One LDS View of Fasting and Faith

[This post is excerpts from an LDS sacrament meeting talk on fasting a friend of mine gave. These are not my thoughts but this is almost exactly the way I believed as a Mormon. The speaker is an strong example of typical LDS faith, and I thought this might be of interest to the discussion of the similarities and differences between Evangelicalism and LDS Christianity.

The LDS set aside one Sunday per month to fast for a chosen purpose. A “fast” consists of going 24 hours without eating or drinking or skipping two meals. The money saved by not eating is donated to the needy through the church welfare system. The program was instituted as a way to generate money for the poor. The talk began with a discussion of the historical practice of fasting in the bible and in the history of the LDS church and then turns to picking either a spiritual or a temporal purpose for the monthly fast. ]

. . . Here’s how I might go about thinking through picking a temporal purpose for a fast. I would ask myself these two questions: (1) Is this something God is capable of helping me with? (2) Is this something he even cares about?

First of all, what is God’s purpose? To bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man — that is his focus. To accomplish this on this earth, he set up 2 things. First, free agency. We know that before this earth was created, Satan wanted God to have complete power to control our decisions on this earth. Christ’s plan was to give us that power. And God went with Christ’s plan. Which is remarkable, because in doing so, he consciously limited himself.

With free agency, he can’t force me to get out of bed, or go to work, or take care of my kids. He can’t force an employer to hire me – or to not fire me. He can’t stop a man from abusing his wife. He can’t stop war, or disease. He can’t stop Donald Trump from getting on TV or will the BYU Cougars to win a game in the NCAA tournament. Because we, individually and collectively, all 7 billion of us, are the decision makers on this earth. We decide who gets rich, and who doesn’t. We decide who wins wars, and who doesn’t. We decide who goes to jail and who doesn’t. Not God. It’s the primary explanation for why a loving God would allow all the temporal pain and injustice that happens in this world. It’s part of a larger plan we accepted prior to coming to this earth – with all of its risks and temporal inequalities.

Continue reading

Grace Defined Anew at General Conference

I’ve been asked a couple of times to share my thoughts on this talk given by LDS Apostle Dieter Uchtdorf. I just watched the talk and I have to confess it was amazing.  It’s like someone snuck an Evangelical pastor into General Conference and taught him how to deliver a sermon in a manner that Mormons can hear it.  If I had to choose only two things that Mormons should accept as authoritative teachings (in contradiction to what they have traditionally been taught) this would be one of them.

uchtdorf
(the embed code is not working on WordPress, I’ll fix this if possible. click image for video)

I don’t have the transcript of the talk yet but here are some quotes that really stood out to me.  I’m so encouraged that Mormons must now view these as reliable interpretations of scripture.

Salvation can not be bought by the currency of obedience. It is purchased by the blood of God.

We obey the commandments of God out of love for him

We misunderstand the words “after all we can do”. “After” does not mean “because”.

It seemed very clear to me that Elder Uchtdorf was teaching that grace is the path to obedience not the prize for it.  Congratulations to those Mormons who have long agreed with this sentiment but lacked the authoritative voice to stand on it with confidence in their wards.  I agree that grace has the power to transform and as Mormons encounter it with a correct understanding they and the LDS will meet God in new and powerful ways.

I don’t have the time to look up dissenting Mormon voices to this talk but I’m interested in how they may now justify their positions.

 

Answering Greg Trimble’s 51 Questions – Part 5

At last, Part 5!  This is what we call in blogging “rounding third.”

I was sad to discover that this is not the first attempt at answering 50 bull dog questions. FAIR, the Mormon apologetics organization took at crack at answering those 50 questions for Mormons.  I also discovered that someone else is working at answering Trimble’s list.  What I learned from both sites is that reading these answers is even more boring than reading the questions.  Holy cow that’s bad news for you Greg.  That means I’m going to have to redouble my efforts at creative insults.  I assure you, they’re not meant for you, just the people who love to hate you.

VWG

Some quick caveats for those that missed my first post.  These answers will be short and to the point. I’m not trying give a complete answer, nor am I trying to convert anyone out of Mormonism.  If I throw in a joke or two it’s to keep things interesting and not a personal attack on Trimble or an attempt to disrespect the Mormon faith.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

41. Who are the “other sheep that are not of this fold” referred to by Christ in (John 10:16) Hint: It’s not the Gentles.

Continue reading

Answering Greg Trimble’s 51 Questions – Part 4

Trimble, you sly dog.  In my first post I suggested that people would probably be inclined to respond with a list of 51 questions that would cause someone to leave Mormonism.  Sure enough, Runtu put together such a list.  You won’t want to click on it though because it’s much better than your list (and I don’t say that not because he’s no longer a Mormon).

But then I found something.  A list of 50 questions for Mormons that dates back to 2001.  You cranked a prankster.  You wrote your list of questions in response to THAT list.  And then you added one more so that a web search for your list wouldn’t bring up that original list. [stands up and claps] I haven’t learned anything new about Mormonism, but I am learning somethings about you.  You’re crazy like a fox.

I think I’m ready for Part 4. But are you?

Some quick caveats for those that missed my first post..  These answers will be short and to the point. I’m not trying give a complete answer, nor am I trying to convert anyone out of Mormonism.  If I throw in a joke or two it’s to keep things interesting and not a personal attack on Trimble or an attempt to disrespect the Mormon faith.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

vw_van4

31. The Jews prepare for Elijah’s return every year during passover. On April 3, 1836 Elijah returned to the earth and appeared in the Kirtland temple on the exact day that Jews around the world had prepared an empty chair for Elijah at their Passover meal? Is that a coincidence? [More]

No, of course it wasn’t a coincidence.  It’s not like Joseph Smith knew nothing about modern Judaism.  Less than a month beforehand Joseph and a number of his followers had just wrapped up 7 weeks of Hebrew lessons from a Jewish professor they had hired.  In the “if he were making all of this up” line of questioning is it possible that Joseph was quite intentional about what day Elijah appeared? Of course it is.

What’s NOT a coincidence is that both Elias AND Elijah showed up on at the same time. That’s freakin’ unbelievable. (for those who don’t know what I’m talking about, Elias is just another way to say Elijah). And by unbelievable, I mean I don’t believe it.  Like literally. I literally don’t believe it. And not in the figurative way people use the word literally these days. I mean I actually don’t believe it. Continue reading

Questions Regarding the Authority of Scripture

images (8)Here are a bunch of questions that stand out to me when I read discussions between Mormons and other Christians regarding the authority of scripture:

1. Does the authority of scripture always depend on facts not fully described in the text?

2. Does the authority of scripture depend on whether it was (1) received by revelation, (2) by its uniquely accurate representation of facts, (3) something else? (If (3) what?)

3. What is the basis of the special authority of scripture over other religious texts?

4. What determines the importance of any particular idea, thought, or account in scripture?

If you have a few, let me know what you think.

The “God” of orthodox Christianity is the “Light of Christ” of Mormon Christianity

I think one of the most important steps Mormons and Evangelicals need to make in order to have a productive dialogue is to come to terms with what appear to be radically different views of God.  The more I revisit LDS scripture on the subject, the more I am convinced that in the best understanding of Joseph Smith’s conception of the cosmos that thing which traditional Christians call “God” is actually what he termed the “Light of Christ.”

Joseph Smith envisioned God as an exalted and perfected man.  For many reasons, this vision is the foundation of the Restoration.   To Joseph, God became God through intelligent obedience to the laws of the universe, a universe which necessarily was not created by him, but organized by his manipulation of the universe through faith and righteousness. This earth was formed to provide a place for lesser spirits, humans, to do the same by agreeing to become children of God and come to earth, suffer, and die, and then be redeemed by Jesus, who volunteered to be the Christ.   According to the Book of Mormon, the law is the foundation of God’s godhood and all reality:

“And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin. If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not there is no God. And if there is no God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon; wherefore, all things must have vanished away.”  (2 Nephi 2:11)

God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are bound by the law,i.e. they are not the law, they are outside of the fact that is the source of the way things are.  The question remains: Why does there need to be a Christ? Why is their law in the first place?  Why is the universe the way it is?   Why is the world comprehensible at all? What is the source of God’s intelligence? These questions cannot really be answered in any intelligible or scientific way, these are the ultimate mysteries, they cannot be understood or even spoken of, because these mysteries are what allows for all order and intelligence. As Einstein said: “The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible.”

For traditional Christians, these questions are answered by pointing to an God that is outside the universe, that is the incomprehensible ultimate cause of the laws of the universe, the ultimate source of the mysterious orderliness and intelligence within the way things work in the universe.   God “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.”  (Westminster Confession, chapter 2)

Joseph’s Smith rejected that this mystery was our Heavenly Father, but the religion he envisioned still had to account for the source of the law and the necessity of Christ.  There must be some other mystery that allowed our Father to be God, the fact that required that there be opposition in all things.  Protestant’s call this fact “God,” Joseph Smith called this fact the “Light of Christ”

It was revealed to him that the Light of Christ “proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space.” It is “the light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed” (D&C 88:12-13; see also D&C 88:6-11).   This Light is not compound, nor is it a being, nor does it have parts or passions, it is the simple fact that allows all things to exist as they do, it is the source of the law, and the source of whatever facts that allow for salvation from the law.  To Mormons, the Light of Christ defines what it is to be God, what it is to be Christ, and the truth that the Holy Spirit testifies of.  The LDS term “Light of Christ” must be that fact that Evangelicals call “God.”

Seeing the God of the Nicene Creed of the Light of Christ might make the creed comprehensible to Mormons.  Translating the Nicene Creed into Mormon terms might look like this:

Continue reading

Is Peniel ground zero for theology?

The fundamental divide between Mormon theology and traditional Christian theology may stem from their starting point.  Moses tells us of how Jacob wrestled with God in the desert in a place he called Peniel – where he saw God face to face. To Mormons, this is the starting point for all theology i.e. the words received face to face with God.  Put simply, the state of being before face of God is considered the only place where the simple Truth can be found. If anything is, this concept is the beating heart of Mormonism.

Joseph Smith’s peniel approach to truth is elegantly simple- and extremely powerful in its simplicity. It slashes through theological argument, making irrelevant entire worldviews. The approach depends on two important moves.  First, Joseph affirms as a simple fact that seeing something with spiritual eyes is equivalent to seeing something with actual eyes, i.e. a person’s vision of reality is the same in character as that person’s real vision. Seeing an angel “in the spirit” is no less trustworthy than seeing the angel with actual eyes. This point is most simply made in Joseph’s statement that spiritual things were also physical- i.e. as much a part of the world as earth, wind, and fire.  This would come naturally to someone who understood the world in a magical way.  Joseph taught that empirical experiences of the prophets, combined with his own, could more clearly explain the magic that was in the world.

This idea is – as Mormons might put it – very strong doctrine. It’s salience comes in its simplicity, it does not distinguish between classes of experience that are often indistinguishable to the person experiencing them. Joseph was in good company in making this move.  In a sense, this was the key intuition founding Descartes’ philosophy that paved the way for clarity in science.

Continue reading