feel so inclined, add new scripture to the canon, would he have to follow the process in which the Bible was formed? if the Bible is not God’s sole inspired word, alone in its own field, are there other writings of which you are aware that could be deemed as “inspired”? i’m sure you’re all of those “lost scriptures” that some mormons love to talk about.

  22. I would be willing to take a close look at the apocrypha, the Talmud, and the Koran and see what I think is useful and true in them. As can anyone of course.

    I would even be willing to take parts of them as “scriptural” for myself personally. I would not however, feel that I could legitimately hold them forth as scripture to my fellow worshipers since I do not have the authority to speak for them. For them to be legitimized as public scripture, you would need a Church-wide vote of acceptance.

    I think it is important to draw this distinction between private and public scripture within the LDS faith.

    “Private scripture” can come from a variety of places. For me, parts of Shakespeare qualify, so do other meaningful books for me – at least in part. The words of an insightful young lady I met on my mission in Japan (still non-Mormon as far as I know) also qualify. Conversations with my father. Sacred writ can come from a variety of places and it is all good for learning and edification.

    “Public scripture” is another matter and the subject of this post.

    But I think it’s important to distinguish the two types so private isn’t mistaken for public. The former is solely a matter of personal revelation from God. The latter is a matter of a much wider and more comprehensive acceptance before the body of the saints – and such acceptance will doubtlessly have to be regulated by some means.

  23. Trevor,

    I understand your point. I tend to agree that people generally accept the Bible as the word of God whole-cloth rather than carefully examine and test each book and chapter. That acceptance is either taught, traditionally held or confirm by some sort of religious experience with the Bible and its teachings. I also agree with the underlying point that the Bible is not supported by mountains of evidence substantiating its history, let alone its supernatural accounts. I think that when you break it down, many Evangelicals rely on the Spirit in the way Mormons do to lead them to their religion. But that is part of the issue.

    A way to open up this point would be to ask if you prayed to know if the writings of Bahá’u’lláh (the prophet of the Ba’hai) are God’s word, and should you? If you say “no” and that you don’t intend to then you are essentially in the same position as Evangelicals who aren’t even interested in taking an honest look at Joseph and the Book of Mormon? I think we have to realize that according to many of them, the Spirit is telling them NOT to read the Book of Mormon or have anything to do with us.

    I am not really trying to be argumentative, but I am really struggling for an explanation of how this should work. How do we avoid the pandora’s box without establishing creeds? I suspect there is an answer but it may take more faith and uncertainty than we normally accept.

    Seth,

    I agree with you, I am talking about the public scripture as well as how we define scripture. I think your understanding of private scripture is a very interesting LDS understanding, which I tend to agree with. However, I don’t know that Evangelicals even think to see things in that way. Putting Shakespeare on par with the Psalms, even on a personal level, may smack as rank heresy.

  24. Jared, but isn’t this what happens in our ordinary lives as a practical matter?

    I can very easily imagine an evangelical or a Mormon – on-the-street – having a much more powerful reaction to scene in the movie Schindler’s List, for example, than to certain passages in the book of Esther.

  25. I agree with you completely Seth, there are dozens of books that I find more inspirational than the book of Joshua, for example, and much of the Bible seems completely irrelevant compared with contemporary writings.

    The question remains, how to explain that phenomena in the context of what scripture is and should be.
    I can anticipate the counter-argument but don’t have a very good answer.

    I.e. what is the explanation when somebody has a more powerful reaction to the Koran, or Mein Kampf than the Gospel of Matthew? Can these be personal scripture too? If not, what is the criteria by which we can exclude them.

    I suppose Moroni 7 and the 13th article of faith would be part of this answer from a Mormon perspective, but this seems to be only a starting point of explanation.

  26. Complicating the matter for us LDS is that our definition of of even “public scripture” is somewhat fluid. I asked my class recently what scripture is, and I got answers ranging from anything that a general authority says to the Standard Works. Some think of the Ensign as scripture. (Nobody mentioned Shakespeare.)

    Of course, we seem in this conversation to be discussing canonized scripture, and there’s a fairly clear definition of that. Yet, we have some writings, and I’m thinking in particular of the Proclamation on the Family, that are treated more like canonized scripture than are some obscure parts of the Standard Works (hear any talks lately based on Haggai?). And where do we put the Song of Songs? It’s canonized, yet it’s usually not considered inspired. And we’re told explicitly that parts of the Apocrypha are inspired writings, yet we don’t study them at all.

    Maybe this idea of treating the Proclamation as quasi-scripture is part of of the process of ” process of refining and reforming” that Jared C was talking about.

  27. I appreciate civil dialogue between evangelicals and Latter-day Saints-nice to see it happening with you guys!
    In talking about revelation I believe the Bible gives us a wonderful test to know if something is of the Spirit or not-this speaks to all of us-since we all claim to believe the Bible is Scripture-the Bible states that we are not to believe every spirit (John 4:1-3). Our emotions/feelings are usually not good guages of whether something is true or not. Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way which seems right to man, but its end is the way to death.” I had a friend tell me that he “felt God leading him” to leave his wife and live with another woman-we would all agree that he did not hear from God! His feelings had decieved him!
    Therefore we are to discern whether the spirit speaking out of the person is confessing that Jesus Christ is the Messiah
    See I Timothy 2:4-6
    Everyone who is of God will agree with His Word.
    See 1 John 4:6
    You will see the love of God evident in them.
    See 1 John 4:7-8
    They will accept the blood atonement of Jesus Christ.
    See 1 John 1:7
    They confess Jesus as their Savior.
    See 1 John 4:14
    They confess Jesus as the Son of God.
    See 1 John 4:15

    Thanks for letting me in on the conversation-like you had a choice-right?!

  28. I think John’s comment’s echo Moroni 7

    http://scriptures.lds.org/moro/7

    16. For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.
    17. But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.
    18. And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged.
    19. Wherefore, I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ.

    Whether or not Evangelicals believe in the Book of Mormon, could they agree with this idea?

  29. For them to be legitimized as public scripture, you would need a Church-wide vote of acceptance.

    If that is indeed how it is done, I find that extremely ironic given all the Mormon disdain for the voting at Nicea. In fact I seem to remember a Hinckley quote where he really poo-pooed the process at Nicea.

    If you are going to apply those standards to Book of Mormon, shouldn’t you apply them to the Bible?

    I accept the Old Testament because the New Testament calls it scripture. I accept the New Testament because it was written by men who were disciples or close associates of disciples. I accept the disciples because they were close associates of Jesus. I accept Jesus because he proved he was the son of God, by physically rising from the grave.

    The stories of Jesus’ resurrection fit every general element of an event that happened in a real time and in a real place. I may not be able to absolutely know if Jesus said those exact words, but I can know that the writers of the Gospels got their details down well enough to know that they can start to be trusted.

    There are lots of things outside of the Bible which inspire me, but just because they make me FEEL doesn’t make them REAL.

    How do we avoid the pandora’s box without establishing creeds?

    And what’s wrong with establishing creeds? I keep getting told over and over that the LDS church isn’t against creeds as much as ‘abomnimable creeds’. The Articles of Faith are by every definition a creed.

  30. I accept Jesus because he proved he was the son of God, by physically rising from the grave.

    Well, it wouldn;t really prove anything other than that he physically rose from the grave.

  31. What is wrong with creeds, in my opinion, is that they keep you from being open to further light and knowledge. I think if we go the way of creeds, which are essentially exclusionary, we will be trusting in our own judgment to shut down discussion.

    I would argue that just Paul preached from the old testament it does not follow that the entire text is inerrant. Jesus reduced the”law and the prophets” to very simple instructions.

    The articles of faith are not a creed in the same sense as the Apostle’s creed. (Or are they?, How much do you have to accept of the Articles of faith to be a LDS?)

  32. I accept Jesus because he proved he was the son of God, by physically rising from the grave.

    not to bridge the border of atheism or anything, but how do you know Jesus actually rose from the grave?

    hint hint personal revelation through the holy ghost hint hint

    if you can answer that question, then you can basically figure out this whole conundrum of new scripture and what is or is not true.

  33. I think the Mormon process of accepting prophets and revelation is, in theory, relatively complex. We believe in common consent and acceptance of the church, in practice the tradition is that membership simply accepts what is put before them.

    Maybe we should be putting things up for a churchwide vote, but what is the meaning of a dissent in those situations? I.e. if I disagree with including the Proclamation on the Family as scripture, what would that mean. Am I obligated to do so, should I accept it a duty of priesthood?

  34. Yes-I agree with Moroni 7! He speaks of the light of Jesus Christ and here is where I am going:
    My concern is contradictions from what one leader says to another-this is something I see in both of our churches-what is the litmus test?
    What are the standards by which one determines the truthfulness of a revelation. If a Pastor or Church President claims to have a “word from the Lord” or a revelation-how do you know if it is true? I was told that old revelation is “lesser light” and new revelation is “greater light” a good answer? I don’t agree with that but what do you guys think?

    Also, those of you men who are LDS, please answer this for me-I have never been clear on this and I am not attacking you-just curious: How is the office held by President Monson (a man I truly admire) as prophet, seer and revelator different from the authority and calling of the Pope in the Roman Catholic Church (I was born Catholic-but I am no longer RC).

  35. Trevor, you know that plenty of Christians do not think that “personal revelation through the holy ghost” is the way to find out truth, right?

    And you realize that in practical terms, what Mormons mean when they say “personal revelation through the holy ghost” is usually a programmed emotional response, right? It’s about the worst objective indicator of absolute truth, ever.

  36. In other words, leave the Missionary Guide at home; that crap’s just not going to fly here. We all know that Mormon epistemology is based on personal revelation. Not everyone agrees that what you call “personal revelation” is from God at all, and not everyone agrees that it’s a stable basis for knowing.

    Seriously; leave it. You’re being annoying.

  37. kullervo, in your opinion, what is a way to find out truth?

    i guess that question is addressed not just to kullervo, but to everyone.

  38. Again, I don’t have a problem with formalized statements of belief per se.

    But I do have a problem when people start using them as clubs to beat heretics with, exclude fringe elements, and generally place limitations on the heavens.

  39. Trevor, how do you even know truth exists?

    Seriously, existence, reality, knowledge, and epistemology are just a little trickier than the missionary discussions make them out to be. A lot of really smart people have dealt with the problem of knowing, and nobody has yet come up with a really good, dependable answer.

    All I’m trying to say is that the simple answer is simple. Not the good kind of simple, either. I’m talking about the kind of simple that fails to even properly understand the question.

    You know what, never mind. I’m going to go back to ignoring you like everyone else is.

  40. Doug D asked: “How is the office held by President Monson (a man I truly admire) as prophet, seer and revelator different from the authority and calling of the Pope in the Roman Catholic Church (I was born Catholic-but I am no longer RC).

    I can’t give you a complete answer, because I’m not thoroughly familiar with how things work in the Catholic church. But, based on what i know, I would say there are far more similarities than differences (although “prophet, seer and revelator” is a distinctly LDS term).

    From a historical perspective, there are certainly similarities: Catholics believe that Peter was the first pope, and that there is an unbroken line of authority to the current pope. In the LDS perspective, Peter was one of the early church leaders (presumably the first president, although I’m not sure if that’s official doctrine), and while the line of the authority was broken, the leaders of the current LDS church are believed to have the same authority as the pre-apostasy early church leaders did.

    As I understand it, the pope can under some circumstances (fairly rare) speak ex cathedra, meaning that he speaks infalliably on matters of faith.

    As I understand it, the LDS prophet isn’t considered to be infallible but he is seen as having authority to convey what God reveals to him. The practice is that for anything to be considered as revelation, it must also be accepted as revelation by the 12 apostles. Additional scripture also would have to be formally accepted by the church as a whole, although as a practical matter that would be a formality.

    I’m probably delving into matters where I may be wrong on some of the specifics, so I better stop there.

  41. For Kullervo, here is a good definition of truth from William James, Truth is “What would be better for us to believe” http://tinyurl.com/42mfaj (I say this not really wanting to argue James’ thesis here)

    Notwithstanding Kullervo (or the missionary guide), I think Trevor’s is an important question, i.e. what is the way we can find out truth?

    Certainly the scientific method has been perhaps the most productive way to do so in history. Defining truth in a pragmatic way, Science has brought more ideas that “work” than anything else.

    However, I think science, as of yet, has had its limitations on dealing with spiritual truth, as well as history. Since we have limited historical information we cannot really do experiments to see if Jesus was resurrected or whether or not he was the Son of God. We have much greater capacity to scientifically critique modern day prophecy and revelation.

    In addition, we don’t have the capacity to observe or explain religious experience in a scientific way thus far. There hasn’t been much research in the area. In addition I think it would take a lot more brain science, behavior data, and observation methods to even come close to get a real scientific perspective on spiritual experiences

    Since science is not yet advanced enough to evaluate religious truth, we have to place faith in religious postulations regarding truth to make up our religions. We rely on testimony, reason from scripture, personal religious experience, conscience, tradition, etc.

    I see a lot of practical benefit in agreeing on a creed based on what we know and sticking to it until something better comes along. e.g. Nicaea. In fact, that seems to be the most practical way to maintain some degree of unity in a large human organization.

    However, I agree with Joseph Smith in the sense that I think that we need to accept that these creeds are not necessarily inerrant (since we came up with them) and we need to be open to new “light and knowledge” if we are to remain both humble with regard to our own human ability to grasp divine truth as well as to recognize that we certainly cannot limit God’s ability to keep speaking his mind nor the methods he uses to reveal Himself.

  42. LDS church limits “general” revelation, that would become scripture, to the President of the church, in a way that parallels protestant reliance on the Bible. You can see this sort of explanation by Elder Boyd Packer here.

    In some ways I think these sort of limitations are as arbitrary as the closed canon approach of the evangelicals.

  43. Jared, I don’t see that it is ever science’s job to “prove” the resurrection and other such matters.

    Science can only ever deal in intermediates, never in ultimates.

  44. kullervo, in your opinion, what is a way to find out truth?

    i guess that question is addressed not just to kullervo, but to everyone.

    Hold on for my next post. It’s exactly about this.

    As for the resurrection. I’d recommend doing a search for historical evidences for the resurrection. Or read a book or two.

    The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus

    The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus

    Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics

  45. Seth,

    My thought on science was that it was a good way of finding truth.

    However, science is very bad at examining unique events that happened 2000 years in the past and its not good at

    I think with regard to the areas that science can examine by experiment, it is as good at dealing with “ultimates” as any method we have ever known. Can revelation really deal with “ultimates”?

  46. I don’t think science is necessarily a good way of “finding truth.” It’s a good way of describing observable phenomena, and that’s about it.

  47. And even then, it’s only “good” in the sense that we have found it to be practical.

  48. I don’t think science is necessarily a good way of “finding truth.” It’s a good way of describing observable phenomena, and that’s about it.

    I can get behind that.

  49. Kullervo is right. In the end, science really has nothing whatever to do with truth.

    Science is about observable facts it is never about meaning.

    Example:

    Suppose scientists find a “gay gene.” So now homosexuality is genetic. Observable, testable fact.

    Supposing you’re gay, should you now go and have sex with that same-gender person you like?

    Science has no answer.

    And it never will.

  50. Hmm, “Science has nothing to do with truth?” That response is almost breathtaking.

    I think you have a strange definition of truth if you believe this.

    Science has been the most powerful tool to explain phenomena ever devised.

    Science may not be able to assist us in determining value of behavior or value of things but it produces facts and rules that we can rely on.

    What, if any, “truths” can you name, that we would all agree with, that are not informed by or a product of scientific method?

  51. I certainly wouldn’t go as far as Seth and say that science has nothing to do with truth, but it isn’t the ONLY thing that has can inform us on truth.

    For example:
    “Science is the only thing that can explain truth” is something many people believe. But there is not a single scientific test that can be devised to show that that statement is true. You have to go outside of science into philosophy to start getting at epistimological questions like that.

    There are some very real things that are not physical. Science can’t measure them. Logic is non-physical, but very much real (if you don’t think so, please give me 5 reasons why logic isn’t real). You own thoughts are real. But science can not measure them. Your own thoughts about your own thoughts are even real. But not the least bit physical. (your thoughts cause physical impulses in your brain, but those impulses are not your thoughts).

    What, if any, “truths” can you name, that we would all agree with, that are not informed by or a product of scientific method?

    Well consensus on anything is impossible. Even scientific facts.

  52. What does “explaining phenomena” have to do with “truth?” What if “there is no spoon?”

    And I already gave you an example in #52.

  53. Tim, (and anyone else)

    I agree that science, as a method of discovery truth is limited, but it works damn well in the areas where we can have observable and controlled experiments.

    If you re-read what I said before, science has serious limitations on a lot of things and certainly is not the only way toward truth.

    I am generally agreeing that Revelation can be a way to find out truth.

    Seth, you gave a question that science cannot answer, that does not mean that Science cannot help us discovery ANY truth.

    Ok , let me get a reality check here:

    Can we agree that the earth revolves around the Sun? (relatively speaking)

    Is that a “truth”?

    If so isn’t that a truth that we have learned by science?

    I hope we have a consensus on this. Do you see my point?

  54. OK, sorry. I don’t consider the fact that the earth resolves around the sun to be “truth.” I consider it to be “fact.”

    I think there is a difference between truth and fact.

    Truth provides guidance. Fact does not.

  55. If by “truth” you mean “consistently observed phenomena,” then I think science tells us alot about truth. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s what anyone means when they say “truth.” The closest you’ll likely get is that it’s one kind of truth.

    And even then, the connotation of “truth” and “fact” makes them seem a lot more solid and reliable than they necessarily are. Which is an argument we’ve had before, but Seth hit it on the head: what if “there is no spoon?”

  56. Seth, I think the distinction you are making is not supported by standard use of “truth” and “fact”. It seems you saying that truth has to be ethical or normative is that correct? Please give me an example of truth, and a definition so I know what you are talking about.

    Kullervo,
    I am using “truth” according to the general correspondence theory of truth, i.e. that true statements correspond to reality.

    The statement “snow is white” is true if in fact, snow is white. Isn’t that what most people mean when they say a statement is true, i.e. that meaning of the statement corresponds to reality? If not, what do people mean when they say “truth”.

    Its hard to see that the theory of relativity is simply “consistently observed reality” its predictive as well as descriptive.

  57. Jared,

    I don’t at all disagree with #56. I think science is great. I think how Kullervo described it in #49 is the best way to look at it though. It CAN do a lot, but not everything (as secular materialist would hold).

  58. Tim,

    John Moorehead, a Christian blogger living in Utah has been blogging about Christianity’s interaction with Mormonism and Paganism. He did a specific post recently you might find interesting:

    The Mormon Neopagan New Spirituality Synthesis

    I think this link points out what Jared is talking about. If Mormonism doesn’t continue to develop some sort of theological orthodoxy it’s going to spin into a such a structureless system of thought that it will be impossible to define (and thus no longer hold Mormons together).

  59. I think the unity problem is an important part of this. It seems to me that there are two paths for unity among Mormons.

    1. The Priesthood focused approach- this path downplays the importance of any single doctrine but focuses on following the priesthood leadership. This path allows for lots of different beliefs but controls what is taught in church.

    It is sort of like a corporation, at IBM you can have any political beliefs you like but you cannot advocate them at work. The workers follow the CEO and upper management, not necessarily because they are absolutely “correct” about the direction they are taking, but because you can’t run a corporation effectively. with lots of infighting and politics. The workers sublimate their own positions to keep their jobs and help the corporation.

    The problems with this approach is that often the leaders become too important and venerated beyond reasonable limits. This approach also causes resentment of those with less popular views who are not allowed to teach their beliefs. This approach also seems to focus too much on loyalty and does not allow for the ship to be righted if the leaders are particularly rigid on some issue, it makes it very difficult to question previous leaders for fear of discrediting the authority of contemporary leaders. (The blacks and the priesthood issue is an example of this.)

    2. The dogma approach- this method is to set what a member should believe and not question. This is the way of Nicaea, i.e. establish what is true and condemn or discredit. he unorthodox and the heretical. The benefits are that you can establish a relatively easy standard to determine who is in and who is out. The problem, of course, is that you rely on human intepretation and politics to determine this and once set, the dogma does not change or adapt should further revelation come along to correct a human misconception.

    The example for both Mormons and LDS would be the Pharasaic Judaism of the first century. They established particular understanding of Messiah and Judaic law which Jesus set on its head. Their dogmatic approach prevented them from seeing the restoration of the true understanding of Messiah and the law. (Of course mormons would point to the Nicaean and other creeds as another example of becoming set on the wrong path).

    I favor the first approach, but I think you have to have a correct view of the leaders. The problem I see is that there is no good explanation for revelation and priesthood and how it interacts with faults of men, and there is no open internal mechanism for keeping the leadership on task.

    I think if there was a better, realistic explanation of prophets and priesthood that fits in with history, and a lot less focus on or veneration of the guy who is leading the church at a particular moment I think we will be much more open to change and accept new “true” revelation as it comes.

  60. The other problem with #1 is that as people’s personal theology’s start to stray from the core, eventually they no longer have a reason to uphold the priesthood.

  61. I agree with that. Mormons have always had issues with losing members as doctrine adjusts. The cushioning element in Mormon doctrine is that although people should/need to eventually be baptized as LDS this is not required in life.

    There is a similar problem with #2.

    Catholics seem to use both approaches and their religion is very adaptive to all kinds of non-standard, even pagan beliefs, yet created and orthodox understanding of Christ.

    Catholics might (or do) point to the Protestants as being in the state of not being able to agree on the doctrine and in a hopeless state of disarray.

    I suppose what we are doing here, at least from my perspective, is part of a struggle for understanding among all believers of Christ to find some sort of unity.

    Perhaps unity is possible only through the very structured Catholic model that is both authoritarian and adaptive?

    Does the success of Catholicism in maintaining unity say anything about its “Truthfullness” or authority from an Evangelical perspective? How do Evangelicals deal with the disjunct between Christs command for unity in the church and the disunity among denominations? Does unity mean just acceptance of the least common denominator, e.g. Nicaean Creed?

  62. How do Evangelicals deal with the disjunct between Christs command for unity in the church and the disunity among denominations? Does unity mean just acceptance of the least common denominator, e.g. Nicaean Creed?

    To be sure there has been a lot of sin in Protestant disunity. And reading Joseph Smith’s story, we have to own up the results that it has brought us.

    There has been a recent desire to focus on core doctrines (Nicea) rather than denominational particulars. But the typical view is that there is a universal church that goes beyond denominational lines. No one is a Christian because of what church they attend and no one is not a Christian because of what church they attend.

  63. All Muslims that I have communicate with believe Mohamad was the last prophet. They have a reason for thinking that way because in the Koran it clearly states:

    “Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but he is the Messenger of Allah and the Last of the prophets; and Allah is cognizant of all things.” (033.040.)

    Therefor, Muslims must reject the Book of Mormon.

    The “Christians” do not have the Bible to back up their claims that it would be the final word from God, for I have found nothing in the Bible that suggests that it is the final word of God. In-fact, the Bible states plainly that more prophecy will be given.

    Examples:

    Revelation 10:11
    11 And he said unto me, Thou must prophesy again before
    many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.

    Revelation 11:3
    3 And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they
    shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days,
    clothed in sackcloth.

    The following is a list of some of the book mentioned in the Bible:

    Book of Jasher
    Joshua 10:13, 2 Samuel 1:18
    Manner of the Kingdom
    1 Samuel 10:25
    Book of Nathan the Prophet
    1 Chronicles 29:29, 2 Chronicles 9:29
    Book of Gad the Seer
    1 Chronicles 29:29
    Prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite
    2 Chronicles 9:29
    Visions of Iddo the Seer
    2 Chronicles 9:29, 12:15
    Book of Shemaiah the Prophet
    2 Chronicles 12:15
    Story of the Prophet Iddo
    2 Chronicles 13:22
    Book of Jehu the Son of Hanani
    2 Chronicles 20:34
    Sayings of the Seers
    2 Chronicles 33:19

    The Book of Jude has a quotation taken from the Book of Enoch:

    “Behold, he comes with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment upon them, and destroy the wicked, and reprove all the carnal for everything which the sinful and ungodly have done, and committed against him.” (Extracted from the 2nd chapter of the Book of Enoch.)

    The early Christians didn’t even have the New Testament. How much different are the modern-day “Christians” from those who lived shortly after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ?

    “Yea, he that truly humbleth himself, and repenteth of his sins, and endureth to the end, the same shall be blessed—yea, much more blessed than they who are compelled to be humble because of their exceeding poverty.”

  64. Wow I love reading your blogs. I am a evangelical dating a mormon who is getting ready to go on his mission. Currently I am taking a class at Institute and learning more and more about the lds church seeking truth.

    Its hard to think of converting because I am really strong in my faith and have been raised in a Christain home. But I am seeking the truth, even if it means leaving everything I know. The doctrine is complicated and the decision tiresome but you guys definately bring fresh perspectives in a non-bible bashing way.

    My hat is off to you all.

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