An Egregious Example of Pseudo-scholarship

I use a lot of electronic books in my personal and academic life, and Logos provides many of them, such as the JPS Torah Commentary. Many other good scholarly works are available from Logos, such as the Anchor Bible Dictionary. Some of their material would be more accurately classified as “pseudo-scholarship.”

Recently, Logos has made a marketing decision to publish an “apologetics” collection with many of the anti-Mormon classics (and yes, these easily fit whatever definition of anti-Mormon you’d like.) These works generally misrepresent LDS thought and doctrine, and ignore relevant LDS scholarship, as two Evangelical scholars conclude.

In marketing Mormonism: Changes, Contradictions, and Errors, which “compares quotes from Mormon leaders and the Book of Mormon itself to the Bible” Logos chose the following example.

Does God the Father have a body of flesh and bones?

Yes: “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also…” (April 1843, Doctrine and Covenants 130:22)

No: “Holy, holy God; we believe that thou art God, and we believe that thou art holy, and that thou wast a spirit, and that thou art a spririt, and that thou wilt be a spirit foverever” (Alma 31:15)

From start to finish, this resource shows that Mormonism is not in sync with the Bible and is often self-contradictory to its own scriptures as well.

Any Mormon can tell you what’s wrong with this. Alma 31:15 is a quotation from an apostate group that Alma is out to reclaim, not doctrine taught by Nephite prophets. Our two authors, supposedly “both experts on cult issues, specifically those related to Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses” would receive an F in a basic seminary exegesis class for such flagrant disregard of context.

Like most other self-proclaimed cult experts who repackage the same misrepresentational junk to the even less well-informed EV’s who buy it, our authors ignore basic differences in assumptions and worldview between LDS and themselves that actual Evangelical scholars (such as Richard Mouw) DO recognize- namely that LDS are not infallible, Bible-based Christians, but follow a dynamic Old Testament authority pattern. Scripture and canon come from inspired prophets. (See quote below.)

Is it any wonder, therefore, that we don’t take such EV reasoning or witnessing seriously when it is flawed on such a fundamental level?

Richard Mouw-

It is important to underscore here the way in which the Mormon restoration of these ancient offices and practices resulted in a very significant departure from the classical Protestant understanding of religious authority. The subtlety of the issues at stake here is often missed by us Evangelicals, with the result that we typically get sidetracked in our efforts to understand our basic disagreements with Mormon thought. We often proceed as if the central authority issue to debate with Mormons has to do with the question of which authoritative texts ought to guide us in understanding the basic issues of life. We Evangelicals accept the Bible alone as our infallible guide while, we point out, the Latter-day Saints add another set of writings, those that comprise the Bookof Mormon, along with the records of additional Church teachings to the canon- we classic Protestants are people of the Book while Mormons are people of the Books.
This way of getting at the nature of our differences really does not take us very far into exploring some of our basic disagreements. What we also need to see is that in restoring some features of Old Testament Israel, Mormonism has also restored the kinds of authority patterns that guided the life of Israel. The old Testament people of God were not a people of the Book as such- mainly because for most of their history, there was no completed Book. Ancient Israel was guided by an open canon [of scripture] and the leadership of the prophets. And it is precisely this pattern of communal authority that Mormonism restored. Evangelicals may insist that Mormonism has too many books. But the proper Mormon response is that even these Books are not enough to give authoritative guidance to the present-day community of the faithful.The books themselves are products of a prophetic office, an office that has been reinstituted in these latter days. People fail to discern the full will of God if they do not live their lives in the anticipation that they will receive new revealed teachings under the authority of the living prophets.

– Evangelical scholar Richard Mouw, “What Does God Think About America?” BYU Studies, 43:4 (2004): 10-11.

19 thoughts on “An Egregious Example of Pseudo-scholarship

  1. It really bugs me when deceptive anti-Mormon stuff is published – especially by people who ought know better. I don’t mind work that is trying to be correct and that focuses in on honest disagreements. For instance while I think a lot of the presentation in New Mormon Challenge is wrong or at least irrelevant I don’t mind the book and think it opened a lot of ground for discussion. But the intentionally deceptive stuff is pretty much at odds with ones own claims to Christianity.

  2. On his website Farkas sets forth his argument that the Book of Mormon teaches that God is a spirit:

    Note in Alma 31:15-38 that those who say God is a spirit are not corrected in the prayer of the prophet involved even though other errors are. In none of the references are any of the speakers corrected for calling God a “spirit” or the “Great Spirit.” In Alma 18:26-29, 22:8-11 alleged prophets of God call God the “Great Spirit.” The verses below also support the teaching that God is a spirit.

    …the Father and Son-And they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and earth. And thus the flesh becoming subject to the Spirit, or the Son to the Father, being one God…(Mosiah 15:3-5

  3. Dave,

    Are you referring to the Mouw quote or being sarcastic about the Logos publication?

  4. Thanks for including the Mouw statement. I wasn’t previously familiar with his work. The statement is an extraordinarily clear articulation of perhaps the key difference between us and Protestant denominations.

  5. Justin,
    Thanks for the additional context. Farkas is till taking the statements out of context and is certainly making assumptions about how “proper” prophets ought to behave, but it is nice to know he tried.

  6. OK, but we have our own unscholarly works written by GAs, some of which misrepresent Mormonism bigtime and some that bash other religions. There are bigoted morons in every denomination. Saved by works folk Mormon theology comes to mind.

  7. Steve, I think the difference is that this is a more scholarly production. If it were just collecting relatively famous but older sermons and the like I’d not mind anti-Mormon stuff in it. It would be on part with the Gospel Library CD having the Journal of Discourses that has some incorrect stuff in it. But this is presenting as modern commentaries stuff that is just egregiously wrong.

  8. Steve, these guys are Trained Cult ExpertsTM ;)

    If they’re going to claim that they’re bringing scholarly accuracy and training to “The Facts,” that is a markedly different thing from McConkie-style rhetoric.

  9. Ben, the mistake those authors make with Alma 31:15 — i.e. quoting the Book of Mormon’s restatement of the apostate doctrine that the prophets were trying to combat as if it were the doctrine those prophets were teaching — is similar to what the Muslim world has done with the one sentence from the Pope’s Regensburg speech.

    It is also what lawyers have to watch out for coming from opposing counsel in motion practice. Lawyers should go to the language of each case cited by opposing counsel in a brief to make sure the opposing counsel isn’t quoting some plaintiff’s argument that the court in the quoted case is merely restating before dismissing it.

  10. I have mentioned before that different (though related) concepts have translated as spirit (pneuma in Greek) in the scriptures. Otherwise 1 Cor 15 makes no sense whatsover, where he describes glorified, resurrected bodies as spiritual bodies, compared to the type we have now, which are natural bodies. Same deal with John 4:24.

    Paul definitely used the term differently than Jesus did, according to Luke (24:39), as he uses the term spiritual to describe the resurrected Christ in 1 Cor 15:47, and the post resurrection state in general in 15:44 – spiritual in opposition to natural, not as an ethereal density indicator, the way the term is used in Luke 24:39 and D&C 130:22 and several other scriptures.

    And of course another opposition of spiritual and natural is used in other scriptures, notably Mosiah 3:19.

    Those are three different senses of the term “spiritual”, and I can think of a several more (pertaining to: any non-local influence, any ideality, spirit-intelligences in general, the influence of spirit-intelligences in general (embodied or not), the person of the Holy Ghost, the influence of the Holy Ghost, the body of the Holy Ghost, etc.

  11. John,

    “some plaintiff’s argument”? I guess we know who you typically represent. :)

    Frankly, I found more of this tactic while proofing law review articles than I have in the real world of litigation, but next time we end up opposite each other, remember you’ve already publicly proclaimed your litigation strategy, and I’ll be watching. :)

  12. No doubt we get tired of misrepresentations – but no doubt there are some hard to explain scriptural things that need no misrepresentation;

    Alma 34:36 – And this I know, because the Lord hath said he dwelleth not in unholy temples, but in the hearts of the righteous…..

    D&C 130:3 – John 14:23 – The appearing if the Father and the Son, in that verse is a personal appearance, and the idea that the Father and the Son dwell in a man’s heart is an old sectarian notion, and is false…..

    I mean, we can only get so offended at the psuedo-scholarship , because it gives us an easy way to defend our own beliefs to ourselves. If they did some real scholarship, they might point out the real inconsistencies such as the verses I quote above. But not everything is ever going to be explained, defended or justified – that is why we have to live by faith.

    Try explaining virgin births or resurrection – it can’t be done. We have to just believe babies can be born without natural means that everyone knows from the age of 12 on is required to make babies, and we just have to believe that somehow we come back from the dead although nobody has ever really seen it happen.

    So don’t get drawn into arguments, because arguments proceed by logic ……and God, religion and the existence of the world is not logical – it can’t be argued. Physics tells us matter cannot be created or destroyed – yet here we are – it is impossible according to physics, since matter had to come from somewhere – we don’t ask physicists to explain it, it can’t be done – some things just have to be accepted.

    Lets face it there are some glaring inconsistencies to being Mormon – church leaders did say that they would never stop the eternal covenant which included plural marriage – and in case you did not notice – its over with (thankfully – one headache is enough, why ask for 12?).

  13. But Carl I don’t see those as problems since we don’t adopt the Conservative Protestant view of inerrancy of prophets. i.e. it’s only an inconsistency if one buys into the protestant worldview.

  14. Actually the presence of the Father does dwell in the hearts of the righteous, just not our Father’s person in a physical, material sense. The problem with the sectarians is they didn’t believe He had a tangible body and all that entails. So there is no hard inconsistency here.

    Although I would likely have edited D&C 130 slightly as the wording is a little too colloquial. Note that it is not represented to be the word of the Lord per se, but rather the word of Joseph Smith. One has to be much more careful when editing the former, according to the spirit of revelation. That is why Joseph Smith revisited and did just that with regard to many sections in the D&C as his understanding deepened on certain points.

  15. Note that D&C 130 consists of fragmentary notes from some discussions of Joseph. So they aren’t technically Joseph’s words. Given the variants between the versions of say the King Follet Discourse I’ve often wondered what the sermon that became D&C 130 would have been in its originality.

  16. Carl, #13, there may be some inconsistencies in the Church (depending on how you want to look at it), the the example you cite in #13 is not one of them, as Mark and Clark have pointed out.

  17. Yes, I believe that is precisely Alma’s point. Hearts of the righteous are holy temples where the spiritual presence of the Father can dwell, in a parallel of the way He resides in the kingdom of heaven, or upon Mount Zion, of which every earthly temple is a type.

    Hearts of the wicked or worldly are unholy temples where the Spirit cannot dwell, being pained by the acquaintance, among other problems. The Lord is not a friend to those who mock and scorn. He will bear the pain of acquaintance with the repentant – we call that justification by grace, but He will not long abide in the hearts of pre-meditated sinners.

    The following from D&C 93 is relevant here:

    And that I am in the Father, and the Father in me, and the Father and I are one—The Father because he gave me of his fulness, and the Son because I was in the world and made flesh my tabernacle, and dwelt among the sons of men. I was in the world and received of my Father, and the works of him were plainly manifest.

    And I, John, saw that he received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace; And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness; And thus he was called the Son of God, because he received not of the fulness at the first.

    And I, John, bear record that he received a fulness of the glory of the Father; And he received all power, both in heaven and on earth, and the glory of the Father was with him, for he dwelt in him.
    (D&C 93:3-17)

    [By the way does this mean we are Arians? Not really. But whose grace did the Son receive of anyway? Doesn't this scripture imply a bipartite division of grace - the grace of the Father and the grace of the Son? Is this manifest in the sacrament?]

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