Posts Tagged ‘Criticism’
On 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.”
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.”
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.
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.
LDS Scriptures that teach this basic doctrine:
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.