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.

Friday, December 29, 2017

10 Beliefs About Jesus That Christians Have Rejected

(by Jared Webb 12-28-17)

Jesus Was God In A Different Form - Modalism

Modalism views God sort of like an evolutionary being. According to this view, God has changed forms since the inception of time. First, in this view, God was Father and then He came to Earth as Jesus Christ. After His ascension, He transformed into the Holy Spirit.[1] It’s almost like God could not make up His mind while at a costume party.

In this belief, it is important to realize that God is always viewed as one person representing three separate beings. While God is the same person under the mask during the party, He is representing three different persons during the entire party (with the party representing time since creation).

The problem with Modalism is that it rejects the Christian recognition that the one God is made up of three distinct persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These persons are distinct yet mysteriously united. Not to mention, it gets sort of weird when one thinks about the fact that the Father becomes the Son—meaning that the Father fathered himself. Gross!

Jesus Was Just A Spirit - Docetism

Another rejected but interesting belief about Christ was that He was not physical. Rather, the idea that Jesus had a body was only an illusion. He was just a really convincing ghost. Sounds like an interesting plot for the next Paranormal Activity installment. Additionally, this calls the curious mind to wonder about the mental health of the disciples if they were that convinced that Jesus was human.
This belief arose from the philosophical ideology that claimed that matter (the physical world) was inherently evil and to escape it was salvific.[2] Therefore, based on this reasoning, if matter is evil and God is good, then it is not possible for Jesus to have been human because the body is evil.

This is alarming for Christians because Christ’s full humanity is essential to Christ’s salvific power to humans. The Son of God (i.e., Jesus) became flesh to save the flesh of humanity.

Jesus Became The Son Of God- Adoptionism

Where Docetism emphasizes the spiritual side of Jesus (the divinity), Adoptionism emphasizes the human side of Jesus. It may be difficult to imagine someone becoming divine by a status of merit. However, Adoptionists believed that very thing about Jesus.

They believed that Jesus was a man (not born of Virgin Birth) who was able to pass God’s requirements for humans and was thereby adopted as His Son. His baptism marks that adoption because He was able to perform miracles afterward, was later resurrected from the dead, and rose to the status of Son in the Trinity.[3]

This poses a problem for Christians because the Christian Scriptures confirm the Virgin Birth of Jesus, His status as the Son of God before becoming human, and the extent of Jesus’s fully divine nature. If the Virgin Birth is a lie, it poses a problem as to the authenticity of Scripture.

Jesus’s status as the eternally begotten Son of God before He was human affirms His substance being the same as the Father (homoousia). Jesus’s status as fully divine makes His atoning power on the cross more than sufficient for the sins of humanity.

Jesus Was Just A Human And An Example Worth Following - Ebionism/Adoptionism

This heresy is much like Adoptionism but has a few distinctions that differentiate it. The Ebionites believed that Jesus was simply a normal man who happened to just outdo the rest of humanity in the virtue department.[4]

It was as though Jesus was a human who earned a status like a Greek demigod. He was still just a man, but His extreme virtue caused God to adopt Him and stamp Him as Judaism’s promised messiah.

Unlike Adoptionists, however, Ebionites found that they could be justified through keeping the law like Christ did. Therefore, Christ’s life is simply an example to follow and has nothing to offer humans in its atoning work.

Again, like Docetism, Ebionism interfered with the Christian belief of Jesus Christ being fully human and fully divine. Not only does this take Jesus out of the Godhead (the Trinity), but it also calls into question the power of His death and resurrection (had Jesus not been fully divine).
Additionally, this belief makes it seem as though humans could be without sin or of high virtue without God’s grace (Pelagianism). If that’s the case, why would humans need a savior from a Christian standpoint? On top of that, the reasoning of this heresy causes it to reject the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ.

There Was A Time When The Son of God Did Not Exist - Arianism

A man named Arius is infamous for having spread the heresy that the Son of God (i.e., Jesus) is not fully eternal. In other words, the Son of God was created in time and not eternally begotten by the Father. This is much like how a human father must precede his own child in existence.

What is particularly intriguing about Arius is that his heretical belief spread through songs he made. Is it not more fun to believe in falsehoods if they are catchy? A humorous video illustrating this is shown above.

Arianism was a problem for Christians because it called into question Jesus’s full divinity. For example, if Jesus was simply the Son of God made by the Father, then that makes Him subordinate in essence/nature because the Father is eternal. Also, this heresy calls into question the efficacy of the atonement and salvation because only someone who is fully divine can reconcile with the fully divine.[5]

To see a piece of the refutation that is still used by churches today, one only needs to look at the beginning lines of the Nicene Creed: “Begotten from the Father before all ages . . . begotten not made; of the same essence of the Father.”

Jesus Is Two Persons In One Body - Nestorianism

In Christian belief, the Son of God becomes human through the conception of Mary via the power of the Holy Spirit. This was a stumbling block to many because a person is entering into a different nature (i.e., divine person becoming human).

Nestorius, an archbishop of Constantinople, concluded that Jesus must be the product of two persons combined into one body.[6] Perhaps Nestorius thought that Jesus suffered from multiple personalities like Gollum—would that not be a sight?

Christians were alarmed by the teachings of the Nestorians because they violated the doctrine of hypostatic union, which said that Jesus was the fully human and the fully divine within one person—the divine person of the Son of God.

Nestorius also claimed that Mary was Christotokos (“the Christ bearer”) and not Theotokos (“the God bearer”), which emphasized Jesus’s humanity over His divinity. Nestorius’s claims called into question the salvific power of Jesus because of the lack of unity of human and divine natures.

Jesus’s Human Nature Was Swallowed Up Within The Divine Nature - Eutychianism/Monophysitism

An adequate picture of this heresy is one in which a drop of food coloring is placed into a pool. The food coloring is Jesus’s human nature, and the pool water is His divine nature. An even more exciting picture might be an orca (Christ’s divinity) devouring a shrimp (Christ’s humanity).

This heresy is a form of Monophysitism (one nature) and contends that the divine will, being so superior, simply swallows up the human nature that the Son of God assumes. In other words, the human nature is there, but it is not easily noticeable.[7]

Like the other heresies, this calls into question the extent of Christ’s full humanity and full divinity. In Christian belief, if Christ was not fully human and fully man simultaneously, He would be unable to perform an effective sacrifice that would atone for the sins of humans.
Jesus Was A Hybrid Of Human And Divine Nature - Miaphysitism/Monophysitism
If someone has watched the film Napoleon Dynamite, he knows about the animal called the liger. A liger is part tiger and part lion but not really either of them simultaneously. It is a unique hybrid animal.

Some have believed that Jesus was a sort of “liger.” It has been believed that when the Son of God became human, His divine and human natures mixed together to create a hybrid human-divine nature. No longer were the distinct human and divine natures intact. Instead, there was only a new unique nature.[8]

To think of Jesus as a liger may be a sublimely awesome image, but it is not appealing to historical Christian orthodoxy. It does seem reasonable that the unity of the divine and the human would produce a single nature with distinguishable aspects of each nature that was combined.

However, Christians in history have preferred the view that the two natures are united inseparably (i.e., hypostatic union) rather than the view that the two natures have become one nature. Again, this brings up similar problems about the full humanity/divinity of Jesus concerning His atoning power on the cross.

Jesus Did Not Have A Human Mind/Soul - Apollinarianism

Taught by Apollinaris the Younger, Apollinarianism is another heresy classified under Monophysitism (one nature). Apollinaris held that Christ’s divine mind/soul took the place of a human mind/soul.

It is important to note that classic Christianity sees Jesus Christ (i.e., the Son of God) as a divine person. (“Person” is different than the word “human.”) Following this logic, it can seem rational that this divine person would simply put His mind/soul in place of where a human mind/soul would reside. In other words, Jesus was always thinking in a divine mind/soul.

Nevertheless, if Christ does not possess both a human mind/soul and a divine mind/soul, it would lessen both His divinity and His humanity. Ultimately, Apollinarianism is an attack upon the full humanity of Jesus.[9]

Again, this doctrine, which is in the camp of Monophysitism, calls into question Christ’s atoning power due to the violation of the doctrine of hypostatic union. Christ’s divinity makes His sacrifice on the cross pure while His humanity makes it effective for humans.

 Jesus Only Possessed A Divine Will - Monotheletism

Another heresy that vehemently rejected Christ’s full humanity was monotheletism. It is important to note that “will” in this context refers to the ability to make a decision, not the decision itself.

Christians found that the ability to make a decision was an essential part of human nature. Therefore, the Son of God becoming a man would require Him to have a human will in addition to His previously present divine will. Two wills do not mean that Jesus made two decisions, though. His human and divine wills were views to work in unity just as human and divine natures did.[10]

The problems created by the adoption of Monotheletism are similar to ones that have already been discussed. Obviously, if Christ did not have a human will, which is viewed as a necessary aspect of His human nature, then He ceased to be fully human. Again, this lack of full humanity would put into question His ability to save people who are fully human if He is not fully human.

Additionally, if Christ were to possess only a divine will, it would call into question His peccability (i.e., His ability to sin). A divine will, though all-powerful, cannot sin. As fun and oxymoronic as it is to think of God not being able to do something, Christ’s peccability is a serious issue that is still debated today.

It is not debated whether Christ’s human will could have sinned. Instead, it is debated whether the person of Jesus Christ (in the unity of His human and divine natures) could have sinned.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Are the gospels late and legendary?

(by Daniel Peterson 12-4-17)

In his engaging book “Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels” (2013), former atheist J. Warner Wallace brings his unique background as a widely respected murder investigator with a graduate theological degree to bear on the reliability of the New Testament.

Among the many topics that he addresses is the date of composition of the four New Testament gospels. Some critics have argued that they were written very late, and, accordingly, that they’re more legend than history. Wallace defends their early origin, arguing that they represent genuine eyewitness testimony.

The list and discussion below summarizes pages 161-169 of his thoroughly enjoyable book, necessarily omitting much of its detail and all of his responses to counterarguments:

1. The New Testament doesn’t mention the destruction of Jerusalem’s temple in A.D. 70. Coming at the conclusion of the First Jewish Revolt against Rome, that catastrophe fundamentally changed the nature of Judaism and, arguably, of Christianity. Moreover, it fulfilled the prophecy of Jesus recorded at Matthew 24:1-3. It would have offered a powerful illustration of Jesus’ prophetic ability, but no gospel mentions it.

2. The New Testament says nothing about the three-year-long Roman siege of Jerusalem. Jewish suffering during that time was appalling, but none of the gospels refer to it.

3. Luke doesn’t refer to the deaths of the apostles Paul and Peter. Peter was executed in Rome in A.D. 65, and Paul, Luke’s one-time traveling companion, was martyred there in A.D. 64. But neither Luke’s gospel nor his sequel, “The Acts of the Apostles,” mentions those devastating losses. In fact, at the conclusion of Acts, Paul is clearly still alive (under Roman house arrest).

4. Luke also doesn’t mention the martyrdom of James (Jesus’ half-brother) in A.D. 62. He chronicles the deaths of other early Christian leaders — for example, the A.D. 34 martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 7:54-60) and that of James, the brother of John, in about A.D. 44 (Acts 12:1-2) — but, although Acts 15 assigns an important leadership role to James, Luke never refers to his death.

5. According to Acts 1:1-2, Luke wrote his gospel before Acts, which is the second installment of a two-part work often called “Luke-Acts” by scholars.

6. The New Testament’s 1 Timothy 5:17-18 apparently quotes Luke 10:7, which would demonstrate Luke to have been written earlier. Some scholars, of course, argue that 1 Timothy was written quite late and not by Paul. Others contend, however, that it was written by Paul (and, thus, necessarily before A.D. 65), possibly as early as A.D. 58.

7. In his letters to the Romans, the Corinthians, and the Galatians — dated between A.D. 48 and A.D. 60 and accepted as genuinely Paul’s by virtually all scholars — Paul echoes the principal claims of the gospel writers. For example, Jesus — “the Son of God” — died for our sins, was buried, and rose again on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:3-8; Romans 1:4). And Paul claims to have received his information directly from the eyewitnesses Peter and James at least 14 years earlier (Galatians 1:15-19; 2:1).

8. Paul appears to quote Luke 22:19-20 in 1 Corinthians 11:23-25, which seems to make Luke’s gospel earlier than Paul’s letter.

9. In its turn, Luke’s gospel seems to quote Mark in roughly 350 verses and Matthew in approximately 250. Luke never claims to be an eyewitness; instead, he describes himself as a historian working from eyewitness sources (Luke 1:1-4).

10. Mark’s gospel seems to be a first and preliminary report. Here, Wallace’s background as an experienced analyst of evidence and police reports kicks in. I cannot summarize here the impressions he shares on pages 166-168, but I recommend them. He offers an intriguing argument for regarding Mark as a rather hasty early account.

11. In his gospel, Mark appears to “protect” certain “key players.” Whereas, for example, John identifies Peter as the man who attacked the servant of the high priest at Jesus’ arrest in Gethsemane and Mary as the woman who anointed Jesus (messianically) in the home of Simon the leper, Mark leaves both anonymous. Was he trying to avoid putting living people at risk? (Some early Christian traditions report that Mark was personally close to Peter.) John 12:9-11 reports that the Jewish leadership sought to kill Lazarus because his miraculous restoration to life had led many to believe in Jesus; Mark omits the story altogether.

At Christmas, it’s good to be reminded that the gospels aren’t merely stories. They’re history.


Saturday, December 16, 2017

It's not 'if' Mormons believe in grace, but 'how'

(by Tad Walch 12-13-17)

Editor's note: This is the second of two articles about the Mormon doctrine of grace. Part 1 provided the backstory of how grace regained its place over the past 30 years among Mormons raised on works.

PROVO — At times when he has given a presentation, Stephen Robinson has been introduced as the man who changed the Mormon doctrine of grace.

"If that's true, I should be taken out and hung," the retired Brigham Young University religion professor said on campus recently at a conference on grace.

Robinson meant he would never attempt to change the doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "I'd be more than happy to be known as the one who changed Mormon culture," he said, part of a renaissance of grace talk in Mormonism in the past 40 years.

Grace has been a meaningful part of Mormon scriptures and doctrine from the beginning, but LDS Church leaders, theologians and scholars have long placed an energetic emphasis on the doctrine of works in part because of the Book of Mormon phrase that God's children are saved by grace "after all we can do" (see 2 Nephi 25:23).

Many Latter-day Saints who grew up in the 1950s, '60s or '70s said they never heard the concept of grace taught in church. Some said they learned not to bring it up. But that is changing. A quick review of the word's usage in LDS general conferences by decade shows a surge. Grace was mentioned 60 times during conferences in the 1930s and 96 times in the 1960s.

With years to go, the term grace already has been used 225 times in general conferences during this decade, including recent talks that have defined and explained the LDS configuration of a core doctrine of Christianity. If there is any remaining doubt that Mormons believe in grace, a pair of evangelical academics recently tried to drive a stake in it in a recent academic paper that sought to shape how evangelicals interact with Mormons.

"Future participants in the evangelical-Mormon dialogue would do well to acknowledge the existence of grace in Mormon theology," the authors wrote, "irrespective of whether they agree with this or that configuration."

So how do scholars and church leaders define grace in LDS belief?

Robinson boldly declared what it isn't.

"There's some people," he said, "who think what they're doing is somehow they are climbing the ladder, that they'll do some percent and Jesus will do the other percent. They are wrong. If they think the Mormon conception of grace is there is any salvation from what they've done, they're wrong."

Others worry that the surge of grace language among Mormons has made some begin to sound too much like Catholics and evangelicals, wandering away from what the Prophet Joseph Smith taught.

The real question

For decades, Mormons rejected, shunned or worried about the term grace because of their belief in works. For example, the late Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that believing in salvation "by grace alone and without obedience" is a "soul-destroying doctrine" because it could lessen the determination of people to follow God's commandments.

Yet in the 1970s, McConkie was among the first to help Mormons begin to "wake up to grace," said Camille Fronk Olson, former chairwoman of Brigham Young University's department of ancient scripture.

Since Mormon scripture is replete with grace, the question "Do Mormons believe in grace?" is a poor one, wrote John Anthony Dunne, a professor at Bethel University, and Logan Williams, a doctoral student at Durham University in England, in a paper this year titled, "A Perplexing Gift: Toward Clarity in the Evangelical-Mormon Interfaith Dialogue on Grace."

They proposed better questions: Do Mormons believe in the Protestant configuration of grace? How do Mormons configure grace? How is Mormon grace talk configured in Mormon terms?
Due to the Restoration, Mormons clearly configure grace differently than Protestants. How they do can be complex, as Dunne and Williams observed.

"Grace is everywhere in Mormonism, but it is certainly not everywhere the same," they wrote.
Generally, they found the term salvation often refers to two concepts for Mormons. First, some have referred to the general salvation from death provided to all through Jesus Christ's Resurrection.

Second, it can mean exaltation and reaching the highest level of heaven. Mormons often have defined the first as salvation by grace and the second as overcoming spiritual death by works, or obedience to laws and principles that lead back to God's presence.

But grace is a deep part of that second definition of salvation, too.

Gifts of grace

For the Mormons who spoke at BYU's conference, titled "My Grace is Sufficient: Latter-day Reflections," grace was necessary from before the Creation and the Fall, is a partnership with God, exists to provide healing and enabling power throughout life and is about human development, education and transformation.
Adam Miller flatly rejected the idea that perfection could be private and independent of Christ. He said Robinson's book, "Believing Christ," changed his life but left him feeling as though grace was Plan B, installed because flawless obedience failed.

"In the beginning, there was grace," said Miller, a professor of philosophy at Collin College in Texas. "If sin comes first, and God's grace comes as response to sin, then grace is a Band-Aid, a backup plan. Grace is not God's backup plan. Grace is the plan. Full stop."

Asked about Miller's comment in a later conference session, Robinson agreed.

"Christ and his grace are the ground of being on which everything is built," Robinson said. "Grace is the ground on which everything else rests."

Miller said Christ's disciples must learn to stop running from this "rolling grace" and instead partner with it, making the present "ground zero for grace."

That, of course, requires a choice. In the conference's final speech, Deseret Book CEO Sheri Dew outlined the choice: "How much light and Godly power do we want to have in our lives? And, what are we willing to do to get it?"

After or regardless?

Several speakers echoed a 2015 conference talk by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, who challenged those who "misinterpret" the Book of Mormon prophet Nephi's use of the word "after" when he wrote that grace is available "after all we can do."

"We must understand that 'after' does not equal 'because,'" he said. "We are not saved 'because' of all that we can do. Have any of us done all that we can do? Does God wait until we’ve expended every effort before he will intervene in our lives with his saving grace?"

If Robinson could write his book over again, "I would do a better job of explaining 'after all we can do,'" he said. "I have seen too many people crushed by that 'after all we can do.' I've seen people give up and leave the church. 'I can't be what so and so is, what chance have I got.'"

"When I was younger I always thought grace was something that comes at the end," said BYU religion professor Brad Wilcox, the author of several books on grace. "I'd have to be scraping on my hands and knees, I had to be down on the ground, I had to have dirt under my fingernails, and finally at the end of this path, somehow grace would come."

Christ's grace doesn't supplement a person's works, he said. Instead, Wilcox said he now understood grace to be a power that is available and surrounds each person at all times and is about growth and God and his children working together. Grace is the power of Jesus Christ.

"I am certain," President Uchtdorf said, "Nephi knew that the Savior’s grace allows and enables us to overcome sin. This is why Nephi labored so diligently to persuade his children and brethren 'to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God.' After all, that is what we can do! And that is our task in mortality!"

Robinson has explained Nephi's passage as "a preposition of separation rather than a preposition of time" and as meaning "apart from all we can do" or "all we can do notwithstanding" or "regardless of all we can do."
Robinson would like Latter-day Saints to link the Nephi scripture to Alma 24:11, where the prophet Ammon said repenting sufficiently "was all we could do."

Transformative grace

Elder Bruce C. Hafen, an emeritus LDS General Authority Seventy, expressed concern that the surge in Mormon grace language since his seminal book "The Broken Heart" was published has blurred the distinctions between Protestant and Mormon beliefs on the topic.

"There are a few reasons to be cautious about our increased Atonement conversation," he said. "Some emphasize a relationship between grace and works that is closer to or draws on evangelical" and is a move away from Joseph Smith's teachings. While Mormons believe 'we are utterly dependent upon the grace of God,' there is a further level of grace available only on certain conditions.

"The most obvious example is forgiveness conditioned upon repentance," he said.

The story of Adam and Eve is the story of receiving the Atonement, he added.

"Do we believe in being born again in this church? Absolutely, but it's only the beginning," he said, adding, "It's a doctrine of human development, it makes human growth possible. ... Because of Christ's Atonement we can learn from sins, unintendeded mistakes, any form of adversity. Not just that help us survive our bitter experiences, but grow and become more, better."

Grace, then, plays a critical role in Mormon salvation theology. The plan of salvation is not designed just to bring God's children back to him, but to bring them back changed. A partnership between grace and works and God and his children is required for that transformation.

"Our works will evidence the kind of people we have become," said BYU professor Robert Millet, who spoke at the conference and has written books on grace and Mormonism.

Different frame?

"This is no return to a primordial condition," said Terryl Givens, a professor of religion at the University of Richmond and a Mormon author, "but a transcendance of progression from a premortal realm to a more abundant eternal life.

Givens, in fact, would like to reframe the issue. He said the Restoration was designed in part to erase the pessimism of Tertullian, Augustine and the Reformers who taught that mankind inherited original sin from Adam and Eve.

"Joseph's divinely appointed task was to rescue Christianity from such a dismal preoccupation with sinfulness, depravity, inherited guilt and kindred abominations," Givens said. "Joseph taught that our story begins not with an Edenic catastrophe, but with heavenly parents who loved us and 'saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance (with them).'"
He said many Protestant scholars have begun to ask the question, "Was the Reformation a colossal mistake?"
"Yes, says the Restoration," Givens said.

Givens said he is wary of the growing dialogue between Mormons and evangelicals.

"In our own tradition there is a lamentable tendency to find accommodation and common ground with Protestant theology, using a vocabulary of grace that was entirely co-opted 500 years ago," he said. "It would be sadly ironic if Latter-day Saints were working to accommodate an Augustinian inheritance at the very moment that Protestants are questioning its entire basis."

For Givens, grace is available to help God's children find constant healing during a bruising journey that necessarily includes sin, pain and wounding as part of the education.

"Restoration understanding of grace does not diminish Christ's role in our salvation. It greatly enhances it," he said. "Rather than concede so much ground by joining in the debate, 'Have you been saved' or, 'Are we saved by grace or works,' we might more boldly reframe the question: How are we healed? Have you been healed?"

Mormonism, he added, "envisions a God who invites us into active participation in a community of fully and generously shared energies. Grace is the name of his relentless, inexhaustible and ultimately irresistible invitation."

Climbing mountains
In addition to President Uchtdorf, other senior church leaders have spoken about grace recently. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has discussed it in multiple talks, including one he gave in October titled, "Be Ye Therefore Perfect — Eventually." He asked LDS Church members to "strive for steady improvement without obsessing over what behavioral scientists call 'toxic perfectionism.'"
"If we persevere," he added, "then somewhere in eternity our refinement will be finished and complete — which is the New Testament meaning of perfection."

Elder D. Todd Christofferson of Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke in the same conference, saying that the doctrine of Christ teaches that the LDS basics of faith, baptism, repentance and the gift of the Holy Ghost are the gate to the Savior's atoning grace and exaltation.

As a longtime executive of Deseret Book, Dew solicited the books on grace by Elder Hafen and Robinson and has published several books by Wilcox and Givens. A former counselor in the church's general presidency of the Relief Society her own books have sold more than 1 million copies.
Dew's belief is that God's grace is constantly available.

"The Savior has all power in heaven and in earth," she said at the close of the conference. "Power to cleanse, forgive and redeem us. Power to heal us of weakness, illness, sadness and heartache. Power to inspire us. Power to conquer Satan and overcome weakness and weaknesses of the flesh. Power to work miracles and deliver us from circumstances we can't escape ourselves. Power over death. Power to strengthen us.

"Grace is divine power that enables to handle things we can't figure out, can't do, can't overcome, can't manage on our own," she continued. "We have access to this power, because Jesus Christ, who was already a God, condescended to endure the bitterness of a fallen world and experience all physical and spiritual pain. He is the eternal healer. He will heal us from sin, weakness, hurt, fear and even years of pain. That's because his love is greater than any pain. Because of the Savior, we don't have to deal with grief or insecurity or fear or loneliness alone. With his help we can resist temptation, we forgive those who've hurt us and seek forgiveness from those we have hurt. We can receive answers to our questions or peace in the absence of an answer.

"We can become the best version of ourselves," she concluded. "We can change. We can grow and progress. We can fulfill our mission on this earth. My belief is the Lord rarely removes the mountains in front of us, but he always helps us climb them."


Monday, December 4, 2017

'Do the heavens declare the glory of God?'

(by Daniel Peterson 10-6-17)

A few weeks ago, a certain Christian conspiracy theorist gained notoriety with his prediction that the end of the world as we know it would commence on Sept. 23, when Earth experiences the disruptive pass-by of a mysterious (and probably non-existent) object called “Nibiru” or “Planet X.” He had, he said, derived his prediction by “merging” astronomy and the Bible through “numerology.” (Doomsday has since been corrected to Oct. 21.)

Some religious skeptics used the occasion to mock Christianity as plainly incompatible with reason and science. One wonders, though, why they chose to focus on an eccentric preacher who received no significant support from any portion of world Christianity rather than, say, on Owen Gingerich.

Gingerich, now a professor emeritus of astronomy and of the history of science at Harvard and senior astronomer emeritus at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, is also a devout Christian — and the author of such books as “God’s Universe” (2006) and “God’s Planet” (2014). Arguably, he illustrates the relationship between Christianity and astronomy at least as well as a man who seems to have ignored Mark 13:32: “But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.”

A sermon that Gingerich delivered some time ago in Tennessee — titled “Do the Heavens Declare the Glory of God?” and online at — provides a good introduction to his religious reflections on astronomical science.

He leaves his audience in no suspense. He tells them upfront that the bookplate that he uses for his personal library includes the motto “Coeli enarrant gloriam Dei” (“The heavens are telling the glory of God”), as Psalm 19:1 is translated in Joseph Haydn’s great 1797-1798 oratorio “Creation.” But the substance of his sermon remains interesting nevertheless, and well worth reading.

He freely grants that the universe as we know it is vastly larger and older than that of the Psalmist, so that, in a sense, when we wonder “Do the heavens declare the glory of God?” we’re asking a very different question than biblical peoples would have.

“We are no longer in ecstasy about the beauty of creation,” says Gingerich, “but we are instead crushed down by our insignificance in the vastness of the universe.” Instead of Psalm 19:1, we turn to Psalm 8:4: “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?” “Where,” Gingerich asks, “do we fit in as little specks in such an immense and ancient universe?”

He immediately responds with his conviction that our ability to reason about such matters — of all the millions of species that have existed on Earth, ours is the only one, so far as we’re aware, that raises these questions — suggests our connection with a greater, cosmic reason. And, ultimately, he will speak of God’s Son entering our world.

In the meantime, though, he points to a famous discovery involving the great astronomer/astrophysicist Sir Fred Hoyle (died 2001). I won’t try here to explain Hoyle’s theory of stellar nucleosynthesis nor, more specifically, his discovery regarding the resonance of carbon. (Read the sermon!) But it was enough, apparently, to shake Hoyle’s very vocal and public atheism.

Later, Hoyle wrote about his discovery in the CalTech alumni magazine (and Gingerich quotes in “Do the Heavens Declare the Glory of God?”):

“Would you not say to yourself, ‘Some supercalculating intellect must have designed the properties of the carbon atom, otherwise the chance of my finding such an atom through the blind forces of nature would be utterly minuscule.’ Of course you would. … A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.”

Elsewhere, when someone suggested to him that the entire universe might be the product of thought, Hoyle responded thus: “I have to say that that is also my personal opinion, but I can’t back it up by too much of precise argument. There are very many aspects of the universe where you either have to say there have been monstrous coincidences, which there might have been, or, alternatively, there is a purposive scenario to which the universe conforms.”

Gingerich, by contrast, is entirely willing to declare that the universe does indeed seem to have been designed for life.


Friday, December 1, 2017

Introducing 'An Introduction to the Book of Abraham'

(by Daniel Peterson 11-30-17)

Many papyri from ancient Egypt have been recovered and, by and large, only a handful of specialists pay much attention to them. In June 1835, a small collection of such papyri reached the American frontier town of Kirtland, Ohio. That would have remained merely a slightly surprising historical footnote had they not caught the attention of the Prophet Joseph Smith, who was living there at the time.

The Book of Abraham has been controversial in some quarters since it was canonized by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1880, and it has long been a favorite target of critics. While many believers (very much including myself) esteem it highly for the doctrinal richness of its short text — for, among other things, its invaluable disclosures about the pre-existence of all humanity with God — detractors of Joseph Smith have often sought to depict the Book of Abraham as the “smoking gun,” the decisive and irrefutable evidence that demonstrates his prophetic claims false, and, specifically, discredits his claim to have had revelatory access to ancient documents. If the Book of Abraham falls, some have argued, so too must the Book of Mormon, the keystone of Latter-day Saint faith.
I myself have occasionally waded into the debate. In January 1994, for example, I published an article in the Ensign magazine under the title “News from Antiquity.” It was subtitled “Evidence supporting the book of Abraham continues to turn up in a wide variety of sources.” Later, with John Gee and William Hamblin, I published a 2005 article bearing the title “And I Saw the Stars — The Book of Abraham and Ancient Geocentric Astronomy,” available online at I stand by both of these articles still today.

But nobody has devoted more time, expertise and effort over the past quarter of a century to the study of the Book of Abraham in all its aspects than the aforementioned John Gee. Trained in ancient studies at Brigham Young University and Berkeley and equipped with a doctorate in Egyptology from Yale, he holds the William "Bill" Gay Research Chair at BYU. From that position, he has contributed prolifically to international Egyptological journals and conferences while also researching the 19th-century background story to our English Book of Abraham and keeping an eye on the often-intense debates concerning it.

In 2000, Gee published a short “Guide to the Joseph Smith Papyri,” offering general readers what was, nearly 18 years ago, an up-to-date primer on many of the basic issues.

Now, recently returned from a year-long research leave in Heidelberg, Germany, Gee has issued “An Introduction to the Book of Abraham” (Brigham Young University Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book, 2017). It replaces the earlier “Guide” — Gee describes this new book as having been “rewritten … from the ground up” — and provides a superb overview of the best information currently available. Moreover, compared to the earlier volume, it considerably expands the range of subjects covered. In calm, lucid, irenic and accessible style, Gee’s new book methodically leads readers to the basic facts that they need to know — and guides them through the arguments with which they may well be confronted.

“The goal with the ‘Introduction to the Book of Abraham,’” he explains, “is to make reliable information about the Book of Abraham accessible to the general reader. Although based on extensive academic research, it is not primarily an academic work.”

The book is divided into 17 concise and clearly written chapters, covering such topics as “Joseph Smith and the Papyri,” “The Contents of the Book of Abraham,” “The Ancient Owners of the Papyri,” “The Egyptian View of Abraham,” “The Contents of the Joseph Smith Papyri,” “The Relationship of the Book of Abraham Text to the Papyri,” “Historical Authenticity,” “Abrahamic Astronomy,” and “The Facsimiles.” In the last chapter, Gee responds to a number of “Frequently Asked Questions.”

“An Introduction to the Book of Abraham” engages virtually every significant issue raised by and connected with this important part of the Pearl of Great Price. Further, it’s elegantly (and often usefully) illustrated, and, beyond footnoted references, each chapter concludes with an annotated guide to further reading — citing not only relevant Latter-day Saint literature and some of Gee’s own academic writing in non-Mormon publications but several works by non-LDS scholars.
This is an admirable book. For any who are interested in deepening their knowledge about the historical background of the Book of Abraham, Gee’s new “Introduction” is indispensable.