What is Neo-Apologetics?

Over at Wheat and Tares there was an interesting post on neo-apologetics. I’ll admit that this is one of these terms, like neo-orthodoxy back in the 90’s, that just seems inherently problematic as used. Having been “accused” of being a neo-apologist before let me try and discuss what I think people mean and why it’s somewhat problematic.[1]

As best I can figure out the main differences between the two are that traditional apologists deal with definitions and historical facts with an emphasis on what is likely or at least possible in defending traditional Mormon beliefs – particularly about the scriptures. A so-called neo-apologist in contrast is focused on scriptural meaning, not facts. Meaning here is a little vague typically, but often is seen along utilitarian grounds. That is how do the stories help me in my day to day life. While questions of truth in this approach are bracketed, that doesn’t mean the neo-apologetic denies say the historicity of the Book of Mormon. It’s just that they typically think it’s too focused on to the detriment of the text’s value.

My problem with this approach is twofold. First I think it concedes too much. It’s effectively acknowledging that at least for some people apologetics can’t make a persuasive enough case for Book of Mormon or Book of Abraham historicity so it just brackets the question. Part of the problem there though is that I think the way apologetics has presented these ideas has been poor. The rhetoric ends up being, “how could you rationally doubt” when the reality of the evidence is at best, “here’s how you can rationally believe.” I’ve addressed that point ad nauseam so I’ll not bore people with it again. The bigger issue though is that when we reduce the gospel to a kind of utilitarian, “what’s the cash value of believing,” we end up losing the content along the way.

I understand that culturally there’s been a huge shift towards an individualism where all that matters are these short term practical benefits. In that context religion simply falters. Our meetings are fairly boring, the scriptures don’t directly address the issues people care about, it makes demands that seem incompatible with contemporary politics, and there’s little to really make people choose it. Into that culture traditional apologetics seem almost quaint. Asking someone to believe because something is at best plausible and more likely merely possible is a hard sell. Of course Mormons believe in personal revelation that can answer that. The problem is getting people to a space where they want to ask, let alone spend the effort to wrestle with the scriptures to gain that personal revelation.

The danger with a lot of neo-apologetics is that it often concedes most of this ground to a focus on meaning that owes more to literary criticism than truth. The problem is that lots of things provide that sort of meaning. Why wrestle with the scriptures if all we get are at best someone’s thoughts on God? In this approach the real competition is Dante’s Divine Comedy or Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. Do close literary readings of the Book of Mormon really offer much against those? Our own scriptures might be of worth to those who read them and apply them, but as apologetics it’s hard to see why that would be enough for most of those who struggle. Further that sort of meaning ultimately is only of interest to intellectuals.

My own feeling, which I know many will disagree with, is that our religion can only matter if there are essential historical truths that make demands upon us. The problem with apologetics in the age of The Nones is people don’t particularly want demands. Their views of truth is “show me” rather than “you have to search and wrestle.” That is there’s a certain willingness to only engage passively not actively. It’s hard to deal with that.

[1] A lot of those called neo-apologists don’t accept the label. Some don’t even think of themselves as apologists. For instance Adam Miller here at T&S did a self-interview interesting along those lines. “Q. Are you an apologist or neo-apologist? A. No, I’m just a philosopher. Others have said I’m an apologist, but I’ve never been interested in apologetics. Mormonism can stand on its own two feet and it doesn’t need me to defend it.”

56 comments for “What is Neo-Apologetics?

  1. July 13, 2018 at 2:14 pm

    Any sentence that starts at “our religion can only matter” is destined to state a fairly hard binary. I wonder if there’s really a hierarchy at play? Something like:
    1. Gain a spiritual witness sufficient to satisfy both emotion and intellect.
    2. If not 1, look for plausible history that delivers a convincing story of the restoration. (apologetics?)
    3. If not 2, look for rational, reasonably reasons for participation. (neo-apologetics?)
    4. If not 3, look for some combination of family, fear, and tradition to stay involved.
    (A genuine question. A musing.)

  2. Clark Goble
    July 13, 2018 at 2:21 pm

    I think there is a hard binary, but I think we should separate the epistemological questions (which I agree are important) from the analytic questions (which I think tend to get neglected). What I fear neo-apologetics may fall prey to is focusing on what’s more epistemologically easy while neglecting the analytic implications. My point really is that if you’re just looking for reasonable reasons for participation, then you really need to compare it to the alternatives. Typically if we’re talking short term benefit the alternatives offer more for most people. I think that were it otherwise we’d see a big resurgence in liberal protestantism who can offer these types of meaning-analysis combined with a rejection of history and literalism. Instead we see their numbers continuing to drop.

  3. Andy
    July 13, 2018 at 3:21 pm

    To me, the term neo-apologist is someone who isn’t going to stand by every action of the institution or individual that they’re talking about. It means they’re willing to say, “yeah, this happened and probably wasn’t good but consider all the rest of xyz.”

    I feel like this approach is helpful in the fact that you don’t look like someone brainwashed who can’t see any defect.

    Where this isn’t helpful is when a “neo-apologist” says something along the lines of “yeah, this probably wasn’t right” but further research and shifting paradigm show that what wasn’t right actually could have been right. Now the critics will hold on to that for the rest of eternity as they attack.

    Example, Kinderhook plates. You can look in the KEP and see the character that Joseph used when he was taking a shot at translating the plates. It’s very obvious and the fact that the translation ended there, shows you that Joseph could tell he wasn’t getting anywhere with it. Had he been a fraud, he’d have come up with a full “translation”.

    But, as you can see from the W&T article, we’ve accepted defeat and it’s being used against us. It’s as stupid as saying Joseph didn’t know Jesus was born in Bethlehem… while claiming he memorized copious amounts of Isaiah and gave midrash on it (and don’t get me started on Isaiah).

  4. Clark Goble
    July 13, 2018 at 5:04 pm

    Andy, the problem with that definition is that the classic FARMS apologists didn’t accept every action or manual either. In many ways the shift towards the FARMS model of apologetic in the 80’s as a huge move away from literalism and a distrust of science to a position that assumed most of science and was more careful with hermeneutics. Heavens, even the documentary hypothesis was usually accepted.

    Typically neo-apologetics, if it means anything, means an apologetic that doesn’t embrace what FARMS was. While it’s vastly overstated and unfair, some portray the blow up at Maxwell Institute a few years back as a bifurcation into traditional apologetics at The Interpreter and neo-apologetics at The Maxwell Institute.

    To your final point, I recognize the W&T author considers himself an neo-apologist (and hopefully he’ll chime in) yet to me he rejects as false pretty important things. I don’t think that means “we’ve accepted defeat.” The Interpreter is alive and well even if there’s some things there I have qualms with. But that was doubly true of FARMS. I suspect most neo-apologists don’t reject as much Mormon belief as the W&T author does.

  5. Rockwell
    July 13, 2018 at 10:17 pm

    “Typically neo-apologetics, if it means anything, means an apologetic that doesn’t embrace what FARMS was.”

    That is, perhaps, the best definition I’ve seen of neo-apologetics. Bravo.

    “My own feeling, which I know many will disagree with, is that our religion can only matter if there are essential historical truths that make demands upon us.”

    You’re right: many people will disagree with that.

  6. Cats Steven
    July 13, 2018 at 10:55 pm

    I second the praise for: “My own feeling, which I know many will disagree with, is that our religion can only matter if there are essential historical truths that make demands upon us.”

  7. July 14, 2018 at 10:51 am

    Have people in past been in that space where they ask and wrestle more frequently than today, or has modernity solved enough temporal problems that people are hardly in that space anymore?

  8. Daniel C
    July 14, 2018 at 1:15 pm

    I think it is a completely valid category that makes complete sense.

    Traditional apologetics confronted challenges to the LDS church’s truth claims head-on. When questioned about horses, it brought us as tapirs as a possible answer. It tries to provide hard evidence of historicity.

    Neo-apologetics is more focused on philosophy and less on hard historical evidence. Instead of claiming that x historical claim is true because of x evidence, it looks at semantic issues. What is truth? What is reality? Key questions for neo-apologists. Many of the traditional apologists have adopted the tactics of neo-apologists to some extent, but haven’t quite gone as far as Adam Miller, who has basically invented another form of Mormonism in order to defend traditional Mormonism. This allows Miller to pivot and dance around when someone challenges the traditional Mormon truth claims by saying that they don’t understand Mormonism. In one of his more recent presentations, he claimed that Mormonism isn’t about Mormonism.

    Another neo-apologist tactic is to deny the existence of neo-apologetics or claim that one is a completely independent thinker whose repeated defenses of the LDS church have nothing to do with apologetics. And yet that is what makes one an apologist, does it not? Clark Goble regularly defends the LDS church’s truth claims online. That makes him an apologist. Why he takes issue with this term, when it is not meant offensively, but just matter-of-factly is beyond me. More to it, Clark does not engage in rigorous archaeological, archival, historical research to defend the LDS church’s claims, but simply tries to philosophize and rationalize; change the context and perspective to try to make things true.

    One more thing: traditional apologetics rightly assumes the burden of proof. Neo-apologetics often tries to place the burden of proof on the skeptic. Neo-apologetics has emerged because traditional apologetics has failed. Traditional apologists have failed horribly short of convincing non-LDS academics of the validity of their claims about the LDS church.

  9. Clark Goble
    July 14, 2018 at 8:23 pm

    Daniel, you should read what I write elsewhere. I just went through a big debate over the distinction between proto-apocalypses and apocalyptic literature with the latter being hellenistic and persian influenced while the former was available near or during the time of Nephi. I then noted some of the differences and how Nephi’s apocalypse lacks features of later apocalypses yet has many of the features of proto-apocalypses. I then got into a discussion of Egyptian and Canaanite influence on apocalypses and noted Canaanite influence on Nephi’s apocalypse. I did a post at my old blog on semantic drift and the issue of bows and arrows in the Book of Mormon. I’ve written on various topics including occasionally here. (Back in February I did a post on volcanic imagery and the active volcano near Israel) I don’t write papers primarily because I don’t feel qualified (my background is philosophy and physics not ancient history). But on blogs or the like I’ll chime in since I feel qualified doing literature searches to verify basic claims.

    I don’t mind the term apologist. Certainly some things I do are apologetics. I’ve even written n it explicitly here at times. It’s neo-apologetics that seems more nebulous.

    I’d probably disagree with you on the burden of proof issue. I suggested that above. I think the classic apologist recognizes (or should recognize) they can only meet the issue of believability or potential but that to meet the burned of proof requires that revelatory experience. Neo-apologetics, to the degree I understand it (which isn’t much) seems much more tied to how religion has become discussed in cross-disciplinary academics on religion. As such it’s presumably tied to the trends of that movement within the academy. Again one can point to the Maxwell Institute and the drive to be academically more respected. I’m not sure that entails in the least that traditional apologetics failed given their always recognized limits.

    Jader, I don’t know how we could possibly measure that so I don’t think we know.

  10. FGH
    July 15, 2018 at 4:24 pm

    Where can I read your discussion about apocalypse?

  11. Clark Goble
    July 15, 2018 at 10:17 pm

    It’s in this never ending thread.

  12. Steve
    July 16, 2018 at 8:04 am

    Clark… where can you be reached if I want to know some source reading materials about some comments you made on the other thread about a different subject. I don’t want to hijack this thread with a different subject.

  13. AM
    July 16, 2018 at 8:30 am

    I would like clarification on the second sentence. You state that the term “seems inherently problematic as used.” However, the post never questions the term itself, if I understand correctly. You question the approach as “giving away too much.” Is the problem with the term just that the boundary between “apologist” and “neo-apologist” is poorly defined? I would love to see your responses to John Dehlin’s description of the neo-apologist, but I also totally understand that there are many reasons not to do so, not least of which is the time requirement.

  14. July 16, 2018 at 8:57 am

    Thanks, Clark. I just shared your post and this comment on my wall on my facebook pseudonym account Randall Bowen. You’re welcome to go there and join in the discussion if you’d like.

    Mormon Neo-Apologetics is my favorite subject right now. Here’s a post from Clark Goble at Times and Seasons. Thanks, Clark. Coming from what appears to be a literal, traditional view of the church, this is a generous analysis. His point of criticism and my response:

    “The danger with a lot of neo-apologetics is that it often concedes most of this ground to a focus on meaning that owes more to literary criticism than truth. The problem is that lots of things provide that sort of meaning. Why wrestle with the scriptures if all we get are at best someone’s thoughts on God? In this approach the real competition is Dante’s Divine Comedy or Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. Do close literary readings of the Book of Mormon really offer much against those? Our own scriptures might be of worth to those who read them and apply them, but as apologetics it’s hard to see why that would be enough for most of those who struggle. Further that sort of meaning ultimately is only of interest to intellectuals.

    My own feeling, which I know many will disagree with, is that our religion can only matter if there are essential historical truths that make demands upon us. The problem with apologetics in the age of The Nones is people don’t particularly want demands. Their views of truth is “show me” rather than “you have to search and wrestle.” That is there’s a certain willingness to only engage passively not actively. It’s hard to deal with that.”

    My response:

    1. I know I’m conceding a lot. I’m conceding many “anti-Mormon” criticism of the Church. For example. a. that the BOM is not historical (though I love it and call it inspired scripture) b. that the First Vision likely did not go down the way the official 1838 account says (though I do believe Joseph had a vision) c. that the LDS Church’s claims of exclusively being God’s only one true church and authority are overstated (though I believe in the restoration and sustain Pres. Nelson as a prophet and holding keys).

    I don’t concede these for the hell of it. I concede these after years of study and grief over loss of faith and suffering and have come to my new beliefs through my own personal journey of following the Holy Ghost the best I can. I don’t push these beliefs on others or wish Clark or other traditionalists to drop their literal beliefs in favor of these. But I stake out ground for my beliefs to be accepted within what I think is the big tent of Mormonism and for those others who have also come to similar conclusions about LDS foundational claims.

    2. I know it’s hard to think of value in Mormonism if one lacks literal belief in the very specific absolute doctrines of ordinances and covenant and exaltation. But speaking for one who finds little personal value in that but huge value in the lived experience and where it is leading my heart and mind, I hope the literal-traditionalists can acknowledge there can be great value in Mormonism for someone with a Neo-Apologist type testimony.

  15. Anonymous
    July 16, 2018 at 9:17 am

    Personally, I think LDS apologetics, though a worthy pursuit, are ultimately not for a “missionary” purpose.

    Expanding LDS theological beliefs to embrace scientific investigation can only yield good fruit, imo. I gave up separating spiritual from intellectual because I believe God does not separate these.

    Humans have tended to be binary thinkers, i.e yes/no, true/false, and Greco-Roman philosophy reinforced this thinking.

    I have embraced the dielectical reasoning of Asian, particularly, Chinese philosophy, i.e. both sides are usually valid and relevant.

    It seems to my amateur eye physics had to make a similar paradigm shift to understand quantum mechanics, where, in an oversimplified example, a sub-atomic particle can have one state, a different state, or both states simultaneously.

    With quantum computing, humans will have to give up binary thinking to keep up. I believe this applies to LDS theological understanding also.

  16. Franklin
    July 16, 2018 at 12:44 pm

    My own experience with apologetics has produced this definition: Traditional apologetics generally combines sloppy thinking with a compulsion to defend every forsaken outpost of Mormon orthodoxy. This is why it is failing to gain traction in today’s world. Neo-orthodoxy, I would agree, is the opposite of FARMS.

  17. Clark Goble
    July 16, 2018 at 1:14 pm

    Franklin, one of the key figures of the so-called neo-orthodoxy was Nibley. So I’m not sure you could call it the opposite of FARMS since in many ways Nibley characterized FARMS particularly in the 90’s. (Originally much of FARMS was just offering photocopies or transcripts of unpublished Nibley works) While I think there’s some sloppy work in apologetics that unfortunately popped up at times at FARMS back in the day, I think it unfair to characterize all apologetics by it’s worst examples. A big complaint I have of apologetic critics is that they appeal to a small number of examples as if they were characteristic of the whole. They also tend to neglect how apologetics is self-critical and changes over time. But I completely agree there are some bad arguments published at times.

    Anonymous, I tend to think the most interesting thing about the apologetic movement of the 90’s was how big an effect on mainstream Mormon theology it had. It really did offer a way out of the narrow literalism of McConkie and JFS. (Nibley in some ways was literal – but in a very different way from BRM & JFS who tended to just adopt conservative protestant theology and apologetics) So I’d agree it ends up being more of an issue in theology than missionary work. However I also think critics of apologetics dismiss too much the idea that it can provide a space for some having faith crisis. Just because it doesn’t work for all having a faith crisis doesn’t mean it doesn’t work for anyone.

    ChuchisTrue, I’d probably quibble over the word “literal” in this context. (Not to get too picky, but I think this ends up being important rhetorically) I’d say that most apologists accept the traditional foundational truth claims. The things they do reject tends to be exegesical in nature and usually aren’t foundational.

    As for those who find value in Mormonism without accepting it’s truth claims, I definitely say stay. I think the difficult balancing act is how to express this in a way that doesn’t drive out such members but emphasizes the importance of basic doctrines for the young. That’s a non-trivial issue and arguably has long been an issue in the Church. At least since the first generation of Mormon scholars attended university at the beginning of the 20th century. That is how can we be accommodating to doubters while maintaining what some see as doctrinal purity. Of course that gets tricky since within Mormonism doctrine is a bit of a moving target. Thus the battles between Roberts, Talmage and Joseph Fielding Smith.

    The other worry I didn’t bring up in the post is that if neo-apologetics just becomes an apologetic that embraces a kind of liberal protestant thought, then you end up tarring people called neo-apologists with such theological baggage. For instance while I’ve been called neo-apologetic clearly I affirm the basic truth claims of the Church and probably have more in common with traditional FARMS styled apologists. However when people apply neo-apologist to say Adam or others I worry that they’re making unfair claims about their beliefs.

    AM, my qualms are basically that the term is ill defined. The same problem applied to neo-orthodoxy when that was popular in the 90’s. A category that unifies such diverse thinkers as Nibley, McConkie, and Riddle is a pretty problematic category. Even defining neo-orthodoxy in opposition to FARMS is deeply problematic. What does that mean? Some meant neo-orthodoxy not in terms of what gets asserted but merely being more polite and less combative. Others emphasize the distinction between meaning and truth. The point is that there’s no one usage or criteria for determining who is or isn’t a neo-apologist.

    I’ll confess I’m not aware of Dehlin’s criteria. Could you maybe quote that and I’ll comment on it. I read through the exmormon reddit (which I’ll not link to) that W&T was commenting on. While Dehlin lists various individuals he thinks as characteristic of neo-apologetics, I didn’t really see a criteria. If it’s the items in “why I remain an active member of the church” W&T quoted then that seems a series of assertions he thinks characteristic of the figures he listed. Clearly not all make those assertions though, and it’s hard to see that as a criteria. I obviously disagree with many of them. I’ve no idea how fair Dehlin is in that last.

    Steve, you can email me or just post something over at Mormon Dialog. I don’t go there all the time, but I usually swing by every few days at least.

  18. July 17, 2018 at 8:06 am

    “ChuchisTrue, I’d probably quibble over the word “literal” in this context. (Not to get too picky, but I think this ends up being important rhetorically) I’d say that most apologists accept the traditional foundational truth claims. The things they do reject tends to be exegesical in nature and usually aren’t foundational.”

    If this is true, then that would definitely explain a large gap between our positions. I consider myself a Neo-Apologist, and I have lost literal belief in foundational truth claims. Many of the other well known scholars that are sometimes labeled Neo-Apologist: Mason, Miller, Givens, Bushman, Prince, Peck, Fluhman seem to have similar view as me. Of course there is a range, but I don’t think I’m extreme. Givens probably being the most most on the believing side and then Bushman. But I could be totally wrong. Sometimes we make bad assumptions by thinking others think the same way we do.

  19. Cats Steven
    July 17, 2018 at 9:48 am

    “[T]he LDS Church’s claims of exclusively being God’s only one true church and authority are overstated (though I believe in the restoration and sustain Pres. Nelson as a prophet and holding keys).”

    Churchistrue, can you provide a concise elaboration on this?

  20. AM
    July 17, 2018 at 10:21 am

    Clark, you can read John Dehlin’s description of neo-apologetcis in the link in your post. Churchistrue gave a point-by-point response to it. It’s lengthy.

    I know there is a spectrum of beliefs regarding the literalness of scripture, the fallibility of church leaders, exclusive truth claims, and other areas. I think Dehlin’s description of neo-apologetics gives the nearly the most extreme position consistent with some sort of belief in the LDS Church.

  21. Clark Goble
    July 17, 2018 at 12:32 pm

    OK, I just wasn’t sure if that was what you meant. As I said some things I agree with other things I definitely disagree with (as does “ChurchIsTrue.”) Dehlin’s description is, I suspect, not fair to those labeled neo-apologists. Although I’ll be honest that for many of the figures I just have no idea their beliefs on some of the points. My inclination is to assume many confuse someone saying something’s not important with not believing it. But I don’t think that follows. I know lots of people with traditional beliefs on historicity who don’t think historicity is important for the message of the Book of Mormon.

    ChurchIsTrue, why do you think those figures have beliefs (doubts) akin to yours? Earnest question. I’d just never have ascribed that to Adam (although I’ve not really talked with him extensively in a few years) I don’t get that impression from the Givens or Bushmans although again I haven’t followed everything they say. However Bushman has explicitly said his view is Ostler’s expansion model – a combination of historicity and 19th century expansion. (During his Reddit AMA) Which is my own view although I don’t like the term expansion as I think it’s too narrow and misleading. (I think there are elements of expansion but the bigger issue is just that it’s a very loose translation) Price I’ll grant you isn’t accepting of historicity. But then I’ve never considered him really an apologist of any stripe. Givens clearly written that, “in a particularly pronounced way, the meaning and value of the Book of Mormon as a religious text are tied to a specific set of historical claims.” (Foreward to Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American Book) I don’t know about Mason but I’d not presume to assume he’s a doubter.

  22. Kevin Christensen
    July 18, 2018 at 1:03 pm

    churchistrue states “that the LDS Church’s claims of exclusively being God’s only one true church and authority are overstated”

    This is actually a misstatement of the formal claims that D&C 1 formally sets out regarding “mine authority and the authority of my servants” In blunting stating that God spoke to “others” (verse 18) besides Joseph Smith, and stating that “I the Lord am willing to make these things known unto all flesh” the chapter formally excludes exclusivity”

    Verses 24-27 bluntly lay out the imperfections of the lds leaders, morally imperfect, knowledge incomplete, capable of repentance and of learning more conditioned upon inquiry.

    Verse thirty does not include the phrase “only one true church” but says something very different that is expressly not exclusive, but is with respect to “well pleasingness” relative to what “true and living” reference. And that, if your trouble to look where the Bible uses the imagery, true vine, true treasure, true and living way through the veil, living bread, living waters, truth and life, living stones (priesthood holders), etc. there is a 1 to one correspondence with the themes of D&C 1.

    If D&C 1 gets misread, that is because human development works that way. The Perry Scheme for Cognitive and Ethical Growth shows that people always assume their group is the correct one, and all others are wrong. So some people will always have that orientation, but institutionally and scripturally speaking, it is expressly not correct and binding.

  23. sc
    July 18, 2018 at 1:41 pm

    A move towards neo-orthodoxy may be necessary to keep some percentage of members of the Church from leaving (especially younger and higher-educated). But it’s not a missionary message. Would a neo-orthodox Mormonism suffice to attract converts?

  24. Daniel C
    July 18, 2018 at 4:47 pm

    “If D&C 1 gets misread”

    Kevin and others, you’re going way too far in saying that the LDS teachings in its scriptures and repeated words of its leaders over decades do not lay out the claim that the LDS church is the only true church on the earth being the only one with authority from God to perform ordinances. This is a central teaching. At most, LDS leaders grant that other churches and religions teach some truth, with emphasis on the some, but they most certainly do not claim that there are other true religions out there that are just as valid as the LDS church for people to join.

    This appears to be none other than a case of liberalish intellectual Mormons, like Adam Miller, who appear to be inventing a new Mormonism in order to defend traditional Mormon teachings (in this case a bad attempt to deflect criticism of the LDS church as absolutist, mono-dimensional, and black-and-white in its teachings, and claim that the critics have a bad interpretation of what appears to be patently obvious). I am sorry that you are inconvenienced by the fundamental doctrine taught and emphasized repeatedly in the LDS church that it is the only true church on the face of the earth. You do a disservice to the LDS church by throwing past and present leaders under the bus and implying that they don’t somehow have as good and as nuanced an understanding of the LDS teachings as you do. If you think that claims to exclusivity on the fullness of truth are overstated, then your beef is with the LDS church leaders, not with its critics or its orthodox and overzealous believers. In saying this, you are no longer defenders of the leaders, but critics.

  25. Clark Goble
    July 18, 2018 at 5:49 pm

    Kevin, I confess that seems to do some violence to verse 30. Yes one could read, “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased” as implying there’s more than one true church but he’s only pleased with this one. But that seems a pretty strained way of reading it – especially given the Book of Mormon use that’s most likely informing the style of D&C 1.

    It also seems to neglects other passages like D&C 23:7. More significantly the main claim of the church is tied to authority (whether follow Stapley cosmological or more traditional) I’m not sure what you mean by your appeal to verse 18. Aren’t the others referred to there those who were given commandments through Joseph Smith? After all they are proclaiming “these things unto the world.” I don’t see the justification for assuming it’s referring to authority outside of that revealed to Joseph Smith or those with him during the angelic encounters with John the Baptist, Peter, James & John or the keys given at Kirtland.

    Maybe I’m just misreading you though.

    Daniel, I confess I just don’t get the bee in your bonnet about Adam. I just don’t see him breaking the way you suggest with tradition. Again I’m prepared to be wrong there. But back when we used to discuss things vigorously at lds-herm nothing indicated any significant breaks with orthodoxy. That’s been a few years now (he got busy as a professor and writing). However I just have yet to see anything in his books I’ve read that are problematic. Yes I disagree with him in places, but I disagree with Blake Ostler too. And Blake Ostler’s theological writings honestly seem like much more of a break. (IMO)

    SC, I confess neo-orthodoxy seems just a nebulous notion largely defined in terms of how “literalistic” one reads scripture. But again when McConkie, Nibley, and Riddle are all equated that seems a pretty diverse group. Diverse to the point I’m not sure it’s useful. At best one might say the neo-orthodox read scripture giving the benefit of doubt to the text and reading without suspicion. Others, such as the rest of FARMS, is much more willing to read with a bit of a hermeneutics of suspicion especially relative to the Old Testament. So they may be open to the Documentary Hypothesis, the multiple authorship model of Isaiah and so forth. However it’s worth noting that really says nothing about theology but merely hermeneutical approaches. Often the theology of both groups is the same.

  26. JR
    July 18, 2018 at 10:03 pm

    Daniel C. has equated “only true church on the earth” with “only one with authority from God to perform ordinances.” He says Kevin and others have gone “way too far in saying that the LDS teachings in [the] repeated words of its leaders…do not lay out [that] claim…” While I am likely as prone to misread as anyone else, I have been unable to read Kevin or others here as having said any such thing. ChurchisTrue says he has rejected “…the LDS Church’s claims of exclusively being God’s only one true church and authority are overstated (though I believe in the restoration and sustain Pres. Nelson as a prophet and holding keys).” I don’t see that he said the LDS Church doesn’t make such a claim. Kevin seems to have understood ChurchisTrue’s characterization of the claim as a misreading of D&C 1. By pointing to its verses 24-27, Kevin seems to be equating the “only one true church” claim with a claim of infallible leadership. While there are clearly different understandings of what a true church is and what a living church is, I don’t see a prophetic infallibility claim as a reasonable one (though it seems some LDS do see it that way). I read Kevin as saying that D&C 1 doesn’t stand for the proposition that the LDS Church is the “only one true church” and as not saying anything about any other sources of that claim.
    It seems to me that Kevin erred in his reference to v. 18, and to “true and living way through the veil” (which I find in my non-exhaustive search of English NT translations only as “new and living way through the veil”) or “true treasure” (which I don’t find at all). But any such errors, do not really have much to do with reading D&C 1:30-31 as “implying there’s more [or could be more] than one true [and living] church but he’s only pleased with this one”. I don’t see that as a strained interpretation at all. I see no compelling reason to think that the word “church” refers to an organization rather than an assembly of individual converts (as it appears to in the NT). If it referred to one unitary thing, then the succeeding phrase “speaking unto the church collectively and not individually — for I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance” would make no sense without a shift in usage of “church” within a single sentence. If the word refers in D&C 1:30 to a group of people then the question might be what makes a group of people “true and living” and why the Lord would in 1831 have been well-pleased with only one such group, collectively.
    None of this need have anything to do with claims of exclusive authority to perform ordinances or to teaching infallibly correct systematic theology. Further, the phrase “true and living church” never appears in the BoM (though it does refer to “true church”), and the commas in our current edition of the 1831 revelation D&C 1:30-31, which may get in the way of Kevin’s reading, do not appear in the manuscript. See the published Joseph Smith Papers.
    “True and living” is a phrase not used in the Bible or the BoM with respect to church or churches. In both it is used with respect to the “true and living God.” And in Joseph’s 1832 manuscript telling of his first vision, it is also used with respect to the “true and liveing [sic] faith.” In that 1832 account of his much earlier first vision, Joseph stated that “…by searching the Scriptures I found that mankind did not come unto the Lord but that they had apostatised from the true and liveing faith and there was no society or denomination that built upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament.” It is not clear to me why one should take D&C 1:30-31 to mean anything more than that – or even as adopting any one particular person’s understanding of “true church” or “living church.” Is “true and living” any more than a handy phrase with a good ring to it that Joseph liked in 1831-32 and transplanted from one context to another? What is meant by “true” and what is meant by “living” seem to me critically important to understanding what “only” means in D&C 1:30. What have I missed?

  27. Clark Goble
    July 18, 2018 at 10:08 pm

    I’ll hold of saying anything else until Kevin chimes in since I may be misreading him. I will give a shout out to my post “How is the Church True?” That argues that we should understand this in terms of Hebrew notions of truth.

  28. Daniel C
    July 19, 2018 at 12:15 am

    JR, “What have I missed?”

    We really need to parse the meaning of “what” here. “Have” can be a confusing word with lots of different usages. As can the word “I”. “Missed”, now that is a quagmire of a term. You’ll need a whole dissertation to explain what “missed” means.

    You sound like Bill Clinton questioning what the meaning of the word “is” is. If you have questions about what the leaders mean when they say that the LDS Church is the only true church, then how about you go and tell any leader to accept as valid Catholic baptisms. That will go over well. The mental contortion you put yourself through to make Mormonism “true” for you in your own special little way is really quite fascinating. You invent a new Mormonism, infused with all sorts of postmodern reasoning, in order to avoid 1) being pinned down by a critics of Mormonism asking how you can believe x doctrine or policy and 2) validating the seemingly orthodox understandings of Mormonism (which are mostly in line with what LDS leaders have taught over time. Spade identification is clearly not your strong suit. Let’s call a spade a spade.

  29. JR
    July 19, 2018 at 8:55 am

    And Daniel C missed the point [again?] — on top of his having no idea at all about what makes Mormonism “true” for me or what I think of its claim of unique authority to perform ordinances. But I do appreciate the intensity of his apparent testimony of that claim. His shifting the subject from what D&C 1 might mean to that claim of unique authority suggests he might fear that Section 1 were the only source of that claim. I don’t.

    Clark, thanks for linking back to your “How the Church is True” post. Like Daniel C, but rather more substantively and charitably, it suggests an identity between the “usual” meaning of the one-true-church claim and the unique-authority claim. But I was a little surprised at: “Usually if you ask someone who’s used the sentence [‘I know the Church is true’], they’ll rephrase it as ‘this is really God’s Church on earth.’ ” That has not been my experience — I have more often encountered an inability to explain or rephrase. I probably need to ask more people before I could have any sense of that being “usual.” In my recent experience, the phrase seems to be most commonly used by children between the ages of 2 and 5 reciting from rote memory, by emotional adolescents talking about a good church-sponsored experience, and by those adults who cannot imagine any error in whatever may be spoken by any general authority of the Church from 1830 to the present. That may just be my limited perception of my particular ward. I hope you are right about what is usually meant and understood.

  30. Steve
    July 19, 2018 at 9:22 am

    Clark where can I find your email to ask for more information

  31. Kevin Christensen
    July 19, 2018 at 9:39 am

    Grammatically in D&C 1:30 the “only” modifies “church, with which I am well pleased” relative to what “true and living” happen to mean. Since D&C 1:30 has thirty words, stripping it all down to “only true church” is like the sculpting an elephant out of a rock by chipping away everything that doesn’t look like an elephant. We ought not approach D&C 1:30 by chipping away all the words that don’t say what we expect to see. Rather, we ought to try to figure out what it is telling us.

    (Consider a sentence about the “only blue and idling car upon the face of the whole parking lot, with which I, the attendant, am well pleased.” That is not just a florid and emphatic way to say “only blue car” but provides a very different thought.)

    Yes, I did error in saying “true and living way through the veil” which is new and living. But the point is all of the Biblical imagery using either or both true and living points consistently in the direction of ongoing revelation, the voice of warning (Jer. 10:10) priesthood, ordinances, baptism, sacrament, and the temple, which (1) happen to be the themes of D&C 1 point for point, verse for verse and (2) the very things that in actual fact and practice distinguish the LDS from other assemblies of people.

    An “exclusive, complete, and perfect” interpretation as “only true church” cannot be correct because D&C 1 formally excludes such a reading.

    Regardless of what D&C 1 says, people will take that “exclusive” reading because many people do adopt that attitude as a strategy for dealing with complexity. Position Two of the Perry Scheme of nine Positions has this:

    POSITION 2 – Multiplicity Prelegitimate. (Resisting snake)

    Now the person moves to accept that there is diversity, but they still think there are TRUE authorities who are right, that the others are confused by complexities or are just frauds. They think they are with the true authorities and are right while all others are wrong. They accept that their good authorities present problems so they can learn to reach right answers independently.

    In my most formal publication of this reading (in Sophic Box and Mantic Vista), I also made the case that Joseph Smith and the scriptures, by precept and example, try to lead us to Position 9.

    POSITION 9. Commitments in Relativism further developed.

    The person now has a developed sense of irony and can more easily embrace other’s viewpoints. He can accept life as just that “life”, just the way IT is! Now he holds the commitments he makes in a condition of “PROVISIONAL ULTIMACY”, meaning that for him what he chooses to be truth IS his truth, and he acts as if it is ultimate truth, but there is still a “provision” for change. He has no illusions about having “arrived” permanently on top of some heap, he is ready and knows he will have to retrace his journey over and over, but he has hope that he will do it each time more wisely. He is aware that he is developing his IDENTITY through Commitment. He can affirm the inseparable nature of the knower and the known–meaning he knows he as knower contributes to what he calls known. He helps weld a community by sharing realization of aloneness and gains strength and intimacy through this shared vulnerability. He has discarded obedience in favor of his own agency, and he continues to select, judge, and build.


  32. JR
    July 19, 2018 at 11:17 am

    Kevin, thanks for the link. Your linked review articulates some illuminating ideas and interpretations.

  33. SC
    July 19, 2018 at 11:39 am

    Clark, I don’t disagree that, whatever name we want to slap on it, we’re looking primarily at a difference “largely defined in terms of how ‘literalistic’ one reads scripture” (with “scripture” construed broadly). But because Mormonism’s message has always been fairly direct, literalistic, and historical, that makes for an enormous difference—not only in how we understand it, but in how it may be presented to others. Many Mormons can and do understand the Church’s claims and texts with less literalism, with limited supernaturalism, with circumspection. The question is whether that type of understanding would have any sales appeal to non-believers. My sense is that acceptance (and embracing) of Sterling McMurrins in our pews would go a long way towards retention efforts; but a Sterling McMurrinized set of missionary discussions isn’t going to bring throngs into the waters of baptism. In effect, this is palliative care for Mormonism, absent some revelation/re-imagination/re-invention that would better adapt the faith to its time.

  34. Clark Goble
    July 19, 2018 at 12:16 pm

    JR, I’ve confess I’ve never had trouble getting someone to rephrase what they mean by the church being true. “It’s really his church” is an other common expression. I’m not sure your list of who says it is fair either. Almost everyone says it. Heck, I regularly say it.

    Kevin, I just don’t buy that “only” modifies “church with which I am please” rather than “with which I am pleased” addresses “only true and living church.” At a minimum both are grammatically correct. Now of course the punctuation is added later so we shouldn’t trust the punctuation to tell us much. But at best your usage is ambiguous relative to the text.

    I certainly agree that “perfect” is excluded by D&C 1 among many other texts. But that seems beside the point relative to true and living.

    If we turn to literature as it uses “true and living” around Joseph’s time, I think it also highlights the problem. “True and living” most commonly modify God. (Going back to the slightly different form in Jer 10:10) So it’s an other way of saying, “only real god.” Likewise if we look to the Book of Mormon as a clue to Joseph’s rhetoric when inspired, you see this same use relative to God. It’s also usually raised to create and opposition with false gods. I’d suggest that D&C 1 is doing the same sort of thing.

    Even if we were to accept your reading, it seems like it wouldn’t give us much unless there were evidence for a different church that was also true and living. Yet that seems to go against what Joseph says.

    SC, I hear that claim a lot – that it’d help retention. I’ve just not seen any good arguments for it. I can but point to Protestantism where people didn’t go to liberal churches. They are just not going to church. The idea that denying all the truths except in an allegorical sense seems dubious. It’s far more likely to just make people not see the point. Honestly, why would someone bother coming to church with all the associated sacrifices if it’s not true in any straightforward sense?

  35. Daniel C
    July 19, 2018 at 12:28 pm

    JR, “one-true-church claim and the unique-authority claim”

    This is a false dichotomy. The LDS church leaders have routinely claimed that the LDS church is true (implying that its teachings are true in that they correctly describe the reality of God and accurately relay God’s commandments to humans) and that it is the only one authorized to perform ordinances. By saying that the LDS church is true, it is implied that it has unique authority.

    “And Daniel C missed the point”

    A point that you have been unable to clearly articulate.

    “on top of his having no idea at all about what makes Mormonism “true” for me or what I think of its claim of unique authority to perform ordinances”

    I could care less about how you explain Mormonism to be true. You could say that because the sky is blue it is true to me. All I care about is that you accurately describe how the leaders regularly explain it to be true and what they mean by true. What the leaders clearly mean by Mormonism being true is that it accurately describes the reality of God and God’s commandments (authority to act on behalf of God being part and parcel of the claim to being the true church). They do not mean Mormonism is true in some metaphorical, mystical way, which appears to be how you want it to be true. You and Kevin are mentally contorting yourselves around the obvious interpretation of D&C 1 (which is that the LDS church is the only church that correctly communicates God’s revelations to God’s prophets, again authority being part and parcel). Oddly enough, we can see right through you and your motivations behind such mental gymnastics. You’re being intellectually dishonest.

  36. July 19, 2018 at 1:33 pm

    churchistrue has been trying to push the thesis that Terryl L. and Fiona Givens are secret New Order Mormom sleeper agents (not his words, but a good paraphrase) who don’t really believe in the most fundamental doctrines like BoM historicity. This, of course, ignores many of the Givens’ own words and testimony in favor of out of context soundbites (often, taking the Givens’ charitable stance towards doubt and faith crisis and making it sound like they are agreeing with the disbelief rather than just being empathetic toward it).

    Here is Terryl Givens explicitly rejecting the claims of people like churchistrue:

    “Others have attempted to draw inferences from our writings that we would disown. For instance, one otherwise astute critic recently invoked these words of ours: “it is exactly in conditions of ‘incertitude,’ when we are open to the ‘indeterminacy of it all,’ that we become, as individuals empowered to make choices, able to ‘act most authentically, calling upon intuition, spiritual intimations, or simply yearning’” (Crucible 32). But he then compared that sentiment to what he considered a kindred statement made by Justice Anthony Kennedy in defending abortion rights: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” That comparison is entirely inapt, not least of all because of the infinite chasm that differentiates “defining one’s own concept of existence” and terminating someone else’s existence. And that chasm is the one that, I hope, will alleviate your concerns as well.”

    “I agree that a predisposition to tend toward an effectual belief in infallibility is a good thing for believing Latter-day Saints.”

  37. JR
    July 19, 2018 at 2:15 pm

    Clark: ” I’m not sure your list of who says it is fair either. Almost everyone says it.” My list of who says it “most commonly” is explicitly limited to my perception of my experience in my current ward. I have no reason to think that perception is either fully accurate or that it can be generalized to the church as a whole. I do not know what almost everyone says.

    I really don’t understand Daniel C, his royal “we” or his accusations. First he tells me “The mental contortion you put yourself through to make Mormonism “true” for you in your own special little way is really quite fascinating” although I have disclosed nothing at all about what I think of the truth of Mormonism or its being “true” “for me” [Daniel’s articulation, not mine]. Now he tells me he doesn’t care about how I explain Mormonism to be true. I find it hard to be fascinated by things I don’t care about. Instead, Daniel cares, that I “accurately describe how the leaders regularly explain it [the Church or Mormonism?] to be true and what they mean by true”. I made no attempt to explain how I find Mormonism or the Church to be true or how its Church leaders regularly explain it. I don’t plan to, but I don’t disagree with Daniel’s summary of what the Church’s leaders generally mean in testifying that the Church is true. Instead, I proposed that Kevin’s reading of D&C 1 is not wholly unreasonable as a reading of that text. That text is not the only source of the leaders’ teaching as summarized by Daniel — at least so far as I understand Daniel’s summary. That teaching is not, to my mind, undercut by recognizing a reasonable basis for seeing Section 1 as ambiguous, or by recognizing the existence of other possible meanings of “true” and “living” in connection with a group of people.

  38. Daniel C
    July 19, 2018 at 2:43 pm

    JR, let me remind you of what you wrote:

    “although I have disclosed nothing at all about what I think of the truth of Mormonism or its being “true” “for me””

    You wrote

    “on top of his having no idea at all about what makes Mormonism “true” for me”

    Here it is implied that you think Mormonism is true. That you agree with Kevin’s parsing of D&C 1 and his attempt to make ambiguous what is generally read by leaders of the LDS church as an unambiguous text is further evidence that you have some hyper-nuanced view of Mormon truth. Also, you keep putting true and truth in quotes, suggesting that you are more of a relativist/postmoderist (confirming what I wrote earlier about neo-apologists defending Mormonism with postmodern rhetoric).

    “Now he tells me he doesn’t care about how I explain Mormonism to be true”

    I don’t and I still don’t. Believe it to be true however you want. I don’t care. But don’t tell someone who interprets D&C 1 as meaning that the LDS church is the only church that correctly represents the reality of God that they are misreading the scripture. No. They are perfectly within reason to believe that and have views that are in line with those of the LDS leaders, who are in a position to define what is doctrinal and how scriptures are to be interpreted (you and Kevin are in no position to speak authoritatively for how LDS members should interpret scriptures).

    “recognizing the existence of other possible meanings of “true” and “living” in connection with a group of people”

    You and Kevin are extreme outliers in your views, and you need to acknowledge that. So much that your views of how Mormonism is true don’t really count (well, not until these views gain noticeable momentum in the Mormon community).

  39. JR
    July 19, 2018 at 3:10 pm

    Daniel C needs to learn the difference between implications and inferences and to understand the multiple possible meanings of quotation marks. I am not able to teach him.

  40. SC
    July 19, 2018 at 5:59 pm

    Clark, what data are you looking to on Protestants sitting it out, rather than migrating to more congenial congregations?

    I don’t share your view that unburdening Mormonism from attachment to a hodgepodge of false, dubious, or unsubstantiated claims about the world (past or present) is necessarily DOA; but, if you’re right, we’re hosed. Those who are skeptical (justifiably or not) will be run off, resulting in increased fundamentalism. And not a moral fundamentalism, but one rooted in (a)historical commitments that, even if accepted without question, will not change Mormons’ lives for the better.

  41. Daniel C
    July 19, 2018 at 6:36 pm

    JR needs to learn to own up to what he writes. It is like playing a game of whack-a-mole with you. “Neener, neener, can’t catch me, you can’t pin me down,” you say. You play a game of luring people into thinking that you think a particular way, and then when they rush to tackle that view, you retreat and let them fall under the weight of their own momentum, allowing you to deal the final blow. Typical of someone who tries to live in two conflicting worlds of believing LDS and secular intellectuals (classic case of cognitive dissonance). But alas, in this age of Trump that we live in, people have grown tired of nuance and like to beat nuanced reasoning up. Sometimes, but only sometimes, rightly so. Your Mormonism isn’t real Mormonism. Face it.

  42. Clark Goble
    July 19, 2018 at 8:26 pm

    SC both ARIS and Pew self-identification studies show that. Liberal protestantism has been rapidly shrinking for decades. Now in the Trump era you’re seeing more press on liberal protestantism however no indication their numbers have stopped shrinking. A significant number of Nones are leaving liberal protestantism for the Nones. It’s just recently that it’s started affecting conservative protestantism as well. (There were always None switching, but the groups still stayed relatively large or growing relative to the US population – especially compared to liberal protestants) We’re about due for an other set of surveys so it’ll be interesting to see if things have changed significantly the last couple of years.

    For the best data look at the past three ARIS studies. It’s kind of shocking when you do that.

    As for the other part, I suspect we disagree about what is or isn’t a “hodgepodge of false, dubious or unsubstantiated claims.” I’d note that of course if you push “unsubstantiated claims” too far you have to exclude the atonement and God as well.

    Daniel, while I disagree with them on how to read D&C 1, I think you take it much too far. If we accept fallibilism towards Mormonism then of course some things we believe will be wrong. Thus normative Mormonism (what typical members believe – which is often at odds even with official teachings) will not be what Mormonism will be in the future. This seems a trivial point so I find it surprising you mock it as you do. I can understand perhaps not liking the more poetic way things like that are expressed in those coming from Continental Philosophy – although that rhetoric has a long history in western Christianity. However the content itself is pretty non-controversial and just arises out of a logic of vagueness. So you hear it in politics all the time where foundational statements like “all men are created equal” are seen as true but not understood at the time.

  43. SC
    July 19, 2018 at 8:58 pm

    Thanks for the sources, Clark. I’ll check them out.

  44. Kevin Christensen
    July 20, 2018 at 9:09 am

    JR, you are welcome. I’m glad you found Sophic Box and Mantic Vista useful. Not my best known work, but I think it came out well.

    Daniel C, regarding me being an outlier, Juanita Brooks famously commented on being at the edge of the herd as valuable for the view and the potential to influence direction. And it seems to me that the real Mormonism is a work in progress and process, and not a static Big Book of What to Think. The important question and ideal attitude is not “Do you preach the orthodox religion?” but, “I am seeking further light and knowledge.”

  45. Daniel C
    July 20, 2018 at 1:45 pm

    Clark, D&C 1 is clearly saying that the LDS church is the only church that represents God and has his truth and that other churches do not. This has nothing to do with fallibility/fallibilism. This is a straw man.

    Kevin, so you basically agree with me, you just think that that is a good thing to be on the “edge of the herd.” I’m not saying that it isn’t. Just don’t misrepresent how the LDS church leaders view and interpret scriptures or pretend to be more of an authority on how the scriptures should be correctly interpreted by the LDS congregation than them.

  46. Clark
    July 20, 2018 at 3:00 pm

    Daniel, not sure what you’re arguing against. I was referring to your comment about postmodernism. That is one can adopt the traditional reading of D&C 1 (which from the above you can surely see I do) while simultaneously think “we see through a glass darkly” and acknowledge errors.

  47. Kevin Christensen
    July 21, 2018 at 8:31 am

    Daniel, so you think Mormonism, not a covenant community in process, but a Big Book of What to Think, where Orthodoxy is the Beginning and End, and D&C 1:24-28 is just kidding when it says of LDS leadership “inasmuch as they have erred, it might be made known, and inasmuch as they sought wisdom, they might be instructed,… and inasmuch as they were humble, they might be made strong, and blessed from on high, and receive knowledge from time to time”? Rather, since they are leaders, they do not error, they don’t need to seek knowledge or inquire because we have it on the shelf, secure, unchangeable, complete and inerrant already.

    Whenever I present my reading, I do so to counter the popular reading. I don’t present it as the popular reading but my own take offered as what I see as a better reading, for what it is worth. I came up with it in the first place in the 90s, as an unanticipated consequence of trying to figure out what the dangling “and living” was doing there. And when I did eventually have my paradigm shift after checking lots of Bible passages on “true” and”living”, I immediately went to a Deseret Book and looked through all the D&C commentaries I could find. I found that not one of them even tried to give a close reading of the thirty words in D&C 1:30, but all of them bypassed the text and stated what they knew that it must say, “only true church,” which is the clear meaning that is left when you chip away the 27 other meaningless, decorative but obviously non-contributory waste words.

  48. Truckers Atlas
    July 21, 2018 at 11:20 am

    Kevin, I don’t know the mind of God, but I struggle to see him as a trickster of wordplay who trusts that only a few creative, intellectually-flexible readers will be able to understand the true meaning of a certain scripture (e.g. Section 1).

  49. Daniel C
    July 22, 2018 at 5:22 am

    Clark, “not sure what you’re arguing against” – don’t be obtuse.

    “That is one can adopt the traditional reading of D&C 1 (which from the above you can surely see I do) while simultaneously think “we see through a glass darkly” and acknowledge errors.”

    Kevin and JR are going far beyond that to suggest that the concept of the LDS church being true is actually much more metaphorical than your average believer is comfortable with. You get at this in the OP and express discomfort with neo-apologist rhetoric that the true in some special sense other than “it correctly reflects reality.”

  50. Daniel C
    July 22, 2018 at 6:10 am

    Kevin, “so you think Mormonism, not a covenant community in process, but a Big Book of What to Think, where Orthodoxy is the Beginning and End”

    There is a rather large set of absolutes in LDS teachings that must be believed as literal truth (and not metaphorically). You’re not acknowledging this. The idea that a proto-Christian community existed in the Americans before the coming of Jesus cannot be understood as metaphor, for instance. The idea that it is God’s literal will and command that individuals be baptized by full immersion into water also cannot be understood as metaphor. You can get away with this idea that it is covenant to follow and obey that matters and not necessarily the actually correspondence of the teachings to reality to some extent, but the idea that the LDS church is true mostly means that it is actually teaching about reality that it has obtained by divine revelation that other churches just don’t have access to since they lack divine authority.

    “D&C 1:24-28 is just kidding”

    Please, fallibility is nothing more than a side issue. What you have been getting at is the concept of what it means for the LDS church to be true. Here is the difference between the LDS leaders and you (and other neo-apologists, which you most certainly are one (please don’t try to deny it)). The LDS leaders mostly disregard trying to make LDS church teachings reconcilable with modern reason. They simply say that you can know things are true by praying and feeling the spirit and that that is what matters most. If you are confronted by a troubling issue, you just pray it away and mostly ignore it. By contrast, you and other neo-apologists are desperately trying to reconcile LDS teachings with modern reason. Consequently you want to be in a position to turn LDS truth into metaphorical truth whenever particular truth claims seemingly become irreconcilable with modern reason in a literal sense. You strain your mind really, really hard to do this and perform the most contorted acts of mental gymnastics imaginable to make Mormonism appear reasonable. You work your hardest to position yourself as painting the critics as “expecting the leaders to be perfect” in order to try to deflect and delegitimize their criticism of LDS teachings. This is a dishonest characterization of most of the leading critics since they generally seem to be fine with some mistakes here and there. What they are criticizing is the magnitude of seeming error and repeated patterns of it, not the slightest appearance of it. In the end, you seem to be reinventing Mormonism as a truth-of-the-gaps religion, where its extraordinary and supernatural teachings are only to be understood as literally true where modern reason cannot seemingly disprove it otherwise. All other truth claims that cannot square with modern reason in a literal sense are to be understood as metaphorical, no matter how much LDS church leaders have stressed these as literal truths. Consequently you often throw the LDS leaders under the bus where it is convenient to your argument, which is what you are doing with your interpretation of D&C 1:30. You do not defend the LDS church leaders by throwing them under the bus.

    “dangling “and living””

    You’re overthinking this and ignoring the context. Living meaning it has an authority, Joseph Smith, who receives continuing revelation from God, as opposed to just the most correct interpretation of the Bible, but no continuing revelation.

  51. Clark
    July 23, 2018 at 10:17 am

    Daniel, that’s not all you’re arguing though. And let’s be a little more polite. Try and pretend you’re Canadian.

    To your other points, the Church is actually pretty willing to overlook not following orthodoxy so long as you’re helping out and not teaching your views in a more formal way. That is they care much more about whether you’re serving other people in the ward and doing your calling than your views on historicity. (I might go so far as to say the Church goes too far in this direction) I’m sympathetic to some of your criticisms but I think you’re just pushing them a bit too far.

  52. Daniel C
    July 23, 2018 at 11:42 am

    Clark, “that’s not all you’re arguing though.” I thought you said that you weren’t “sure what [I was] arguing against.”

    “let’s be a little more polite”

    You should note that obtuseness and disingenuousness are forms of impoliteness, and they require stronger arm debate tactics to combat.

    “the Church is actually pretty willing to overlook not following orthodoxy”

    As long as you don’t say anything that can be construed as direct criticism and show that you generally support general and local leaders. So yes, you can be in the LDS church and not be a full believer, or literalist believer, but you have to careful about what you say.

    “they care much more about whether you’re serving other people in the ward and doing your calling than your views on historicity”

    Nonsense. When members say that the Book of Mormon is true, they almost always mean this as a profession of its historicity (only a few nuanced intellectual members mean “true” metaphorically, and these types are a dying breed). The whole basis of Mormon belief is and always has been the idea that the Book of Mormon is an ancient text and that this proves Joseph Smith to be a prophet who communicates with God. Also, you may be able to coast through church not saying much about historicity or even being pressed on the issue of historicity, but if you say something that can be construed as questioning the historicity of the Book of Mormon, the leaders and the rank and file will press back. Consider Jeffrey R. Holland’s 2009 talk on the Book of Mormon (https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2009/10/safety-for-the-soul?lang=eng):

    “I testify that one cannot come to full faith in this latter-day work—and thereby find the fullest measure of peace and comfort in these, our times—until he or she embraces the divinity of the Book of Mormon and the Lord Jesus Christ, of whom it testifies. If anyone is foolish enough or misled enough to reject 531 pages of a heretofore unknown text teeming with literary and Semitic complexity without honestly attempting to account for the origin of those pages—especially without accounting for their powerful witness of Jesus Christ and the profound spiritual impact that witness has had on what is now tens of millions of readers—if that is the case, then such a person, elect or otherwise, has been deceived; and if he or she leaves this Church, it must be done by crawling over or under or around the Book of Mormon to make that exit.”

  53. Clark Goble
    July 23, 2018 at 5:47 pm

    You should note that obtuseness and disingenuousness are forms of impoliteness, and they require stronger arm debate tactics to combat.

    Part of politeness is not assuming the worst of your interlocutors. A bit of interpretive charity goes a long way. Otherwise those called obtuse might offer a rejoinder in the same spirit. Channel your inner Canadian.

    Nonsense. When members say that the Book of Mormon is true, they almost always mean this as a profession of its historicity

    That’s completely unrelated to what I said. I said that leaders care more about whether you’re coming and doing your calling. I didn’t say they didn’t care at all. So you’re tilting at a windmill here.

  54. Daniel C
    July 23, 2018 at 7:19 pm

    “Channel your inner Canadian”

    Just imagine us talking in person, then. This conversation would come off much more cordial than it appears in writing. I mean no offense in what I write. So please don’t take any.

    “That’s completely unrelated to what I said”

    Of course it is related to what you said. What are you talking about?

    “I said that leaders care more about whether you’re coming and doing your calling”

    Motte and bailey fallacy. You’re just switching back and forth between easy-to-defend and hard-to-defend arguments, claiming that you’ve been positing easy-to-defend arguments all along when you have really been gearing at the harder-to-defend arguments. You wrote that they they care “much more” suggesting an even lower level of interest in member positions on historicity. If you posit ideas in Sunday School or in conversations that appear not to accept commonly-accepted historicity positions, then you will highly likely get pushback from the believing community around you. Plus, you have to note that a good number of callings that an individual will hold over just the course of a decade put the member in a position to take a stance on historicity. The local leaders don’t have to go out of their way to probe members on their views on historicity because the LDS church is already structured in a way that the issue of historicity is routinely emphasized. A mere questioner of historicity who is fully active in the LDS church is routinely put in positions that would likely cause cognitive dissonance.

  55. Clark Goble
    July 25, 2018 at 10:55 am

    Daniel, the quip about tilting at windmills was because I’ve already said historicity is important. So you’re arguing against me for a position I don’t even hold. My point is that while historicity is important, it’s not the main concern within church.

  56. Daniel C
    July 26, 2018 at 1:08 pm

    “My point is that while historicity is important, it’s not the main concern within church.”

    And my point is that it is and always has been, the evidence being the primacy of claiming the Book of Mormon to be true, which is almost always meant as a historicity claim.

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