Book review: Denver Snuffer’s “Preserving the Restoration”

Being raise as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I grew up very much aware of the reality of revelation. I knew the miraculous story of Joseph Smith’s seeking for answers:

“At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God. I at length came to the determination to “ask of God,” concluding that if he gave wisdom to them that lacked wisdom, and would give liberally, and not upbraid, I might venture.”

In response to his inquiry, he obtained an audience with God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. I was also very much aware of the implications of such an experience; does not Joseph’s experience ask us all to inquire of God? To obtain an answer for ourselves? That angelic ministrations aren’t something relegated to the Bible? I too felt that I might venture.

As a teenager, I attempted several times just such a prayer. When repeatedly, no such answer came, I assumed that I must not have been yet prepared, that I didn’t have a sincere heart with real intent. I eventually accepted that confirmation through the Holy Ghost came from a warm feeling, and that was all I needed.

On my mission, I became uncertain if such experiences were adequate enough for a testimony. Other missionaries had very powerful experiences that they were able to share. I had no such story. The talk that brought me great comfort was by David A. Bednar. In it, he said:

“I invite you to consider two experiences most of us have had with light.

“The first experience occurred as we entered a dark room and turned on a light switch. Remember how in an instant a bright flood of illumination filled the room and caused the darkness to disappear. What previously had been unseen and uncertain became clear and recognizable. This experience was characterized by immediate and intense recognition of light.

“The second experience took place as we watched night turn into morning. Do you recall the slow and almost imperceptible increase in light on the horizon? In contrast to turning on a light in a dark room, the light from the rising sun did not immediately burst forth. Rather, gradually and steadily the intensity of the light increased, and the darkness of night was replaced by the radiance of morning. Eventually, the sun did dawn over the skyline. But the visual evidence of the sun’s impending arrival was apparent hours before the sun actually appeared over the horizon. This experience was characterized by subtle and gradual discernment of light.

My testimony was like the latter. In the Church today, I have since noticed that in general, such experiences are rarely shared and should not be considered a necessary component of any testimony. Elder Bednar continued:

“We as members of the Church tend to emphasize marvelous and dramatic spiritual manifestations so much that we may fail to appreciate and may even overlook the customary pattern by which the Holy Ghost accomplishes His work. The very “simpleness of the way” (1 Nephi 17:41) of receiving small and incremental spiritual impressions that over time and in totality constitute a desired answer or the direction we need may cause us to look “beyond the mark.””

But Denver Snuffer, in his book “Preserving the Restoration” asks us again to take Joseph Smith at his word. We shouldn’t try to explain away scriptural passages like this one:

And because he hath done this, my beloved brethren, have miracles ceased? Behold I say unto you, Nay; neither have angels ceased to minister unto the children of men.
For behold, they are subject unto him, to minister according to the word of his command, showing themselves unto them of strong faith and a firm mind in every form of godliness.

preservingrestoration
In the first book I read by Snuffer, “The Second Comforter,” he outlined a pattern by which any man or woman can receive an audience with Christ using Nephi’s example from the Book of Mormon. I loved how Snuffer took the scriptures at their face value, instead of trying to find ways of explaining them away. Snuffer’s interpretation of scripture seems internally consistent, in a way that I haven’t seen before. The scriptures of the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and D&C all work together beautifully. In “Preserving,” Snuffer also quotes extensively from the writings of Joseph Smith in “Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith,” “History of the Church,” and “Lectures on Faith.”

After I heard that Snuffer had been excommunicated, I became very cautious. I didn’t want to be a victim of apostasy. And I stopped reading his books, but I still took what I had read very seriously. I just wasn’t able to reconcile what he had written with where I currently stood.

Since his excommunication, Snuffer has written increasingly more about a different narrative than the one the institutional LDS church tells. It tells a story of a people blessed with a prophet to be among them, but due to unrighteousness, that prophet had been taken. After Joseph Smith’s death, the Church has been in the state of the Israelites after Moses was taken from them, having a lesser priesthood and able to administer outward ordinances, but without a direct connection with God. Snuffer openly compares himself with John the Baptist, come to initiate a new dispensation of the gospel.

Some interesting things about Snuffer. He is very suspicious of institutional religion. In starting his new movement, he refuses to institutionalize it because it stiffens, is subject to exercising unrighteous dominion, and can be pressured by the world and society to change doctrines and tenets of the gospel.

I still don’t fully know how to reconcile what Snuffer teaches with what I believe to be true. I love my church leaders, and consider them inspired. I believe they do much good. I sustain Thomas S. Monson as a prophet of God. But I also find myself agreeing with many of Snuffer’s critiques. What I seek to do is to not pass judgment on my leaders, or on my fellow members. I believe that religion is a personal affair between myself and God, and I can’t judge another’s quest to live after their own beliefs. Snuffer’s books have encouraged me to take my religion seriously, and to search the scriptures diligently.

A few things that I wanted to bring up in conjunction with Snuffer’s book. One thing that made me feel uncomfortable was his free use of using language to the effect that others are damned and going to hell. He says that members of the LDS Church who choose to follow the prophet can expect an inheritance in the telestial kingdom (but then at other times he says that regardless of which Church you are in, you can still follow his teachings). Look at these two passages:

There is some irony about those who will survive the Lord’s return and those who will not. The Telestial will be burned at His coming. The Terrestrial will survive. As discussed above, those who “follow the prophet” are Telestial and will be destroyed. But those who are mainstream Christians are Terrestrial and will survive.

Versus:

The restoration is not the property of an institution. Although dozens of churches claim the role of succeeding to Joseph Smith’s ‘true and living’ church, the restoration belongs to us all. Whether you belong to some denomination claiming Joseph as a founder, or you are a traditional Christian, the things restored through Joseph Smith came from God as a gift to all.

He puts a witness statement at the front of his book from a follower. She is an example of the damns and hellfire that are thrown around quite a bit:

If you will consider the message of this book from a servant sent to deliver it, with a sincere heart and real intent, you will also know that what is presented is true and faithful. If you will not consider it, but instead harden your heart, you will be damned.

I am aware that such language is used in the Bible, in the Book of Mormon, and in Joseph Smith’s teachings. And perhaps it is rightly so. I find such language harsh and abrasive. Perhaps I need to repent. My current understanding is that judgment is the Lord’s. I don’t seek to determine where others will be after this life. I will seek to live by my own conscience. I particularly found the character of God described by Terryl Givens to be true to how I imagine him:

“God’s reputation has suffered wild pendulum swings throughout Christian history. As we have surveyed, we find the sovereign deity of vengeance and wrath, and we find at the other extreme an indifferent God who will “beat us with a few stripes” and then award us all heavenly bliss. To use another analogy, some have seen God as a stern schoolmaster. He sets the standards, we take the test, and few of us pass. Only occasional A’s are handed out, while for most of us, slack and mediocre as we are, a perpetual detention is our destiny.
At the other end of the spectrum, some protest that the only alternative is a saccharine-steeped schoolmarm of a God who indulges her students, pats them sweetly on the head, and gives everyone an A in the end. This is the God of cheap grace, who tells us to eat, drink, and be merry, and expect at most a light caning before we are automatically saved in the end. In fleeing the God of wrath, some have found refuge in this version of the ever-indulgent God.
“These options constitute a false dichotomy. We should not think they are the only alternatives. In this book, we are arguing for a third way, because our scriptures and our prophets alike have suggested both views are wrong. We believe our Lord is, rather, the persistently patient master teacher; he is the loving tutor who, devoted to his students, remains with us, staying after class for extra lessons, giving us individualized attention, practicing sums again and again, late into the night, for as long as it takes—until we master the material. And we are transformed in the process by his “long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge.”

In his book, Snuffer mentions St. Francis as an example of a man who lived after the gospel even in the context of a fallen and apostate Church. I just finished a biograph of St. Francis myself by G. K. Chesterton, and I liked what he said about St. Francis:

St. Francis was so great and original a man that he had something in him of what makes the founder of a religion. Many of his followers were more or less ready, in their hearts, to treat him as the founder of a religion. They were willing to let the Franciscan spirit escape from Christendom as the Christian spirit had escaped from Israel. They were willing to let it eclipse Christendom as the Christian spirit had eclipsed Israel. Francis, the fire that ran through the roads of Italy, was to be the beginning of a conflagration in which the old Christian civilisation was to be consumed. That was the point the Pope had to settle; whether Christendom should absorb Francis or Francis Christendom. And he decided rightly, apart from the duties of his place; for the Church could include all that was good in the Franciscans and the Franciscans could not include all that was good in the Church.

I found this to be very inspiring, and I would equally like to ask Snuffer his opinion. St. Francis is an excellent model.

Snuffer brings up some very important points, calls us to repentance, both on a personal and institutional level. I believe we should take what he says seriously. At the very least, I would apply Christ’s words to his apostles:

And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us.
And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.

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