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Mormon Scholars Testify: Jeff Lindsay
|Title||Mormon Scholars Testify: Jeff Lindsay|
|Publication Type||Web Article|
|Year of Publication||2010|
|Access Date||3 April 2018|
|Last Update Date||February 2010|
|Publisher||Mormon Scholars Testify|
|Keywords||Criticism; Doctrine; Education; Faith; Historicity; Joy; Scholarship; Study; Testimony|
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My personal journey of faith is deeply rooted in the power and reality of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I have found peace and joy in seeking Him, and pain and frustration when I depart. I have seen that His love can heal broken hearts and shattered lives in miraculous ways. Although this mortal trek is filled with unavoidable death and suffering, compounded by the horrific cruelty of humans who abuse the precious moral agency we have from God, Christ does have power to bring us back to Him and will wipe away the tears in the end. He has power to free us from our sins and make us new, if we will accept Him and His covenants of mercy. He has power to raise us from the dead to live forever. Those glorious truths, affirmed and taught so beautifully in the Bible and Book of Mormon, make sense out of the chaos of confusion in this world. Though He seems remote and even nonsensical to the world, He is not far, and, indeed, has left evidences of His reality that can soften our hearts and give us just enough hope and faith to seek Him and experience life-changing encounters with the Divine. These evidences include the witness of the Bible and the witness of the Book of Mormon. My personal experiences with the Book of Mormon and my testimony that it truly is a miraculous witness of Jesus Christ rich in divine truth are important reasons why I believe in the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and choose to be an active member in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Book of Mormon
The Book of Mormon, an ancient and miraculous witness for Jesus Christ, is among the most exciting treasures on the earth. While critics regurgitate old attacks and chant the weary mantra that there is “not a scrap of evidence for the Book of Mormon,” those willing to learn and explore have a rich journey of faith and even evidence waiting for them. Not evidence to take away the need for faith, for faith is required to accept any record as a genuine witness of God and Jesus Christ, but evidence to overcome stumbling blocks and arguments that might destroy growing faith. We don’t have all the answers and, in fact, are still in our infancy when it comes to understanding many things about the Book of Mormon. Yet after being attacked on all sides by scholars, ministers, and others for 170 years, the book today is “truer than ever” in that many puzzles have been resolved, many impressive evidences for plausibility have been found (I will simply mention the Arabian Peninsula evidence as a starting point for those interested) and theories for its non-miraculous origins increasingly rely on Joseph Smith tapping into intellectual resources and information far beyond his reach. Detailed scholarship on the lives, conversations, and writings of the many witnesses of the gold plates also make their life-long affirmation of the reality and divinity of the Book of Mormon an impressive and consistent witness for which fraud and conspiracy become utterly implausible explanations.
That ancient record of the Book of Mormon testifies more strongly now than ever that Jesus is the Christ, that man can have hope and joy in Him, and that the Son of God still speaks in our day as in days of old. The Book of Mormon is the most powerful tool on earth for convincing mortal man that Jesus is the Christ and for teaching the majesty and power of His Atonement with richness and depth that will surprise and delight those who open their hearts and minds.
An Intellectually Fulfilling Journey
I do not consider myself a scholar and frankly feel unqualified to have my views be shared on this site, though I have tried to apply scholarly tools in various parts of my career and life. I do love to learn and appreciate the contributions that real scholars both within and outside the Church have made over the centuries to elevate our understanding of life, of the Creation, and of the Gospel. I deeply believe that God intends us to explore and to use our minds in the quest to follow Him. My experience, like that of many LDS people I know and respect, has been intellectually fulfilling. Not just fulfilling, but breathtaking.
My journey in the Church has brought me great joy, peace, understanding, and intellectual satisfaction, though there are always issues that may annoy or puzzle in a Church with fallible mortals for its members and leaders. My faith, though, is not in the perfection of mortals, but in the power and wisdom of Jesus Christ, and I believe the Church is a tool created under His direction and given power from Him to bless our lives in many ways.
In spite of all the mortal flaws one might find in LDS leaders and members, in spite of the gaps in knowledge that we struggle with and have struggled with in the past, when we step back and look at what the restored Gospel offers us, there are remarkable answers that not only resolve great puzzles in theology and philosophy, but have powerful practical applications in making sense of mortal chaos. When I say that, I think of LDS teachings regarding the nature of God, the relationship between humans as spiritual sons and daughters of a real Heavenly Father, the pre-mortal existence, the purpose of mortal life, the nature of mortal agency as a genuine gift from God to His children, the role of the physical body and the Resurrection, the relationship between the Fall and the Redemption, the deep insights into the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ to change our lives and overcome all that holds us back from joy, and the ministry to those who have died, including the mercy of God in giving an opportunity to all to hear and accept the Gospel of Christ if they will. I could also refer to the intellectually satisfying perspectives we have on the Restoration of the Gospel, including restoration of authority, principles, and covenants.
The intellectual excitement that a study of the Gospel brings can be part of a testimony. What we call a “testimony” is not self-deception based on fickle feelings, but a deep, multi-faceted perspective that integrates experience, knowledge, faith, study, and personal revelation given to the heart and mind. Heart and mind both play a role in receiving revelation from the Spirit: “I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart. Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation…” (Doctrine and Covenants 8:2-3). This concept of personal revelation in receiving a personal “testimony” or witness of the Divine is rejected by some Christians, but they misunderstand the scriptures. It was revelation that let early Christians recognize and follow Jesus Christ as the Messiah (Matthew 16:17), and by revelation from the Spirit that mortals are able to know the things of God (1 Corinthians 2:10-14). Through our spiritual journey, there is and should be constant interaction between belief and knowledge, faith and logic, theory and experience, heart and mind, spirit and body, revelation and study. This interaction may sometimes seem like tension and discord, for we are always incomplete and many of the paradigms we use to interpret the Gospel and the world may need to be revised as we advance. We must be prepared for things we will not understand nor grasp. As we learn more through science, revelation, or other means, we may need to examine assumptions once made and recognize that they were not required by our faith at all, but were human artifacts in need of updating. Whether it is recognizing that the earth, according to the Hebrew text, may have been made over periods much longer than seven twenty-four-hour days, or recognizing that the Book of Mormon does not claim to identify the origins of all ancient Americans in the Western hemisphere and actually covers a limited geographic territory, updating assumptions about the text and replacing folk knowledge with a more detailed and careful understanding is not desperate backpedaling, but moving forward as we progress in knowledge. Progress in understanding often leads to intellectual growth and excitement.
Learning from Scholars
A recognition of the intellectual excitement that the Gospel brings became especially strong while I was in graduate school at BYU, completing a doctorate in chemical engineering. My wife and I were fortunate to be in the Provo Ninth Ward, where Dr. Hugh Nibley was member. I learned a lot from him and greatly admired the man, a true scholar. I learned much from others in that ward and elsewhere who had put forth the effort to keep up with the exciting advances in knowledge related to the Gospel, especially from the ancient world. Recommended reading from one friend would soon take my intellectual appreciation of the power and beauty of the LDS temple concept to a new level. This process was ignited by reading two books, one by a scholar of comparative religion and one by a scholar of ancient Judaism. Neither of these scholars was LDS. Mircea Eliade’s famous The Sacred and the Profane helped me understand the role of sacred space, the symbolism of several temple concepts, and the ancient importance of the great axis connecting the worlds of the living, of the dead, and the Divine. It was a whole new framework that made the temple all the more impressive. But even greater delight occurred when I read Jon Levenson’s Sinai and Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible (Minneapolis: Winston Press, 1985). Levenson, now a widely recognized scholar at Harvard, introduced me to ancient symbols and patterns that suddenly added vast new layers of meaning and beauty to the LDS temple. Early in the book he introduces and emphasizes the ancient “covenant formulary,” the classical pattern of covenant making from the ancient Middle East. In this pattern, only recently recognized by scholars a century after Joseph Smith’s day, ancient covenants between a king and vassals or between God and man can often be characterized with at least some of six key elements, a pattern that one can find majestically present with all six elements in the LDS temple paradigm that Joseph Smith restored. That pattern and many other elements of ancient covenant making, ancient festivals, and ancient coronation ceremonies can also be found in King Benjamin’s speech in the Book of Mormon, along with Hebraisms, chiasmus, and elements of Semitic poetry beyond anything Joseph Smith could have fabricated, in my opinion. (See King Benjamin’s Speech, ed. by John W. Welch and Stephen D. Ricks [Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1998].)
I deeply appreciate the contributions that many serious scholars have made to understanding the LDS scriptures and the riches of the LDS perspective. Far too few within the Church and certainly far too few outside the Church appreciate the significant gains that have been made and the delightful treasures of understanding that are there. There is so much to learn and appreciate.
Facing Contrary Views
My faith is not blind or immune from logic. I have considered what others have said and have tried to understand and find answers. Indeed, my faith for a period was greatly shaken by some anti-Mormon writings on the Book of Abraham. But as I grappled with that issue, I found that what some might consider to be the “weak underbelly of Mormonism” is actually a source of great strength for the Church. There are delightful “bull’s eyes” in that book that are hard to account for as lucky guesses—and must be accounted for if we are to consider the big picture. Since recognizing some of the deceptive tactics used in the “slam dunk” arguments against the Book of Abraham and the impressive evidence hinting that at least something beyond Joseph Smith’s abilities is going on in that text, I have come to learn that there are numerous ancient documents not available to Joseph Smith that support many elements in the text itself. (See the impressive volume of scholarship by John A. Tvedtnes, Brian M. Hauglid, and John Gee, eds., Traditions About the Early Life of Abraham, Studies in the Book of Abraham, No. 1 [Provo: FARMS, 2001].) For those looking for understanding, there is great richness in the Book of Abraham text and much to study. As always, one looking for reasons to disbelieve can find them. In all matters of religion and even of history in general, there are usually enough unanswered questions and conundrums to allow for various conclusions.
In fact, one could say that there are good reasons for not accepting the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, or the claims of the Restored Gospel, just as there are good reasons for not believing in God, for rejecting Jesus Christ, and for rejecting the Bible. Yes, I mean that, and Latter-day Saints need to understand that and be more understanding of those who reject our faith, including fellow Latter-day Saints who struggle or even choose to leave. We must be cautious not to judge them too harshly or to assume that their objections are just excuses for some hidden sin. We must understand that there are plausible reasons that could lead an intelligent person sincerely seeking for truth to reject a claim that requires faith. In the day of Christ, the leading intellectuals and scholars presented long lists of arguments about why Christ was a con-man, a sinner, and a false prophet, with claims and teachings in plain violation of scripture and logic. There were sincere, intelligent people like Saul who could only see evil in the rise of the Christian cult. Others stumbled over particular doctrines, events, or practices. The same obstacles exist in our day, more than ever, and those who struggle deserve love, patience, and respect. Most need more than just affirmations of our testimonies. They need to know that there are some intellectually plausible perspectives relating to apparent and sometimes real problems in our religion and history. Don’t discount the problems they face. At least point them to resources from LDS defenders such as those at the Maxwell Institute (formerly FARMS), FAIRLDS.org, and other apologetic resources. I’ve tried to be a junior LDS apologist for several years since starting a website in 1994 and then the Mormanity blog in 2004, and have found it to be a fascinating experience. I’ve learned much from those outside and within the Church through the dialogs we’ve had. Apologetics is not meant to convert anyone or prove anything, but to help remove some of the roadblocks to faith, to help people believe that maybe there are reasons to actually read and ponder the Book of Mormon, or to seek to understand if Jesus really is the Christ. While sincere people have rejected our faith over some of the intellectual issues they see, others have received the help they need to understand that there are genuine answers to some of the questions bothering them and that there may be more to the Church than the slander they’ve heard. Intellectually satisfying answers can help people open their minds and their hearts to the real converting power that comes through the Spirit of God. That’s why apologetics matters to me and while I’ll keep trying to let people know there is more to the Gospel than they might think.
Theory Alone Is Not Enough
Studying the scriptures, early Christianity, scholarly writings, and other resources can be an exciting adventure, but it’s largely one of theory. A testimony does not always come from theory alone. Much of the growth of my own personal testimony has come from the opportunities to serve in the Church. The Church, in my view, is like a laboratory where we can put into practice what we learn in theory. Those who combine study with practice can find exciting new dimensions of faith where again both heart and mind will come into play. Some of the most dramatic experiences that have taught me about the reality of Jesus Christ and the power of His Gospel have come from home teaching, my two-year mission in Switzerland, or other service roles I have been in. When we seek to serve others and pray for their benefit, seeking guidance on what to do, the dew of personal revelation seems far more likely to descend, in my experience, than in any other scenario I can think of. I can also say that in serving in ward and stake callings, I have seen how the Church operates behind closed doors and what really motivates and drives decision making, Those experiences have shown me repeatedly that the Church is about bringing people to Jesus Christ and serving Him. The reality of the Church is a far cry from the caricature painted by its critics. They may have their reasons for condemning it, but my experiences and my studies have confirmed to my mind what the Spirit has confirmed to my heart, showing me that in spite of the fallible mortals walking its halls, the Church is a divine tool from Jesus Christ to bring us closer to Him. I do not have all the answers, but I dare to stand as a witness nonetheless that the Church of Jesus Christ has been restored, that the Book of Mormon is a divine record that testifies of Him, that Jesus Christ is real and is our Rock, our Redeemer, and our only hope for lasting joy.
Jeff Lindsay has a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Brigham Young University, 1986, where he was a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellow. He graduated summa cum laude with a B.Sc. in Chemical Engineering from BYU in 1983. He was an Assistant and then Associate Professor at the Institute of Paper Science and Technology on the Georgia Tech campus (1987-1994, originally the Institute of Paper Chemistry). He worked as a researcher and eventually as Corporate Patent Strategist at Kimberly-Clark Corporation, 1994 to 2007, and since 2007 is Director of Solution Development at Innovationedge, Neenah, Wisconsin, where he works with clients in the US and abroad on innovation strategy, new product development, and intellectual property strategy. He is a registered US patent agent, an inventor with over 100 issued U.S. patents, and the lead author of the John Wiley & Sons book Conquering Innovation Fatigue, with coauthors Cheryl Perkins and Mukund Karanjikar (New York, 2009). Jeff is chair of the Forest Bioproducts Division of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), and a member of the Licensing Executives Society, TAPPI, and Engineers Without Borders. He blogs at Mormanity.org and InnovationFatigue.com. and his LDS-related web pages are mostly found at JeffLindsay.com. Jeff is on Twitter as @jefflindsay and @mormanity.
Jeff is married to his high-school sweetheart, Kendra Lindsay. She is a math and music teacher who is the founder of the Classical School in Appleton, Wisconsin, a public charter school with 460 students focused on academic achievement. She has a master’s degree in statistics from BYU. They are the parents of four Eagle Scouts and currently have two grandchildren.
Posted February 2010
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