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Hey Mark. Thanks for hitting up our site and mentioning this interview. I left a response to your comment there, if you'd like to check it out. You raised an interesting point, but more questions for someone like me who has classically understood Mormonism from a staunchly evangelical viewpoint.

CE, nice interview. I'm sure Mark D. followed my link -- maybe he'll see this comment and follow it up.

OK, serious question, and if this is thread jacking, let me know and we can discuss it via email.

As a Mormon (ok - kinda sorta not really), I find it frustrating that FAIR, FARMS, BYU Profs and an assortment of Mormon authors are providing "Mormon doctrine" to authors. We have literally hundreds of general authorities. Why aren't they stepping up to the plate and answering doctrinal questions in a satisfying way?

Dave, the "two strains" of Mormonism sounds reminiscent of a idea I've seen cropping up among some of the friendlier Christian thinkers working with Mormonism. There seems to be this notion that writers like Millet, Robinson, and the like represent a new trend in Mormonism of making the religion "more in line with traditional Christianity." They seem to be of the opinion that these "Christianists" are a growing faction within the LDS ranks. They claim that the new movement is typified by a heavy emphasis on the Book of Mormon (which they, with no small sense of self-irony, admit to being very friendly to a traditional Christian point of view), and a de-emphasis on the Doctrine and Covenants and the so-called "Nauvoo Period" of Joseph Smith's ministry (where a lot of the controversial doctrines came from).

They seem to be of the opinion that this "Christianizing" movement in the LDS ranks is a fairly recent development, and writers like Craig Blomberg assert that it ought to be encouraged by traditional Christians. Others regard it with suspicion, viewing it as a Mormon Trojan Horse that puts a veneer of respectability over rank heresy.

Anyway, I guess they view us as having two factions within our ranks: the "Christianists" and the "traditionalists," with the latter still remaining dominant, but with the former on a steady rise.

tiredmormon, it is true that a long time ago General Authorities tended to be the most knowledgeable and in the best position to comment publicly about different aspects of the Church. But the times, they are a-changin'.

It takes a huge amount of time and effort to keep up on Mormon studies, time that our GAs simply don't have. Their focus is on administering the affairs of the Kingdom and leading the Church. To be able to dialogue effectively with, say, an Evangelical scholar on the similarities and differences between our two faith traditions requires substantial scholarly preparation. It's not just about knowing Mormonism; you also have to "speak" Evagelicalese and know the other tradition pretty darn well if such a dialogue is to be fruitful.

With the advent of the Internet and the proliferation of Mormon Studies, it simply isn't realistic to expect GAs to be the "experts" in all facets of Mormonism. Many participants on the Bloggernacle for instance are going to be more knowledgeable about many of the particulars of Mormon history or scripture than your average GA. That's just the way it is.

Probably he's bought into that so-called Chapel vs. Internet Mormons dichotomy that disaffected Mormons like to use.

I wonder if we can do the same with Evangelicals? The Theology School Evangelicals versus Church Evangelicals - with the latter all being Modalists...

BTW - to be fair I corresponded with Dr. Jackson while he was writing the book. He was very cordial and was sincerely looking to understand. So I do want to read his book and sincerely doubt it is anything like an anti-Mormon book. He really was trying to understand us.

So I apologize for that sarcastic quip I just made.

Seth, I don't think the people I know of who were talking to Dr. Jackson conveyed that. I think it was communicated that there were variations possible in our theology. As you know I certainly don't favor the more minimalistic theology of Robinson. (Millet's a more interesting case and I'll avoid that discussion) Even relative to Blake Ostler I favor a more common early 20th century view of theology. (i.e. much more embrace of traditional readings of the King Follet Discourse)

I just bring this up to note that he probably wasn't getting a single perspective.

"TiredMormon" I have no idea if he spoke with GAs. Like Kevin mentioned, I'm not sure most GAs are up on the nuances of Mormon history and theology. Some, like Elder Oaks, certainly are. However they probably simply didn't have the time to engage in an ongoing email back and forth. But perhaps he did have some contact. I simply don't know.

BTW - I think the so called distinction between "Christianized" Mormons and traditionalists is crap as well. Most of those one might label "Christianized" still have huge differences with Evangelicals. (Consider say Blake Ostler whose embrace of Open Theism would be disturbing to most mainstream Evangelicals - not to mention his views on ex nihilo, divinization, ritual, historicity of the Book of Mormon, etc.)

I think this so-called division is largely do to ignorance of the range of views in our theology. One hopes that Jackson's book engages with this. We'll see. As I said, I'm curious to see the book.

Seth R,
Just call me a Christianist Traditionalist then. Is it so mind bending for an Evangelical to imagine a marrying of the two? To me, that's Mormon

As to the GA point, being privy to revelation and inspiration within the office to which a purpose is called for the purposes of administering the office does not, to my mind, mean that GAs will be party to special knowledge about LDS arcania. As others have pointed out, scholars who have devoted significant time to the sources, resources, and analysis that exist and that continue to emerge will be more knowledgeable about those things. But that does not mean that they know the Gospel itself any better, although they might have a much better understanding of cultural, linguistic, historical context, of the scriptures or of historical events connected with the Restoration of the Gospel and the establishment of the Church.

Put an other way John, the gospel isn't the minutae of theology or history. Something I think people forget sometimes.

Even if a GA is well versed on a particular topic, I can't see them (given their official status as one speaking for the Church) holding forth at length on a topic with someone who, even if fair and balanced, intends to use that information in a critique of LDS views and doctrines.

But LDS scholars don't have the burden of having their statements rendered as "official," so scholars are freer to speak at length, even speculatively, in response to such inquiries.

I would agree and disagree with the collective comments referring to my previous post.

I would agree that GA's do not have the time to keep up with LDS arcania, nuance, Mormon studies, or even substantive history. I have no problem with that.

I do think we need GA's in the church that do more than administer (in reference to John F.). And the GA's do more than administer - they speak in GC and in countless stakes. These GA's should/must have a thorough grasp of Mormon doctrine (here I acknowledge Mormon doctrine seems to be a slippery subject).

GA's used to attend doctrinal classes (aka School of the Prophets). I myself have a set of the 70's books (4 volumes, very old and cost me a mint) from the early church. I think LDS leaders need more substantive group training on doctrine. I am not calling for doctrinal fundamentalism (with all of its associated evils), but collective group GA training on doctrine could go along way toward reconciling the past and understanding the future.

I am not comfortable with GA's passing the doctrinal buck to correlation and to scholars to sort through. They are the leaders, they receive inspiration and revelations, the church looks to them for doctrine - let them speak it.


They do, tired - in countless speeches, talks, articles, and books, all of which are published and freely available to any researcher. Granted, those statements tend toward the general and the practical. There is no LDS catechism that spells out LDS doctrine with the rigor of some denominations, but whether the lack of an official theology is, in fact, a failing of the Church is an entirely different topic. It hasn't done a lot lately for the mainstream denominations that follow that model.

Not fighting here, just voicing my own opinion.

Seems to me -- GA's have the authority to give doctrine, so they should answer questions about the doctrine, resolve doctrinal controversies, etc. INSTEAD of leaving that to scholars and correlation who have no scriptural duty.

Ultimately, I think the church wants to have its cake and eat it too. They won't explain the doctrine (as Dave said, talks are mostly about generalities and I agree), they have scholars do it. So when people get upset, the church can fire back with 'well, they can't speak authoritatively on doctrine'

I understand the problems with fundamentalism, as I previously stated. But when you say a doctrinal structure causes problems, I guess I would just have to disagree.

I thought the whole need for Joe S and his restoration arose from the need to correct false doctrine.

I guess I am advocating for a Mormon Aquinas.

It seems to me that one need not read very much of the Journal of Discourses to see that the doctrinal sophistication of the early brethren varied widely. As I said there are definitely GAs very familiar with theology. Elder Oaks being one of my favorites although arguably Elder Packer is quite familiar with most Mormon doctrines as well in a sophisticated fashion even if not everyone agrees with his theology.

I don't think we need GAs to be theologians though. I'd just point to who the Lord called as his 12 in Palestine. Even Joseph, when called, was hardly a theologian. There's also a difference between knowing Mormon doctrine and knowing theology - with the latter being much more nuanced and philosophically sophisticated. While I enjoy theology I honestly don't see much need for GAs to be familiar with it. At a certain point it's all speculation anyway. The danger of having a GA write about it is that people will take it as more than that simply because of who they are.

To add, for an example of the "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing" look at Orson Pratt's writings. Brigham Young, who was doctrinally extremely knowledgeable but theologically fairly ignorant called Pratt on things. Young wisely took a very pragmatic approach to things. Even if we don't accept all of Young's doctrinal beliefs it seems to me that his model rather than Pratt's is much better for the Church. (i.e. don't worry so much about technical theology)

I know Pratt gets praised a lot but seriously - his theology was pretty problematic. (i.e. his arguments for materialism were all circular)


I agree, Jesus called them as unsophisticated...but then he taught them.

I am also not asking for/advocating speculation, but I I do want GA's to all be on the same page doctrinally. Is it too much to ask that GA's should have some formal doctrinal training (like they used to)? Is anyone with me here or should I be done? (I am not offended, but I have made my case and there is no sense going on about it anymore.)

Clark - have you seen Bednar live? That man is a doctrine machine. If you get a chance to go to a priesthood leadership session with him on the stake level, he does a Q and A. And he is Smart (w/ a capital S).

When I was first notified of this book a while back, I thought of providing a book review.

Dave, you do one. And I will do one. And we compare. :)

Mormon Aquinas? I think I know one of these guys.

TM, I spend a lot of time pouring over the writings of prophets and apostles. I think these contemporary guys in LDS leadership need new labels. Sincerely, the discontinuity is enormous.

Dave, have you gone to the author's website? It is full of thinly vailed hatred and revulsion for all things Mormon. And you think he'll do a fair book? I've seen enough.

I'm not sure what you're seeing, Carlos (and remember, I linked to the interviewer's site; the author's site is Smart Christian). But the book will speak for itself. You don't have to buy a copy -- if you're interested, I'm sure some local libraries will pick it up. And sometimes Amazon has a short excerpt available.

Tiredmormon, I hear your side, and agree with you in part. I do hope they get some kind of training of sorts.

Elder McConkie agrees with John F.
"Though general authorities are authorities in the sense of having power to administer church affairs, they may or may not be authorities in the sense of doctrinal knowledge, the intricacies of church procedures, or the receipt of the promptings of the Spirit. A call to an administrative position of itself adds little knowledge or power of discernment to an individual, although every person called to a position in the Church does grow in grace, knowledge and power by magnifying the calling given him."
MD, "General Authorities."

For the record I have no knowledge of the author's biases. But I don't think it follows that thinking Mormonism is wrong or even thinking Romney being President would aid acceptance of Mormonism is that bad. Of course Evangelicals think Mormons are wrong and apostate just like we think they are. The question is whether one can be fair and honest when doing this. Thus far (IMO) very few Evangelical critics have been.

TiredMormon I am also not asking for/advocating speculation, but I I do want GA's to all be on the same page doctrinally

Exactly what era are you talking about when this was true? It's not been true of any era I'm familiar with. Indeed every 40 years or so there are major conflicts over some doctrinal dispute. (i.e. Pratt/Young; Roberts/Smith; etc.) These disputes were often not widely known. But it seems to me that the situation today isn't much different than any other era I read on. The main difference is that there is far more hesitation to speculate today. But frankly in many ways that's a good thing.

TiredMormon: I am also not asking for/advocating speculation, but I do want GA's to all be on the same page doctrinally

I'm afraid you won't be getting this wish any time soon. As Clark mentioned, I don't think that has ever been the case. God apparently leaves many mysteries of the universe as just that -- mysteries. Learning that there never has been a unified "knowers club" in the church was likely the greatest doctrinal/theological eye-opener of my life to date. I posted on it some time ago.

I've commented several times in other forums that I believe that orthodoxy isn't the only way to do religion, or necessarily even the best way. I personally think that a focus on orthopraxy can be every bit as legitimate as a focus on orthodoxy. Could it be that the demand for a detailed and coherent orthodoxy is just another theological Tower of Babel?

That said, not having an airtight orthodoxy can be incredibly frustrating. For me it is the most frustrating when Mormon orthodoxy comes up short on issues that we really OUGHT to have some more information about.

What about Heavenly Mother? Given the Mormon focus on gender as a divine characteristic, and family models as eternal, this is just a GLARING deficiency in Mormon doctrine. Or, I should say, the Mormon failure to acknowledge or talk about Her is a glaring deficiency. I find the standard arguments as to why She is not spoken of to be both condescending, doctrinally sketchy, and at odds with every earthly model of motherhood I have encountered or heard described at the pulpit.

Compared to this problem, other troublesome doctrines, such as the Mark of Cain are entirely trivial and manageable. Our Mother represents a gaping hole in our theology that is far from trivial. Surely clueing us in on that important, and yes, CENTRAL doctrine seems quite a bit more important to me than planning the next temple in Sweden.

Thanks for the McConkie quote. I agree, they are administrators. But you are overlooking the fact that they are called to preach the gospel to the world and their position is also ecclesiastical.

Btw, I never said there was a perfect era of doctrinal harmony. Even a casual reader of church history would scoff at such an assertion.

I would love a Mormon Aquinas. But what I am advocating for is another SCHOOL OF THE PROPHETS to give these guys some training.

No one has yet responded as to why a SCHOOL OF THE PROPHETS would be a bad idea. I hear excuses, such as your concerns about doctrinal fundamentalism, speculation, and a focus on administration. I don't think a SCHOOL OF THE PROPHETS would lead to those evils.

GBH is always saying that our doctrine is what sets us apart, that is true, but do we really know what the doctrine is? Do the GA's really know what that doctrine is?

Someone tell me why you think a SCHOOL OF THE PROPHETS would be a bad idea. (I would be happy to loan them my rare 70's books from auld lang syne)

A school of the prophets should definitely include some Greek and Hebrew, as Joseph thought :)

Seth: Or, I should say, the Mormon failure to acknowledge or talk about Her is a glaring deficiency.

What's to talk about? We know basically nothing about the subject. We have some 19th century popular speculations to work with but I know of no revelations sorting the issue out for us. So unfortunately, God doesn't seem interested in giving us anything to work with on that subject (like many other theological subjects...)

tiredmormon -- Why did you write SCHOOL OF THE PROPHETS in all caps every time in that last comment of yours?

I think the School of the Prophets effects were a bit mixed in the time of Joseph not to mention the later 19th century Utah equivalents. I think we romanticize the idea a bit too much. I suspect that, relative to most of the 19th century brethren, most of the current 12 are better versed in basic scriptural knowledge. (My own opinion - but the resources are simply better today and most of the 12 are very well educated in a way few in the 19th century were)

I also think it an error to assume there is no training or group study that the 12 engage in.


Just to add, so as to make my point, could you point to a single 19th century figure as well educated on things as say Elder Oaks?

Ask and ye shall receive Geoff. Isn't that right? Don't we belong to a church that kinda believes that? Isn't this a subject worth asking about?

Seth: Ask and ye shall receive Geoff. Isn't that right?

Ye shall receive answers to your questions if God chooses to answer those questions. If he chooses not to answer them then we are outta luck. God is no vending machine after all.

The first 12 certainly weren't rabbinic students, but they weren't unsophisticated ignoramuses either.

Somehow that doesn't really seem to jive with the sort of mindset I imagine Joseph had when he went in the woods to pray.

I don't think anyone is saying they were ignorant. And they tried to become educated. However I stand by my statement that the majority of the 12 today are much better versed in the world and scriptures than the early brethren were.

There's a kind of romanticized elevation of the early Church I think is unjustified. This isn't to put those early leaders down. Given where they were starting from they were very diligent. And a lot of revelation and understanding was given through them. But the romanticizing of the early Church that's so common today is unfortunate.


Clark,

You said:
I don't think anyone is saying they were ignorant. And they tried to become educated. However I stand by my statement that the majority of the 12 today are much better versed in the world and scriptures than the early brethren were.

Steve:
In the last 2 conferences I have read statements by the 12 which equate the testimony of an "ordinary" member to that which an apostles can/should have and which equate the ordinance of confirmation with being born of the Spirit. My jaw dropped metaphorically, if not literally.

I think you would be hard pressed to have found one of the early apostles making such a mistake.


Steve

Steve, I disagree. Indeed Brigham Young taught that explicitly.

BTW - interestingly this topic came up at BCC. (There the focus was more on Prophet as a term rather than Apostle - but the later got a lot of discussion)

Clark,

What did BY teach explicitly?

Oliver taught the first (or was it the 2nd) quorum of apostles to seek to see the Lord. That is what qualified the very 1st group to act as "especial" witnesses of Jesus

And confirmation, with its attendant command to receive the Spirit, does not normally match the experiences of those who have actually received the baptism of the Spirit such as Enos, the people of King Benjamin or the Lamanites trying to kill Nephi and Lehi. Rather the former is a command to seek the latter.


Steve

Seeking and receiving aren't the same thing. Brigham Young never claimed to have a visit of the savior and told others (refs at the BCC thread) he had never seen him. Brigham was one of the early apostles.

This undermines rather significantly the claim by some regarding the nature of apostles and the purported change in the church regarding this.

I don't have my notes here at work (and may be too busy to look things up) but Brigham just never teaches what some claim regarding apostleship.

To add there is a difference between apostle (lower case a) in the sense of merely seeing the Lord (typically in vision) and the priesthood calling and duty of Apostleship where one is an especial witness (which may be by the spirit rather that a vision)

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