Day 2 of the FAIR Conference — I am streaming it here in Wyoming and posting short notes and highlights for most presentations. That's based on a spotty live feed, so I might not get every point exactly right; consult the video for 100% accuracy. Speaker bios are also posted. I will be in and out during the day, so I won't get everything. The regular text is my summary of the speaker's remarks. If I have my own comments to add, I'll put that in italics in a paragraph following the summary. Blair at the Maxwell Institute is also posting detailed notes on today's session.
Lynne Wilson — Was Joseph a Product of the Second Great Awakening?
Wilson has a PhD in Theology and American History. Revelation, depravity, and the Trinity were the top three topics addressed by revival preachers in the 19th century. All relate to "the Spirit." Wilson compared Joseph to his clerical contemporaries in four doctrinal areas: (1) The Trinity. Some read the Bible through the lens of the Trinity, but others like Alexander Campbell felt the Trinity was "Babylonish" and not found in the Bible. But Joseph went even farther, not even using the term "Trinity." Wilson cited the First Vision to establish the Father and the Son as separate person with bodies and cited an 1839 Smith sermon for the Holy Ghost as a personage of Spirit waiting to get a body someday. (2) A closed canon. Nothing offended Joseph's religious contemporaries like the Book of Mormon's challenge to the Bible as a closed Christian canon. (3) Gifts of the Spirit. Lots of bizarre behavior came out of the revival experience, such as "the jerks." Visionaries too, like Charles Finney and Orestes Brown. Some contrasted gifts of the Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 12) with fruits of the Spirit like love, joy, and peace (see Galatians 5). Moderate Christians were more comfortable claiming fruits rather than gifts, which many held as uniquely associated with the original apostles and now gone for good; but Mormons claimed gifts (see Moroni 10:7-18 and D&C 46:8-31). But Joseph did not embrace all manifestations as from God; one must discern the divine from the demonic. She quoted George A. Smith saying, "There was no point upon which the Prophet Joseph dwelt more than the discerning of Spirits." (The source used a capital "S".) (4) Election. For his contemporaries, this meant some form of predestination, rooted in God's omnipotence and omniscience contrasted with human depravity. Others tried to make it voluntary on the part of not-so-depraved individuals. Wilson said that Joseph walked a middle path, locating election in covenant and sealing by the Holy Spirit of Promise (see D&C 76:53, 88:3, 124:124; also Ephesians 1:13 where it is used differently). Joseph contrasted temporary seals (can be revoked) with a sure seal (sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise). Wilson equated the action of the Holy Spirit of Promise with having one's calling and election made sure.
Joseph once responded to an inquiry about how the Mormons differed from other Protestants with this: "We believe the Bible and they do not." [She gave an earlier quotation from Joseph's account of his 1839 visit with President Van Buren where Joseph based LDS uniqueness on the Gift of the Holy Ghost.] Wilson said that Joseph employed biblical vocabulary but expanded or modified the associated concepts. Wilson showed a word count chart showing that terms like Spirit and Holy Ghost appear much more frequently in the Book of Mormon and the D&C than in the Bible. "Spirit of the Lord," a popular OT term, appears frequently in the BoM but not so much in the NT. "Spirit of revelation" and "Voice of the Spirit" and "Power of the Holy Ghost" and "Spirit of prophecy" are terms that appear almost uniquely in LDS scripture. She expounded on D&C 5:16 (as a how-to directive for how to get the Spirit or be born of the Spirit) and 2 Nephi 31:17-18 (which describes the remission of sins by fire or the baptism of the Holy Ghost). Wilson claimed that while LDS scripture passages often track particular Bible verses rather closely, the nuanced differences set them apart. She closed claiming Joseph's views did not arise from his environment, in particular his pneumatology (doctrine of the Spirit).
Rosalynde Welch — Disenchanted Mormonism
(1) The Enchanted Forest. The Forest of Arden in Shakespeare's As You Like It. But our world (at least my world) is not enchanted. The veil is thick. Can we think about a disenchanted Mormonism, one without a strong spiritual sensibility? Weber described a process of secularization or disenchantment. The beautiful things in life (landscapes, newborns) inspire deep feelings but not necessarily manifestations of the Spirit. She claims to be religious but not spiritual, rather this-worldly, drawn to the communal aspects of the Church and its congregations. Maybe this is just a consequence of graduate study. (2) Spiritual but not religious. Early Mormons exhibited ecstatic gifts of the Spirit; modern LDS encounter spiritual emotions when doing personal scripture reading and spiritual conviction while in testimony meeting. The "nones" from the Pew study, the spiritual but not religious types, are often seekers. Many seek spiritual experience but see no need at all to affiliate with any church in this quest. Joseph Smith himself was, for a period, spiritual but not religious. Some scholars root religion in mystical experience. So how do we make sense of people like me who are religious but not spiritual ("RBNS")? How do RBNS Mormons navigate our spirit-saturated LDS Church? (3) The new paradigm of doubt. Is RBNS simply an extended bout of doubt? An existential crisis? A personal Dover Beach with a receding sea of faith (Matthew Arnold)? Elder Holland invited us to voice our questions, a shift in tone towards what Welch calls "a redemptive model of doubt." Givens sees faith as a choice to believe in the presence of uncertainty; there are grounds for doubt as well as for belief. "Choice of belief" is a powerful formulation. But Welch notes that not everyone has a faith crisis. Some of us just reinterpret our experience in light of "redemptive doubt" and move on. Welch questions the idea of "choosing to believe." Belief happens apart from conscious choice. (4) Puzzle. Attend. Observe. Puzzlement is gentler than a faith crisis. When we are puzzled (lacking understanding and perhaps unable to choose) we can still attend, care, serve, and observe. (5) The road to Emmaus. Doubting Thomas is one NT model of doubt. Another is the father who cried, "Lord, I believe. Help thou mine unbelief." Re-enchantment came to those on the road to Emmaus: "Did not our hearts burn within us?" RBNS Mormons live on the road to Emmaus. It's a good place to live.
Q&A: Don't we all have spiritual experiences, but just forget them? Yes, we should remember, but we should be rooted in the present, the here and now. Missionary service? Yes, testifying using the language Mormons typically do is tricky. Different gifts to different people. Prayer? I love the togetherness of family prayer with the kids. I pray, meditate, and submit my will to God. How do you arrive at your religious convictions? I think in terms of faithfulness and affirmation. I live faithfully. I live in terms of faithful relationships.
Don Bradley — The Original Context of the First Vision Narrative: 1820s or 1830s?
The faithful view obviously sees Joseph's 1820 First Vision in the context of the 1820s. Critics suggest the account was created later and the actual context for the account is the 1830s. He will compare First Vision accounts, point by point, with these different contexts. Early context: Joseph at age 12 became interested in and confused by religious questions. There was an 1818 camp meeting near Palmyra that perhaps contributed to this awakening. Economic context: Joseph Sr. lost money in the ginseng project; the 1816 eruption of Tambora [note: it was 1815] caused failed crops [the crops failed in 1816]; the Panic of 1819. Prophetic development context: Joseph found a seerstone and became a seer. Joseph's vision of a seerstone, shortly after the First Vision. Bradley suggests Joseph became a seer through the First Vision. He cites a late third party account saying Joseph said that in his First Vision Joseph first heard a voice, but only saw after God touched his eyes. Family context: The First Vision was, according to Joseph, in early spring. That's when the family cleared timber (late April), which matches Joseph's report of what he was doing the day before. Young Joseph was a seeker, holding aloof from churches but looking for the Church of Christ. Like his father Joseph Sr. and his uncle Jason Mack. Both Smith parents were fully immersed in the Bible and biblical language. They did Bible study (unassisted) at home. According to William Smith, there was daily prayer in the Smith home was led by Joseph Sr., but apparently the parents prayed aloud and the kids listened. So Joseph uttering his own first vocal prayer in the grove does match up. Context of Joseph's activities: Per Lucy, his mother, Joseph read the Bible but did not join any church. Conclusion: The context for the First Vision is Joseph's family of the 1820s, not the early Church of the 1830s. Joseph entered the grove as a boy, left it as a prophet and seer.
Mark Alan Wright — Heartland as Hinterland: The Mesoamerican Core and North American Periphery of Book of Mormon Geography
I missed most of this presentation. Not my favorite topic.
Maxine Hanks — Working With the Church: Another Narrative
She tells her story.
Panel Discussion — The Loss and Rekindling of Faith
On the panel: Don Bradley, Janet L. Eyring, Maxine Hanks, and Bill Reel (moderator). After brief bios, the moderator threw out various questions to the panel about their faith crises. The responses from each panelist are grouped together with their bio in the paragraphs below.
Janet Eyring went to BYU and served an LDS mission to Toronto, Canada, then got a PhD in ESL and taught at Cal State Fullerton for 24 years. She was always a seeker, and was a doubter and contrarian from an early age. She served a mission hoping to get a stronger testimony, but ended up getting a lot of anti-Mormon material. We say the glory of God is intelligence and that truth is part of the gospel; it was hard for her to reconcile what she learned with that view. She thinks it was life experience and a sense of the things she was missing out on that helped her get back into the Church. A few key individuals (a friend, a relative, a home teacher) helped her get back into LDS activity; just having a place to sit in sacrament meeting (invited to sit next to her home teacher's family) was important. Doubting Thomases should have a place among us.
Don Bradley started doing research at the LDS archives at age 17. He eventually exited the Church for five years, then was rebaptized three years ago. He lost his faith one piece at a time. It was all the LDS history stuff he was digging up, plus an inability to process it in line with LDS belief. His first step back to the Church was acknowledging the good it did for the people around him. He came to think there are other ways of knowing than just intellectual analysis. Questions focus our interest; the questions he was asking before were pointing him in the wrong direction. Now he professes less certainty but more flexibility about his beliefs. For those who have friends or family who leave, know that there are stages that one who moves outside of the Church goes through.
Maxine Hanks was out of the Church for twenty years, then was rebaptized last year after a deep and authentic struggle with LDS issues. The first crack in her testimony was encountering sexist attitudes as an LDS missionary. She came back from her mission troubled. She encountered all the LDS faith issues in 1981-83 and lost faith in the institution, then lost her faith in God following some medical problems. It's hard to figure out why some people are so deeply affected by these issues, while others are not. As to her return, she feels it was God working in her life. It helped when she started looking at things psychologically, from a Jungian perspective. But everyone has their own journey. Love them.
Bill Peel, who runs the Mormon Discussion podcast, joined the Church at age 17 and read Brodie's No Man Knows My History before joining the Church. Despite being fairly well-versed in LDS history issues, he went through a faith crisis while serving as an LDS bishop. Not having anyone to talk to about issues was a problem for him, and he thinks that is a problem for many LDS who are facing faith issues.
Q&A: I'm on the edge, stay or go and hope to return like you did? Janet: Go if you must. Don: The idea of anyone leaving the Church is painful to me now; try working through things from where you are right now. How has your experience changed the way you teach? Maxine: I look for the power of women in the scriptures. I excavate.
Dan Peterson — Toward a More Effective Apologetics
The moderator noted that Dan Peterson has been the concluding speaker at every FAIR conference since like 1998. Peterson plugs the upcoming (Nov. 9) Interpreter's Science and Mormonism Conference. He thinks apologetics thus far has been a failure — but we can adapt and improve. Efficiency (using money or resources well) versus effectiveness (accomplishing objectives).
Is apologetics worth doing? It is designed to assist believers and make beliefs plausible to outsiders. In this presentation, Peterson will respond to arguments made by Myron Bradley Penner in The End of Apologetics, a fairly postmodern work. Penner thinks apologetics undermines the mission of the Christian Church. LDS Apologetics seeks to help further the mission of the LDS Church, at least the first two prongs (perfect the saints by helping troubled members; proclaim the gospel by answering critics). How should apologetics be done? Peterson's goal for apologetics: not to prove the rationality of Mormonism (or Christianity), but to defend its rationality in the sense that rational people can justifiably endorse and embrace it. Rational argument does not establish belief, but establishes a context in which belief can occur. Apologetics will appeal to and help some people; not everyone, but some people.
Peterson acknowledges that we can't argue people into faith. People should be treated as individuals, not as the objects of impersonal propositions and arguments. See Romans 12. But there is still a limited role for reason; a hermeneutical (theory of interpretation, particularly of texts) approach. Penner rejects the straw man image of an apologist thinking unbelievers need good arguments for belief. Penner (an Anglican priest) is Christian because it is fruitful; it works for him and makes sense for him. The assumption of bad faith underlies much apologetic discussion. No one ever joins the Church as a result of a knock-down drag-out verbal religious altercation.
Preaching the gospel doesn't mean doing apologetics. A lot of it is about just presenting the gospel in a way that makes sense for the life of the person addressed. We often evaluate the credibility of information we receive based on earlier information about that person or topic. So part of our task as LDS, even if we aren't apologists, is to build up a positive image or context of Mormonism. Peterson describes and shows a few screens of a newish online discussion forum called The World Table (tagline: "Your platform for the new apologetics"). He claims it will foster civil discourse about religion. It's presently in beta release, not publicly accessible.
Q&A: The World Table is a project of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy.