Book review: “Perspectives on Mormon Theology: Apologetics”

Another great book from the publishers at Greg Kofford books. The term apologetics is unfamiliar to some, but it is basically defined as an attempt to defend religious claims. Even if you haven’t heard of apologetics, Mormonism at its core requires some form of engagement with it. At its core, Mormonism, like Christianity as a whole, makes certain historical claims, such as the translation of the Book of Mormon, the First Vision, and the that the man called Jesus was the son of God. The authors of these essays give different perspectives on the role that scholarly apologetics should play. I will give a 1-2 sentence summary of each essay, as well as some of my favorite quotes from each of the articles.

Critical Foundations of Mormon Apologetics
A good introduction to terms in apologetics, and a brief history of how apologetic approaches have changed in Mormonism over time. Two important splits that are discussed throughout the rest of the book: negative/positive apologetics (defenses against critic’s arguments, versus building arguments for Mormonism’s truth claims) and evidentialism/fideism (seeking evidence for truth claims versus a belief that a “leap of faith” will always be necessary and unavoidable).

“For a disciple of Jesus Christ, academic scholarship is a form of worship. It is actually another dimension of consecration. Hence, one who seeks to be a disciple-scholar will take both scholarship and discipleship seriously; and, likewise gospel covenants.”

A Brief Defense of Apologetics:
Apologetics is necessary and inevitable; anyone with an opinion to defend is engaging in apologetics.

C. S. Lewis: To be ignorant and simple now—not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground—would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defence but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.

(I’m unaware of anybody who claims that religious belief derives purely from reason; for that matter, I’m confident that unbelief doesn’t either.)

Boundary Maintenance that Pushes Boundaries: Scriptural and Theological Insights for Apologetics:
A really interesting observation, that apologetics, rather than maintaining the doctrinal status quo, pushes believers into exploring different interpretations of their faith. It asks us to be actively engaged in our faith, coming with questions, and be willing to change our beliefs as necessary.

The author looks at a few examples too that perhaps would make members uncomfortable. The concept of authorial bias in Nephi’s account of his brothers (Nephi was using his writings as a propoganda tool). Finding Heavenly Mother in the book of Mormon’s Tree of Life account is another interesting one. Also, the idea of King Josiah’s religious forms being a form of apostasy.

“Apologetics is, by definition, a defense of already held beliefs and points of view. As such, it is easy to see apologetics as an obstacle to new understandings of scriptural texts and theological concepts. This can and does happen, and some may even argue that defending a viewpoint inherently obscures or prevents new points of view from being considered.”

“Defending certain tenents of Latter-day Saint belief involves reinterpretations of scripture and doctrine—and that whatever the merits of any specific reinterpretation may be, this transformative effect is a net positive. Apologetics is at its best not when it is merely defending or providing supportive evidence, but when it can get Latter-day Saints to rethink their understanding of scriptural narratives and teachings, even as it defends certain fundamental premises.”

“Apologetic approaches like this give weight to a theological concept—that the Bible is not perfect and contains errors—that often feels hollow within typical Mormon approaches. They also serve to illustrate to Latter-day Saints that critically approaching the composition of scripture need not be something to fear. Seeing multiple, and even contending points of view within scripture is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it can bolster faith as it provides better context for the Book of Mormon and improves understanding of how the Book of Mormon relates to different traditions within the Old Testament.”

“They help readers humanize scriptural characters, and thus better relate to the stories being told within the LDS canon. When readers have been engaging theses texts since childhood, the stories can begin to feel stale, but ancient paradigms can bring in fresh perspectives that help bring the stories to life.”

I Think, Therefore I Defend
Some critics of apologetics argue that Mormons cannot present unbiased scholarship, because of their beliefs. Ash argues that there is no such thing as an unbiased observer. We all are going to use arguments to defend our understanding of the world and how it works.

“Both are vexed about defensive apologetic approaches which take on war-like mentalities that are more interested in defeating “the enemy” than in coming to the truth. Likewise, both are concerned about affirmative apologetic approaches that are based on shoddy scholarship, bad science, or faulty logic. No scholar (believer or critic) is right all the time. Arguments must be engaged on an individual basis.”

“While it is certainly commendable and worthwhile to pursue assumption-free scholarship, unfortunately it’s not something we humans are capable of doing very well. The more we know about the brain, for instance, the more we learn that apologetics is an unavoidable part of our human nature thanks to our evolutionary heritage.”

“There is no scholarship without an agenda; there is no such thing as simply following the evidence to its logical conclusions.”

“In the face of contrary evidence, all scholars invent hypotheses that will preserve the paradigm to which they are committed, unless extra-scientific forces prompt them to convert to a different paradigm. All scholars assign the greatest relevance to those facts for which their paradigm accounts; facts they cannot explain, they set aside as problems for which solutions will later have to be found. As Kuhn says, scholarship is “a strenuous and devoted attempt to force nature into the conceptual boxes supplied by” one’s paradigm. This is as true for orthodox scholars as it is for revisionists.”

“Study after study demonstrates that we are all apologists for our personal worldviews and that holding worldviews doesn’t vitiate scholarly discourse. At times, all people seek data for an interpretation rather than an interpretation for the data.”

A Wall Between Church and Academy
The author argues that there should be two separate efforts in scholarship surrounding Mormonism: the devotional directed towards members (apologetics), and the scholarly directed towards the academy (Mormon studies). “Forced integration leads to unnecessary complications, turf wars, and general unpleasantness.”

“Jefferson’s “wall” is notorious for protecting the government from religion, but to Jefferson it was just as important for the preservation and development of religious belief itself. He believed that the merging of the two spheres, religion and government, had led to one half of the “world [becoming] fools, and the other half hypocrites,” due to conflicting allegiances and ceaseless in-fighting. Only in the free marketplace of religious belief, where a clear demarcation of duties and obligations is instilled, could religion actually flourish.”

“Freed from the expectations to satisfy both camps, authors can be more pious to their various audiences, whether academic, public, or apologetic.”

Mormon Apologetics and Mormon Studies: Truth, History, and Love
A look into the strength and weaknesses of the field of Mormon studies. The author acknowledges that it is possible and good to look at Mormonism from an outsider’s perspective, complete with scholarly methodologies. But he also points out many of the weaknesses and hypocrisies of the academy– including the idea that they are fair and compassionate, while apologists are mean-spirited and defensive; the lack of acknowledgment of their own biases; and their evasion of actual truth for something they vaguely call History.

“Mormon Studies, for its part, is a domain within the more general area of “religious studies” that applies to Mormon scripture, history, belief, and practice. It thus involves looking at Mormon things from the outside—or, let us say, not necessarily from the inside—and employs frames of reference used by academics who study religious things.”

“It is important to note that, in this example, I have very deliberately stepped outside of Mormonism in order to enrich my understanding of Truth, which remains a Mormon understanding. This is what it means to think: to prove all things and to hold fast to that which is good. To be sure, my understanding of my own Mormonism is never complete and final, so it is to be expected—it is to be hoped—that my reflections on Aristotle will enrich, and therefore will modify, my understanding of the religious essentials that I remain committed to. Of course, in the abstract, there is the possibility that I will become so enamored of Aristotle’s philosophy that I will embrace it in such a way as to require my leaving Mormonism behind. But this possibility is indeed abstract for me, because I have tested the Mormon Truth over many years by study and by faith, have received many witnesses, both intellectual and spiritual, and have, moreover, made covenants that define and ground my life—none of which are conditional on anything to do with Aristotle.”

“But the oft-overlooked problem is that the academic disciplines that supply our alternative frameworks have reductive and imperialist tendencies: historians tend to reduce Truth to or replace Truth by History, sociologists by Society, etc. And professors and other professionals get paid (in money and prestige) to impose their frameworks and to publish the results to the applause of others who have an interest in those frameworks.”

“Academic disciplines tend to hide their distinctive frames of reference behind a façade of neutral “methodology.” This is why, I would suggest, Mormon engagements with other bodies of thought that involve frank and straightforward Truth-claims—Aristotle or Hegel, Mohammed or Martin Luther—are surer sources of spiritual and intellectual enrichment than “methodological” exercises in the hidden or disguised frameworks of the contemporary specialized disciplines.”

“But are we to imagine that, unlike the mere “apologist,” the “secular” student of Mormonism wakes up every morning ready to cast all inherited and habitual elements of his worldview aside and to start afresh to discover the meaning of life—including his own scholarly activity—with not the slightest prejudice in favor of, say, what he has already been doing, what people expect him to do, what others praise and pay him to do, etc.? That seems a lot to ask. But if the apologist is blamed for not demonstrating awareness in every moment of his writing of the potential that the Church is false, would it be too much to ask that every practitioner of secular Mormon Studies similarly demonstrates openness to the possibility that the LDS Church is true?”

“Whereas apologetics is thought to be proud and mean, Mormon Studies is supposed to be compassionate, empathetic, humble, and nice. The connection between science and compassion, I note in passing, is not clear. In any case, it should first be noted that the soundness of a defense of any opinion is not determined by matters of style or tone, but by reasoning and evidence.”

Neal A. Maxwell: “This new irreligious imperialism,” he wrote, “seeks to disallow certain opinions simply because those opinions grow out of religious convictions. Resistance to abortion will be seen as primitive. Concern over the institution of the family will be viewed as untrendy and unenlightened.”

The Intellectual Cultures of Mormonism: Faith, Reason, and the Apologetic Enterprise
An account of some of the recent tensions in Mormonism surrounding faith and reason, including how general authorities lost control of the Mormon narrative in the age of the internet, and the re-direction of the Maxwell Institute in recent years, trying to be more in line with mainstream scholarship. He argues that ultimately, faith takes the upper hand in Mormonism with this quote from President Lee: “The revelations of God,” he declared, “are the standards by which we measure all learning, and if anything squares not with the revelations, then we may be certain it is not truth.”

Billy Sunday: “When the consensus of scholarship says one thing and the Word of God another, the consensus of scholarship can go plumb to hell for all I care.”

Philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff: “Sometimes suffering is a trial. May it not also be that sometimes the nonrationality of one’s conviction that God exists is a trial, to be endured?” The implications here are profound. If faith claims can always trump evidence and argument, then apologetic dialogue runs the risk of being a pretense.

The Role of Women in Apologetics
An awesome look at how women have contributed to Mormon apologetics, from Mormon wives defending polygamy back in the day, to pioneering the Mormon voice on the Internet with publications like Meridian.

Avoiding Collateral Damage: Creating a Woman-Friendly Mormon Apologetics
The author puts forth criteria in how to avoid friendly fire in regards to women when making apologetic arguments: (1) what happens when we invert genders?, (2) does the argument reflect what we know about heaven as well as earth? (3) Are we strictly scrutinizing beliefs that conform with our culture? and (4) are we honoring the paradoxes at the core of Mormon belief?

“Further, the Mormon tendency to develop theology from policy—not the other way around—amplifies the potential for damage to occur if we are inventing reasons for a policy and then those reasons become our theology.”

Elder Oaks: “It’s not the pattern of the Lord to give reasons. We can put reasons to commandments. When we do we’re on our own. Some people put reasons to [the ban] and they turned out to be spectacularly wrong. There is a lesson in that. . . . The lesson I’ve drawn from that, I decided a long time ago that I had faith in the command and I had no faith in the reasons that had been suggested for it. . . . I’m referring to reasons given by general authorities and reasons elaborated upon [those reasons] by others. The whole set of reasons seemed to me to be unnecessary risk taking. . . . Let’s [not] make the mistake that’s been made in the past, here and in other areas, trying to put reasons to revelation. The reasons turn out to be man-made to a great extent. The revelations are what we sustain as the will of the Lord and that’s where safety lies.”

“The paradoxes of Mormon history and theology must be defended with at least as much vigor as the status quo. There is an inherent danger related to the enterprise of apologetics: it privileges the status quo and reifies it. To the extent that our discussions focus on apologetics rather than theology, we become more concerned with fossilizing the current historical moment than we are with continuing the ongoing work of the restoration. Apologetics by its nature tends toward dismissing the strands of tradition that do not mesh well with current practice. Therefore, apologetics can inhibit the ongoing nature of the restoration if we are not careful to acknowledge the various strands of Mormonism.”

“The Perfect Union of Man and Woman”: Reclamation and Collaboration in Joseph Smith’s Theology Making
Fiona Givens explores the concept of a Heavenly Mother and how that changes our perspective of the divine, as well as the centrality of the Relief Society to Joseph Smith’s theology. Fascinating! Explores how Joseph Smith believed he was restoring something from the primitive Church (women were church leaders in the New Testament), and that they were meant to have a priestly role.

Kathleen Flake: “Joseph Smith was the Henry Ford of revelation. He wanted every home to have one, and the revelation he had in mind was the revelation he’d had, which was seeing God.”

Richard Bushman: “Smith did not attempt to monopolize the prophetic office. It was as if he intended to reduce his own role and infuse the church bureaucracy with his charismatic powers.”

Lamanites, Apologetics, and Tensions in Mormon Anthropology
The author uses the Nephite/Lamanite tension and examines how it can be used to interpret scholar/layman and faithful/critical writers. I didn’t like this one as much, too much jargon (indexicality? seriously?)

Conceptual Confusion and the Building of Stumbling Blocks of Faith
Argues that apologists actually create stumbling blocks to believers by giving legitimacy to the idea that faith is entirely at the mercy of reason; faith cannot exist unless reason has a say first. He argues that even if it were proven that the Book of Mormon were a product of the 19th century, faith can adjust and live on.

“Thus, I argue that rather than defending any religious claims, apologetics actually establishes or affirms the false criterion by which those religious beliefs may be unfortunately lost. In other words, instead of tearing down potential stumbling blocks to faith, Mormon apologetics actually and unknowingly engages in building and establishing those blocks—blocks that may be tripped upon by others who have accepted the conceptual confusion.”

D. Z. Phillips: “Apologetics is guilty of friendly fire when it says more than it knows.”4

“They are joining hands with the critics they are opposing in their misguided understanding that religious claims stand or fall on secular historical, philosophical, or scientific argumentation.”

“Second, regardless of whether or not any particular work of secular scholarship in defense of religious claims withstands the rigorous debates of time, it wrongly establishes secular scholarship in general as an ever-present potential defeater for religious belief. Religious claims thus survive at the mercy of scholarship, and apologists must stand ready to defend them against any and all new threats.”

““Moreover, most would agree—I certainly would—that it is impossible, using empirical methods, to prove the divine.” However, he later adds, “It’s the duty of the apologist . . . to clear the ground in order to make it possible for the seed to grow. Faith is still necessary. . . . Apologetics is simply a useful tool that . . . helps to preserve an environment that permits such faith to take root and flourish.”
“Far from avoiding the conceptual problem inherent to apologetics, this nuance actually exacerbates the apologetic building of stumbling blocks of faith. This is because not only does such rhetoric imply that secular argumentation has something to say about particular religious claims, it implies that religious claims are only possible or may only be permitted if certain secular claims are in fact true.”

“But isn’t an assertion about the Book of Mormon’s historicity an assertion about its being the word of God? While the traditional understanding of the miraculous coming forth of the Book of Mormon may seem to imply as much, a closer examination reveals that such a line of thinking still falls into the same confusion. If Joseph Smith’s translation of the buried Nephite record had revealed that the plates of gold consisted of a daily log of Mormon’s grocery lists and losing lottery ticket numbers (or some other mundane record), few testimonies would be given of the Book of Mormon, and it would have hardly ever gained any traction as containing the word of God.”

“When a Mormon gets up in a testimony meeting and says, “I know that the Book of Mormon is true,” she is not referring to the historicity of the scriptures, but rather she is testifying about the role that the Book of Mormon plays in her life.”

D. Z. Phillips: “I do not think Jesus is saying, “Peter, flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but of course, others may have come to this conclusion by those means.” It is not as though, although Peter reached the conclusions by means of what is revealed to him, philosophers may come along later . . . and reach the same conclusion by other means, for example probability theory. Jesus is saying that the kind of confession Peter makes can only be arrived at by God working in us.”

“I am not proposing a religious fideism whereby religious claims are outside the realm of reason or immune from criticism altogether. Religious claims such as Jesus being the Son of God, the Book of Mormon being the word of God, and Joseph Smith being a prophet of God are of a different kind and participate in a different language game from scholarship that has its own rules and measures.”

Shifting Intellectual and Religious Paradigms: One Apologist’s Journey into Critical Study
The author describes his journey of faith, and how he had to adjust his perspective on faith after pursuing a graduate degree in biblical criticism. The main takeaway is the realization that scripture is simultaneously of both human and divine origin. That humans contributed to it doesn’t take away from its religious value.

“At this point in my life, I have come to believe that a critical approach to scripture is, in fact, an essential part of a spiritual journey. This perhaps explains my concern with contemporary apologetics, meaning an active attempt to defend a specific religious paradigm or belief system. As religious people, I do not think we should strive to force scripture (or our understanding of LDS doctrine or history for that matter) to match our expectations, whatever they may be. I don’t believe that coercing our history and our scriptural texts to fit our traditional beliefs constitutes an act of faith. In fact, from my perspective, doing so is just the opposite.”

“Apologetics assumes that we have the answers. Instead of allowing critical thinking to shape our relationship and understanding with divinity, apologetic defense may simply disguise a fear that God and the universe are much more complex than we would like to believe.”

David F. Holland: “The Book of Mormon itself reinforces the message that when heavenly light mixes with human messengers, God’s treasure is to be found in earthly vessels. It repeatedly warns its readers not to discard the things of God because of the flaws of men (Morm. 9:31). . . . The notion that later generations may improve upon the scriptural text—even be “wiser” than its inspired authors—brings the Book of Mormon closer to the most radical elements of America’s emerging culture of biblical criticism than to its long tradition of biblical conservatism.”

“From start to finish, the Book of Mormon presents readers with a fascinating paradox. On the one hand, the book itself is a miracle and is defined by Joseph Smith as “the most correct” book ever written, since a person can “get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.” And yet, Book of Mormon authors constantly refer to the text’s inherent weakness. It is as if the Book of Mormon personifies John’s New Testament depiction of the Word of God, which is both divine and made flesh.”

“There is therefore no such thing as the pure, unadulterated word of God. It is always both human and divine, and this point seems to be one that the Book of Mormon itself practically begs its readers to recognize.”

“As a critical student of the Bible and Mormonism, I’m not entirely opposed to apologetics. But I am opposed to academic apologetics. Simply put, I do not believe that the tools of scholarship can be used to establish the validity of religious experiences.”

“The historian seeks to uncover the most likely things that occurred in the past. By definition, a miracle is the most unlikely thing to occur—that’s what makes it a miracle. If historians are trying to uncover what is most likely to have happened in the past, and a miracle is the most unlikely thing to have occurred, historians can never take seriously such miraculous things as golden plates or resurrection. These things may be true, but they are beyond the ability of a historian to address. They are matters of religious belief.”

“Despite its religious merits, scripture should not be seen as an infallible manual to divinity. Instead, scripture is the textual result of a human effort to reflect the divine. Though inevitably flawed by mortal hands, that endeavor can inspire meaningful spiritual growth. This is true even when a reader encounters a construct in holy writ that she rejects, since that problematic paradigm has caused the reader to define her own spiritual conviction in opposition to the one held by the author. Scripture is not a manual. It is a springboard to enlightenment.”

Toward a New Vision of Apologetics
One of my personal favorite in the series. The author argues that rather than creating space so that believers can feel comfortable in their faith, an apologist’s task should actually be just the opposite: to clearly define where belief must enter the equation by peeling away poor logic and showing just how radical our belief must be.

“Although one sometimes hears it said that apologists attempt to prove the truth of the Restoration, I see little of that actually on offer in apologetic literature. The vast majority of apologists—even apologists who are bad at what they do—recognize that their intellectual defenses of Mormonism can only go so far, that there remains after every argument a certain leap to be made with one’s heart.”

“In other words, what distinguishes differing accounts of what ideally constitutes apologetics is the different ways in which they conceive of the indirect manner in which reason makes for the possibility of revelation. What are the varieties of indirect relationships one might conceive between the constraints of reason and the convictions of the heart, as these operate in apologetics? And which of these varieties provides us with apologetics in the most proper sense?”

“What needs calling into question, it seems to me, is the very idea that the Restoration needs or even wants favorable conditions for the development of genuine conviction regarding its truth. The apostle Paul said that “it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (1 Cor. 1:21), arguing that God intervenes in the world by erecting a barrier against belief. The Restoration, like the Gospel it revitalizes and announces anew, is meant to present a kind of scandal or a stumbling block to the world. Whatever makes belief easier makes belief weaker, suggesting that what faith requires amounts to less and less. Paradoxically, the more reason does to create favorable conditions for the development of conviction, the less forceful and passionate conviction will usually be when revelation has its way. Thus the constant temptation that attends apologetics, its all-too-natural tendency against which it must ideally work, is precisely to minimize the scandalous nature of the Restoration by attempting to create favorable conditions for developing spiritual conviction. But as Marion says in the same essay cited above, the task of apologetics is paradoxically “to reinforce the difficulty” of decision in favor of truth.”

“What I mean to suggest is that all such apologetic work must aim (in Marion’s words once more) at “settling as quickly and as well as possible the theoretical debate” only so as to “indicate the place where the decision of the will must intervene, so that the will might know what it must, without avoidance, accept or refuse, and above all that the will might know the One whom it must repudiate or confess.””

“In other words, I have little to criticize in the usual methods employed in apologetics, described above. I mean rather to critique the aim with which apologists tend to use those methods. The point of clearing away bad arguments and false representations is, ideally, to bring into real clarity what faith in the Restoration requires, not to undercut the credibility of the critics. The point of constructing rational arguments for the truth of Mormonism’s faith claims is to reveal the coherence and richness of faith in the Restoration, not to predispose people to actual conviction regarding its truth. Apologetics achieves its ideal when it wears itself out in making the stakes of the Restoration fully clear. That ideal can only be compromised where one works only or primarily to make conditions for developing conviction favorable.”

“Where, instead, one attempts to lessen the burden of belief, to veil the scandal of faith, to widen the road that leads to eternal life, or to remove the stumbling block divinely placed in our paths, one compromises the apologetic task. Apologetics should not resolve crises of faith but provoke them, helping those who stumble to recognize that they are likely stumbling for the first time in their lives on the real because of the robust faith to which conviction would commit them. Apologetics fails when it instead attempts to solve doubts too quickly. Apologetics ideally poses a problem—the central and only problem, that of whether and how God has intervened in history to accomplish a divine work—rather than answers questions. Apologetics ideally seeks, in fact, to reveal that our reasonable questions are usually asked in an attempt to avoid this one problem.”

“My own experience has been that the Spirit brings conviction to my heart more powerfully and more lastingly when I encounter the depth of the Restoration, not when I find just that there are reasons to be suspicious about Mormonism’s critics or reasons to think Mormonism’s claims are rationally defensible. An apologetics fully worthy of the Restoration must be at least as profound as the Restoration itself, and that depth can be investigated rationally.”

Apologetics as Theological Praxis
Argues that the tone of apologetics is, indeed, important, and must be done with gentleness and meekness. Otherwise we are being hypocritical and don’t understand the nature of our message. Understanding others is much more important than defending abstract truths.

“The result of this systematic theology is a web of interdependent beliefs supported by a handful of core propositions that provide the context or framework within which these interdependent beliefs become coherent. As a result, when any belief within the system—and especially a core or essential belief—is called into question, the entire system or worldview may seem threatened. Thus, Saints who have encountered a challenge to their beliefs seek out apologetics as a means not only to answer a given question, but also to reestablish harmony among a broader set of beliefs.”

“It is my contention that Latter-day Saints can do better by augmenting past efforts with a pastoral mindset well-suited for contemporary criticism, questions, and concerns.”

“I will argue that religious apologetics must be approached as a devotional act—an act not necessarily intended to “rescue” those who question, but rather as an expression of our inner convictions and commitments. Additionally, I will propose that contemporary apologetics should be both formulated and expressed with an awareness of the pastoral theology which motivates all Christian ideals of friendship, empathy, and compassion.”

“The apologetic enterprise, above anything else, must be carried out with gentleness and reverence so that any defense or explanation of our inner hope is carried out or presented in such a way as to clearly demonstrate Christian devotion. Presented otherwise, the apologetic explanation becomes self-defeating and self-contradictory, revealing that our chosen words betray our claimed inner conviction. If we attempt to defend our faith in a way inconsistent with its very foundation, we are better off remaining silent.”

“Broadly speaking, pastoral theology asserts two primary truths: suffering exists and all Saints are called to act as the agents of God’s love in alleviating that suffering. Such a theology cannot be bogged down by dogma, policy, tradition, or authority. Its claims are motivated by, but completely independent of, other LDS doctrines. No belief in or agreement on any abstract idea or assertion is requisite to feed the hungry or comfort the sick.”

“There is a well-known traditional Zen Buddhist story wherein a student asks his master: “What is enlightenment?” The master replied: “When hungry, eat. When tired, sleep.” Pastoral care is just as simple. When you meet the hungry, feed. And when you encounter the sick or afflicted, provide comfort. If we find ourselves giving greater allegiance to abstract ideas or organizational practices more than to those we are called to serve, we have fundamentally misunderstood the beautiful simplicity of pastoral theology and the pastoral approach to apologetics.”

“As modern Mormons we may find ourselves falling into the trap of searching for a “correct” understanding of the Gospel in an abstract sense—as if our abstract beliefs or notions are of some great importance in themselves. In truth, we best come to know God and the Gospel through our collective and individual practice of religious ideals: by imitating and following Christ.”

“In the pastoral role, if we “win” an apologetic argument through the use of methods that serve to divide or separate us from our fellow Saints—even if this is not our intention—we have served up stones, where bread was required.”

“There are significant challenges to LDS truth-claims, and we ignore the reality of these problems at our own peril. Even if we have personally come to some sort of resolution on a given question, it is unreasonable to expect others to simply accept our view or interpretation. Therefore, it is very important to acknowledge the legitimacy of both the questions themselves and the motivations behind asking such questions. We must allow others the opportunity—as we have allowed ourselves—to work out their own interpretations and draw their own conclusions.”

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