Sunday, July 3, 2016

No John, He Didn't Say That

While coming home from work early Saturday morning, I saw in my Facebook news feed an article from Deseret News where they reported about a training that President Russell M. Nelson of the Council of the Twelve Apostles gave to new mission presidents before they entered the field. The article can be read in full here.

In the article, President Nelson mentions that the Book of Mormon coming forth was literally a miracle and a fulfillment of ancient prophecy, and that mission presidents should emphasize to their missionaries to teach the doctrines of the gospel from the Book of Mormon because of the power that lies in the text. This was not that revolutionary of a talk or an idea; the missionary handbook under the schedule section says that you should emphasize the doctrines of the gospel as taught in the Book of Mormon as part of your regular study. Also, the missionary guide Preach My Gospel has an entire chapter (chapter 5) dedicated to the Book of Mormon and how it is to be used in missionary work. I shared the post to my feed and thought that it contained some good ideas, and thought that would be the end of it.

Unfortunately, anti-Mormon propagandist and pseudo-intellectual John Dehlin just had to make this post about something it was not, as he usually does with most things. To quote from his Facebook page when he shared the article:
"This is so incredibly significant. It's a clear attempt at inoculation on the part of Elder Nelson for new mission presidents, but it is also a very clear admission that:
1) The Book of Mormon lacks any meaningful scientific or historical credibility (thus the recent overhaul of FARMS/the Maxwell Institute to move away from trying to justify its scientific validity). So if the Book of Mormon doesn't meet the standard of credibility, then you must lower the bar of expectations about it ("Not scientific! Not historical!).
2) These troubling facts about the Book of Mormon (made pervasive by the Internet) must clearly be negatively affecting many people's testimonies, or an apostle wouldn't be running around making statements like the one below (basically lowering people's expectations about the scientific accuracy and historicity of the Book of Mormon).
Fascinating times. The most fascinating thing of all perhaps is that in many cases, the inoculation appears to be working for many of our youth, like a missionary I spoke with on a flight last week. He was aware of the main issues found in he CES Letter and was able to parrot the new party line without any detectable dissonance.
Will be interesting to see what the next 10 years bring for LDS disaffection rates.
“There are some things the Book of Mormon is not,” President Nelson said. “It is not a textbook of history, although some history is found within its pages. It is not a definitive work on ancient American agriculture or politics. It is not a record of all former inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere, but only of particular groups of people.”

For my part, I still do not know how this man got a PhD in anything, because he clearly can't read. But allow me to quickly address the two points that he made (which if he could read he would notice is the same point being made twice).

First, his idea about "meaningful scientific or historical credibility." I know for a fact he knows that Terryl Givens wrote a book with Oxford University Press titled By the Hand of Mormon where he discusses all the historical information about the Book of Mormon as a document, and provides evidence for its historicity. I know this because John Dehlin had him on his podcast for four hours discussing it, and he made no counterarguments to what Givens was presenting. Give it another listen John.

Second, President Nelson, in Dehlin's own quotation, does not state the Book of Mormon is not a historical text, far from it. To quote it again:

“It is not a textbook of history, although some history is found within its pages. It is not a definitive work on ancient American agriculture or politics. It is not a record of all former inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere, but only of particular groups of people.”

So,  what President Nelson is stating is that the primary purpose of the Book of Mormon is not to teach people about the history of the peoples of the western hemisphere, as some in the past have believed. Rather the Book of Mormon's primary purpose is to lead men to Christ, and to accept him as the promised messiah. This does not mean that President Nelson denies the books historicity; he states in the same sentence that their is historical information in the text without making it the primary purpose of the book to be a historical treatise.

As for his second claim of inoculation, President Nelson is doing no such thing. He is not changing doctrine, or adding much nuance. He is merely stating the same principles which are on the title page of the Book of Mormon:
"Which is to show unto the remnant of the house of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever—And also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations"
In short, the Book of Mormon writers were not doing in their history what David Hume was doing when he wrote The History of England; they were giving their testimony to us that Christ had ministered to them and that the same Christ still cares about us today. The historical part is merely secondary, but it is there.

John, please stick to.... Whatever it is you are good. Making arguments are not your thing. I say this as a ... listener of your podcast who occasionally enjoys it.


  1. Great post (especially identifying John Dehlin correctly as a pseudo-intellectual, a point I've been making, based upon much of what he writes, for some years now). We've commented on it over on my and another apologist friend's Facebook pages and its been a nice addition there. Keep up the good writing and good thinking.


    1. Thanks for the comment Loran. I usually ignore John, but the guy needs to take a basic logic course.