Defending the restored church of Christ - I created this blog several years ago to provide an alternative to what I saw at the time as a lot of bad "Mormon blogs" that were floating around the web. Also, it was my goal to collect and share a plethora of positive and useful information about what I steadfastly believe to be Christ's restored church. It has been incredibly enjoyable and I hope you find the information worthwhile.

Monday, August 28, 2017

How to define LDS Church doctrine: BYU Professor Anthony R. Sweat offers these 4 guidelines

(by Danielle Christensen 8-25-17)

Defining doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can at times be no easy task for Sunday School teachers, said Professor Anthony R. Sweat at BYU Education Week.

“Some people say doctrine are only those things that are eternal and they never change,” said Sweat. “I have used that definition. I think it’s useful in some contexts.”

But there’s a problem, he continued.

“If I’m only using the word doctrine to define things that are eternal and unchanging, is the Word of Wisdom a doctrine of the church?” he asked the audience.

According to, the Word of Wisdom, or “law of health,” was originally revealed in 1833. The law states that some substances are harmful to the human body, including alcohol, tea, coffee and tobacco, the website states. And while members of the LDS Church may automatically assume that the Word of Wisdom is a doctrine of the faith, Sweat pointed out a conundrum:

“It obviously was not had in other dispensations in the form we have it and it was changed in our dispensation,” he said, noting that it therefore is not strictly eternal. “So by that definition, that limiting definition, I would have to say . . . the Word of Wisdom is not LDS doctrine.”

Still, Sweat noted that the Word of Wisdom is an important doctrine in the church—the definition of “doctrine” just needs to be given a broader definition, he said.

“I would say this: It’s authoritative teachings of the church,” he continued, citing an official statement made by Mormon Newsroom on the subject.

Breaking it down further, Sweat explained that doctrines can be categorized into four main areas:

  1. Core Doctrine — those essential for salvation, including faith, repentance and baptism
  2. Supportive Doctrine — those that elaborate on core doctrine, but are not essential for salvation
  3. Policy Doctrine — authoritative, binding teachings of the LDS Church involving application of core and supportive doctrines
  4. Esoteric Doctrine — known perhaps by prophets or may have once been authoritatively taught in the church, but no longer are, and are not essential for salvation
To find essential doctrines in the church, Sweat suggested looking at official documents and statements issued by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, such as The Living Christ and The Family Proclamation. Each word has been approved by the brethren, which is no easy feat, he added.
“To bring 15 men together of diverse backgrounds who are strong-minded and opinionated and have had a lifetime of experience, and to get them all united is something,” Sweat said. “Trust me. In the religion department, sitting around with 30 Ph.D’s, it might be the millennium before we’re united in anything. And I say that with love to my fellow colleagues,” he joked.

Other ways to identify official doctrines include studying the Standard Works—the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine & Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price—and seeing whether they are consistently taught throughout the scriptures. Church leaders who have repeatedly taught about a doctrine while in their official capacities can also be helpful, he said.

“I hope . . . that these models help you in your thinking about doctrine and whether doctrine’s official,” Sweat continued. “May it be a way to categorize and have discussions and come to your own learning as you seek to learn by study and by faith.”


Friday, August 25, 2017

'Archaeology, Relics and Book of Mormon Belief'

(by Daniel Peterson 8-24-17)

John E. Clark, a respected authority on the archaeology of Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, teaches at Brigham Young University. In 2005, he published an article on archaeology and the Book of Mormon titled “Archaeology, Relics and Book of Mormon Belief” (see “Archaeology, Relics, and Book of Mormon Belief,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies” 14/2 (2005)

“The Book of Mormon,” he points out, “is unique in world scripture because its claimed divine origins can be evaluated by checking for concrete evidence in the real world. Prove the existence of Zarahemla, for example, and the validity of the rest follows. The logic is simple and compelling.”

“If Joseph Smith made the book up,” he explains, “then its peoples did not exist, its events did not happen, and there should be no trace of them anywhere. If, after a reasonable period of diligent searching, material evidence is not found, then the Book of Mormon would be shown to be imaginary, and by implication, Joseph Smith would be exposed as a liar and the church he founded unveiled as a hoax.”

However, while it’s easy to imagine something that might demonstrate the Book of Mormon true to all reasonable people — say, a stela bearing the name “Nephi, son of Lehi” and identifying him having built a temple patterned after one in his homeland across the sea — a decisive proof that the Book of Mormon is false is somewhat harder to picture. And how much time spent in “diligent searching” would be “reasonable”?

Nonetheless, many critics happily announce that the game is over, that the Book of Mormon has been proven false. The Bible’s claims, conservative Protestant critics of Mormonism often like to argue, are corroborated by geography and archaeology. But those of the Book of Mormon, they insist, are not. Decades of desperate archaeological research in Mexico and Central America, often (they say) sponsored by the LDS Church, have (they say) yielded absolutely no evidence for the Book of Mormon.

(On this latter issue, see my article “On the New World Archaeological Foundation,” which is online at

Professor Clark, however, is unimpressed by such critics: “They believe they are winning the day,” he writes, “but 175 years of falsehoods and weak arguments (have) not scratched the book’s credibility.” In his 2005 article, though, he spends little time rebutting critics’ claims. Instead, he offers positive support for the Book of Mormon in multiple areas, including the placing of metal records in stone boxes and the discovery of ancient Mesoamerican writing systems.

Until three or four decades ago, he notes, the Book of Mormon’s claims about fortifications and warfare were ridiculed by famous scholars. The peaceful peoples of Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica were simply devoted, said the authorities, to cultivating their fields of maize and beans. But, says Clark, things have changed: “Now that Maya writing can be read, warfare appears to have been a Mesoamerican pastime.”

The cities, temples, towers and palaces depicted in the Book of Mormon, Clark notes, match Mesoamerican structures in striking ways, including, very specifically, the use of cement. So do the kings and monuments that are mentioned in the Book of Mormon.

“The book’s claim of city societies was laughable” in 1830, he further says, “but no one is laughing now.” Moreover, Clark finds notable parallels between the Book of Mormon and the geography of the Old and New worlds.

“The Book of Mormon’s metaphors,” he remarks, “make sense in the Mesoamerican world.” Similarly, intriguing parallels exist between the timekeeping and prophesying described in the Book of Mormon and what we’re learning about ancient Mexico and Central America. Likewise, the cycles of civilization that archaeologists have been able to discern in Mesoamerica correspond with what the Book of Mormon depicts, as does Mesoamerican demographic or population history.

“A trend of convergence” is appearing, Clark writes, between the Book of Mormon and Mesoamerican archaeology. And that, he correctly observes, is remarkable.

The atoms of which oxygen and hydrogen are made aren’t wet. But they form water, which is. Individually, the letters of which this column is composed mean nothing. Put together, however, they create an argument. Individually, none of the arguments yet advanced for the Book of Mormon constitutes decisive proof. Collectively, though, they possess considerable force. (See this previous column by Daniel C. Peterson, “Creating a convincing, cumulative case for the Book of Mormon,” published on on Feb. 19, 2015.)

For related reading, see William J. Hamblin's “Basic Methodological Problems with the Anti-Mormon Approach to the Geography and Archaeology of the Book of Mormon,” online at


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Church history tour

Check out this gentleman's blog of a pretty impressive church history tour he did.

I haven't had time to go thru it yet but I will pretty soon.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Contested sacred space USA: Conflict and cooperation in the heartland

(by Kimberly Winston 8-11-17)

There is an open patch of grass at the intersection of River Boulevard and Walnut Street in this Kansas City suburb. It looks like a vacant lot — no structures, no landscaping, no fence.

But this 2.5-acre site is sacred to a number of religious groups, all of which trace their origins to Joseph Smith Jr., the Mormon prophet. It is here, Joseph Smith declared in 1831, that the Savior will return — and soon — to rule his kingdom from a beautiful temple.

For now, there is no temple — construction never got past the laying of cornerstones. But the three largest denominations with roots in Mormonism have presences in and around Temple Lot: The 15 million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints runs a visitors center on one corner across the street; the Community of Christ, with 200,000 members, has its world headquarters and an auditorium on two other corners; and the Church of Christ (Temple Lot), which has just 5,000 members, has a low-slung sanctuary a few steps away.
The world has no shortage of contested religious sites. From the Temple Mount and Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem to the former Babri Mosque built on the site of an ancient Hindu temple in Ayodhya, India, different faiths have both tried to share — and waged bloody conflicts over — spaces considered sacred to their traditions.

Here in the U.S., the three denominations present at Temple Lot have found a way to peacefully share the contested space, as well as two other sites nearby.

The roots of their disputes may not be as deep as the ones that entangle contested sites overseas. But they are certainly complex and emotional, and the Mormon factions’ efforts to come to terms with their conflicting claims has only come about through gestures of magnanimity and evolved thinking on the part of believers who follow the same founding prophet.

“You know the old saying, ‘There’s no fight like a family fight?'” said Steven L. Olsen, senior curator for historic sites for the LDS Church and a seventh-generation Mormon. “I think we have gotten over that because we realize there are bigger issues than the sectarian issues that divided us. We can accomplish a lot more together than we can by fighting each other.”

Shared history

Since Mormonism was born in America and splintered into dozens of religious groups, it may not be surprising that some of the places that figure in the Latter-day Saints’ founding stories are subject to competing claims.

Current estimates range between 30 and 100 active denominations that trace their lineage to Joseph Smith’s revelations.

Yet today, the three largest of these may have more theological differences than commonalities. The LDS Church and the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) retain their belief in a literal and imminent return of the Savior to Independence, while the Community of Christ does not.

The LDS Church has temple ordinances — sacraments and rites performed in temples for baptism of the dead, marriage and sealing families as eternal. Neither of the other two has these ordinances.

And only Community of Christ ordains women and accepts noncelibate LGBT people as full members.

Though Joseph Smith’s “Latter-day Saint movement” is 187 years old, only 14 years of that is shared.

“For 14 years, there was a common tree trunk,” said Lachlan Mackay, a Community of Christ historian. “Then the splintering happened.”

And with it came the contested sacred places.

Kirtland Temple

One of them is the Kirtland Temple, near Cleveland, the first temple Joseph Smith established.
The white, steepled structure wouldn’t be out of place in New England.

In April 1836, Joseph Smith claimed he saw the Savior standing at one of its two pulpits. Joseph Smith believed the Savior was accepting and blessing the temple and his followers. In other visions at Kirtland Temple, Joseph Smith claimed heavenly visitors gave him the keys — the authority — to conduct temple ordinances.

For LDS Church members, this event is sacred scripture, incorporated in their Doctrine and Covenants in 1876. They believe the Savior literally stood at the pulpit of the Kirtland Temple.

But in Community of Christ terminology, Joseph Smith’s visions were more spiritual experiences than actual events — they do not teach the Savior literally stood in the Kirtland pulpit. They hold only one of Joseph Smith’s several visions — his first, in a New York forest in 1820 — as important because, they believe, it shows the healing of God and the mercy of the Savior.

And it is the Community that owns Kirtland Temple.

David Howlett, a Community of Christ historian and author of “Kirtland Temple: The Biography of a Shared Mormon Sacred Space,” said relations there have always been cordial, if sometimes strained. During tours in the 1960s and 1970s, members of the two denominations would sometimes confront each other on the priesthood, plural marriage and more.

“I know from talking with guides from the 1970s, they were ready to go to war,” he said. “They knew what to hit their LDS guests with and they were ready to tangle.”

But the last 20 or so years have seen a change.

Community of Christ allows its “Mormon cousins” to hold worship, prayer and meetings in the temple’s sanctuary. Together, they hold joint Thanksgiving and Easter services and the annual Emma Joseph Smith Hymn Festival, named for Joseph Smith’s widow. The LDS Church has funded a roof replacement and some structural studies as well.

The LDS perspective of events is included in the tour guides’ script, and they always point out the pulpit where Joseph Smith said he saw the Savior stand.

Olsen, the LDS historian, recalls when, in 2003, then-church President Gordon Hinckley was given a tour of Kirtland Temple. The elderly Hinckley asked for a few minutes alone in the sanctuary. It was against the rules, but …

“They ushered everyone out and President Hinckley got to spend an hour in the temple contemplating what we call the ‘solemnities of eternity’ that transpired there,” he said. “That was an amazing act of generosity.”

Howlett says it is not so much that everyone gets along as that what they disagree on has changed. “For Community of Christ, it doesn’t matter whether this or that really happened at Kirtland,” he said. “It is more about the community Kirtland represents. That makes cooperation easier for them both.”


There is an old joke among Community of Christ members that their historical sites exist to ruin LDS family vacations.

That’s no longer true in Nauvoo, Ill., the small pioneer town Joseph Smith and his thousands of followers founded along a bend in the Mississippi River.

Here, the two churches share the log, clapboard and brick buildings. Community of Christ owns the Joseph Smith-related sites while the LDS Church owns sites associated with Brigham Young and other early church leaders. Visitors cross denominational lines without even knowing it.

But there once was a kind of border crossing — two billboards facing opposite directions had the effect of announcing “You are now entering” each church’s territory.

The billboards came down five years ago after a discussion over chips and salsa at a local Mexican restaurant.

“Steve Olsen (the LDS historian) was there and I was there and one of us said, ‘Hey, if we take ours down will you take yours down?'” said Mackay, the Community of Christ historian and overseer of the church’s Nauvoo sites. “It was silly, in the middle of historical sites, to have these billboards.”

That cooperation extends to the Red Brick Store, built in 1841 by Joseph Smith to house his dry goods business and owned by Community of Christ. The second floor was the de facto headquarters of the early Mormon church and is sacred to both groups, but for competing reasons.

Perhaps in a small office with windows toward the river, Community members believe, Joseph Smith made his son, Joseph Smith III, his spiritual successor in a ceremony involving an anointing and a laying on of hands.

But the LDS Church recognized Brigham Young as Joseph Smith’s successor. To them, the second floor is sacred because it is where Joseph Smith established temple endowments — a gift of power from on high that is the highest sacrament of the faith and can only be performed in temples.

Community of Christ does not have endowments, but it includes the historical information in tour materials and signage, and its tour guides are instructed in endowments’ importance for LDS visitors.
More problematic is an issue that roiled both denominations and kept them apart for at least a century. The Red Brick Store is where Joseph Smith recorded some teachings about plural marriage, which he secretly practiced as early as the 1840s and the LDS Church practiced until 1890. The LDS Church sanctified these teachings as scripture, Section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants.

Community of Christ has always rejected plural marriage. For decades, many members insisted Joseph Smith never practiced it.

“Really, we were here to challenge the idea that Joseph Smith was a polygamist for much of our existence,” Mackay said from his office, a short walk from the Red Brick Store. “That is not what we are here to do to today. We are here to tell a powerful story of a people who believed life in a community is better than a life alone.”

What changed, Mackay said, was the Community of Christ’s attitude toward history. In the 1960s the Community began accepting what outside scholars were arguing about Joseph Smith — that he married about 30 women (but fathered children with only one of them, his first wife, Emma, according to modern DNA testing).

“Historians looked at our story; we embraced their work,” Mackay said. “It didn’t happen overnight and it was very painful. It came down to, if you had to choose between something the Savior said and something Joseph Smith said, what would you choose? And the answer for us, of course, was the Savior.”

Olsen, who often visits the LDS-owned Nauvoo sites, including the house where Brigham Young planned the Mormon exodus to the Salt Lake Basin, said the two groups realized that when they played their disagreements out in the Nauvoo sites, “the people who were victimized were the visitors.”

And “we got to know each other,” Olsen said. “Once we came together in academic and not sectarian forums we came to a mutual appreciation. We realized there is more that brings us together than drove us apart. There have been extraordinary things accomplished since we reached this detente.”

Last year, Mackay, a great-great-great-grandson of Joseph and Emma Joseph Smith, and Elder M. Russell Ballard, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the LDS Church and a great-great-grandson of Joseph Smith Jr.’s brother Hyrum, jointly laid a wreath at their ancestors’ graves near the Red Brick Store — something that wouldn’t have happened a generation ago.

“That symbolizes our relationship now,” Mackay said.

Temple Lot

Nowhere is this relationship played out more clearly than at the grassy field in Independence — about 275 miles west of Nauvoo — known as Temple Lot.

When Joseph Smith purchased Temple Lot in 1831, some Mormon elders dedicated the site to God.
“This spot is the center of the earth,” a resident recorded of the dedication in his journal. “This is the spot of ground on which the New Jerusalem is to be built.”

But Mormons laid only the cornerstones — on view in the tiny museum in the Church of Christ (Temple Lot)’s building. Joseph Smith and his tens of thousands of followers fled the state in 1838 after its governor declared Mormons be “exterminated.”

After Joseph Smith’s death at the hands of an angry crowd in 1844, a breakaway Mormon sect called the Hedrickites came into possession of Temple Lot. The Community of Christ, then headed by Joseph Smith III, sued them for the deed.

The legal battle lasted from 1891 to 1896. In the end, the Hedrickites — by then renamed the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) — won. Both the Community of Christ and the LDS Church made occasional offers to purchase it, but Church of Christ (Temple Lot) officials proclaimed they would never sell.

“It is not for sale at any price … to the LDS Church in Utah, nor to any other division of the Restoration,” church Apostle Clarence Wheaton said. “We hold (it) as a sacred trust before the Lord.”

The land is still not for sale. Nor is it fenced in or guarded. On any summer day, busloads of LDS teens can be seen praying at the site, while Community of Christ members stroll over from a conference or service across the street.

Church of Christ still plans to build a temple on the site, but current efforts are hindered by money and local zoning laws.

There is speculation the LDS Church would very much like to buy the lot. Olsen acknowledged the LDS Church has the assets and likely the inclination to purchase the land, should it be for sale. In the meantime, the LDS Church has given funds to Church of Christ for the land’s upkeep and restoration.
“It is a good relationship,” said Roland Sarratt, a Church of Christ (Temple Lot) leader and historian who presides over its tiny museum on Mondays. “They respect us even though our beliefs are quite different. It is like Christianity in general — we have a common belief in God and the Savior Christ and that belief keeps us from being at a sword’s point on various things.”

Sarratt, who is 82, remembers the old battles over the site — a “defense thing,” he called it. Now, he can walk across the Temple Lot, stand in the footsteps of Joseph Smith Jr. and see something else.
“I have hope, because the way the world is going, we don’t know what the Lord has in mind,” he said. “We don’t know how the temple will ever be built. But the Lord knows. That’s where we’re at.”


Friday, August 11, 2017

10 facts about the Mormon religion

(by Terryl L. Givens 8-9-17)

Especially to those outside the faith, the beliefs and practices of the Mormon religion are largely unknown, and this has led to caricatures of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Below are 10 facts about Mormonism taken from Feeding the Flock: The Foundations of Mormon Thought: Church and Praxis by Terryl L. Givens.

1. In Mormon theology, the purpose and project of man is not to glorify or to serve God, but rather the inverse. It is God’s project and purpose to create the conditions for human happiness, by Him bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. Instead of an angry or demanding Father, Mormons see Him as loving and devoted to His progeny.

2. Additionally, God’s purpose is not to reverse the sin, corruption, and death introduced into human existence by Adam. The Fall of Adam was only one part of God’s plan and not its major pivot point. God is less of a doctor whose job it is to heal a sick patient, but rather a physical trainer who works with an already healthy person to help him or her become more physically fit.

3. While community is undoubtedly important in other Christian denominations, in Mormonism it is an element of salvation itself. Community tends to be a way to bolster the morale and the prospects of salvation of each individual member by worshipping together and working against loneliness and individual alienation. Mormons construe salvation as bringing oneself into a web of eternal relations with other human beings as well as with God, what Joseph Smith referred to as a “sociality” with friends and family “coupled with glory.”

4. Mormonism traces its roots to a theophany (a manifestation or appearance of God or a god to a man) experienced by the founder of the faith, Joseph Smith, in a grove of trees in upstate New York when Smith was just 14 years old in 1820. Although this was Smith’s first experience of this type, he didn’t immediately take up his later role as religion-maker, even commenting a year or so later that he was “not so much a christian [sic] as many suppose I am.”

5. A second vision or theophany was the true initiation of the Mormon faith, some three years after Smith’s first encounter. Smith claimed that the angel Moroni appeared to him and laid the foundation for what would become the Book of Mormon, and to which Smith himself dates the foundation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

6. The Book of Mormon was published seven years after Moroni’s first visitation and entered into circulation in March 1830. Smith claimed that the Book of Mormon detailed the new covenant between God and the House of Israel, encompassing and yet expanding upon the “old” covenant of Judaism and the “new” covenant of Christianity. The Book of Mormon itself is a scriptural synthesis of the “old” and “new” covenants, drawing upon both the Old and the New Testament in its narrative.

7. In Mormonism, there is the belief that actual descendants of the ancient House of Israel from Jerusalem made their way to America under the leadership of Lehi. Thus Native Americans are included in the covenant, although ‘they are in need of evangelization by a “great Gentile nation”’ (Smith and those of white European descent).

8. Mormonism maintains that without the sacraments of the church, salvation is impossible. At the same time, its conception of evangelization of the dead means that “Mormonism” is the name of an institution whose reach is universal and timeless. Thus for Mormons, the Church both refers to the historical institution established in 1830 and simultaneously the body of the faithful, living and dead, who at any time now or in the eons of time to come, receive the ordinances of salvation and abide their corresponding covenants. In other words, the physical church is how one becomes integrated into eternal relationship with a heavenly family (the spiritual church), and while it is the only way to salvation, it is also simultaneously open to anyone, living or dead.

9. The social dimension of Mormonism is encapsulated in the idea of Zion. Zion is both the process and the goal of creating heaven on this earth, in the here and now. Crucially, Zion-building is not simply preparation for heaven, but actually heaven itself, in embryo, a mirror of eternal and transcendent heaven.

10. Initial branches of the church were established in Colesville and Palmyra, New York, and Harmony, Pennsylvania, then moving westwards to Kirtland, Ohio, and then further to sites in Missouri. Conflict followed the Mormons, culminating in the killing of Smith himself in 1844 in Nauvoo, Illinois. Eventually the Mormons moved to modern day Utah. At the time of Brigham Young’s death in 1877, he governed a cultural region larger than Texas and a church that comprised in excess of 100,000 Mormons.


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

What difference does religious faith make?

(by R. Scott Lloyd 10-7-17)

Many years ago, Daniel C. Peterson corresponded with a young returned LDS missionary who denounced the Church for allegedly lying about its history and Peterson for his alleged role in defending the lies.

“I tried to persuade him that he was wrong,” Peterson said in his Aug. 4 address at the FairMormon Conference. “He remained hostile, and it was easy to see that he was deeply troubled.”

At length, the man’s messages stopped abruptly and, upon investigation, Peterson learned to his horror that the correspondent had killed himself with a shotgun.

“Now, I don’t know exactly what went into this young man’s decision to end his life and do it in such a horrible way,” Peterson said. “There may have been — there probably were — many factors involved. But I’m reasonably confident that his loss of faith and his bitter alienation from the Church contributed.”

Peterson, a professor of Arabic and Islamic studies at Brigham Young University, is a popular and prolific — though often reviled — defender of Mormonism in speeches and writings. Customarily, he is the concluding speaker at the annual two-day conference of FairMormon, an organization not affiliated with the Church but dedicated to defending it against public criticism.

Recognizing the value of professional counseling in helping people deal with emotional and psychological turmoil caused by disillusionment and loss of faith, he said there is an even more fundamental cure: “a return to faith and trust.”

Peterson’s presentation, titled “What Difference Does it Make?” was replete with statistics and quotations from scholars rebutting contentions that religious people are by definition sick or mentally ill and that atheism is healthier than faith.

For example, he said that Tyler VanderWeele, professor of epidemiology at Harvard University, recently published research linking regular attendance at religious service to “a roughly 30 percent reduction in mortality over 16 years of follow-up; a five-fold reduction in the likelihood of suicide; and a 30 percent reduction in the incidence of depression.”

Moreover, VanderWeele and colleagues found that regular worship is apparently associated with “greater likelihood of healthy social relationships and stable marriages; an increased sense of meaning in life; higher life satisfaction; an expansion of one’s social network; and more charitable giving, volunteering and civic engagement,” Peterson reported.

And it’s not just the social support associated with religious worship that makes the difference; that accounted for only about 20-30 percent of the measured results, Peterson noted.

“Of course, none of this proves religious claims are true,” he acknowledged. “But it does strongly suggest that faith isn’t an illness.”

Citing a 2009 book by Andrew Sims, professor of psychiatry at the University of Leeds in England, Peterson argued that religious belief contributes substantially to overall well-being.

He quoted Sims as writing that its effect on mental and physical health is “one of the best-kept secrets in psychiatry, and medicine generally. If the findings of the huge volume of research on this topic had gone in the opposite direction and it had been found that religion damages your mental health, it would have been front-page news in every newspaper in the land!”

Peterson further quoted Sims as contending that “churches are almost the only element in society to have offered considerate, caring, long-lasting and self-sacrificing support to the mentally ill,” resulting in a better outcome from a range of physical and mental illnesses.”

Peterson remarked, “An advocate of greater secularism might concede that religious fantasies provide a helpful crutch for stupid, ignorant and/or irrational people, whereas better educated and more honest unbelievers face reality without such comfort.”
However, a 2004 study showed that religious adults were a third less likely than secular adults to lack a high school diploma and a third more likely to have at least one college degree, Peterson said.

“Secularizing writers often like to imagine how much better the world would be without religion,” he said. “They should pray that they don’t get their wish.”

Noting that Western society has grown much more secular in recent decades, Peterson warned that this is likely to have consequences. “It makes a difference.”

Though non-religious people have long assured him that they are devoted to making life in the world better for everyone, Peterson wonders what evidence there is to demonstrate that.

He cited a 2006 book by Arthur Brooks, who found in his studies that religious people are more likely to donate money and in larger amounts to charities, to donate blood, to give to homeless shelters, to return money from a cashier’s mistake and express empathy for the less fortunate.

Peterson quoted an atheist who wrote to him, “If you live in this very moment, you’ll find happiness.”

Yet, Peterson said, “life ‘in this moment’ can be hellish” for many people.

Another issue, he said, is that “human potential is never fully realized in mortality. Too often, in fact, it is scarcely realized at all.”

“Perhaps a skeptic might say there’s no purpose to the cosmos. … We live briefly, we die meaninglessly and then our little candle is extinguished — as all light and life ultimately will be extinguished in the vast heat-death of the universe.

“But it should certainly cause us to hope for a future in which wounds are healed, deep yearnings satisfied and human potential fully realized. Fortunately, in the resurrection of Christ and the Restoration of the gospel there’s a firm foundation for that hope.”


Saturday, August 5, 2017

New Testament in chronological order

1 Thessalonians
1 Corinthians
2 Corinthians
1 John
2 John
3 John
2 Thessalonians
1 Peter
1 Timothy
2 Timothy
2 Peter

Evolution of the Word: the New Testament in the Order the Books Were Written

1 Thessalonians
"The first document in this chronological New Testament is Paul's letter to a Christ-community in Thessalonica, the capital city of Macedonia, a province in northern Greece. It was written around the year 50, possibly a year or two earlier. Somewhat surprisingly, given the movement's origin among Jews in the Jewish homeland, the earliest Christian document is written to a community in Europe, which was largely Gentile."

"Whether this letter should be second in a chronological New Testament is a toss-up. The other serious candidate is Paul's first letter to Corinth, customarily dated around 54. Because some scholars date Galatians as early as 50 and many other in the first half of the 50's. I have decided to put it before 1 Corinthians."

1 Corinthians
"First Corinthians is the second longest of Paul's letters. Only Romans is longer, and thus this letter comes right after Romans in the canonical New Testament. But in this chronological New Testament, it comes after 1 Thessalonians and Galatians. According to Acts, Paul created a Christ-community in Corinth in Southern Greece around the year 50."

"In the canonical New Testament, Philemon is the last of the 13 letters attributed to Paul because it is the shortest, only 25 versus long, so brief it is not even divided into chapters. But in the chronological New Testament, it come early, in the middle of the seven letters universally accepted as by Paul himself. Philemon is one of Paul's 'prison letters. From details in the letter, we know that it was a Roman prison. Some scholars think it was in the city of Rome and thus date Philemon to Paul's imprisonment there in the early 60's. But there were Roman prisons throughout the empire, especially in provincial capitals such as Ephesus in Asia Minor. A majority think these two letters were written during an imprisonment in Ephesus in the mid 50's. Because they were written near each other in time, it is arbitrary to place one ahead of the other. For didactic rather than historical reasons, I have placed Philemon before Philippians."

Philippians is the most consistently affectionate of Paul's letters. Philippi was the capital of ancient Macedonia, in northern Greece. According to Acts 16, it was the first city in Europe in which Paul founded a Christ-community after leaving Asia Minor in the last 40's. We do not know if he had visited in the years since, though it seems likely, given his visits to Macedonia. In any case, his relationship to the community seems to have uncomplicated. The tone of the letter is not only affectionate, but filled with gratitude. It also contains important and extraordinary passages. Like Philemon, Philippians was written from a Roman prison, probably from the same imprisonment in Ephesus in the mid-50's. Unlike in the closing of Philemon, in which Paul writes that he hopes to be freed, in his letter he is uncertain about whether his imprisonment might end in execution.

(more to come)

Friday, August 4, 2017

A Chronological New Testament

(by Marcus Borg 8-31-12)

A chronological New Testament is different from and yet the same as the New Testament familiar to Christians. It contains the same 27 documents, but sequences them in the chronological order in which they were written.

The familiar New Testament begins with the Gospels and concludes with Revelation for obvious reasons. Jesus is the central figure of Christianity and so the New Testament begins with Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Revelation is about “the last things” and the second coming of Jesus, so it makes sense that it comes at the end. Revelation and the Gospels function as bookends for the New Testament. Everything else comes between: Acts, 13 letters attributed to Paul, and eight attributed to other early Christian figures.

A chronological New Testament sequences the documents very differently. Its order is based on contemporary mainstream biblical scholarship. Though there is uncertainty about dating some of the documents, there is a scholarly consensus about the basic framework.

It begins with seven letters attributed to Paul, all from the 50s. The first Gospel is Mark (not Matthew), written around 70. Revelation is not last, but almost in the middle, written in the 90s. Twelve documents follow Revelation, with II Peter the last, written as late as near the middle of the second century.

A chronological New Testament is not only about sequence, but also about chronological context — the context-in-time, the historical context in which each document was written. Words have their meaning within their temporal contexts, in the New Testament and the Bible as a whole.

Seeing and reading the New Testament in chronological sequence matters for historical reasons. It illuminates Christian origins. Much becomes apparent:
  • Beginning with seven of Paul’s letters illustrates that there were vibrant Christian communities spread throughout the Roman Empire before there were written Gospels. His letters provide a “window” into the life of very early Christian communities.
  • Placing the Gospels after Paul makes it clear that as written documents they are not the source of early Christianity but its product. The Gospel — the good news — of and about Jesus existed before the Gospels. They are the products of early Christian communities several decades after Jesus’ historical life and tell us how those communities saw his significance in their historical context.
  • Reading the Gospels in chronological order beginning with Mark demonstrates that early Christian understandings of Jesus and his significance developed. As Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source, they not only added to Mark but often modified Mark.
  • Seeing John separated from the other Gospels and relatively late in the New Testament makes it clear how different his Gospel is. In consistently metaphorical and symbolic language, it is primarily “witness” or “testimony” to what Jesus had become in the life and thought of John’s community.
  • Realizing that many of the documents are from the late first and early second centuries allows us to glimpse developments in early Christianity in its third and fourth generations. In general, they reflect a trajectory that moves from the radicalism of Jesus and Paul to increasing accommodation with the cultural conventions of the time.
Awareness of the above matters not just for historical reasons but also for Christian reasons. American Christianity today is deeply divided. At the heart of the division, especially among Protestants, is two very different ways of seeing the Bible and the New Testament. About half of American Protestants belong to churches that teach that the Bible is the inerrant “Word of God” and “inspired by God.”
The key word is “inerrant.” Christians from antiquity onward have affirmed that the Bible is “the Word of God” and “inspired” without thinking of it is inerrant. Biblical inerrancy is an innovation of the last few centuries, becoming widespread in American Protestantism beginning only a hundred years ago. It is affirmed mostly in “independent” Protestant churches, those not part of “mainline” Protestant denominations. Catholics have never proclaimed the inerrancy or infallibility of the Bible, even as many have not been taught much about the Bible.

Biblical inerrancy is almost always combined with the literal and absolute interpretation of the Bible. If it says something happened, it happened. If the Bible says something is wrong, it is wrong.

For Christians who see the Bible this way, whatever Paul wrote to his communities in the first century is absolutely true for all time. For them, whatever the Gospels report that Jesus said and did really was said and done by him. So also the stories of the beginning and end of his life are literally and factually true: he was conceived in a virgin without a human father, his tomb really was empty even though it was guarded by Roman soldiers, and his followers saw him raised in physical bodily form.

These Christians are unlikely to embrace a chronological New Testament. It would not only change the way the see the Bible and the New Testament, but also make them suspect and probably unwelcome in the Christian communities to which they belong.

There are also many Christians, as well as many who have left the church, for whom the inerrancy of the Bible and its literal and absolute interpretation are unpersuasive, incredible, impossible to believe. For these Christians, as well as others interested in the origins of Christianity, a chronological New Testament, I trust, can be interesting, helpful and illuminating.