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, June 18, 2018

11 contributions of the Book of Mormon

(by Daniel Peterson deseretnews.com 6-14-18)

Just days ago, a critic demanded that I identify even a single significant contribution made by the Book of Mormon. In response, I offer a few thoughts on the subject.

I expect that this critic was seeking unique doctrines — of which, admittedly, the Book of Mormon offers relatively few. In my judgment, though, such a demand for doctrinal novelty reveals an inadequate understanding of the book’s character and function. The Book of Mormon does feature exceptionally clear accounts of such supremely important doctrines as atonement, resurrection, the state of the human soul between death and resurrection, and so forth.

However, it isn’t a compendium of essays in systematic theology, a failed attempt at a doctrinal handbook, a botched “Mormon Doctrine,” an inadequate Encyclopedia of Mormonism, but rather, for the most part, a historical narrative.

And its stories aren’t mere vehicles for conveying doctrine. They’re essential. As Alma 37:8 puts it, “they have enlarged the memory of this people” by providing us with accounts of faith and faithlessness, righteousness and wickedness, despair and hope, repentance and hardness of heart.

Alongside the stirring history of our own dispensation, with its westward pioneer exodus, its handcart treks, and other such dramatic tales, as we appropriate the stories of the Book of Mormon they uniquely define us as a people.

That said, here are a few specific items from the vast cascade of ideas that come to me when I consider the contributions the Book of Mormon has made to my life and thinking:

• The Book of Mormon constitutes a veritable handbook of personal revelation (see, for example, Moroni 10). As Terryl Givens insightfully observes in his 2002 book “By the Hand of Mormon,” it instructs us regarding — and serves itself to illustrate — “dialogic revelation.”

• Of equal value, Alma 32 provides us with a profound and complementary account of the nature of personal faith and how to cultivate it.

• King Benjamin’s address (including his wonderful explanation that “when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God”) is one of the finest sermons in all of scripture (see Mosiah 2-5).

• Likewise, the great allegory of the olive tree at Jacob 5, with its prophetic history of Israel’s past and future, ranks among the richest of all scriptural parables.

Alma 5’s discourse on being spiritually born of God, receiving his image in our countenances, and experiencing the mighty change in our hearts that constitutes genuine conversion supplies almost limitless material for reflection.

• The magnificent chiasm of Alma 36 is a literary masterpiece, literally centered on Christ.

• The declaration in 2 Nephi 2:11 of the necessity of “an opposition in all things” has helped me, unfortunately more times than I can count, to process setbacks, obstacles and sorrows. I’ve found comparable comfort and hope in the words of the Lord recorded by Moroni: “I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27).

• The story of Korihor in Alma 30 and his ironic fatal encounter with the very “social Darwinism” that he had preached (long before Thomas Henry Huxley coined the term) provides a powerful lesson for us in our time. (See “Korihor and 'Social Darwinism',” published June 21, 2012, on deseretnews.com).

• I never fail to be arrested by the poignant summation eloquently written by Jacob near his life’s end: “the time passed away with us, and also our lives passed away like as it were unto us a dream, we being a lonesome and a solemn people, wanderers, cast out from Jerusalem, born in tribulation, in a wilderness, and hated of our brethren, which caused wars and contentions; wherefore, we did mourn out our days” (Jacob 7:26).

• In striking contrast, Lehi’s teaching that “men are, that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25) charters the remarkable religious humanism that I consider among the crowning glories and most attractive features of Mormonism.

• By far, however, the most urgently needed contribution of the Book of Mormon is surely the tangible evidence it constitutes of Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling and of the Restoration and, even more vitally, its status as a second witness of the divinity, Atonement, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and its testimony to God’s continuing love — today as well as anciently — for the entire world. These contributions are scarcely negligible.

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https://www.deseretnews.com/article/900021585/11-contributions-of-the-book-of-mormon.html

Monday, June 4, 2018

The supposed scandal of multiple First Vision accounts

(by Daniel Peterson deseretnews.com 5-31-18)

Certain critics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gleefully point out that at least four different first-person accountsof Joseph Smith’s First Vision are known to exist. This, they argue, demonstrates that Joseph simply couldn’t get his story straight — which, in their minds, suggests that he was just making it up on the fly. Moreover, they claim, the LDS Church has sought to hide these differing accounts, which proves it to be dishonest and, thus, unreliable in its assertions not only on this subject but more generally.

On the whole, though, such critics are creating difficulties and fomenting scandal where, in fact, none exists.
Two accounts of the First Vision, which is when he prayed in a grove of trees about which church to join and Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ appeared to him, were published during Joseph’s lifetime. One, generally known today as Joseph Smith — History, was canonized as a part of the Pearl of Great Price in 1880 and is, accordingly, by far the most familiar retelling among church members.

Two other accounts, recorded in Joseph’s earliest autobiography as well as in a later journal, were essentially lost and forgotten until the 1960s, when historians working for the LDS Church rediscovered them and very quickly published them. Since that time, these various narratives of the First Vision have been extensively discussed by Latter-day Saint leaders and scholars, not only in academic journals and books published by Brigham Young University and other church-affiliated presses but — beginning at least with James Allen’s April 1970 article on the subject in the Improvement Era — in the church’s official magazines.

In other words, believing Mormon scholars and leaders have known about, and have openly spoken and written about, the various First Vision accounts for at least 50 years. There’s been no scandal, no suppression, and the often exaggerated if not altogether invented discrepancies between them have been thoroughly examined.

“Critics of Mormonism,” observed Stephen Prothero, a non-Mormon scholar of religious history at Boston University, in his 2003 book “American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon,” “have delighted in the discrepancies between the canonical account and earlier renditions, especially one written in Smith's own hand in 1832. For example, in the 1832 version, Jesus appears to Smith alone, and does all the talking himself. Such complaints, however, are much ado about relatively nothing. Any good lawyer (or historian) would expect to find contradictions or competing narratives written down years apart and decades after the event. And despite the contradictions, key elements abide. In each case, Jesus appears to Smith in a vision. In each case, Smith is blessed with a revelation. In each case, God tells him to remain aloof from all Christian denominations, as something better is in store.”

In fact, some criticisms of the First Vision accounts — and perhaps Prothero’s own sympathetic observation itself — reflect simple logical error. For example, if the 1832 account mentions Jesus only, that doesn’t mean — contrary to certain critics — that the Father didn’t appear. And if an account describes a “vision of angels,” that’s entirely compatible with a vision of the Father and the Son also. (In fact, the Lord himself is sometimes referred to, biblically, as an angel.) As a parallel, if I say that I met Frank at the party, I’m not thereby denying that I also met John. And, for that matter, Jane, Bob, Ellen and Stan, as well.

The official Gospel Topics essay on the subject from the LDS Church (and online at lds.org) titled "First Vision Accounts" provides a judicious and historically informed perspective:

“The various accounts of the First Vision tell a consistent story, though naturally they differ in emphasis and detail. Historians expect that when an individual retells an experience in multiple settings to different audiences over many years, each account will emphasize various aspects of the experience and contain unique details. Indeed, differences similar to those in the First Vision accounts exist in the multiple scriptural accounts of Paul’s vision on the road to Damascus and the Apostles’ experience on the Mount of Transfiguration. Yet despite the differences, a basic consistency remains across all the accounts of the First Vision. Some have mistakenly argued that any variation in the retelling of the story is evidence of fabrication. To the contrary, the rich historical record enables us to learn more about this remarkable event than we could if it were less well documented.”

For further information and references on this issue, see the Gospel Topics essay titled “First Vision Accounts” on lds.org) and also FairMormon’s “Response to 'Letter to a CES Director: First Vision Concerns & Questions'" online at fairmormon.org.

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https://www.deseretnews.com/article/900020151/the-supposed-scandal-of-multiple-first-vision-accounts.html