Overview of The Second Comforter


JesusRedRobeOn my blog, I review a lot of LDS books. For some reason, most of them are not found in Deseret Book. I don’t know why that is. Perhaps it is because some of them are considered controversial. I’m fairly certain Denver Snuffer does not care if his books are in Deseret Book. He has written that he wants people to have to search them out, make an effort to find them.

I thought I had reviewed his first book, The Second Comforter: Conversing With the Lord Through the Veil. Apparently not. I wrote about it here, but didn’t cover much of the material. There is already a plethora of book reviews out there on Amazon, Goodreads, and various other sites. I thought it might be helpful to share my study notes from the introductory overview.

Note that the numbers at the beginning of each paragraph correspond to the page numbers found in the 2008 second edition of the book. These are simply the notes I took as I read those pages. There may be some overlap and some additional ideas I have added but that’s because I felt inspired to add it as I was reading the content. I always want to be able to teach from my notes.

3 – The Lord is the Promised Second Comforter – There are two comforters. The first is the Holy Ghost. The second is the Lord. (John 14:15-18). This is a basic doctrine of the church. I think most people who have attended any LDS Sunday school class over the years have heard it at one time or another. The idea is that when we are baptized and receive the Holy Ghost through the laying on of hands, we should continue to humble ourselves before the Lord, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, seeking to live by every word of God. We then have the promise that we may receive the other Comforter, which is to have the Lord minister unto us from time to time. Apparently, there are times when we need the comfort of a personal visit from the Lord to help us pass through trials. Besides, there are some things that can only be revealed in person.

4 – We are to have the heavens opened unto us – Joseph Smith claimed to have been visited by the Lord on several occasions. He taught that this promise is to be taken literally by all the Saints. It is not just a promise for Joseph or the current prophet of the Church. Joseph wanted us to understand that this is an actual, physical visit with the Savior to us. This involves having the heavens opened. It is the culminating part of Christ’s gospel in which the Savior ministers to us individually, one at a time, just as he has ministered to others before. In other words, it should not seem strange or unusual to us to have or expect the Lord to visit us, while we are yet mortal. This is a promise to all the Saints. It is our heritage and a blessing for those who strive to keep his commandments. Obedience is a requirement. We should seek for and obtain this blessing.

5 – You can receive Him – there is no exception – When the Lord makes a promise, he does not excuse himself. He intends to keep his promises, even if men do not. If we come to him in obedience, he has no intention of leading us along, only to disclose an exception. There is no exception. We can all receive Him as he has promised. In the Millennium, men will walk and talk with the Savior. Any person who abides the laws that will be kept during the Millennium can expect to receive the promised blessings of the Millennium, including that of walking and talking with the Savior. It is the privilege of the saints today to receive the Lord, to separate ourselves from the world, to ask for and to receive the personal ministration of the Lord Jesus Christ. This doctrine is a part of the fullness of the gospel. It is a promise of Jesus Christ unto those who love Him. If you obey the laws and ordinances of the gospel, exercise faith and come unto Christ, he will keep his promise. D&C 93:1 lays out the five requirements for receiving the Lord.

6 – You will always need church programs and ordinances –Some teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ are not for the novice. They require maturity, time and patience. The Church has wisely chosen to focus on the basic doctrines of salvation in the curriculum, especially since so many members are new to the gospel. As we grow and mature in the gospel, we are left in large measure to seek further light and knowledge on our own.  Some people think that seeking to be ministered unto by the Lord is one of those “mysteries” from which we should stay away. Done the right way, with the right understanding, approached in humility as intended, it is right. You can never outgrow the programs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You can never outgrow the need for the saving ordinances. The Church is His medium for delivering the gospel. Therefore, it will not be something you leave behind. Besides, it’s a great place to give service and help others learn the gospel and the only place to pay tithes to an authorized agent.

7 – Intellectual criticism brings no revelation – Many church members want a deeper understanding of the gospel. There are numerous publications and organizations, trying to append themselves to the church, attempting to satisfy this desire for higher knowledge. Dialogue and Sunstone are two periodicals addressed to Mormon intellectuals. While there is much good found in their covers, there is also much criticism and even outright hostility toward the views of the Church in many of the papers and conferences of such organizations. Revelation does not necessarily come through critical thinking. Although we are commanded to study things out in our own minds before we turn to the Lord for a confirming witness of the truth, finding fault with the Church or those we sustain as its leaders does not bring us closer to the Lord. To be learned is good if we hearken to the counsels of God. Humility is needed with intelligence.

8 – Debate is not the right method – Seemingly established to combat Dialogue and especially Sunstone, FARMS (Foundation for Ancient Religious and Mormon Studies) and FAIR (The Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research) grew out of the need to respond to the critics who employ scholarship or pseudo-scholarship to accuse the Church of alleged failings. These groups seem to employ a combative approach (especially FAIR) in presenting pros and cons of many matters that are not included in the Church’s internal teaching materials. These approaches promote debate among the Saints which has never been unifying. I have read many stories of disenchanted individuals who report they had never heard of some doctrine or practice of the church until they read it on the FAIR website. Sometimes the arguments composed to explain the questionable historical events do more harm than good, leaving seekers unsatisfied. Note that FARMS is now the Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship and a part of BYU.

9 – Intellectual approach is insufficient – All of these publications provide some interesting reading. The polemics are entertaining, even when they are not enlightening. They can be useful for defining issues and providing a source for further study, but they make no attempt to instruct in the process of receiving the Second Comforter. Denver’s book is about receiving the Second Comforter. It is an attempt to show the reader a roadmap for going from where he or she is now to the position where the Lord can be received. The book is not about the afterlife or some future millennial day when all mankind will see the Lord. Rather it is about receiving the Second Comforter during your present lifetime. The Book will explain what it means to receive the Second Comforter and outline a course of conduct to apply those teachings in your life. It is intended to provide a practical guide, an examination of what you must do in order to receive the promised blessing. It is not intended for mere academic inquiry. It is also not a scholarly work. It is about how the scriptures teach us to grow in light and truth until we reach a perfect day.

10 – Reason and scholarship does not produce revelation – Many of the things discussed in this book will be foolish to the academic. Scholars are some of our harshest critics. This work does not participate in the scholars’ debates. The greatest theologians in history have failed to crack open the heavens in the slightest. Reason alone does not provide light and truth. There are some irrational – or more correctly extra-rational – sources of truth as well. Angels do not come to us because we have an interesting paper to present to them. The well-schooled are not those who have received the greatest truths revealed to mankind. Angels visited and Christ ministered to fishermen and plow boys. The greatest prophets of history came with less education than most modern-day high school graduates. They had access to truth from another source. There is a significant distinction between the process followed by the revelators and the reasoning of theologians and scholars. Divine revelation will never come through the scholar’s tools. Instead, it comes as people follow the principles of the gospel and obey the commandments of God.

11 – Revelation obtained through a practical process – Even those who rely on reasoning and intellect must ultimately base their reasoning on the basic truths revealed to simple but faithful people who have received revelation. Scholars attempt to teach others to use analytical tools to reach reasoned conclusions. They use logic, reason and supporting studies to establish their “truths.” Prophets attempt to duplicate their experiences by teaching others to obey God and to ask Him to reveal hidden knowledge. Prophetic knowledge is not obtained merely by study, reason or logic. It is obtained by obedience to God’s will and from revelation. What we need is a practical process to discover what is required to get revelation and then we want to get that revelation. We want the truth through revelation. The scriptures tell us how to get the “mysteries of God.” Learning these “mysteries” is the fullness of Christ’s Gospel. Scholars do not pretend to uncover new mysteries or revelations from God. They do no attempt to open the heavens for us. On the other hand, the scriptures do attempt to open the heavens to all, under specific conditions. Some knowledge can only be received by revelation. It is to be learned but is not to be taught.

12 – Seek further light and knowledge – The majority of the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are composed of new converts. The primary focus of the teachings of the Church in Sunday school and Sacrament meetings is always going to be the fundamental principles of the gospel. Discussing the “mysteries” before the foundations have been adequately established is more destructive than edifying. Immaturity leads some curious but unprepared folks to seek these things prematurely. Encouraging them in this before they are ready may result in deep frustration or even losing their testimony altogether. In most lives it will take many years of development before this process is appropriate. Those many years of development can best, perhaps only, be acquired by faithful service within the Church. Church service is the best means for obtaining the necessary preparation. The Church is literally preparing its members for citizenship in heaven. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the work of God. Through its institutions the ordinances which must precede and accompany the acquisition of mysteries are given to the members. Seeking further light and knowledge is not independent the Church, but utterly reliant of it. We need the Church. The Church needs our strength and support.

13 – Must live up to what we receive – Throughout his ministry Joseph was always torn between the desire or requirement to teach on the one hand, and the preparedness and willingness of the Saints to receive instruction on the other. In Nauvoo, Joseph lamented: “I could explain a hundredfold more than I ever have of the glories of the kingdoms manifested to me in the vision, were I permitted, and were the people prepared to receive them.” Permission to reveal and preparation to receive go together. No one is “permitted” to reveal something else unless “the people are prepared to receive them”. That limit also applies to angels. God waits for each person’s preparation before giving them light and truth. We decide what we are willing receive. If you decide you are willing to receive more, then you must follow the path to do so. There are rules which govern these things. We want to find and follow those rules. You cannot avoid the rules and then hope to get what they offer. This book is a guide to discover and apply those rules.

14 – So many people are not prepared with basics – Those who are unprepared will never receive and incorporate spiritual things into their lives. Since they are unwilling to live a higher standard they will not be judged against that standard before they have first had a merciful season to prepare. Almost anyone will accept truth if they are prepared to identify it as truth. But many people are unprepared, and cannot recognize it as true. So, for them, the Lord withholds information to allow them to prepare first. You have no right to impose upon unprepared souls, higher information than they are able to bear. This book is intended only for active, faithful members of the Church with many years of faithful living. It is for those faithful members who have felt there is something  more to the Gospel, but do not have a secure sense of how to proceed to receive it. It is for people whose lives have been filled with years of active service in the Church supporting its programs and providing service to others. It is for those who have attended the temple, and consistently returned to worship there. It is for the few humble followers of Jesus Christ as described by Nephi (2 Ne 28:14). You decide if it is for you.

15 – People today have received the Second Comforter – To receive the Second Comforter we must allow others who have been so blessed to serve as our guides. Their instructions and testimony need to be accepted and followed. The steps in this book are not innovative. They are based entirely on the scriptures. This book will show the propriety of these things from scripture and then show the reader how to approach the task. If this subject makes you uncomfortable, this book may not be suitable for you. Heaven will not open to the skeptic. On the other hand, if you believe there is a deeper level available through faith which you long to experience but is just beyond your reach because you are unsure how to proceed, this book can help you. You may already have the faith required, but you may lack the knowledge or the confidence to realize these things are in fact available to you. Rest assured they are part of Christ’s Gospel. There are people today who have received the Second Comforter. It can be done by any Saint who is willing to abide the conditions set to receive this kind of comfort. It can be done by you.

16 – Rethink – Search into the mysteries of Godliness – Joseph admonished the Saints; “I advise all to go on to perfection, and search deeper and deeper into the mysteries of Godliness.” The notion you should “leave the mysteries alone” has become a mantra for some Saints. Perhaps that is an appropriate mantra for most Saints and in most settings and for all those whose maturity in the Gospel has not prepared them for receiving the deeper things of Christ’s gospel. But there are some Saints who have a legitimate right to these things. Gospel understanding is not meant to make you popular or garner acclaim. It is meant to remake you into a humble servant, to change your heart so you, like the Good Samaritan, will minister to others in need. You will not get recognition for pursuing this effort. It must be a private struggle, about which the world will never know. If you hope for status from the experience, you will be disappointed. But if you wish to know God, you will not [be disappointed].

17 – Visions are private and for our own benefit – Receiving these things does not mean you are authorized to get in front of the Brethren who preside as authorized agents, and begin teaching doctrines either in addition to or different from their authorized message. No one, at any time is authorized to teach beyond what the Lord’s chosen authorities have taught. Joseph said, “…if any person have a vision or a visitation from a heavenly messenger, it must be for his own benefit and instruction…” The mysteries can be received by any person who will follow the process to receive them, but they cannot be taught. You should note that within this last quote from Joseph is the expectation that there will be those who will receive “a vision or visitation from a heavenly messenger.” That is the right of the Saints. It is one of the characteristics of true faith that the heavens communicate to men and women on the earth.

18 – Many people are learned but cannot be taught – However, limited disclosure is one of the requirements of receiving these things. We are to “impart only according to that portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.” (Alma 12:9) If you are incapable of obeying these requirements, then you cannot receive any new mystery by revelation. Heaven will not permit any soul to receive mysteries if they cannot resist revealing them unwisely to others. The constraint that they may be learned but cannot be taught is enforced by withholding them from those who will not be able to abide by this constraint. If you are one of those who cannot respect this limitation, then the process will not work for you. Joseph said, “The reason we do not have the secrets if the Lord revealed to us, is because we do not keep them, but reveal them; we do not keep our own secrets…” Joseph later said, “If God gives you a manifestation; keep it to yourselves.” The Second Comforter is for your individual comfort and instruction, not for public display.

19 – We must be trusted to keep sacred things sacred – An audience must be prepared and worthy to learn of sacred things. This is a binding limitation and an essential part of the process. To be qualified you must be someone who can be trusted to keep sacred things sacred. Of course, when required to testify of something by the Lord, the Lord’s insistence upon that testimony always takes precedence. The general rule is to keep them to yourself. The exception is when the Lord constrains you to do otherwise. The Second Comforter is not provided in order to produce faith. Rather, he comes in response to faith. If you are seeking a sign, it will not be given. He comes to you at the end of a path, and not merely to begin or move you along. If you hope to receive a sign as a result of the message in this book, you will be disappointed. The witness comes after the trial of our faith. These things are given in follow-up to a lengthy process. They are not given before then. “Those who are the most anxious to see these things , are the least prepared to meet them…” (Joseph Smith DHC 5:31). There is a process, and it must be followed. The revelation comes after a maturation process, not before.

20 – Learn to practice perfectly the right sequence – The process needn’t take long, but almost always does. The expression “practice makes perfect” is really incorrect. If you practice imperfectly you cannot hope to become perfect. The expression should be “perfect practice makes perfect.” Having the veil open to you is like seeking to open something kept shut by a combination lock. No amount of turning the dials on the combination lock will open it until you have the right sequence and the right numbers. So it is here. Unless you have the right sequence and the right information, it is not possible to have the veil open. Joseph taught, “That this is a situation to which no man ever arrived in a moment.” Elsewhere, he said, “A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge.” He encouraged us when he said, “If you do right, there is no danger of you going too fast. God does not care how fast we run in the path of virtue. Resist evil and there is no danger.”

21 – Work on the things most wrong at the moment – These things cannot, however, be rushed. You teach complicated or intricate steps one at a time. There should be in the mind of the student only one thing to do. There is always only one thing to do. There is never more than the single thing to be addressed. It is the thing most wrong at the moment. Once that is addressed and corrected, then you can move on to the next thing, where again there is only one thing to do – and it is the next thing in the sequence. When the next skill is acquired, then there is still only one thing to do. So it is with these steps. There is only one thing for you to do. You will know what you need to do within the context of your own life. Whatever it is that most hinders you is the one and only thing you have to do. When it is resolved, you move on to the next thing. If you cannot figure out what the thing you most need to resolve is, ask the Lord. He has always been willing to answer the sincere inquiry of “what lack I yet?” But the answer to that question will always be the one thing you should work on. Never work on three, thirty or fifty things at once.

22 – Feelings are more important than thoughts – There is harmony and balance to this process when it is being done correctly. You can feel it more than think it. You need to seek for balance in your life. It is the object of this work to get you to become balanced, nimble, and more attuned to feeling than to thought. If you are reading this book as an intellectual exercise, or for evaluation purposes only, it will do you no good. This is a workbook, with specific steps that must be done, completed and passed before you are ready to receive more. You will know when you have passed each step. The Lord will reveal it to you, but you must ask him every step of the way. Sometimes, you may need to go back and review a lesson. The Lord will also let you know that if it is needed. If you are not already, you will become comfortable with the voice of the Lord and know what it is he wants you to do to come into his presence and receive what he has to offer. There are some things that can only be received through His personal ministration.

23 – Test the process, experiment, prove it – Much as been written about Denver Snuffer by those who want to criticize his work. In an effort to discredit the process he describes in this book, they want to find and reveal his weaknesses. As you read the book, you will discover that he gives you plenty of ammunition if you want to go that route. Each chapter has a small but instructive vignette from Denver’s personal life that demonstrates his human weaknesses. I can’t imagine a more humble approach in teaching us that even someone as imperfect as Denver can successfully navigate this process. As he writes, “The content of this work stands alone as the authority for these things. If you accept anything from this book, you must do so on the strength of what it says and not who is saying it. This work should not be accepted for any reason other than it persuades you it is true. If it does not persuade you, then you should reject it. Test its teachings. See if they do not provide you with growth in your walk with Christ.”

The Book of Mormon, A Biography


Lives of Great Religious Books, Princeton University Press
March 2012, 280 pages, $24.95, small size – 4 ½ W by 7 ½ H
ISBN: 9780691144801, includes 23 halftone B/W photos
ISBN for the eBook (same price): 9781400841615
Paul C. Gutjahr, Professor of English, Indiana University

Introduction

This is a book about a book. That’s not unique but the subject of the book is very unique. The Book of Mormon launched a religious movement. It is an influential book, a controversial book, a best-selling book (150 million copies) and a well-read book. It has a lot of history (182 years), has been translated into over 100 languages and has survived intense scrutiny and criticism.

The book has inspired countless pieces of art, poetry and music and has been the subject of numerous movies and plays, most recently the successful Broadway musical of the same name. It is a part of the daily spiritual life of millions of people, considered a sacred text, holy writ comparable to the Bible or the Koran, presented to the world as evidence of modern revelation.

Every day, new readers discover it for the first time, usually after being introduced to it by a friend or by Mormon missionaries. You can check it out at the library, read it online or download it for free to your Kindle, iPhone, iPad or Android. If you want to discuss it you can find several hundred websites, blog posts, forums and online articles filled with commentary and explanation.

A Biography

Until now there has never been a definitive biography of the Book of Mormon. Paul Gutjahr’s latest offering fills that need. Although not a Latter-day Saint, Paul is well-qualified to write this biography (see About the Author below). Those not of the faith will find it scholarly and well written. Most Latter-day Saints will find it informative, interesting and surprisingly refreshing.

This book biography is part of a series from Princeton University Press entitled, Lives of Great Religious Books. Other works in the series include The Tibetan Book of the Dead, The I Ching, The Book of Revelation, The Dead Sea Scrolls, The Bhagavad Gita and many others. Just as we enjoy reading biographies of famous artists, these book biographies should prove interesting.

My review is from the viewpoint of an orthodox member of the LDS faith. I am not a scholar. I’m just a regular blogger so I’m not sure why Princeton asked me to review the book but I’m honored to do so. Besides, I’m always grateful to add good books like this to my library. My experience with reading Paul’s latest offering was enjoyable, enlightening and entertaining.

Physical Appearance

The first thing that stuck me was the photo of the angel Moroni on the cover and the size of the book. It is only a half-inch taller than today’s common blue-backed editions of the Book of Mormon. I took it to a church social the day I got it. A number of people commented on the beautiful cover and similar appearance to the Book of Mormon. I think that was intentional.

Because of the small size, this book can be read in just a few hours. The acid-free paper is much thicker than the Book of Mormon but has less than half the pages. The actual number of reading pages is 195 if you count from prologue to epilogue. The rest are appendices, notes and an index. The dust jacket is a unique, rubberized type of cover, one I have never seen on a book before.

There are almost two dozen photographs, maps and illustrations sprinkled generously throughout the book. I especially liked the chart of the various printed editions. Some of the maps were supplied courtesy of the church archives, including one that has an error, faithfully reproduced. The location of Voree, Wisconsin, once home of the Strangite movement is shown in Michigan.

Content of the Book

You won’t find a lot of information on the content of the Book or Mormon in Paul’s biography. There is little to no discussion of doctrine or theology. However, there is much of history to be found, some of which I didn’t know even though I have been a life-long member of the church. The history provides a rich background for the publishing timeline of the Book of Mormon.

For example, I was not aware previously that there were differences in the American and the English editions which caused some problems when they were brought back together for the current 1981 edition. The problem arose because the English editions were based on the 1837 edition. The American editions were based on the last one revised by Joseph Smith in 1840.

The theme of Paul’s biography is the story of how the Book of Mormon has “grown up” into what it is today. When I served my mission in 1976, we used the Book of Mormon heavily and as a central focus of our message. I later learned that it was not always so and Paul illustrated this for me with his chapter on Missionary Work. The Book of Mormon has now come full circle.

Survey of Criticism

Some members of the church don’t like to read scholarly reviews of our sacred text because of necessity they contain equal time for those who have written against the work. I think that it is wrong to not make an effort to understand what unbelievers have said. Gutjahr presents all the usual early critics, but does so in a neutral way that lets the reader reach their own conclusions.

This is what scholarly works do best and why regular members of the church should read them. It helps us keep our heads from being stuck in the sand. I found Paul’s work in this area well presented. Members should not be offended by what he has written. Paul has kept his personal opinions out of his writing. It is neutral, unbiased and straightforward. In short, it is truthful.

If you have not heard of or read about Philastus Hurlbut’s affidavits, Eber Dudley Howe’s 1834 book Mormonism Unveiled, the second Spaulding manuscript theory, or Ethan Smith’s View of the Hebrews, then you should take the time to become familiar with them. Gutjahr presents them for us in a non-threatening manner that should allow LDS members to converse intelligently.

Modern Scholarly Approach

Millions of church members who have read the Book of Mormon rely on a divine confirmation of the veracity of the record. For most of them, this is enough. Yet many still seek for a more intellectual approach to the book that millions today accept as the word of God. If you want a good survey of recent and current scholarly analysis of the Book of Mormon, Paul offers it.

In fifteen pages of chapter six, Paul whets our appetite for some of the academic research being done on the Book of Mormon. If you are not already familiar with FARMS, now part of the BYU Neal A. Maxwell Institute, you should be. We are also introduced to Terryl Givens (By the Hand of Mormon) and Grant Hardy’s work (Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide).

This is a chapter that I think could have been expanded a great deal. In fact, I would venture to say that someone should take this basic survey and expand it into a doctoral thesis. We need Mormon scholars who understand intellectual and theological history well enough to offer the academic world a defining work of rigorous scholarship deserving of the Book of Mormon.

Artistic Interpretations

The most delightful parts of the book for me were the chapters on Illustrating the Book and The Book on Stage and Screen. I knew about Arnold Friberg and Minerva Teichert because their works are hanging in temples and church buildings throughout the world. Although I had heard about George Reynolds The Story of The Book of Mormon, I had never seen a printed copy.

Thanks to the modern miracle of Internet technology, you can read it online, and view all the wonderful illustrations that accompanied it. The copy I linked to is autographed by Wilford Woodruff. Reynolds book was the first attempt to create an illustrated version of the Book of Mormon told in story fashion for young readers. His work has a romantic look and feel to it.

Until I read Gutjahr’s book, I had no idea about some of the early history of the Book of Mormon in the theater. For some reason, I assumed the recent Broadway musical was the first time the book had been used for a production. If you have not already, you must read about Corianton, the Story of Unholy Love. If not from Paul, then read about it here and here from Ardis Parshall.

Summary and Conclusion

The Book of Mormon has become a part of American culture, indeed worldwide culture. It has a life of its own, beyond the control of the Church that publishes it and expends so much time, effort and energy to get it into the hands of as many people as possible throughout the world. The “Mormon Moment” we are experiencing is made possible by this now venerable old book.

Paul Gutjahr has given us a fresh look at a book that so many millions revere as proof of modern revelation and of God’s love for his children in our day and age. The book offers a few unique new insights, much information not well-known, and a balanced approach to the current state of scholarly research on the Book of Mormon. I enjoyed reading and believe it worth your time.

The Book is respectful, thoughtful, and enjoyable to read. It is entertaining yet intellectual. It traces the history of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon in 1830 into what it is today. You may see the Book of Mormon in a new light after reading Paul’s biography. If nothing else, you will better appreciate the fact that the Book of Mormon is here to stay and is worth studying.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 – Joseph’s Gold Bible
Chapter 2 – Holy Writ or Humbug?
Chapter 3 – Multiplying Prophets
Chapter 4 – Great Basin Saints and the Book
Chapter 5 – Missionary Work and the Book
Chapter 6 – Scholars and the Book
Chapter 7 – Illustrating the Book
Chapter 8 – The Book on Stage and Screen
Appendix 1 – Notable Book of Mormon Editions in English
Appendix 2 – Book of Mormon Translations

About the Author

Dr. Gutjahr received his Ph.D. from the University of Iowa in 1996. His specialized field of research is the history of publishing and literacy in the United States or as he calls it, “History of the Book Studies” in North America. He has written extensively on the production of the English Bible in North America. He lends that analytical expertise to The Book of Mormon, A Biography.

Paul’s research interests are American religious and intellectual thought, religious publishing and American literature and culture 1640-1860. I think I would have enjoyed taking some classes from Dr. Gutjahr. One graduate course is entitled, “The Most Turbulent Decade: America in the 1840s.” His biography of Charles Hodge was published by Oxford University Press in 2011.

Other Reviews

Princeton University Press      Indiana University
Amazon           Google Books             Goodreads
Pacific Standard, Wade Clark Roof   Booklist
Library Journal (Scroll down – third review)
Meridian Magazine, Grant Hardy       Dialogue, Blair Hodges
(Also found on By Common Consent)
Deseret News, Ryan Morgenegg        Standard Examiner, Doug Gibson
The Juvenile Instructor – a fascinating Q&A with Paul
Washington Post, Justin Moyer – short but highly quoted
(Breitbart and Ex-Mo Forums – Reviews of the WaPo review)
Mormon Letters Forum, Matthew R. Lee
Modern Mormon Men, Scott Hales
National Post, Canada – Excerpt, not a review (pages 61-70)

An Evening with Richard Bushman


About a thousand other people and I enjoyed an evening with Richard Bushman last night. He spoke about Joseph and Emma for about 40 minutes and then entertained questions from the audience for another 40 minutes. While his insights on Joseph and Emma were interesting, I found the questions more fascinating, because they reflected a lot of the issues I blog about.

For those who don’t know, Richard Bushman is the author of Rough Stone Rolling, the 2005 biography of Joseph Smith that has become the definitive account of the prophet’s life as told from the viewpoint of a faithful historian. I took advantage of the opportunity to have him autograph my copy and was not the only one in the audience who waited in line to do so.

Open and honest discussion

It was wonderful to see so many people interested in learning more about this great man and the beginnings of the Mormon Church. Every time he finished answering a question a dozen more hands shot up. We could have been there for several more hours. I think that goes to show you how much we as a people appreciate someone who has studied the prophet’s life in such detail.

There were many questions that focused on the process of translating, the Urim and Thummim, the seer stone in the hat, polygamy, the three witnesses and the eight witnesses, Oliver Cowdery, the martyrdom, succession, Book of Abraham translation, Mountain Meadows massacre and folk magic. He welcomed every question and encouraged us to ask even the most difficult ones.

A well-qualified historian

One of the most refreshing comments I heard was his expression of appreciation to the church, specifically to the church historian’s office, Marlin K. Jensen and Richard E. Turley for the recent publication of Massacre at Mountain Meadows. He then said that he hoped that the church would do the same with the issue of polygamy, treating it openly and with historical accuracy.

Burt what impressed me most about the evening was the obvious fact that Richard Bushman is a highly respected historian who probably understands the beginnings of Mormonism as well as or better than anyone else. Besides being the co-general editor of the Joseph Smith Papers, he chairs the board of directors of the Mormon Scholars Foundation.  He knows early church history.

Serving faithfully in the church

And yet, Richard Bushman has served as a bishop, a stake president, a patriarch and is currently a sealer in the Los Angeles temple.  I would say that he is a faithful, believing Latter-day Saint, in spite of everything he knows about early church history.  I bring this up specifically to make a point about a common response to my essays and how I can still believe when I know this stuff.

I recently had someone ask me how I was able to do what I do – serve faithfully in the church – in spite of all that I know about, as he called it, “the more disturbing facts of the origins of Mormonism.”  I think maybe he might want to redirect that question to someone like Richard Bushman who knows so much more than I do and yet has been a faithful believer all his life.

Believing in spite of knowing

This individual asked, “How do you reconcile your belief and what the church teaches, with the history of things like the origins of the temple ceremony, polygamy, first vision contradictions, development of the story of the restoration of the priesthood, and other issues?”  I answered him privately in an email but have been pondering this whole idea of believing in spite of knowing.

Frankly, it perplexes me. I think I have expressed this same sentiment several times in previous essays every time it comes up. What is so hard about studying and understanding our very early church history, warts and all, and then continuing to believe that Joseph Smith was an instrument in the hands of God to bring about the restoration of the gospel and his church in the latter days?

Shocked by our history

Are we supposed to be shocked, dismayed and overwhelmed with doubt every time we discover some new fact about the early days of the church?  For example, last night we were reminded that beer and wine were used by the early saints, and sometimes even whiskey.  Today, we would be shocked if we learned that the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles drank a glass of wine.

Yet in volume IV, page 120 of the History of the Church on the date of April 17 1840 we read, “This day the Twelve blessed and drank a bottle of wine at Penworthan, made by Mother Moon forty years before.”  Things were different back then, weren’t they?  The Word of Wisdom had been received in 1833 but was not binding upon the saints as a commandment like it is today.

History not being hidden

When Fanny Alger was brought up by Brother Bushman last night as an example of an early failed attempt by Joseph to obey the law of plural marriage, I’ll bet there were a few people in the audience who did not know that Joseph had married this sixteen year old girl in 1833. The revelation on celestial marriage had been received in 1831 but Joseph was hesitant to obey.

For some reason, the idea that Joseph participated in plural marriage is supposed to be shocking to us. This continues to be one of the most common tactics of our critics – to try to shock us with facts that are supposedly being hidden from us by our modern church leaders.  Nothing could be further from the truth. We are always being encouraged to study our history and learn the facts.

Selling the Book of Mormon Copyright

Another example that our critics like to throw at us is the failed attempt to sell the copyright to the Book of Mormon in Canada. Until recently, the only source for this event was the memory of David Whitmer who was not present when Joseph sent the brethren on their mission.  Joseph never said that it must have been a false revelation as Whitmer claimed he said upon their return.

We’re then supposed to conclude that if we can’t trust a revelation from Joseph then how are we supposed to know what is revelation from God. I’m not an apologist but I’m grateful that there are people who dig into these things to get the facts and present them for our review.  Of course, the same facts can be presented in favorable or unfavorable light, depending on where you go.

Consider carefully the source

For example, you can read the story of the copyright mission to Canada on MormonThink as supposed evidence that even Joseph Smith didn’t know when revelations were from God and when they were from the devil.  Yet you can read the same account in greater clarity and detail from a more trustworthy and reliable source like FAIR and come away strengthened in faith.

We could go on and on with hundreds of things that are supposed to be shocking to us modern believers of the faith because they seem so out of character with what we’ve been taught about Joseph or other leaders of the early LDS church. If we are bothered by something, then we need to do our homework and get all the facts as part of the process of confirming truth for ourselves.

Get the facts straight

If I were concerned upon reading that Joseph Smith was supposed to have said that even he didn’t know when a prophecy came from the Lord or that he is supposed to have said that a revelation he received must have come from the devil, as David Whitmer said he did, then I would want to read more about this and would be very careful about the source that I study.

Because if I believed that Joseph really said this, then that might lead me to conclude that if even prophets have a hard time understanding revelation, how can I really be expected to understand or know the truth of revelations that come to me, especially revelation that I think is telling me that the church itself is true? Do you see how important it is to get the facts of certain matters?

The Joseph Smith Papers

Of course Joseph never said that he must have received a false revelation.  In fact, according to more recent information discovered, the brethren who went on the mission to Canada in an attempt to sell the copyright to the Book of Mormon felt that they were successful on their mission and that the Lord was pleased with their efforts. The promised sale was conditional.

I’m grateful for brethren like Richard Bushman, who are helping to bring us the Joseph Smith papers. In volume 1 of the Manuscript Revelation Books, we have the full copy of the mission to Canada revelation. It can be read there. The criticism that Joseph later claimed that the revelation had not come from God is in all likelihood the product of a false memory by David Whitmer.

We can believe the prophet

As I wrote in a previous essay, I believe it is our lifelong pursuit to understand revelation and to come to know how the Lord communicates with each of us. We can rely on the promises of the Lord to lead us, guide us and walk beside us because we have the gift of the Holy Ghost. I hope we cherish this gift and live worthy of the constant companionship of this promised revelator.

Joseph Smith knew when the Lord was inspiring him and so did most of the brethren who were with him at the time when he received revelation. We can trust that the Lord will help us to have the assurances we need to believe in the mission of the prophet Joseph Smith. Someday, we will meet Brother Joseph and if we still have questions about his life we can ask them to him directly.

A Website for the Average Mormon


I’ve been reading the arguments on MormonThink.com off and on for several years now.  I have a lot of respect for the individuals behind the site, even though most of them choose to be anonymous.  I am confident that I have been visited by several of the contributors there or at least by those who read their site and others like it such as Ex Mormon and Post Mormon.

I am by no means a scholar or intellectual.  I think I’m pretty smart and that I’m pretty good with logic.  After all, I have made a living for thirty years demystifying computers for others.  But I know there are a lot of people out there who are smarter than I am and who have the academic credentials to prove it.  I like to think that I’m just a regular, average, typical Latter-day Saint.

I like smart, thinking people and especially people who present logical conclusions well, either in writing or verbally.  Critical thinking is a skill that I am constantly striving to improve.  I confess that I am impressed when someone can speak or write with confidence, especially when it comes to doctrines and practices of the church.  That’s why I continue to take college classes each year.

Choosing to believe

But I’d like to take exception with one of the common threads I find in the essays on sites like MormonThink.com.  It has to do with choosing to believe.  The concept of voluntary or involuntary belief has been discussed by philosophers for millennia.  But it’s such a basic part of how I deal with the sort of intellectual issues on Mormon Think that I want to share it with you.

I disagree with those who contend that beliefs are not voluntary acts of will.  There is no doubt in my mind that I am a voluntarist when it comes to my beliefs about the church and our history.  This is especially true in light of, or in spite of all the fascinating historical facts that I have read over the years that are just not taught to or even known by the majority of the Latter-day Saints.

Invariably I have found that those who label themselves atheists also claim to be involuntarists.  I am coming to the conclusion that those who embrace the title of Ex Mormon, Post Mormon or Former Mormon also see their position as involuntary.  “It was inevitable,” they say, “based on what I have learned, I had no other choice but to now disbelieve what I had formally believed.”

Encouraging Faith

Well, that’s where we differ.  I have spent many years studying the same material that has been so troubling and bothersome to so many of my fellow seekers of knowledge.  I can honestly say that my faith has been strengthened and my belief deepened that Joseph was who he claimed to be – a prophet of God – and that the Book of Mormon is what it claims to be – Holy Scripture.

I have no doubt that there are many in the church, who, if they studied the same material we have written about on our blogs and websites, would be absolutely freaked out and would soon leave the church.  They are either social Mormons only or are not strong in their desire to know more about the history of our church.  I don’t think these kinds of people are your typical Mormons.

What’s missing from sites like MormonThink.com, and what you’ll find in abundance on the official church web sites, is the role of faith, and especially encouraging faith.  There is way too much emphasis on the intellect and not enough focus on feelings.  The section on Testimony and Spiritual Witness relegates the role of feelings of faith as something to be dissected and derided.

Announcing new website

That’s reason why I decided to start my own website, LatterdayCommentary.com.  This blog is hosted on that domain, which I registered years ago.  It’s not much to look at today.  In fact, I almost consider it a prototype.  I’ve put together some commentary and links to my essays on some of the same subjects that you will find on MormonThink.com.  It will grow with time.

I know that I’m just one of thousands of LDS members who have a website where they share their beliefs and testimonies of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.  I like to think that I’m not much different from your average Mormon.  I grew up as a member of the church but I come from a convert family.  And my viewpoint is definitely that of a laid-back California boy.

I’ve been happy as a member of the LDS Church all my life.  I loved my mission and I love going to the temple.  I love General Conference and I love serving in a local Bishopric.  I hope you’ll take a look at my website and then come back here and make some suggestions as to how I can make it better and more useful in promoting the doctrines of our LDS faith to the world.

Shades of Grey and relative truth


In 1978, civil war broke out in Nicaragua, just after I left the country. My Mission President went from Costa Rica to Managua to help the missionaries get out of the country.  As he was literally leaving the chapel where he had told the missionaries to gather, the Sandinistas came running in from the other door and stopped them.

Demanding to know what side of the conflict they were on, President Muren responded with the phrase, “tonos de gris,” which means shades of grey.  He did not stop but kept going right out the door and was able to get that group of Elders out of the country.  Gratefully, all the missionaries eventually made it safely out.

Social or Cultural Mormons

Can a person be a member of the LDS faith and not believe some of the doctrine or accept the official story of the history?  Absolutely!  We call them social or cultural Mormons and there are countless numbers of them within the church.  Many of these kinds of members come from multi-generation pioneer LDS families.

If you survey an average congregation in the LDS faith, you will find that there are a surprising number who just don’t care about some of the doctrine and care even less about the history.  They are there because it is their family tradition and they derive satisfaction from the social interaction among good people that they know.

Looking for the middle ground

They feel uncomfortable when they hear statements from their leaders that the LDS church is either the kingdom of God or it is nothing.  When someone says that Joseph Smith was either God’s prophet or he was a great fraud, they feel unfairly pressured to have to put their view of the man in such black and white terms.

Isn’t there some middle ground where good people can participate in the Mormon faith without having to take sides about Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, the idea of angels visiting Joseph and the concept of priesthood keys and authority?  There is so much good in the church.  Why does it have to be classified as true?

The American Mormon culture

There are many members of the LDS church who do not fit the stereotypical image of conservative, orthodox, Republicanwhite-collar, all-American family.  The church membership is actually quite diverse, especially as one travels outside the confines of the Intermountain West where the church flourished and is the strongest.

Culturally, as a church and a people, we seem to have become stagnated in the mindset of the 19th century view of Mormonism that still conflicts with the outside world.  The church is growing beyond the Mormon corridor but is experiencing a sort of consolidation in the traditional strongholds of the faith – the center of Zion.

The one true church

Many good people who recognize this cultural myopia and parochialism that exists within the LDS faith have expanded their views and horizons beyond the mores and restraints of the traditional, orthodox Mormon worldview.  There are so many good people out there that are doing great things to serve their local communities.

Because these progressive thinking people have expanded their views they have come in contact with different ways of thinking about the religious experience and about their own Mormon upbringing.  The idea of belonging to the one true church has come to be offensive and difficult, if not impossible to defend in their minds.

God’s chosen people

They see and are embarrassed by what appears to be a contest of right and wrong between our zeal as a missionary church and the good people who are not already a part of the elect kingdom of God.  Whereas previously they were uncomfortable with a perceived exclusivist approach, they now are adamant that we are wrong.

We are judgmental, they cry.  Why can’t we accept everybody else just the way they are?  Why are we trying to convert people when they are already happy and doing much good in their own faith?  The idea of rules for membership becomes chafing.  Why does the church have such high standards that drive people crazy?

Pointing out the flaws and faults

A large percentage of the LDS membership either does not know or does not care about some of the troubling issues of our early history and growth as a church.  It is frustrating to progressive thinkers that so many within the faith are not as well versed as they are on these issues and the supposed quandaries that they present.

So they become more vocal and strident in pointing out the flaws and faults of the church and its leaders, both historical and current.  Their frustration increases when their audience either shrugs its collective shoulders or ignores their efforts to educate them on the problems that they see in the church.  How can they not care?

Many faithful members do know

While there are many who don’t know and don’t care, there are just as many who are very knowledgeable in the issues and problems that are troublesome to our liberal minded members.  It’s just that we have found answers within our own hearts and minds many years ago that satisfy the potential cognitive dissonance.

We quietly go about our lives, secure and confident in the knowledge that we have found answers for the most important elements of our faith.  We invite others to taste of the peace that comes from knowing that there are answers and that there are many solid and bedrock truths upon which we can build our lives and our faith.

Raise a warning voice

For some reason, when we try to share our certainty about the truths we have found, we are sometimes misunderstood to be arrogant or presenting our faith as superior or more complete than theirs.  Yes, if you invite someone to share in your happiness then you are presenting what you have found to be of great worth.

This is a difficult task to perform.  We are commanded to raise our voices to let the world know of the events pertaining to the founding of our church.  We have been asked to be bold in declaring that God has called prophets in our day and that he has sent angels to ordain and teach truths that have long been lost from the world.

Some truths are not relative

And thus we arrive at the heart of the conflict between orthodox conservative Mormons and progressive liberal Mormons.  What is truth?  Can one say with any degree of certainty that they have found the best and most complete source of truth without excluding the many other sources of truth that are found in the world?

Truth is reality. Some kinds of truth can only be received through revelation. I have never seen God or Jesus. I was not there when Joseph received the First Vision. So for me to be able to know those facts, they have to be revealed to me by the Holy Ghost.  Some truths are either revealed of God or they remain unknown.

Truths received by revelation

The five pillars of the LDS testimony require revelation: God lives, Jesus is the Christ, the Savior called Joseph as a prophet, the Book of Mormon was brought forth by the gift and power of God and the church that Joseph established is authorized of God to administer the ordinances of salvation that God requires.

Without revelation from the Holy Ghost we can’t say that we know these things. It’s just not logical. I have studied the Book of Mormon and the Church that claims to be God’s only church authorized to administer the ordinances of salvation. With revelation from the Holy Ghost I can say I know they are what they claim to be.

Summary and conclusion

In some things in life, it is wise to take a position characterized by my Mission President’s response to the Sandinistas – shades of grey.  We do not always know all the facts of some situations and should withhold judgment until a later time.  However, in some critical matters, we must take a position and know for ourselves.

It takes work and determination to obtain knowledge about the five pillars of an LDS testimony.  But I, and millions of others over the years, can say with great certainty that God does reveal knowledge about himself and his prophets to those who diligently seek it.  This revealed knowledge does not come in shades of grey.

There is no middle ground


In the priesthood session of the April 2003 General Conference, President Hinckley delivered a landmark address on the subject of loyalty.   In his remarks he said, “Each of us has to face the truth of the matter—either the church is true, or it is a fraud.  There is no middle ground.  It is the Church and kingdom of God or it is nothing.”

An earlier prophet, Joseph Fielding Smith wrote something similar in the Doctrines of Salvation:Mormonism, as it is called, must stand on the story of Joseph Smith.  He was either a prophet of God, divinely called, properly appointed and commissioned, or he was one of the biggest frauds this world has ever seen.  There is no middle ground.”

There can be no gray area

Referring to the historical events of the area around Palmyra, New York, President Hinckley said: “They either happened or they did not. There can be no gray area, no middle ground.”   In a similar manner, Apostle Joseph B. Wirthlin said, “Joseph Smith must be accepted either as a prophet of God or else as a charlatan of the first order.”

President Benson endorsed this all or nothing view.  He said, “Just as the arch crumbles if the keystone is removed, so does all the Church stand or fall with the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon…if it can be discredited, the Prophet Joseph Smith goes with it. So does our claim to priesthood keys, and revelation, and the restored Church.”

They were all wrong

Such black and white statements go all the way back to the beginnings of the LDS church.  When the prophet Joseph asked God which church he should join, he “was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong.”  If all the churches of Joseph’s day were wrong, what does that say about the numerous churches of our day?

The Lord later said to Joseph in Section one of the Doctrine and Covenants that the church Joseph organized was “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth.”  If you look, you can find dozens of similar statements by prophets and apostles throughout the history of our church, all very bold in their declarations.

Divisive and exclusivist

Of course, statements like these are labeled divisive and exclusivist by many people outside our church, but also, increasingly by members on the fringe of the church, also known as the disaffected Mormon underground.  The DAMU is nothing new.  There have been cultural Mormons and Jack Mormons throughout the history of our church.

Of all the objections to the church that I have encountered over the past few years I have been blogging, this one seems to be the most common and the most offensive.  For some, it is an extremely difficult proposition to accept this black or white, all or nothing approach to truth in religion.  I have spent considerable time pondering why this is so.

Good and truth in all religions

Joseph Smith taught that we accept truth from whatever source it may come.  Joseph F. Smith said, “We are willing to receive all truth, from whatever source it may come; for truth will stand, truth will endure…”  Modern prophets have said that there is much good and truth in all churches and religions.  This statement doesn’t seem too limiting.

President Hinckley: “We recognize the good in all churches. We recognize the value of religion generally. We say to everyone: live the teachings which you have received from your church. We invite you to come and learn from us, to see if we can add to those teachings and enhance your life and your understanding of things sacred and divine.”

Something unique to add

What can the LDS faith add that is unique and will bless the lives of those who accept its teachings?  The most unique thing we offer can be found in the temples.  It is the sealing power that is exercised to unite families in an eternal bond that will remain in effect after this life is over.  That is an amazing claim that no other church can make.

We teach that the sealing power is a part of the priesthood authority that we claim was delivered to Joseph Smith via angelic messengers.  I don’t know of any other church that asserts that angels have come and ordained their leaders or conferred upon them keys and powers that will bind on earth and in heaven.  That is a fantastic declaration!

Our eternal nature

The older I get, the more important that claim becomes to me.  If I know nothing else, I know that there is a spiritual side of my existence.  I have had too many experiences of a spiritual nature that have helped me to understand this truth.  Others may claim that there is nothing more to man than skin, muscle and bones, but I believe differently.

Because of that very basic and core fundamental belief about myself, I am concerned about what my purpose is in life and what happens after death.  I am so grateful to be a part of a community of faith, a church that believes as I do that life is eternal and that what we do with our lives will have a significant impact on the quality of life hereafter.

Importance of the temples

That belief in life eternal is not unique, but the idea that we can do something to ensure that the relationships we enjoy here continue in the hereafter is very unique indeed.  I have had dialog with visitors to my blog who claim that God would never be so mean as to separate a loving couple who cherished and served each other all their mortal lives.

I’m not going to point you to any statements from church leaders that teach otherwise but I will say this: before you go making claims about how God should behave, you might want to be absolutely sure of what God has said on the subject.  I can’t think of anything about which I would want to be surer.  My eternal happiness depends on it.

Book of Mormon is still the key

Back to the point of the essay and why prophets have said that there can be no middle ground when it comes to things like authority and revelation and Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon.  My mother, who was a convert to the church, once said to me that as an investigator, she could accept everything about it except the Book of Mormon.

It wasn’t until much later in life when she took an Institute class on the subject that she really began to understand just how important it is to our claims of divine origin.  I love the fact that we do not have the plates to “prove” the historicity of the book.  Prophets have taught that the Book of Mormon is a great sifter of those who are honest in heart.

The power of a divine witness

I know there are those who have said that they have tried and failed to obtain a witness of the veracity of the Book of Mormon.  I have had dialog with people both inside and outside the church who have struggled with this.  I confess that I cannot offer a perfect empathy because I received a witness of the truthfulness of the book many years ago.

Because of that divine manifestation to me, not just once but on several occasions, I have never doubted the Book of Mormon, or the claims of the prophet Joseph Smith. I understand why the prophets have said that the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion and why our claims of divinity rest upon the veracity of that book.  I also agree with the statement that the strength of this church is in the testimony of each member.

The promise of personal revelation

One of my evangelical visitors once called this security that I feel, the Mormon bubble.  He says it is not logical but it makes perfect sense to me.  You can throw out all kinds of arguments about the Book of Abraham, Polyandry, Post-manifesto plural marriage, the Kinderhook Plates or any one a few dozen other things that can be found on the Internet.

None of them bothered me when I first learned about them and none of them do now.  I have written essays on dozens of these objections and have come to the conclusion that they really aren’t the real problem with why people doubt or leave the church.  In my opinion, those who struggle with these doubts have not received personal revelation.

Summary and conclusion

I know that a testimony is a very sacred and personal subject.  I also know that making a generalization like I just did will bring all kinds of protests.  But I stand by it as truth.  If a man has received a witness from God that the Book of Mormon is true then God has a responsibility to help that man as he goes through the ensuing trials of that testimony.

I know that God will help the honest in heart keep their testimonies strong and vibrant.  If we study we are going to find out things that will test our witness.  We will then have the opportunity to strengthen and deepen it.  That’s what opposition is for.  We do not have to wallow in doubt.  But those who doubt are welcome while they work things out.

Spiritual experiences as a foundation for faith


I have been intrigued by Blake Ostler’s 2007 FAIR conference presentation entitled, “Spiritual Experiences as the Basis for Belief and Commitment.”  I have read it several times and have decided that Blake is on to something that I would like to develop further.  As you can see I have modified his title a little bit for use in my essay.  I highly recommend you read his essay first.

I’m going to focus on two points he made as he was answering questions towards the end of the presentation.  The first is this: “Memory, and what we do, is changed every time we think about it and remember it.”  The second is this: “All logic is ex post facto to prove what we already feel is true.”  Keep those points in mind as I advance some ideas on my experience with revelation.

Youthful revelatory experiences

Like Blake, I had some remarkable revelatory experiences when I was young that impressed me at the time but have impressed me even more as I have pondered and remembered them over the years.  I have written about them previously, but will list them here to provide some background.  Don’t think that these sacred events were easily obtained or casually absorbed.  They weren’t.

I was taught and believe that we cannot live on borrowed light.  Throughout my Seminary and Institute experience, I must have heard dozens of lessons on how vitally important it is to obtain our own witness of the spirit in order to remain committed to the church and the gospel in later years.  My teachers taught me and the spirit confirmed that I could receive personal revelation.

Foundational spiritual events

The first revelatory experience to which I’ll refer was obtained while I was a student at BYU Idaho.  I was seventeen years old and very immature but very impressed with a testimony I had heard that week from an Apostle of the Lord.  That weekend in my room I prayed fervently for many hours to know for myself that what he had said was true and important for me in my life.

The next impressive spiritual event in the development of my testimony was the next year when I was eighteen years old and preparing myself to serve a mission.  I have also shared this one in a previous essay.  The experience was equally as impressive as the first one though it was perhaps deeper in meaning and implication.  These are part of my early foundational spiritual memories.

Deep impact on my faith

These were not my only youthful revelatory experiences.  I have recorded several others in my journals that came almost unbidden during the years before my mission.  Although I received them as a result of prayer, the effort was not as intense.  In other words, I did not pray for many hours or fast for days to obtain the other experiences.  Nevertheless, they were just as powerful.

Because of these events, I was able to go through the difficult and rigorous experience of serving as a missionary without looking back and wondering why I decided to sacrifice like that for two years.  I had these sacred memories burning in my heart and being added unto with additional everyday assurances from the Lord that I was engaged in his work and that he was appreciative.

Working with imperfect people

Life marches on.  An education is obtained, a marriage is solemnized in the temple, a family is raised and increasing responsibilities in a career and in the church are rewarding and fulfilling.  As sometimes happens, I begin to learn things about my faith, and especially about the people in it that are at first disturbing and then disappointing.  I experience some logical inconsistencies.

Cognitive dissonance can be a painful experience when it includes people from our world who are in authoritative positions.  For example, a beloved bishop from my youth became inactive after he was released.  How could this happen?  He represented the Lord to me in interviews that I held sacred.  He helped me resolve several youthful problems and encouraged me to be faithful.

Imperfections even at high levels

Another bishop from my youth is disciplined after fiscal improprieties in his business dealings are revealed.  I learn of divorces of people whom I admired, some of whom were influential in my youth.  I then begin to learn of difficulties in higher levels of the church – stake presidents who lose their testimonies and announce to their congregations that they are leaving the faith.

A promising general authority is excommunicated for breaking the law of chastity.  I discover that an apostle was excommunicated for this very same reason less than forty years earlier.  How is this possible – a modern apostle excommunicated?  I can understand it happening in the early days of the church but not in our day and age.  These are men of God.  Tell me this wasn’t so!

Sacred things exposed and mocked

I discovered that a former ordinance worker in the temple had recorded the temple ceremony and then published it.  How could he do that?  I hold the temple sacred and have enjoyed so many wonderful experiences there over the years.  What could cause him to lose his faith and reveal something that means so much to me?  Did he never have any spiritual experiences of his own?

From the earliest days of the church there have been those who have not been impressed with the sacred nature of the temple and have exposed things that they have covenanted to keep sacred.  In our day there are those who claim to have received the second anointing and then describe it on the message boards of those who hate the church.  Something’s not right with this picture.

Not all members receive revelation

I used to think that everybody in the church had spiritual experiences similar to those I enjoyed in my youth.  Over the years, I have come to realize that this is not the case.  Can that be true even for those who have served as bishops, stake presidents or even general authorities?  In my opinion, yes – personal experience has shown this to be so.  Not all members receive revelation.

That has been an amazing thing for me to contemplate.  Was I just extremely lucky or blessed to believe that I could receive revelation when I was so young?  Several visitors to my blog over the years have tried to convince me that I did not receive revelation.  They have suggested that what I experienced was a form of self-hypnosis, or simply the effect of a frenzied, emotional state.

Memories can be enlarged

Back to Blake’s two points, memory first.  I have come to realize that although my early spiritual experiences occurred nearly thirty-five years ago, they are clearer in my mind now then when I first experienced them.  The combination of pondering them and writing about them has helped me to understand that there was much more detail in the experiences than what I first thought.

As Blake pointed out in his essay, this helps me to understand why Joseph Smith could recount the same First Vision experience differently in each of the accounts he relates over the years.  I was so focused on determining my own standing before God in my first youthful manifestation that I had overlooked how deeply and powerfully the Lord spoke to me about missionary labors.

How to explain all this

Blake’s second point was that all logic is created to prove what we already feel is true.  I have had prima facia experiences that overrule any logical inconsistencies I have encountered in what I have learned about the history and people of this church as I have studied it in more depth.  In effect, I have not really experienced cognitive dissonance at all because the spiritual trumps logical.

Let me restate that.  My spiritual revelatory experiences with the Holy Ghost early in my life have proven to be so powerful that it seems that no matter what kind of troubling things I may learn about the men who run or have run this church, I feel inoculated and immune to their effect.  My evangelical friends call this “living in the protective Mormon bubble of a testimony.”

Summary and conclusion

My experiences with the Holy Ghost are not going to be the same as yours.  They may be similar or they may be completely different.  For me, these revelatory events in my youth have provided a foundation for my experiences in this church thus far.  I have encountered much imperfection and weakness in the men who run it, but the spiritual witnesses of my life have protected me.

The bottom line is that I continue to believe that the LDS Church is what it claims to be when it was setup through the prophet Joseph Smith in 1830.  The simple fact is that we can know this for ourselves through revelatory encounters with the Holy Ghost.  No matter what negative things I discover, nothing can overcome the strength of that personal witness if I remain worthy.

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Note about the illustration: This artist’s conception of Joseph translating the Book of Mormon is one that is highly criticized by some members of the church.  They feel it is disingenuous because it does not show Joseph using the seer stones in the hat.  It also shows the plates in plain view of Oliver which was not the case.  Joseph was not to show them to anyone unless commanded of the Lord.

General Authority training – advanced subjects


You’ve been active and faithful in the church all your life and have a deep and abiding testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.  You have enjoyed success and found great joy in helping others come to a knowledge of the Lord through your missionary labors.  You’re proven to be a gifted administrator in the priesthood.  You love to study the scriptures and to teach the gospel.

Responding to difficult questions

The Brethren have decided that all potential General Authorities must now take some additional classes prior to receiving the call.  While we are a lay ministry, it is important that those who are called into positions that represent the church have skills developed in responding to difficult questions.  You know the ones I’m talking about.  President Hinckley was asked some of them.

Since you are on that potential General Authority list, you have been selected to participate in this class.  In order to ensure that the training is effective, we have selected some real-world examples of the kind of questions you can expect to encounter.  While you may have had no experience in studying church history, you will most certainly be asked questions like these.

The really hard list

1. Joseph Smith polygamy and polyandry – why didn’t we know about this?
2. Book of Mormon translation – Peep stone in a hat vs. Urim & Thummim
3. Why are there multiple versions of Joseph Smith’s First Vision story?
4. Why did the three witnesses of the Book of Mormon leave the church?
5. Why is there no real archeological evidence for the Book of Mormon?

6. DNA evidence proved that American Indians have no Israelite blood.
7. Egyptian scholars have proven that the Book of Abraham is a fraud.
8. Did Joseph Smith take the Temple ceremony from the Masons?
9. Could a real prophet have been deceived by the Kinderhook plates?
10. That is so exclusionary of us to claim to be the only true church.

11. Did Brigham Young teach that Adam was God and if so, why?
12. Do we currently teach that God was once a man like we are?
13. How can we really believe that man can become a God?
14. How could the Mountain Meadows Massacre have happened?
15. Why did the church practice polygamy after the 1890 manifesto?

16. Your church seems racist.  Why delay giving priesthood to blacks?
17. Why did President Hinckley deny that we teach long-held doctrines?
18. How was President Hinckley deceived by the Mark Hoffman forgeries?
19. Why do Mormons believe that Lucifer and Jesus Christ are brothers?
20. There are documented cases of spiritual abuse by priesthood leaders.

21. Why is the church opposed to work of LDS scholars and intellectuals?
22. Why did the church cover up President Benson’s Alzheimer’s disease?
23. How can the true Church of Jesus Christ reject those who are gay?
24. Why has church growth stopped in the U.S. – baptisms decreasing?
25. How can the LDS claim to be the true church with so few members?

Effect of the questions

These are legitimate questions raised over the years that can be found today all over the Internet.  Many of our young people are asked these questions by their friends on a regular basis.  They are not being malicious or trying to cause problems.  They simply want answers.  Even though they are difficult questions, some have studied them out in an effort to be able to provide the answers.

Sometimes they have discovered that even long-time members have never heard these questions.  They have been told by well-meaning leaders to just pray about it and they will get their answers.  But there is so much confusing information out there and no official LDS source that addresses these questions that they become discouraged and begin to doubt their testimonies of the church.

Rules of engagement

Your assignment as a new General Authority is to address these questions in a manner that builds faith and encourages continued study.  You must not act surprised if you have never heard any of these questions before or don’t understand why they seem so important to those who are asking.  And you certainly don’t want to be dismissive of those who are bothered by these questions.

You must not defer them to others, claiming that “we have apologists who answer this stuff for us.”  That won’t cut it.  You’re now a General Authority and need to know the answers yourself.  Yes, it’s true that most members of the church have never heard these questions and don’t know that these are issues for some.  And yes, some members would be shocked to learn about all this.

The challenge

So your challenge is great.  How do you answer these questions without causing confusion or doubt among the faithful members who do not question?  How do you respond to the one as the Savior taught?  Those who struggle with these questions are a relatively small number and yet they are very active on the Internet, where many people seek information on the church today.

At the same time, focusing on these questions and taking the time to research them, understand them and to be able to explain them is time consuming.  It takes away from one of the primary missions of the church to declare the gospel.  And yet, it fulfills another part of that mission by perfecting the saints.  Most of these questions are raised by disaffected and former members.

A possible response

It seems that we have failed a generation of bright and intelligent young people who have grown up on the Internet.  We did not anticipate what this amazing communication medium could do to supply facts and details about our history and doctrine.  It’s not that we’ve been purposely trying to hide anything from you. It’s just that you have been exposed to stuff earlier than we figured.

We wish it had been otherwise.  We would have preferred that you had knowledgeable mentors to guide you through your discovery of all these difficult issues.  We were aware of them and decided not to share them or at least not promote discussion of them in the church curriculum.  We are seeing now that this may have been a mistake.  It was not our intention to deceive you.

Personal responsibility

We understand that many of you have felt shocked and betrayed when you first learn about these things.  Please don’t lose faith in the entire church teaching system that has brought you to the point you are now.  We should have found a way to inoculate you before you encountered these troublesome issues but were concerned that exposing you to them early could also be disastrous.

Please accept our apologies for not teaching you about these things in a more open and honest manner.  We accept the responsibility for our failings in this area and will work harder in the future to ensure that the upcoming generation does not have to suffer what you went through.  But we hope that you will also be just as responsible for your own church history education.

Summary and conclusion

This is obviously just a thought exercise.  Please don’t seriously think that my ponderings here have anything to do with the reality of the way the church is responding to this problem.  You may legitimately wonder if some leaders in the church are even aware that this problem exists.  Perhaps those that are aware feel just as frustrated as you that we don’t address it more openly.

For those that have struggled or are struggling with questions like those I have listed, please be aware that there are many thousands of us who have faced and answered the same questions.  We recognize their potential impact to destroy faith, but have found that God is faithful and will send peace to the troubled heart.  Sometimes satisfactory answers will only come over the test of time.

Critical thinking among faithful Mormons


I’m motivated to share this essay based on much recent dialog between myself and a reader who calls himself Evangelical. Mr. Evangelical seems to be intelligent and writes well but also seems to be under a false impression that Mormons can’t think for themselves and that they don’t know how to think critically or objectively.

You can read some of his comments on my essays, “Are Mormons Christian?” or “The new Mormon History – Grant Palmer”, “Burning of the Bosom – Feelings from God,” and “Objections to the Book of Abraham.” I’ve enjoyed our dialogs but have been mystified by his lack of understanding of the Mormon testimony.

I have tried several times to explain and clarify the process of personal revelation but he just doesn’t seem to get it. If you want to have an intelligent conversation with Mormons, I suggest that it would be extremely helpful to understand what we mean when we refer to our testimony. He seems to equate it to emotional feeling.

The Mormon testimony

When Mormons say that they have a testimony, it is usually the culmination of several things. It is a combination of much study, intense prayer, some fasting, perhaps the giving up of some long-held habits or ideas and most importantly, the receipt of knowledge imparted directly to the spirit through the Holy Ghost.

And that’s the part on which I focus. I wonder if Mr. Evangelical thinks that we base our religious conviction purely on feelings, or more aptly, on emotions. As I tried to explain to him, feelings and emotions are two separate things. I don’t think I’m the only one that defines emotions as biological and feelings as spiritual.

It’s a difficult thing to define and even more difficult to explain the difference between the two, especially if you’ve never thought about it. We believe that one way God communicates with us is directly to our heart and mind. We call this revelation. Revelation is usually accompanied by feelings of the love of God.

The heart and mind

That’s why the sharing of a testimony by a Mormon can be such an emotional thing. It can be difficult to control the emotions when one remembers the feelings of love that accompanied the revelation received when praying about some truth. However, it is not the emotional reaction that constitutes the receipt of a testimony.

A testimony is revealed knowledge from God on some subject. We usually do not receive revelation without requesting it in prayer. When it is received, it may not come all at once. It may take hours, days or longer to have a prayer answered and to know the mind and will of the Lord on a subject that we want to understand.

We cannot pray our way to an understanding of things. We have to study things out, make a decision and then take it to God in prayer to ask for a confirmation. If it is a correct decision, we will feel it in our heart and know it in our mind. That is a different kind of knowledge that the world does not generally understand.

Inspiration and revelation

One of the best ways I can think of to describe revelation is to equate it to the process of receiving inspiration. Have you ever been faced with a problem and done some serious thinking about how to solve it? Then suddenly, perhaps when you are not thinking about it, an idea pops into your mind that helps to solve it?

We can safely call that inspiration. I attribute inspiration to God or to the influence of angels or to the Holy Ghost. Revelation is similar but in addition to studying a subject out, you then come to your own conclusion and present it to the Lord in prayer, asking specifically for a confirmation to know if it is right or wrong.

Most faithful Mormons are very familiar with this process and use it often, both in their everyday life and in their work in the church. We can pray for inspiration and ideas then come to us. We study things out, come to conclusions, and then pray for revelation. Sometimes it comes right away and sometimes we must wait patiently.

Study it out in advance

The point of this essay is that you can’t just pray your way to revelation. Although there are times when revelation comes unrequested, as in warnings, for the most part, we must study our subject, think about it, ponder it, analyze it and then come to some sort of conclusion before we ask for a confirmation of our conclusion.

That’s where the process of critical thinking comes in. Sometimes we get hung up on wanting to fully understand a subject by making sure that we read the opposing viewpoints. Strangely enough, this is not a necessary part of the process in coming to a knowledge of the things of God. And that is where we get criticized so much.

I do not need to know what the people who hated Joseph Smith had to say about him when I study his life. It helps provide background and historical context but it is not required reading to be able to say that I have critically thought about the man and his claims. I can study his work and then go directly to God for confirmation.

Criticism and critical thinking

The same is true for the process of studying the Book of Mormon. I do not need to read the criticisms of the book to be able to say that I have studied it and am ready to present it to God to know if it contains truth. The Book of Mormon should be able to stand on its own, without supporting documentation or opposing criticism.

People who are educated are used to the process of considering critical reviews as part of their objective studies of a subject. Unfortunately, sometimes they forget to include original research in their studies and never get around to actually reading the Book of Mormon, or selected portions of it, with the intent to understand it.

The Lord called the Book of Mormon a marvelous work and a wonder. I like that because it accurately identifies the method of the coming forth of the book to be very unorthodox. Angels, gold plates, Urim and Thummim, an uneducated farm boy – all these are unusual to say the least. How can one be objective about this?

Summary and conclusion

The Mormon testimony is not comprised solely of emotional feelings. Yes, it does contain that. Who could not help but be affected emotionally when God pours his love into your soul as part of the process of receiving a testimony? But the most important part of a testimony is the revealed knowledge that is spiritually received.

In order to receive the knowledge that we talk about when we bear our testimonies, we must have met the requirements of studying a subject and pondering it in our hearts and minds. Only then can we take it to God in prayer and ask for a witness of the spirit that what we have studied, pondered and concluded is God’s word.

We invite all people everywhere to study our claims objectively, listen to what we have to say about modern revelation and then to take it to God in prayer in an effort to receive the promised witness of personal revelation. I and millions of others can and do share our personal witness that this process works as promised.

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LDS Scriptures that teach this basic doctrine:

1. Moroni 10:3-5 – The promise of a personal witness
2. D&C 8:2-3 – The spirit of revelation defined
3. D&C 9:7-9 – We must study it out first

Answering critics of the LDS faith


I have long been torn between two approaches to dealing with critics of our faith. I’m not sure if it is a good idea to answer their allegations or to simply ignore them. I guess it depends on how much their charges bother us. The official response of the Church seems to have changed over the years in direct proportion to the number of articles published in the media that are false or misleading.

At one time we were much quieter and less responsive. Things that I thought were outrageous and slanderous were met with not a peep. Other things that I thought were obvious and petty elicited responses that seemed over-reactive and condemning. Today, things are more even, measured and, in a word, professional. I am no authority on the subject but I like the image Public Affairs presents to the world today.

There are many great websites out there that are doing an excellent job of answering the critics. In reality, you can’t provide answers that will satisfy those who don’t believe there are answers. We can only offer responses and correct information in an attempt to provide honest seekers of truth with facts that they can evaluate for themselves. Elder Ballard has asked for more faithful members of the Church to share the truth about the gospel on the Internet and the new media.

The best websites for LDS answers

Of course the best site is lds.org. It offers a tremendous resource of excellent material including conference talks, magazine articles, official curriculum, complete online scriptures, and links to hundreds of other official LDS sites. In my opinion the best resource for answers to difficult questions can be found in the LDS Newsroom which I have used extensively in my recent posts.

Don’t discount Mormon.org. While the focus is on providing support material for the missionary discussions and therefore lacks depth, you can’t go wrong in using the answers found there. The church web team went to a lot of work to present the wonderful content and videos. You will also want to be sure to visit JesusChrist.lds.org for excellent articles and videos on the Savior.

I can only mention a few others here. I have compiled a more complete list on the sidebar of this blog that I use extensively in my research. The MoreGood foundation is always worth visiting as are FAIR and Shields. Even though there are so many others, I must mention the extensive work that Jeff Lindsay has done over the years on his LDS FAQ. It has always been extremely helpful. I gave up my work in this area long ago because Jeff was doing such an awesome job.

Answers to some basic allegations

In the past week I have responded to six common criticisms of those who are opposed to the work of the church. They were conveniently presented as a comment to my Easter post, “Are Mormons Christian?” The objections were offered by an anonymous reader so I imagine there was no real desire for a response. An intelligent dialog requires that the participants at least identify themselves. A respectful exchange invites understanding for each other’s viewpoints.

1. God is a glorified being of flesh and bones
2. The doctrine of spiritual brotherhood
3. The Book of Mormon brings us closer to Christ
4. Authority to act in the name of God
5. Why can’t I attend a Mormon wedding?
6. The practice of plural marriage

In my experience there are two kinds of critics that we cannot help. There are those who are convinced that their zeal in attacking us is providing a service to God and others who they want to impress. Then there are the apostates and ex-Mormons who want only to justify their actions. They will go to any length to make sure that everyone knows how hurt they have been by some real or imagined offense. I wish there was something we could do to ease their pain.

Dealing with anti-Morman literature

I often reflect upon the words of Elder Bruce R. McConkie as he spoke about anti-Mormon literature. He said he would sometimes read it for entertainment value and nothing more. I suspect that he may have read it on occasion more for intellectual stimulation. I used to have an extensive collection of books that were not flattering to the LDS faith. I would refer to them in an effort to understand what our critics were saying and how they saw things.

For some reason the fact that I had such a collection came up in an interview with a good Stake President. He counseled me to dispose of it. I did so long ago and have not missed it especially since so much of the same material can be found today on the Internet with a simple search. You do not have to go far to discover that there is still much animosity and false interpretations of our history and doctrine available to the public in thousands of anti-Mormon websites.

We do not shy away from the difficult questions if the seeker is legitimately wanting to know the answers. For some questions there are no answers. For others, the answer depends on the maturity of the individual asking the question or repeating the allegation that they have read elsewhere. If you are sincere in wanting to understand something about our faith or doctrine I am more than happy to point you to some answers that have helped me over the years.

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