nephi_EDITED

Nephi writing.

compiled by Fred W. Anson
Latter-day Saints like to describe the Lord’s restoration and/or continuing revelation as “line upon line, precept upon precept”. Here’s how this phrase appears in the Book of Mormon (italics added for emphasis):

2 Nephi 28
29
Wo be unto him that shall say: We have received the word of God, and we need no more of the word of God, for we have enough!
30 For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.
31 Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or shall hearken unto the precepts of men, save their precepts shall be given by the power of the Holy Ghost.

Like the Book of Mormon, this phrase only appears in one place in the Bible – twice in Isaiah chapter 28. Here’s the passage for your reference (again italics added for emphasis):

Isaiah 28 KJV
5 In that day shall the Lord of hosts be for a crown of glory, and for a diadem of beauty, unto the residue of his people,
6 And for a spirit of judgment to him that sitteth in judgment, and for strength to them that turn the battle to the gate.
7 But they also have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of the way; the priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink, they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment.
8 For all tables are full of vomit and filthiness, so that there is no place clean.
9 Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts.
10 For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:
11 For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people.
12 To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear.
13 But the word of the Lord was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken.

So you see, in that biblical passage, “line upon line, precept upon precept” Isaiah is saying that God’s people are under His judgment and His curse rather than under His blessing and favor. Paraphrasing, it means, “Your hearts and minds and the minds of your leaders are so dull and slow that I have to teach you like a small child or like a drunken, irrational fool who must be spoken to slowly and distinctly so that you ‘get it’ – that is, word-by-word and guideline-by-guideline.”

And then the Lord goes on to declare judgment on these dim-witted people who are rejecting His clear warning. Again paraphrasing, “And since I can’t seem to get through to you all doing this, maybe the foreign-tongued invaders that I’m sending in judgment upon you will get my words and requirements through your thick skulls after you’ve been captured and conquered!”

This, friends is a mocking and pointed declaration of judgment on Isaiah’s audience, it is not a nice sweet little sermon about the Lord’s will unfolding via continuing revelation. God is expressing His frustration with His covenant people in the harshest, most direct, and graphic terms possible. He is calling them immature, idiotic fools publicly, right out loud, and to their face. This is even clearer in the NIV translation of the Bible (yet again, italics added for emphasis):

Isaiah 28 NIV
5 In that day the Lord Almighty will be a glorious crown, a beautiful wreath for the remnant of his people. 6 He will be a spirit of justice to the one who sits in judgment, a source of strength to those who turn back the battle at the gate.
7 And these also stagger from wine and reel from beer: Priests and prophets stagger from beer and are befuddled with wine; they reel from beer, they stagger when seeing visions, they stumble when rendering decisions. 8 All the tables are covered with vomit and there is not a spot without filth.
9 “Who is it he is trying to teach? To whom is he explaining his message? To children weaned from their milk, to those just taken from the breast? 10 For it is: Do this, do that, a rule for this, a rule for that; a little here, a little there.”
11 Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues God will speak to this people, 12 to whom he said, “This is the resting place, let the weary rest”; and, “This is the place of repose”— but they would not listen. 13 So then, the word of the Lord to them will become: Do this, do that, a rule for this, a rule for that; a little here, a little there— so that as they go they will fall backward; they will be injured and snared and captured.

As well-known Bible Expositor, John MacArthur observes regarding the key points in this passage:

28:6 spirit of justice. In that day of Messiah’s reign, the empowering Spirit will prevail in bringing justice to the world (cf. 11: 2).
28: 7 priest… prophet… err. Drunkenness had infected even the religious leadership of the nation, resulting in false spiritual guidance of the people.
28: 8 no place is clean. When leaders wallowed in filth, what hope did the nation have?
28: 9 weaned from milk. The drunken leaders resented it when Isaiah and other true prophets treated them as toddlers, by reminding them of elementary truths of right and wrong.
28:10 precept upon precept… there a little. This is the drunkard’s sarcastically mocking response to corrective advice from the prophet. Transliterated, the Hebrew monosyllables are Sav lasav, sav lasav, Kav lakav, kav lakav, Ze’er sham, ze’er sham. These imitations of a young child’s babbling ridicule Isaiah’s preaching.
28:11 another tongue. Since the drunkards would not listen to God’s prophet, he responded to them by predicting their subservience to Assyrian taskmasters, who would give them instructions in a foreign language. The NT divulges an additional meaning of this verse that anticipates God’s use of the miraculous gift of tongues as a credential of His NT messengers (see notes on 1 Cor. 14: 21, 22; cf. Deut. 28: 49; Jer. 5: 15; 1 Cor. 14: 21).
28:12 the rest… the refreshing… not hear. In simple language they could understand, God offered them relief from their oppressors, but they would not listen.
28: 13 Precept upon precept… there a little. In light of their rejection, the Lord imitated the mockery of the drunkards in jabber they could not understand (see v.10).
(NKJV, The MacArthur Study Bible, eBook: Revised and Updated Edition (Kindle Locations 107516-107537). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition)

And renowned Bible Scholar, D.A. Carson and the team of the NIV Zondervan Study Bible confirm, validate and agree with Mr. MacArthur’s analysis in their own award-winning Study Bible:

28:5– 6 Chs. 28– 33 alternate between representing the false leadership of humans and the true leadership of God. It begins here briefly and continues with larger and larger segments. Ephraim’s (and Judah’s) true “wreath” is “the LORD Almighty” (see notes on 1: 9, 24). He can inspire both civil and military leaders.
28:5 remnant. … The drunkenness described here is probably both metaphoric and literal. Because these leaders are selfishly motivated, they are blind to the truth of God’s revelation (29: 9), but they are also prone to the kind of self-indulgence that results in the abuse of alcohol.
28:9– 10 Having no real experience or understanding of God, all the leaders can offer the people are prescriptions from the law to be learned by rote. The Hebrew of v. 10 may well be a mockery of the rote repetitions the leaders offer…
28:11– 13 Since the people “would not listen” (v. 12) to the words of their true leaders, God would turn them over to the Assyrians, who spoke with “foreign lips” (v. 11).
(The NIV Zondervan Study Bible, eBook: Built on the Truth of Scripture and Centered on the Gospel Message (Kindle Locations 161305-161318). Zondervan. Kindle Edition)

Clearly, there is a consensus here on what the term, “For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little,” meant during Isaiah’s day.

So based on all this expert witness testimony, here’s the question for our Mormon friends: Could you please explain to us how Nephi’s use of the phrase “line upon line, precept upon precept” in 2 Nephi 28:30 isn’t indicative of a people under God’s curse rather than His blessing? Given this what does this say about the state of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Is it possible that it too is under God’s judgment and/or curse?

I can’t help but wonder if Latter-day Saints and their church should rethink using this plagiarized and misused biblical phrase, let alone base any doctrine on it given its real and intention and meaning.

It does tend to make one ponderize, doesn’t it?

A mosaic featuring Isaiah.

Abusing James

Posted: April 28, 2019 in Mormon Studies, Susan Grape
Why the Book of James Doesn’t Support Mormon
“Faith without Works is Dead” Arguments

“Saint James of Jerusalem, Brother of Our Lord Jesus Christ and Martyr” (Greek Icon Painting, artist unknown)

by Susan Grape
INTRODUCTION
Mormons believe that “Faith without works is dead”; therefore, salvation/eternal life is not by grace alone (James 2:14, 17, 20, 24). Christians almost always use Ephesians 2:8-9 to refute this. Instead of refuting this with Ephesians 2:8-9, use the unpredictable—James’ epistle. Several specifics affirm that James was admonishing weakened believers to justify their faith, and not instructing them about keeping or receiving eternal life.

HISTORICAL SETTING
James wrote to Jews who had “scattered abroad” due to persecution which arose under King Agrippa I. They were beaten, imprisoned, and some were martyred (Acts 7-8:1). Thus, they stopped doing the works they did when they lived in Jerusalem. There, they established a ministry for widows (Acts 6:1-7) and sold everything they had for the common good. The Church grew quickly because of their love (Acts 4-5). At some point, the outward proof of their faith was replaced with living for personal gain (James 1:9-11, 27, 2:8-9, 4:13-5:1-5), and they became double-minded (1:9-10; 4:3-4; 8-11; 5:4-6).

EPISTLE’S THEME
Not once did James ever explain how to receive eternal life, or that these believers lost their eternal life. On the contrary, he called them brothers (1:2, 16, 19; 2:1, 5, 14; 3:1; 4:11; 5:7, 10, 12, 19) throughout his “wake up call” rebuke (1:26-2:1-26), which exposed their deadened faith and impelled them to live like they once did.

CONTEXT
The meaning of the “faith without works” phrases is based in this background, and also the examples they are embedded in. Each phrase is explained with an example of a person being “justified” (Gk. dikaioo) as in to verify or vindicate. “dikaioo” means:

dikaioo (1344) primarily “to deem to be right,” signifies, in the NT, (a) “to show to be right or righteous”; in the passive voice, to be justified, Matt. 11:19; Luke 7:35; Rom. 3:4; 1 Tim. 3:16; (b) “to declare to be righteous, to pronounce righteous,” (1) by man, concerning God, Luke 7:29 (see Rom. 3:4, above); concerning himself, Luke 10:29; 16:15; (2) by God concerning men, who are declared to be righteous before Him on certain conditions laid down by Him.
(W.E. Vine, “Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words: With Topical Index (Word Study)”, Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition, position 32421; also see Strong’s #1344

Abraham’s “work” was justified as in verification, not salvation (2:21-23) and Rahab was vindicated, not made righteous (2:25-26). Why verify and vindicate, and not salvation? Because human sacrifice, lying, and betrayal are not “good” works, and therefore could never EARN eternal life! (They do, however, prove where one stands.)

James’ exhortation of proving ones’ faith does not contradict the Biblical essential that salvation is through grace/faith alone. Rather, it reiterates that works are a product of faith, and not what obtains or secures eternal life (Eph. 2:10).

Just prior to the “faith without works” phrases, James writes, “If someone breaks Law, the whole Law is broke” which clearly tells us that obeying the Law will not appease or atone for the commandments we have broken; therefore good works will not cover our sins thus earning eternal life.

James 2:14, 17, 20, 24 affirms that James was admonishing weakened believers to justify their faith; and not instructing them about keeping or earning eternal life.

Here, for easy reference (and for your copy and paste use in dialoguing with Mormons online) is the entire second chapter of the Book of James from the King James Version of the Bible.

James 2 (King James Version)
My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons.
For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment;
And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool:
Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?
Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?
But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats?
Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?
If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well:
But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.
10 For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.
11 For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.
12 So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.
13 For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.
14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?
15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,
16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?
17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.
19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?
21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?
23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.
24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?
26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

About the Author
Susan Grape grew up in a non-church going family. When she became engaged, her fiancé (now husband) and she joined a Christian church. As she was learning about the Bible and Jesus, several friends, and relatives who were either Mormon, Jehovah’s Witnesses or Christian Scientist shared their beliefs with her and challenged her to the point that she knew that their doctrine was different enough to question that someone (perhaps herself) had to be wrong. When Mormon missionaries and Jehovah’s Witnesses came to her home, it forced her to study the scriptures to see what the Bible actually taught. That very intense time of studying gave her the evidence for what Biblical truth is. It sparked the desire to reach out to these groups with the Biblical gospel and the Biblical Christ.

Mrs. Grape served as a board member for ten years with Berean Christian Ministries and she currently is in her eleventh year of serving on the board of Christian Research & Counsel. Her husband Brad also is on the board. The Grape’s adult children are professing Christians, and their grandchildren are also being raised in the faith.

800px-Wenceslas_Hollar_-_Abimelech_rebuking_Abraham_(State_2)

Wenceslaus Hollar (1607–1677), “Abimelech Rebuking Abraham”

by Fred W. Anson
One of the most interesting differences between Mormonism and mainstream Christianity is how the Mormon god not only excuses lying but commands it. Please consider this passage from the Pearl of Great Price:

And it came to pass when I was come near to enter into Egypt, the Lord said unto me: Behold, Sarai, thy wife, is a very fair woman to look upon;

Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see her, they will say — She is his wife; and they will kill you, but they will save her alive; therefore see that ye do on this wise:
Let her say unto the Egyptians, she is thy sister, and thy soul shall live.

And it came to pass that I, Abraham, told Sarai, my wife, all that the Lord had said unto me — Therefore say unto them, I pray thee, thou art my sister, that it may be well with me for thy sake, and my soul shall live because of thee.
(Book of Abraham 2:22-25)

But in the Bible the story is different. Notice how not only does God not command Abraham to lie, but actually sets it up so that his lie is publicly exposed in a humiliating manner to teach him a lesson:

And Abraham journeyed from there to the South, and dwelt between Kadesh and Shur, and stayed in Gerar. Now Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah.

But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, “Indeed you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.”But Abimelech had not come near her; and he said, “Lord, will You slay a righteous nation also? Did he not say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she, even she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and innocence of my hands I have done this.”

And God said to him in a dream, “Yes, I know that you did this in the integrity of your heart. For I also withheld you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her. Now therefore, restore the man’s wife; for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you shall live. But if you do not restore her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.”

So Abimelech rose early in the morning, called all his servants, and told all these things in their hearing; and the men were very much afraid. And Abimelech called Abraham and said to him, “What have you done to us? How have I offended you, that you have brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? You have done deeds to me that ought not to be done.” Then Abimelech said to Abraham, “What did you have in view, that you have done this thing?”

And Abraham said, “Because I thought, surely the fear of God is not in this place; and they will kill me on account of my wife. But indeed she is truly my sister. She is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife. And it came to pass, when God caused me to wander from my father’s house, that I said to her, ‘This is your kindness that you should do for me: in every place, wherever we go, say of me, “He is my brother.”’
(Genesis 20:1-13 NKJV)

As I said in one of my articles regarding the moral and ethical disparity between the two accounts:

That passage is troubling because it portrays the Mormon god giving a divine directive to Abraham that he lie to Pharoah in a manner that’s quite similar to the way he instructed Nephi to murder Laban. This is in direct violation of the moral criteria that the Jewish God established in the Bible via the 10 Commandments and the Mormon god reinforced via The Book of Mormon. Further, and as a practical matter, it’s vexing because I’ve found that some Mormons use it as a divine justification for lying. In other words, Book of Mormon “Blood Atonement” meet Book of Abraham “Lying for the Lord”.
(Fred W. Anson, “Lying for the Lord: A Grassroots Tale”)

Friends, the Bible is brutally honest. It tells it like it is without whitewash or spin doctoring:

  • Adam and Eve are rebels who corrupted and broke the cosmos through disobedience.
  • Abraham was a liar and someone who created on-going animosity and turmoil in the Middle East that continues until today by taking matters into his own hands having Ishmael via surrogacy with Hagar rather than trusting God.
  • Jacob was a cheater, manipulator, and the polygamous father of a huge, unruly, dysfunctional family.
  • Joseph was such a spoiled braggart that his own brothers wanted to murder him.
  • Shiphrah and Puah, the two Jewish midwives in Egypt lied to Pharoah.
  • Moses was disobedient to God and paid for it with his life and by never entering the Land of Promise.
  • Rahab was a prostitute who lied about the Hebrew spies that she had hidden on her roof.
  • Samson was a fornicator and a fool.
  • Saul was crazed, demon possessed, and insecure.
  • David was a polygamous adulterer, murderer, and ineffective father.
  • Solomon was a polygamist who collected women in direct violation of God’s law – and was seduced into idolatry by those same said women.
  • Ezekiel was a self-righteous Drama Queen.
  • John the Baptist had doubts about Jesus.
  • Peter was an impulsive loudmouth, and a Jewish bigot, who betrayed Jesus three times in one night.
  • The Apostle Paul persecuted Christ’s Church and was an accomplice in the murder of Stephen.

I can go on and on and on, but I think that you get the point. And yet all these men went on to be shown grace, and favor by God despite their glaring flaws! I think it’s safe to say that if God can save these losers, He can save you or me, right?

So when you see sinners doing what they do best in the Bible (sinning) it’s not an endorsement of sin, it’s just proof positive that God can redeem anyone or anything.

And just as lying was not okay for Abraham, neither is it OK for us.  You have God’s Word on it!

LDS President, Russell M. Nelson in prayer.

A Spring General Conference 2019 Exclusive Special Edition Editorial

by Michael Flournoy
Popular Latter-day Saint blogger and Mormon Apologist  Greg Trimble recently published an article entitled, “Take it Easy on President Nelson”, and I would like to echo his sentiments. That’s right, an ex-Mormon like me is calling for the masses to give President Nelson the benefit of the doubt.

Mr. Trimble begins by saying, “I woke up to what I considered some good news from the Church yesterday. But along with it, for some reason, came also a slew of negativity toward the prophet and the apostles.”

I completely and utterly share in his shock. The negativity makes no sense. To illustrate, imagine that Planned Parenthood suddenly reversed their policies and refused to participate in the murder of the unborn. What a day right? Christians would parade in the streets! I mean, forget the fact that Planned Parenthood participated in millions of abortions. Their good would certainly outweigh the bad.

So it is with the LDS church. Yes, back in November 2015 they instituted the policy that children of gay parents could not be baptized, and a lot of people committed suicide because of the hurt this policy imparted, but who cares about that? The church has decided to stand for a good principle, and I applaud them.

Mr. Trimble continues, “Can you imagine the immense pressure they feel as they literally spend their entire lives trying to make the right decision for so many people and knowing that no matter what they do, there is going to be a huge segment of people who are going to be hurt, offended, or angry about their decision? These men are in their 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s.”

Again, Mr. Trimble hits it out of the park. I mean, yes, in theory, it should be easy for the prophet to hear from God and then do it. But do you know how hard it is to hear the still small voice when you’re over 90-years old? It’s stressful when you can’t tell if God said the original policy was “his will” or “evil”. I can totally understand why Russell M. Nelson or any prophet would have sleepless nights over that.

Mr. Trimble makes a solid point that there are a lot of things we don’t know. It’s so easy to pin the blame on President Nelson when he could be innocent.

He says, “We don’t know what is going on behind the scenes. We don’t know what situations might have arisen that might have caused the policies of the past. We don’t know what information they have when these decisions are being made. We don’t know if it was a ‘revelation’ regarding the policy or just an honest mistake.”

While all of these are valid options, I think Mr. Trimble is downplaying the greatness of President Nelson. Here’s what we know. When the original policy was unveiled, Russell M. Nelson said it was “the will of the Lord”, and that “each of [them] during that sacred moment felt a spiritual confirmation.” (see (Russell M. Nelson, “An Evening with President Russell M. Nelson”, Worldwide Devotional for Young Adults, January 10, 2016, Brigham Young University–Hawaii)

God clearly commanded the original policy that denied baptism for children of LBGTQ parents. But as we all know, even the man upstairs makes mistakes sometimes. All of us, including God, are all on a path to greater knowledge, perfection, and glory. When God repents, the prophet has a sacred duty to take the fall for him.

It takes an unfathomable amount of courage to take one for the team when God misleads his people. So, for all the haters out there, I say leave Nelson alone. He’s a good man, doing his best to keep up with a bipolar Mormon deity. And to Russell M. Nelson I give a standing ovation and shout, “Praise to the man!”

About the Author
Michael Flournoy served a two-year mission for the LDS Church where he helped organize three Mormon/Evangelical dialogues and has participated in debate at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Born into Mormonism, Mr. Flournoy converted to Evangelical Christianity in 2016. Among his many friends, Mr. Flournoy is also known for his dry sense of humor in general and his mastery of biting satire in particular. 

Bo Bartlett, “Forge (Swords Into Plowshares)” (2008)

by Keith Walker
I belong to a number of private Facebook groups populated by Mormons and Christians. One Mormon apologist asked the group members a good question. He asked, “How did you come to hold the religious worldview that you presently occupy?” The instant thought in my mind was, “I worked for it.” I was immediately struck by the irony of my answer, especially when you take into consideration that it was a Mormon who asked the question.

There is a dichotomy of belief between Mormon and Christian thought and this question, and my answer, exposed exactly how different we are and to what depths that difference extends. What I meant by my answer is that I have put a great deal of time and energy into studying, not only what I believe, but why I believe it. I believe it because I worked hard for it. I worked hard to understand it. The Bible is replete with admonition to early Christians to, “test yourselves to see if you are in the faith” (1 Corinthians 13:5), “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1), “examine the scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11), “examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). The outcome of such study is described in Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.” In other words, the Christian faith is a reality and there is proof for it, sound reasons to believe it.

What is true about Christianity, and what I have proved to myself about it, is that we do not, nor can we ever, reconcile ourselves to God through our works (Titus 3:5-7). Our works, our performance, our faithfulness, our behavior, has nothing to do with it. The only thing I contributed toward my salvation was the need for it (Romans 3:23). My works, my righteous deeds, are filthy rags and earn me death (Isaiah 64:6, Romans 6:23). This is what I deserve.

What I don’t deserve is to be saved despite my unrighteous works (Ephesians 2:1-9). In fact, the bible says that God justifies, or declares righteous, those who do not work (Romans 4:4-6). The bible mentions two kinds of righteousness in Romans chapter 10, God’s righteousness and our own. Verse three says that if we are seeking to establish our own righteousness, then we are not subjecting ourselves to the righteousness of God. We will either stand before God attempting to establish our own righteousness, (filthy rags, Isaiah 64:6) or we will subject ourselves to the righteousness of God. In other words, we need to repent of our righteousness and accept the righteousness of God provided for us through Jesus! Second Corinthians 5:21 explains that Jesus took on our sin, “so that, we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Our righteousness is insufficient. God will reject it outright. It is only the work of Jesus Christ on my behalf that God accepts. To believe otherwise is to trample under foot the Son of God, consider His blood unclean, and insult the Spirit of grace (Hebrews 10:29).

Mormonism works (pun intended), the opposite way. The only test for faith that prospective Mormons are encouraged to pursue is found in Moroni 10:3-5. Investigators are told to “ask, ponder and pray” and if they do so with real intent, then God will reveal the truth of Mormonism to them by the Holy Ghost. I have had many Mormons testify to me that they have received a spiritual witness, described as a beautiful feeling, that Mormonism is true.

Investigators of Mormonism are not encouraged to test Mormonism by other means. History, archaeology, textual criticism of the Book of Mormon, prophecy, Joseph Smith’s polygamy or criminal activities, none of it matters when compared to the inward, subjective testimony of what is believed to be the Holy Ghost. Not even the bible.

I had one Mormon lady tell me that I could hand her a “stack of facts” proving that Mormonism was false, but she would still believe Mormonism because of her spiritual witness. Note that she did not say, stack of evidence. She said stack of facts. Speaking from more than 25 years’ experience of talking with Mormons, this is not an uncommon sentiment. There is no work, in the sense of study or research, that Mormons are encouraged to pursue for the purpose of strengthening their faith like they are encouraged to pray. Granted, some Mormons do study and research, but what they learn through these disciplines is always subject to how it makes them feel. Their study is subjected to their feelings instead of having their feelings subjected to their study.

Ironically, Mormons believe hard to believe, as opposed to work hard to believe. The book of Mormon redefines faith as incomplete knowledge. Alma 32:21 says, “And now as I said concerning faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.” In other words, you need to believe something is true without any proof, otherwise, what you believe isn’t done so with faith. Verse 27 of the same chapter explains. “But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.” Before you can believe Mormonism is true, you have to desire to believe that Mormonism is true. If you follow this prescribed manner of “belief,” then you will come to “know” that Mormonism is true.

Contrary to the Biblical gospel message, Mormons believe their personal works contribute towards their being forgiven. This is one of the many things they “know” is true about Mormonism. In Mormonism, being reconciled to God is not done as a gift, it is done based on their works. Many Mormons would disagree with that last sentence, but the testimony of Mormon leaders is clear.

“The gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God unto salvation, and it is absolutely necessary for every man and woman in the Church of Christ to work righteousness, to observe the laws of God, and keep the commandments that he has given, in order that they may avail themselves of the power of God unto salvation in this life” (Teachings Of Presidents Of The Church, Joseph F. Smith, p. 243).

“The Lord will bless us to the degree to which we keep His commandments. Nephi … said: ‘For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do. (2 Nephi 25:23.) The Savior’s blood, His atonement, will save us, but only after we have done all we can to save ourselves by keeping His commandments” (Teachings of The Presidents of The Church, Harold B. Lee, p.24).

In an April 1998 General Conference address, which messages are treated by Mormons as new scripture, Mormon apostle Dallin H. Oaks said, “As to salvation from sin and the consequences of sin, our answer to the question of whether or not we have been saved is “yes, but with conditions.” Our third article of faith declares our belief: ‘We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.’”

Notice the constant theme. Mormons are told they must keep commandments, do all they can do, and that they are saved by their obedience. Mormons work hard because of what they believe. Here is the contrast. Christians work for what we believe, but what we believe cannot be worked for. We work for our faith (belief system), then believe it. Mormons believe their faith (belief system), then work for it. The difference is, Christians are told to test their beliefs to see if it is true, whereas Mormons are taught to believe it and then they will know it is true. This does not line up with what Jesus did in the first chapter of Acts for those who doubted in His resurrection. He did not tell them to pray and believe. Verse three states, “To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.” Christian faith is an objective faith, there are reasons for it and there is proof. If you don’t study, test and question, but just believe, your faith is dead. It isn’t living and active. It is lifeless and rote.

Caravaggio, “The Incredulity of Saint Thomas” (c. 1601-1602)

About the Author
Keith Walker is the President of Evidence Ministries. He was born in Michigan City, Indiana in 1967, born again in Rochester, New York in 1988 and has lived in San Antonio, Texas since 1992. Keith has a twisted sense of humor, a strong sense of justice and an unusual way of looking at things.  His favorite book of the Bible is Romans, favorite color is tye-dye, and likes to compete in USPSA sanctioned handgun matches at the Bullethole Shooting Range.  At present, he is a “C” class Production shooter.

Keith’s personal goals are to raise a God-fearing family, mentor his children to be noticeably different Christians, read the Bible through once every year, increase his handgun proficiency and read one book a month. His spiritual goals are to live a life that will count for something and impact others long after God calls him home. Keith’s gravestone will read: Keith Walker, Born: 9/24/1967, Born Again 9/16/1988, Died: Date, When Jesus comes, I’ll be back.

How Mormons Abuse Paul’s Use of Pagan Sources in Acts 17:28

A marble bust of Cleanthes

compiled by Fred W. Anson
The Gospel According to St. Cleanthes
One of favorite responses when a Mormon cites Acts 17:28 (“For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.”) is to simply ask, “Oh, and since you think that Paul was endorsing Cleanthes’ ‘Hymn to Zeus’ by citing from it in the latter citation (“ For we are also his offspring“)1 are you also suggesting that he was endorsing it as divinely inspired scripture?” Then I give them the entire poem. Here it is, with the text that Paul cited italicized for emphasis:

Hymn to Zeus
by Cleanthes (c. 300 – 220 B.C.)
O God most glorious, called by many a name,
Nature’s great King, through endless years the same;
Omnipotence, who by your just decree
Controls all, hail, Zeus, for unto you
Must your creatures in all lands call.

We are your children, we alone, of all
On earth’s broad ways that wander to and fro,
Bearing your image wheresoever we go.
Wherefore with songs of praise your power I will proclaim.

Look! yonder Heaven, that round the earth is wheeled,
Follows your guidance, still to you does yield.

Glad homage; your unconquerable hand
Such flaming minister, the heftless brand,
Wields, a sword two-edged, whose deathless might
Pulsates through all that
Nature brings to light;
Vehicle of the universal word, that flows
Through all, and in the light celestial glows
Of stars both great and small.

A King of Kings
Through ceaseless ages,
God, whose purpose brings
To birth, whatever on land or in the sea
Is wrought, or in high heaven’s immensity;
Save what the sinner works infatuate.

No, but you know how to make the crooked straight:
Chaos to you is order; in your eyes
The unloved is lovely, who did harmonize
Things evil with things good, that there should be
One word through all things everlastingly.

One word – whose voice alas! the wicked spurn;
Insatiate for the good their spirits yearn:
Yet seeing see not, neither hearing hear
God’s universal law, which those revere,
by reason guided, happiness who win.

The rest, unreasoning, diverse shapes of sin
Self-prompted follow: for an idle name
Vainly they wrestle in the contests of fame:
Others inordinately riches court,
Or dissolute, the joys of flesh pursue.

Now here, now there they wander, fruitless still,
Forever seeking good and finding ill.

Zeus the all-bountiful, whom darkness shrouds,
Whose lightning lightens in the thunder-clouds;
Your children save from error’s deadly sway;
Turn you the darkness from their souls away:
Vouchsafe that unto knowledge they attain;
For you by knowledge are made strong to reign
Overall, and all things rule righteously.

So by you honored, we will honor thee,
Praising your works continually with songs,
As mortals should; nor higher reward belongs
Even to the gods, than justly to adore
The universal law for evermore.

A bust of Epimenides.

The Gospel According to St. Epimenides
The first pagan source cited in Acts 17:28 (“For in him we live and move and have our being.’”) is Epimenides (c. 7th or 6th century BC). The passage is from Epimenides’ “Minos and Rhadamanthus”. Unfortunately, none of Epimenides’ works have survived, but thankfully a passage has been found cited in the Syrian lectionary Garden of Delights and in a 9th-century commentary on Acts by Isho’dad of Merv. Translated into English, it reads like this. And again I have italicized the text that Paul used for emphasis:

A grave has been fashioned for thee, O holy and high One,
The lying Cretans, who are all the time liars, evil beasts, idle bellies;
But thou diest not, for to eternity thou livest and standest,
For in thee we live and move and have our being.

By the way, the “O holy and high One” being referred to is Zeus, just so that there’s no misunderstanding. Clearly, this provenance is too complex to use effectively with Mormons in short, conversational discussions. However, you can refer them to the following article (which I used as my primary source for this section on Epimenides) for a full explanation if you wish to: “Lying Cretans and Unknown Gods: Allusions to Epimenides in the New Testament” on the “Is That in the Bible?” blog site.

The Gospel According to St. Paul
So with that background let’s consider how Paul actually used these pagan sources on Mars Hills, with the text discussed above italicized for emphasis:

Acts 17 (KJV)
16 Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.
17 Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him.
18 Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection.
19 And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is?
20 For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean.
21 (For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.)
22 Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.
23 For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, To The Unknown God. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.
24 God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands;
25 Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things;
26 And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;
27 That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:
28 For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.
29 Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.
30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:
31 Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.
32 And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter.
33 So Paul departed from among them.
34 Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed: among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.

As the text clearly states, Paul’s audience was wholly pagan. Therefore, given the underlying nature of the citations combined with the nature of his audience, he clearly was simply using a common point of reference to make his point. As William MacDonald notes in his commentary:

17:28b To further emphasize the relationship of the creature to the Creator, Paul quoted from some of their Greek poets, who said, “For we are also His offspring.” This is not to be interpreted as teaching the brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of God. We are the offspring of God in the sense that He created us, but we only become sons of God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

17:29 But Paul’s argument continues. If men are the offspring of God, then it is impossible to think of God as a gold or silver or stone idol. These are shaped by art and man’s devising, and therefore are not as great as men. These idols are, in a sense, the offspring of human beings, whereas the truth is that human beings are the creation of God.
(MacDonald, William. Believer’s Bible Commentary (p. 1625). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition)

To use a modern equivalent it was like when Billy Graham cited the secular song lyrics “What the world needs now is love, sweet love” (from a Dione Warwick song) and “The answer is blowing in the wind” (from a Bob Dylan song) to make his point in sermons during his 1969 Anaheim, California Crusades.2 In both cases, the intention wasn’t to endorse the sources, simply to establish a rhetorical connection with the listening audience from their cultural vantage point. To suggest anything more than that is exegetically unsustainable.

“Saint Paul delivering the Areopagus Sermon in Athens” by Raphael, 1515

NOTE
1 The other pagan work that’s often cited as a source for this latter citation is Aratus’ (c. 310-245 B.C.), Phaenomena from the opening lines which are as follows:

Let us begin with Zeus, whom we mortals never leave unspoken.
For every street, every market-place is full of Zeus.
Even the sea and the harbour are full of this deity.
Everywhere everyone is indebted to Zeus.
For we are indeed his offspring…
(Phaenomena 1-5)

That poetic text is, in my opinion, is too long and complex to use effectively with Mormons in a conversational type discussion, but if you would like to refer them to it, they will find a good English translation here (click on link).

Further, since it’s generally believed that Aratus and the other pagan sources that use the “we are indeed his offspring” were glossing on Cleanthes. Therefore, and in my opinion, it’s better to just go to the short and simple original source rather than those who quoted from him later.

2 I was at these crusades and I recall him using the lyrics something like this in his sermons, “Popular culture tells us that what the world needs now is love, sweet love. I couldn’t agree more because what we need now more than ever is the sweet love of the Savior.” He used the lyrics of the Dylan song something like this, “I agree with the singer who said that the answer is blowing in the wind. That wind is God’s Spirit. And if you’re listening, really listening, you will hear Him calling you to come to Him.” I’ve paraphrased both from memory, but to the best of my recollection that’s how I heard them used back in the day.

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Smoke, nothing but smoke. [That’s what the Quester says.]
There’s nothing to anything—it’s all smoke.
What’s there to show for a lifetime of work,
a lifetime of working your fingers to the bone?
One generation goes its way, the next one arrives,
But nothing changes—it’s business as usual for old
planet earth.
—Ecclesiastes 1:2-4 (The Message)

by Paul Nurnberg
Accepting the Labels
I’m a quester. A seeker. I accept those labels, because “he who seeks shall find.”1 Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Ecclesiastes renders the Hebrew qoheleth as “quester” (typically preacher). This word choice highlights a reality that surprised me as I completed graduate studies at a Christian seminary. Namely, many of my fellow students—often vocational ministers—were also seekers. That is, they were intensely interested in seeking and knowing God’s truth and had passed through crucibles of doubt and suffering that ultimately drew them closer to God. Such is true of most of the believers I count among my spiritual mentors. Petersen’s rendering of the opening verses of Solomon’s realist musings powerfully capture the tragic quest of seeking to know and grow closer to the heart of God and the disillusionment one feels when one’s faith universe implodes.

In 1984, Mormon thinker, professor, literary critic, and yes, theologian, Eugene England published his first collection of personal essays, Dialogues with Myself. In the first essay in that collection, “Joseph Smith and the Tragic Quest” England quotes from and shares his thoughts on an essay  entitled “Tragedy as Religious Paradox” by the former chairman of the English Department at BYU, P.A. Christensen:

. . . the emerging and unifying element in the richly diverse tragic tradition is the focus on that ultimate desolation, available to us all, when by accident or our own questing we come to feel “the universe has lost its meaning, its moral bearings, its spiritual security.” Tragic man, the subject of our greatest literature, unwilling to rest with simplistic and thus secure conceptions of the universe, pushes at the paradoxes of his mind and experience uncover, “lives precariously on the growing margin of knowledge,” and challenges—or obeys—the Gods of his conceptions in ways that bring, in either case, suffering and loss out of all proportion to his actions. Yet tragic man persists in testing the paradoxes and enduring the suffering. Perhaps he does so because that is the process of all significant learning, of breaking out of confining concepts, out of old seed husks into new life, the process of dying in the old man so a new one can be born; perhaps he does so because it is the ultimate way of courageously confronting the real universe.2

England’s life and letters have been celebrated by a certain subset of progressive and liberal Mormons since he co-founded Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought at Stanford in 1966. Since his death in 2001, younger generations of progressive Internet Mormons have paid homage to England through blog posts and podcasts.3

Mormon thinker, professor, literary critic, and theologian, Eugene England.

I learned of England’s writings posthumously. As a young LDS return missionary in 1999, I began a long quest of seeking and discovery. I began discussing Mormonism online—debating my beliefs and epistemology with others of similar disposition. In 2002, as my religious views began to lean towards the unorthodox in Mormonism, I was in spiritual turmoil. The universe was reeling. It was no longer a secure place. A friend recommended England’s book of essays Making Peace, which I purchased and devoured.

My journey has taken me out of the LDS Church, but the drawing of God to his Son, supported by the evidence for Christianity, has continued to be compelling and convincing to me. I’ve since found a new spiritual home. The tragic nature of being a quester is that one risks losing everything. Just ask Job! As an ex-Mormon, I’ve experienced my share of loss—of friends, of trust and intimacy in family relationships, and of community. Over the years, I’ve witnessed many other young Mormons go through their own quests, a few were family, friends or mission companions, some were merely online acquaintances—all tragic. Some have lost spouses and children to painful separation and divorce, some have lost their sense of community, and many have lost faith in God altogether.

If the above resonates with you, if the universe has lost its meaning, bearings and spiritual security; my hope is that you will decide to continue the tragic quest with me through this series of posts. I understand the pain, loneliness, fear, and rejection that comes from deconstructing one’s faith. I also know the comfort, companionship, assurance, and intimacy that comes from renewal of faith. I hope that you will one day find the words of my apostolic namesake to be as affirming of your journey and transformation as I do now— “. . . whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”4

Pinned to the Spot Where I Stood
My mind screamed: RUN! FIRE! GET OUT! For a moment, I stood there in the darkness—pinned to the spot where I stood by fear—however irrational it seemed. Smoke swirled around the neon green exit signs, glowing brightly, but providing no reassurance. I’d been to enough local rock concerts to recognize the unmistakable smell of artificial smoke and the hiss of smoke machines, but I should back up a bit.

When I was a sophomore in high school, the LDS Seminary teachers at my school in West Jordan, Utah planned a special devotional. In the days leading up to it, we were told that rather than meeting in our classrooms, we would meet in the large subdivided room that was used for devotionals. When the day arrived, I left the school building, crossing the parking lot to the seminary building.

The side entrance was locked, which was unusual. A seminary teacher standing nearby told me that I must enter through the front doors. This change in routine was confusing, but I made my way to the front of the building where a line was forming and waited with my classmates to get into the building.

The glass double doors were obscured. Smoke drifted from beneath a heavy black curtain, which was hung to block our view inside. The whole experience had an ominous feeling. Near the door stood another of the seminary teachers, admitting students one at a time through the curtain. I watched the teacher speak briefly to each student and admit one every thirty seconds or so.

I soon realized that whatever devotional the teachers had planned would not be completed in the fifty-five minutes allotted for third period, especially if they kept up the pace of one-by-one admittance. I wondered about the purpose of this exercise. When it was my turn to enter, the “seminary bouncer” greeted me and asked me to extend my right hand through the curtain. I was told that I would feel a guide take me by the hand, that I should trust the guide, and do as he instructed.

It was a surreal and somewhat unsettling experience, but I followed the instructions and reached my hand through the curtain. As soon as I did, someone inside grasped my hand and gently drew me into the building, which was smoky and dark, and my eyes struggled to adjust. My guide placed my hand on a cold railing, wrapping my fingers securely around it. He gave some brief, whispered instructions. “Hold fast the iron rod,” he said. “It will safely guide you through.” Then he left me. And that is when I stood in place, illogically terrified, before finally moving.

I lumbered through the dark, holding onto the rod, which led to the devotional room, where I was instructed to sit quietly and ponder the experience. A CD loop played Joseph L. Townsend’s Mormon hymn based on 1 Nephi, chapter 8 in the Book of Mormon:

Hold to the rod,
the iron rod;
‘Tis strong and bright and true.

The Iron Rod is the word of God;
‘Twill safely guide us through.5

At sixteen, I couldn’t really grasp the significance of that experience for my spiritual life. It was, at the time, a direct and physical experience with fear and despair—one paradoxically tied to my religious experience. Since then, it has come to be a formative event in my life of faith. Not because anything transcendent happened that day, but because of the experiences I’ve had in the ensuing years.

“Hold to the rod, the iron rod; ‘Tis strong and bright and true.”

Theologians Don’t Know Nothing
The seminal Wilco song Theologians begins with these enigmatic lyrics: “Theologians / They don’t know nothing / About my soul / About my soul. / I’m an ocean / Abyss in motion / Slow motion / Slow motion. / Inlitterati lumen fidei / God is with us everyday / That illiterate light / Is with us every night.”

That indecipherable Latin line leaves the listener deliberating just what Jeff Tweedy is lashing at. On one hand, he seems to be conveying a post-modern approach to truth, which disdains the idea that God has revealed propositional truths of the type that theologians discuss and define—or even that there is a God to reveal propositional truths. On the other, he seems to be suggesting that the light illiterate is with us every night as it was with the ancient Israelites.6

It’s a fascinating line, given that the title for their album A Ghost is Born is taken from the lyrics to this song and the lyrics contain a reference to Christ’s ascension. Perhaps, one should consider the text from the album’s cover design (Wilco ≤ A Ghost is Born) in light of John 8:12, the way Jesus in John’s gospel uses the theme of light to point back to the pillar of fire that led the Israelites in the wilderness by night, and John Lennon’s controversial statement to the effect that the Beatles were “bigger than Jesus now” to fully grasp what may be going on here.

In several ways, this song and the album cover art is a microcosm of my walk with God. Paul Nurnberg ≠ Jesus (see 1 Cor 2:2). Now seems like the right time to finally begin this series of posts that have been rattling around in my head and taking shape for two decades.

There’s the younger, Mormon me, who spent two years in a foreign land, wearing a white shirt and black name badge—peddling Mormonism’s unique brand of Christian Restorationism to the Hungarian people. The one who was serious and conscientious about his beliefs, while also a bit naïve and laissez-faire about his theology. The one crippled by doubt and feelings of unworthiness. The one who came back to the United States and spent well over a decade discussing and debating the merits and pitfalls of Mormon theology and culture in online forums before finally walking away—setting aside with full knowledge and agency the faith, the community, and the beliefs of his birth, all of which he’d once cherished. The one who understands the deconstructionist, “burn it down” skeptical nature of John Lennon.

And then there’s the middle-aged, non-denominational Evangelical Christian me, who watches with bewilderment and sadness as others, seemingly in increasing numbers, take a similar—and sometimes not so similar—path to mine, only in more public forums, and from more faith traditions than just Mormonism. The one who has graduated with an MDiv in Biblical Studies from Cincinnati Christian University. The one who loves the Bible and affirms it as God’s inerrant Word. The one who loves the writings of St. John of the Cross about darkness and spiritual growth. The one who understands the reconstructionist “find what’s burning inside me” nature of Jeff Tweedy. The one who is passionate about living the examined life; about integration and wholeness—the abundant life given me by that illiterate Light.

Ben Shahn, “Ecclesiastes Or, The Preacher”

Enemies to That Illiterate Light
There is something to Jeff Tweedy’s insistence: “that illiterate light / is with us every night.” Theologians aren’t the other. We’re all theologians. When we think about God, we’re all doing theology. The question is whether or not we do it well. Tweedy’s lyrics lead me to conclude the truth of this statement: “We have met the enemy, and the enemy is us.”7

Integrating the Tragic Quest
What is conceived here is a series of posts on reconstructing faith that I’ve named Dialogues with My Former Self. Part of reconstruction is integration. In these posts, I will seek to integrate every part of my mind, heart, and soul. They will include creative writing, philosophical and theological arguments, and personal experience; an integrative whole. After this first introductory post to kick off the series, we’ll tackle a simple subject: God. In the meantime, enjoy this poem I wrote to encapsulate my journey—my tragic quest.

Nightwatch
Wolves at the cave’s mouth snarling,
but how wolves,
if Nothing?

Childhood fears
soothsaid and smothered by pious lines,
Faith is standing at the edge of the darkness,
and taking one
faltering footstep forward,
only to find the way lighted
one step ahead.

Such is not
faith! If every step were lighted,
too soon,
you would know.

Where the Mystery?
As if,
no one ever took that uncertain step, only
to be shadowed in blackness,
crowded, shrouded in deep
despair, crushing the soul.

πάτερ εὶ βούλει παρένεγκε τοῦτο τὸ ποτήριον ἀπ’ ἐμοῦ . . .
“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me . . .”

As if,
no one has ever mouthed that pleading prayer, only
to carry a cross, one
faltering step after another, through
a darkened wilderness, lighted only
occasionally but brilliantly by
lightning striking on
the distant horizon;
beaten, broken by the empty
air surrounding their bed.

St. John of the Cross taught me
of the beauty, the healing
found in darkness.

And St. John the Beloved of
the Light to come,
Who has, and ever will,
everything illuminate,
all shadows
cast aside;
every crevice
of the small cave
thrown into radiance.

Every shaky aleph, every rounded
omega, each faltering figure,
arms upstretched, that I
scrawled on the rock
wall with the tip
of a branch
blackened in the fire
I light
to keep the wolves at bay—
because God loves
a madman.

Waltham St. Lawrence, “Ecclesiastes, or The Preacher Ecclesiastes”, book illustration.

NOTES
1 Matthew 7:8
2 Eugene England, “Joseph Smith and the Tragic Quest,” Dialogues with Myself: Personal Essays on Mormon Experience (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1984), 1-2.
3 For blog posts, see for example Shawn Larsen’s article at Mormon Matters, “Why Eugene England Still Matters” from 2008, or Boyd Petersen’s article at his blog Dead Wood and Rushing Water, “Eugene England and the Future of Mormonism” from 2016. For podcasts, see John Dehlin’s four-part tribute at Mormon Stories “Eugene England’s Life and Legacy” from 2011 and Gina Colvin’s podcast episode at A Thoughtful Faith from 2015, “The Life and Writings of Eugene England.”
4 Philippians 3:7-8a
5 Hymns of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1985, 274.
6 See Exodus 13:21
7 For the morphology of this oft-used phrase, see https://humorinamerica.wordpress.com/2014/05/19/the-morphology-of-a-humorous-phrase/

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