Internalizing the Call to Serve

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It happened within this last week. The heavy realization of having just graduated high school, the impending onslaught of personal responsibility and independence, the wave of nostalgia from the journey thus far… I have been struck hard. Having been in the Dominican Republic recently for 9 days on a humanitarian trip, I have had a fair amount of time to contemplate my current state of limbo, and consequently nearing future as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Though having yet to complete my application process, and thus not knowing where I will be sent, nonetheless I have been buttressed with a myriad of emotions and reflections regarding the mission I plan to serve. Some of these I wish to share below, this post being more of a public journal entry than anything else. As always, I invite you to read, respond, and hopefully bear with the ramblings of this Mormon youth looking to brave the world.


To begin, setting forth a proper explanation of what an LDS mission is, and what it entails, seems proper. Essentially, Mormon missionaries strive to be representatives of Jesus Christ and His Gospel on the earth by inviting all to come unto Him, be saved and follow His teachings and example. The are called to assist in meeting the temporal and spiritual needs of those they serve, while devoting two full years of their lives to God in active ministry and strict religious observance and conduct. Missionaries can be called to travel to distant lands and foreign countries, becoming immersed and familiar with the local culture and language of where they stay. They remain well-groomed, actively engaged in both evangelizing and service, and separated from the influences of the world by abstaining from popular media, music, and many forms of recreation. Their daily routine is well-planned, beginning in the early morning and ending later at night. They are permitted to write home on a weekly basis, as well as being able to call/Skype family twice a year on Christmas and Mother’s Day. In all, the mission is extremely demanding on all levels physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual and very much serves as an extended “coming-of-age” ritual within within Mormonism. From both current and post-Mormons who have had the opportunity to serve a mission, the common theme that I have heard is that serving a mission ranks among the very top of the most challenging, and most personally rewarding ventures that they have ever experienced.

Within Mormon circles, the mission is highly idealized from an early age, with Primary-aged youth learning songs like “I Hope They Call Me On a Mission”. I have always enjoyed browsing through pictures my father took while serving in the New York, New York South Mission where he taught in the Spanish language, as well as hearing of the many misadventures that befell him there. Beyond him, many of my uncles and cousins have likewise served, in places like the Philippines, the Dominican Republic, Australia, Mexico and more. In essence, like many youth coming from dominantly Mormon families, I have been surrounded and raised with a “mission” culture all around me. For many years though, I remember this was at times distressing, with the chief concern of mine long being did I even want to serve a mission? 

For many years, the answer to this was a definitive no. Since an early age, I have held the desire to teach, travel, and focus on my education and subsequent career path as a professor of somewhere within the humanities. The mission for me then was seen as an inconvenience, a burden, and an undesirable social expectation that would only conflict with my plans. Life is too short, I thought, and so a mission wasn’t along the lines of something that I wanted to take part in. I recall many instances in Sunday school sitting in class only to here the teacher make the request, “Now, raise your hand if you are going to serve a mission!” For the span of several years, my hands remained confidently at my side, indifferent to the potentially surprised or in one instance, disgruntled, looks garnered from the teacher or youth leader.

“Are you just not sure whether you want to go?”

“Nope”, I would reply, “I am pretty certain that I won’t be going on a mission. It is just not for me.”

This would be in turn followed by a class discussion on the purpose and importance of missions, how in the words of the Prophet Thomas S. Monson, “Every worthy, able young man should prepare to serve a mission” with “missionary service [being] a priesthood duty.” Although I appreciated and very-much shared their sentiments, too often the tone moved from one of loving invitation to perhaps inciting feelings of guilt or isolation. I never felt it convincing at the time, and so remained confident in my own independent thinking and choice-making that I had then settled on. But as time progressed, I found things beginning to change. My attitude towards my faith, myself and the world around me matured. Much like Joseph Smith in his 1832 Account of the First Vision, I could say that, “Thus, from the age of twelve years to fifteen I pondered many things in my heart concerning the situation of the world of mankind, the contentions and divisions, the wickedness and abominations, and the darkness which pervaded the of the minds of mankind. My mind become exceedingly distressed for I become convicted of my sins… I felt to mourn for my sins and the sins of the world.”  (grammar, punctuation and spelling regularized)

The more I realized and grappled with my own struggles which have plagued me since my youth, the more I sought to improve on my own imperfections and weaknesses, I only became more convinced that this was not a fight that I could win by myself. During my years of active faith crisis in which I was searching to obtain an authentic expression of my own spirituality, I related so deeply to the struggle that is common to every man during the course of their existence; that of finding and determining their own path through life’s complexities. As a became more sure and confident in my faith -as a Latter-day Saint that is- I became more cognizant of the great clarity, perspective, stability, joy, and peace that the Savior and His Gospel had given me. My spiritual experiences and newfound personal testimonies became the foundational lens through which I would view the world (see Blake Ostler’s Spiritual Experiences as the Basis for Belief and Commitment). While many of these personal beliefs are doctrinally or theologically unique to Mormonism, I can say that my overall paradigm shares a multitude of similar expressions and attitudes with many other faiths and worldviews; that is to say, I by no means credit myself with obtaining these truths. Like Jonathan Haidt in his work The Happiness Hypothesis, I too have found modern truth in ancient wisdom. Perhaps a natural component of coming to have what we Mormons call a “testimony” (or the sum total of our personal conviction), is the desire to share it with others. As this took place, I heard internally the call to serve ring louder and louder until I knew, that a mission was something that I needed to go on. Despite years of external influence hoping to persuade me earlier, it wasn’t until I became convinced of it myself that I made the decision to go.

That being said I hope to answer a few questions: why is it exactly that I wish to serve a mission, what do I anticipate experiencing on my mission, what do I hope to accomplish or gain from my mission, and what are my feelings heading into serving?

1) Why serve a mission?

Besides considering myself a faithful, practicing and committed Mormon, I more so consider myself a citizen of the world, child of God, and a follower of Christ. These three identities give me cause to travel the world, love all of humanity as myself, and serve them unconditionally. I do not wish to serve a mission to create more Mormons, though some might find that foolishly ironic. Rather, my focus while on the mission will be to solely minister to the spiritual and material needs of those I encounter, be they Mormon or not. If I can ease their burdens, if I can brighten their day, if I can impart on them some newfound wisdom or tool that they can apply towards their lives, then I will be fully content. As a representative of Jesus Christ and His Church, I will be constantly be inviting others to come to Him and follow his example, whether verbally or by my actions alone. In total, these are briefly the reasons why I wish to serve a mission.

2) What do I expect to experience?

As often heard from individuals who have previously served, I expect my mission to be one of the most demanding ventures that I will ever embark on. I fully anticipate and intend on being pressed both emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually throughout the course of what I will be called to do. For two years, I will be adhering to a largely routinized and fixed schedule, following stringent standards of personal decorum. Throughout this process, which some might feel becomes monotonous, I am going forward with the intent of engaging it from a sacramental approach. That is, I fully plan on practicing mindfulness and internal contemplation as I perform and carry out my repeated duties. Activities as small as shaving then will become more ritualistic and sacramental in nature instead of thoughtless responsibilities. By losing myself in the moment, by focusing on virtues such as discipline, peace, charity and others, I hope to turn my mission into as close a monastic experience as a Mormon might have. Though we have no monks, nuns, or religious orders within our faith, perhaps the mission might afford me a similar experience for inward contemplation. I anticipate feeling some of the most elevated of highs, and perhaps the lowest of lows, while out in the field though no matter what then occupies my attention, I hope to walk with the Savior continuously, relying on His Grace, Strength, and Spirit throughout to sustain me.

In essence, I am looking forward to an opportunity to love and serve unconditionally, to challenge myself and grow in an unprecedented manner, and dedicate nearly every action and thought to my God, Savior and faith for two years.

And to top it all off, there is the good chance I will be sent to another country and be learning a foreign language at the same time.

3) What do I hope to accomplish/gain?

There is a cultural saying within Mormon circles that goes along the lines of  “sometimes the one person one saves on their mission is themselves”. If I am the sole individual who benefits from my serving a mission, by becoming in some way closer to God through the process of sanctification that He leads me through, if the only soul who is brought into the fold is myself, I will consider the whole effort entirely worth it. Nonetheless, I will be going forward with what is known as the Kenotic Ethic. In Christology, the Greek word kenosis (literally meaning emptiness) stems from Philipians 2:7 where ἐκένωσεν (ekénōsen) is used in depicting Christ as taking upon himself a human form in mortality. By this action, he emptied himself of his own will, thereby completely accepting and carrying out the will of the Father. Kenotic Ethic then indicates much the same in humans who sacrifice or empty themselves of their own will,  thereby humbling themselves through subservience and service to others as exemplified by Christ. This ethic, the ethic of sacrifice and selflessness, is one then that I hope to imitate and aspire to while out in the mission field. I find such perfectly encapsulated in the following:

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” – Galatians 2:20

Being an average American teenager, I am no stranger to the foibles of youth and -by that token- mankind. I carry many personal imperfections and weaknesses, some of which I have worked long to overcome. My hope, my prayer, and my faith, is that through humbling myself to the greatest extent through Christlike service, His Grace will be sufficient in making weak things become strong. (Ether 12:27) I am serving a mission with the desire to change and be changed. I am certain that the Jaxon who leaves will not be the Jaxon returns.

4) What are my current feelings?

Currently, I am undergoing an amalgam of emotions such as excitement, fear, insecurity, anxiety, hope, sadness, and love. It’s selfish of me, but the prospect of leaving so much of what I know and love is a hard sacrifice for me to make. Saying goodbye to my perfect family will be unprecedented in my experience. It is not a choice that I make easily, but it is one that I make willingly because I know that I must. The Jaxon that I have idealized for so long, the better version of myself that I have strived to be for so long, is one that can only come first through the trial of serving a mission. Putting all religious implications aside, it is the more selfless, spiritually mature, compassionate, disciplined, and wiser Jaxon that I hope to become. Some might say that such could be achieved through a similar venture, perhaps by serving with UNICEF or another charitable organization? It could be I suppose, but my identity of being a Mormon, coupled with my authentic and honest desire to teach others that which has brought such happiness in my life, the Gospel of Christ, makes a mission the perfect provider of such.

In being just a bit more vulnerable, I can say that the weight of serving a mission hit me the hardest while I was flying back from the Dominican Republic to Atlanta just this week. I became briefly overwhelmed and for close two hours, couldn’t help but weep at the thought of it all. Leaving my family and my life. Loving and serving others as Christ did. Dedicating my two years to my faith and my Father in Heaven. By no means am I the “crying” type, but this was an unexpected and powerful experience that ultimately ended with thoughts of peace as the following scripture came to mind in a whisper-like voice:

“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”

Matthew 16:25


Though I have planned on serving a mission for awhile now, the Call to Serve has recently been sounding within me louder than ever. I am filled with many emotions and expectations at the prospect; the chief of which being a desire to love, serve, and grow. The next few months will mark time for me to save towards the endeavor, enjoying my summer with family and friends, and in preparing spiritually through prayer, study, and attending the Temple (of which I will be entering to receive my endowments beforehand). I plan on writing as much as I can until then on the subjects I have heretofore covered, having also several upcoming projects and engagements which I will be sure to provide here. As far as my communication on my mission, I am planning on perhaps publishing my letters through this blog (provided they don’t contain advert personal information) and also devising a master-list which those interested in receiving the emails directly can subscribe to. Regardless, with high school now over, my transition to the soon Elder Washburn seems to be happening faster than ever.

How grateful I am for it.

My Journey through Fowler’s Stages of Faith 

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The Pilgrim of the Cross at the End of His Journey- Thomas Cole

I am a Mormon. I was raised one, I was baptized one, and I have stayed one all throughout my life so far. Being Mormon is part my identity; it’s what I breathe, it’s my culture and in ways, my ethnicity as a native-born Utahan (though I have lived the majority of my life in Arizona).

I recognize all of this. I love and cherish my Mormon culture and ancestry. I look to the sacrifices many in my pioneer heritage made in crossing the plains, I look to how they clung to their faith and their family to help them endure the unforgiving wilderness as they trudged along, hoping to find the Promised Land of their dreams: Zion. This Hijrah-episode in my ancestry speaks volumes to me of the triumph of the human spirit against highly formidable odds, the value of faith and scripture in the lives of believers, and foremost a deep wellspring of gratitude for those on whose shoulders I now stand.

I love my Mormon identity and without it, I simply just wouldn’t be the same individual. Nonetheless, I do find it a crucial skill and exercise to be able to step back, examine my own perspective, and realize that my story is just one among many. Recently though, I have been studying up on what is referred to as Fowler’s Stages of Faith; which is a system of studying human faith development similar in ways to Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development or Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development. After reading such, I thought it would be of great benefit for me to describe and paint my own faith journey within the context of Fowler’s framing. In this, I look to give an honest and vulnerable expression of what I have been through and where I now stand within Mormonism. I find such to be of unique importance in light of the coming 2-year mission that I wish to serve. Anyways, I hope you enjoy as I first 1) define Fowler’s Stages of Faith Development and then 2) depict my own faith journey and present standing within.


What are Fowler’s Stages of Faith Development?

Essentially, Fowler lists six stages representing various periods or kinds of faith development that he observed after studying hundreds of different individuals varying in age, gender, race, and religious backgrounds. The six stages that he lists are as follows:

Stage One: Intuitive-Projective

This stage represents the formulative years in a young child’s development in which basic understandings of morality, God, and reality are often obtained. Due to the infantile or mostly undeveloped state of cognitive development, children in this category often struggle to separate fantasy with reality- myth and legend with fact and objective experience. Nonetheless, this is a vital time in which the individual develops a loving connection between themselves and their caregivers and come to experience ritual and religious life by participating alongside their family in religious settings. The ability to think in abstract ways, understand complex concepts, or entertain various perspectives other than their own have not been developed. Faith, at this stage, is a series of impressions rather than a thoroughly understood base of thoughts and beliefs. Such generally takes place in pre-school age children or younger and will mature as they grow in their own cognitive development.

Stage Two: Mythic-Literal 

The second stage that Fowler presents is one representing a somewhat similar form of the first, though set apart by a matured ability to think logically and understand more abstract concepts. Usually composed of youth age 6-12, Mythic-Literals most often completely accept the stories told to them by their elders and religious leaders; understanding such to be quite literal and as fully representative of reality at large. It is not until adolescence and the further growth of individual identity apart from outside influence, that this stage is usually advanced from, albeit at times in dramatic or sudden ways. Children at this age do gain the ability to separate fact from fiction, but often do not apply these same standards to their own religious or spiritual beliefs to any large extent. Faith at this juncture is mainly concrete and experienced, and it is not until later in this stage that individuals come to an understanding that the world contains many people quite different in belief than their own. An expansion of authority grows in this stage past family and friends to also include teachers and religious instructors. It is quite rare for any person to remain a Stage Two through adulthood.

Stage Three: Synthetic-Conventional

This stage is marked usually by a dramatic awakening into a heightened sense of reality and individualization. Most often composed of teenagers, individuals in this stage feel and intense drive to take the varied points of their own experiences, differing perspectives, and social circles and attempt to construct some continuity or formality to them. Usually, this occurs in the form of one’s true adoption of an organized belief system or school of thought so as to easily explain the world and its chaos. This box that is constructed is often seen as the end-all, be-all for how the world works and as such, individuals often struggle or refuse to step outside of it into a foreign unknown. Many remain in this stage throughout all of life, and place authority in whatever stands at the head of their own worldview, whether it be a religious leader, scripture, or organized dogma. This gives them a sense of internal security and stability allows them to see the world through the concrete lens that they have adopted. In looking towards others who have advanced this stage such as Fours, Fives, or Sixes, such can be seen as compromising of a necessary belief system, of rejecting the status quo, of radicalizing or becoming apostate, or being dangerous and unstable in their beliefs when in reality, they are actually farther along the developmental path. Stage Three’s see their personal beliefs as not being “inside” any belief system but instead being an accurate representation of objective reality as a whole. Adherence to one’s beliefs are often dogmatic and are not welcoming of critical or skeptical examination. The common attitude held here is that there exists a definite answer for everything, and individuals often look to an external belief system to provide such. With a heightening ability to grapple with abstract thought, there now takes place a shift in the individual so that the manifold stories and religious lessons they were taught early on become organized into a cohesive and principled worldview. It is here that multiple layers of symbol and meaning inherent in one’s beliefs can be contemplated. If inconsistencies, contradictions, or issues arise in the worldview, they are often placed on a cognitive “shelf” of sorts to collect dust until a later date. It’s not until this shelf becomes too heavy to further ignore that it often cracks, collapses, and violently forces the individual tumbling into Stage 4. This often occurs during the true period of individual discovery and growth, that journey out of familiarity; college and early adult life. Still though, such is not always the case for everyone, and many individuals can happily live out their lives comfortable within the stability offered by Stage Three.

Stage Four: Individuative-Reflective

Marked by a high degree of internal skepticism, a focus on critical examination, logic, and deductive reasoning, and even heightened rates of distrust or doubt, the Individuative-Reflective Stage for many represents the “crisis of faith” period in their development; and for those who don’t come to find the reconciliation or closure they need, the end of faith altogether. Described by many as the “Dark Night of the Soul”, Stage Four is that time of painful contemplation over one’s preconceived understandings of God, faith, the universe, and reality that they have for so long held as a base of stability and consolation in a confusing world. Individuals in this stage come to recognize that their story represents one among many, that their own worldview creates a box or lens through which they see and judge the world. Critical questions and radical shifts in thinking are rife in this stage, as the individual considers the validity of their deeply held beliefs among the contradictions and problems they come to discover. To fix this they seek answers, but different than in Stage Three, these answers are sought out from a variety of sources both internally, and from outside their since now relied upon base of external authority contained within their original worldview. This stage is painful, the pain stemming from an crumbling in ways of a previous foundation, and a now frightening dance with the unfamiliar. This stage contains both a destruction and reconstruction of one’s previous faith, and while they can and at times do, choose to remain in their original worldview, they do not go back to their old modes or ways of thinking. Once Stage Four is reached, life is never the same. To this, either a perpetual state of disillusionment by remaining here, or a progression towards the reconciliation found in Stage Five, is the answer. Irrespective of the end result, this is usually a stage that individuals reside and struggle through for many years.

Stage Five: Conjunctive Faith

After enduring a long night of self doubt, feelings of foundational instability, and otherwise somewhat of a existential crisis, some exit this tunnel towards the light that lay beyond. This light is new, but upon its introduction feels starkly different than what was previously experienced. Suddenly, individuals realize the limits of their own perspectives, rationality, emotions, spirituality, and experiences. They become comfortable and even nourished by the many at-times paradoxical realities and complexities of life. They thrive in the so-called sacraments of these mysteries and most often return to their original faith as a base from which to view them. The see truth in abstraction, in story, in principle, metaphor, and rich symbol. They place their focus on growing and developing as a person, and embracing life in both its ups and downs. They are aware of the defeat and the triumph, the joy and sadness, the chaos and the simplicity, that comes with living. People in this stage have found some answers, but now they are comfortable and even accepting that the answers might not always come. They are open and receptive on hearing the faith perspectives and journeys of others, cognizant that their views and experiences have the capacity to inform and deepen their own. Complimentary to deep personal introspection is the desire to feed and foster an emphasis on the important role of community in faith development. Stage Fives are often a faith’s brilliant outliers; thinkers, reformers, change-makers, and fringe leaders. As much of Conjunctive Faith is reliant upon a wider scope of life experiences and previous challenges, most, if they ever reach it, don’t due so until their late 30’s or 40’s. Individuals in Stage Five appreciate and thrive in learning about other’s views and enjoy environments that grow and challenge their own. Truth is their ultimate objective, the kind that shapes their character and person to eventually culminate into the Universalizing Faith of Stage Six.

Stage Six: Universalizing Faith

Some might define this stage as the pinnacle of human existence, and indeed it is hard to define one who has entered this stage with few just words alone. A plethora of rich life experiences coupled with a truly enlightened insight leads one in this category to represent what some consider to be the farthest stage of mortal human development. As Christ puts it in Matthew 16:25, “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” and indeed these people have. These are your Theresa of Calcutta’s, your Mahatma Gandhi’s, your Buddha’s, and your Saints, Sages, and Gurus throughout the ages. Within these individuals, both those named and unnamed, blazes a simple, undefiled spark of pure humanity. It is the near unanimous mission of all the world’s major faiths to bring an individual to this enlightened and refined state of existence; one characterized by the loss of one’s individual wants and needs into the full service of others. All superficial doubt or worry is cast aside as these individuals have come to understand the real underpinnings of true human existence set around sacrifice, love, compassion, unity, and selflessness. Fowler describes such individuals as having “a special grace that makes them seem more lucid, more simple, and yet somehow more fully human than the rest of us.” At times, radically loving humans such as these who unashamedly challenge the status quo can be seen as threatening to those in authority or power, and thus persecution, alienation, and at times martyrdom have been their fate. These are the rarest of all the stages, but likewise the best equipped to bring real change and justice to the broken world we currently reside in.

And now that I have defined said stages, I wish to track and describe my own faith journey accordingly.


My Journey Along Fowler’s Stages of Faith 

Stage One: Intuitive-Projective

Although this stage would have occurred quite early in my life and personal development, it was here that I was first introduced with love and care from my parents and family. A bond was formed that would be later understood to be the tender and primal connection between child and progenitor. I imagine, like most other children raised in a religious setting, that I quickly learned to imitate those around me in the most simplistic instances of religious action such as formulaically bowing my head and folding my arms in prayer, coming to understand the differentiation of sacred and secular space (such as inside and outside of a church building), and being impressed with the childhood stories retold from both fairytales and scriptures, not quite yet separating the two nor understanding their moral implications. The world was small, simple, and mostly happy. I would have yet to recognize that it existed outside of my own sphere. Although unable to yet read, I became fascinated with books and their illustrations. Color, sight, sound, smell and just life in general was only known to exist within the sphere of my own experience.

Stage Two: Mythic-Literal 

Upon continuing to grow and mature in my cognitive development, I progressed through the juvenile rituals and social circles offered by my faith tradition. Encompassing more of age 5-11 for myself, I spent these years participating in Primary, Sunday School and Cub Scouts while also being happily raised within a loving family. A basic and introductory understanding of Mormonism was imparted to me consisting of basic elements such as the person of Jesus Christ as Savior, the role of Prophets and Apostles as current faith leaders, the importance of scripture contained in both the Bible, Book of Mormon and other texts, the distinction between churches and temples as well as a simple view of the unique rites held within (baptism, sacrament, and marriage), and finally a general narrative of the LDS Plan of Salvation understood in easy-to-recognize illustrated terms such as would be contained within a child’s coloring book. I remember looking to heroes, notable figures, and legendary stories within the scriptures such as in the Bible (like Daniel and the Lion’s Den, Noah’s Ark, David and Goliath, and the Passion of the Christ), the Book of Mormon (like Lehi’s Vision, Nephi building a ship to the Promised Land, Ammon dismembering the arms of the king’s enemies, the Brother of Jared, and Christ’s Visit to the Temple at Bountiful), and even early LDS Church History (such as Joseph Smith’s First Vision, the Translation of the Book of Mormon, the Persecutions of the Early Saints, the Martyrdom, and the Exodus to the Utah Territory). These stories were larger than life to me and filled me with a sense of awe and wonder.

I remember being in elementary school and upon New York City being referenced as part the lesson, I raised my hand and proudly told the class that my father had served a mission there. Much to my surprise, I remember both the teacher and the students around me being confused as to what a mission actually was. They asked if it was a business mission, another friend of mine thinking that it was some kind of armed forces- type operation. I remember being just feeling totally misunderstood, questioning why in this environment people didn’t understand even a simple concept such as a “mission”. It would not be until later that it would dawn on me that not everyone in the world was a Mormon. I soon became aware of the presence of other religious vernacular common to Mormonism get thrown around a lot in my parent’s conversations. “Oh, their whole family are members“, “His sister is LDS“, and “They were investigators for several years until they joined the Church.” It didn’t take long for me to learn to separate such language when conversing in non-church related circles.

Most likely around age 7 or so, I likewise became aware of the concept of religion as a whole. I recall being at a swim practice late at night, clinging to the wall alongside a friend whose name now escapes me (perhaps such means he was not that good of a friend). While awaiting our turn to do laps, I suddenly felt inclined to ask him as to what religion he was. Such words had never been spoken by myself before and so I felt a bit odd asking. To this, he replied that his family were Lutherans. All I remember is swimming away now wondering what on earth that meant! And so I was baptized later that year upon turning 8. While not necessarily understanding in full the covenants I was making -ironic given that such is deemed the “age of accountability within my tradition- it did represent an important cultural and spiritual milestone that I was happy to oblige in. Only looking back now can I say that time and experience have matured my understanding of said covenants, myself being completely fine with the early age in which such occurred. As I grew in this stage, I became more aware of the “bubble” that I resided in within Mormonism. I wouldn’t find the need to really enter into Stage Three until pushed there by a dramatic and unexpected occurrence within my own life; that is, my mother’s transition out of the faith with which I was raised.

Stage Three: Synthetic-Conventional and Stage Four: Individuative-Reflective

Age 12 was when my mother officially, or more totally, left the Church. I remember not only recognizing the sudden absence of much of our LDS literature from our house, but also going to attend a worship service with her at a local non-denominational one rainy Sunday morning. I was young and so I joined the other pre-teen youth for a Bible study; with my clunky quad –another Mormon colloquialism for our four books of scripture- I stood out like a sore thumb. A student my same age asked if I was new and what church I came from. I told him that this was my first time and that I was a Mormon. In hearing that, his eyes drew wide, he gasped and said, “That’s really bad! My parents told me that Mormons are going to hell!” Looking back now, I harbor no hard feelings to his sentiment, however then such represented the first time someone had suggested that was going to hell. Wasn’t that where all the evil people were sent? It gave me plenty to consider at the time, and as time progressed would become part of a wider question that I would have to come to terms with.

I have chosen to combine both Stage Three and Stage Four together as I feel both were too intertwined within my experience so as to distinctly separate them. Over the course of age 12-16 or so, I was an active participant in both the Evangelical and Mormon faith communities. I would either switch attendance on weekly intervals alongside my siblings, or else go to both churches on Sunday if time permitted. I would go to LDS Boy Scouts on Wednesdays and Christian Small Group Bible Study on Tuesdays. I also went to summer camps for each. As per the account of the Prophet Joseph Smith in reflecting on his upbringing around a similar age in his Joseph Smith- History , it was a time of great religious excitement and confusion for me. As my own cognitive abilities increased, I became more aware at the differences in beliefs being represented at both churches. At the same time, I had decided to research some of the reasons my mother had found that served in ways as a catalyst for her leaving the faith. I dove headlong into what could be considered “Anti-Mormon Literature” by most Mormons, (I prefer the term critical literature nowadays), and quickly became more well-read on the issues than she. I learned of the various criticisms and “problems” surrounding various aspects of Mormonism such as the debated historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon/ Book of Abraham, various issues in Church History spanning subjects from the practice of plural marriage to the Priesthood Ban, and also the personal character of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

Much of what I read was shocking and greatly shook my foundations. In many ways they crumbled, barely held together by a tender care to not disturb them further while also remaining deeply embedded in the Mormon community as an active participant in the Boy Scouts and Young Men’s Program. For starters, my view of Joseph Smith was reduced to more a feeling of stark uneasiness bordering outright dislike. My view of the Church as an organization was now one plagued with worries of a leadership or structure containing sinister ulterior motives. While being both intensely skeptical, I also coupled my critical research with Mormon apologetic materials, mostly from FairMormon and the Maxwell Institute (the FARMS Review for sure). While still appreciative of much of their materials, my problem then was that they stood as the external authority to which I clung to retain my faith. If a particular criticism arose that I was largely concerned with, I would simply inoculate myself with whatever answer FAIR had to offer. So while both being an active searcher of stability and Truth by looking to a multitude of both pro and critical sources, I did give favor to the ones which confirmed my preconceived ideas.

So for a while, as long as my faith was being assaulted and battered, I was also trying to put up fortifications and scaffolding to hold it all together. It wasn’t until age 15 and 16, after an advanced period of exposure to non-Christian and irreligious worldviews, that I had realized the error in my line of thinking and so really made the effort to broaden my horizons and seriously consider a wide spectrum of beliefs and opinions made by all kinds of religious and philosophical schools of thought. I would slowly emerge from years of internal doubt, confusion, and anxiety over my own state of beliefs to change into a collective which was comfortable amidst seeking answers and inviting of personal growth and development. The more I did this and studied other faith traditions, the less painful Stage Four became. I was slowly gaining Stage Five outlooks and perspectives and allowing them to mature and develop with added life experiences.

Stage Five: Conjunctive Faith

I can’t say with complete confidence that I am fully in Stage Five. As much as I would like to be and feel in ways that my thinking and current spiritual state is reflective of much of Conjunctive Faith, I am hesitant to peg myself fully within due to lack of life experience commonly only attained within one’s mid-life years. I can say that the Mormonism that I now believe in and am drawn towards is quite different in ways than that with which I believed in at Stage Two and Three. Many of my views are nuanced, progressive, and adapted so as to fit consistently with how I really see Truth, God, and the world. I don’t consider this cherry-picking by any means, instead I have attempted to understand Mormonism in all its abstractions, data points, and paradoxes as best I can and such is the end result. In many ways, I appreciate the term coined by the online ghost-writer Randall Bowen from LDS Church is True Blog as the “Sacramental/Metaphorical” paradigm of Mormonism, although I cannot say that I hold to many of his same views. How I do see the world is almost entirely through symbol, principle, metaphor, myth, and abstraction. I do believe in Absolute Truth, I have a strong testimony of the foundational truth claims of Mormonism, and I am actively prepared to devote the next two years of my life in sharing that message.

At the same time I love to embrace and explore Truth wherever I can find it. As Brigham Young can be quoted in saying, in far stronger language than I would use I might add, as:

“It is our duty and calling, as ministers of the same salvation and Gospel, to gather every item of truth and reject every error. Whether a truth be found with professed infidels, or with the Universalists, or the Church of Rome, or the Methodists, the Church of England, the Presbyterians, the Baptists, the Quakers, the Shakers, or any other of the various and numerous different sects and parties, all of whom have more or less truth, it is the business of the Elders of this Church (Jesus, their Elder Brother, being at their head) to gather up all the truths in the world pertaining to life and salvation, to the Gospel we preach, … to the sciences, and to philosophy, wherever it may be found in every nation, kindred, tongue, and people and bring it to Zion.” (DBY, 248)

At times it can be difficult seeing the world (and Mormonism) in this way. Seminary, Sunday School, and interactions with other members on different stages can produce a feeling of loneliness, anomaly, and hesitancy in expressing my faith in a manner which is authentic to me personally, but potentially foreign or threatening to others. Having a Stage Five outlook within a largely Stage Three faith community can be intimidating, and I say none of this out of personal pride or arrogance. I have come to respect and honor where everyone is at in their individual journey, and try mainly to keep to myself and invite positive change where appropriate. As for my mission, I will protect the need to remain personally authentic, with my focus being on individual development, loss in the service of my fellow man and the Savior, and an open desire to share light and Truth where I can in order to make a positive impact in the lives of those I will surround myself with. After the mission, I will come back to continue this search for Truth by majoring in Religious Studies at Arizona State University. My life is centered upon Truth as my ultimate objective, the kind that will gradually shape and perfect my character and person to eventually culminate into the Universalizing Faith of Stage Six; my own apotheosis.

Stage Six: Universalizing Faith

I doubt that I could or will attain to this within my mortal experience here on earth. Nonetheless, in this journey that is life, I will continue to do my best to learn, grow, develop, and progress in the example of my Savior Jesus Christ. Irrespective of the Christ found in history or scripture is the one I have found as the most personally impactful and powerful symbol of Stage Six. The Act of His Atonement is one that I see, regardless of one’s own theological views, as a universal symbol of selflessness, sacrifice, and pure mercy, charity, and love. It is this force that draws me to Him, inviting me to participate in a state of “At-One-Ment” with Himself. I cannot readily imagine what this kind of Universalizing Faith truly feels like, however it is in the Way, the Truth, and the Life of Christ that I see this as my potential future. Such is my hope, may I not easily lose focus on this.


Conclusion

Life is long. I am young. I am quite aware of my limitations and my own finite perspective. Despite all this, I wish to love, I wish to learn, and I wish to grow into the person that Christ would have me be. By studying Fowler’s Stages of Faith, I have been able to gain validation in much of what I have experienced. May we all continue in our journeys, I know that they are ours for a reason.

-Jaxon Washburn

A Defense of Sola Scriptura Continued

As promised in months past, I have provided below Jordan McDaniel’s response to my original piece, “My Answer to A Defense to Sola Scriptura” in which I offered a rebuttal to a Facebook post that he had formulated. I wish to thank Jordan for his taking the time to respond and, depending on my availability, I may prepare a response or leave Jordan with the last word in this enjoyable exercise. Either way, enjoy!


A Defense of Sola Scriptura Continued
By: Jordan McDaniel

Let us begin by saying that I want to thank Jaxon Washburn for the chance to respond after all these months. I am a newlywed and my mind was elsewhere and it was only recently that Kevin Taylor (LDS) shared the link again and Esther Gilbert tagged me in her comment. I want to thank them both for bringing it again to my attention. I had completely forgotten about it (that’s not a knock on Jaxon Washburn nor his article).
Before we get started I wanted to say that my original post was a simple Facebook comment. I had been kicking around the idea of writing a very brief defense of Sola Scriptura for quite some time now. Jaxon approached me through Facebook Messenger and he asked if he could offer a rebuttal to my defense. I agreed. I am just now getting to the article and I want to thank Jaxon (again) for his patience.

Let’s start with what Jaxon agrees with me on.

“1) I agree that Truth is ultimately absolute and does not change
2) I also agree that God is the fullest resolution of Truth in existence; He knows all truth and holds all truth” This confused me greatly, I’ll explain.

If Jaxon agrees that God is truth and that God holds all truth, then what’s the reason for our disagreement in the first place? Wouldn’t that mean, that in a sense, we are in fact on the same team?

Or could it be possible that perhaps we are misunderstanding one another, on account of identical theological/philosophical vocabulary – yet there is a difference in understanding and application of said terms. For example:

Both Jaxon & I can affirm the following statement “I believe in God, and Trust in Him alone.”

When my definition of ‘God is unpacked, what I mean is I believe in a God who is eternal, creator of all things, a triune being (3 persons, one being) & my savior.
When Jaxon’s is unpacked, what he likely means is that he believes in a God who was not always eternal in the sense of always being God, who did not create everything (more specifically, matter & intelligences as well) but definitely played a part in organizing it, is a unitarian being and separate from the savior in both person and essence.
Granted, that is a VERY different discussion. However, it is worth noting, as this particular presuppositional conflict that exists between Jaxon & I are undoubtedly in play, and cannot be avoided in this type of discussion to some degree or another.
That being said, we must be clear on this point: When either Jaxon or myself use the term ‘God’, we simply are not talking about the same being – consequently, we cannot be talking about the same ‘truth’ either. Jaxon affirms God is the ‘fullest representation of it in existence’, this language does not seem to be in harmony with John 14:6 “I am the way the truth and the life…” as Jesus is God, this is a characteristic that is intrinsic to who He is.

Now that these distinctive differences have been laid out, we can proceed!


Let’s define Sola Scriptura.

What it is: Scripture alone (from the Reformation slogan Sola Scriptura) is the teaching that Scripture is the Church’s only infallible and sufficient rule for deciding issues of faith and practices that involve doctrines. While the Bible does not contain all knowledge, it does contain that which is necessary for salvation. Indeed, if something is not found in Scripture, it is not binding upon the believer. This view does not deny that the Church has the authority to teach God’s Word. Furthermore, while tradition is valuable, it but must be tested by the higher authority of the Scriptures. (As you have quoted from the Westminster Confession I know you KNOW this. However, I felt it important to define it so that can be our launching pad into our topic.)

What it is not: Sola Scriptura does NOT mean that the Reformers rejected everything that every Christian in earlier ages has said: indeed, they often cited the early Christians as supporters of their own positions. However, they recognized that those earlier believers were not inspired, were not inerrant, and, in fact, quite often made errors in their judgments and beliefs, just as people do today. The only infallible rule of faith, they argued, is found in the pages of Holy scripture.


Is Sufficiency of Scripture (sola scriptura) a Biblical Doctrine?

I would submit that it is.

To make my case, let us journey back to the Old Testament and consider God’s dealings with His beloved nation, Israel. Deuteronomy 1-3 recounts to the reader how Israel had disobeyed the Lord, and they were refusing to enter into God’s promised land for them. This caused a huge problem for God’s people. As a severe consequence for their rebellion, the Lord sent them back into the wilderness (1:34-36). Let us remember that God’s promises were enough for Caleb and Joshua (1:36-38). The People of Israel grumbled against the Lord. This grumbling which led to further wandering and eventual death. Then, in Deuteronomy 4, Moses spoke to Israel and gave instructions for them to listen and obey the Lord (so that they might “live and go take possession of the land”).
Moses counted the word of the Lord as sufficient, even going so far as to warn the people in saying: “Do not add to what I commanded you and do not subtract from it, but keep the Commands of the Lord your God that I give you” (Deuteronomy 4:2, 12:32; Proverbs 30:5-6).

That should be sufficient enough (ha!) because you would agree that God is truth and He holds ALL truth. If He holds all truth then we (should) agree that His word is enough. We take God at His word. However, I will provide one more example from the Old Testament. 😁

In Deuteronomy 8:3 we see a very similar situation. This is a very famous passage for many reasons. Israel is again commanded to do & obey all that the Lord had commanded so that they might possess the Land. God reminds Israel of His faithfulness, specifically how He provided manna for them to consume while they were sojourners in the land. It is no accident that the people are told: “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes out of the mouth of the Lord”. Yet again, we witness the utter sufficiency of God’s commands. As we all know, once Israel took possession of the land they would turn away from God to other idols. God words are not literal food but spiritual and God’s commands were not treated like the sufficient spiritual food that they were intended to be.

We see this verse pop up again as Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 8:3 in Matthew 4:4. This is on purpose. Jesus was in the wilderness as Israel was. The symbolism is dense but the main truth that we take away from it is that even when the devil tempted our Lord Jesus, He quoted from Deuteronomy 8:3 to show Satan that God’s word was sufficient food for us in the time of spiritual testing. If anyone had the authority to add to God’s word, it was our Lord. However, Jesus remained true to God’s word and showed us that God’s word is binding upon all. Furthermore, Jesus said in John 6:35 “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” This again is pointing back to the manna & the water that came out of the ‘rock’ (See Corinthians 1:10-4 for Paul’s explanation of this truth)

For your consideration:

1) Jesus believed the Old Testament was inspired By God and Jesus attributed the OT writings to the Holy Spirit:

– Please consider Mark 12:35-37 where Jesus is teaching in the temple when asked the question, “Why do the teachers of the law say that the messiah is the Son of David?”. (Jesus then quotes from Psalm 110:1) “David himself, speaking BY THE HOLY SPIRIT, declared: “The Lord said to my Lord: ‘sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet’” David himself calls him “Lord.” How then can he be his son?”

– To be fair, this passage is far more about Jesus and His deity than with the Spirit, but we cannot miss what Jesus says about the spirit. Jesus did not deny that David was the author of Psalm 110. However, Jesus says that David DID NOT SPEAK on his own, but he spoke “By The Holy Spirit”. In other words, Psalm 110 was NOT a mere product of David’s imagination or invention but he (David) was moved along by the Spirit to write these words.

2) Jesus assured us that He, being the TRUTH (John 14:6) tells us in John 12:49-50: “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” In John 17:17 Jesus says: “Sanctify them in the truth; Your Word is truth”

Why this matters:

  • Jesus makes some very strong statements about His words (that come from the Father as seen above) and that the Word of the father is in fact Truth.
  • Matthew 24:35 “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
  • Luke 21:33 “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
  • Mark 13:31 “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
  • Jesus leaves no room for doubt here, being the Way, the Truth, and the Life and leads by example in the New Testament. In Matthew 4:1-11 he resists the Devil with scripture. Some other examples where we see Jesus using it towards hostile crowds, pharisees/sadducees & his disciples:
    (John 5:46, Matthew 19:4, Mark 10:6-8, Matt 24:37-40, John 8:56, John 7:22, Matt 22:32, Mark 12:26, Matt 5:38, Luke 18:18-30, Mark 7:10, John 3:14, John 8:17, Matt 13:13-15, Mark 2:25-26, etc.)
  • Not only are the scriptures written by the Holy Spirit through human authorship, but Jesus ALSO identified them as God-breathed scripture.
  • Let us consider Luke 4 where Jesus walks into the synagogue on the Sabbath and reads from Isaiah 4. After he read it he sat down and said “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”. Yes it is astonishing to the Jews that Jesus claimed to be the long-awaited messiah BUT DO NOT MISS THE FACT that Jesus called Isaiah “scripture” I could give you MANY more examples but let’s assume you want to know about the New Testament as well (i’m sure you do). I will cover that in the next section.

3) The New Testament Writers Believed Their Own Writings Were Scripture:

– Let’s begin with Paul. Paul on several occasions makes mention of the fact that what he has passed along is not his own but is from God himself.

– Paul writes in Ephesians 2:3-2 “…assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that WAS GIVEN TO ME FOR YOU, how the mystery was made KNOWN TO ME BY REVELATION”

– Paul is making this perfectly clear. Let’s not miss it: “When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was NOT made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been REVEALED TO HIS HOLY APOSTLES AND PROPHETS by the SPIRIT” (Ephesians 3:4-5). And what is this mystery? That the gentiles are fellow heirs (Ephesians 3:6). This is not something that Paul came up with on his own merit but something God almighty revealed to him by the testimony of the Holy Spirit. Paul believes what he is passing on is of divine origin.

– In His closing statement at the end of Romans, Paul says: ” Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages , but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith” – Romans 16:25-26

– There are a few things to take away from this. First, Paul is being EXTREMELY bold here and is asserting here that God will strengthen the church, “according to my gospel”. Why does Paul attach his name? Because Paul believes this gospel is the same one revealed to him by the Holy Spirit through the revelation of Jesus Christ on the Damascus road (explained in Galatians 1:11-12). This same gospel is being communicated to the nations. Where did this authority come from? Paul says it was revealed in the Old Testament through the prophetic writings. Not only does Paul assert the inspiration of the Old Testament in this passage, BUT HE TIES HIS OWN MESSAGE TO THE OLD TESTAMENT REVELATION.

– Additionally, Paul asserts “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are commanded of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized”(1 Corinthians 14:37-38). Paul even refers to his own writings as a “command of the Lord” and therefore equal in authority to the Old Testament.

– Lastly, in 1 Thessalonians 2:13 he says, ” And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.” Paul does not think his words are merely human words. He has not delivered to the church the “words of men” but instead the “word of God”. Paul’s letters have scriptural authority.


I will continue during the next segment some more words of Paul and other disciples of Christ.

The last letter of Paul’s I discussed was 1 Thessalonians 2:13, this time we will begin with examining Paul’s 2nd letter to the Thessalonians, in which he emphatically warns them:
“If anyone DOES NOT OBEY WHAT WE SAY IN THIS LETTER, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with them, that he may be ashamed” – 2 Thessalonians 3:14

– Let us pause, and take note of the fact that Paul’s letters have authority, and were intended to. As a disciple of Jesus Christ who saw the risen Lord and was converted by the Messiah Himself, who’s life was undeniably transformed forever and resulted in Him dedicating his days to the furthering of the gospel – even at the expense of his own comfort, time, and ultimately his life – Paul still knew that the letters he was passing on was from God and was not his own invention. We ought not be hasty to dismiss his authority here as an inspired vessel who transcribed anywhere between 8-13 books of the New Testament (depends on the scholars you ask) we can conclude the following:

1. Paul was used by the Lord to give us scripture.

2. Paul’s words are true, as he was not speaking as a mere man but was carried along by the Holy Spirit to accomplish the will of God. (See 2 Peter 1:21 to contrast with the prophets of old who likewise were as well)

– Paul’s opening greeting to Titus also captures the authority of the Apostle Paul:
“Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our savior” – Titus 1:1-3

– Paul was not the only one who believed that his preaching and writings were given to him by God….Peter did as well!
“And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” – 2 Peter 3:15-16

– Not ONLY DOES Peter say that Paul wrote to the CHURCH with the wisdom that God gave him, but Peter implies that Paul’s writings are scripture when he implies that there are others who twist Paul’s words “as they do the other scriptures”.

– Paul also views the writings of others as God-given scripture as well, in 1st Timothy 5:17 Paul reminds Timothy that the elders who rule well are worth “double honor” and to support his claim, Paul quotes from two sources:
“For scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain’ and ‘The worker deserves his wages’ (1 Timothy 5:18). Where might these two quotations be from? The first one is from Deuteronomy 25:4. What is surprising and shocking is that the second quote is from Luke 10:7. What is implied here is that Paul considered Jesus’s words as well as Luke’s written statements of Jesus’s words TO BE SCRIPTURE. According to Paul, Luke is not merely recording a Gospel account, but his writings are God-breathed. To reject the gospel of Luke is to also reject the testimony of the Messiah & the Apostle Paul, it’s a slippery slope. It really is ALL (tota scriptura) or nothing (sans scriptura)

Not only are Luke’s writings considered God-breathed scripture, but Peter verifies that what he passed along is also from God as well. In light of false teachers questioning the second coming of Christ (2 Peter 3:3-7), Peter tells his readers:

“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.” – 2 Peter 1:16-18

– In other words, what Peter declared concerning Christ’s future return was, IN FACT, the truth! It was not some made up story but anchored in history. His readers could be certain of this since Peter (as well as James and John) heard the voice of the father with their own ears and saw Jesus transfigured with their own eyes.

Peter goes on to explain:

” And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.” – 2 Peter 19-20.

– By the “prophetic word” Peter is referring to the Old Testament scriptures, specifically Old Testament prophecies concerning the future day of the Lord. The transfiguration VERIFIED these OT prophecies about the second coming of Christ as interpreted by the Apostles. This is why Peter can say we have the prophetic word “more fully confirmed”.

– Verse 21 of the same chapter brings everything to a beautiful climax, arguing that prophecy is not man’s invention but comes directly from God himself. They are God’s words and they are given to us through his appointed prophets (the apostles).

– Finally, consider 2 Peter 3:2 where Peter asks his readers to simply remember the “predictions of the holy prophets the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles”.

– Peter ASSUMES the inspiration and authority of the Old Testament Prophets but he also alludes to the authority of the apostles. Not only does Peter place the apostles (himself included) as equals to the prophets (as does Paul in Ephesians 2:20), but Peter is clear that Jesus himself, who is Lord and savior, speaks through his apostles.

– We can not only trust the Old Testament but we can obviously trust the New Testament as well.

Let me entertain the possibility of the contrary for a moment by turning to 1 Corinthians 15:1-4:

“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,”

(Let us pause here and take note of the fact that Paul affirms Christs life & resurrection were both foretold by and were in accord with Holy scripture)

Let’s then jump ahead to verses 13-19:

But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope[b] in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

Jaxon, if nothing else PLEASE DO NOT MISS THIS POINT!

– We cannot testify of Christ’s life, death, or resurrection without testifying of the absolute sufficiency scripture. Scripture is ABOUT Jesus, the entire story is about Him coming and rescuing us from ourselves! Rescuing us from the very best that we have in us, and dying for it. If the scriptures cannot testify of the Messiah’s life, death or resurrection then we have no basis for the gospel, no basis for hope, no basis for forgiveness of sins, no basis for ultimate justice, no basis for faith. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, it’s all meaningless. If scripture is not telling the truth, if it’s not the standard of faith and practice that we should hold to, we have no reason to believe the accounts recorded therein.

I submit that this is an impossible. Because Christ is risen, and Christ’s church has not been prevailed against by the gates of hell in the past present, and never will be in the future.

Unveiling “Unveiling Grace”- Part 1: Semantics, Tone, and Word Choice

img_4069-1Review of Lynn K. Wilder, Unveiling Grace: The Story of How We Found Our Way Out of the Mormon Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013. 367 pp. $15.99

have always been intrigued with the accounts individuals give of their previous faiths and it does not take one long whilst searching the word “religion” in any online resource to find them. Whether one’s transition takes them out of Christianity, Secularism, Islam, Buddhism, Scientology, or any other worldview, the accounts given are often strikingly similar when the experience was a difficult or negative one. The theme of escaping, of going clear, or breaking away usually casts the individual in question as a type of spiritual refugee whose faith journey has left them alienated, critical of, and a survivor of a belief system that held them captive for so long. Unveiling Grace by Dr. Lynn K. Wilder, a previous Latter-day Saint of some thirty years and a BYU professor for around half that, is no different in portraying the journey her and her family experienced as they came out of Mormonism and found new faith in Evangelical Protestant Christianity.

While Lynn includes captivating imagery and provocative storytelling in her narrative, unfortunately in matters of objectivity, scriptural exegesis, rational analysis, and an accurate representation of Mormonism, her account all too often demonstrates its less-than-boasted capacity to provide an informational and honest approach to her former faith. The following critique, though meant in the kindest and best of spirits, will highlight, elaborate on or else deconstruct the manifold areas I consider to be of interest in her work whether due to matters of inaccuracy, lapses in reasoning, or even -and yes it’s possible- mutual agreement! Through these efforts, I hope to offer an alternative perspective and contradictory viewpoint, and otherwise follow a similar mission of the author, by ultimately unveiling Unveiling Grace.

Dr. Lynn Wilder, Micah Wilder and Adam’s Road Ministry

Before I begin the unpacking of my thoughts and feelings towards Unveiling Grace it is extremely necessary to correctly define and state my view towards Dr. Wilder, Micah Wilder (her son of whom initiated their family’s journey), her family and Adam’s Road Ministry. In short, I like them. Lynn, Micah and the members of Adam’s Road (the musical ministry he organized as part of their loving outreach to Mormons) have all been nothing but kind towards myself in all of our personal interactions, whether face-to-face or online. Lynn was generous and gracious enough to send me a free copy of Unveiling Grace, as part of a larger care package containing CD’s from Adam’s Road, several of their iconic “Jesus is Enough” bracelets and a copy of her and her husband’s brief work, 7 Reasons We Left Mormonism: Quick Guide to Doctrinal Differences Between Mormonism and the Biblical Word of God, which will be dissected in a later post.

It was October 10th, 2016 when I got to attend a worship and testimony service held by Adam’s Road Ministry at Christ’s Greenfield Lutheran Church here in Gilbert, AZ. The group had been conducting a multi-week tour across the nation as part of their outreach efforts. Their service consisted of several live performances of their own music as well as their personal stories of coming from Mormonism to what they and Lynn refer to as Biblical Christianity, though for clarity’s sake -as we both consider our faith to be biblically supported- I will refer to as either Evangelical, Born-Again, or Protestant Christianity.

Matt Slick, CARM, and Open Q&A

 


Recently, I was able to have the opportunity to interact with a one, Matt Slick, of the Christian Apologetics Research Ministry during a live Q&A held on March 29th, 2017. While I wasn’t necessarily looking to make any apologetic arguments, I was pleased to pick his brain a bit on various random questions. If interested in hearing the backstory of my history with Matt Slick, make sure to read My First Face-to-face with an Evangelical Apologist. In total I was able to ask him the following questions to which he responded live. I will be providing commentary and the approximate time such occurred for the reader’s pleasure.
Q: How does the Reformed view of the Total Sovereignty of God square with conditional covenants or promises by God made towards humans throughout the Bible? I am referring to if/then statements in which it appears that God is giving man a choice between to options which will in turn predicate set consequences two come to pass? Example Exodus 19:5 or Deuteronomy 7:12 -Time: 19:47-25:42

My Thoughts: Matt replies that it essentially squares seamlessly with the Reformed view of Total Sovereignty, whether or not the if/then statement by God is describing an actual or potential possibility in which case, he argues, that the Reformed doctrine of foreordination is only compatible with the former. As such I find that according to Matt’s logic, the following two statements are technically identical in meaning:

A) If you choose this, then this shall be the consequence.
B) If God foreordains you to this choice, then God will foreordain this consequence.

Matt then moves to explain that God, when referring to actual possibilities represented in conditional if/then statements, is really doing nothing more than leveling with humanity by speaking in understandable anthropomorphisms. He compares such instances to the pericope of Genesis 3:8-9 in which case God calls out to Adam, “Where art thou?”. Now I will readily agree with Matt that God did indeed know where Adam was and what had previously transpired with the partaking of the Forbidden Fruit. Personally, I believe God was asking Adam a rhetorical question in order to cause him to reflect on his current state and transgression, however I can hardly see this to be relatable to the conditional if/then statements throughout the Bible. Depending on which exact translation one is using, the Bible contains the word “if” around 1,500 times!

Notable examples include:

If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”
Genesis 4:7

“Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.”
Exodus 19:5

“After you have had children and grandchildren and have lived in the land a long time – if you then become corrupt and make any kind of idol, doing evil in the eyes of the LORD your God and provoking him to anger, I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you this day that you will quickly perish from the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess. You will not live there long but will certainly be destroyed.”
Deuteronomy 4:25-26

“And if we are careful to obey all this law before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.”
Deuteronomy 6:25

If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the LORD your God will keep his covenant of love with you, as he swore to your forefathers.”
Deuteronomy 7:12

If you ever forget the LORD your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed.”
Deuteronomy 8:19

“So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today – to love the LORD your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul – then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and oil. I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied.”
Deuteronomy 11:13-15

If you carefully observe all these commands I am giving you to follow – to love the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways and to hold fast to him – then the LORD will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations larger and stronger than you.”
Deuteronomy 11:22-23

“See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse – the blessing if you obey the commands of the LORD your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the LORD your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known.”
Deuteronomy 11:26-28

If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul.”
Deuteronomy 13:1-3

If you make the Most High your dwelling – even the LORD, who is my refuge – then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent.”
Psalm 91:9-10

“Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land…”
Isaiah 1:18-19

If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea.” Isaiah 48:18

Jesus said: “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Matthew 6:14-15

Jesus said: “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
Matthew 17:20

Jesus said: “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”
Matthew 21:22

Jesus said: “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.”
Luke 17:6

Jesus said: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.”
John 8:31

Jesus said: “I tell you the truth, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”
John 8:51

Jesus said: “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
John 11:40

Jesus said: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
John 13:35

Jesus said: “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”
John 14:15

Jesus said: “If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. if you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.”
John 15:6-7

Jesus said: “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.”
John 15:10

Jesus said: “You are my friends if you do what I command.”
John 15:14

“…if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Romans 10:9

“By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.”
1 Corinthians 15:2

If anyone does not love the Lord – a curse be on him.”
1 Corinthians 16:22

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”
2 Corinthians 5:17

“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.
Revelation 22:18-19

as well as many others. Now if according to Matt’s interpretation, all of these verses contain an unstated deeper connotation of foreordination, then “if” could readily just be replaced with “if God foreordains x“. I will leave such to the reader to decide if such makes sense. In my mind, if God is really foreordaining all actions, than there really exists only the possibilities that God foreordains. Although God might be saying that there are several potential courses of actualities that could take place based upon man’s choices, there is really only one that can actually occur; the one He foreordains. Functionally then, the true consequences of any and all potential conditional statements are really conditional on one attribute: whether or not God foreordains it. All other conditions are then made meaningless and irrelevant as they will never come into actuality without God’s previous foreordination.

For Matt, God doesn’t force anyone to make any choice per se; however, he does foreordain and cause to come to pass certain conditions which when combined will make his foreordained choice for them, inevitably come to pass. Whether God directly infringes upon one’s own freewill or, by causing certain variables and conditions to occur which in turn necessitates a sole response from an individual, the same thing takes place; the individual acts in a manner that God causes, directly or not. Despite differences in terminology, both have the same functional consequence. Freewill then, is an illusion. One is only free to act in a foreordained manner.

In moving on to John 3:16 and commenting that the participle “whosoever” (ὁσ) is more accurately translated as “all the believing ones” (πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων)- thus reading “For God so loved the world that He gave His Only Begotten Son, that all the believing one’s might not perish, but have everlasting life.”

This reading is one that I do not disagree with, nor do I feel that it is a solid point towards Matt’s case. I see this as another conditional statement which doesn’t necessarily prove or disprove Limited Atonement of itself. If one believes, they can be described as being included among the “believing ones” and as a result of such, they will be saved. If one is not a believer, they cannot attain to everlasting life. Thus it rests upon the individual to either believe or disbelieve, incurring a set consequence with both. Such can be seen in verses 14-15 right before this passage in which John casts a type of Christ with the brazen serpent in the wilderness, which the Israelites had to choose to look towards in order to be healed.

Bill Vallicella, from the blog Maverick Philosopher, lays out the following logical formula in respect to the Reformed doctrine of freewill:

1. If determinism is true, then all our actions and thoughts are consequences of events and laws of nature in the remote past before we were born.

2. We have no control over circumstances that existed in the remote past before we were born, nor do we have any control over the laws of nature.

3. If A causes B, and we have no control over A, and A is sufficient for B, then we have no control over B.

Therefore

4. If determinism is true, then we have no control over our own actions and thoughts.

Therefore, assuming that responsibility requires control,

5. If determinism is true, then we are not responsible for anything we do or think.

Therefore, assuming that freedom entails responsibility,

6. If determinism is true, then we are not free, which is to say that every form of compatibilism is false.

Matt, if you don’t accept this argument, which premise will you reject?

Q: BTW, do you remember Jaxon from the Parliament of the World’s Religions? Time: 25:42-26:54

My Thoughts: The response by Matt here was both surprising and amusing to here, especially when contrasted with my retelling of the event found again here. Essentially he retold the same story, though with a few embellishments and cast in a different perspective. I was happy and somewhat flattered upon hearing his initial response of “Is he the Mormon dude?!?”, followed by the later, “he walks like a Mormon, looks like a Mormon, really nice guy!” He also describes me as being “actually, seriously very polite.” as well as again, “a nice guy.” If I had such a favorable impression upon Matt as a recently turned 17 year-old, then perhaps my personal decorum was not too unpolished. As of this point, I can now add this to my growing list of name-drops by notable Christian apologists including James White who warned, “Beware of Mormons Wearing Bowties.”

Some interesting differences in our narratives though can be seen as,

Myself having “recommended CARM” as opposed to “critiqued CARM”

Our discussion being “5-10 minutes” as opposed to “2-3 minutes”

Me advising him to “check out CARM” as opposed to “avoiding CARM due to its misinformation, fallacious reasoning, and polemic nature”

Matt saying “Yeah I would enjoy CARM, because I am the guy who wrote it.” with myself being taken aback, as opposed to him saying “CARM? Do you even know who I am?” with me realizing then of his actual identity.

Matt openly admits in the video that prior to attending the Parliament of the World’s Religions, he failed to read the strict codes of non-proselytization; despite having to sign off on such during registration. Thus it naturally followed that evangelizing and proselyting was an activity he was readily engaged in throughout the whole event. Which leads us to our interaction which transpired outside the doors to the session “Evangelicals and Mormons: Overcoming Hate Speech”- ironic given the often caustic nature of the Matt’s evangelizing towards those he is witnessing to.

Perhaps next time Matt will consider reading what he signs in order to avoid disrupting a set environment for open, understanding, and respectful interfaith discussions.

Q: I would like to ask Matt if his perspective or understanding of his own initial born-again experience when he first came to Christ has changed over time? If now, looking back, he sees various events that were taking place in a different light? If he can see the Hand of the Lord more holistically now? Time: 1:00:20-1:13:11

My Thoughts: I personally love and completely validate Matt Slick’s conversion story as a real experience with God. I believe that Matt Slick is a disciple of Christ, despite our denominational and theological differences. I affirm his testimony and can parallel it in so many ways myself. This validation though will go completely one-sided as the same will not be occurring on Matt’s end towards my own spiritual experiences. If you listen to my question in the video, Matt’s beginning response will be in confirming his recognition of the Lord’s Hand in his conversion, quickly followed by an addendum in which he emphasizes the lie and deception that is Mormonism.

Matt guarantees that “if he had had the same experience that I had, he would have never, ever, EVER, become a Mormon.” to which I would readily reply that if he had completely walked in my own shoes as well, in what I have experienced, there would be no way for him NOT to be a Mormon. Such is the nature of our individual and unique lives, rationalities, spiritualities, and experiences in life; they make us who we are. Without any one of them combined in the same way, we would be different individuals altogether. It is as if Matt doesn’t fully understand this and presupposes that he, himself has a monopoly on Truth.

If interested, Matt’s conversion experience can be reached here at Matt Slick’s Testimony. (and yes, I will readily link to his website)

Matt recalls the event on his website “… I felt His presence dawning like a sunrise. This person was making Himself known to me in my heart.  I somehow knew it was God.  It was the Holy Spirit. He came to me slowly, gently, and then in a sudden movement, His Holiness overshadowed me with greatness and I became incapacitated. It was indescribable. He permeated my heart, mind, and soul. He washed over me in a burst of holiness and I was utterly undone. His incredibly deep purity shone upon my soul and I was instantaneously made aware of my utter sinfulness before a Holy and Righteous God. It was a supernatural experience of profound and utter depth. It wasn’t emotionalism.  It wasn’t being psyched-out.  It was God. I was in the presence of God Himself. I was in the presence of Perfect Holiness….and I knew it!!!”

I find this easily comparable to the testimonies given of many Latter-day Saint’s as well, most of all in that of Joseph Smith’s First Vision (which Slick denounces as a lie).

Such is accounted in the Joseph Smith-History, “just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!… So it was with me. I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me… I have actually seen a vision; and who am I that I can withstand God, or why does the world think to make me deny what I have actually seen? For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation.”

Matt in his experience and testimony often uses terms to describe how he just “knew”, he “felt”, he “experienced” and he “couldn’t deny”; terms that would frequent the typical Mormon testimony as well? So what is the difference? What is the difference between Matt’s experience, and the experience of millions of Mormons and other assorted Christians. I would argue that there isn’t a difference, that both are real, and that both occurred. However, we will see that it is the later introduction to polemic literature on Mormonism which will quickly cause Matt to dismiss them as being a cult, unbiblical, false, deceived, and not Christians themselves. Matt can be quoted as saying that if one is a Muslim, a Jehovah’s Witness, a Mormon or a Roman Catholic, they cannot have a true experience with God like he has had.

Two years after that even, Matt explains how he was attending a Bible Study when he was introduced to the following quotation:

“God is in the still small voice. In all these affidavits, indictments, it is all of the devil–all corruption. Come on! ye prosecutors! ye false swearers! All hell, boil over! Ye burning mountains, roll down your lava! for I will come out on the top at last. I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I. The followers of Jesus ran away from Him; but the Latter-day Saints never ran away from me yet…” (Joseph Smith from the Mormon book, History of the Church Vol. 6, pp. 408-409)

Upon hearing such, he was dramatically infuriated and lunged to crumple the piece of paper containing what he felt was such blasphemy out of the hand who read it to him. Angrily he asked “Who said this?” to which was answered Joseph Smith, upon which followed a lengthy introduction into regular Christian counter-cult polemic against Mormonism. From then on, Matt has regularly debated, argued, denounced, and berated any Mormon who likely crossed his path, determined to bring them to read faith in Christ and away from their false-faith.

Matt explains his anger against the quote as “I knew that anyone who had actually encountered Jesus would never, EVER, say anything like that! You just don’t do that!” and such is where I will offer my take.

There are several issues that exist with this quote, neither of which I assume that Matt was familiar with upon first hearing it and then being moved to dedicate his life in taking souls out of Mormonism.

The first issue lies in accuracy and the second in context, both of which Matt never considers when he cites the quote from memory. To read more about both issues, I would suggest examining the following answer given to this oft called-upon criticism by FairMormon below:

Did Joseph Smith Boast About Keeping the Church in Tact?

In essence, both the reliability and overall context of the quote are questionable as 1) The History of the Church is based upon a synopsis of Smith’s remarks by Thomas Bullock who often captured more of the direction and larger narrative of Smith’s statements, rather than the exact phraseology and attention to details. And 2) there is no context readily available surrounding the quote which leave the reader to wonder the difficult-to-answer questions of what was Joseph’s purpose in saying this? and if true, why did he choose this approach?


Finally, worst-case scenario let’s say the quote is completely accurate, we can either take this a a brief instance of Joseph experiencing a personal failing of pride, or was appealing to rhetorical hyperbole in order to make a specific impression for the sake of his argument, albeit in less than a necessarily favorable manner. Nonetheless, with all of these questions, I am saddened to hear that it was this particular criticism which began Matt’s life of opposing Mormonism. It is somewhat marginal at best, and outright unreliable at worst, but such is his own sandy foundation on which to build.

Following this, Matt launches into a lengthy exposition against Mormonism that lasts the remainder of this segment on the topic. In it he widely trivializes, mitigates, denounces, or distorts many Mormon teachings, likewise making many errors in doing so as towards what Mormonism actually teaches. He says that he wishes to destroy Mormon’s testimonies, which he simplifies as mere feelings. He calls the God of Mormonism a demonic manifestation. Gods and planets, the occult, secret underwear, masonic influences, celestial sex, and false prophets all frequent his exposition; making all the more sense considering that Matt studied with close-friends of Walter Martin himself. Slick finally ends his exposition calling all Mormons to repent and come unto Christ, which I find ironic considering that such would espouse a synergistic viewpoint that Matt would not support. In reply to Matt’s call and hypothetically assuming that he is right, unfortunately I must say that I have no choice in the matter unless I was foreordained to and moved by Christ’s Grace to reject Mormonism. Ultimately I say to Matt, and more specifically to God, if what Matt is saying is true “God, its your move. I am ready anytime to have my heart change.”

Nevertheless if it is not foreordained, Matt’s preaching to me is in vain and I remain destined for damnation all due to the foreordination and Sovereign Will of God.

As to Matt’s challenge regarding the veil of the temple, multiple Mormons such as the ever-valuable Robert Boylan have answered this and I have provided a link below:

The Acts of the Apostles and the On Going Need for a Temple

As to Matt’s challenge regarding the First Vision and 1 Timothy 6:16, my friend James Stutz has answered such directly towards Matt Slick himself below:

Can a Man See God? 1 Timothy 6:16 in Light of Ancient and Modern Revelation

Q: What were your thoughts on the Parliament of the World’s Religions? Any high/low points?      -Time: 1:18:00-1:26:50

My Thoughts: As this post is long enough, I will just briefly summarize and say that here Matt describes the Parliament of World Religions on par with an amusement park, or as he coins it “The Heresy Hall of Fame”. Using exaggerated gestures, he mocks and mimics much of what he saw there, continuing for some time in acting just baffled by the demonstration, presence, and explanation of various beliefs. Such is somewhat tragic, and I pray his heart will soften as he understands that such behavior and scorn is not at all reminiscent of Christ.

As for myself, I cannot name another interfaith experience that can compare to the Parliament of the World’s Religions. With 10,000 people, from 80 nations, and 50 faiths gathering together to focus on shared values, build bridges, and promote mutual respect and understanding, I can say that it was truly an experience of a lifetime and gave me tangible hope in humanity. The Spirit there was strong and permeable, and it saddens me that Matt spend such a time involved in discourse and attitude completely antithetical to the mission of the great event.


Conclusion:  Overall it was interesting to pick Matt’s brain a bit and see more in depth both his theological but also emotional responses to the questions I asked. I would like to return his compliments and say that I see Matt Slick as an overall nice guy. Sure, he can be more course than many would like sometimes, but such stems from his own very fundamentalist Christian mindset. Does this give him a pass to be an outright jerk? Not completely, but I consider him to be an extremely educated and bright individual. Since the close of the Q&A, Matt has asked permission to participate in my upcoming webinar through Apologetics Academy titled “Why I am a Mormon: A Conversation with Jaxon Washburn” Initially, I felt a pang of worry in response. I will outright say that Matt Slick is a far more prepared, experienced, and quick debater than I am. His quick reference of many Bible verses, rapid fire tempo, and memorized historical quotations allows him to barrage any inexperienced Mormon listener with an onslaught of polemic arguments. I understand his approach though, and at this point, I am confident that I can control it throughout the course of our conversation. The key is in corralling the conversation and not chasing after every red-herring that he throws, keeping matters relative, and of course: being prepared to respond with the real answers Mormons actually possess that he rarely acknowledges. (straw-man)

Brief Reflections: A Mormon Reads the Dhammapada Pt. 2

ascetic_sumedha_and_dipankara_buddha
Photo: Hintha/Wikimedia Commons
Preface

Moving on with my sharing and correlating of the truth and wisdom held within the Dhammapada to that of the Restored Gospel, I wish to continue my analysis of the text. Most likely this will continue in segmented posts unless otherwise decided. For anyone new to either my Brief Reflections Series or its sub-section A Mormon Reads the Dhammapada, feel free to get more acquainted with either by visiting the two links above. This post will be dedicated to examining several key verses in Chapters 2 and 3 of the Dhammapada, titled Vigilance and The Mind and then showing how both carry principles and messages common to the Gospel of Jesus Christ within the Latter-day Saint tradition. Of course, my thoughts and opinions are my own; my purpose being in demonstrating how members of the Church can benefit in their studies of the Gospel, by seeing these same truths being made evident in faiths outside their own. That to me serves as a powerful testimony of the Light of Christ inspiring all nations, kindreds, tongues, and peoples. Such was similarly attested by the early Apostles Orson F. Whitney,

God is using more than one people for the accomplishment of his great and marvelous work. The Latter-day Saints cannot do it all. It is too vast, too arduous, for any one people.

-Orson F. Whitney, in Conference Report, Apr. 1928, 59

It is statements such as these which make me grateful to be a member of a faith that claims to have no monopoly on Truth. While neither exclusive nor pluralistic in nature, Mormonism instead takes a perspective of inclusivity in regards to other religions and worldviews. This mutual appreciation of other faiths, as well as heightening interfaith cooperation over the years, warrants not a compromise of doctrine, but rather an extension of goodwill and a recognition of shared values and beliefs across denominational or philosophical lines. “The first and fundamental principle of our holy religion is,” declared the Prophet Joseph Smith, “that we believe that we have a right to embrace all, and every item of truth” [2] and such is what has brought me such a passion for the interfaith movement, and for religious studies in general. Truth is my highest ideal, and like dear Joseph, I say let it come from whence it may. So, let us continue in seeing what truths we can glean from the next two chapters of the Dhammapada.


Analysis

Vigilance, also translated as earnestness, is the title of the second chapter of the Dhammapada and speaks along the themes of being both watchful and mindful throughout one’s daily living. This is paired well with the title of the third chapter, The Mind, which speaks more specifically to the role and affect individual’s minds can have on their behavior, choices, and emotions. The theme and emphasis on mindfulness, or the active control and awareness of one’s thoughts, is very prevalent in Eastern sacred literature, and especially within the Buddhist tradition. Therefore, it follows naturally that the Dhammapada places the first battleground for the disciple of truth, within themselves.

The first verse of the chapter- verse 21 of the entire work- begins,

Vigilance is the path to freedom beyond life and death (Nirvâna);

thoughtlessness the path of death.

Those who are vigilant do not die.

Those who are thoughtless are as if dead already.

For clarification, Nirvana (also nibbana) literally translated as extinguished is taught within the phrase “freedom beyond life and death” -much like a candle flame that has been blown out. Within Buddhism, it signifies that state of endless peace that the enlightened individual aspires to. It is imagined as a state of emptiness, or otherwise without worldly things to which one can cling to. This is achieved when one breaks the cycle of Samsara (birth, death, and impermanence) by their individual enlightenment and transcendence above the world. While perhaps the explicit doctrine of reincarnation as believed by many Buddhists would be foreign and largely incompatible with LDS theology, the aspiration of separating oneself from the material world, from the carnal man, is all too common. Verse 22 continues by adding that “those who have progressed in vigilance are happy about it, rejoicing in the wisdom of the noblest ones.” I believe it to be fully correct for Latter-day Saints to also agree that those who progress in their putting off of the natural man and rising in vigilance, will increase in happiness and likewise rejoice in the wisdom taught by noble and great ones common to our own faith; prophets, apostles, and all the saints of God.

But let’s see specifically how the Dhammapada characterizes such an individual who has progressed in this state of vigilance, verses 23-25 follow:

“23 These wise people- meditative, perserverant, always exerting power-
attain freedom from life and death, Nirvana; the highest happiness

24 When people are vigilant and exert themselves, and remain ever mindful, and always do pure deeds, and act with consideration and restraint, and live according to the law, then their glory will increase.

25 By rousing themselves, by vigilance, by temperance and self-control,
wise people make for themselves an island which no flood can overwhelm.”

and compare this to Mosiah 4:30 in the Book of Mormon:

“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, and continue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not.”

 

Those who are meditative or prayerful, those who are perserverant in enduring to the end, and those who exert the power of their faith constantly, will surely as the Dhammapada says “attain freedom from life and death” and thereby inherit “the highest happiness.” Verse 24 of Vigilance and 30 of Mosiah 4 speak almost entirely along the same lines, with the former containing a positive declaration and the latter, a negative forewarning to those who fail to be watchful over themselves. As the Dhammapada says, they are as if dead already.

After expounding on the qualities that abide in one who is vigilant, the Dhammapada then, as it often does, speaks to their opposite; those who it describes as foolish in following after the lusts of their own hearts. Verse 26 states that “Fools follow after vanity, men of evil wisdom. The wise man keeps earnestness as his best jewel.” which is not all to different than what is contained in Proverbs 14:24 “The crown of the wise is their riches: but the foolishness of fools is folly.” The Septuagint has rendered riches as denoting “wisdom” or “a clever man” rather than material affluence, which for our purposes we will also adopt.

The progression in wisdom and vigilance is illustrated in verse 28 by evoking imagery of the “terraced heights” which for thousands of years have been carved or erected into the hillsides of Asia for agricultural purposes. As an individual advances step by step in their personal development, they will increase in their enlightenment and vigilance. For a Latter-day Saint, this is highly reminiscent of the doctrine of ones Eternal Progression as they grow and develop to eventually become like their Heavenly Father, as we receive grace for grace in our discipleship if Christ. (D&C 93:20)

Moving on to cover some passages within The Mind, we will look at ways that we can specifically control our thoughts and emotions, and why such is necessary. This chapter employs multiple metaphors when speaking about the mind, including arrows, fish, fortresses, and an animal needing to be bridled. The latter stands as the most universal of the mix, spanning many cultures and faiths as a common metaphor.

The chapter begins with verses 33 and 34:

(33) As fletchers make straight their arrows, wise ones make straight their trembling, unsteady minds, which are difficult to guard, difficult to hold back.

(34) Like a fish taken from the water and thrown on the dry ground, our mind quivers all over in its effort to to escape the dominion of Mara. (the Tempter)

We are under constant subjection to the influence of Satan throughout our lives, but we can find relief and freedom in Christ. Often we may feel like a fish out of water when attempting to avoid sinful thoughts and behavior, but through the influence of the Spirit as a constant companion, we can exhibit control over our minds. A common metaphor in the Latter-day Saint tradition is for our minds to be compared to a stage, an ourselves, the stage manager. To this, the Prophet Ezra Taft Benson said,

“You are the stage manager—you are the one who decides which thought will occupy the stage. Remember, the Lord wants you to have a fulness of joy like His. The devil wants all men to be miserable like him. You are the one who must decide which thoughts you will accept. You are free to choose—but you are not free to alter the results of those choices. You will be what you think about—what you consistently allow to occupy the stage of your mind.” –March, 1989 Ensign “Think on Christ”

To this the Dhammapada includes that “a tamed mind brings happiness” (v.35) and to those who bridle their minds that they will be “free from the bonds of Mara.” (v. 37) The reason this stands to be important is seen in verses 38-40.

   38. If a man’s thoughts are unsteady, if he does not know the true law, if his peace of mind is troubled, his knowledge will never be perfect.

39. If a man’s thoughts are free from lust, if his mind is not perplexed, if he has ceased to think of good or evil, then there is no fear for him while he is watchful.

40. Knowing that this body is fragile like a clay jar, and making one’s mind firm like a fortress, one should attack Mâra (the tempter) with the weapon of knowledge/wisdom. One should never cease to be vigilant, even when the Tempter is conquered

This is very similar to the exhortation given by the Resurrected Savior in the New World, in 3rd Nephi 18:15, in which he says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, ye must watch and pray always, lest ye be tempted by the devil, and ye be led away captive by him.” It is our thoughts which have a direct effect on our perceptions, emotions, and behavior. If we take the first step by recognizing toxic, negative, or sinful thoughts as they enter our mind, by inviting the Spirit and controlling just how long we allow them to remain on “stage,” we can reduce their harmful and potentially dangerous consequences.

I will close with sharing from Phillipians 4:8 which says,

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true,
whatsoever things are honest,
whatsoever things are just,
whatsoever things are pure,
whatsoever things are lovely,
whatsoever things are of good report;
if there be any virtue,
and if there be any praise,
think on these things.

Positive thinking is a universal principle that leads to greater happiness. Both the sacred texts of the Restored Gospel and Buddhism speak to this truth. By striving to police our thoughts, by keeping watch over our minds, and by bridling our passions and emotions, we can experience more stability and added control over one of the most difficult parts of life to discipline. As Latter-day Saints, we are exhorted to let “virtue garnish [our] thoughts unceasingly” (D&C 121:45) as it is our words, thoughts, and actions that will condemn us before God. (Alma 12:14) Mormons and Buddhist both then can benefit from these shared values of aspiring after controlled minds and thoughts, and I imagine both can readily agree with Jacob in the Book of Mormon when he says,

…Remember, to be carnally-minded is death,
and to be spiritually-minded is life eternal…
(2 Nephi 9:39)

It stands as my own experience in life that as we seek to purify our thoughts, words, and actions alike, we can experience greater freedom and joy. This is my testimony, and it is one benefited by studying the shared teachings of the Restored Gospel and the Dhammapada alike, and so I close these things in the name of Christ, amen.


Works Cited
  1. Muller, F. Max. Dhammapada: Annotated & Explained: Annotation by Jack Maguire Translation by Max Muller. Woodstock Vt.: SkyLight Paths Pub., 2002. Print.
  2. Letter from Joseph Smith to Isaac Galland, Mar. 22, 1839, Liberty Jail, Liberty, Missouri, published in Times and Seasons, Feb. 1840, pp. 53–54; spelling and grammar modernized.
  3. Ezra Taft Benson, https://www.lds.org/ensign/1989/03/think-on-christ?lang=eng

Brief Reflections: A Mormon Reads the Dhammapada Pt. 1

 

Photo: Khunkay/Wikimedia Commons

This will be the first in my attempt to provide some brief reflections on multiple sacred texts from various religious traditions from around the world. I should offer warning beforehand that the lens in which I will be surveying and offering commentary on said texts will be of that coming from the perspective of the Latter-day Saint tradition; hence the name. These reflections will be appreciative rather than critical in nature. My purpose is not to make judgement on the various truth-claims held therein but rather to share with the members of my own faith community the benefits that can come by supplementing their own Gospel studies with an active investigation into other beliefs and worldviews. In this, I aim in equipping them with several practical tools and perspectives that can augment their spiritual experiences and insights as they do so. An oft-quoted verse from within the Latter-day Saint canon exhorts members to

…seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.

Doctrine and Covenants 88:118

and a manner in which I interpret this goes to including both secular and religious studies as part of my personal endeavor in seeking learning and wisdom. By doing so, I can wholly attest to the advancement and merits it has brought upon my own testimony, and not through the arrogant afterthought of “Aagh! Look just how lost and deceived these –insert faith tradition of your choosing here- are! I am so glad and blessed for the light of the Restored Gospel in my life!” much like the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14. Rather, my study of other faiths and worldviews has attested to me the validity of the universal truths taught both within my faith and in the faiths of others; that God surely does inspire, enlighten, and guide all those who seek after Him and His Truth, regardless of the lot that has befallen them in mortality; that he truly is no respecter of persons. 

As promised, my remarks and analysis will be kept briefer than I probably would like. I am aspiring to take on a more serious undertaking of such a cause when I become, hopefully, more capable in doing such, later in life. The majority of my commentary will consist in providing a quick summary on the sacred text in question, followed by the analysis of multiple verses and passages therein. Despite my commentary being more geared towards my fellow members of the LDS faith, I nonetheless invite members of other worldviews to follow and offer their own comments as they so choose. Most will find the principles I discuss relevant across many traditions and not necessarily found in Mormonism alone. I appreciate any and all feedback, and hope that this may offer a positive example of what positive interreligious study may look like.

Note: The translation of the Dhammapada I will be drawing from stems from Max Müller’s 1870 text, republished now through a variety of sources, though for my purposes I will be utilizing my own SkyLight Illuminations version which provides added commentary by Jack Maguire. Hence any reference to that small volume will contained in brackets. [1] When drawing from the text of the Dhammapada itself, direct chapter and verses will be given.


An Introduction to the Dhammapada

The Dhammapada is best described in the analysis of its etymology through the compounding of the two words Dhamma -meaning the law, doctrine, or Eternal Truth of the Buddha-  and pada -meaning literally foot or in this context path or way. Thus the translated name of the text provides the reader with the essential, and traditionally held as original, teachings of the Buddha. (Ibid. xix-xx)

Originally stemming from early Indian Buddhist communities just after the time of the Buddha himself, the Dhammapada was first adapted into written form around the transition into the Common Era. (Ibid. xix) Indeed, says Wallis, a contemporary Buddhist scholar, that “by distilling the complex models, theories, rhetorical style and sheer volume of the Buddha’s teachings into concise, crystalline verses, the Dhammapada makes the Buddhist way of life available to anyone…In fact, it is possible that the very source of the Dhammapada in the third century B.C.E. is traceable to the need of the early Buddhist communities in India to laicize the ascetic impetus of the Buddha’s original words.” [2] It is for this reason among others that the Dhammapada remains one of the most popular and widely renowned Buddhist texts today.

In light of my own experience in reading the collection of verses that make up the body of the Dhammapada, the most direct comparison and designation I can give them to scriptural styles found within the Latter-day Saint and wider Judeo-Christian traditions are that of the Wisdom Literature found in the Bible such as in Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and many of the Psalms. These contain many proverbial sayings and practical maxims in assisting one in their daily life, the Dhammapada of course reflecting on such through Buddhist ideals and sentiments. The Dhammapada is composed of 26 chapters with self-descriptive titles such as The Wise One, Happiness, The Way, and The Elephant; in total containing 422 verses, making it roughly comparable to the size of Paul’s Letter to the Romans. With such in mind, let us embark on seeing how such correlates with similar teachings contained in the Standard Works of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.


Analysis

We will begin in the first chapter of the Dhammapada, The Twin Verses, designated as such due to pairing of statements, done first in the negative and followed after by its reciprocal in the positive. It begins by expounding in verses 1-2 that,

1 All that we are is the result of what we have thought:

it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts.

If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him,

as the wheel follows the foot of the ox that draws the carriage

2 All that we are is the result of what we have thought:

it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts.

If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him,

like a shadow that never leaves him.

This twin-style perfectly illustrates what is termed as “The Law of the Harvest” within the LDS tradition, expressly that “whatsoever a man soweth, the same shall he reap.” (Galatians 6:7) This universal law of cause and effect, especially in lieu of one’s actions and their subsequent consequences, is common to many faiths and is often ( although somewhat incorrectly) known by Westerners as the Law of Karma (which conveys essentially the same concept though varying in doctrinal interpretation depending on the religion in question.) Found also in the Doctrine and Covenants, many Latter-day Saints remember that, There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.” (D&C 130:20-21) Other similar instances include:

  • “…For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again” – Luke 6:38
  • “…He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.” -2nd Corinthians 9:6
  • “The wicked worketh a deceitful work: but to him that soweth righteousness shall be a sure reward… He that diligently seeketh good procureth favour: but he that seeketh mischief, it shall come unto him.” –Proverbs 11:18, 27
  • “And thus, if ye will not nourish the word, looking forward with an eye of faith to the fruit thereof, ye can never pluck of the fruit of the tree of life. But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life.” -Alma 32:40-41

Indeed the Gospel principle all of these idealize is simply that eventually all good is exchanged for good, and all bad exchanged for bad. The Dhammapada then goes to continue on to covering the notion of extinguishing hatred. Let’s compare the text of Matthew 5:43-48 with that of Chapter 1, verses 3-6 of the Dhammapada:

43 ¶Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.

44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust

 46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?

 47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?

48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

and

 3. ‘He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me,’–in those who harbour such thoughts hatred will never cease.

 4. ‘He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me,’–in those who do not harbour such thoughts hatred will cease.

 5. For hatred does not cease by hatred at any time: hatred ceases by love, this is an eternal law.

6. The world does not know that we must all come to an end here;–but those who know it, their quarrels cease at once.

This equally expressed concept that hatred should not be returned with hatred is an example of the Higher Law that both Christ and the Buddha called their disciples to observe. Indeed, it is the same law as it is a Gospel Law, an eternal law as the Dhammapada puts it, that all members of humanity are called to live in order to work towards global peace, understanding, and goodwill; what would be characterized within Christianity as the establishment Kingdom of God on earth, or as Mormons often know it, the City of Zion. Both the Sermon on the Mount and the Twin Verses speak to this effect.

Next as we read, we can be often reminded of the concept of a sure foundation held within Mormonism. The Dhammapada next, in verses 7 and 8 of the first Chapter, instructs the reader as to the importance of rightly living and the protection and stability it can afford one in life. It says,

7 He who lives looking for pleasures only, his senses uncontrolled, immoderate in his food, idle, and weak, Mâra (the tempter) will certainly overthrow him, as the wind throws down a weak tree.

   8 He who lives without looking for pleasures, his senses well controlled, moderate in his food, faithful and strong, him Mâra will certainly not overthrow, any more than the wind throws down a rocky mountain.

To myself, this reminds me of the similar concept found in the powerful message of Helaman 5:12 in the Book of Mormon:

12 And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall. 

If there is any individual in my life, that perfectly represents and signifies the values of living without looking for pleasure, of self-discipline and obedience, of moderation, faith, and strength, it is in Christ Jesus. It is my belief and testimony that the more we stand upon the foundation He represents, the better our lives will be, and the less effect that the Adversary/Tempter’s winds will have on us.

Finally, as I do wish to keep this brief enough, a section within the Twin Verses that spoke to me while reading was the following on the concept of outward religiosity vs. inward conversion and change. The Dhammapada, in closing the chapter of the Twin Verses, says in verses 19 and 20:

19. Thoughtless ones, even if they can recite many sacred verses but do not follow them, have no claim to a religious life, but are like cowherders counting the cows of others.

20. Thoughtful ones, even if they can recite only a few verses but do follow the law and, forsaking lust, hatred, and delusion, possess true knowledge and peace of mind- they, clinging to nothing in this world or the next, have indeed a claim to a religious life. 

How similar is this to Jesus’ frequent condemnation of the blatant religious hypocrisy of the Pharisees, powerfully expressed in Matthew chapter 23, verses 1-33?

 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” He says in the 23rd verse, “for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”

Likewise the Doctrine and Covenants directs, in Section 41:5 “He that receiveth my law and doeth it, the same is my disciple; and he that saith he receiveth it and doeth it not, the same is not my disciple, and shall be cast out from among you”

Finally, this is clearly illustrated in the first chapter of the Epistle of James, verses 22-27.

 22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.

 23 For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass:

 24 For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.

 25 But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.

 26 If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.

27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

Religion doesn’t make you a good person. Being religious has no meaning if it hasn’t changed the way you live for the better. This is a principle that Christ and the Buddha both teach. The Gospel isn’t supposed to make your life filled with meaningless practices, it is supposed to fill and change the individual’s heart, and by direct consequence, their lives. Religion in this way, can be a highly efficient vessel in the teaching of said truths to its adherents, with the final goal of transforming their lives, the lives of those around them, and finally the world. It can be a powerful tool when rightly used, and a divisive poison when wrongly abused. In my life, it is the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ that I have found best instructs and radically changes me for the better, and I will leave each individual to determine the same for themselves.

This is my testimony, reaffirmed and strengthened by both the teachings of my faith, and that of the Buddha. I believe in these truths, I follow these truths, and I know them to be True. May we all strive to live and be changed by the Light and Truth afforded to followers of both faiths. These things I say, in the name of Christ, Amen.


Stay Tuned for Part Two in the coming weeks! As you see, the Dhammapada will afford me much to talk about and as always, I would love any feedback, questions, or constructive criticism on what I discussed.

Works Cited

  1. Muller, F. Max. Dhammapada: Annotated & Explained: Annotation by Jack Maguire Translation by Max Muller. Woodstock Vt.: SkyLight Paths Pub., 2002. Print.
  2. Tr Glenn Wallis. Modern Library, New York, 2004 pg. xi

My Trip to the United Nations

Myself in a photo op from the pulpit of the General Assembly at the United Nations building. 

I recently submitted a reflection of my attendance of the 55th Commission for Social Development at the United Nations through the global interfaith non-profit that sponsored me, the United Religions Initiative. I will be posting more on the trip soon, for now though I invite you to give them a visit through the link below!

How My Trip to the UN Changed Me- Jaxon Washburn

The Gilbert Temple and 1st John 1:5-9

Taking a break from any formal post of an academic nature, I wish to reflect on the Temple visit I spent tonight with my fellow Brothers in Christ in the Priest’s Quorum. The Gilbert Temple is a beautiful House of prayer, worship, and peace and while there we were able to read the scriptures, reflect on the Savior, and be baptized on behalf of those who are dead so that they might be able to enter into further into a covenant relationship with Him. While inside I took the time to read, study, and contemplate the words contained in 1st John in the New Testament. 1st John chapter 1, verses 5-9 especially spoke to me tonight:

“5 This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
6 If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:
7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.
8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

I have full confidence in the healing, strengthening, and saving power of Christ’s Grace and the Infinite Atonement which he wrought on our behalf. I know that through this Grace, we can be cleansed of all our imperfections, weaknesses, and sins (and I can easily say that I have the most), as we strive to grow in Faith, Union, and Discipleship with him. Such is my testimony that Christ lives and if we have Him, we have all we could ever need.

Dr. James White, Irresistible Grace, and Mormons Wearing Bowties

Dr. James White and Myself

I had the privilege of being able to briefly meet Dr. James R. White at Apologia Church yesterday. I was happy to attend his sermon on the Calvinist doctrine of Irresistible Grace while the regular pastor, Jeff Durbin was taking care of his ministry in Kauai. Dr. White is the founder of Alpha and Omega Ministries and is a prolific Reformed pastor, speaker, and debater. I believe I may have surprised him with my attendance and requested photo op, to which he asked what had brought a Mormon out to listen to his sermon. Seeing an opportunity to make some light theological humor I replied, “I guess you could say that I just couldn’t resist.” 😉

Funnily enough, White even gave me a passing reference today on his show, The Dividing Line. It can be seen in the link below around the 5 minute mark. His advice: “Beware of Mormons wearing bowties!”

“Beware of Mormons Wearing Bowties”