BYU Religious Studies Center Products for 2019

We hope you will enjoy the outstanding products copublished by the BYU Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book in 2019! More titles to be announced soon!

Thomas A. Wayment, The New Testament: A Translation for Latter-day Saints, Study Edition (Available now in hardcover!)

This new translation renders the New Testament text into modern English and is sensitive to Latter-day Saint beliefs and practices. This translation is readable and accessible for a wider range of readers than the King James Version. The original paragraph structure of the New Testament is restored and highlights features such as quotations, hymns, and poetic passages. New and extensive notes provide alternative translations, commentary on variant manuscript traditions, and historical insights. Where applicable, the Joseph Smith Translation has been included. The notes contain the most complete list of cross-references to New Testament passages in the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants that has ever been assembled.

Grant Hardy, ed., The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, Maxwell Institute Study Edition

This exquisitely produced volume presents the official Latter-day Saint edition of the Book of Mormon in an attractive, accessible, readable version that brings to Latter-day Saints the helpful features that have been part of standard Bible publishing for decades: paragraphs, quotation marks, poetic stanzas, section headings, and superscripted verse numbers. The latest Latter-day Saint scholarship is reflected in its brief, thoughtfully considered footnotes, although the focus is always on the text itself—its wording, structure, and interconnections—allowing the book’s sacred message to be heard anew. The Maxwell Institute Study Edition, produced by believing scholars, is ideally suited to both new readers of the Book of Mormon and also those who know the book well and have loved its teachings and testimony of Christ for many years.

Mary Jane Woodger, Mission President or Spy? The True Story of Wallace F. Toronto, the Czech Mission, and World War II

How could the longest-serving Latter-day Saint mission president be considered one of the Communist regime’s most-wanted American spies during the post–World War II era? Don’t miss this true story of faith, testimony, and miracles amidst war, Nazis, communism, and espionage. You’ll be captivated with this page-turner as you read about Wallace Toronto, who defied the Nazis, Communists, and Czechoslovakian prisons to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Charles Swift, ed., The Tragedy and the Triumph (Easter Conference)

The Atonement of Jesus Christ, which includes his resurrection, provides cause for celebration and rejoicing throughout the Christian world. Because of Jesus Christ and his infinite and eternal Atonement, all humankind who came to this earth are given the gift of the resurrection and immortality. This is truly the most powerful story of triumph over tragedy. Authors include Bruce C. Hafen, Richard Lyman Bushman, and Susan W. Tanner.

Reid L. Neilson and R. Mark Melville, The Saints Abroad: Missionaries Who Answered Brigham Young’s 1852 Call to the Nations of the World

By 1852, just five years after Brigham Young and his fellow Latter-day Saints began settling the valleys of the Intermountain West, the global distribution of the Church was much more Europeanthan American. That year Church leaders issued a flurry of global mission assignments and a spirited defense of plural marriage. This book focuses on groundbreaking missionary service in Wales, Prussia, Gibraltar, the Cape of Good Hope, the Sandwich Islands, China, Siam, and Australia.

Lincoln H. Blumell, ed., New Testament History, Culture, and Society: A Background to the Texts of the New Testament

This volume offers valuable perspectives from biblical scholars on the background of the New Testament texts, including the Jewish and Greco-Roman cultures of the time. The book is divided into several themes, including Jesus in the Gospels, the Apostle Paul, New Testament issues and contexts, and what transpired after the New Testament. It ranges from the intertestamental period to the First Jewish Revolt of AD 66–73 and the canonization of the New Testament. Over forty New Testament scholars and experts contributed to this comprehensive volume. Here is just a small sampling of those writers: Robert L. Millet, John W. Welch, Andrew C. Skinner, Kent P. Jackson, Thomas A. Wayment, Terry B. Ball, Noel Reynolds, and Frank F. Judd.

Richard E. Turley Jr. and Clinton D. Christensen, An Apostolic Journey: Stephen L Richards and the Expansion of Missionary Work in South America (on sale 6/13)

Today, it’s hard to imagine Apostles not being able to visit any part of the world. But the Saints in South America waited twenty years between visits. Follow the experiences in 1948 of Apostle Stephen L Richards and his wife, Irene, in Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, that changed the course of the Church in Latin America. In addition, read the first book shares a history of the Church in Latin America from the nineteenth to the twentieth-first century.

Alonzo L. Gaskill and Robert L. Millet, Life Beyond the Grave: Christian Interfaith Perspectives (on sale 9/2)

Surely no subject has captured the attention of men and women like that of death and the life beyond. Millions have sought with Job to know, “If a man die, shall he live again?” (Job 14:14). And if there is a future state, what is its nature? How best may mortal men and women prepare for it? Indeed, death has ever remained life’s most awesome mystery. In this book, representatives of several professing Christian groups address the topics of death and what lies beyond death from the vantage of their particular religious tradition.

Michael Hubbard MacKay and William G. Hartley, eds., The Rise of the Latter-day Saints: The Journals and Histories of Newel Knight (on sale 9/2)

Historians and academics use a handful of histories written by those closest to Joseph Smith during his ministry to document and tell the story of the Latter-day Saints. The Joseph Smith Papers Project has highlighted Joseph Smith’s early histories and the manuscript history of the Church. They have transcribed and made available many official histories or assigned histories from the early Church in print and on the Web. They have included other important documents, like the early history of Parley P. Pratt. One of the most important histories that was not previously available is a complex history of the early Church written in several installments by Newel Knight. He was one of a few early converts to write about the founding events in Church history. Knight died in January 1847, north of Winter Quarters, at the young age of forty-six. During the last five years of his life, he wrote a personal history composed of two elements: autobiography and journal. Though extremely important to the history of the Church, Knight’s history has always been a difficult source to use because it was never published in one place until now. This publication of his history will bring together his manuscripts and offer a way to cite them more precisely.

Matthew C. Godfrey and Michael Hubbard MacKay, eds., Business and Religion: The Intersection of Faith and Finance (on sale 9/2)

Historians have increasingly examined how economics and business have influenced religion and religious practices, and these examinations have provided better understandings of race, gender, and ethnicity within American religion. As one scholar has noted, looking at the intersection of economics and religion “allows historians in a given place and time to rethink what is going on in a broad sweep of the American religious experience.” The Church History Symposium highlighted that the field of economics and finance have much to offer to Latter-day Saint history.

Kerry M. Hull, Nicholas J. Frederick, and Hank R. Smith, eds., Give Ear to My Words: Text and Context of Alma 36–42 (48th Annual Brigham Young University Sidney B. Sperry Symposium) (on sale 9/10)

This Sidney B. Sperry Symposium explores powerful teachings on repentance, prayer, and the Atonement of Jesus Christ as shared by Alma to his sons, Helaman, Shiblon, and Corianton.

BYU Religious Studies Center: 2018 in Review

By R. Devan Jensen

The BYU Religious Studies Center teamed up with Deseret Book and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship to produce outstanding work in 2018!

BYU Religious Studies Center Publications

2018 Awards for BYU Religious Studies Center Publications

  • 2018 Harvey B. and Susan Easton Black Outstanding Publication Award (Gospel Scholarship for LDS Audiences, Church History and Doctrine) for Fred E. Woods, KalaupapaThe Mormon Experience in an Exiled Community

Maxwell Institute Publications (Produced by the BYU Religious Studies Center)

No One Knows My Editing

Death mask of Joseph Smith plaster mask, Ariah C. Brower and George Cannon, 1844. (Courtesy of Church History Museum, Salt Lake City. Photograph by Alex D. Smith.)

R. Devan Jensen
Executive Editor at the Religious Studies Center

“No man knows my history,” Joseph Smith Jr. said, later adding, “I don’t blame any one for not believing my history. If I had not experienced what I have, I would not have believed it myself” (http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1838-1856-volume-e-1-1-july-1843-30-april-1844/351). With a nod to Joseph Smith, no one knows my editing!

All my jobs have been marvelous adventures. I started my career at Deseret Book, the Church Curriculum Department (now Publishing Services), and the Ensign magazine. Then in 2001 Richard Draper, a professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University, hired me to help take the Religious Studies Center, in his words, to “a higher level of professionalism, efficiency, and organization.” We have certainly done that, and we continue to grow. Over the years, publications directors such as Richard Draper, Richard Holzapfel, Robert Millet, Richard Bennett, Dana Pike, Thomas Wayment, and Scott Esplin each provided vision and leadership that contributed to the RSC’s current vitality. Whereas the original annual output of the RSC was two books and a two-color newsletter, we now produce about fifteen high-quality books (winning many awards), two academic journals, a full-color campus magazine, a robust website, and a social media presence.

When initially hired, I told Andrew Skinner, dean of Religious Education, that I felt OK committing to five years and then reevaluating. During that five-year period, Covenant Communications copublished many books with the RSC. Richard Holzapfel firmly established the Religious Educator as a viable journal. We began relying even more on BYU editing minors to shoulder the increased editing load that Richard Draper, then Richard Holzapfel encouraged through their proactive recruitment of authors. Designer Carmen Cole redesigned the RSC Newsletter. Student Matt Grey (now a professor) started Studia Antiqua to publish student papers on the ancient world.

At the end of that five years, I told the new dean, Terry Ball, that I felt comfortable staying another five years. It was tricky to keep up with Richard Holzapfel’s creative mind, new projects, teaching, and travel schedule. He asked us to push hard to get all past content on the RSC website and translate selected materials into Spanish, Portuguese, and German. He encouraged us to create a magazine, which we designed with the help of Hales Creative and named BYU Religious Education Review. I recommended that we hire a publicity/production superviser to build the RSC brand. That spot was filled by Stephanie Wilson (part-time and then full-time) and then Brent Nordgren. Richard and Brent did an admirable job negotiating a copublication agreement with Deseret Book that dramatically increased our distribution network. That laid the foundation for financial stability.

After Richard Holzapfel’s departure, we had another five or so years with quick transitions between publications directors—leading to greater staff autonomy. Publications directors were Robert Millet, Richard Bennett (interim), and Dana Pike. While working under Richard Bennett, Religious Education began to pay for a staff member to take a professional development course each year. After I asked if he would send me to the Mormon History Association conference, he said that he couldn’t unless I had a paper accepted. So I began to craft and submit history presentations. That turned into a personal challenge—to document many interesting Mormon history and family history stories, branching out into related areas. Writing was done nearly always in my personal time but occasionally on RSC time when projects slowed down.

The next five-year segment began when Thom Wayment began serving as publications director. His leadership contributions included pushing for greater quality in our books and journal, expanding the author pool, adding strong members to our team, and promoting staff training that resulted in an increase in social media outreach and thus better sales. Challenges during this period were redoing contracts, increasing book production, dropping the review board, wrestling with design issues, and holding fewer RSC team meetings to coordinate efforts. After we resumed RSC team meetings to coordinate efforts, productivity soared. Brent hired Madison Swapp and then Emily Strong, a 3/4-time designer. Both have worked hard. Thom asked me to attend a conference of the Association of American University Presses, and I realized that we could do much more to build the RSC brand and promote our books. We started Facebook and Twitter accounts for the BYU Religious Studies Center, Religious Educator, and Church History Blog to share updates and promote our brand and books. We hired Felix Lara, our first media specialist intern, and then other interns who have helped authors promote their books, further increasing our financial stability. As an editor, I was inundated each year with editing sixteen academic books, two journals, and a magazine. When I mentioned that I was struggling to keep up, Thom brought in two editors from the Maxwell Institute. That has been a boon to our organization because Don Brugger and Shirley Ricks are marvelous team members, and the Religious Studies Center has become even more productive.

After Dean Top left, Dean Judd appointed Scott Esplin, another good friend, as publications director. As I look ahead to about fifteen years remaining in my career, I find myself in midlife mode (probably not crisis mode, but involving deep soul-searching). I have edited hundreds of books and hundreds of magazine and journal articles. So . . . what’s next? The Religious Studies Center brand is still slowly growing in popularity. For publicity, we have been discussing building on our BYU identity or the somehow including the name of our founder, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland. In my opinion, our next frontier seems to be publicity and coordination with other academic publishers. Regarding academic publishers, we have made headway in coordinating with Book of Mormon Central, BYU Speeches, BYU Studies, the Joseph Smith Papers Project, and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. Perhaps we could partner with other university presses as well.

Beyond Dogmatism

By R. Devan Jensen
Executive Editor at the Religious Studies Center
Religion is sometimes attacked as a source of ignorance and conflict. While all humans are subject to confirmation bias, perhaps the real danger is dogmatism, or the tendency to lay down principles as incontrovertibly true, without consideration of evidence or the opinions of others, especially when it leads to prejudice or violence. That condition may affect both the religious and the nonreligious.
 
Is Snoopy being “dogmatic”?
As this article points out, people who dogmatically hold to any topic without being able to consider other perspectives “typically pay a high price for their dogmatism. Not only do they alienate many people, but they actually imprison their own egos inside their figurative fortress of conviction.”

The Expanded Canon

By R. Devan Jensen
Executive Editor at the Religious Studies Center

Review of Blair G. Van Dyke, Brian D. Birch, and Boyd J. Petersen, eds. The Expanded Canon: Perspectives on Mormonism & Sacred Texts. Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2018. 258 pp. $25.95.

In The Expanded Canon, the first volume of the new UVU Comparative Mormon Studies series, the editors point out that Latter-day Saints, like many other faith traditions, have “an open canon—that the body of authoritative scriptural texts can expand as new revelations are made available and presented to the membership for ratification” (ix). Beyond the standard works, Latter-day Saints view other documents as scriptural but not canonized—for example, “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” The editors assert that church members deal with some complex scriptural matters such as Joseph Smith’s revisions of the Bible. In this case, the term translation does not tidily fit. As Kathleen Flake notes, it was more of “an interpretive response to the text” in which he “appeared more interested in preserving the meaning of the revelation rather than the language” (xv).

David Holland’s chapter traces how Christianity adopts scripture through a triangle consisting of the scriptures, the living representative of Christ, and inspiration from the Holy Ghost. Which has the greatest power? Protestants argue that authority comes from the Bible alone. Latter-day Saints, however, use all three sides of the triangle, because even statements by prophets must be sustained by church members, who are invited to gain their own witness through the Holy Ghost.

In her chapter, Claudia L. Bushman invites people to “read women back into the scriptures.” She proposes writings of women that should be considered as inspired, including Relief Society minutes, Eliza R. Snow’s poetry, Lucy Mack Smith’s history of Joseph Smith, and even Chieko Okazaki’s Lighten Up! 

In a very insightful chapter, Grant Underwood asks readers to relish the revisions of the revelatory process that produced the Doctrine and Covenants. Joseph Smith, he argues, was “more than a mere human fax machine through whom God communicated finished revelation texts composed in heaven” (182). According to Orson Pratt, Joseph received impressions and then had to “clothe those ideas with such words as came to mind” (182).

For those who want to learn about how faith traditions adopt and canonize scripture, and particularly Latter-day Saint scripture, I highly recommend this book.

 

Saints: Moving Stories Supported by Solid Sources

By R. Devan Jensen
Executive Editor at the Religious Studies Center

Review of Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 1: The Standard of Truth, 1815–1846. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2018. 699 pp., $5.75 print, $1.99 digital.

Short version: The book is very readable, with personal accounts that share deep emotions felt during intense times of crisis. The book includes many, many female perspectives (both old and young). It is intimate, referring to Joseph and Emma Smith by first name. The writers weave together moving individual stories supported by solid historical sources. It relies on excellent source material from The Joseph Smith Papers, the Religious Studies Center, and many others. Readers can enhance their experience with new Church History Topics essays: https://www.lds.org/languages/eng/content/history/topics/awakenings-and-revivals?lang=eng.

Long version: As the first book in the Saints series, The Standard of Truth, 1815–1846 starts with a bang! A volcano in far-off Indonesia spews tons of ash into the air, causing dry weather patterns in Vermont and leading the Smith family to try farming in upstate New York. Joseph joins the local treasure hunters seeking for Spanish gold, a search he soon abandons. The book then races through uplifting and discouraging scenes of church history. Scott Hales, the book’s literary editor, described the book’s goals: “It’s designed to be a history for people who don’t like history. It’s meant to be very inviting, very engaging, very approachable. Some people hear the word ‘history’ and clam up or tune out. They think about boring high school history classes or history lectures. That’s not the reaction we want from our readers. We want people to read this book! We have written it in a way that will appeal to people from ages 12 to 112. We have been very deliberate in how we present the material so that it is accessible to a wide variety of people from all ages, all educational backgrounds, and all reading levels” (as quoted in “Getting to Know Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days,” Religious Educator 19, no. 2 [2018]: 175).

Steven C. Harper, the book’s historical editor, tells how the project started: “[It] began as an investigation into the feasibility of updating the Comprehensive History. In 2008 the Church Historian, who was then Elder Marlin K. Jensen of the Seventy, made a proposal to the First Presidency to update it. The First Presidency authorized the Church History Department to come up with a plan to do it. A committee was called together and proposed the four-volume plan. . . . Elder Steven E. Snow of the Seventy has served as the Church Historian since 2012. He made Saints a high priority” (as quoted in “Getting to Know Saints,” 174).

Volume 1 deals transparently with complex issues such as the following:

  • Joseph’s multiple accounts of the First Vision
  • Nineteenth-century folk religion and seer stones
  • Joseph’s 1826 arrest and trial for being a “disorderly person”
  • Translation of the Book of Mormon and testimonies of many witnesses, including Mary Whitmer
  • Restoration of priesthood authority and sealing keys
  • Dedication of the Kirtland Temple
  • The Book of Abraham
  • Complex feelings after the Kirtland Safety Society failed
  • Persecution of members in Missouri and vigilante actions by Danites
  • Plural marriage, including Joseph’s marriage to Fanny Alger and sealings to other women
  • Destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor
  • The Council of Fifty and its plans to move church members to the West

I look forward to future volumes, as Scott Hales described below: “The second volume depicts the challenges of gathering the Saints to the Salt Lake Valley and the Intermountain West. It ends in 1893 with the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple. Volume 3 shows the Church entering the twentieth century and branching out beyond the Mormon corridor. It concludes in 1955 with the dedication of the Swiss Temple, the first temple dedicated in Europe. Finally, volume 4 is about the global Church. By the end of that volume, temples dot the earth and sacred ordinances are available to all worthy Saints” (as quoted in “Getting to Know Saints,” 173).

New Interim Religious Education Dean, Associate Dean, Publications Director

By R. Devan Jensen
Executive Editor at the Religious Studies Center

Welcome to three new leaders of the Religious Studies Center team! Effective July 1, professor of ancient scripture Daniel K Judd began service as the interim dean for ReligiousEducation and director of the Religious Studies Center. He most recentlyserved as associate dean in Religious Education and previously served as chair of the Department of Ancient Scripture. He is the author of pathbreaking studies on Latter-day Saint mental health, including the first empirical study on the relationship between the grace of Christ and the mental health of Latter-day Saints: Daniel K Judd, W. Justin Dyer, and Justin B. Top, “Grace, Legalism, and Mental Health: Examining Direct and Mediating Relationships,” Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, June 2018.

J. B. Haws, an associate professor of Church history and doctrine, has been appointed to serve as an associate dean in Religious Education and associate director of the Religious Studies Center. He also serves as coordinator of the Office of Religious Outreach. He is the award-winning author of The Mormon Image in the American Mind: Fifty Years of Public Perception (New York: Oxford, 2013).

Church history and doctrine professor Scott C. Esplin has been named as the publications director for the Religious Studies Center. He also serves as the Religious Education Teaching Fellow. Editor of many books published by the Religious Studies Center, he is the author of Return to the City of Joseph: Modern Mormonism’s Contest for the Soul of Nauvoo (Champaign-Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2018).

A New Year with Inspiring New Publications

By R. Devan Jensen
Executive Editor at the Religious Studies Center

Happy new year! As LDS Church Gospel Doctrine teachers and students embark on a study of the Old Testament, we hope many will navigate their journey using our Gospel Doctrine supplemental reading. Readers may particularly enjoy our Prophets and Prophecies of the Old Testament and John Gee’s Introduction to the Book of Abraham.

Our books will include these:

Upcoming issues of the Religious Educator will feature articles such as Elder Tad R. Callister’s talk on the power of principles, Jenny Reeder’s paper on the importance of incorporating women’s voices in teaching history, and John Thomas’s insights on missionary use of the Book of Mormon around the turn of the twentieth century.

We hope these publications will be enriching and inspiring, and we hope you find as much joy reading them as we do!

A Second Look at the RSC and Maxwell Institute Partnership

By R. Devan Jensen
Executive Editor at the Religious Studies Center

The RSC and Maxwell Institute editors forged a publishing partnership in September to consolidate the two production teams. Let’s look at what the combined team has accomplished so far.

First, the RSC welcomed managing editor Don Brugger and senior editor Shirley Ricks, who, along with executive editor Devan Jensen, report to publications director Thomas Wayment and work closely with production supervisor Brent Nordgren and publication coordinator Joany Pinegar. The combined team has completed a staggering twenty-one projects since September!

RSC

  • Matthew J. Grow and R. Eric Smith, eds., The Council of Fifty: What the Records Reveal about Mormon History
  • Aaron P. Schade, Brian M. Hauglid, and Kerry Muhlestein, eds., Prophets and Prophecies of the Old Testament (46th Annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium)
  • John Gee, An Introduction to the Book of Abraham
  • Roy A. Prete and Carma T. Prete, eds., Canadian Mormons: History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Canada
  • RoseAnn Benson, Alexander Campbell and Joseph Smith: Nineteenth-Century Restorationists (BYU Press and Abilene Christian University Press)
  • Ann N. Madsen and Shon D. Hopkin, eds., Opening Isaiah: A Harmony (eBook)
  • 2017 BYU Religious Education Student Symposium
  • Larry E. Dahl and Charles D. Tate Jr., The Lectures on Faith in Historical Perspective (eBook)
  • The Restored Gospel and Applied Christianity, 2017
  • Religious Educator 18, no. 3
  • BYU Religious Education Review, Fall 2017
  • Studia Antiqua (2017)
  • Reid L. Neilson and Wayne D. Crosby, Lengthening Our Stride: Globalization of the Church (forthcoming)
  • Donald G. Godfrey, In Their Footsteps: Mormon Pioneers of Faith (forthcoming)

Maxwell Institute

  • Adam S. Miller, ed., Fleeing the Garden: Reading Genesis 2–3
  • Adam S. Miller, ed., A Dream, a Rock, and a Pillar of Fire: Reading 1 Nephi 1
  • Mormon Studies Review (2018)
  • Spencer Fluhman, Kathleen Flake, and Jed Woodworth, eds., “To Be Learned Is Good”: Essays on Faith and Scholarship in Honor of Richard Lyman Bushman (forthcoming)
  • Adam S. Miller and Joseph M. Spencer, eds., Christ and Antichrist: Reading Jacob 7 (forthcoming)
  • Samir Khalil Samir and Wafik Nasry, trans., The Patriarch and the Caliph: An Eighth-Century Dialogue between Timothy I and al-Mahdī (forthcoming)
  • Adam S. Miller, Letters to a Young Mormon, 2nd edition (forthcoming)

 

Second, as with any other merger, the two publishers clarified expectations. Work has begun on four other Maxwell Institute projects yet to be announced.

Third, the RSC has approval to hire a designer to help with projects such as the Religious Educator, the BYU Religious Education Review, and our 2018 books:

  • Reid L. Neilson and Wayne D. Crosby, Lengthening Our Stride: Globalization of the Church
  • Donald G. Godfrey, In Their Footsteps: Mormon Pioneers of Faith
  • Shon D. Hopkin, ed., Abinadi: He Came Among Them in Disguise
  • Debra Theobald McClendon and Richard J. McClendon, Commitment to the Covenant: Strengthening the Me, We, and Thee of Marriage
  • Richard O. Cowan, The Los Angeles Temple: Beacon on a Hill
  • Richard E. Bennett, ed., The Journey West: The Mormon Pioneer Journals of Horace K. Whitney with Insights by Helen Mar Kimball Whitney
  • Eric D. Huntsman, Lincoln H. Blumell, and Tyler J. Griffin, eds., Thou Art the Christ: The Person and Work of Jesus in the New Testament (47th Annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium)
  • LaMond Tullis, Two Martyrs in Mexico: A Mormon Story of Revolution and Redemption
  • Bruce A. Van Orden, “We’ll Sing and We’ll Shout”: The Life and Times of William W. Phelps
  • 2018 Religious Education Student Symposium
  • The Restored Gospel and Applied Christianity, 2018

We are planning to remodel the office to accommodate our new team members. All in all, we are enjoying our partnership and looking ahead to a bright and productive future.

Review of Perspectives on Mormon Theology: Apologetics

By R. Devan Jensen
Executive Editor at the Religious Studies Center

Review of Perspectives on Mormon Theology: Apologetics

Those who want to learn about the art and practice of defending the faith—known classically as apologetics—will enjoy reading Perspectives on Mormon Theology: Apologetics, a compilation of essays edited by Blair G. Van Dyke and Loyd Isao Ericson (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2017). The fifteen authors share a variety of perspectives, both praising and critiquing past and present approaches. My review focuses on this survey of apologetics, as well as related definitions and questions.

Apologetics in the Past and Present

In the age of Hugh Nibley, the term Mormon apologetics referred to a fairly traditional set of papers defending the claims of the Church or attacking critics. Today’s apologetic approaches are more varied, including “traditional apologetics, new positive apologetics as typified by [Terryl] Givens and [Patrick] Mason, a form of official apologetics as with the Gospel Topics essays, pastoral apologetics as outlined by Seth Payne, [and] religious studies scholarship examining and discussing the same LDS doctrines and practices that apologists often discuss.” These scholars have professional training in fields such as history, literature, Near Eastern languages and culture, and philosophy. The book applauds apologetic work created by the Church History Department, the Joseph Smith Papers Project, the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship (21–22), and FairMormon (67). It seems an oversight not to mention the strong apologetic work published by BYU Studies, the Religious Studies Center, the Interpreter Foundation, and other sources listed at LDS.org.

Defensive versus Affirmative Apologetics

The book defines several vital terms. Van Dyke defines the term negative apologetics as “responses to criticism already levied against Mormonism” (2). Daniel C. Peterson clarifies that the term refers not to being “mean-spirited” but to “rebuttal and defense” (40). Peterson compares this act to “clearing the ground of weeds, and keeping it clear, so that the seed has a chance to take root and grow” (40). Accordingly, Michael Ash prefers the term defensive apologetics (65). Adoption of this term over the other seems important because of Mormon cultural desire to avoid negativity and contention, even to the point of avoiding uncomfortable conversations that lead to heated emotions or compromise.

Conversely, the term positive apologetics refers to “arguments that justify the faith and fortify her position ahead of disagreements and criticisms” (2). In Peterson’s analogy, this is planting the seed in the ground and nurturing it. Ash refers to this as affirmative or educational apologetics (65–67). The latter terms prevent ambiguity and potential criticism that apologists have a “positive” bent or mindset that precludes the possibility of dismissing credible evidence to the contrary of their position.

Evidentialism, Fideism, and Presuppositionalism

Evidentialism refers to attempts to anchor defense of one’s truth claims in objective evidence, such as the 1987 discovery of a steel sword near Jerusalem to justify Nephi’s claim about Laban’s sword (4–5). Conversely, fideism emphasizes subjective faith over objective evidence, suggesting that spiritual matters are deeply personal (5). Van Dyke notes that “Mormons consistently manifest strains of fideism” (6) and sometimes “anti-intellectualism” (12). Presuppositionalism identifies the assumptions all human beings make about which sources of evidence we trust and seek out for additional confirmation (15–17). As one example, after the 2013 US Supreme Court announcement in favor of same-sex marriage, the LDS Church asserted, “Regardless of the court decision, the Church remains irrevocably committed to strengthening traditional marriage between a man and a woman, which for thousands of years has proven to be the best environment for nurturing children.” Van Dyke claims, “Evidentiary proof does not bear out this claim” (19). We would be wise to evaluate the presuppositions and evidence of all parties involved in such vital arguments.

Cautions about Apologetics and Human Nature

The initial chapters offer much praise for the practice of apologetics. Neal Rappleye offers several examples of Book of Mormon defensive scholarship that pushes the boundaries of scholarship in a positive direction (52–61), tempering that praise with the need for nuanced evaluation of the contributions of King Josiah (45–46). Ash notes that we, as humans, see in terms of patterns and predictions (69–71), which necessarily lead to confirmation bias (74). Scholars sometimes harshly criticize the positions of others (including apologists), seemingly unaware of the presuppositions they themselves make (76–79). Echoing Thomas Jefferson’s call for a wall between church and state, Benjamin Park calls for a divide between Mormon studies and apologetics (90). In my opinion, Jack Welch and the BYU Studies team and Richard Bushman and the Joseph Smith Papers Project team have succeeded in both arenas through well-documented scholarship and cautious assertions. I add that the Maxwell Institute and Religious Studies Center have produced material satisfying both the academy and the church. Many other institutions might be added here.

Critiques of Current Apologetics

Ralph Hancock, David Knowlton, David Bokovoy, and Loyd Ericson critique currrent practices of Mormon apologetics, though from various places on the spectrum. For example, Hancock criticizes the newly re-created Mormon Studies Review for being too neutral in faith matters, engaging non-LDS scholars on their own terms (107–9). Knowlton tackles use of the term Lamanites by FairMormon, dismissing their lack of specificity as “a crisis of faith” (207). Ericson divides matters such as Book of Mormon studies very discretely into historical facts or “religious studies,” critiquing historical examinations of “things of the soul” (220). Bokovoy recalls his gradual acceptance of the Documentary Hypothesis of biblical scholarship and then claims, “Apologetics assumes that we have the answers” (227), arguing for more critical thinking. As expected in any book that gathers diverse perspectives, these voices will variously draw praise or criticism.

Women’s Voices

Three articles focus on women’s issues. Juliann Reynolds, who helped found FairMormon, asserts that Mormon women became ardent defenders of the faith when the Church faced persecution and prosecution for the practice of plural marriage. However, although many women actively promote and defend Church doctrine in venues such as the Ensign, FairMormon, Meridian Magazine, Mormon Women Stand, and social media, they rarely identify themselves as apologists (140–48). Julie M. Smith notes that apologists have often placed more emphasis on the status quo arguments and thus neglected women’s concerns (165). Fiona Givens upholds the ideal union of men and women in the Creation and in ecclesiastical collaboration, with the general implication that men and women ideally should combine in efforts such as defending the faith (something she and her husband have indeed done).

Questions

In sum, it seems fair to assert that “every argument defending any position . . . is an apology” (27). Let’s conclude with several questions about how to do apologetics: “Will we be honest? Competent? Civil? Will we be effective, or not?” (41). To which I add several questions of my own: Who is doing the best, most exciting work in apologetics at the present? What place does evidence play in relation to matters of faith? How can scholars be most effective in evaluating evidence for their arguments? How can we evaluate evidence effectively when we are subject to confirmation bias? And how tentative should we be in making assertions and conclusions? These are a few questions raised by a reading of this important book.

Click here to view the contents and selected essays and Q&A.