An Open Letter to Trent Horn

Hi Trent!

I heard you on the radio last Monday talking about Mormonism. I tried calling in but the lines were busy. I tweeted you on Tuesday asking to talk about it, but you haven’t responded yet–maybe you’re busy?

At any rate, I thought this post might be a good way to open a dialogue, if you’re OK with that. Feel free to respond to any and all of the items I discuss here, or proceed as you see fit. I look forward to a friendly and respectful, but candid and productive discussion!

I didn’t hear the entire program, as I was driving around and running errands at the time, but I think I got the gist of it; certainly, I heard enough to be able to address what I think your major points were.

First, I want to offer some general observations, in the form of questions, about what I heard you say on the radio. (I’d love to hear your actual answers to these questions, please–they’re not meant to be merely hypothetical!) Then I’ll cover a few of the biggest specific issues you raised.

10 questions regarding general observations

1. You invited Mormons to call in and discuss your teachings, and this leads me to wonder: have you engaged many Latter-day Saints in conversation about your claims regarding us? Have any of them had the equivalent education and training in their religion that you’ve had in yours? Do you feel you have a solid understanding of what LDS answers to your objections are?

What have their responses been? Have you found any of those responses compelling at all?

If not, doesn’t it strike you as odd that a religion with so many adherents should be incapable of adequately explaining *any* of your claims? Might that seem to indicate the presence of confirmation bias on your part?

Do you ever address these responses in your presentations on Mormonism? If not, why not?

2. If you have not sought out responses from qualified Latter-day Saints, why not? Shouldn’t someone who professionally teaches about the perceived negatives of another group seek out responses and even rebuttals from that group as assiduously as possible as part of their own preparation? Wouldn’t that bolster your credibility and, frankly, be the most civil thing to do?

3. What have been the primary sources of your education about Latter-day Saints? What would say are your top five sources? Continue reading

The Online Atonement Library

“There is an imperative need for each of us to strengthen our understanding of the significance of the Atonement of Jesus Christ so that it will become an unshakable foundation upon which to build our lives.… I energetically encourage you to establish a personal study plan to better understand and appreciate the incomparable, eternal, infinite consequences of Jesus Christ’s perfect fulfillment of His divinely appointed calling as our Savior and Redeemer.”

–Elder Richard G. Scott, “He Lives! All Glory to His Name!” April 2010 General Conference

jesus-praying-in-gethsemane-39591-gallery

Contents:

Book of Mormon Sermons
Topical Guide Lists
Teachings of Presidents of the Church
General Conference Talks
Other Works by General Authorities
Other Official Church Resources
Works by Other Latter-day Saints
Art
Music
Video

Book of Mormon Sermons

2 Nephi 2
2 Nephi 9
Jacob 4
Mosiah 3-4
Mosiah 12-16
Alma 5
Alma 34
Alma 42
3 Nephi 27

Topical Guide Lists

Blood

Fall Of Man

Forgive

God, Love Of

Jesus Christ, Atonement Through

Jesus Christ, Mission Of

Jesus Christ, Redeemer

Jesus Christ, Resurrection

Jesus Christ, Savior

Reconciliation

Redemption

Resurrection

Sacrifice

Teachings of Presidents of the Church

Joseph Smith:

Chapter 3: Jesus Christ, the Divine Redeemer of the World

Brigham Young:

Chapter 5: Accepting the Atonement of Jesus Christ

Chapter 40: Salvation Through Jesus Christ

Continue reading

Our Journey Back Home

I’ve been wanting to write a Pilgrim’s Progress-style allegory for young children.  Here it is.  Happy Easter, everybody.

*****

 

Once upon a time there was a wonderful king.  He had very many children and they all lived in a beautiful castle high on a mountain.

One day the king told his children that he was sending them on an important journey.  They had to go on a long walk through the whole world.  The king said that they had to do this in order to grow up.

“Will it be hard?” the princes and princesses asked.

“Yes,” said the king.  “But it will also be an exciting adventure.  And it will help you become ready to be kings and queens yourselves someday.”

Continue reading

Grace: Enabling and Strengthening Power

I recently listened to a talk by David A. Bednar where he said this: “I believe we can learn much about this vital aspect of the Atonement if we will insert “enabling and strengthening power” each time we find the word grace in the scriptures.”

Accordingly, here is every Topical Guide entry for “grace,” with that key word replaced by “enabling and strengthening power.”  Many of these verses truly do open up this way!

  • Noah found enabling and strengthening power in the eyes of the Lord: Gen. 6:8 . ( Moses 8:27 . )
  • thy servant hath found enabling and strengthening power in thy sight: Gen. 19:19 .
  • if I have found enabling and strengthening power in thy sight: Ex. 33:13 . ( Ex. 34:9 ; Judg. 6:17 . )
  • for a little space enabling and strengthening power hath been shewed: Ezra 9:8 .
  • Lord will give enabling and strengthening power and glory: Ps. 84:11 .
  • he giveth enabling and strengthening power unto the lowly: Prov. 3:34 . ( James 4:6 ; 1 Pet. 5:5 . )
  • pour upon the house of David … spirit of enabling and strengthening power : Zech. 12:10 .
  • enabling and strengthening power of God was upon him: Luke 2:40 .
  • enabling and strengthening power and truth came by Jesus Christ: John 1:17 .
  • great enabling and strengthening power was upon them all: Acts 4:33 .
  • gave testimony unto the word of his enabling and strengthening power : Acts 14:3 .
  • through the enabling and strengthening power of … Christ we shall be saved: Acts 15:11 .
  • the ministry … to testify the gospel of the enabling and strengthening power of God: Acts 20:24 .
  • By whom we have received enabling and strengthening power and apostleship: Rom. 1:5 .
  • Being justified freely by his enabling and strengthening power : Rom. 3:24 .
  • it is of faith, that it might be by enabling and strengthening power : Rom. 4:16 .
  • Continue reading

When Jesus Needed To Be Alone

Below are all ten times the Bible says that Jesus went alone into wilderness areas, like deserts and mountains, to commune with God.  Even when the text says He took disciples with Him, there’s an implication that He often went alone.

I’ve arranged them in chronological order, and included three brief references at the end from the Book of Mormon:

 

Matt. 4:1-2, JST
Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be with God.
And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred.

Mark 1:35
And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.

Luke 6:12
And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.

Continue reading

Grace, Thanksgiving, and Joy

download (1)I’ve started this year reading Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts.  The style is poetic, sometimes intrusively so, but the thesis is wonderful, and wonderfully elaborated.  We all need this.

This bit of analysis from chapter 2 summarizes it:

 

“And he took bread, gave thanks and brake it, and gave it to them…” (Luke 22:19 NIV).

….I thumb, run my finger across the pages of the heavy and thick books bound.  I read it slowly.  In the original language, “he gave thanks” reads “eucharisteo.”

I underline it on the page.  Can it lay a sure foundation under a life?  Offer the fullest life?

The root word of eucharisteo is charis, meaning “grace.”  Jesus took the bread and saw it as grace and gave thanks.  He took the bread and knew it to be gift and gave thanks.

But there is more, and I read it.  Eucharisteo, thanksgiving, envelopes the Greek word for grace, charis.  But it also holds its derivative, the Greek word chara, meaning “joy.”  Joy…..

Deep chara joy is found only at the table of the euCHARisteo–the table of thanksgiving.  I sit there long…wondering…is it that simple?

Is the height of my chara joy dependent on the depths of my eucharisteo thanks?

So then as long as thanks is possible…I think this through.  As long as thanks is possible, then joy is always possible.  Joy is always possible.  Whenever, meaning–now; wherever, meaning–here.  The holy grail of joy is not in some exotic location or some emotional mountain peak experience.  The joy wonder could be here!  Here, in the messy, piercing ache of now, joy might be–unbelievably–possible!  The only place we need to see before we die is this place of seeing God, here and now.

Christ’s Blood On Our Doorposts

A great article in the current Ensign makes this fantastic symbolic connection I had never seen before:

An ancient Hebrew tradition held that the Messiah would be born at Passover. We know that April in the meridian of time indeed fell in the week of the Passover feast—that sacred Jewish commemoration of Israel’s salvation from the destroying angel that brought death to the firstborn sons of Egypt. Each Israelite family that sacrificed a lamb and smeared its blood on the wooden doorposts of their dwelling was spared (see Exodus 12:3–30). Thirty-three years after Christ’s Passover birth, His blood was smeared on the wooden posts of a cross to save His people from the destroying angels of death and sin.

Searching online for illustrations of this powerful spiritual metaphor found an abundance of images.  Two of my favorites:

doorpost

 

 

 

 

 

 

download (1)

A New Way to Look at the Plan of Salvation

plan of salvation map

There’s a joke that Mormons are the only people in the world who can communicate a profound spiritual sermon by drawing three circles in a row.  This traditional paradigm for teaching the gospel—with its circles for the premortal world, Earth life, the spirit world, and the three degrees of glory—has served very well as a visual aid of the plan of salvation.

Here, I propose a new way of visualizing these things.  Instead of the narrative flowchart model, I’m going to describe a great, eternal chiasm.  Yes, chiasmus as in the ancient Book of Mormon writing style where a series of ideas or phrases are given and then repeated in reverse order, to contrast parallel variations in the elements of the story and to highlight the central turning point.

Chiasms are typically shown as the left side of a letter X, looking like an arrow pointing to East on a map.  This one will be depicted as a letter V, because I want us to see the turning point as the end of a long descent and the beginning of an ascent.  You’ll see why shortly.

This new paradigm was inspired by the temple.  I won’t make any overt references to the basic floor plan of the average temple or to the content of the endowment, but the reader who is familiar with those things is encouraged to consider how they suggested the ideas presented below.

The elements of this story can be understood as following the ideal progress of each individual person or of “the whole human family of Adam” (Mormon 3:20).

A and A’: The Celestial Kingdom

Our journey, as far as we understand it, both begins and ends in the Celestial Kingdom.  This is where, from our point of view, our “descent” begins and our “ascent” ends.

Continue reading

Winter Light and the Light of Christ

This week I finally saw Ingmar Bergman’s Winter Light.  What a beautiful film, in many ways.  I absolutely loved it.

The most striking part, though, was a scene near the end where a supporting character gets his screen time to talk to our protagonist, a pastor plagued by doubt and melancholy.  The church sexton confesses to the pastor that our apparent understanding of Christ’s suffering is superficial, limited to the cross.

He wonders if the emotional suffering of Gethsemane, and the spiritual elements of the crucifixion might not have been worse.  He describes these scriptural details in a way that deeply intensifies the Lord’s suffering.

I sat up pretty straight during this scene.  His confused reaching for truth brings him so close to a Latter-day Saint knowledge of the Atonement.  I wanted to tap him on the shoulder and talk about the Book of Mormon.  I wanted to show him Jeffrey R. Holland’s Easter talk below.

Sadly, YouTube doesn’t have a clip of just this scene.  It starts around 7:00 in the 7th video in the linked playlist, and runs about 40 seconds into the 8th.

Winter Light YouTube playlist

Christmas Without Christ

santa-kneeling-to-JesusChristmas without Christ

is like

vacations without work

or

sex without marriage

or

entertainment without edification

or

dessert without nourishment

or

diplomas without learning

or

citizenship without patriotism

or…

 

Well, you get the idea.  There’s nothing wrong with the first part of each pair, but when taken without the second part, we only get a shallower version of it.  These pairs naturally come together, and when they do, the experience is far deeper and richer than when we try to just have the easy, fun stuff.

The tendency to claim the first part without the second is, ultimately, ignoring of the full value of the first part, rejecting the second part entirely, and a sad commentary on the short-sighted immaturity of the world.

Happy Atonement Day!

“Virtually all Christian churches teach some kind of doctrine regarding the Atonement of Christ and the expiation of our sins that comes through it.  But the Book of Mormon teaches that and much more.  It teaches that Christ also provides relief of a more temporal sort, taking upon himself our mortal sicknesses and infirmities, our earthly trials and tribulations, our personal heartaches and loneliness and sorrows–all done in addition to taking upon himself the burden of our sins….”

“That aspect of the Atonement brings an additional kind of rebirth, something of immediate renewal, help, and hope that allow us to rise above sorrows and sickness, misfortunes and mistakes of every kind.  With his mighty arm around us and lifting us, we face life more joyfully even as we face death more triumphantly…”

“So Christ came to earth, lived his thirty-three years, then fulfilled the ultimate purpose for his birth into mortality.  In a spiritual agony that began on Gethsemane and a physical payment that was consummated on the cross of Calvary, he took upon himself every sin and sorrow, every heartache and infirmity, every sickness, sadness, atrial, and tribulation experienced by the children of God from Adam to the end of the world.  How he did that is a stunning mystery, but he did it.  He broke the bands of physical death and gained victory over the grasp of spiritual hell.  A God himself came down and made merciful intercession for all the children of men.”

–Jeffrey R. Holland (LDS apostle), Christ and the New Covenant, 223, 224, 228

Does the Atonement Have Masculine and Feminine Halves?

Latter-day Saints typically see the Atonement of Christ as comprising the suffering in Gethsemane as well as the crucifixion.  I’ve been wondering if there’s some kind of duality implied by the contrasting details in these two halves.  Consider the following chart, giving some details from Jesus Christ’s suffering in the garden of Gethsemane and on the cross at Golgotha:

Gethsemane

Golgotha

Night Day
Private Public
Introverted/Psychic Emotional Suffering Extroverted/Physical Violent Torture
Primary instrument = liquid (bleeding) Primary instrument = solid (cross)
Inside of a garden On top of a hill
Cyclical narrative Linear narrative

Is it a coincidence that the circumstances of Gethsemane are stereotypically feminine, and the circumstances at Golgotha are essentially masculine?  Continue reading

What Was the Mark of the Curse in the Book of Mormon?

A comment on a news article last week called the Book of Mormon racist because of its references to dark skin in conjunction with a curse.  I responded with the usual explanation: the curse is spiritual separation from God (2 Nephi 5:20), and the dark skin was just a useful way to distinguish those who’d been cursed.  However, the more I looked at what I’d written, the less satisfied I was.  I felt like I was missing something.  I went back to the text.

I don’t think the Book of Mormon references to dark skin are literal anymore; I think they’re only a poetic idiom.  Subsequently, I now have a different theory for what the mark of the curse really was.

The Controversial Verses

First, look at the relevant text.  There are three passages in the Book of Mormon that specifically mention dark skin as the mark of a curse (in 2 Nephi 5, Jacob 3, and Alma 3), and a fourth that bears on them (3 Nephi 2).  Here are the most controversial verses:

Continue reading

How the Temple Garment Symbolizes Our Faith in Christ

This post at Scriptorium Blogorium notes a powerful symbolic connection in the scriptures between the temple garment and the body of Christ.  This was one of those things that made my jaw drop and wonder how I’d never noticed it before.

I’ve always thought of wearing the garment as analogous to the rest of the Christian world wearing crosses on a necklace–a reminder of covenants and an expression of personal consecration.  This still seems apt, but there’s also a deeper level to it.

I’m reminded now of instances in both the Bible and the Book of Mormon where the resurrected Christ invited people to feel his wounds (John 20:26-28, 3 Nephi 11:13-15).  Perhaps wearing the temple garment is symbolic of that tangible communion.  Seeing this as such makes the garment not only a reminder of covenants, but itself a powerful expression of belief in the core Christian doctrine of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Wearing it is an act of faith in God.  As this aspect of our religion continues to be ridiculed in the media, understanding its meaning will do us a lot of good.

This also gives a profound new dimension to Paul’s assertion in Galatians 6:17: “From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.”