Steelmanning: Counterpoint to Davidson Regarding Brother and Sister Givens

Earlier this week, a guest post by Michael Davidson titled “The Givens Attack the First Vision” was published here at the Millennial Star.

You can read it here:

Guest post: the Givens attack the First Vision

Michael’s post has attracted some attention, and I want to post a counterpoint response to what he has written that I hope will demonstrate why I think his post was inappropriately personal and accusatory, even though I sympathize with his concerns.

Please note too that the current text of his post is different than what was first posted. The final three paragraphs, which were the more inflammatory section, have been removed after the fact.

First, I need to explain Steelman argument, provisional language, and a clarification about M* editors.

Steelman Argument

I’m sure you’ve heard of a Strawman Argument. But have you heard of a Steelman argument? It means that you purposely choose to attribute the most charitable intentions to someone with whom you are arguing and you attempt to argue against the strongest interpretation of their argument instead of the weakest.

You find the most charitable possible interpretation for the words of your opponent, and you try to agree with whatever good motivations you can identify, while still raising your disagreements. And sometimes it means that you choose to argue not against what your opponent actually said, but against the strongest version of what he might have been trying to say. Even if his reasons are stupid or misinformed, you choose to argue against the best argument that he could have made, and assume that is what he meant.

It is a very useful tool. But it runs contrary to our natural inclinations. It takes effort. And it is hard to steelman others when it feels like they are doing the opposite to you. But it is really worth the effort.

In this post, I will try to steelman both Michael Davidson and Brother and Sister Givens. I may not succeed. But I will have tried. And I hope that it can make a difference.

Provisional Language

When we are disagree with one another, it is important to be precise, provisional, and measured. It is legitimate to challenge interpretations and beliefs. But when we state our conclusions as absolutes, we risk making a mistake and an enemy, all in one.

Michael felt the Givens were teaching dangerous doctrine. But Michael could have made his point while taking a more measured and less accusatory approach.

Using provisional language is an important aspect of constructive debate. With just a little more effort, Michael could have peppered his analysis with words like “Unless I am misreading, …” “I could be wrong, but …” And “I am concerned that some readers will take this to mean that…” “If this is what they mean, then…” Always leaving open the possibility that he has misunderstood their intentions or meaning.

It is rarely productive to insist our interpretation is the only logical possibility.

Millennial Star Editors

When the Millennial Star posts submissions by guests, they are posted under a user with the name “Millennial Star Editors” so that they will not be attributed to the contributor that is posting them on behalf of the guest. The name of the account under which they are posted is not meant to imply that the guest post has been considered and approved by everyone who contributes to the blog. Guest posts do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or individual authors that also publish here. But it is completely understandable how someone could come away with that impression.

The Givens and Micheal Davidson

I know Michael Davidson and consider him a friend. He is fiercely dedicated to the church and the gospel. He is intelligent, perceptive, and faithful. And I appreciate his many efforts to defend the church in the public square.

I do not know Terryl and Fiona Givens personally, but I am friends with their son. I have read a couple of their books, and I have read quite a few of the essays they have published over the years. I also appreciate their efforts to help those who struggled with faith. I have not read the book that is the focus of Michael’s essay, The Crucible of Doubt.

While I am sympathetic to Michael’s concerns, and acknowledge that some of his criticisms have merit, I think that his post unfairly impugns the intentions and faithfulness of Brother and Sister Givens.

Michael’s concern arises from an excerpt from The Crucible of Doubt that was recently posted online at LDS Living. (It is worth noting that the excerpt omits a number of paragraphs from the same section of the book.)

In the excerpt, Brother and Sister Givens attempt to address a common criticism of the church, which is the idea that the LDS church claims to have an exclusive monopoly on the truth, and teaches that other christian churches are nothing but corrupt and abominable.

This criticism is based on an oversimplification of what the church actually teaches, but it is not easy to explain why. So let’s back up a bit and review some background.


In a revelation given to Joseph Smith recorded in Doctrine & Covenants Section 1, the Lord describes the Church as “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually.

And in Joseph Smith’s First Vision, when Joseph asked which church he should join, the Lord responded that he should join none of them, “for they were all wrong; and … all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: ‘they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.’

These statements are often perceived as particularly offensive to members of other denominations, many of whom are unquestionably dedicated to the teachings of Christ in the New Testament as they interpret them, and many of whom practice the virtues He taught as best they can according to the truth they have received.

The church does in fact teach that it is the only organization on the earth to which God has given the priesthood authority to bind and loose both on earth and in heaven. The consequence of that exclusive authority is that covenants and ordinances, like baptism and marriage, that are performed by other denominations are not authorized and are not valid or not binding in the hereafter. It also means that the First Presidency of the church and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles claim exclusive authority to be God’s official spokesmen. And God himself guides the church through revelation to these authorized representatives.

However, the prophets and apostles of the church have clarified that this does not mean that other Christian denominations do not have any truth at all. For example, in the October 1971 General Conference, President Boyd K. Packer explained, “Now this is not to say that the churches, all of them, are without some truth. They have some truth– some of them very much of it. They have a form of godliness. Often the clergy and adherents are not without dedication, and many of them practice remarkably well the virtues of Christianity. They are, nonetheless, incomplete.

President Packer compared other Christian churches to pianos that are missing keys, some of which are out of tune. They can still make music, but their music is limited, and possibly off-key. The church doesn’t even claim to currently possess all truth that could ever be revealed. In its articles of faith, it explicitly declares that there are many things that are yet to be revealed. If they are yet to be revealed, then obviously the church doesn’t know them yet.

Comparing other churches to out of tune pianos that are missing keys is still potentially offensive to other Christians, but it certainly doesn’t amount to a claim that the LDS Church has an exclusive monopoly on truth, or that other churches are wholly corrupt and abominable.

However, for those who struggle with doubts about the legitimacy of the church’s claims to truth and authority, this presents an apparent contradiction: since they have personally observed members of other denominations who are clearly living virtuous, Christian lives (and sometimes doing it better than those who profess to be Latter-day Saints); and since the modern prophets acknowledge that these other churches have truth, some of them a great deal of it, as President Packer said, then why would the Lord, in Joseph Smith’s First Vision, declare that they are all wrong, that all of their creeds were not just off-key or incomplete, but an “abomination,” and that the professors (meaning those who profess faith in them) are all corrupt?

When critics raise this point they tend to be far less precise, and they often overstate the church’s teachings, and they they misconstrue them as a claim to have a “monopoly on truth.” And this lack of precision muddles the conversations about the issue.

At the same time, there are also some believing members of the church who make the same mistake, and incorrectly look on other Christians as wholly corrupt and abominable (even though the prophets and apostles have said otherwise). This makes the discussions even more muddled because these members end up perpetuating the false idea and appear to validate the critic’s claims.

Multiple Interpretations of the Givens’ Argument

Now that we have reviewed the background context, let’s return to the current controversy.

The Givens try to address this problem in the chapter that was excerpted by LDS Living. It is clear that their intention is to help people work their way through this concern so that they can continue to believe in the church. And their primary goal seems to be to debunk the “monopoly on truth” mischaracterization.

Unfortunately, for all of their good intentions, portions of their chapter raise a number of serious red flags for many faithful members of the church.

Believing members are rightfully wary of those who seem to be more than willing to abandon the church’s claims to truth and authority in favor of a kind of squishy mormonish universalism. And they understandably recoil from an intellectual overemphasis on the fallibility of the prophets, which is more often than not used to justify rejecting the teachings and direction of the living prophets.

The first red flag has to do with the introduction of the chapter. The first paragraph asserts that

1.1 The language of Mormon culture is fraught with contradictions
1.2 All faiths include intemperate zealots
1.3 Even wise and good people can say uninspired, ridiculous, and even reprehensible things.
1.4 We should characterize other faiths by their best manifestations, not their worst

There is nothing particularly objectionable about these declarations in isolation. However, they are immediately followed in the second paragraph by the following observations:

2.1 The language in which other churches are described in the First Vision sounds harsh to modern ears– seeming like shockingly abrasive and nasty insults and slurs
2.2 Such language was not unusual or inappropriate at the time, nor in previous eras.

Likewise, by themselves, these observations are not particularly controversial. It is the combination of the 1st and 2nd paragraphs together that raises concerns.

In combination with the first paragraph, the 2nd paragraph could easily be interpreted to mean that the seemingly abrasive words attributed to the Lord by Joseph when recounting his First Vision are not actually what the Lord said, but a product of Joseph and the era in which he lived. And that they were in fact an example of the kind of uninspired, ridiculous, and even reprehensible things that even good people, like Joseph Smith, can say.

That is the way that Michael Davidson took them, and it is not an unreasonable interpretation.

But it is also not the only possible interpretation.

It is possible that the 1st paragraph and the 2nd paragraph were not intended to be so tightly coupled. In that case, the 1st paragraph can be interpreted as a more general admonition that you can find intemperate, uninspired, ridiculous, and reprehensible things that people have said in every religion, but that we should charitably try to characterize them by the best actions and words of their adherents rather than the worst.

The second paragraph, as an independent thought from the first, can be read to mean that the perceived harshness of the words of the First Vision are a function of the anachronistic imposition of modern cultural expectations on language of the past. And in that case, it is a warning to modern readers that they are likely misinterpreting the words, and not a suggestion that the words are incorrect.

The 2nd paragraph leads into the 3rd:

3.1 The language in the First Vision has been used to support the false idea that the church claims to have a monopoly on truth
3.2 The notion that the church claims a monopoly on truth can contribute to those who become disaffected from the church
3.3 Some members seem to believe the false “monopoly on truth” idea.
3.4 Reiterate 1.4
3.5 The Lord and the leaders of the church, including Joseph Smith and John Taylor, contradict the “monopoly on truth” claim

Depending on the interpretation of the 2nd paragraph, the 3rd paragraph can also be interpreted in multiple ways.

If you interpret the 2nd paragraph, as Michael does, to say that the language of the first vision was a product of Joseph and not the Lord, then the 3rd paragraph seems to be saying that Joseph’s harsh language, falsely attributed to the Lord, has created the idea that the church has a monopoly on truth.

But if you take the 2nd paragraph as a warning against projecting modern expectations on the previous era, then the 3rd paragraph would be saying that the projection of modern exceptions onto the past contributes to the false “monopoly on truth” narrative.

Which of these interpretations represents what Brother and Sister Givens intended to say?

I do not know. But my inclination is to try to assume the most charitable interpretation.

Communication is difficult– especially in writing. We often try to explain complicated thoughts and ideas and end up using insufficiently precise words or discovering that the words we have chosen carry different connotations for different audiences. It is easy to over-interpret or misinterpret things.

In 1978, Finnish Professor Osmo Wiio humorously observed:

“Human communications usually fail except by accident. If communication can fail, it will. If communication cannot fail, it still most usually fails. If communication seems to succeed in the intended way, there’s a misunderstanding. If you are content with your message, communication certainly fails. If a message can be interpreted in several ways, it will be interpreted in a manner that maximizes the damage. There is always someone who knows better than you what you meant with your message. The more we communicate, the worse communication succeeds. The more we communicate, the faster misunderstandings propagate.”

While, like Murphy’s Law, Wiio’s observations are meant to be humorous, they are also often true.

While it is easy to see how Michael came to his conclusions, in the broader context of their accumulated works, the accusation that Brother and Sister Givens are intentionally attacking the First Vision doesn’t make sense. The Givens have never implied that the First Vision didn’t happen. By all accounts they wholeheartedly believe that Joseph Smith was visited by God and Jesus Christ, and called to be a prophet. They believe that the church is indeed the only organization with the authority of God to performing binding ordinances and covenants. And they believe that the prophet and apostles are God’s authentic spokesmen and representatives to the world. While perhaps it would be prudent for them to be more explicit about these beliefs, they continually refer to them in their chapter. While their words raise legitimate questions, calling them an attack on the First Vision seems overinflated and disproportionate.

And this is where I believe that Michael’s post was inappropriate and wrong and beyond the mark.

It is perfectly legitimate to challenge their interpretations of D&C 149 and D&C 10.

It is perfectly reasonable to question the doctrinal implications of the kind of universalism that they seem to advocate.

And it is important to identify that the opening paragraphs of their chapter could be read to suggest that the Givens seem to be saying that the language in Joseph Smith’s recounting of the First Vision is wrong, and merely the uninspired words of Joseph, and that if that is indeed their argument, it is important to show how it undercuts the foundational doctrines of the church and is incompatible with the church’s claims.

Michael could have said something like “I could be wrong, but it looks like this is what the Givens are saying. Is that what they intended to say? Because if it is, then here are the problems I see with it and I think it hurts faith in the church.”

Instead, Michael said: “This is what the Givens are saying. There is no other interpretation. The only possible conclusion is that they are purposefully undermining the church. Prove me wrong.”

We all say things that, upon reflection, we wish we could have said a different way. I do not want to be too harsh toward Michael. He is a good man and he raises legitimate concerns. I do not want him to stop defending the church against ideas that undermine faith. But there are many ways to defend the Church, and I submit that Michael’s post was inappropriately accusatory and went beyond the mark.

I hope also that Brother and Sister Givens are aware that in the ongoing battle of words concerning the church, some of the ways in which they have tried to help those who doubt can sometimes appear to concede too much to the critics of the church. Though I am certain that it is not their intention, to everyday members of the church who do not struggle with the same doubts, their arguments can be perceived as giving away the farm in an effort to improve the harvest. And critics of the church have been willing to reenforce that perception by construing their efforts as friendly to the apostate view. Brother and Sister Givens should be aware of this dynamic and prayerfully consider ways to counteract it while still ministering to those who struggle.

21 thoughts on “Steelmanning: Counterpoint to Davidson Regarding Brother and Sister Givens

  1. It is very pleasant to see a post that actually looks at the arguments put forward and takes a charitable path to dealing with those arguments. I was extremely disappointed to see that almost none of the people who disliked Michael Davidson’s post actually bothered to address his argument. And Jmax does this here, and it is a model of how we should respond to controversial issues, imho. I think he is correct to point out there are two different ways to interpret the argument made by the Givens. Thanks for this great post Jmax.

  2. J. Max,

    I appreciate you taking the time to address this, and agree with your sentiments. As I said often, I don’t know the Givens. All I had to go on was the written word, so while I referred to them by name often, it was only in the context of looking at their argument. In such situations, it is easy to conflate the written word with the one writing it.

    As a side note, I didn’t choose the headline. On my own blog it is titled “Et Tu Brute?” Perhaps this would have been more inflammatory.

    Perhaps it is my history as a litigator, but I am accustomed to analyzing what is being said by others, trying to distill it down to the meat of their argument and responding in a certain way. This is where most of my writing occurs. I also am practiced at separating the written word from the one writing it, as litigators are little more than mercenaries and often are advocating for positions that they might take in their individual, personal lives. However, as you point out, this form of debate doesn’t necessarily translate well to other forums.

    I don’t relish the idea of wading into the public square half-cocked, as it were, and so when I do so it is only after I am reasonably certain of my conclusions. The confidence does tend to shine through.

    Knowing that the Givens are academics, I tried not to assume that they had simply carelessly strung arguments together without considering the implications of saying A, then B, then C … In my mind, if nowhere else perhaps, the reasonable assumption was that such gifted writers intended to structure their arguments as they did, rather than haphazardly running through disconnected considerations.

    Also, lest I be misunderstood, it was never my intent to suggest that the Givens don’t accept that the First Vision happened. Perhaps I should have been more clear. My thesis was that the excerpt I was responding to seemed to question whether or not the Givens believed that the First Vision occurred in the manner described by Joseph Smith, in particular with respect to the things Joseph said the Lord told him with respect to the religions of the day. Rereading the post, I could have been and should have been much more clear about this at the outset.

    I do thank you for your advice. I will keep it in mind next month when I attack some other intellectual. lol

  3. I feel like posting a line of smiley faces in response to both the OP and the comments from Geoff and Michael Davidson. I was discomfited by the flare up of contradiction and rancor resulting from the original post. I have read their books and listened to the Givens’ on a number of different occasions and feel that they have valuable things to say to the LDS community. On the other hand I sometimes feel uneasy with the universalism they seem to espouse. While I am absolutely certain that God wants us all to come to Him, I feel there are some who would choose otherwise if not warned, and sometimes turn away in spite of all we yearn to share with them and that is why God weeps.

  4. “Et tu, Brute?” Really, Brother Davidson? You do realize today is the Ides of March, right? LOL.

  5. We have multiple versions of records of the First Vision. Some of which seem somewhat internally contradictory when compared one with another. With the “official” one being *many* years after the fact. I’m not convinced that we have an actual transcript of the conversation.

    I am convinced that the conversation took place, and it was followed by the Restoration.

    My personal opinion is any effort to bring people to truth, or to help them stay there is good and worthwhile effort.

  6. J Max,

    That’s a very fair-minded, charitable post- good for the rest of us to emulate.

  7. I was worried about this post, but then saw J. Max wrote it and felt better. Truth be told, although I loved his By the Hand of Mormon and Vipers on the Hearth, his “apologetic” works have been disappointing. I do not believe for a moment Mormonism is Universalist even with some teachings that are less strict than other Christian denominations. The works of those trying to keep people in the faith by supplicating the doubters may do the opposite of watering things down, but they do seem to clog up the pure waters. And any criticism of these voices, like when I spoke out against Bushman’s writings once, are seen as some kind of forbidden activity. Did the original OP go too far? To be honest, I don’t know if we can go far enough. We should *always* challenge each other’s faith. That should not be out of bounds at in the slightest. Especially when we know, by Scripture and every day example, that anyone can lose their faith at any time. I have had mine questioned and not gotten too upset because I was comfortable knowing what faith I did have ; and acknowledging where I lack.

    My own belief is that we should not try to help those who doubt with the scholarly analysis that is popular right now trying to speak to the worldly. We should use nothing more than the Scriptures, living Prophets and Apostles, and ultimately the truth unadorned by sophistication. I am also afraid that those who say these kinds of approaches helped them remain in the church are on sandy foundations. Only the pure Words of God accompanied by spiritual manifestations of the Holy Ghost is required and long lasting. Anything else is a bandage on a wound that will always remain unhealed without repentance.

    For a while now I have pondered on if I should be concerned at the supposed decline of membership (something unproven by more than conjecture), and the answer for me has been no. The Scriptures warn continually of the almost falling away of the Last Days, with even the elect getting fooled. Let them leave. What good is a hospital full of sick people who refuse the prescribed medicine and procedures to get well, wanting instead quick fixes and alternative methods not approved by the Master Doctor? Controversial as it may seem, and no one who knows me will be surprised, but I believe the self-purge as prophesied has started and we should let it happen without too much interference. To do otherwise is courting a coupe of God’s Temple and Priesthood by holding onto the unworthy and unrepentant for the chance to keep up appearances of progress.

  8. Thank you for your comment Jettboy. I agree with your concerns, and have been contemplating that a lot recently. There are a growing number of people who seem to be in the Church simply in anticipation of, and to participate in, such a coupe.

  9. My own belief is that we should not try to help those who doubt with the scholarly analysis that is popular right now trying to speak to the worldly. We should use nothing more than the Scriptures, living Prophets and Apostles, and ultimately the truth unadorned by sophistication. I am also afraid that those who say these kinds of approaches helped them remain in the church are on sandy foundations. Only the pure Words of God accompanied by spiritual manifestations of the Holy Ghost is required and long lasting. Anything else is a bandage on a wound that will always remain unhealed without repentance.

    I also tend to think scripture and testimony are best for healing and persuading in matters of faith — far better than an academic or intellectual approach. I suppose there may be room for both, but with the first, the Holy Ghost will add its own supporting witness.

  10. Mormons believe in the Christianity of the New Testament era. Catholics and Protestants believe in Fourth Century Creedal Christianity. Here are some of the differences:

    1. Baptism by immersion by the father (who has the authority) of the family
    2. Lay clergy
    3. Baptism by proxy for deceased ancestors
    4. God and Jesus organized the world, rather than creatio ex nihilo.
    5. Belief in a tripartite anthropomorphic Godhead
    6. Belief in theosis or divinization (that faithful Christians can acquire god-like attributes). All the Christian fathers of the first two centuries believed in theosis, as well as 1., 2., 3., 4., 5.
    7. Belief in sacred esoteric ordinances which allow faithful Christians to ascend to the highest heaven. Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem, administered these ordinances until 350 AD.
    8. Belief in Eternal Marriage, as recorded in the Book of the Apostle Philip.
    Would it have been possible to modify Creedal Christianity to revert to the New Testament Christianity? I think not. The “abomination” appellation is justified.

  11. JMax,
    Thanks for taking the time to engage. I appreciate your thoughts and they have helped me see more clearly.

  12. I appreciate this post as I happened upon the other and was disheartened by its tone, assumptions, and aspersions. The comments on both are disheartening too but I don’t visit this blog much. People, please walk a mile in the shoes of someone who has had or is in faith crisis before you decide they are critics, doubters, less faithful, sinful, or tares to be purged. Please believe that while there are many reasons for a faith crisis, there are just as many factors that affect or lead to it that often have nothing to do with doubt. Depression, illness, trauma, abuse, racism, hate, homophobia, etc can all catalyze a crisis of faith without questions or doubts themselves. I wouldn’t wish a faith crisis on any of you who are so comfortable in your rightness that you are comfortable watching people fall away as prophesied instead of first trying to understand, to see, to behold and love as Jesus did. If we are not one, we are not Jesus’ church. If we don’t have charity, we are nothing.

  13. Hi Emi,

    I was “faith crisising” before faith crisising was cool. Faith crisised from roughly 1977 through 1999. But since God had told me to stick with the Church, I faith crisised while being a very active Mormon.

    Speaking for myself, it is not that I fail to understand how hard it can be. But I routinely deal with irrational people who wish their desires to be accommodated without any regard for how their granted desire would impact the universe. I can love all as my brothers and sisters without eliminating standards, just as I love my autistic daughter without allowing her to avoid washing her hair when it is lank with grease and full of dandruff. And I require her to wear clean clothes even if she does love the outfit that is smeared with food.

    The other day I was hearing a conversation about the newest thing in playground design – allowing for danger. The idea is that kids that are playing in a place where decisions could be harmful quickly learn to not do harmful things. So teeter-totters may return, along with those spinning platforms. Perhaps as an appreciation for consequences returns, we will be able to return to a world where choices matter and are seen as important.

    Also, Emi, I don’t sit by idlely as people fall away. Speaking of which, have you read my book about Joseph Smith? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can search for any post by me and the link to the book is in the “About the Author” summary at the end.

    Most people don’t know enough about our past to do anything other than stand mutely by when folks get twisted up by history and stuff. Me, on the other hand, I’m glad to engage as long as the discourse is respectful. In fact, I enjoy challenges, unless the person interacting with me is abusive and irrational.

  14. This post was fantastic. I particularly love the steelman approach. If I can’t articulate my opponent’s best argument, I certainly have no hope of refuting it.

    Jettboy, It’s easy to be cavalier when people I disagree with stop attending church, but I find the “Let them leave” attitude is directly contradicted by Elder Holland’s impassioned pleas of “don’t you dare bail” and “stay in the boat”.

  15. The difference is that Elder Holland is talking to the person jumping ship.

    There are times when it is not our prerogative to prevent someone from jumping ship. And sometime, when we’ve made a Federal case about the situation, we make it that much harder for someone to simply wander back home.

  16. “…, for they were all wrong; …” JS History 1:19.

    I’ve always parsed that as the “all” modifying “they” not “wrong.”

    “All wrong”, meaning 100% wrong, or wrong about everything, is a more modern construct than the first half of the 19th century. Can someone with a linguistics background confirm that?

    “all their creeds” is clear.

    But “… those professors were all corrupt;” is perhaps as ambiguous as “they were all wrong”. You can just as easily parse it as “all” applying to “those professors” as to “corrupt.”

    JS adopted a more formal tone, or his scribes added in the tone, when writing/dictating for publication. “All” applying/modifying the antecedent/subject, not what follows, was a more formal way of speaking, perhaps conforming to the Early Modern English that was still somewhat extant in Northeastern US, and what JS “picked up” in his translation work.

    If my parsing is correct we need to give some slack to both the jingoist Mormons for their incorrect parsing, and to Givens too, for implying that the prophet misquoted or misspoke.

    Had I been on the “board of editors” for M*, I would have voted for withholding Davidson’s guest post until he reworked it according to the basic or minimum apologetic standards/style one comes to expect at M*, such as what Geoff B and J Max have pointed out in response to the original OP.

    If such a reworking is not feasible or not desired by the author, then a post with a link to the author’s blog might be more appropriate.

    Years ago, Bruce Nielson/Nielsen wrote a long post on the very points J Max covers. IMO, Bruce generally went a bit too far in jumping through diplomatic/couching-phrase hoops. But, Mike, I think J Max is right, you were too uncharitable in parsing him, and assuming too many things he left unstated, or that were not covered in the excerpt.

    Givens is doing what other authors have done in response to the topic of faith crisis, “pace and lead”. I commented on this in regard to someone else just a few months ago. Givens agrees that their concerns or questions have some sort of basis, whether their conclusions are correct or not. He’s “speaking their language” or “meeting them where they are”. That’s the “pace” part.

    But the question is, and I guess we have to read Givens’ whole book to find out, is: “Okay then, where is he _leading_ them?”

    A certain now-excommunicated “faith crisis counselor” basically told people (at the start) “you can/should stay in the church even if you don’t believe JS and successors were real prophets.” But what he actually did was -confirm- peoples’ doubts as to Joseph Smith. His actual non-believing stance was given in non-scripted podcasts and lectures (no transcripts), and was almost totally hidden in accessible postings.

    So where is Givens -leading- people? Is it back to a belief in JS and successors as inspired/legitimate prophets who have been occassionally misunderstood by some unsophisticated (viewing everything in black/white) and jingoistic members? Is he building up faith or quenching it?

    Meg’s recent book built up my faith, and gave me faithful answers to the questions I had about Joseph’s polygamy versus Brigham’s polygamy. It also totally unpacked/explicated/untangled the “spiritual wifery” accusations from real sealing/eternal marriage/eternity-only-sealing.

    meg’s picture of that sits much better with me, and seems more faithful than the wishy-washy “professional historians'” picture.

    Apologetics is really about _plausibility_, not proof.


  17. Apologetics is really about _plausibility_, not proof.

    The bottom line, or “proof”, is testimony, spiritual things are spiritually discerned, as Paul wrote.

    I have received personal revelation. (I don’t always respond correctly.) Much of it unbidden, some of it giving me cause for great awe and wonder when it “works out.”

    When I ponder that such a slothful and unprofitable servant as I receive revelation/guidance, I realize how much more guidance and revelation that far worthier and more dedicated men, who have such a broader and deeper scope of responsibility, must be receiving. If I’m getting this little bit, in these types of circumstances, and in these various forms/methods/types of revelation, then WOW, the Brethren (and GAs, AAs, SPs, bishops, etc.) must be receiving even more, in even more ways, and even more clearly.

    Those who discount the prophets are essentially admiting that they themselves aren’t receiving revelation. Because if they did, they would “know how it works.”

  18. I am currently working through the Givens’ book “The Christ who Heals” the principle thesis of which is that as Later-day Saint’s we are still to caught up in the false traditions of our fathers, specifically the language used to talk about the atonement and God in those creeds and confessions, to really appreciate or make use of the radicalness of the revelation given to Joseph about the nature and mission of Christ. That we are not sufficiently aware of our difference rather than trying to show how we are just the same.

  19. From the introduction.
    “A wholesale restoration would not be needed if nineteenth-century Christology had not been lacking plain and precious truths. We believe it was. The Lord’s message to Joseph in the grove, using disturbingly stark language, was that certain crucial creedal declarations about Christian fundamentals were devastatingly, destructively wrong.”

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