I imagine that many Christians have wriggled uncomfortably as they read Dan Brown’s new book, The Lost Symbol. Scattered through the book are disparaging references to Christianity (and not a few barefaced prostitutions of Bible verses taken out of context).
But imagine the reaction of some Mormons who have been through the secret LDS temple ceremonies when they read, in the first pages of the book, of Masonic oaths whose penalties are "Throat cut from ear to ear. . .tongue torn out by its roots. . .bowels taken out and burned . . .scattered to the four winds of heaven.."
Latayne, a former Mormon, is passionate about reaching out to Latter-day Saints with love and compassion. If you're affected by Mormonism in any way we encourage you to join the conversations around her two new books. She'll be online answering questions and sharing her insight.
If you twitter, use the hashtag #latayne for a chance to win free copies of Latayne's books!
How Latter-day Saints Experience the Book of Mormon
My theme this week is the relationship Latter-day Saints have with their formative scripture, the Book of Mormon. (See posts1,2, 3, and 4.) I believe the book exerts a powerful, culture-forming influence on every aspect of Mormon life. For instance, young men are named Alma and Moroni after Book of Mormon characters. Thousands of Latter-day Saints have grown up in Utah towns with Book of Mormon names like Manti, Nephi, and Bountiful.
The Book of Mormon’s influence on shaping a unique LDS culture is demonstrated by the number of consumer products it has inspired. You can buy a polo shirt embroidered with the angel Moroni on the breast, or a tee shirt printed with a Book of Mormon quote. You can give your daughter a tiny Book of Mormon charm for her bracelet, while you son might enjoy a Nephi action figure. Your family can play games like "Book of Mormon Quest" or "Settlers of Zarahemla." The Book of Mormon has inspired a genre of youth fiction, several feature films, and a whole series of animated adventure videos. Latter-day Saints use these products both to declare and fortify their allegiance to the Book of Mormon and everything it represents.
Yesterday I described the Book of Mormon’s evidential function: how the Book of Mormon catalyzes a self-validating spiritual experience that convinces Latter-day Saints of the divine authority of Joseph Smith and his mission. The invitation to seek a spiritual confirmation of the Book of Mormon’s truth is directed externally as well, to potential converts investigating Mormonism.
In keeping with this evidential function, the Book of Mormon is the LDS Church’s most important missionary tool. The Encyclopedia of Mormonism reports (p. 142) that "all LDS missionaries encourage those they contact to read and pray about the book as a means of receiving their own testimony from God about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon."
Yesterday I mentioned a paper by Mark D. Thomas, wherein the author sought to discern what active Latter-day Saints value about reading the Book of Mormon. Based on my interpretation of Thomas’ remarks, and the response offered by John-Charles Duffy, I have summarized five basic ways the Book of Mormon functions in Latter-day Saint religious experience. In yesterday’s post, I explained the therapeutic, aesthetic, and moral functions of the Book of Mormon in LDS life.
The fourth use of the Book of Mormon reported in Thomas’ survey is as a conduit of revelation. When people stated what they like about the Book of Mormon, they reported how the book becomes a vehicle for experiential revelation from God. This is different from saying that the text is or contains the word of God. Rather, the Book of Mormon acts as a door to the spiritual world. Latter-day Saints believe they actually hear personally from God as they read, receiving promptings of the Holy Spirit to give them insight about life. These spiritual messages are not necessarily tied directly to the content on the pages before them. Instead the book becomes the medium rather than merely the source of such revelation.
How Latter-day Saints experience the Book of Mormon, part 2
In this series of posts, I am exploring the multi-faceted relationship Latter-day Saints have with the Book of Mormon, particularly how the book is used in their lives.
In 2006, Mark D. Thomas presented at paper at the Sunstone Symposium, entitled "Marketing Research and the Book of Mormon." Thomas surveyed 57 respondents, all active members of the LDS Church, about their experience with the Book of Mormon. He asked them the kind of questions asked in marketing research: first, what they liked about the Book of Mormon, and second, why they valued that attribute. While the study is not large enough to be quantitatively reliable, it is qualitatively helpful to discern what drives Latter-day Saints when they read the book.
Based on my interpretation of Thomas’ remarks, and the response offered by John-Charles Duffy, I have summarized people’s answers into five basic ways the Book of Mormon functions in Latter-day Saint religious experience.
How Latter-day Saints experience the Book of Mormon, part 1
Joseph Smith called the Book of Mormon the keystone of the Mormon religion. It is certainly not the keystone of Mormon theology, beyond its basic portrayal of Jesus and a few other points. Most of the significant doctrines that define contemporary Mormonism are not found in the Book of Mormon – the plurality of gods, the deification of worthy men and women, the eternity of matter, the pre-existence of human souls, and so forth. But this does not render the Book of Mormon irrelevant. The book’s enduring relevance is found primarily in the place the book holds in Latter-day Saint experience. My premise is that evangelical Christians most wisely address the Book of Mormon when they understand not only how to respond to its claim to be an ancient scripture, but also when they grasp the multi-faceted relationship Latter-day Saints have to the Book of Mormon.
I approach Mormonism from two defining perspectives. The first is my experience growing up in an active Latter-day Saint home, which gives me both first-hand knowledge and empathy. The second is my training in missiology. (Long ago in seminary I studied to be a cross-cultural missionary. I see my ministry in Utah in that light.) This perspective encourages me to pay attention to two key components. One is the biblical message itself, which transcends culture and never changes. The other is the audience to which that message is addressed. We must get the gospel right and do biblical theology well. We must also understand the Mormon people well, in the context of their culture.