Thursday, October 31, 2019

Warren Throckmorton: "Rick Joyner: Everything in the Constitution Comes from the Bible"

Check it out here. A taste:
For years, David Barton has promoted the false notion that everything in the Constitution comes from the BibleTwo summers ago, I read James Madison’s entire notes on the Constitutional Convention looking for the elusive biblical roots of the Constitution only to come up empty.  
Now self-appointed prophet Rick Joyner has taken up this message. ...
... As noted, I read through the notes on the entire Constitutional Convention looking for the biblical influences on the Constitution. Surely, if the framers meant for the Bible to be the foundation of the Constitution, they would have cited it in their debates. Even if they didn’t use chapter and verse, there would have to be some reference to phrases from the Bible for these claims to be true. In fact, there were few references to the Bible or Christianity. There were far more references to Greek and Roman democracies, prior governments, British law and common sense. For the hearty souls who wish to take that same journey, I humbly recommend the series and the endeavor to read Madison’s notes on the 1787 convention. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Law & Liberty: Founding Deists and Other Unicorns

More from Law & Liberty on Mark David Hall's new book. A taste:
We need to know what the word plethora means before we can say we have a plethora of piƱatas. So, too, we cannot consider whether or not America had a Christian founding without having an idea of what the phrase Christian founding actually means. At the start of Did America Have a Christian Founding?, Mark David Hall rightly analyzes the question his book asks. What determines whether or not America had a Christian founding? Hall considers a variety of options. Did the members of the founding generation identify themselves as Christians? Almost everyone did, with the exception of about two thousand Jews. But that doesn’t tell us much. People can be bad believers, or they can be good Christians self-consciously founding a secular regime. Sincerity of belief can be difficult to judge. Appealing to people’s practices only gives us a partial view. And there’s a theological issue, too. At what point does a historical figure become a non-Christian due to his privately held unorthodox beliefs, even if he publicly identifies himself as a Christian?

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Hall: "How Old Does a Monument Need to Be?"

From friend of American Creation, Mark David Hall, writing at the Law and Liberty site. As it concludes:
As I show in my recently published Did America Have a Christian Founding?an originalist understanding of the Establishment Clause does not require governments to scrub religion from public spaces.  The erection of building and monuments containing religious language, images, and symbols is, to borrow from Chief Justices Warren Burger’s opinion in Marsh v. Chambers, “deeply embedded in the history and tradition of this country.”  When buildings and monuments are erected should not be, from an Establishment Clause perspective, decisive. 
Civic friendship and prudence should inform decisions about the use of religious symbols today.  America is far more diverse than it was 100 years ago, so it would be inappropriate for a government to erect a massive cross to honor U.S. military members from different faiths. On the other hand, it is both constitutional and fitting to include crosses, stars of David, and other religious symbols in the 9/11 Memorial. The Establishment Clause does not require a religion-free public square, no matter how many times the Freedom From Religion Foundation insists that it does.
Also check out the dialog between Dr. Hall and Dr. Ellis West in the comments.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Thomas Jefferson and Antilegomena

There is a Catholic fundamentalist writer named Timothy Gordon who has a book out that explores the intellectual heritage of America's founding and Roman Catholicism. It's done from the perspective that seeks to credit Roman Catholicism for many of the good ideas that we see in America's founding.

(He has an open invitation to plug his work at American Creation.)

I have seen Mr. Gordon accurately (in my opinion) use the terms "Protestant" and "Enlightenment" together where Protestantism precedes Enlightenment. As a term: "Prot-Enlightenment." From an historical perspectives, the thought movements are associated with various periods of time. You have in this order: Renaissance, Reformation (Protestant), Enlightenment.

And the political theology of the American founding was a nice "fit" somewhere between "Protestantism" and "Enlightenment." Hence we have David Holmes terming the theology "Christian-Deism." And Gregg Frazer, "theistic rationalism," which is a hybrid midpoint between Protestant Christianity and strict Deism.

With Protestantism, all individual believers were priests who could read the Bible and decide for themselves how to understand it. With Enlightenment, they could go further than the initial reformers did and continue to disregard ground the original reformers and Roman Catholics have in common, like the Trinity, Incarnation and other doctrines.

The reformers and Catholics dispute which books of the Bible themselves are inspired. The Catholic Bible has 73 books, the Protestant 66. There is tremendously complex history on how the Bible came to be and why Protestants and Catholics differ. The Catholics call the seven disputed books "deuterocanonicals," the Protestants call them "Apocrypha."

Those disputed books are part of the Old Testament. Catholics and the reformers agree on the 27 books that make up the New. But even in compiling the books of the New, there was debate and dispute. Just as there were disputed books of the Old, so too with the New. They call disputed New Testament books Antilegomena.

From the Wiki link:
The antilegomena or "disputed writings" were widely read in the Early Church and included the Epistle of James, the Epistle of Jude2 Peter2 and 3 John, the Book of Revelation, the Gospel of the Hebrews, the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Acts of Paul, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Epistle of Barnabas and the Didache.[2][3] 
During the period of Enlightenment, theological unitarianism became en vogue among some liberal theologians. But that's not a new idea. It goes back all the way to Arius and the Council of Nicea. Likewise, when Thomas Jefferson read books in the canon like the Book of Revelation and concluded it wasn't inspired, this had been done before with the Antilegomena.

But Jefferson did, seemingly, go beyond mere "dispute." As he put it:
[I]t is between 50. and 60. years since I read it, & I then considered it as merely the ravings of a Maniac, no more worthy, nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of our own nightly dreams.
Though, I have seen some "orthodox" believers criticize and reject books of the deuterocanonicals in a similarly harsh manner.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Michael Knowles Defends George Washington at George Washington University

In a speech sponsored by the Young America's Foundation and disrupted by angry protesters, conservative commentator Michael Knowles defends George Washington, particularly the mascot "George the Colonial," at George Washington University.

If you have time, I encourage you to watch the speech in its entirety.

In posting this, I find it a crying shame that American culture, especially with respect to higher education, has gone so far off the rails that we now need speakers to defend the honor and heroism of the father of our country. And it's pathetic that such a defense must be mounted at the university that bears our the NAME of our nation's father.

For those interested, I wrote on this subject myself in an Open Letter to GWU Students over at my blog on the American Revolution & Founding Era.

Sad days for our culture and our country.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

"A Familiar Spirit...Out of the Ground": The Book of Mormon in 19th Century Context

The opening decades of the 19th century witnessed a fundamental shift in the American religious landscape.  In particular, the region which historians have dubbed “the Burned-over District” (essentially western New York north of the Erie Canal) has sparked interest for its unique role in the saga that was America’s Second Great Awakening.  Scholars have noted that this area, which was known for its “unusual proclivity among the population toward forming experimental new religions” proved to be a veritable nursery for novel interpretations of the Christian message, often giving rise to entirely new religious movements.[1]
                Of the many new religious traditions to emerge from this place and time, the Mormon faith has arguably been the most scrutinized.  Ever since its conception, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has both mystified and enraged its critics due in large part to the church’s controversial theological claims which defiantly swim against the current of traditional Christian orthodoxy.  Of its many assertions, Mormonism’s founding scripture, The Book of Mormon, has received the bulk of this scholarly reproach.  Most of the scrutiny has traditionally focused on problems within the text itself (historical anachronisms, alleged plagiarism of the King James Bible just to name a couple), or on the manner in which The Book of Mormon came to be (supposed translation of golden tablets through the use of a seer stone).  Notwithstanding the valuable scholarship relating to Book of Mormon historicity produced over the decades, not enough analysis has been given to the book’s relationship with its larger 19th century Christian world into which it was born.  Purportedly a record of ancient origins, The Book of Mormon contains traditions, motifs and teachings characteristic of 19th century American society that resonated with conventional Christians in form and tone, but contradicted mainstream beliefs on specific points of doctrine, rendering the work anathema to orthodox Christianity.
Having a Form of Godliness
                The Book of Mormon is nothing if not a bold text.  It audaciously declares itself to “be of great worth unto the children of men,” and will come forth at a time when other churches have become “corrupted” due to “pride, and because of false teachers, and false doctrines,” which have led astray many “because they are taught by the precepts of men.”[2]  Such a declaration was not without cultural merit.  Early nineteenth-century America was a world brewing in a stew of religious complication.  This era, which some historians have called the democratization of American religion, gave rise to “the time of greatest religious chaos and originality in American history.”[3]
                It was in the wake of this clashing of Christian beliefs that The Book of Mormon came to light.  Joseph Smith’s bold assertion that the record was of ancient origin and not a contemporary treatise on current Christian debates of his day was met with instantaneous rejection by members of the larger Christian community.  Alexander Campbell, a leading figure of the Restorationist movement, declared The Book of Mormon to be the ramblings of an “ignorant and imprudent liar” whose “profane book” of supposed ancient origins, just happened to address “every error and almost every truth discussed in New York in the last ten years.”[4]  Mark Twain lampooned the work as “an incomprehensible medley of history…rather stupid and tiresome to read.”[5]
Campbell’s and Twain’s critique, though understandable for its day, fail to grasp the important symbiosis that existed between the narrative of The Book of Mormon and the 19th century Christian world at large.  Since the early part of the 18th century, Calvinist hegemony over the message of salvation had begun to erode, making room for newer and more democratic interpretations of Christian soteriology.  The rise of Arminian perspectives regarding mankind’s role in actively participating in the process of salvation (having some form of a choice) resonated with the emerging egalitarian populace of frontier America.  This spirit of Arminian sovereignty grew to a crescendo during the First and Second Great Awakenings, as different ministers and denominations began to spread their message far and wide.    The dramatic surge of Methodism, with its campfire revivals, swept the countryside.  Oftentimes thousands would gather, pitching tends and staying for several days, to hear preaching which typically focused on triggering some sort of dramatic change in a person’s relationship to God.   Historian Robert Caldwell highlights the standard approach taken by most ministers at these revivals:
What are the components to this revival theology?  Summaries of it abound in the primary literature and follow a general pattern succinctly summarized in three words: conviction, conversion and consolation.  The process begins with conviction of sin, where individuals come to “a convincing and humbling sense of their own sin, guilt and impotency” and are “driven to despair of any help from any refuges of their own…The second step, conversion, commences with a moment of spiritual illumination where the convicted sinner sees Christ is an all sufficient savior…The third part, consolation, comprises the young Christian’s pursuit of spiritual maturity through the quest for assurance of salvation. (my emphasis)[6]

Joseph Smith, who himself attended regular revivals with members of his family, found these gatherings both appealing and perplexing.  His personal history provides an account of how these revivals compelled him to question the legitimacy of each Christian denomination.[7]  It therefore comes as no surprise to critics that the same preaching patterns and motifs common to 19th century revivals seem to materialize in The Book of Mormon.  Whether it be the Prophet Alma’s admonition to the people of Zarahemla to experience a “change of heart” before being “brought before the tribunal of God with your souls filled with guilt and remorse,” or Amulek’s reminder that “this life is the time to prepare to meet God,” or Jacob’s impassioned plea to “turn away from your sins” and “come unto that God who is the rock of your salvation,” the emphasis on conviction, conversion and consolation is as prevalent in Book of Mormon sermons as it was in 19th century campfire revivals.[8]

Perhaps the most analogous Book of Mormon sermon to that of the campfire revivals is the address of King Benjamin to his people, which follows the same conviction, conversion and consolation model mentioned above.  In this account, King Benjamin’s people assemble by the thousands to hear his final message.  Due to the size of the crowd, which had gathered as families in tents, King Benjamin ordered the construction of a large tower so he could oversee the multitude.  King Benjamin’s message begins with a reminder to his people that they are “unprofitable servants” to a God in whom their debt is absolute.  King Benjamin continues with several reminders to follow the commandments of God, the violation of which brings “damnation” and “everlasting punishment to the transgressor (conviction).  King Benjamin then transitions by invoking the salvific power of Jesus Christ, promising salvation to those who believe and change their hearts to Him (conversion).  Finally, King Benjamin concludes his sermon and inquires of the people if they believe in his words.  In dramatic fashion, all the people “cried with one voice saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us.”  The people then enter into a covenant to obey God and do his will always (consolation).[9]

As striking as these similarities between 19th century Christian campfire revivals and Book of Mormon sermon scenes may be, a more pervasive yet subtle influence on The Book of Mormon, also contemporary to Joseph Smith’s day, must be considered.  The prose of The Book of Mormon, with its distinct use of biblical language, particularly King James Version English, has called into question the ancient origin assertion made by Joseph Smith.  It would be a grave error to downplay the importance biblical language played in shaping 19th century society.  Historian Eran Shalev’s masterful work, American Zion: The Old Testament as a Political Text from the Revolution to the Civil War persuasively proves this important fact.  He writes:
The Protestant Reformation reinserted the Bible into the lives of millions of believers by declaring sola scriptura, “by scripture alone.” The implication was clear: believers should read and comprehend the Bible with the external mediation of Church or priest, if not discarded altogether, submitted to the supreme authority of the biblical text. That doctrine drove throughout the sixteenth century massive projects of biblical translation into vernacular languages…thus becoming their own authority in light of the truths they revealed in scripture…Thus the inbuilt conservatism of the translation process, reflecting the concerns of those who commissioned the new Bible, led directly—if  unintentionally—to the retention of older ways of speaking in religious contexts by reproducing the English of nearly three generations earlier.[10]
In other words, biblical language became synonymous with the sacred and the holy.  If one hoped to portray a particular idea, belief or history in righteous terms, employing biblical prose, particularly of the King James variety, was a winning strategy. 
                Examples of this practice of writing in a biblical style abound in 18th and 19th century America.  Horace Walpole’s letter entitled, The First Chapter of the Book of Preferment, which employed the use of short numbered verses and biblical phrases like “Now it came to pass in the fifteenth Year of the reign of the king,” was one of the earliest examples of biblical prose being used to bolster a piece of writing.[11]  Another example includes The Chronicle of the Kings of England, Written in the Manner of the Ancient Jewish Historians, a massive best-seller in colonial America, which also made use of the biblical “And it came to pass” language.  Other examples include The Fall of Samuel the Squomicutiti and The Book of America, both of which encapsulated America’s providential colonization and founding in biblical panache.[12]  The Fifteenth Chapter of the Chronicles is one of the more noteworthy examples of faux-biblical writing.  The account tells of a discovered manuscript, “found in the hollow of a tree, where it had been deposited for ages.”  The account, originally published in the Broome County Patriot, petitions its readers for a means of deciphering this hidden record.  It is worth noting that Broome County is located just south of Palmyra, New York, where a young Joseph Smith discovered his golden plates.[13]   
                This practice of producing “faux-biblical texts” continued at such a rate that the number of examples prove overwhelming.  Simply put, the practice of clothing social, political, historical and religious writings in a biblical prose was so prevalent it probably deserves its own literary category.  Historian Eran Shalev explains why this was the case when he writes:
While the practice of imitating the biblical style to convey reality appears extraordinary to modern readers, it came naturally to generations of Americans writing and reading pseudobiblical texts, Joseph Smith and his audience included. The numerous texts written in biblical idiom, some of which were, as we have just seen, major and hugely popular literary productions, attest to the vigor of that distinct American tradition.[14] 

                The concept of writing in a faux-biblical style should be recognizable to anyone with even an elementary understanding of The Book of Mormon.  From beginning to end, The Book of Mormon is saturated with intonations that are uncannily similar to the King James Bible.  From the repetitious “And it came to pass” beginnings of sentences to every other verb ending in “—eth,” The Book of Mormon’s biblical cadence is simply undeniable.

                For the skeptic such a revelation confirms the book’s contemporary origin.  In their estimation, The Book of Mormon simply mirrors “the complex and shifting dynamics of cultural innovation and change that were occurring within the new republican nation.”[15]  In addition, ancient civilizations simply did not write or communicate in poetic biblical prose, nor were they concerned with the basic doctrines that came to define Christian orthodoxy.  But if we take a closer look at Book of Mormon prophecy, we find that such conclusions are abruptly dismissive of what the text says.  The Prophet Mormon, one of the final contributors and namesake to The Book of Mormon, makes it clear that the record he helped to create would come forth in a modern era, to help answer the questions of its day.  Mormon points out to the reader that he “speak(s) unto [us] as though I spake from the dead, for I know ye shall have my words.”[16]
                Having one’s words and understanding those words are two very different things.  If The Book of Mormon’s ultimate origins are indeed ancient, it would be presumptuous of us to assume that Mormon’s ancient dialect could be perfectly understood by a modern audience without at least some adaptation.  As anyone familiar with the process of language conversion will testify, something is always lost in the process of translation. 
                As has already been established, the existence of faux-biblical writing, primarily inspired by King James Bible prose, functioned as a means of providing divine sanction to various aspects of Antebellum American society.  Once could argue that the language of early America was in fact the Bible itself.  As Historian Mark Noll aptly notes, “The Bible sanctified all manner of public speech…Once the Bible had achieved a place of honored distinction for selves and society, it became a lens through which believers perceived the external significance of temporal events, but also a torch that shone its illuminating rays on those events.”[17] Put a different way, when it came to understanding the world and everything in it, the Bible was the only game in town.  If Joseph Smith truly acted as a translator for an ancient record meant for a 19th century audience, not only would a change in language be required but the adoption of biblical vernacular might be requisite as well.  Or as another Joseph Smith revelation states, God’s word is “given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding” (my emphasis).[18]

Despite the apparent similarities between 19th century Christian revivals and pseudo-biblical narratives, The Book of Mormon’s ultimate appeal, and ultimate critique, has been centered on the answers to foundational theological questions and doctrinal perspectives it attempts to provide.  As previously mentioned above, 19th century campfire revivals brought a spirit of change which led to the democratization of Christianity in America.  This open market of Christian thought brought with it innovative interpretations to standard Christian doctrines, which occasionally challenged traditionally accepted definitions for orthodoxy. 
In this atmosphere of amenable acceptance to novel ideas, different Christian denominations, both new and old, began to challenge (or at the very least push the envelope) some of the standard doctrines of the Christian faith.  But where most sought to simply dip a toe or two into the waters of potential heresy, The Book of Mormon dove in headfirst, particularly on three foundational Christian doctrines: the nature of the Trinity, Original Sin and a works-based salvation. 
Perhaps the most divisive issue between Mormons and mainstream Christians has been the doctrine of the Trinity.  Regardless of denomination, the overwhelming majority of the Christian world has been united on its understanding of Trinitarian doctrine.  In fact, the term “cult” was devised to separate any person or denomination who believed differently regarding this all-important point of dogma.  In consequence, Mormons have found themselves on the outside of the Christian world looking in, consistently trying to justify their unique Trinitarian interpretation to the rest of Christendom. 

On its surface, The Book of Mormon appears to be more Trinitarian than one might think.  References to the Father, Son and Holy Ghost look to fall in line with orthodoxy.  A few examples include Amulek’s explanation to Zeezrom that the Son is the Father and creator of all things.  Or Nephi’s assertion that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are “one God.”  Or even the alleged visitation of Jesus himself, after his resurrection, to the Nephite people, in which Jesus declares, “the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost are one; and I am in the Father, and the Father in me, and the Father and I are one.”[19]
Some have argued that the Trinity as portrayed in The Book of Mormon is more a depiction of Modalism than actual Trinitarian orthodoxy.  These critics often point to key changes in Book of Mormon text from its original (1830) version to later publications.  Examples include 1 Nephi 13:40, in which the phrase “Lamb of God is the Eternal Father and the Savior…” (1830 version) is changed to read, “the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father, and the Savior…” (1837 edition, my emphasis).  Another example can be found in 1 Nephi 11:21 which originally read, “Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Eternal Father” (1830 version), which was changed to “Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father” (1837 edition, my emphasis).[20]  While these changes are noteworthy, they do not reflect a Modalist doctrine.  If anything, they demonstrate that the original (1830) text proves to be more Trinitarian while later revisions reveal an evolving perspective on the part of Joseph Smith that eventually rejects Trinitarian doctrine in its entirety.  When we consider later Joseph Smith revelations this viewpoint becomes clearer: “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit.  Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us.”[21]  This interpretation is supported by Book of Mormon references to The Holy Ghost appearing to Nephi “in the form of a man” but “being a personage of Spirit”, and Jesus’ premortal appearance to the Brother of Jared in which Jesus declares “Behold, this body, which ye now behold, is the body of my spirit…and even as I appear unto thee to be in the spirit so will I appear unto my people in the flesh.”[22]
The inferences based on this additional evidence make it clear that The Book of Mormon is neither Trinitarian or Modalistic in its views of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.  Instead what emerges is the dissenting belief that each member of the Godhead is a separate, independent individual, who together with his counterparts form a united partnership, but maintain their distinct personal sovereignty.  Such a belief constitutes a blatant denunciation of a foundational orthodox belief, which helps to explain why The Book of Mormon is seen by generations of conventional Christians as heresy. 
Another example in which The Book of Mormon has been esteemed as sacrilege has been its rejection of the doctrine of Original Sin.  Contrary to the traditional belief that mankind is under ancestral condemnation for the rebellion of Adam and Eve, The Book of Mormon proposes that both The Fall and its participants should be celebrated as a means of liberating humanity.  The Book of Mormon doesn’t reject the notion of Adam and Eve’s folly in The Garden of Eden.  In fact, The Fall is referenced frequently throughout the text:    
Therefore, as the soul could never die, and the fall had brought upon all mankind a spiritual death as well as a temporal, that is, they were cut off from the presence of the Lord, it was expedient that mankind should be reclaimed from this spiritual death. Therefore, as they had become carnal, sensual, and devilish, by nature, this probationary state became a state for them to prepare; it became a preparatory state.[23]
In addition, The Book of Mormon informs its reader that the “natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam.”[24]  Adam and Eve’s folly in The Garden of Eden is an important catalyst to many Book of Mormon sermons.
While The Book of Mormon acknowledges the fall of Adam and Eve, which brought consequence and sin into the world, it wholeheartedly rejects the idea that culpability for the choices of humanity’s first parents has any claim on the human family collectively.  The Patriarch Lehi’s sermon to his son, Jacob provides the necessary context.  For Lehi, the universe is the arena in which the “opposition in all things” battle between good and evil is being constantly waged.  God’s desire for his children to return to his presence means they will have to willingly choose to be on the right side of this epic struggle.  The problem rests in the fact that humanity’s original parents (Adam and Eve) initially lived in a state of blissful ignorance “having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin.”  As a result, God needed to provide his children with their first ever choice: partake in the opposition or never face an opposition to begin with.  As Lehi reminds his son Jacob, “For it must needs be, that there is opposition in all things.”  And since Adam and Eve were brave enough to welcome both good and evil into their lives, they became agents unto themselves, free to “act and not be acted upon.”  In short, The Book of Mormon’s depiction of The Fall doesn’t assign blame but instead creates a scene in which humanity is released from the restrictions of lacking opposition, or as Lehi tells his son, “Adam fell that men might be; and men are that they might have joy.”[25]
                In short, The Book of Mormon’s interpretation of Original Sin is yet another example of the book’s divisive nature.  For orthodox Christians, this troubling rendition of the Adam and Eve story contradicts the long held biblical interpretations of everyone from St. Augustine to Martin Luther, serving as an additional arrow in the quiver for those who hope to defend orthodoxy.  For the believer, this new explanation of The Fall is both liberating and exhilarating, for not only does it eliminate the guilt of Original Sin but also endows mankind with a sense of sovereignty for one’s own choice.  In this sense, the presence of opposition doesn’t become burdensome but rather emancipating. 
                The third and final way in which The Book of Mormon presents doctrine divisive to mainstream Christian canon is the way in which it primarily supports a works-based salvation to that of Sola Gratia (grace alone).  As was mentioned earlier, 19th century American Christians experienced divisions when it came to the question of human salvation.  Traditional Calvinist soteriology maintained that God alone determined salvation, independent from the workings of mankind, who could do nothing of himself to merit redemption.  With the introduction of Arminian beliefs, the waters of salvation became somewhat muddy, as Arminian-leaning ministers began to suggest that humanity might have some sort of limited role in earning divine deliverance.  The great 19th century preacher Charles Finney reflects what many preachers of his time felt about the “grace alone” atonement model.  He writes, “The doctrine of imputed righteousness, or that Christ’s obedience to the law was accounted as our obedience, is founded on a most false and nonsensical assumption.” And, “Multitudes have denied the freedom of the will, because they have loosely confounded the will with the involuntary powers with the intellect and the sensibility.”[26]
                These sentiments, which were representative of many in the 19th century, merely flirt with the possibility that traditional Reformed atonement theology might be amended on Arminian grounds.  No actual change in doctrine was suggested by Finney or most of his orthodox contemporaries.  The Book of Mormon, however, has no such problem and blatantly disregards the Calvinist “grace alone” model.  As Nephi, one of the “Founding Fathers” of Book of Mormon society reminds us, “For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (my emphasis).  Alma concurs with Nephi’s assessment when he reminds his son, Corianton that “the atonement bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead; and the resurrection of the dead bringeth back men into the presence of God; and thus they are restored into his presence, to be judged according to their works, according to the law and justice” (my emphasis).  And as King Benjamin reminds his people, “But this much I can tell you, that if ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God…ye must perish.”[27]
                As can be seen from the verses referenced above, The Book of Mormon doesn’t reject the concept of grace or atonement, while at the same time insisting on the relevancy of human works for salvation.  In other words, redemption, according to The Book of Mormon, is a cooperative relationship which comes at a high price to both Christ and mankind.  Neither Almighty God nor mere mortals are given a pass and both must do their part. 
                In summation, The Book of Mormon’s dependence upon 19th century models and teachings, along with its insolent rejection of key orthodox Christian teachings, make this work a challenge at best to even the kindest of skeptics.  The foul odor of heresy has caused decades of Book of Mormon doubters to agree with Alexander Campbell’s conclusion that Joseph Smith was “as ignorant and as imprudent a knave as ever wrote a book…who makes God a liar.”[28]  To the believer, however, The Book of Mormon’s aroma is a breath of fresh air, standing unapologetically defiant to Christian traditions that have remained insipidly dull for almost two millennia.  The book’s insubordination becomes its appeal.
                The question as to The Book of Mormon’s ultimate origins are perplexing to say the least.  The obvious presence of 19th century motifs, along with teachings and answers to questions common of its day understandably give the reader cause to pause and hesitate.  This, combined with a deliberate rejection of foundational orthodoxy on key issues of doctrine, means that The Book of Mormon will never be endeared by those who walk the traditional Christian party line.  Perhaps this is why The Book of Mormon was so appealing to those in a frontier society who had grown suspicious of all forms of authority and hierarchy.  For them, The Book of Mormon reflected the egalitarianism and defiance of authority so common of early American society. 
Ultimately, The Book of Mormon is likely to remain a divisive text.  Questions regarding its origin will forever plague believers in the same way that its content perplexes the doubter.  This is because The Book of Mormon is more a sermon than it is history, or more performance than it is proof.  For those who have read The Book of Mormon and felt compelled to call it the word of God, the joy of the message will always trump the questions of origin.  For those who doubt, the book is another reminder of the pitfalls of straying too far into the weeds of heresy and sacrilege.  If there is one area in which both believer and skeptic can agree it is this: The Book of Mormon, true or untrue, is a direct reflection of America’s diverse religious landscape.  After all, a book like this could only have been born in the Land of the free.

[1] Marianne Perciaccante. Calling down Fire: Charles Grandison Finney and Revivalism in Jefferson County, New York, 1800-1840.  Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2003.  Pp. 3.  For more on “The Burned-over District” see Whitney Cross.  The Burned-over District: The Social and Intellectual History of Enthusiastic Religion in Western New York, 1800-1850.  Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1950.

[2] 2 Nephi 28: 2-14, The Book of Mormon: An Account Written by the hand of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, trans. Joseph Smith Jr. (Palmyra, New York: E.B. Grandin, 1830; reprinted, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1979), 26.

[3] Mark Noll.  The Democratization of American Christianity.  Yale University Press, 1989.  Pp. 220. (accesses September 7, 2019).

[4] Alexander Campbell.  “The Mormonites,” Millennial Harbinger, vol. 2 (January, 1831). (accessed September 2, 2019). 

[5] Mark Twain.  Roughing It.  Hartford, Conn.: American Publishing Company, 1886.  Pp. 133. (accessed September 14, 2019).

[6] Robert Caldwell.  Theologies of the American Revivalists: From Whitefield to Finney. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2017.  Pp. 20.

[7] Joseph Smith, Jr.  “1839 History,” The Papers of Joseph Smith, vol. I.  Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Publishing Company, 1980.  Pp.269-270.

[8] The Book of Mormon.  For the Prophet Alma’s message to the people of Zarahemla see Alma 5; for Amulek’s message see Alma 34:32; For Jacob’s plea for repentance see 2 Nephi 9:39-49.

[9] Mosiah, chapters 2, 3 and 4.  The Book of Mormon.

[10] Eran Shalev. American Zion the Old Testament as a Political Text from the Revolution to the Civil War New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2013. Pp. 85-86.

[11] Ibid, 88.

[12] Ibid, 89-90.

[13] “The Fifteenth Chapter of the Chronicles,” Broome County Patriot, December 15, 1812.  

[14] Ibid, 91. 

[15] William Davis.  "Performing Revelation: Joseph Smith and the Creation of the Book of Mormon." Order No. 10243912, University of California, Los Angeles, 2016. In PROQUESTMS ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global, (accessed September 2, 2019).

[16] Mormon 9:30. The Book of Mormon.

[17] Mark Noll, In the Beginning Was the Word: The Bible in American Public Life, 1492-1783. Oxford University Press, 2016.  Pp. 326.

[18] Doctrine & Covenants of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Containing Revelations Given to Joseph Smith, the Prophet, with Some Additions by His Predecessors in the Presidency of the Church.  Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981. Pp. 2

[19] The Book of Mormon.  For Amulek and Zeezrom’s dialogue see Alma 11:27-39; for Nephi’s definition of the Trinity see 2 Nephi 31:21; and for Jesus’ declaration see 3 Nephi 11:27.

[20] 1 Nephi 13:40 and 1 Nephi 11:21. The Book of Mormon. 

[21] The Doctrine and Covenants, 130:22.

[22] The Book of Mormon.  For Nephi’s encounter with The Holy Ghost see 1 Nephi 11:11; for Jesus’ premortal appearance before the Brother of Jared see Ether 3:16.

[23] Alma 42:9-10. The Book of Mormon.

[24] Mosiah 3:19. The Book of Mormon.

[25] 2 Nephi 2:10-25.  The Book of Mormon.

[26] Charles G. Finney.  Charles G. Finney’s Systematic Theology.  Grand Rapids, Michigan: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1991. Pp. 277-278.

[27] The Book of Mormon.  For Nephi’s remarks see 2 Nephi 25:23; for Alma’s lecture see Alma 42:23; for King Benjamin’s comments see Mosiah 4:30.

[28] Alexander Campbell.  “The Mormonites,” Millennial Harbinger, vol. 2 (January, 1831). (accessed September 2, 2019).