United Brethren has retired.

Why not Jesus too?

Often when people become intellectually disillusioned with the Church they still claim to have "faith in Jesus". Apparently Grant Palmer, "still believes in the church because he has refocused his faith on Jesus Christ" (AP). Now, this is all to the good and I applaud anyone who focuses their faith on Jesus (who is, after all, the only name under heaven whereby we may be saved). But, something needs to be said here loud and clear: if you were to pass the New Testament through the same lens of hyper-critical scholarship that some do the Joseph Smith story then Jesus would not come out well. Not well at all. The result is the "historical Jesus" who bears little resemblance to the "faithful history" promoted by Paul and other early Christians. This is the state of Jesus within academia.

Why is it so easy to be critical of Joseph but place Jesus in soft focus. Is it because:

a) something that belongs to blurry antiquity is more believable (the printing press being both Mormonism's boon and curse)?
b) fish-sticker Jesus gives everything and expects nothing?

For me, it is as hard to believe that Jesus rose from the dead (known only from accounts written years after the fact) as it is to believe that Joseph had a vision of God (which he only published years after the fact). For reasons of faith and Spirit I believe both, but I want to understand why one story is worthy of trust and the other isn't.

P.S. Do you think that a Mormon who wrote a "historical Jesus" book would be in trouble?

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Anonymous Anonymous said ... (December 14, 2004 12:56 AM) 

Nicely put. I think anyone more considering putting their trust in academia instead of revelation is starting down a path that leads to some disastrous consequences. 

Posted by Pat Eyler


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (December 14, 2004 8:26 AM) 

Pat said: I think anyone more considering putting their trust in academia instead of revelation is starting down a path that leads to some disastrous consequences.

I would add: Or a very liberating one...


Posted by APJ


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (December 14, 2004 11:11 AM) 

My question is why didn't Grant Palmer focus his faith on Jesus Christ to start with?

Not focusing your faith in Jesus Christ is simply asking for trouble

Posted by Kim Siever


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (December 14, 2004 3:26 PM) 

Interesting article, Maybe it is the difference between Utah and other states. In my experience, the focus has never been the Prophet Joseph over Christ...

It seems when you try to look at spiritual things, with Academic eyes, you have some conflict. I would be interested to see the book, and its reviews to see where the inaccuracies are. I would assume that they have alot to do with conclusions.

I am confused by his statements. The book of mormon is not Really true, but has true principals in it? Joseph was not a prophet, but was called by God to found a religion that is based on falsehoods, but somehow it is still true?

Is this guy heavily medicated? It seems interesting to me, that God would give an answer to the affirmative to someone, when spirituality, and possibly Salvation is involved. Is there that much "fudge room" in the plan of salvation that you can sneak into heaven on a lie?

So the information isn't what is of concern to me, though it seems to be what is in question in the book. It is the Authors conclusions (of which I have not read), and the conflict with personal revelation.

Hmmmmmmm. Just think... if the church is wrong, I can get a 10% pay increase, and weekends off.


Posted by Jake


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (December 14, 2004 6:57 PM) 

Excellent post! My eldest son has left the Church, and gone off in pursuit of "greater truth" in the world, which saddens me greatly. He claims now to be an atheist; he acknowledges that a historical figure named Jesus Christ existed, but that the rest was pretty much all made up. The sector of society that he falls in with does not even accept the "soft and fluffy Jesus" and in fact believes this to be a myth that keeps us from seeing reality. He is young and I think will run head-long into reality someday, and return to the fold.

Probably the reason why many people are willing to soft-focus on Christ, but want to turn up the magnification on Joseph Smith is because Joseph is more recent in time, and therefore seems more real to us. As history becomes legend, and legend becomes myth, well, you know the rest... we don't feel the same need to hold a "mythical" figure like Christ to the same level of scrutiny as a mere "historical" one like Joseph. 

Posted by Peggy Snow Cahill


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (December 14, 2004 8:20 PM) 

Sorry to hear that, Peggy. "Greater truth" is considerably tougher to come by in the world than the average optimistic youth might expect, and many come to realize that sooner or later. Sounds like you might enjoy this book for Christmas (I put short comments on my blog a few weeks back).

Posted by Dave


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (December 14, 2004 9:33 PM) 

As someone who considers myself a historian, I can honestly say that nothing is ever as it seems. What is truth? Only God really knows that. But as Kim's post rightly suggests, any problems with Joseph are dwarfed by the intellectual enigma that is God himself. Intellectually, Joseph's claims (or the Church's claims about Joseph) are as about as (im)plausible as any out there (and I know, I teach comparative religion). So we're left with faith, which, as the scriptures tell us, is a gift from God. 

Posted by Ronan


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (December 15, 2004 8:45 AM) 

As Jerry Cooper (a teacher of mine and Ronan's) once told me, all religions are equally implausible. There is no reason to pick on one more than others. 

Posted by John C.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (December 15, 2004 1:51 PM) 

Great post. I had a very similar thought this morning.

I was thinking of Jan Shipps characterization of Mormonism as a case study for the formation of a world faith. If one is being truly "objective" and looking at science and history, and one concludes that Mormonism - the only world faith for which we have solid and comprehensive data on the founding -arose through fraud, changing stories, and suppression of inconsistent narratives, then would not the objective historian presume that all other faiths began similarly until he encounters contrary evidence?

I agree wholeheartedly with the other posts, as well. Where is Palmer's rigor in approaching Jesus, or Paul's vision, or the relationship between the New Testament and the Old Testament, or the Pentacost. Or God himself? For every C.S. Lewis there are 10 Bertrand Russels. Devotion to reified objectivity just can't get Palmer to where he wants to plant himself.


Posted by Nathan Smith


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (December 15, 2004 7:16 PM) 

In answer to your last question - I think it much more unlikely that a Mormon writing a book on a historical Jesus would get into trouble. The church does not hold the monopoly on Jesus, it does on the Joseph Smith story.
Jerry is right (as quoted by John C) all religions could be considered implausible. Religion by definition has to include a FAITH based belief, not a historical one. 

Posted by Rebecca


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (December 22, 2004 11:00 AM) 

"fish sticker Jesus" is Phrase of the Month. Yeehah! 

Posted by Adam Greenwood


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (December 22, 2004 6:04 PM) 

Good point! I have a great-uncle who left the Church, claiming that he couldn't accept the Book of Mormon but that he still accepted Jesus as his Savior. So this was quite a read. I don't think I'll bring up this point to argue with him but it's still very insightful. 

Posted by danithew


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (December 24, 2004 2:16 PM) 

Interesting. "Why is it so easy to be critical of Joseph but place Jesus in soft focus." I think this is due to the fact that we focus on what differentiates us from the rest of the "world" (the United States). We're locked into a set of assumptions with those with whom we dialogue (i.e. American Christians), so we focus on the point of contention in that dialogue: Joseph Smith and the BOM. Growing up I heard criticisms of JS/BOM, but never, ever heard one of God or Jesus (granted I grew up in UT).  

Posted by Davis Bell


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