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Having read this anthology, and having read Densley’s review, I feel that he is misstating the intent of the book. To be upfront: I work for the publisher (Greg Kofford Books), but I was not involved in the production of this title. Densley seemed to be anticipating a history of apologetics within Mormonism. Something that gives a complimentary view of the role and influence of apologetics on Mormon scholarship throughout its past (perhaps beginning with Parley P. Pratt). I think that would be an interesting and worthwhile book. I definitely believe there is room for something like that in the field of Mormon studies. However, this was not, nor was it ever intended to be, that book. The title alone, Perspectives on Mormon Theology, should have made clear that the purpose was to consider a variety of perspectives about a particular topic; and, if Densley were familiar with the first volume on the series that discussed scriptural theology, I think he would have been better positioned to understand the purpose of this series. In my view, this anthology does precisely what it promised to do: offer a variety of perspectives on the topic of apologetics within Mormonism. In fact, the press release sheet that Densely received when the book was sent to him explicitly stated as much in its header: “Examining the contributions, tensions, and utility of apologetics from multiple perspectives.” The question for a reviewer, then, should be “Does this book accomplish that stated goal?” Not “Does this book accomplish what I was hoping it would accomplish?”
In my reading, this book is grouped into seven distinct categories that are far more complex than defense or criticism:
1. Historical background (Van Dyke)
2. Pro-apologetics (Peterson, Rappleye, Ash)
3. Apologetics in the academy (Hancock, Park, Birch)
4. Female perspectives (Reynolds, Smith, Givens)
5. Anthropological perspective (Knowlton)
6. Critiques (Ericson, Bokovoy)
7. Future possibilities (Spencer, Payne)
I argue that treating the volume as a binary “for” or “against” is reductionist and not only misses its purpose, but actually manufactures a false polemic. The fact is, there are actually more chapters in this volume that are straightforward defenses of apologetics than there are chapters that are straightforward critiques.
However, I also think that Greg Kofford Books (including me) take some of the responsibility for the manner in which Densley’s approach to the volume differs from its objective. Quite frankly, we should have made more clear in our marketing material the various groupings that I outlined above. Perhaps a better-defined road map would have made the purpose and organization of the volume more clear.
Let me amend my response above by stating that I typically don’t reply to negative reviews of the books that the company I work for publishes. Negative reviews are part of the deal. You can’t please everybody, and you can’t take them personally. Plus, I think it’s tacky when a publisher goes after reviewers. It’s better to just consider their merit and move forward. However, once in awhile, a review deserves a response. I was in no way encouraged by the staff at Kofford to write this response (just the opposite, in fact). I tried to be fair with my response.
I think that was very helpful to the conversation here. Thanks.
I understand that the stated intent of the book was to “consider a variety of perspectives” about apologetics. My criticism of the book was not that it failed to meet this intent, although there were not as broad of a variety of perspectives as Whitney would lead people to think. As I stated in my conclusion, the perspectives that were offered in this book were skewed toward those who would “convince those involved in Mormon studies that it would be best to avoid using their academic training to defend the Church and, perhaps, to convince all readers that they should avoid using apologetics in their study and sharing of the gospel.”
Furthermore, I was only anticipating a history of apologetics to the extent that it was promised. As Whitney stated, and as the introduction to the book states, providing a historical background was part of the purpose of Van Dyke’s chapter. I do not think Van Dyke provided a sufficient historical background in his chapter. However, my criticisms of the book as a whole go far beyond whether or not the book, or any single chapter, met or failed to meet its stated intent. And I do not think that as a reviewer, I must limit myself to an analysis of whether or not a book accomplished its stated goal. I believe readers appreciate an analysis that moves beyond this single issue.
I appreciate the response and I apologize for imposing my views of what reviewers should prioritize. In my own experience both in reading and writing scholarly reviews, what I look for are the following:
1. What is the goal of the book?
2. Did the book achieve its goal?
3. What are the book’s successes?
4. What are the book’s shortcomings?
Then, perhaps a brief discussion on what else could still be done on the subject to add to the body of literature would be appropriate.
As you implied in your response, you don’t believe a reviewer needs to be constrained to this format. Furthermore, you believe that readers appreciate the additional discussion you bring to a book review. Quite frankly, this review style reminds me of the old FARMS style of reviewing that was a large part of why the Maxwell Institute felt compelled to shift directions.
At any rate, I’ll not belabor my point. I stand by my comments as much as you stand by yours.
The irony is that more people will probably read this review than read the book. It was not on my list of books to buy before or after this review.
When the authors of a text contend that a reviewer has fundamentally misunderstood the text, that is often a sign that it isn’t a great review.
Indeed, this review comes across as a prime example of bad apologetics, and one that sees attack the moment a differing perspective is presented and therefor assumes a defensive posture that is more interested in not giving ground than it is in providing a professional review of a text.
I haven’t read this book (I plan on buying/reading it eventually. It’s a bit hard to spend all your money in this one subject, which is basically what I do). But after reading it I did not get the sense that some have gotten that this was merely written from an angry perspective. To be fair, most people complaining about this review has either written an essay in the book or are editors of the book itself. So it may be a bit more personal for them than it would for me, being somewhat of an outsider.
But I go back and forth and compare review to comment and find myself raising eyebrows to find where exactly the offense was. In fact, I feel as if Mr Densley was misunderstood on multiple points. In a sense, it felt as if people were simply talking past each other. I normally would point out examples, but because in this case I will not do so for my own personal reasons.
I actually enjoy reading book reviews very much, even in cases where I simply disagree with the author on a few, all, or no points. In my limited estimation, it seems to me that Mr Densley’s review is worth considering and that h was misunderstood. I would simply invite readers to carefully examine both comments and the review and come to your own conclusion.
Reynolds claims that throughout my review of her chapter, I misstate, misuse and misrepresent her data and content, but I am not sure why she says this. All I can say in response is that I did my best to avoid misrepresenting anything and I would welcome the opportunity to respond to any example of how I misrepresented her data and content. She claims that I have criticized and rewritten her chapter, but it is unclear how.
It is fair to observe that I did not focus on the interviews Reynolds conducted with various female apologists. Due to space constraints, I was not able to address every aspect of every article in the book. I did discuss the historical apologetic efforts of women as well as some of the modern efforts that Reynolds notes such as those of Maurine Proctor and Mormon Women Stand. I added some observations of my own about how “mommy bloggers” also engage in a form of apologetics, and perhaps that is how she thinks I have “rewritten” her chapter. If so, it was not my intent to “rewrite” anything, but merely to add to the points Reynolds was already making.
Reynolds also accuses me of using the word “we” to refer to men. However, I was using the word “we” to refer to everyone, not just men.
Finally, she takes it personally when I said in the conclusion that some of the articles in the book criticize apologetics harshly, however, this comment was not directed at her.
“Finally, she takes it personally when I said in the conclusion that some of the articles in the book criticize apologetics harshly, however, this comment was not directed at her.”
But you wrote in the review:
“Of the 15 chapters, only those by Peterson, Ash, and Hancock defend apologetics directly. Rappleye offers a positive analysis of some results of apologetics, and Fiona Givens actually engages in apologetics. The remaining ten chapters criticize Mormon apologetics in various ways, sometimes quite harshly, including the claims that apologists ignore evidence, rely too heavily on evidence, or do not include enough women among their ranks.”
Which is it? Is Reynolds not in the remaining ten chapters?
While it is true that I included the Reynolds article among the ten chapters that criticized Mormon apologetics, the way in which she does this is to point out that there are not as many women as men in groups such as FairMormon. I said this was a “fair” observation. And in what I called “a subtle critique of the group dynamics of modern Mormon apologetics, Reynolds suggests that it may be related to the reason women do not participate in the science and engineering workforce or politics in numbers that are equal to those of men.” So while referring directly to Reynolds, I called one part of what she wrote “fair” and “a subtle critique.” With regard to the ten critical chapters, I did not mean to say that they were all harsh, all the time, rather that some of them were, at times, harsh.
Not to sound too critical because you are much more accomplished in your field than I am in mine, but those type of details are very important if you are writing a review.
All of those details are contained within the review.
As the author of “The Role of Women in Apologetics,” and a founder of FairMormon, I am saddened that I feel constrained to write this. A reader of this review would have no way of discerning that over half of the chapter that Densely criticizes and rewrites is interviews of women explaining their journey and heart felt motivation to defend their faith. Instead, the reviewer’s interest centers around a minor section of the chapter exploring possible data driven reasons why more women don’t engage in apologetics. Throughout, he misstates, misuses and misrepresents my data and content.
Ironically, he only speaks of apologetics through the male “we” when he assures us that women are “warmly welcomed” into in an arena we already inhabit. His strangely worded, “we shouldn’t force women into an ancient box called ‘apologetics'” exposes his perspective that apologetics is rightfully a male domain. His focus and main concern is on full display when he inexplicably drops “She doesn’t elaborate on specific examples of the male apologists’ offenses” into his review of Julie Smith’s chapter.
I think it necessary to provide a sample of the chapter’s content from one of the women Densely completely ignored throughout his wandering review,
“Hatton speaks for apologists when she says, “I am drawn to the community of saints who strive to live as Jesus Christ lived on the earth. I believe God is my Heavenly Father, and Jesus Christ is my Savior, both resurrected beings with bodies of flesh and bone. I believe that the human family is connected as brothers and sisters, who will someday live peacefully in their father’s kingdom. My marriage and family will not dissolve after death, but will be celebrated and enhanced in the next life.” Although her faith has never wavered, Hatton has had questions over the years about the doctrines and history of the Church. “I am a journalist,” she explained. “We are taught to examine both sides of the issue. As I researched those questions, I found that many books and websites purporting to answer questions about the Mormon faith were designed to cause doubt and confusion over LDS history and practices.”
I invite the reader of this review to compare Densley’s conclusion that a chapter about women in apologetics written by a woman apologist “harshly” criticizes apologetics to the conclusion found in the chapter itself,
“Carolina Allen, founder of Big Ocean Women (bigoceanwomen.org) eloquently sums it up: “Change doesn’t have to be torrential, giant tsunami waves that obliterate landscapes. It can be something subtle, quiet and small. I’m like this small little wave. I’m not insignificant. I’m part of a vast collective that makes up the ocean. That’s what womanhood is about.”
Mormon women will continue to rise to the challenge of defending their faith. They will continue to pioneer effective approaches to difficult problems. They will continue to push through barriers and create community. Women may determine the future of apologetics, one small wave at a time.”
And I call on The Interpreter to provide a balanced review for this book, one that is true to the content. Disagreement is to be expected, misrepresentation and ax grinding are not.
I was excited to see the Interpreter’s review of this volume. However, upon seeing it I was disappointed to see Steve Densley not only misreading or misrepresenting nearly every chapter in the volume but also with the malintent and bad faith that he seemed to do it in.
I’m usually not a fan of line by line responses, but because nearly every paragraph of Densley’s review of my own chapter exemplifies the above, I couldn’t help but do so.
Densley begins his review by immediately framing my contribution thus:
–“Loyd Ericson attacks apologetics . . .”
Densley’s framing my critique of apologetics as an “attack” is both unfortunate and exemplary of the issue of “tone” that I intentionally avoided in my chapter in order to focus on the categorical confusion I sought to address.
–“In arguing that apologetics cannot help defend religious claims, Ericson defines his terms in ways that assume what he is trying to prove.”
This is simply false. As a philosophical critique, it is essential to understand what is being discussed. When discussing religious apologetics, IMO it is necessary to make clear how religious apologetics differs from the extremely broad and largely useless category of apologetics in general (defending anything). In fact, I basically use the same definition that Daniel C. Peterson uses (and quote him in my chapter to that effect). The additional qualifier of “using scholarship” was just assumed as essential to religious apologetics (which is made pretty clear in most of the other chapters in the volume).
–“Ericson ignores a key point here, however: Secular scholarship is often marshaled (rightly or wrongly) to attack religious claims. Ericson claims that antireligious apologetics also has no place in scholarship. That is, no one ought to attempt to utilize scholarship to disprove or attack religious claims. However, what are we to do when someone “misuses” scholarship to disprove or attack a religious claim? Do we allow such attempts to pass unanswered?”
This is absurdly false, and I am not sure how Densley makes such a wrong accusation. Consider the following quotes from my chapter; “apologetics actually establishes or affirms THE FALE CRITERION by which those religious beliefs may be unfortunately lost.” “By joining or establishing the assumption that these religious claims can be proven or defended by scholarly means, they are creating or adding to the “FANTASY,” as Phillips calls it, THAT RELIGIOUS CLAIMS CAN BE DISPROVEN AND ATTACKED BY THE VERY SAME MEANS. They are joining hands with the critics they are opposing in their MISGUIDED UNDERSTANDING THAT RELIGIOUS CLAIMS STAND OR FALL ON SECULAR HISTORICAL, PHILOSOPHICAL, OR SCIENTIFIC ARGUMENTATION.” “Second, regardless of whether or not any particular work of secular scholarship in defense of religious claims withstands the rigorous debates of time, IT WRONGLY ESTABLISHES SECULAR SCHOLARSHIP IN GENERAL AS AN EVER-PRESENT POTENTIAL DEFEATER FOR RELIGIOUS BELIEF.” Not only do I not ignore this point, it is part of the primary thesis. In fact, my chapter would not make any sense at all if this wasn’t part of the thesis.
–“Do “real scholars,” even in the secular field of Mormon studies, not have a duty to reject or rebut such efforts?”
Whether or not I am a “real scholar” (btw, why is Densley talking like this?) is a separate question, but my chapter actually acts as such a rebuttal. In fact, the whole chapter is dependent on the rejection of the idea that critics can use scholarship to refute religious claims.
–“why do covenant members of the Church not have a duty to respond to an abuse of both scholarship and the Church?”
Covenant members have a responsibility to defend religious claims using the “rules” (to borrow from Wittgenstein) of religion–such as testifying of the Book of Mormon’s divinity. As I try to argue in my chapter, using scholarship to make such a defense is an abuse of scholarship and misunderstanding of religious claims–just as using scholarship to critique religious claims would be an abuse.
–“As Ericson uses the term scholarship, he seems to exclude the kinds of apologetic arguments used in the scriptures by prophets, apostles, and Christ Himself. Dan Peterson references this point in his article, as discussed above.”
Precisely. Had I read Peterson’s chapter before finishing my own, I might have addressed these. For the most part, the examples by those persons are variations of testifying, spiritual exegesis, and exemplary living that would not fall under the umbrella of the sort of religious (Christian) apologetics done over the last two millennia. And where prophets or apostles (ancient or moders) or even Jesus engage in religious apologetics as I define it, they are all engaging in the same categorical confusion.
–“An exception to this may be where the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants specifically indicate that witnesses should be relied on to establish the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.”
Given that they were to be witness of things seen “by the power of God,” this is hardly utilizing scholarship or secular means to defend a religious claim.
–“Using the statements of witnesses in crafting historical arguments is a method of modern historical scholarship. It seems that Ericson would nevertheless reject the use of witness testimony as a viable means of defending the Church when it would seem to be a use of scholarship to defend religious claims.”
To the contrary, I would say that witnesses of the power of God working in their lives is the precise sort of witness that should be used to defend a religious claim. I made this pretty clear when discussing how most Latter-day Saints testify of the Book of Mormon.
–“Ericson’s argument that apologetics cannot be used to support religious claims also depends on such narrow definitions of religious claims and apologetics that it is not relevant to a discussion of most criticisms against the Church.”
They are relevant insomuch that criticisms of the religious claims share the same error. In fact, after sharing an early draft of this essay I was accused of being an apologist because of the necessary implication and assumed premise that scholarship cannot be used to defeat religious claims.
–“Yet again, by the ordinary meaning of the words, defending with historical documents the claim that there were witnesses who saw the plates helps to defend the religious claim that the Book of Mormon is the word of God.”
And this highlights the very problem I am pointing out. Seeing the plates “by the power of God” is a religious claim and hardly involves “ordinary meaning of the words.”
–“Furthermore, when theology and historical research are used to respond to critics of the Church, this scholarship can help create the space within which spiritual conviction can thrive.”
I specifically address this point in my chapter, which Densley seems to ignore. Yes, religious apologetics might be psychologically beneficial to religious belief, but this would then beg the question of the integrity of the whole apologetic endeavor and support the criticism I am making here. For example, the so-called Lehi’s Tree of Life Stone (Izapa Stela 5) has for decades (and still today) been used to “help create the space within which spiritual conviction can thrive” despite FARMS making it clear that it has nothing to do with the Book of Mormon. This “creating space” implicitly and ties religious beliefs to particular claims of scholarship, resulting in the problem I am addressing in my chapter.
–“Do not families and investigators of the Church also read the Book of Mormon in order to help them determine whether this Church is what it claims to be?”
And those claims are religious claims, things that cannot be proven or disproven through scholarship.
–“That Joseph Smith is a prophet and the Book of Mormon is a history of an ancient people who lived on the American continent?”
The former being a religious claim, the latter being a secular claim. To understand which can be addressed through scholarship and which cannot, see Loyd Isao Ericson, “Conceptual Confusion and the Building of Stumbling Blocks of Faith,” in Perspectives on Mormon Theology: Apologetics, ed. Blair G. Van Dyke and Loyd Isao Ericson (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2017). In fact, I would invite Densley to closely read this whole volume. Doing so would have probably prevented him from the gross misreading and misrepresentations that his review is mired in.
It is not surprising that Ericson would disagree with my assessment of the chapter he wrote as well as my assessment of the book in general since he is the editor and works for the publisher. However, to claim that I was misreading or misrepresenting nearly every chapter, and doing so with malintent and bad faith, is utterly unjustified. Ericson produces no evidence to support this extreme statement. It would indeed be egregious if I had, for example, used a quote from the book, but omitted language from the quote so that the author appeared to say just the opposite of what was intended. However, I have done no such thing. Instead, Ericson points to a few instances where he seems to have misunderstood what I have written and some instances where we may have an honest difference of opinion. But the fact that I do not agree with everything Ericson has written does not mean I am misreading or misrepresenting him. It is possible for two people to understand one another and still disagree.
I will address his concerns by first referring to the quote that he claims is an example of my misreading or misrepresenting what he has written followed by my response.
–“Loyd Ericson attacks apologetics . . .” I can understand how Ericson may find the word “attack” to be a bit strong. I tried very hard to adopt a moderate tone in my critique and in retrospect, I can see how the tone would have been even more moderated if I had used a word other than attack. Nevertheless, I do not see this as misreading or misrepresenting Ericson’s piece as he is explicitly arguing against the use of apologetics.
–“In arguing that apologetics cannot help defend religious claims, Ericson defines his terms in ways that assume what he is trying to prove.” Ericson claims this statement is false since he “basically use[es] the same definition that Daniel C. Peterson uses.” However, Ericson’s defense is misleading since, while Ericson uses the same phrase, “religious claims,” as Peterson, Ericson then defines “religious claims” in a way that assumes what he is trying to prove: “religious claims are things of the soul and can be evaluated and known only by the experiences of the soul” (p. 220). In other words, to Ericson, apologetics is the practice of doing something that cannot be done. Peterson does not take the same additional step that Ericson does by defining “religious claims” so narrowly as to limit the practice of apologetics to only those things that can be evaluated by experiences of the soul. Thus, Ericson’s and Peterson’s definitions of “apologetics” differ in a fundamental way.
–“Ericson ignores a key point here, however: Secular scholarship is often marshaled (rightly or wrongly) to attack religious claims. Ericson claims that antireligious apologetics also has no place in scholarship. That is, no one ought to attempt to utilize scholarship to disprove or attack religious claims. However, what are we to do when someone “misuses” scholarship to disprove or attack a religious claim? Do we allow such attempts to pass unanswered?” Ericson has missed the point of this criticism: That is that there is no discussion in his chapter of what Mormons should do in response to a misuse of scholarship to attack a religious claim. (See the last two sentences of my paragraph that he quotes.) Before stating the key point that is missed by Ericson, I acknowledge in the two sentences in the middle of the paragraph quoted above that “Ericson claims that antireligious apologetics also has no place in scholarship. That is, no one ought to attempt to utilize scholarship to disprove or attack religious claims.” I then state the point that he does not discuss in his chapter. So all of the quotes he includes in his comment on this issue are irrelevant.
–“Do “real scholars,” even in the secular field of Mormon studies, not have a duty to reject or rebut such efforts?” The phrase “real scholars” is not meant as a slight to Ericson, but rather is a reference to an earlier point made in my review, in the Mike Ash section, where I observe that apologetics is often not considered to be “real scholarship.”
–“An exception to this may be where the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants specifically indicate that witnesses should be relied on to establish the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.” Apparently Ericson is claiming that the witnesses who handled the plates had merely a visionary, and not a physical, experience. If so, I disagree with the assumption Ericson is making in this regard. Furthermore, Ericson’s other comments regarding witnesses are similarly based upon an assumption with which I disagree.
–“Furthermore, when theology and historical research are used to respond to critics of the Church, this scholarship can help create the space within which spiritual conviction can thrive.” Ericson and I have a difference of opinion on this point that is addressed in my review. And with respect to the remaining quotes, I see no need to respond as they all simply represent areas of disagreement.
I do not understand the argument that apologetics has no place in matters of religion. The scriptures themselves are replete with examples of servants of God engaging in apologetics with the children of God. There simply is a place for it. When persons make false statements regarding the prophets or the scriptures, apologetics has a place in responding. When a truth seeker is confused or seeking understanding, apologetics has its place in providing insight, context, and information. The essays arguing against the use of apologetics are not persuasive to me. And the arguments they make do not square with the experiences in my life and with my loved ones.
Excellent review. Yes. It would have been marvelous to see a book that explored the history of Mormon apologetics, but we must still await such a volume. Precisely.
Thanks John. And as I hadn’t seen your review before I appreciated the link.
Since yesterday, I’ve been thinking a lot about Steven Densley’s critique. I haven’t felt angry because life is too short to get upset over these types of silly issues. But I do have to say that Densley’s article is embarrassing. It is literally the worst book review I have ever read. The man did not understand almost any of the essays in the book. I can illustrate this fact by simply quoting the way he begins the paragraphs that discuss my own contribution:
“Bokovoy seems to be telling us. . .”
“If Bokovoy means to say. . .”
“Perhaps he is merely saying. . .”
This is not the way an academic book review should be written. The critic shouldn’t share what he “assumes” an author is saying, and then assume the worst, most ridiculous intent. The critic should present what the author says and then critique it.
I don’t know that Densley could have intentionally provided a better illustration of my main point: Apologetics assumes that we have the answers and that those answers need to be defended. This mindset can keep us from seeing bigger issues and reaching a higher level of understanding.
Densley’s drive to defend Mormon apologetics from what he perceived as attacks kept him from correctly understanding what the authors in the book were actually saying. His apologetic for apologetics kept him from understanding.
Another point I argued was that the best way to perform apologetics is to be kind and loving–to show others through your example that your religious worldview brings happiness and spiritual enlightenment. Apologists seeking to defend a religion should never mock and belittle others, including critics. They should listen to what others are saying, show them respect, and then share their own perspectives with kindness.
I cannot imagine that anyone would read Densley’s critique and think, “Wow. This man really has a beautiful, smart religious perspective. I would love to learn more about his religious convictions, come worship, and serve with him.” And that should be the ONLY goal of apologetics. It shouldn’t be a turf war that allows a religious person to show how much smarter and righteous he is than others.
Densley’s critque comes accross as mean and angry. When he refers to John Dehlin, he can’t help but refer to him as, “the now excommunicated John Dehlin.” When Densley refers to Kate Kelly he makes sure to label her “the now excommunicated Kate Kelly.” It reads as if Densely takes great personal pleasure in the fact that these people have been removed from his religious community, and that the FARMS Review was right to try and treat them unkindly because they are now the “excommunicated.” That type of religious treatment of others wounds my soul.
I’m friends with each of the three female contributors to the volume. They are bright, articulate, enlightened thinkers. But Densley treats them with incredible condescension. He is the male authority, which ironically was the very concern Juliann so thoughtfully addressed.
The critique is simply so awful, so bad. It really is the worst book review I have ever read. It’s filled with so much anger that it clouds the author’s judgment. Don’t get me wrong. I love a good debate, and would have enjoyed reading a critique of the authors’ views, including my own, but he didn’t understand any of them. And if you think your religion is right then show me some love and enlightenment. That’s how I want you to defend your faith.
I note that you have no words of condemnation for the critics who call all Mormons agents of Satan and so forth.
Why do only the Mormon’s have to show love and never, ever respond to attacks? It seems to me you argue that Mormons should unilaterally disarm in the war for souls. I guarantee you that Satan and his followers are not showing any sort of love or mercy, and they use logic and their brains. Why should the followers of the God of Intelligence just ignore their brains?
On my mission, we taught a Jehovah’s Witness. She had a ton of questions, which I was able to address because I was familiar with the Old Testament, more than most missionaries (I had actually read more than Genesis, for instance). So I answered her questions, and then, and only then, was she willing to approach the Lord in prayer, and He sent the Holy Ghost to confirm what I had said. However, she was not willing to go to the Lord until she saw that I actually had a logical, intellectual answer to her concerns.
You appear to be saying that this was a person whom the Lord would prefer to have let go rather than me using logic and reasoning to help resolve her concerns. I was in fact using apologetics. Did I do wrong when I assisted in bringing this daughter of God back to her Father?
The Glory of God is intelligence. And we emulate our Father when we use that intelligence.
Consider Alma and Amulek. Did they just appeal to feelings when Zeezrom tried to confound them and twist doctrine and the scriptures? Nay. Did they spare Zeezrom’s feelings? Not at all. The Lord certainly had harsh words for the scribes and pharisees. Did He not love them when He called them “Whited Seplechures?” Of course He did, but He also was protecting the people from minions of the devil. And Rod Dreher and Kate Kelly were striving to lead people astray. It is important to make sure that people know that they were cast out for good reasons, just as Simon Magus was cast out.
I do hope you are not trying to rehabilitate Dreher and Kelly in their unrepentant state.
That’s quite the response! The irony here is that I’m willing to wager that I could use the skills of reason, logic, intelligence, and scholarship to show that virtually everything you told that woman about the Old Testament was incorrect. So here’s the bet:
If I’m right, Dan has to agree to forever stop publishing these types of angry, inaccurate, misinformed essays that attack and belittle others in the name of religion. If Vance wins, I promise I’ll never ever say another negative thing about apologetics in my life.
Hope everyone has a great day and that we can all get out and do some good! But I’m going to win. Just sayin’
Why, precisely, should I engage in a bashing session with someone who is, apparently, eager to attack the LDS church?
My point was that apologetics were an essential part of bringing this Daughter of God to the Savior.
And you don’t like that. It does sound like you would prefer that Mormon’s eschew the use of their brains. I wonder if you would prefer that no missionary work take place?
See, I had another experience on my mission. We were teaching this guy who kept trying to argue with us. Turns out, he was a minister who had as one of his goals confusing Missionaries and causing them to question and leave the faith. And he’d succeeded before.
After I realized that he was not at all interested (funny thing was, he recognized the Spirit–and fled from it, literally. He would leave the room when the Spirit entered), I was able to explain to my companion why this man’s attacks on the church were wrong.
In your view, of course, that was wrong and I should have let my companion be confused and leave his mission, rather than use apologetics to solve his concerns. Now, I suppose you’ll challenge me to a duel where you will say that everything I said to my companion was wrong and he should have left the church.
Which, of course, just proves my point: only those who attack the church are allowed to think, while Mormons should just “feel” and never, ever study or learn.
That’s your position, as best as I can tell. I suppose defending the faith is “Meanspirited and inaccurate” while attacks on the Church never, ever are inaccurate and mean spirited. Right?
While like you I believe “apologetics” in some form is helpful and needed, I believe you are caricaturing David B. who I believe has a more nuanced view than you are presenting here. I’m not sure I agree with his view(I have not read his article in the book), but based on the selections that were selected in this review, it seems hard that the reviewer and you to have properly contexualized it. In fact, the story that he gives that starts David B.’s article almost sounds like the opposite of what the reviewer and you relay that his articles states- he learned something through study (about the historical role of OT prophets that changed his paradigm and resolve(or at least help him out in context) an issue that he was struggling to understand.
Thank you, Steve. I’m not asking for anyone to agree with me. In fact, I welcome any serious discussion or critique. What bothers me is when people misrepresent my view. My main point was that due to the nature of academic inquiry and its limits in regards to spiritual matters, I believe that apologists who use scholarship to try and prove Mormonism is true are fighting a losing battle. I argue that we should constantly seek further knowledge and be humble enough to shift our belief structures to accommodate new insights that challenge our religious convictions and that apologetics is best done by showing others how our religious beliefs bring greater joy, peace, and happiness. This is my own personal conviction I’ve come through via a long journey. The essay was simply a personal narrative I shared with the hopes that my experiences and perspectives might prove helpful to someone else.
I welcome any serious challenge and/or critique, but I think it’s only fair that my essay be represented correctly.
All the best,
I have been asked if I was going to respond to Bokovoy’s critique of my review. I had not at first thought a response was necessary. In retrospect, I can understand how it may be helpful to note a couple of things.
First, in approaching Bokovoy’s chapter, I accurately described what he wrote, and then drew some reasonable inferences therefrom and signaled that these were my own inferences by using words such as “seems,” “[i]f Bokovoy means to say,” and “[p]erhaps he is merely saying.” Readers are able to see for themselves that, despite what Bovokoy wrote in his comment, this is not how I started each paragraph related to his article. Furthermore, it is entirely appropriate for a reviewer to draw inferences from an author’s writing so long as the reviewer is clearly signaling that these are inferences and not the author’s own conclusions. That is what I have done here. As I have clearly indicated what Bokovoy wrote and what are my own inferences, readers are free to analyze my review to see whether or not they agree with the inferences I have drawn.
Bokovoy also says that my review “comes across as mean and angry” because I mention that Dehlin and Kelly have been excommunicated. However, the reason I mention these facts is not in order to personally attack these individuals, but rather because these facts are relevant to the discussion at hand. The issues being discussed had to do with defending the Church against those who have attacked it. In order to help clarify that Dehlin and Kelly were actually attacking the Church, it is helpful to know that they have since been excommunicated for apostasy, which is, by definition, a public attack against the Church.
With respect to other points made by Bovovoy, I do not believe readers will need any further clarification but can simply read the review and decide for themselves what to think about it.
Excellent review, although it might be best for Mormons to entirely eschew the terms “apologist” and “apologetics.” Most Mormons are unfamiliar with those terms, and they have come to carry a heavy load of opprobrium among those that do — no matter the quality of the presentation.
Scholars ought instead to forthrightly engage religion with scholarship, and not advance any shameful excuses for doing so. That is an endeavor which is valuable in its own right, and should not be confused with efforts to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Moreover, the best scholarship does not, in any case, convert people. Indeed, Shankar Vedantam has recently reported research showing that it is counterproductive to use facts or scholarship to convince people that their beliefs are false — even when their beliefs are objectively false. As Vedantam pointed out, “information often doesn’t drive misinformation out of circulation. In fact, it can sometimes amplify the effects of misinformation,” such that “when people received information that contradicted what they believed, they simply dismissed the information.” Given that dilemma, one must abandon logic and instead appeal to feeling or emotion. See Vedantam, “Why Piling On Facts May Not Help In The Battle Against Fake News,” NPR Morning Edition, Mar 14, 2017, podcast and transcript online at http://www.npr.org/2017/03/14/520087940/why-more-details-may-be-counterproductive-when-battling-fake-news .
Thanks Bob. And I think I understand your concerns. With respect to the term “apologetics,” I suppose I think that Mormons are capable of expanding their vocabulary. Although, I try to use terms that help describe what apologetics is while I talk about it.
With regard to the problems of confirmation bias addressed by Vedantum and others, I agree that people tend to accept information that confirms their biases and reject information that is inconsistent with what they already believe. When someone has taken a position, it is very difficult to get them to change that position through argument. However, I think you are taking those conclusions too far when you say that “one must abandon logic and instead appeal to feeling or emotion.” As you and Vedantam both pointed out, “information OFTEN doesn’t drive misinformation out of circulation. In fact, it can SOMETIMES amplify the effects of misinformation” (emphasis mine). So conflicting information SOMETIMES helps change minds when there are pre-existing beliefs. Also, rather than abandoning logic in favor of emotion, Vedantum observed that “when you are able to communicate emotion ALONG WITH the facts, you’re more likely to be able to get people to come along with the facts” (emphasis mine). This is not unlike the command that we should “seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” (D&C 88:118)
Furthermore, what happens before someone has formed a belief? If all of the information lies on one end of the spectrum, how could they be expected to form a belief that is contrary to all of the information that exists? Certainly, it cannot be futile for apologists to hope that investigators of the Church might be influenced by information that supports the Church, and information that counters attacks against the Church. If no one produced scholarship supporting the Church or countering the arguments against the Church, the only scholarship that would exist is that which would tend to prevent testimonies from forming.
Once a person believes in the Church, we would expect, given findings related to confirmation bias, that they would be somewhat impervious to scholarly attacks on their faith. Yet, we find that people do leave the Church claiming to have been convinced by anti-Mormon information. It seems reasonable to conclude that if there were no arguments countering these attacks, and no rational arguments in support of the Church, it would be even more likely that people who had once been convinced that the Church is true would later change their minds, despite the force of confirmation bias. And it seems reasonable to assume that if people can change their minds and decide to leave the Church based on scholarship, scholarship that supports the Church may persuade them to stay. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “To be ignorant and simple now—not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground—would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defence but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.” (“Learning in War-Time,” in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (New York: Harper Collins, 2001), 58.)
Of course, as you have already formed an opinion regarding these matters, I’m not sure I can change your mind with these arguments. 🙂 Yet, I still hold out hope that arguments can make a difference and I think it is worthwhile to try. Of course, rather than being compelled to believe based upon my arguments, it is up to you to decide whether or not you will change your mind. As Vedantam also noted, “while it’s very hard to change other people’s minds, one of the things that this research suggests is that you might actually be able to change your own mind. In other words, when you encounter new information, you need to look at it and say, is it possible my pre-existing beliefs are wrong?” Nevertheless, one would not have the freedom to choose to change one’s mind if new information were not available. Making that information available is perhaps the most important role apologists can play.
Shouldn’t Vedantam lead to the opposite conclusion? It seems that persons who succumb to fake news and retrench in the face of contrary information are themselves the victims of emotional thinking. More emotional thinking would seem to be the wrong solution in this case because it leads to more emotional nonsense. I think the solution is to put the information out there, warts and all, teach critical thinking skills and let the people digest the information over time. Sooner or later, one will realize that the crowd is seeing things one way, “fake news” as it were, due to emotional reasons and change his/her thinking. The crowd will then take courage maybe to release themselves from their emotional thinking chains, as well, and the result will be that the truth finally is accepted.