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Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Grace of Apologetics or Why I am an Apologist

In light of the recent 2008 FAIR Conference, I have been reflecting on what it means for me to be an apologist and why I believe apologetics are necessary in today's modern Church just as it has always been necessary in the Church of Jesus Christ. 

The Apostle Peter, in 1 Peter 3:15 gives us the admonition to "always be ready to give an answer[1] to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear[2]". Furthermore, Jude in Jude 1:3 tells us that we should be "earnestly contend[ing] for the faith which was once delivered unto the Saints". And finally, the Lord in D&C 71 instructed the Prophet Joseph Smith to "confound your enemies; call upon them to meet you both in public and in private..." and indicated that "...inasmuch as ye are faithful, their shame shall be manifest. Wherefore," the Lord continued. "let them bring forth their strong reasons against the Lord"(vs.7-8).

Thus we see that as falsehoods and lies about the Truth of God continue to spread and multiply amongst the children of men, we, as Saints of the Lord in these latter days, have been given a charge to correct these errors, put down these criticisms and engage in these battles between truth and falsehood. For these reasons, I am proud to call myself a Mormon apologist and am not afraid to identify myself as a defender of the Prophet Joseph Smith, his revelations, life, legacy and ministry as well as the Lord Jesus Christ and his Church today. 

Apologetics comes from the Greek word apologia which means to "speak in defense" of a certain position or view. Anyone who defends a certain argument is an apologist. Even those critical of something, while simultaneously critics, are also apologists for their (critical) views. The most famous apologist, of course, was the philosopher Socrates, who famously defended his life against his accusers in his famous Apology of Socrates. In ancient Greece, the defendant in a court case was called an apologist for himself or his case, since he was arguing in defense of something. Therefore, the term "apologetics" or "apologist" does not have the same connotation as it does today in that apologists generally are not sorry about anything. 

It must be understood that the truth of the LDS faith and the claims of Joseph Smith, like any other religion, lies within the realm of spirituality and thus only a personal spiritual testimony can truly "prove" that the Church is true. Indeed, it is only by revelation, the Scriptures assure us, and not reason that can testify to us that Jesus is the Christ and that God lives. Just like Peter, who was told that it was not "flesh and blood" that revealed to him that Jesus is the Christ but instead "my Father which is in Heaven" (Matthew 16:17), so we as well are to gain a personal testimony by revelation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. No amount of rational argumentation or evidence can prove that the Church is true, so anyone wishing to get involved in apologetics should understand that apologetics is not about "proving" anything.

What, then, is the intention of Mormon apologetics? I believe that it is three fold.

1. Correct falsehoods. There are some pernicious lies as well as sincere misunderstandings regarding the history and teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Apologetics helps in correcting these falsehoods and misunderstandings.

2. Silence criticisms. There are some loud (and sometimes obnoxious) critics of the Church who may tout some "problem(s)" with the Church's history, teachings or scriptures and dine to the ears of the public that these reasons alone constitute enough purpose to not join or even leave the Church. Critics often like to bring up topics such as Book of Mormon "anachronisms", Joseph Smith's character, the Book of Abraham, polygamy, Mountain Meadows Massacre or something similar and hail this "overwhelming evidence" as the final death nail for the LDS Church. Many of these criticisms, however, are unfounded and have been dealt with again and again by LDS researchers and scholars. Apologetics, therefore, helps in silencing these criticisms and giving answers to the objections raised by the critics.

3. Gain appreciation for the nature and splendor of LDS scripture. Hugh Nibley wrote in 1968 that "long experience has shown that the Latter-day Saints only become aware of the nature and genius of their modern scriptures when relentless and obstreperous criticisms from the outside forces them to take a closer look at what they have, with the usual result of putting those scriptures in a much stronger position than they were before."[3] With Apologetics, therefore, deeper appreciation for the Church or the Scriptures is sought in order to create an atmosphere that can enhance or encourage faith and progression. As the Prophet Joseph Smith said, "only by proving contraries can truth be made manifest."[4]

Furthermore, as the Church expands and continues to interact with the public at large, so too will the anti-Mormon[5] industry. Therefore, a call has been issued by Elder M. Russell Ballard for members of the Church to "shar[e] the Gospel using the internet" and that "we cannot sit on the sidelines while we allow others - including our critics - attempt to define what the Church teaches." Elder Ballard further explains that while "we cannot answer every question, satisfy every inquiry and respond to every inaccuracy that exists..." we should nevertheless "continually share the gospel with others."[6]

That is why I am an apologist and that is why I think that all members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should continue to "contend for the faith" that has been delivered to them in the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times by the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord's anointed Prophet, Seer and Revelator. After all, as Elder Neal A. Maxwell once said, we should never allow the critics of make "uncontested slam dunks" against the Church.[7]

Notes:

[1]: A more correct translation of the Greek would be apologia which, as was explained earlier, is the root for the word apologetics.

[2]: Or reverence, awe.

[3]: Improvement Era, Jan. 1968 pg. 18

[4]: Quoted by Kerry Shirts on his website Mormonism Researched

[5]: By "anti-Mormon" I mean those who actively and restlessly attack the Church with books, articles, tracts, websites and ministries (i.e. Ed Decker, Sandra Tanner and Bill McKeever). I do not mean, however, those who may simply have disagreements with the Church or still have questions as to the authenticity of the claims of Joseph Smith.

[6]: "Sharing the Gospel Using the Internet" by Elder M. Russell Ballard. Ensign, July 2008

[7]: As quoted by Hal G. Ferguson in "I have a Question". Ensign, January 1995.


Daniel C. Peterson Book of Mormon Evidence Lectures

In April of 2008, I had the opportunity to film Daniel C. Peterson at Olivewood Bookstore as he presented a lecture on evidence for the Book of Mormon. These videos were later posted on Youtube by my friend and acquaintance Tyler Livingston. Now that I have figured out how to post Youtube videos, I will be posting them here for your enjoyment.

I am sorry that the camera is shaky. I, dummy that I am, forgot to bring a tri-pod and therefore there is some shaking. I apologize. 

Part 1




Part 2




Part 3




Part 4




Part 5




Part 6




Part 7




Part 8




Finally on Youtube

One rather obnoxious youth who is also a pseudo-scholarly apologetic hack named Steve Smoot has finally become famous. Earlier I mentioned how Kerry Shirts had filmed me at the FAIR Conference; well, here it is! The video is up and I am now world famous.*


*And rather humble, might I add. ;0)

In this video, you can see me around 8:27 until the end.



In this one you can see me around 4:35-7:35






And here I get an honorable mention at 2:10-2:40







People I met at the FAIR Conference

This year at the FAIR Conference, I had the opportunity to meet some outstanding people from online and elsewhere. I apologize for not listing everyone, but I shall nevertheless try to do my best to report who I met and the experiences we had.

1. Kerry Shirts - I have to mention the BackyardProfessor, since he not only is a fun and energetic dude with the smarts of a Hugh Nibley and the charisma of a Dan Peterson, but because he mentioned me on his Youtube video site. Kerry and I talked about a number of things, including the Book of Abraham and current LDS scholarship. He recommended some books to me which I am excited to look over, including Mark Smith's The Origins of Biblical Monotheism and Edward Watson's Mormonism: The Faith of the 21st Century. Kerry furthermore is very funny in person. I had the opportunity to speak with him at the 2007 FAIR Conference, but only for a moment. It was very nice to be able to speak with him some more and I wish him all the best of luck with his future podcasts and Youtube videos.

2. Blair Hodges (aka lifeonaplate) - Blair is an absolutely hilarious guy who can also be very profound when he talks on theology and Mormonism. I enjoyed some wonderful conversations with him and am sorry that he cannot afford all of the book he wants (don't worry, Blair, we are in the same boat).

3. Daniel C. Peterson - Professor Peterson is an absolute riot. He is very funny when you talk with him. A group of us were speaking with him when he related his desire to start an anti-Mormon watching club similar to the Audubon Society or how, when asked what will happen to the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount, remarked that it would make a great Celestial Room for the temple going to be built there. But Dan is also very smart and intelligent, and I also enjoy his company as we can also talk about serious questions relating to Mormon apologetics.

4. Sione Pauni (aka Lamanite) - I met Sione for the first time at the FAIR Conference. He is a very nice gentleman who offered some insightful views on theodicy, or how to explain the existence of evil in the world and the relationship it has to God. Really a nice and intelligent guy.

5. Tyler Livingston (aka livy111us) - Tyler is my new pal at FAIR. We had met before to team up in filming Daniel C. Peterson before at a lecture he gave at Olivewood Bookstore and again to film Brant Gardner at the FAIR Conference yesterday. Tyler is a wonderful filmmaker who has produced video rebuttals to anti-Mormon charges and posted them on Youtube. Because of his efforts, he won the prestigious John Taylor Defender of the Faith Award this year at the FAIR Conference. I look forward to working on future projects with him.

6. Dan Vogel - Dan Vogel is a researcher and historian who has written some books critical of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. However, that being so, he has also produced some wonderful books covering Mormon history, including a 5 volume series entitled Early Mormon Documents and I must applaud him for bringing this valuable series together. I was also informed that Dan is working on a critical text edition of the 7 volume series History of the Church.* I had the opportunity to meet Dan at the FAIR Conference (he had showed up to listen to Daniel C. Peterson's talk on apologetics) and speak with him on some stuff. He is a very nice gentleman who is amiable, friendly and soft spoken. He is also very civil in his discussions on Mormon history and all around a nice fellow. Even though I disagree with a lot of his conclusions on Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, I nevertheless respect him in that he is trying to be honest to the historical sources (unlike many other critics of Joseph Smith) and for his work done on documenting Mormon history.

Others I met include Matt Roper, Brian Hauglid, Louis Midgley, Scott Gordon, Mike Ash, Brant Gardner, Matt Brown, and several MADB posters such as HiJolly, Calmoriah, Deborah, Darin, C.I. and Wade Englund.

I also was able to pick up some wonderful book selections including The Origins of Biblical Monotheism by Mark Smith, Mormonism: The Faith of the 21st Century by Edward Watson, Organize my Kingdom by John Tvedtnes, Massacre at Mountain Meadows by Richard Turley, Ronald Walker and Glen Leonard, and How Wide the Divide? by Craig Bloomberg and Stephen Robinson. Hopefully I will be able to post my thoughts on these volumes in later posts here at American Testament.

* By critical text edition, that does not mean that Dan is going to be critical in that he will be criticizing, but instead that he will be providing historical and textual context for the different entries in History of the Church series.

Notes on Wright, Poulsen and Gardner

Alas! I took some notes on the talks given by these three Book of Mormon scholars, but after looking at the notes taken by Blair Hodges of Life On Gold Plates, I feel that my feeble notes cannot do justice (plus I am just too lazy right now to transcribe my notes). Therefore, I will outsource to Brother Hodges as he provides some excellent notes that the reader can look over. Enjoy!





Fun and Fanfare at the FAIR Conference!!




Wow! The 2008 FAIR Conference was, in a word, amazing! So many wonderful topics were presented and so many shoulders were rubbed. I am still reeling over how fun this recent conference was. And, as promised, I shall present on this year's FAIR Conference here at American Testament. However, after completing the two day conference, I realize that I cannot fit everything into one post, so I shall create many; one on the presentations of Mark Alan Wright, Larry Poulsen and Brant Gardner*, another on my experience in meeting different people at the conference and a third on some reflections on Mormon apologetics and the role of apologetics in the Church.

* Due to jet lag which tired me out and the fact that I am a terrible note taker, the reader is strongly encouraged to read the notes provided by Blair Hodges at his blog lifeongoldplates.blogspot.com.