Progression Between Kingdoms

I thought I’d post here a few quotes in favor of the concept of progression/regression between kingdoms. I began to look up all the quotes until I discovered that the folks at the New Cool Thang blog had already done all the hard work. I reproduce the quotes here for my own benefit so I can always find them in the future when the need arises, giving the credit to others for finding them.

“The brethren direct me to say that the Church has never announced a definite doctrine upon this point. Some of the brethren have held the view that it was possible in the course of progression to advance from one glory to another, invoking the principle of eternal progression; others of the brethren have taken the opposite view. But as stated, the Church has never announced a definite doctrine on this point.”

-Secretary to the First Presidency in a 1952 letter; and again in 1965

“None would inherit this earth when it became celestial and translated into the presence of God but those who would be crowned as Gods — all others would have to inherit another kingdom — they would eventually have the privilege of proving themselves worthy and advancing to a celestial kingdom but it would be a slow process [progress?].”

-Brigham Young, in Wilford Woodruff Journal, 5 Aug 1855

“Once a person enters these glories there will be eternal progress in the line of each of these particular glories, but the privilege of passing from one to another (though this may be possible for especially gifted and faithful characters) is not provided for.”

-Joseph F. Smith, Improvement Era 14:87 [November 1910]

“I am not a strict constructionalist, believing that we seal our eternal progress by what we do here. It is my belief that God will save all of His children that he can: and while, if we live unrighteously here, we shall not go to the other side in the same status, so to speak, as those who lived righteously; nevertheless, the unrighteous will have their chance, and in the eons of the eternities that are to follow, they, too, may climb to the destinies to which they who are righteous and serve God, have climbed to those eternities that are to come.”

-J. Reuben Clark, Church News, 23 April 1960, p. 3

“It is reasonable to believe, in the absence of direct revelation by which alone absolute knowledge of the matter could be acquired, that, in accordance with God’s plan of eternal progression, advancement from grade to grade within any kingdom, and from kingdom to kingdom, will be provided for. But if the recipients of a lower glory be enabled to advance, surely the intelligences of higher rank will not be stopped in their progress; and thus we may conclude, that degrees and grades will ever characterize the kingdoms of our God. Eternity is progressive; perfection is relative; the essential feature of God’s living purpose is its associated power of eternal increase.”

-James E. Talmage, The Articles of Faith [1899 edition] pp. 420-421

You that are mourning about your children straying away will have your sons and your daughters. If you succeed in passing through these trials and afflictions and receive a resurrection, you will, by the power of the Priesthood, work and labor, as the Son of God has, until you get all your sons and daughters in the path of exaltation and glory. This is just as sure as that the sun rose this morning over yonder mountains. Therefore, mourn not because all your sons and daughters do not follow in the path that you have marked out to them, or give heed to your counsels. Inasmuch as we succeed in securing eternal glory, and stand as saviors, and as kings and priests to our God, we will save our posterity. When Jesus went through that terrible torture on the cross, He saw what would be accomplished by it; He saw that His brethren and sistersCthe sons and daughters of GodCwould be gathered in, with but few exceptionsCthose who committed the unpardonable sin. That sacrifice of the divine Being was effectual to destroy the powers of Satan. I believe that every man and woman who comes into this life and passes through it, that life will be a success in the end. It may not be in this life. It was not with the antedeluvians. They passed through troubles and afflictions; 2,500 years after that, when Jesus went to preach to them, the dead heard the voice of the Son of God and they lived. They found after all that it was a very good thing that they had conformed to the will of God in leaving the spiritual life and passing through this world.

Lorenzo Snow, MS 56:49-53; Collected Discourses 3:364-65.

The question of advancement within the great divisions of glory
celestial, terrestrial, and telestial; as also the question of
advancement from one sphere of glory to another remains to be
considered. In the revelation from which we have summarized what has
been written here, in respect to the different degrees of glory, it is
said that those of the terrestrial glory will be ministered unto by
those of the celestial; and those of the telestial will be ministered
unto by those of the terrestrial—that is, those of the higher glory
minister to those of a lesser glory. I can conceive of no reason for
all this administration of the higher to the lower, unless it be for
the purpose of advancing our Father’s children along the lines of
eternal progression. Whether or not in the great future, full of so
many possibilities now hidden from us, they of the lesser glories
after education and advancement within those spheres may at last
emerge from them and make their way to the higher degrees of glory
until at last they attain to the highest, is not revealed in the
revelations of God, and any statement made on the subject must partake
more or less of the nature of conjecture. But if it be granted that
such a thing is possible, they who at the first entered into the
celestial glory—having before them the privilege also of eternal
progress—have been moving onward, so that the relative distance
between them and those who have fought their way up from the lesser
glories may be as great when the latter have come into the degrees of
celestial glory in which the righteous at first stood, as it was at
the commencement. Thus: Those whose faith and works are such only as
to enable them to inherit a telestial glory, may arrive at last where
those whose works in this life were such as to enable them to entrance
into the celestial kingdom—they may arrive where these were, but never
where they are.”

B. H. Roberts, New Witnesses for God 1:391-392.

Some years ago I was in Washington, D.C., with President Harold B. Lee. Early one morning he called me to come into his hotel room. He was sitting in his robe reading Gospel Doctrine, by President Joseph F. Smith, and he said, “Listen to this!

“ ‘Jesus had not finished his work when his body was slain, neither did he finish it after his resurrection from the dead; although he had accomplished the purpose for which he then came to the earth, he had not fulfilled all his work. And when will he? Not until he has redeemed and saved every son and daughter of our father Adam that have been or ever will be born upon this earth to the end of time, except the sons of perdition. That is his mission. We will not finish our work until we have saved ourselves, and then not until we shall have saved all depending upon us; for we are to become saviors upon Mount Zion, as well as Christ. We are called to this mission.’ ” 22

“There is never a time,” the Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “when the spirit is too old to approach God. All are within the reach of pardoning mercy, who have not committed the unpardonable sin.” 23

Boyd K. Packer, “The Brilliant Morning of Forgiveness,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 18

Elder Holland on Faith, Doubt, and Testimony


Last weekend was the 183rd Annual General Conference, and as always it was a wonderful experience. I consider General Conference a minor Mormon holy weekend, coming twice a year at the same time. It is a time for families to sit together and “pitch their tents round about the temple“, as it were, to listen to the prophets of God. Nowadays we sit on couches and watch it on cable and satellite TV, which I rather enjoy.

For many who are interested in apologetics there were many good talks to draw from, but one of them far and away stood out from the rest. It comes as no surprise that it was delivered by Elder Holland. There are so many quotable lines from his talk, but below are a selection of them. Please take the time to read the talk in its entirety (it isn’t very long) and also watch the video of his delivery (at the end of this post), which adds a whole other dimension to his words.

In moments of fear or doubt or troubling times, hold the ground you have already won, even if that ground is limited….When those moments come and issues surface, the resolution of which is not immediately forthcoming, hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes.

When problems come and questions arise, do not start your quest for faith by saying how much you do not have, leading as it were with your “unbelief.” That is like trying to stuff a turkey through the beak!

Sometimes we act as if an honest declaration of doubt is a higher manifestation of moral courage than is an honest declaration of faith. It is not!

…please don’t hyperventilate if from time to time issues arise that need to be examined, understood, and resolved. They do and they will. In this Church, what we know will always trump what we do not know. And remember, in this world, everyone is to walk by faith.

Except in the case of His only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to Him, but He deals with it. So should we.

A 14-year-old boy recently said to me a little hesitantly, “Brother Holland, I can’t say yet that I know the Church is true, but I believe it is.” I hugged that boy until his eyes bulged out. I told him with all the fervor of my soul that belief  is a precious word, an even more precious act, and he need never apologize for “only believing.” I told him that Christ Himself said, “Be not afraid, only believe,”…I told this boy that belief was always the first step toward conviction and that the definitive articles of our collective faith forcefully reiterate the phrase “We believe.” And I told him how very proud I was of him for the honesty of his quest.

What was once a tiny seed of belief for me has grown into the tree of life, so if your faith is a little tested in this or any season, I invite you to lean on mine.

Hope on. Journey on. Honestly acknowledge your questions and your concerns, but first and forever fan the flame of your faith, because all things are possible to them that believe.

The invitation to us to lean on his testimony in moments of doubt was an especially powerful line to me. It is, for me, the epitome of the role of an apostle.


An Update

It’s been a while! My wife gave birth to a set of twins about 6 weeks ago, so you can excuse me for putting blogging and research on the back-burner for a while. It still is, really, for the foreseeable future.

However, I wanted to just make a few remarks about all the great research that is out there right now.

The 2012 FAIR Conference wrapped up about a week ago and this year they’ve made a special effort to get the texts of all the talks published on their website very quickly so we can read and digest their contents. This has never been done so quickly in years past. There are a lot of fascinating topics to read about:

So far I’ve refrained from publicly commenting on my blog about the fallout at the Maxwell Institute that happened a few weeks ago. There isn’t much to say at this point except that it is a real shame the way Dan and the other editors were treated. Even more disappointing is the change in direction that the Maxwell Institute has decided to go. The good news is that Daniel Peterson has too much passion and zeal for apologetics to let it die so easily. His new journal has recently been launched and there are already two very interesting looking articles I need to read:

Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture

Finally, my studies lately have led me somewhat into the weeds of early Mormon polygamy. It is a topic I have so far avoided blogging about. Expect some notes on those topics in future posts.

“After All We Can Do” as a reference to the Law of Moses


“After All We Can Do”

One of the more controversial passages of scripture found in the Book of Mormon is 2 Nephi 25:23.

 23 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.

Evangelicals look to this passage as proof that Mormonism is a “works based” religion. Many Mormons, particularly of past generations, also look to this passage as evidence that Mormonism is a “works based” religion. However, in recent years many Mormon students and scholars have come to view this passage in a different light. If you are reading this post you are probably already aware of what I speak. Stephen Robinson and Robert Millet have been especially influential in changing the way we talk about this passage. They argue for a reading that looks something like this:

23 … for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, [in spite of/even after/apart from] all we can do.

In other words, they argue that Nephi’s use of the word “after all” should be understood in the sense of “after all that we’ve done, we still need God’s grace”.

I personally am a bit unsure as to whether this is what Nephi really means. I worry that, perhaps, Millet and Robinson are too influenced by the Evangelical scholars they love to dialogue with (to the benefit of us all). It certainly is a valid perspective, but is it right?

Rather than argue against their perspective I want to share an alternative one. Actually, it really isn’t an alternative one but perhaps it can be seen as a complimentary facet to their take. I’ve wondered whether it is best for us to remember that Nephi is speaking from the perspective of one bound to follow the Law of Moses.

This passage stands at the beginning of a short exposition by Nephi of the relationship between the Law of Moses and Christ’s grace. It may be appropriate to consider 2 Nephi 25:23-30 as one literary unit, or a small aside by Nephi in which he struggles to explain the relationship between the Law of Moses and the grace of Christ. Verse 23 stands at the beginning of this exposition, and serves as an introductory summary of what is coming next. I want to suggest that, perhaps, “all we can do” is a reference to the Law of Moses.

 23 For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God;

(A) for we know that it is by grace that we are saved,

(B) after all we can do.

(A) 24 And, notwithstanding we believe in Christ,

(B) we keep the law of Moses, and look forward with steadfastness unto Christ, until the law shall be fulfilled.

I’m not a scholar of Book of Mormon parallelisms, but I wonder if my restructuring of the text above might be appropriate to illustrate what Nephi really means. It is quite easy to see how “all we can do” in verse 23 refers to “keep the law of Moses” in verse 24.

Nephi, speaking from the perspective of an ancient Israelite who is bound under the Law of Moses, is struggling to reconcile the need for the Law of Moses with the grace of Christ. He is wrestling with this issue long before Paul ever did. Nephi arrives at the conclusion that the Law of Moses is meant to help Israel look forward with steadfastness to the coming of Christ (vs 24).

If 2 Nephi 25:23-30 is taken as a literary unit, and if verse 23 is an introductory summary, then verses 29-30 can be read as a parallel final summary of Nephi’s point.

 29 And now behold, I say unto you that the right way is to believe in Christ, and deny him not; and Christ is the Holy One of Israel; wherefore ye must bow down before him, and worship him with all your might, mind, and strength, and your whole soul; and if ye do this ye shall in nowise be cast out.

 30 And, inasmuch as it shall be expedient, ye must keep the performances and ordinances of God until the law shall be fulfilled which was given unto Moses.

What does it mean for us? It is tempting to see the phrase “after all we can do” to be specific only to Nephi’s doctrinal dilemma, not our own. Nephi is thinking specifically about the relationship between the Law of Moses and Christ’s grace. We don’t really grapple with that specific issue in this dispensation, and so this particular passage may not be totally applicable to us in the same way it was applicable to Nephi and his people. In other words, what I am suggesting is that when someone accuses the Latter-day Saints of having a “works based” soteriology because of this passage, we may be able to point out that this is Nephi speaking from a perspective that is mindful of the Law of Moses which has since been fulfilled in Christ. Our Evangelical friends should understand this, in theory, because Evangelicals very frequently talk about New Testament teachings superseding Old Testament teachings. They don’t consider themselves bound by Old Testament commandments that have no relevance in the New Covenant, and neither do we.

That isn’t to say there is nothing of relevance in 2 Nephi 25:23 for us. As Latter-day Saints we do grapple with the relationship between modern day commandments (ie. tithing, word of wisdom, sabbath day, chastity, etc.) and Christ’s grace. Nephi’s thoughts regarding the Law of Moses can be transferred to our modern day struggles, to a point. The commandments point us toward Christ, and we perform the ordinances and keep the commandments because they are manifestations of Christ’s grace, and they lead us to him.

Let us be careful to not  mistake Nephi for an ancient Latter-day Saint. He wasn’t. He was an Israelite. Latter-day Saints are sometimes prone to forget that Nephi’s concerns were not always the exact same concerns that we have in this dispensation.

Feel free to share your thoughts, and let me know if maybe my pain killers (from my surgery) are really the ones doing the talking.

(As a totally unrelated aside, I want to point out that Nephi urges us to worship Christ in verse 29. How does this jive with the tendency among LDS to emphasize that we worship God the Father, not Christ? I think we need to reevaluate what we mean by “worship”.)

The “Shotgun” Attack

Those who are involved in LDS apologetics know what I refer to when I mention the “shotgun” attack. It is a tactic employed by critics in which they will tick off a number of issues, sometimes related to each other and sometimes not, all the while providing no context for the unwitting reader. It is often a series of silly or outright false claims which, individually, would be simple enough to dispel but taken together would require an immense amount of work to address all at once. Like a shotgun it is an array of projectiles in the hope that one of them will hit. Other names and analogies for this type of thing exist also.

A “shotgun” attack might look something like this:

“Jesus of Mormonism is not a unique and the only Son of God, but he is the eldest of all spirit children  of God born to God and his multiple wives in the “pre-existence”. Mormon-Jesus is also a spirit-brother of Lucifer and all angels. When Jesus of Mormonism was born into mortality, He was not begotten by the Holy Ghost, but he was begotten by their “father in heaven”, an  exalted god-man…”

If this sounds Ed Decker-esque in nature that is because it is from Ed Decker. Not every critic talks that way, but many do. Each of the points mentioned are rooted in some kind of Mormon folklore, or are a perversion of an actual Mormon belief, and none of them is given the slightest bit of context or fair trial. The advantage is that nobody is going to be willing to work through every statement made and explain them properly because it would be an overwhelming task.

Daniel Peterson and Stephen Ricks, in their classic book “Offenders for a Word“, quote Catholic apologist Karl Keating who complains of this exact phenomenon:

“It must be admitted they enjoy a certain tactical (if short-term) advantage in that they can get away with presenting bare-bones claims such as these; they wear out Catholicism’s defenders by inundating them with short remarks that demand long explanations.”

Keating, Karl. “Catholicism and Fundamentalism: The Attack on “Romanism” by “Bible Christians.” San Francisco: Ignatius, 1988.

Next time a critic of the Church attacks our faith using the “shotgun” approach, you can commiserate with our Catholic friends. It is a shoddy, dishonest, but effective tactic.

The chicken or the egg: spiritual experience or mere brain activity?

Here is a quote that from time to time I need, but I always have to go searching for it. From Greg Smith in the FARMS Review of Books:

“A neuroimaging team might study a patient who reports that he is “seeing” an apple. The team could demonstrate that certain areas in the occipital cortex light up in a predictable pattern whenever the patient reports “seeing” an apple. The skeptics would have us believe that because this reported sensation can be detected on a PET scan, there is no such thing as literal vision and no literal apple! This is counterintuitive at best. Without knowing whether an apple was, in fact, in front of the patient’s open eyes during the scan, there would be no way to tell from the radiology data whether the apple existed or not. For spiritual matters, it is impossible to crack open the scanner and spot the apple (or its absence).

“Put simply, all cognition must cause brain level changes. Everything we think, feel, experience, or sense must induce a change at the level of the neurons. Is it any surprise that similar experiences will provoke similar areas of the brain to behave in similar ways, since we know that the brain is anatomically specialized for a variety of functions? Whether such brain changes are all that is happening is, of course, the intriguing question. Newberg makes this point repeatedly.[27]

“So the key question remains: Are brain changes the “phenomenon” (i.e., the whole of the experience, a “hallucination” of an apple), or are they an “epiphenomenon” (i.e., caused by something outside of the brain: light traveling from an apple, striking the retina, and influencing the neurons)? There’s no way to tell, by this—or any—set of experiments.[28] Newberg argues that the changes wrought by spiritual experiences are every bit as “real” as those from standard sensory phenomena.”


The Titanic and the Book of Mormon: Implications for Spalding/Ethan Smith Conspiracy Theories

We all know about the never-tiring attempts by some critics to find parallels between The Book of Mormon and certain books which were published, and perhaps available, to Joseph Smith before the publication of the Book of Mormon. These especially include “View of the Hebrews” by Ethan Smith  and “Manuscript Found” by Solomon Spalding. (Click here for Elder Holland’s remarks on this topic.)

A friend recently brought to my attention the following video which features popular Christian scholar William Lane Craig discussing a novel written in 1898 about a giant ship called Titan that runs into an iceberg in the North Atlantic and sinks. What is interesting about this? This novel was written 14 years before the Titanic ran into an iceberg in the North Atlantic and sank. There are many more similarities between the novel and the actual event than just that. You can read more about this novel at Wikipedia.

William Lane Craig doesn’t have Mormonism in mind, but someone apparently saw this video and recognized the relevance his comments have for Book of Mormon debates. The slides that appear at the beginning and end of the video are obviously independent of Craig’s comments. I don’t know who made this video, but kudos to them (update: I know who made the video, but I’m not sure they want their name here).

The argument this video is making is that just because a fictional story has many similarities to an actual event, even if that fictional story was written before the actual event took place (or was revealed by God), doesn’t invalidate the actual event.

Book of Mormon scholars in recent years have been discussing the dangers of “parallelomania”, which is the tendency we have to see parallels everywhere and to draw  inappropriate conclusions based on them. This phenomenon happens on both sides of the aisle (among critics and faithful). LDS researcher and writer Ben McGuire discusses this problem here. Brant Gardner also discusses this problem in an interview (here).

Moroni 10:4 as a Hebraism

Ever heard this one?

Wait a second. Moroni 10:4 says to ask if these things are NOT true… That’s a negative. It tells the reader to to ask if these things are NOT true. So if the answer you got is, “yes” then by the wording of the scripture doesn’t that mean that the answer you got is that the Church isn’t true? (Yes, these things are not true).
This was posted in an anti-Mormon message board, but it is an argument that comes up from time to time. It is suggested that Moroni’s challenge, if followed, will lead to a “no” if the answer is “yes”. The argument is of course silly and untenable, but that hasn’t stopped anti-Mormons from using it (such reasons rarely do).
LDS scholar Ben Spackman addressed this issue in a scholarly manner through the pages of Insights, a publication of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute. Ben (an acquaintance who I greatly admire) points out that Moroni’s question is in fact a “negative rhetorical question”, a Hebraism that shows up not only in the Book of Mormon but also in the Bible.
This rhetorical device occurs in English, but it is stronger and more common in biblical Hebrew…In contrast to a “simple question, when the questioner is wholly uncertain as to the answer to be expected,” these negative questions, Hebrew scholars have pointed out, sometimes have an “exclamatory nuance” or “a special force of asseveration” (i.e., they are being used for rhetorical effect, conveying positive or even emphatic force)…
Some critics have charged that a positive response about the Book of Mormon as a result of prayer indicates that the Book of Mormon is not true, because of the phrasing of the passage. This argument is strained and untenable given the nature of rhetorical negative questions. Moroni asks that “when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true”—rather than “if these things are indeed true.” Though from a relatively late period in Nephite history, this example nevertheless seems valid since a form of “altered” Hebrew was still in use, at least for writing (see Mormon 9:33). Additional examples of negative questions may include 1 Nephi 15:12; 2 Nephi 31:7; Jacob 5:48; Mosiah 4:19; 7:23; 20:18; 27:15; and Alma 5:11; 27:18; 39:18; 39:19; 47:34.
So next time this funny little argument crops up you can point folks to the ancient Hebrew root of this question.

FAIR Study Aids

Since my last post here I’ve had my hands full with many other important projects, including defending my masters thesis, moving my family out of state, and starting a new job. It’s been a very busy winter for me.

I’ve also been busy working on a project for FAIR, namely the “FAIR Study Aids,” which correspond with each weekly Sunday School lesson on the Book of Mormon. It has been a lot of fun and a lot of work. I’ve had a number of ideas for posts here as I’ve worked on this project, and I’m archiving them in my mind for a later date. The FAIR Study Aids will provide summaries of (and links to) the best LDS scholarship related to that week’s Sunday School lesson about the Book of Mormon. We especially focus on apologetic issues and evidence for the Book of Mormon.

I also want to call attention to some other resources for Book of Mormon studies. Professor William Hamblin of BYU has been doing regular podcasts/videos about each chapter of the Book of Mormon at Mormon Scripture Explorations. It is top notch scholarship and you will learn something new every time. I always watch them. Another great resource is the hard work Kerry Shirts is doing with his Backyard Professor videos. Finally, my friends at Sunday School Apologetics are doing a project in tandem with our FAIR Study Aids. Excellent stuff all around.

Stay tuned for future posts here as life begins to slow down in the near future.