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I am sorry but I did not find Vogel's work to be any near a scholarly critical perspective. After spending a whopping $45.00 for his biography of the Prophet, I was extremely disappointed by its whining, it overreaching assumptions (many of which defy common reasoning), and its attempts to find connections among the most preposterous interpretations.

RSR is, by far, much more of a scholarly work without the depressing display of cynicism found in Vogel's book.

If you accept the fact that scholars need to distance themselves from entirely embracing "faith-promoting" history only, how do you make sure they do not go to the opposite extreme?

I find it disingenuous when people like Vogel posit that the Prophet was in it for the personal glory and self-promotion when at the same time, Vogel's approach to scholarship so blatantly follows the same path to bring himself the praise of the world.

I am not an historian but I am wise enough and experienced enough to know that a person's motives are easily discerned by observing their actions and judging their works. Why do "scholars" seem so intent on finding hidden motivations other than those so visible to the naked eye? Given enough time, it becomes readily apparent what motivates an individual to pursue a particular path. Perpetual cynics cannot believe that people do anything without hidden motivations. It just gets tiring to hear them moan on.

Michael, I'd agree that Bushman's Rough Stone Rolling is a fine effort to write history from the middle ground sketched out by Shipps. (She didn't use the term "middle ground," that was my description.) My link on the term "faithful history" goes to a post that discusses Bushman's essay "Faithful History," his own attempt to define roughly the same approach.

I agree that "agnostic" history is a far sight better than "cynical" history. However, ultimately I think that if one wants to write the best religious history, one needs the gift of prophecy, to understand or at least have a good idea of what was going on spiritually along with whatever was going on temporally.

Such an account will never meet the standards of secular scholarship, even if all the temporal facts are right. However, I cannot help but recall the following scripture:

And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments. (D&C 59:21)

How shall we know how God works in history, turning good for evil, and preparing the way to fulfil all of his purposes, unless we have the gift of prophecy?

Mark, there is no shortage of LDS candidates for having the gift of prophecy ... do you know of any who have used it to write history? I don't see why such an approach couldn't also meet the standards of scholarly history.

I can't imagine that the purpose of using the gift of prophecy would be to write bad history. Who needs divine assistance to write bad history? Anyone can do that.


What I am saying is that certain conclusions of a religious history are typical entailed by the union of documented historical facts and spiritual, often scriptural precepts that are only known to be true by faith or revelation.

So for example, writing to an audience of believers one might take the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ to be an established fact well known to all by the witness of the Holy Spirit, and use that as a premise of further arguments, generating conclusions that secularists would not accept.

The same applies to scriptural exegesis and historical exegesis in general. How can one know for example that a certain biblical prophecy has a latter day application except by the spirit of revelation? According to many secularist scholars, there is no such thing as prophecy, no gifts of the spirit, etc., and any argument that assumes such things is considered foolishness in their eyes.

A typical example might be that certain aspects of our doctrine resemble that of the Methodists. That might be a smoking gun, except who is to say that the Lord did not inspire John Wesley in those respects, or his predecessors? I think tracing the history of ideas is worthwhile, but assuming that they are solely of mortal derivation is contrary to the gospel.

Religious writers traditionally see the hand of God everywhere; secular writers typically refuse to see it anywhere.

Mark, I think Shipps' version of "faithful history" (written by what are essentially "faithful historians") would fall between what you, in your last paragraph, called traditional religious writers and what you called secular writers.

I think the whole issue is actually covered better in my Faithful History post than in this one.

...except who is to say that the Lord did not inspire John Wesley in those respects, or his predecessors?

I guess God told Joseph just that when he described the other denominations as abominations.


According to the testimony of Joseph Smith, God did not describe those other denominations as "abominations" he described their creeds as abominations. There is a big difference.

A creed, is a detailed, generally theologically based list of things that every member of a denomination must believe exactly as outlined, according to the derivations of theological analysis. The problem with a creed is it shuts of the channels of revelation as to the deeper meaning of the scriptures, the mysteries of God which require the spirit of prophecy and revelation to understand in full.

An excellent example of a denominational creed, one that should properly be considered an abomination in the Lord's eyes is the Westminster Confession.

The Westminster Confession is probably the most succinct expression of scholastic Calvinism ever written. Unfortunately, among other things it teaches the doctrine of predestination, denies free will, personal responsibility, states that everything that happens is according to God's eternal decree, and so on. Excellent reading, and yet so sadly in error.

While I agree with the basic sentiments I'd just point out that no one ends up adopting a single perspective. Everyone tries to account for the facts as best they can. For believers that means spiritual facts. Even non-believers sometimes have to account for those. So it's not like we have only two choices or even three choices (the so-called middle ground). Rather there is a unique historical view for each person. And most wise people will read and try to reconcile writings from both strong believers and unbelievers. So, for instance, while I may read very critically what I take to be somewhat naive works like A Marvelous Work and a Glory or Essentials in Church History there are also great truths in them. (One failing of many histories, even by believing Saints, is that they lack that search for the grand hand of God in history)

Put more simply, there shouldn't be a single view. Even we, as readers, ought invoke multiple views as we seek to understand. Our goal shouldn't be a static 2D picture but a multifaceted statue. Many perspectives are needed and each perspective both unveils the truth but also veils it and, as well, introduces some falsehood. Expecting that there is a single narrative that can show the Truth is itself a grave falsehood.

Clark, I don't think the "middle ground" requires a single narrative, but it can be identified, I think, as rejecting the methodological presuppositions of the two positions at the endpoints of the spectrum.

It rejects confessional history's practice of privileging favored accounts and declining to apply historical tools and techniques to such accounts. At the same time, it rejects the naturalistic stance that, as a methodological tenet, simply rules out any possibility of supernatural events (i.e., foundational religious events) actually occuring.

But that doesn't mean everyone "in the middle" takes the same approach. I think both Bushman and Quinn, for example, take a middle ground approach to LDS history.

I think I'm more saying that the two extreme sides never really existed. That is everyone is railing against a false dichotomy that was never there. (I made a similar point way back in my blog during the whole Vogel - Ostler debate)

Mark, don't you think that is somewhat of a legalistic defense? Does it really pass the sniff test, or does it create some wiggle room? I don't think God would choose his words so carefuly then put it next to such a forceful word as 'abomination'. I would hope that God would be more of a straight shooter, so to speak. Particularly with His supposed vested interest in his conversation at hand.

Darren: No, I do not. Some distinctions are absolutely critical. An error in what appears to be a minor point is enough to influence a whole civilization for the worse.

The Salem Witch Trials are a good example. None of the accused were even witches. They took the testimony of some idle young women on faith, and put the accused to death according to the law of Moses. I have an ancestor who was one of the victims:

Susanna North Martin

As Whittier said:

Let Goody Martin rest in peace, I never
knew her harm a fly,
And witch or not - God knows - not I?
I know who swore her life away;
And as God lives, I'd not condemn
An Indian dog on word of them.

There are much more subtle examples of course.

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