Author: Chad Nielsen

Chad’s three great intellectual passions in life are science, history/religious studies, and music. He has pursued a career in biotechnology, but maintains an active interest in both of his other passions on the side. Chad is a four-time winning contestant in the Arrington Writing Award competition held at Utah State University for his essays on Mormon history and has presented at the Logan Institute of Religion scholar’s forum and the annual meeting of the Society of Mormon Philosophy and Theology. He is a faithful Latter-day Saint who has served in a variety of music, teaching, and clerical callings at his church as well as in the music ministry of a Presbyterian church. Currently he is serving as a music missionary as a member of the Bells on Temple Square.

The Many Lives of the King Follett Sermon

I have to admit that I have had an ongoing fascination with the King Follett Sermon. I had been acquainted with bits and pieces of it here and there, but only really became familiar with the full text early on in my mission. But it has shaped a lot of my theology and views in the years since then. Apparently, I’m not alone – William V. Smith just published an entire book about the sermon (The King Follett Sermon: A Biography [BCC Press, 2023]) and talked about his research in a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview.

Joseph Smith’s Gold Plates: A Review

Richard Lyman Bushman’s Joseph Smith’s Gold Plates: A Cultural History (Oxford University Press, 2023) is an important contribution to Book of Mormon studies. As a cultural history of the gold plates, the book traces the story of the plates and the translation of the Book of Mormon, reactions to the story and the development of folklore about the gold plates over the subsequent two centuries. It also discusses how the plates have been portrayed in artwork and literature, used in teaching programs in the Church, and some of the debates about the plates.  Even while visiting the story of the plates—as he has before in Rough Stone Rolling and Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism—Bushman provides fresh perspectives on the story. For example, he focuses on the idea that Joseph Smith may not have understood the purpose of the plates as a record that needed to be translated initially, rather than being a treasure. At first, Joseph Smith may have approached the plates with his treasure hunting in mind rather than a religious perspective. After all, the idea of a book-length record on gold plates wasn’t really something that was a common idea. It was only gradually, as he became acquainted with the interpreters and what was on the plates that he realized it needed to be translated. It was a perspective that I’ve not seen emphasized before (at least within my memory). As you read, you can tell…

Lowell Bennion

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints saw a group of highly-impactful university professors during the 20th century who helped to shape Latter-day Saint thought. For many, Hugh Nibley, Truman Madsen, Eugene England are a well-known part of their experience with the Church. Another figure that deserves to be remembered in that group is Lowell Bennion. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog, biographer George Handley discussed Lowell Bennion and his contributions to the Church. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview.

Neal A. Maxwell: Disciple Scholar

A favorite speaker at general conference when I was growing up was Neal A. Maxwell. Eloquent and deeply thought out talks were something of a hallmark for him, with plenty of alliteration thrown in for good measure. His life and discipleship was discussed in a recent interview with Bruce C. Hafen at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview. 

Latter-day Saints in Micronesia and Guam

At the last general conference, I was impressed by something briefly mentioned by Quentin L. Cook. He talked about a seventh-generation member from Tahiti, with her ancestors joining the Church in 1845 (2 years before the Latter-day Saints in the U.S. migrated to Utah/Deseret or Brigham Young organized the First Presidency).[1] It was a brief (but important) reminder that the history of the Church is larger than the United States and the United Kingdom, even in the earliest days of the Church. While Micronesia and Guam do not have as long of a history with the Church as Tahiti or Hawai’i, they still are home to notable populations of Latter-day Saints and a rich history. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, R. Devan Jensen discussed the history of the Church in Micronesia and Guam (in connection with the book Battlefields to Temple Grounds: Latter-day Saints in Guam and Micronesia).

Was it the Angel Moroni?

Today marks the 200th anniversary of the day Joseph Smith said that he saw the golden plates, with last night being the anniversary of the evening that he recalled the Angel Moroni appearing to him. Yet, from time to time, there have been questions raised about whether Joseph Smith consistently said that it was Moroni who appeared to him. A couple of those questions have been addressed in posts from the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk about the Angel Moroni and the Salamander Letter. What follows here is a co-post, focusing on the question of who Joseph Smith claimed to have been visited by.

The ancient owner of the Book of Abraham papyri

Joseph Smith claimed that the Book of Abraham was a translation of some of the papyri he purchased along with some mummies in Kirtland. It is difficult to ascertain the full nature of those papyri since a lot of them burned. But we can learn some about the history of those papyri from the fragments which remain. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog, Kerry Muhlestein discussed some of what we know about the ancient owner of the Book of Abraham papyri. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview.

Harold B. Lee: Life and Thought: A Review

Harold B. Lee: Life and Thought by Newell G. Bringhurst (Signature Books, 2021) is a highly affordable and readable biography of one of the most influential figures in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Although his tenure as president of the Church was short, Harold B. Lee had already reshaped much of the Church’s administration in the forms of Correlation, the Welfare Program and the mentoring of general authorities even before becoming the prophet-president. Bringhurst explores the life of this remarkable man in this volume of Signature Books’s Mormon Lives (or brief biographies) series.

Discussion on Scripture with the Community of Christ

The Community of Christ and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are sibling churches, both descending from the early Latter Day Saint movement. Since each group went their own way after the death of Joseph Smith in the 1840s, however, they have spent the last 170+ years growing and developing in different ways. In a recent interview over at the Latter-day Saint blog From the Desk, Kat Goheen (member of the Community of Christ) and Joshua Sears (Latter-day Saint) discussed how the two groups have developed differently in their approach to scriptures. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion). First off, what are the differences in canonized scriptures in each community? Both groups accept the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants in their canon. (The Pearl of Great Price was a later addition to the Latter-day Saint canon, so was never a thing in the Reorganization.) The Doctrine and Covenants is different. As Joshua Sears summarized about the differences between the Doctrine and Covenants: “The obvious difference is that we each include new revelations that the other church does not accept.” At the time that the two groups split, the Doctrine and Covenants consisted of most of the sections up through Section 107 in the Latter-day Saint version, along with Section 133 and 134. Most of the sections after 107 were added to…

Mormonism in Mexico, Part 15: War

The Mexican Revolution impacted every Mexican, and that included the Mexican Latter-day Saints, some of whom did their best to stay out of the conflict, some of whom became casualties of war, and some of whom joined in the revolution.

The Law of the Gospel

A couple years ago, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints included a list of the covenants made during the endowment session in their general handbook. It was a surprise, to be sure, but a welcome one. Yet, I missed a part of the significance of the text presented until reading a recent interview with Samuel R. Weber over at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk—not only are the specific covenants included, but definitions were as well. In particular, the Law of the Gospel, had an official definition pinned down for the first time in recent history, which is the subject of the interview.

Let’s Talk about Science and Religion – A Review

Back when I was studying biological engineering in college, I remember one Sunday where a stake high councilor came and spoke in our ward. He based his remarks on Elder Quentin L. Cook’s talk “Lamentations of Jeremiah: Beware of Bondage”. When he discussed how “Turning from the worship of the true and living God and worshipping false gods” results in forms of “spiritual, physical, and intellectual bondage,” the high councilor decided to add his own embellishments and examples of what those types of bondage looked like. His first example of intellectual bondage was the belief that organic evolution was real. Given my field of study and life experiences, that went over like a lead balloon. And yet, I at least understood where he came from. I can remember talking with an evangelical farmer at the edge of his property in rural Iowa on my mission and talking about evolution. The farmer was accusing Mormons of believing in evolution, which was a grievous sin in his eyes, and I was trying to convince him that because Bruce R. McConkie said that belief in evolution was wrong, Latter-day Saints were required to reject evolution (since he was sustained as a prophet, seer, and revelator), so the farmer didn’t need to feel concerned about that aspect of our religion. While I was very conflicted about rejecting evolution, at the time I was also in the camp that essentially believes that Bruce R. McConkie…

Jesus’s Female Ancestors

Jesus the Messiah was the son of a righteous and godly woman named Mary, through whom he had many ancestors discussed in the Hebrew Bible. Among those were several remarkable women. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog, Camille Fronk Olson discussed some of the women in the genealogy of Jesus. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview.

George Q. Cannon: Politician, Publisher, Apostle of Polygamy: A Review

George Q. Cannon: Politician, Publisher, Apostle of Polygamy by Kenneth L. Cannon II is an entry in the Signature Books brief biographies series focused on one of the most influential and best-known Latter-day Saints in the 19th century. As a missionary, publisher, representative for Utah Territory to the United States Congress, businessman, apostle, and long-term First Presidency member, he accomplished a lot during his lifetime. The brief biographies are essentially a Latter-day Saint version of the Penguin Lives series that was published by the Penguin Random House and Viking Press–short, accessible biographies of notable individuals. At 250 pages (plus index material), this George Q. Cannon biography pushes the bounds of “brief”, but the subject led such a big life and left so many records of his efforts and accomplishments that it is understandable why it didn’t fit into 100-150 pages.

Mormonism in Mexico, Part 13: A Mission Revived

The closure of the mission in Mexico in 1889 led to an 12-year gap in the presence of missionaries and official church leadership in central Mexico. Ammon Tenney worked to restart the mission, connecting with the Latter-day Saints who were effectively abandoned and beginning new efforts at proselytizing.

Remember the “F.” And seniority.

I know I’ve talked a bit about Joseph F. Smith (JFS) lately, but the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk recently shared another interview about him. This time around, Dennis Horne spoke about Joseph F. Smith’s succession to the presidency of the Church, but it also covers other info about this pivotal president of the Church. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview (a shorter post with quotes and some commentary by myself).

Mormonism in Mexico, Part 12: Bautista’s Lamanites

While efforts to gather converts from central Mexico failed and the mission in central Mexico closed, there would still be future successes. Among the earliest converts in the 20th century in Mexico, the Bautista family would go on to have an impact on the Church for years to come, including the development of an indigenous-affirming perspective on Lamanite identity.

Carthage and the Nauvoo Expositor

The Joseph Smith Papers recently released a final podcast series, the Road to Carthage podcast, focusing on the final days and immediate aftermath of Joseph Smith’s life. It was an explosive time, filled with tension both within and outside of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, podcast host Spencer W. McBride talked about the events that led to Joseph Smith’s death in 1844. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion). An important piece of the picture when it comes to events leading to Joseph Smith’s death is the way that information was shared at the time and place and the impact that had on public opinion. As McBride explains, the mechanism mostly focused on a network of local newspapers: There was no national newspaper that reached readers throughout the country. Instead, local newspaper editors borrowed liberally from each other, reprinting articles wholesale. This meant that really interesting news and opinions in one part of the country could eventually receive national coverage through this exchange network of newspapers. So, there was great potential in operating a newspaper, even far away from the country’s centers of population and power. Two newspapers in particular played a key role in the story: The Warsaw Signal was the premier venue for anti-Mormon editorials in Illinois. That paper stirred…

The Fiery Meteor

Joseph F. Smith “(remember the F)” is one of the most important and influential presidents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, even though he isn’t frequently discussed in church settings. It was during his administration that the Church really started to take on its current form – rejection of polygamy, modern monetary auditing systems, the first attempts at correlation, temples outside of the United States, our understanding of priesthood as an entity unto itself, the vision that is now D&C section 138 was received, and the purchasing and development of historical sites all were developments overseen by Joseph F. Smith. As a person, Joseph was also extremely complex, making him a fascinating subject to study, as Steven Taysom’s recently-released biography Like a Fiery Meteor: The Life of Joseph F. Smith demonstrates. In a recent interview with the Latter-day Saint history blog, Steven Taysom discussed a bit about the life of Joseph F. Smith. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview.

“Like a wise man who built his house on rock”: A Pioneer Day Homily on Matthew 7:21-27

A sacrament meeting talk given 23 July 2023 At the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, St. Matthew recorded that the Lord, Jesus Christ stated: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you who behave lawlessly.’ “Everyone, then, who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!” (Matthew 7:21-27, NRSV.) Besides being the basis of a very fun song to sing with children, these words underscore the importance of both learning and acting upon the words of the Lord. Now, why did the Lord…

Asking Questions About the Book of Mormon

A central question about the Book of Mormon that has been asked over and over again is whether it is an ancient document or a modern one. Despite being asked and answered by so many people, that question is still being argued and fought over and probably will be indefinitely. But what other questions are being asked about the Book of Mormon? In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint blog From the Desk, Joe Spencer and Nick Frederick talked about some of those questions in a discussion about the field of Book of Mormon studies. What follows here is a copost to the full interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion.