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Good comments. I enjoyed Mouw's essay, though I think it demonstrates that Bushman's question is right on the mark. Imagine Jesus asking the scribes, "Am I even possible for you? Would you be willing and able to recognize a real Messiah if you met one" The story of the healing of the blind man in John 9 is narrative exploration of what happens to inquiry if an answer is not even possible. I think that the approach someone takes when faced by such a possibility as Joseph Smith as a prophet tells whether there is indeed a possibility, or whether the subsequent testing is designed to give a desired answer. And the same goes for the possibility of Joseph as other than a prophet. What are we actually testing? In looking at Biblical examples of Biblical peoples rejecting true prophets, I noticed that the arguments all boil down to saying, "he's not what I think he should be" and/or "he's not what I want him to be." Preconceptions and desires circumscribe inquiry and consequent perception. Unless of course, one is willing to offer preconceptions and desires as sacrifices, as a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Think of the questions that Spencer Kimball was asking in June 1978. What is even possible? That can make a huge difference.

Mouw wrestling with Bushman's question makes for fascinating reading, but I think it also clearly reveals the limits of what he sees as possible.

Kevin Christensen
Pittsburgh, PA

Thanks for the comments, Kevin. I hadn't been thinking of President Kimball in 1978, but that's a fine example. Those Mormons for whom extending the priesthood to all men, regardless of race, was not even a possibility might have had a very difficult time accepting the change. President Kimball and (most?) other leaders obviously viewed the change as a possibility.

I'll bite and say that I have no problem accepting the possibility of Joseph Smith. I have no problem accepting the possibility of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon as historical and scriptural.

They just don't live up to the standards necessary.

Thanks for dropping by, Tim. Running a site like LDS & Evangelical Conversations, you're a veteran at widening the possibilities horizon. It may not be an exaggeration to claim that it is only within the context of "mutual possibilities" that a serious religious conversation can take place.

This is not possible while the church continues to draw the line in the sand with leaders making statements that either Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon are 100% true or this church is the greatest fraud in history.

I think this is an important issue not only to outsiders friendly to Mormonism but for members of the church who are struggling with church history and have come to a similar conclusion about Joseph Smith as the Protestants with Cotton Mather.

I always appreciated Paul Owen's sentiments on Joseph Smith:

I do believe that Joseph can be viewed as a prophet of sorts (something along the lines of Balaam in Numbers 22-24), who experienced a taste of the charismata, and who may have been used to speak a true word of rebuke upon a wor[l]dly, divisive church which was gripped by the spirit of revivalism. God used Joseph to speak to the churches, and to expose their shallow versions of the Christian religion… When the Church does not bear witness to its Catholicity, when the Faith becomes more of a mechanism of producing converts than maintaining the unity and identity of the visible body, God raises up men and movements to rebuke the worldly church. The Rechabites (Jer. 35) and the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) provide us with comparable models in which to understand God’s purpose in raising up Joseph Smith and the Mormons.
I've long been open to the possibility that Joseph Smith was "misguided but sincere," although I have a hard time reconciling that with some of the behavior he displayed later on in his life.

Admittedly the dichotomous statements from LDS leaders stating that Mormonism must either be what it claims to be or it must be one of the greatest deceptions the world has ever seen make it kind of hard on those of us who would like to find some middle ground. But we try.

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