317-318: BYU Professor Charles Harrell and the Evolution of Mormon Doctrine

In this episode, BYU Professor Charles Harrell discusses his new book entitled: “This Is My Doctrine: The Development of Mormon Theology.”  Please remember that you can purchase this book at a discount using the code: MSTORIES.  Proceeds will go to Mormon Stories.

“In this first-of-its-kind comprehensive treatment of the development of Mormon theology, Charles Harrell traces the history of Latter-day Saint doctrines from the times of the Old Testament to the present. He describes how Mormonism has carried on the tradition of the biblical authors, early Christians, and later Protestants in reinterpreting scripture to accommodate new theological ideas while attempting to uphold the integrity and authority of the scriptures. In the process, he probes three questions: How did Mormon doctrines develop? What are the scriptural underpinnings of these doctrines? And what do critical scholars make of these same scriptures? In this enlightening study, Harrell systematically peels back the doctrinal accretions of time to provide a fresh new look at Mormon theology.”

Charles R. Harrell (Ph.D., manu­facturing engineering, Unive­rsity of Denmark) is an associate professor in Brigham Young University’s School of Technology, where he is the graduate coordinator for the manufacturing systems program. In addition to teaching and advising students, he oversees student projects aimed at improving business operations. He recently led a humanitarian project to build electricity-generating playground equipment in Ghana. He is also founder and director of ProModel Corporation, which is a leading provider of simulation software and has authored several books on the use of simulation to improve business processes. In addition to his professional activities, Charles is an ardent theological hobbyist and has published articles on Mormon theology in BYU Studies, The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, and Studies in the Scriptures. He also taught seminary and institute for many years. Charles and his wife, Yvonne, are the parents of five children and live in Orem, Utah

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  1. If ordinances are so essential in the church… why on earth did we give up on giving members the second anointing (thought to be the fullness of Priesthood… a King and Priest/Queen and Priestess)? This was the finalyzing sealing ordinance that the current temple ordinance is pointing to when we are told we “can become such”.  Hmmm… could it be… that the truth is… that the ordinances the Lord left us with in Nauvoo, are actually pointing to the true ordinances that must happen for each person between you and your Savior/God. Our ordinances are only pointing to what must occur, to the true ordinations and endowments given from heaven alone. Even baptism by water is pointing to what we need to do individually. We are baptised with fire or the HG when we actually lay down our old life and walk in a new as a righteousness and truth seeking person.

    And if the second anointing is what gives men authority do seal and do any ordinance, at least in their own families… then you will find that some members in the early 1900’s broke off the church having had this ordinance, and started their own movement still living plural marriage, consecration, etc.  If an ordinance done by the hand of man is what gives priesthood power and authority… then those people would hold the same authority as church leaders who keep this ordinance among themselves.

    Problem is… our temple ordinances left to us in Nauvoo, are pointing us to become something more. And when we do, then we can have prophets like Joseph Smith and in scripture leading the Lord’s covenant group, members can be prophets themselves in their own homes… then we can have Zion in her full glory among us again. When Zion comes, it means we again have that priesthood that which was at the beginning, here at the end, equally, fairly, regardless of your position/calling among a group. So much for us to learn. So much more still to accomplish individually and as a group. I hope our group as a whole will come back to these things.

  2. I am a bit shocked, of course “The Church” is the people I have been taught that as a member in England for 40 years and many but not all of  the active members I know understand “The Church”is the members not a organisational entity.

    Another great interview John but sometimes lately there has been a heavy negative bias drifting in to Mormon Stories that is depressing.

    I am all for a “broad Church” or ” big tent” as you say however Mormon Stories was better when it seemed to take a neutral stance to all guests.

    Thought you gave Brant a particular hard time a few weeks ago.

    Anyway it’s all very listenable so well done.

    God bless you.


    Paul, Manchester, England

    1. I agree with you Paul.  There has been a tone change on Mormon Stories.  I appreciated when all guests, regardless of where they were on the faith sprectrum, were treated with a refreshing sort of open-heartedness.  I recognize that it is really, really hard to accomplish that, but that is what I loved about Mormon Stories.

    2. I have to disagree with you on the Brant interview. Brant gave what can only be called a parade of special pleading and post-hoc reasoning, and John was right to call him out on it. 

      1. I have to disagree with you, Grant.  Brant had a few weak spots, but overall gave a scholarly, robust presentation of an intriguing take on the Book of Mormon.  I loved it. 

      2. I have to disagree with you, Grant.  Brant had a few weak spots, but overall gave a scholarly, robust presentation of an intriguing take on the Book of Mormon.  I loved it. 

    3. I think members use it both ways. When it fits the situation they say the church is the people but then when they are looking for a more authoritative source, they refer to it as a hierarchical entity. For example, when trying to defend, define, or invoke a certain doctrine, they will often say, “well the church teaches us this” or, “the church says women should only have one earring.” etc. In cases like those, they are definitely referring to the church not as a group of similar people, but as a separate and enlightened entity. When they are trying to diminish negative aspects of, or stories about, the church, they will often refer to it merely as a group of imperfect people with a common goal etc.

    4. This is my sense too. In the first of the Mormon Demographics ‘casts, Dehlin was expressly dismissive, bordering on sarcastic, in reference to Brant. I guess the purpose is to provide a “safe space” for anyone except faithful, believing intellectuals. THEM we can dump on. It is getting harder to listen.

      1. Leighton and Paul,

        I feel badly that you both feel this way. Any chance you’d be willing to help me make things better?


        1. One thing you might do would be not to make things worse! I would have expected you to respct my privacy; if i choose a screen name, it might be because I wished to use that name rather than another one. I’ve never had my privacy violated in this way by any site admin anywhere. Fix this please.

          Other than that, sure, I would be happy to help if there is something I can do. Since you have my email address, perhaps you would wish to contact me privately. Note the word ‘privately.” You’re not exactly improving your reputation with me so far.

    5. This is my sense too. In the first of the Mormon Demographics ‘casts, Dehlin was 
      dismissive, bordering on sarcastic, in reference to Brant. I guess the purpose
      is to provide a “safe space” for anyone except faithful, believing
      intellectuals. THEM, we can dump on. It is getting harder to listen.

      1. trytoseeitmyway – Sorry you had that experience. Happy to work with you directly to make things better. Please email me to discuss. — John

        1. John, it is kind of you to make that offer. I will send you an email with my thoughts. I think that you have often walked a fine line, particularly with your believing guests, exploring issues without seeming to become an advocate for a point of view. But as I said, there was an example recently of sarcasm in reference to a former, believing guest, in conversation with the then-current guest, who presented himself as an ex-Mormon. So, even though you tried to be neutral with the earlier guest, he could well be troubled (or, if not, then I was troubled vicariously) with the retroactive snark.

          I am not sure that there is anything that I can offer to do in cooperation with you to make things better, but I hope that you will take these comments as constructive.

  3. I agree.  SO much of a negative slant lately.  The beauty of MS has been exploring issues in a thoughtful and respectful way.  Let’s all make that our goal!

  4. Good interview. I must say, though, I think you missed a wonderful opportunity to discuss the interplay between what Professor Harell calls “doctrine” (basically, our cultural lens applied to the gospel narrative) and absolute truth. He made this distinction in the second portion of the interview, and I’d have loved to hear his take on what (if anything) LDS members can count on as absolute truths in the face of an ever-changing ‘cultural gospel,’ for lack of a better term, and what advantage LDS members have (if any) in discovering truth due to the claim of prophetic revelation.

    At times I felt as though Professor Harell’s faith was strong (especially during the segment where he played the double standard card in terms of BoM difficulties and similar OT/NT difficulties), but at other times I felt he had no faith at all (stating that the goodness of the church’s organization served as the foundation for his testimony).

    Overall a solid interview, but felt lacking.

  5. Just a small comment on the question of the necessity of ordinances (around 38-39 minutes.)  The Lord himself has indicated that ordinances are necessary.  This is seen in may places throughout the accepted scriptures.  However, in answer to the point regarding all the baptisms performed by other churches.  I would like to add that the Lord has already addressed this in Section 35 of the D&C. 

    3 Behold, verily, verily, I say unto my servant Sidney, I have looked upon thee and thy works. I have aheard thy prayers, and prepared thee for a greater work. 4 Thou art blessed, for thou shalt do great things. Behold thou wast sent forth, even as aJohn, to prepare the way before me, and before bElijah which should come, and thou knewest it not.
     5 Thou didst baptize by water unto repentance, but they areceived not the Holy Ghost;
     6 But now I give unto thee a commandment, that thou shalt abaptize by water, and they shall receive the bHoly Ghost by the laying on of the chands, even as the apostles of old.
    The Lord never told Sidney that his baptisms were bad, but that he could not give the gift of the Holy Ghost.  Authority affects ordinances.

    Also, since the question was already raised above, I would also add the all temple ordinances, outside of temple marriage,  point only to one thing – the receipt of the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, which each member is already admonished to receive when the receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.  To that end, if a person does receive the true and complete gift of the Holy Ghost has already received everything that could be obtained here on earth.  Temple ordinances only point to that ultimate end.

  6. The “incarnational” interpretive perspective on New Testament authorship is not persuasively parallel to Joseph Smith’s experience and the dominance of 19th century rootedness within the Book of Mormon text. 

    The uncontested Pauline epistles, for example, are bound in the time and place of Paul’s culture, experience and worldview; Paul never claims to be a “translator” of something more ancient than him, but authorship is his own. The pseudepigraphical gospels and epistles, and deuteropauline epistles speak to authorship within certain communities and times perhaps 50-100 years later than the dominant narrative or assumed authorship — be that Matthew’s perspective from a majority Jewish Christian view, John speaking more to developed Christological beliefs that coalesced in the late first century or possibly second century, or Jude representing the later contention against  gnostic perspectives — it all is an order of magnitude different than the Book of Mormon claiming to be an authentic ancient record. 

    If the Book of Mormon speaks to all the American religious controversies it testifies of Joseph’s authorship not Mormon’s abridgement, ancient Judeo-American culture or even other authors who predated him. Couple that with the fact we have tens of thousands of Greek New Testament manuscripts and fragments by which the ancient rootedness of the New Testament can be verified (even if the faith claims are still for those who make the assent of faith). The Book of Mormon has little evidence that points to anything but Joseph having created that record.

    My issue with the “incarnational” argument aside a pretty enjoyable presentation from Prof. Harrell. I found John really out of his universe and preparation for this subject; instead of working intentionally to make himself more transparent as an interviewer he just kept stumbling all over the effectiveness of the dialogue. (Sorry, John, I’ve liked you in other contexts.)

  7. An aside for Greg Kofford: Have you considered selling a non-DRM’d EPUB via your site? That way you the publisher can keep a better cut, we can use the code to give John a toke in the sale, while getting content it in the format compatible with the software I use (iBooks on iPad – they currently have the best notation features of ebook software I think).

    1. The problem is that if we sale books without DRM, they will spread illegally like wildfire.

      And FYI, most of our books are also available through the Apple iBookstore. There are a few that we still need to rework to meet their tight formatting restrictions.

      1. Thank you for the response, Greg. The fear of widespread illegal wildfire doesn’t fully accord with the data; Amazon’s choice to use non-DRM MP3, for example, hasn’t limited them from becoming a strong rival to the DRM’d iTunes (which doesn’t always impose their Fairplay DRM  anymore, at least with music). 

        The PIPA/SOPA debate has brought the numbers of this matter back into the forefront. Freakonomics had a nice overview: https://www.freakonomics.com/2012/01/12/how-much-do-music-and-movie-piracy-really-hurt-the-u-s-economy/. Of course the core of their argument is nothing new, but awareness of this issue may be hitting critical mass.

        I respect it’s your business and IP to choose as you will. I just invite you to consider a possibility you are acting more on fear than the reality that committing yourself to DRM distribution isn’t always best for you and the customer. (It may be if distribution and exposure on Apple’s, Amazon’s, et al’s stores increases more sales and customer trust for you than you could do marketing yourself or using the non-DRM options that some of them offer for content providers.) Extracting DRM is not a terribly hard thing to do with the major Amazon, B&N and Google formats in order to make one able to use any ebook one buys work with any ebook reader software one chooses. It will only get easier if the past is any prediction.

        The matter I wanted to highlight for your consideration is that by cooperating in the current DRM format showdown you as a publisher commit yourself to a transaction that limits the flexibility you are currently doing with the direct-to-consumer-sold bound book, namely keeping what margin you as a publisher choose and offering a kickback in the sale to Mormon Stories. You contribute to the rapidly expanding digital publishing and consumption economy that is more about software, hardware & distribution platforms competing for market dominance than about keeping the authors and publishers of books connecting consumers smoothly and flexibly with great open content in this new digital consumption economy.

        I don’t say this because I’m an advocate of piracy. I’ve worked in the film media and publishing industry for many years, so I’m familiar with the work and value of content creation as well as the status quo of emotion regarding digital rights management for content. I think the data however largely show it is time for a more robust paradigm shift among IP holders, especially so for niche marketers. Thanks for listening.

      2. Interesting that you are opposed to your content “spreading like wildfire”. Most content creators want exactly that to happen. Smart ones know that it will eventually lead to more profits.

        Piracy is not a problem of principle. Most people want to do the right thing. Piracy is more an issue of ease of consumption. DRM and poor distribution techniques have made piracy a problem because it becomes easier–much easier–to pirate than to navigate the legal routes. But DRM isn’t necessarily bad except when it gets in the way of how people want to access the content they’ve already paid for.

  8. Wow, that was very refreshing to the soul!  Thank you for another excellent podcast.  I bought Dr. Harrell’s book a few months ago and devoured it in a few sittings.  It is an excellent resource or starting point for those who want to dig in deeper on the various paths of Mormon doctrinal development.  

    I particularly enjoyed Dr. Harrell’s take on how revelation seems to work.  This allows us to magnify the good, discard that which is not so good, and move along with the 21st century, acknowledging the role of potential human and divine elements shaping the narrative.  This approach allows one who is wrestling with the difficult aspects of our faith to see the divine expressed through LDS leaders and scripture yet provide a plausible path forward so that the church can continue to prosper and influence for good the lives of many without painting itself in a corner.  It is also a position of striving for complete honesty and integrity, which is the most important of all.

    Thank you John and thank you Dr. Harrell.  

    1. Michael Johnson

      I’m astonished to hear that someone believes a church led by a God needs to tip-toe and pussyfoot so it doesn’t paint itself into a corner.

      I must have a different concept of God, despite being agnostic.

      Do you really see the type of apologetics discussed in this podcast as an example of a church ” striving for complete honesty and integrity”? Consider the fact that much of what Dr Harrell asserts is not LDS doctrine at all, yet it is being used to defend the church. Is this a position of honesty?

       I doubt very much that many bishops would allow a speaker to stand up in Sacrament Meeting and assert many of the positions held by Dr Harrell. This is classic Internet Mormon theology – i.e. not what is taught in chapels and considered to be doctrine by Chapel Mormons (Dr Shade’s concept).

      A church cannot claim it is striving for honesty and integrity when the leaders of that church allow debate to continue in a way where the defenders of the faith are in fact apostacizing before our eyes and before the eyes of the church who, it appears, are more than happy to allow them to stray from official doctrine so long as they are attacking the “enemies” of the church. 

      There’s nothing honest in any of this.

      1. Hi Michael, maybe you got the wrong idea.  Dr. Harrell’s approach is much different than the approach of the mainstream LDS apologist.  In fact, I wouldn’t even consider his approach apologetic at all.  His approach is more in line with how the Community of Christ (RLDS) views Mormon Doctrine, which is to admit historical facts, learn from it, and take what good you can from it going forward. 

        1. Michael Johnson

          Except to admit historical facts sort of disproves the Book of Mormon and doesn’t leave much the church can offer a world that is often far more empathetic and compassionate. 

          Doesn’t “going forward” mean discarding fairy tales?

  9. Michael Johnson

    This is all very cerebral and deep, however I don’t see much Mormonism in Dr. Harrell’s concept of God and revelation.

    I really don’t see how anyone can agree with the assertions I assume are contained in the book, and still call themselves Mormon.

    According to the leaders of the church, God is all powerful and is deeply involved in LDS church operations. There is no “continuum  of belief. It’s the church’s way or the highway. The “stereotypical” sense of God *IS* the only sense of God according to the Correlation Committee. God is interventionist, answers prayers, heals the sick, and communicates with church leaders.

    Revelation with regards to LDS church operations is a paranormal experience – at least that’s what I was taught. 

    Dr Harrell is also aware that the claim that the “fullness of the gospel” was revealed to Smith and was included in the “most correct book” cannot be a true statement since Mormon doctrine has changed considerably from this supposed “fullness”. The changing doctrine conflicts with the Mormon notion of God (and the dictionary definition of fullness), because a church led by a God would not change its doctrine with the changing social and cultural norms in North American society, and it certainly would not need to follow the secular world with regards to empathy and human rights.

    There is a constant assertion by church leaders, particularly in GenCon, that the gospel is original, and that the uneducated Joseph Smith could not have known very much of what he included in the Book of Mormon and other writings. Dr Harrell knows that this is not true, because he mentions some possible sources (Arminian?) and understands John when he mentions some possible sources of Smith’s ideas. Even if Smith did not use these sources directly, their existence prior to the “translation” of the Book of Mormon contradicts the Brethren when they claim that Smith could not have thought of the concepts within the Book of Mormon without some divine intervention since they were so original. 

    Dr Harrell’s assertion that the Book of Mormon gains credibility because, like the Bible, it includes some values and thinking of the time it was written, does nothing to sway the opinion of those who believe the Bible is also predominantly fiction. Using a book such as the Bible that is demonstrably pseudepigraphal as a comparison is not helpful in refuting the argument that Smith was  simply writing  pseudepigraphically himself. The fact that the Book of Mormon contains representations of early 19th century religious zeitgeist does more to diminish its credibility as an ancient work than it does to affirm it. 

    The Bible contains many errors that came about because the authors were writing in terms and with knowledge of their day rather than at the time of the supposed events. Anachronisms such as Jesus living in Nazareth when it did not exist at the time of Jesus are also present in the Book of Mormon which mentions horse and steel.

    Dr Harrell is an intelligent man. Is he really asking us to believe that the Book of Mormon is all the LDS church claims it to be because, like the Bible, it is full of human errors, anachronism, incongruities, and contradictions? Really?

    I guess you have to be a BYU professor to be able to think this way.

    I’m sorry but I just ended up shaking my head at this interview. It is so amazing to me that people who believe in God also believe that He can’t just reveal a document to someone without allowing it to be so thoroughly flawed and so transparently and entirely human. Apparently an omniscient God can’t inspire a human without the human’s garbled thoughts turning the transmission into nonsense. 

    pseudepigrapha now points to divine inspiration in the mind of the apologist? Wow….. 

    Using D7C 124 to affirm that 19th century paradigms included in the Book of Mormon are there because” God speaks to men after the manner of their language”, is academically unacceptable since both works were written by the same author.

    The more these Book of Mormon apologists explain why the Book is so obviously a 19th century work that includes the philosophically debated topics at the location where Smith wrote the book, the less credible they appear. It’s a little sad to see intelligent people trying to force the claims of the LDS church to seem true when Occam’s razor makes the most sense.

  10. Michael Johnson

    This is the second LDS apologist who I have heard refer to the ban on Blacks (people of African ancestry) as being just “folklore” because the church no longer engages in racial discrimination.

    This is a dishonest use of the word. The ban on people of African ancestry was doctrine. Now it is history. It was NEVER folklore.

    I can see the church and church apologists are trying to make this part of history disappear down the “memory hole”, an Orwellian “mechanism for the alteration or disappearance of inconvenient or embarrassing history.” (Wikipedia)

     I find that offensive and believe it should be fought tooth and nail.

    John, if this term is used in future, please ask them to justify themselves.


    1. This is a good point. Here are the doctrinal statments:”From the days of the Prophet
      Joseph Smith even until now, it has been the doctrine of the Church, never questioned by Church leaders,
      that the Negroes are not entitled to the full blessings of the Gospel.” (Statement of The First Presidency on the
      Negro Question, July 17 1947, quoted in Mormonism and the Negro,

      “The attitude of the Church
      with reference to Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy
      but of direct commandment from the
      Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of
      its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church
      but that they are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time.”
      (The First Presidency on the Negro Question, August 17, 1949)

       “The position of the Church
      regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the church is kept in mind, namely, that the
      conduct of spirits in the pre-mortal existence has some determining effect upon
      the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality,
      and that while the details of this principle have not been made known, the
      principle itself indicates that the coming to this earth and taking on
      mortality is a privilege that is given to those who maintained their first
      estate; and that the worth of the privilege is so great that spirits are
      willing to come to earth and take on bodies no matter what the handicap may be
      as to the kind of bodies they are to secure; and that among the handicaps,
      failure of the right to enjoy in mortality the blessings of the priesthood is a
      handicap which spirits are willing to assume in order that they might come to
      earth. Under this principle there is no injustice whatsoever involved in this
      deprivation as to the holding of the priesthood by the Negroes…..” (Official
      Statement of First Presidency,  August
      17, 1951)

      I agree with Dr. Harrell when he points out that doctrine can and sometimes should be changed. But there is a big difference between former doctrine and folklore.


      “From the days of the Prophet
      Joseph Smith even until now, it has been the doctrine of the Church, never questioned by Church leaders,
      that the Negroes are not entitled to the full blessings of the Gospel.” (Statement of The First Presidency on the
      Negro Question, July 17 1947, quoted in Mormonism and the Negro,

      “The attitude of the Church
      with reference to Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy
      but of direct commandment from the
      Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of
      its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church
      but that they are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time.”
      (The First Presidency on the Negro Question, August 17, 1949)

       “The position of the Church
      regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the church is kept in mind, namely, that the
      conduct of spirits in the pre-mortal existence has some determining effect upon
      the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality,
      and that while the details of this principle have not been made known, the
      principle itself indicates that the coming to this earth and taking on
      mortality is a privilege that is given to those who maintained their first
      estate; and that the worth of the privilege is so great that spirits are
      willing to come to earth and take on bodies no matter what the handicap may be
      as to the kind of bodies they are to secure; and that among the handicaps,
      failure of the right to enjoy in mortality the blessings of the priesthood is a
      handicap which spirits are willing to assume in order that they might come to
      earth. Under this principle there is no injustice whatsoever involved in this
      deprivation as to the holding of the priesthood by the Negroes…..” (Official
      Statement of First Presidency,  August
      17, 1951)

      I agree with Dr. Harrell when he points out that doctrine can and sometimes should be changed. But there is a big difference between former doctrine and folklore.

  11. There’s a simple decisive way to cut right through all of this useless debating. It was mentioned near the beginning of the conversation. Official doctrine is essentially portions of the Bible which have been translated correctly and the remaining standard works i.e. the Book of Mormon, D&C, and the Pearl of Great Price. As well as official declarations of the Latter-Day Prophets, which is essentially what the 12 apostles and first presidency have and are speaking over the pulpit and what is declared as official declarations i.e., A Proclamation To The World, the official declarations of the Doctrine and Covenants 1 & 2 etc..

    The only thing that is confusing or convoluted is people who do not hold the office or authority to speak for the whole body of the church (The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-Day) who are trying to do so. This is what caused the apostasy in ancient times.

    If you are still uncertain of what official doctrine is or is not there are several scriptures that explain how one can know the truth of all things. Here are some scriptures that I feel apply to this concept: Moses 6:61 Moses did it so can each of us, D&C 88:6, D&C 93:28 Christ is with in each of us, even if we don’t believe in Him. If we focus upon that portion within each us we can learn all truth. Moroni 10:5. Essentially if you are confused as to whether or not something is official doctrine, make sure your lives are in accordance with the companionship of the Holy Ghost so that it can be your constant companion. To sum it up very easily I will provide the following link regarding the role of the Holy Ghost:


    Use the power of prayer, and the help of the Holy Ghost while using the application of the words spoken by the modern prophets and you will know the truth. You can never understand God’s will by debating or even arguing amongst yourselves when you don’t hold or have authority to speak for the Lord’s church as to whether or not it is His church or His church’s teachings.

    The very words of Christ settle this issue once and for all, 3 Nephi 11:29 – For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. 

    Whether you believe it or not debating is a form of contention.

    1. Michael Johnson

      You can’t declare that the Book of Mormon AND the “portions of the Bible which have been translated correctly” to both be “official doctrine”. They are mutually exclusive. 

      The Book of Mormon contains direct plagiarisms of 19th century mistranslated Bible passages. Therefore the Book of Mormon itself falls outside your own definition of “official doctrine”. Whether you believe this or not, it’s fact and can be checked. Besides that fact, the Book of Mormon does not contain very much Mormon doctrine at all, and even contradicts Mormon doctrine that is contained in the D&C. So, the Book of Mormon is not the place to search for official doctrine at all.

      Debating is contention, yes. Debate is how normal society functions. You advance a point and debate it with others. It’s how ideas are modified. It’s generally how a consensus is formed and how society advances. It’s the way humans convey their opinions, how they propose new ideas and oppose concepts they disagree with. It is not arguing for the sake of arguing. It’s how free people with agency act in a society. It’s the very basis of Western government.

      Organizations that demand obedience and seek to control people disapprove of debate. They do not want people discussing ideas and conveying new information, especially when they are aware there is information they need to suppress. People who consider debate and therefore contention – a point advanced or maintained in a debate or argument – to be dangerous, generally try to shut down debate by labeling any point of view as “contentious” –  likely to cause disagreement or argument. What they are actually saying is that there are contentions (differing points of view) and your point of view is contentious and therefore you must not advance it, while my point of view must be accepted by all because it can’t possibly be contentious. 

      Those who try to shut down debate by implying it is satanic are in fact engaged in the suppression of free agency, or in other words, the suppression of the contention advanced by Jesus Christ in the pre-existence where he contended that people should be allowed the freedom to determine their own path back to the Father, and should not be forced to accept one side of a contention.

      So, despite being agnostic, I still feel Jesus (the Jesus described in Mormon folklore) was on to something great when he advanced his idea, which was subsequently accepted by God. Those who oppose contention, debate, and the human need to express verbally what they feel and think never got to be born. They are in Satan’s power now.

    2. Oh, you have a long, exciting, and enlightening journey ahead of you my friend. Keep tuning in here. You’ll crack eventually.

  12. I do not see how D& C 1:30 reconciles with this liberal view of truth. “The only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth.” This does not seem to lend itself to other faiths being just as valid. Either what is in the D&C is doctrine from God himself as it claims to be, or like John said…words have no meaning. I don’t want to be in a Church where people can’t agree on what the definition of is, is.

  13. The basics:
    1. Obtain the desire to know the truths of why we are really here on earth.2. Pray to God for guidance and God shall answer.3. Enter in by the Narrow Gate – Which is to receive Baptism for the Remission of Sins by someone who has the authority to do so.  i.e. Someone who holds the Aaronic Priesthood.4. Be confirmed by someone who holds the Melchizedek Priesthood and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands.5. Continue to remain worthy of the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. Ways to do this without fail are: A. Read the scriptures daily B. Pray to God at least three times dailyC. Pray and give thanks for your daily meals D. Pray upon waking and going to bed. God really does want to hear from you, and He really will answer your prayers E. Attend church every week F. Attend church functions G. Read the scriptures dailyH. Make time to attend the temple, or prepare yourself to attend when you are old enough to enter the temple. To prepare to enter the temple follow steps A-G.6. If you are a worthy male of 18-25 serve a mission for the Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-Day Saints. If you feel the spirit has called you to serve and are a worthy female, go for it! Males you have already been called.7. Most people will be able to find someone to marry in this life, get sealed in the temple and continue to attend the temple throughout your life.8. Homosexuality is an abominable sin and will never be in accordance with God’s eternal plan or laws. If you have such feelings you have failed to follow the previous steps.9. If you are unable to find a companion in this life, you will be able to find someone in the next life! In the mean time approach your local church leaders when you feel you are ready to get your endowments. From that time forward continue to attend the temple regularly.10. Continue to live so that the Holy Ghost can be your constant companion. Be a good example to everyone you meet! Share the gospel with everyone you meet, it doesn’t have to be the only thing you talk about with people, but share it. Especially share the gospel if the Holy Ghost inspires you to do so.11. Endure until the end of your life and you shall receive Exaltation in the celestial kingdom of God.Do not be confused by the simpleness of the way that leads to life, but embrace it. Help those will are willing to hear it. Love one another as He has loved you and by this shall all men know that ye are His disciples that ye have love one to another. 

    1. Dear Anonymous,

      Would you be interested in the development of this theology?  Perhaps Dr. Harrell’s book addresses parts of it.

  14. I appreciate Dr.Harrell’s remarks and look forward to reading his book.   While I sensed he was keeping many of his faith cards close to his chest, I respect the ones he did sincerely play and take the rest as none of my business.   I was left to admire his respect for history and for others who arrive at different conclusions.  In other words, I admire his intellectual integrity and humanity and how they seem to have moded his Mormon story.   

    This interview, in my mind, invited us to find common ground that is outside-the-Church and outside outside-the-Church.   I sensed that John kept trying to move us back into one camp or the other – but Dr. Harrell, with such gentle and respectful resistance, wouldn’t go there.  It was a time to just hangout out there.  I liked that.  

    I don’t expect that the LDS Church culture will adopt Dr. Harrell’s perspective on faith, his embrace of uncertainty, or the indeterminate nature of doctrinal evolution in this generation.  But changes in this direction would seem inevitable.  I suspect that the deep need people have for self-esteem will not withstand the weight of ridicule invited by modern light cast on implausible propositional beliefs.  Neither can most people withstand moral ostracism levied by their broader society as it adopt a more expansive and inclusive social ethic.

    I have no idea what will be left of the Church or what forms it will take in 50 or 100 years.  I are say Joseph could not have prophesied what we have now.   And yet I find it hard to imagine a Mormonism without a real Mormon or members that no longer saying “I know this church is true.”

    Thank you John and Dr. Harrell.


  15. Bold and courageous indeed.  Thanks for taking the time to express your views and talk about your book.  I wish the LDS church had more vocal members like yourself.

  16.      Most of people I used to know in the LDS church who came up with such ideas and theories usually ended up leaving the church because they apostatize.
         I’m always willing to see ideas that are within reason but these ideas are literally playing with fire. You either have the faith in the brethren or you don’t. I’d hate to see another valuable member be lead away.
         Some members have weak testimonies to begin with and playing the devil’s advocate doesn’t win you any brownie points just because you know your own testimony is sure. Some people could possible see little things like this, fumbling with ideas that this or that doctrine is false and that’s enough for them to leave.
         I’d think as a long standing member of the LDS faith that I’d find good news and great reports upholding the churches standards from a well learned member. This kind of report frightens me. I’m saddened to see that all you have learned from over thinking simple truths is that you aren’t sure the truth adds up as clearly as you once thought they did.
         I’m afraid to ask it but I’m inclined to question if you are listening to the right voice when you are studying your scriptures?

    1. Michael Johnson

      Anonymous, some people have prayed and fasted to gain a testimony of things such as the first vision, and they say they felt that a still, small voice and burning in the bosom has confirmed to them that what they are reading is true and actually happened. 

      Since you believe in the supernatural, what entity would be confirming the truthfulness of a lie? Not the Holy Ghost, surely!

  17. I wish I could say that it breaks my heart to hear yet again Mormons straining to reinvent religion after their own likeness and image when that knowledge which could relieve them of the need to force their own conceit upon sacred things is lost on them.  It is always the denial of the power of godliness and utter  indifference to it through inexperience and lack of spiritual competence that perpetuate cushy trite and irreverent simplicities when something much more simple and elegant would solve dilemmas.

    It  cannot break my heart anymore because I know how fantastic people regard religious answers that solve problems rather than enhance an intellectual environment conducive to the pride of man and its supremacy over meekness and contrite submission to God.

    1. James, what is that thing which is “much more simple and elegant” would would solve dilemmas?   I’m always into elegant solutions.

  18. I experience some frustration every time I stumble on something new on this sight because sometimes I want to shout hallelujah and amen and sometimes I want to punch the monitor.

    I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment that members need to stop closing their eyes and “clinging” to the iron rod. I think the Book of Mormon itself suggests that this is the case because the group in 1 Ne 8 that does so ends up walking away from the tree. I think this happens because when they finally look up after getting to the tree they discover all these criticisms that make sense and hold water. Having never considered those possibilities they are shocked and decide it must mean the whole things is false and they “throw the baby out with the bathwater” as you said in this interview.

    On the other hand if we take it as far as it was taken in the interview we are left with nothing but a group of people not even united by the same myths anymore. That is not a church, it’s a nonprofit organization. (The word myth here is used in the sense described by Sorel to mean a story that unites a people – not in the sense of something that is not true.)

    Yes, doctrines evolve over time. Sometimes that is because perfect doctrines come to be understood slowly. As we gain understanding of them, God reveals more. It is easy to understand the evolution of the doctrine of the restoration in this way. As Joseph learned, God revealed more of what he was actually restoring. As the world continues to change, he continues to help us fine tune our understanding based on our needs. We shouldn’t pick a time period and say I like what God revealed then and not what he revealed before or after. 

    Yes, doctrines also evolve because of mistakes. The church, the prophet, and scriptures are fallible so God makes corrections. Sometimes the church has to prepare itself before the corrections are made. Sometimes the correction doesn’t matter enough and God lets it go. 

    All this does not mean we can mold the church to our own preferences and pick the time period that most matches our sensibilities. We have a duty to seek truth whether or not the truth makes us comfortable and whether or not the truth allows us to fit in. 

    We also have a responsibility to be honest. If we feel that the teachings of the church are false we have a responsibility to walk away. It is dishonest to simply mold the church to where we can feel comfortable.

    There are some things the church teaches with clarity and without apology. Prophets, while fallible, do receive revelation. The Book of Mormon, while not without error, is the truest of any book on the Earth. God’s kingdom is one of order and authority and His church must have that authority to be His church. If you don’t start with those assumptions it is not intellectually responsible to claim that you are speaking for Mormonism.

    To be true followers of Jesus Christ we must accept and live his gospel as he taught and teaches it (Matt 10:34-42).

    1. Sam, 
      While I’m
      not sure whether you are directing these comments to John or to me (or to both
      of us), let me be clear, if I wasn’t in the interview, that I neither claim nor
      pretend to be speaking for Mormonism. My only intent was to point out that
      doctrines change and that this change poses challenges for how we as Mormons should
      view the doctrines of the church. Obviously Mormons can respond to doctrinal
      change in several different ways.

      1)     Refuse to believe that God would
      leave us in the dark, and therefore attribute any apparent shifts in doctrine to
      one’s misunderstanding of scripture.

      2)     Conclude that God wants us to have
      the true doctrine, but in our finite state he is unable to fully communicate it
      to us and therefore humans must fill in the holes.

      3)     View God as actually the source of
      doctrinal idiosyncrasies, which is the result of his (mysterious) preference to
      accommodate prevailing cultural paradigms of the time.

      4)     Conclude that God allows us to
      stumble and guess at doctrine because he doesn’t care all that much about what
      we believe…at least about most things.

      5)     Reject all belief in God (or at least
      the Mormon God) and chalk up all doctrine as simply the product of human

      your “intellectually responsible” solution that we simply make certain assumptions
      about the church and draw our conclusions from those assumptions, it seems to me to be more intellectually responsible to gather data
      and draw conclusions based on where the data happens to point.If one is
      to simply accept the Book of Mormon as containing the “truest” teachings on
      salvation, one would have to conclude that faith, repentance, baptism and gift
      of the Holy Ghost are alone sufficient for obtaining eternal life (for “whatsoever
      is more or less than this cometh of evil” [3 Ne. 11:40]), that those who die
      without hearing the gospel in this life automatically inherit eternal life, the
      same as little children (Mosiah 3:11, 15:24; Moro. 8:22), that in the hereafter
      one dwells either with God and Christ in eternal bliss or with the devil and
      his angels in outer darkness. Furthermore, those who hear the gospel and fail
      to fully repent of their sins while in mortality (there is no provision for
      repenting in the spirit world; Alma 34:33) suffer eternally in hell (1 Ne.
      15:29–36; 2 Ne. 2:27–29, 9:11–19; Mosiah 5:8–11, 26:23–27; Alma 3:26, 40:11–26,
      41:3–5). These are just some of the teachings in the BoM pertaining to salvation
      and don’t include all the other doctrinal teachings in the BoM about the nature
      of the Godhead, the creation, the fall, the atonement, the priesthood, the
      gathering of Israel (especially the Jews), etc. that have all since been revised (sometimes radically) in one way or another. So the question becomes, If we embrace all of the “truths” of the BoM what do we do with the later “truths” that the Church
      would  come to espouse?


      1. Dr. Harrell,

        I didn’t really have either of you in mind when I made my comment. I was directing it more at a general movement within the church that this website seems to consider itself a part of. I do not know you or John, and I don’t claim to know your motivations or core beliefs. 

        I understand that you are not speaking for the church officially. Even if you wanted to, you have no authority to do so. However, by establishing your active membership in the church as well as your status as a professor at a church institution you established that you were speaking for Mormonism. In that context you spoke about what faithful members can or should believe. 

        I am not asking you to simply make any assumptions. Mormonism is certainly a complex faith with evolving doctrines and a changing structure and culture. As you said, we can respond to those changes in many different ways. There are probably even more than the ones you have listed here. Not all of those responses, however, leave us as members in good standing in the church. 

        I can choose to reject all belief in the Mormon God, but if I do so I should not speak as a believing member of the Mormon faith. If I choose to believe that God doesn’t really speak to prophets or that His hand really wasn’t in the translation of the Book of Mormon then I am rejecting belief in the Mormon God. I may still believe in my own version of God but I no longer believe in God as he was revealed through Joseph Smith and as he is revealed through Thomas S. Monson.

        Certainly a person’s faith can ebb and flow. I am not suggesting that people should leave the church over uncertainties about these doctrines. Mortality is full of doubt and sometimes we feel blind and lost. What I am saying is that if someone has concluded that some of these doctrines are false and is no longer seeking to know God as he was revealed, as he is revealed, and as he will be revealed by latter day prophets then I do not believe they should speak as a Mormon. And I do not believe they should tell other members of the church that it is appropriate for them to ignore whatever revelations make them uncomfortable.

        I don’t know what you believe concerning these things but the interview and your response give me the impression that there are several revelations you have chosen to disbelieve.  

        I am not sure I understand your last point and question. Believing that the Book of Mormon is the truest book of any book on Earth does not make it so that other truths cannot be revealed. You point out that Christ said that no one can inherit God’s kingdom without repentance, baptism, and becoming as a little child and that whoever teaches more or less then this “cometh of evil.” Has the church taught more than this? 

        I believe the answer is no. Turning to another Book of Mormon scripture we learn more about repentance “[Christ] hath power given unto him from the Father to redeem them from their sins because of repentance; therefore he hath sent his angels to declare the tidings of the conditions of repentance” (Hel 5:11). God has sent those angels and magnified our understanding of the conditions of repentance so that we can better fulfill Christ’s invitation to repent, be baptized, and become as a little child.

        Continued revelation does not make the Book of Mormon any less true. After all, the last chapter of the Book of Mormon reminds us that spiritual gifts such as prophecy and revelation “never will be done away, even as long as the world shall stand” (Mni 10:19). 

        All of this, however, is not really my point. All I wanted to express is that there are some things that are not up for debate within the church. They can and will be debated by the world and can and should be considered by individual members. The iron rod is not without bumps and clinging to it blindly can lead us to be so shocked at the bumps that we let go. We should consider these things and try to understand them in an honest truth seeking way. Some conclusions are outside of church boundaries, though, and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise. God offers us his gospel as it is and he doesn’t excuse himself (D&C 1:38). It is up to us to take it or leave it, not to turn it into something that better fits our comfort zone.

        1. In response to your comment:
          “It is up to us to take it or leave it, not to turn it into something that better fits our comfort zone.”

          Isn’t this what LDS prophets have always done? I can think of dozens of examples of how the church has turned the gospel into something more comfortable for their time– Joseph Smith being the first and most obvious example.

        2. Sam,

          Thanks for this added clarification and considerate response. I believe I better understand the point you are making and why you disapprove of any Mormon who advocates that
          Saints should ignore revelations that make them uncomfortable. Clearly you have worked out in your own mind what you feel is the faithful posture to take with regard to prophetic teachings, and you seem to have reached a fairly balanced perspective

          I, too, personally try
          to avoid telling others that it is OK to pick and choose which revelations they should embrace or ignore. At the same time, however, I don’t feel comfortable encouraging them to believe
          something simply because it comes from a Church authority (and here I am not
          suggesting that you do). I like President Hugh B. Brown’s counsel that “while
          all Mormons should respect, support, and heed the teachings of the authorities
          of the Church, no one should accept a statement and base his or her testimony upon it, no matter who makes it, until he or she has, under mature examination,
          found it to be true and worthwhile.”

      2. This interview and others with unbridled mormons would be so much better if an apostle of God or even the prophet was sitting in the room to thumb up or down these muddlers. Charlie has obviously read Grant Palmers book (why no mention?)  My question:  Why do we need a Mormon church? Seems we can all just join the incorporeal body/church of god simply by being more gentle humans.  It appears we don’t need to sweat the hard metaphors because those beautiful softer metaphors are on the way. Holy Scat! Soon God might not care if I know his handshakes. He’s already replaced the disembowelments with anxious tummy aches. 

        p.s. I appreciate the freudian slip at the beginning of your reply to Sam.

  19. What I find as bothersome is that we each take a hard stance on one side of the fence or the other.  The church is true and it’s day to day moment by moment happening are absultely God driven and approved.  The church is false because it has some imperfections.  And whatever side you are on you think anyone on the other side is stupid for not seeing things your way.  As believing Mormon I say this – There is much evidence of the Book of Mormon historicity just as there is much evidence of it being a 19th century work. 

    The LDS church’s past is not perfect.  It is full of falliable humans doing and saying what they thought was God’s will.  Does that make the church false….. no.  We have to be more inclusive of people’s mistakes (biblical prophets made plenty of mistakes as well), while still allowing room for God still standing at the head of this church.  I think if one wants to choose to think the church is false…. one can do that .  If one wants to have faith that it is true, I don’t believe it requires a giant leap from reality.  

    Essentially can’t we each share our opinion without looking down on someone who sees the same information differently?  Picture yourself in New Testament times.  Would you be critical of Paul’s difference’s with Peter the head apostle?  Would you doubt Thomas’ experience with the risen Christ.  Would you hate Peter for not giving the gospel to the gentiles from the start as God loves them too?  The church’s imperfections are no different then the NT church.  Imperfect people trying to do the mind and will of God.

  20. I really enjoyed Professor Harrell’s candid interview, so I caved in an got the ebook. So far the book is most excellent, and his use of scholarship and data within and outside of the Church is refreshing. I also like how he takes the doctrines and shows their evolution from the Old Testament, New Testament, Early days of the Church, Modern times—very fascinating stuff.

    Thanks again Jon and Charles!

      1. I learned from my mission president in a zone conference that Christ had three wives.  At the time it made a lot of sense and further proved the church is true since it shows that early church leaders did exactly what Christ himself had done. 

    1. Doctrine is based upon historical evidence? Why would you ever think doctrine should be based upon historical evidence? /s

    2. From the Mormon Apostle Orson Hyde: “It will be borne in mind that once on a time, there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; . . .no less a person than Jesus Christ was married on that occasion. If he was never married, his intimacy with Mary and Martha, and the other Mary also whom Jesus loved, must have been highly unbecoming and improper to say the least of it.”  “I will venture to say that if Jesus Christ were now to pass thought the most pious countries in Christendom with a train of women, such as used to follow him, . . .he would be mobbed, tarred, and feathered, and rode, not on as ass, but on a rail.”  “At this doctrine the long-faced hypocrite and the sanctimonious bigot will probably cry, blasphemy! . . . Object not, therefore, too strongly against the marriage of Christ.” (All the above statements: Journal of Discourses, Vol. 4, pages 259-260)

    3. Statement by Brigham Young:
      “The Scripture says that He, the Lord, came walking in the Temple, with “HIS TRAIN; I do not know who they were, unless his wives and children;” (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 13. page 309)
      Apostle Orson Pratt:
      “…it will be seen that the GREAT MESSIAH who was the founder of the Christian religion, WAS A POLYGAMIST, . . .the MESSIAH chose. . .by marrying honorable wives himself, show to all future generations that HE approbated the plurality of wives under the Christian dispensation, as well as under the dispensation in which His polygamist ancestors lived. . . .We have now clearly shown that God the Father had a plurality of wives. . .” (The Seer, page 172)

  21. Brother Harrell-

    If I understood you correctly, at about 21:43 in the interview you stated that D&C section one was given in 1833.. referencing the declaration by God about the “only true and living church..”

    Actually section one was given in 1831 which drives home the point you were making even further because the “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints” was not even in existence in 1831.

    The Lord was not even referring to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints when he said what he did in 1831.

    The Lord was referring to the restored “Church of Christ” in 1831.

    The name of the restored “church of Christ” was given by revelation, however, after the saints failed to live the law of consecration which is contained in the fulness of the gospel, Joseph and Sidney proposed to change the name of the church to the “Church of the Latter day Saints”. Some time after that it was called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints.

    Your point that the word “church” in section 1:30 was referring to his PEOPLE who were living the gospel is well taken. I would certainly agree with you.

    For those who would argue that the word church had reference to a specific organizational structure, they still have the problem that the true organizational structure and associated name that God referred to in 1831 was a different one than what was in place in 1835 when the name change took place and the Lord told the Saints that they would need to wait a little season before the laws of Zion and the fulness of the Gospel could be lived.


    1. Thanks for this insight and correction on the date. (I wondered during the podcast if I had misspoken on the 1833 dating of D&C 1.) The main point I wanted to make is that the word “church” often appears in the D&C to be referring more to the body of Saints than to an organizational structure, which would warrant a more nuanced reading of D&C 1:30.

      D&C 10:52-55 is particularly revealing in this regard since it was given two years prior to the organization of the church and yet refers to people who are already Christ’s church in some sense. The Lord states that these people “need not fear” because he intends not to destroy his church (i.e., their discipleship), but to build it up (i.e., strengthen their discipleship). D&C 10 concludes by emphasizing that “whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church” (D&C 10:67), again equating his church with those who are his true disciples.

      That Christ’s name was dropped from the name of the Church in 1831, as you point out, is puzzling in light of 3 Ne. 27:8, which insists that if a church be Christ’s church, it should bear his name. This name change created quite a controversy in the Church at the time. For whatever reason, it wasn’t until April 26, 1838 that the name of the Church was changed to its current name with “Jesus Christ” reinstated into the title.

  22. I absolutely agree that the term church, as used in the D&C is referring to his disciples and not a specific organizational hierarchy or specifically to the leadership or to a building, etc… in fact, I would suggest that there are degrees of discipleship… and therefore degrees of “church” which is why we have the term “Church of the Firstborn” referred to from time to time.

    It is interesting to note that shortly after the controversial event that took place at the Morley Farm in 1831, wherein the true Melchizedek Priesthood (a third priesthood separate from the first two that had been delivered by angles) was revealed “for the first time”, those who were ordained to be High Priests were referred to as the “Church of God” as apposed to the “Church of Christ”.

    Shortly after that, revelations came forth explaining the role of the High Priests in the existing and previously very simplistic church priesthood organization.

    Interestingly, it appears that the Churches of Christ that didn’t have High Priests continued to be overseen by “Presiding Elders” but when High Priests were in the church, they were the Presiding leaders of the priesthood and church.

    I would suggest that section 1:30 which was given a year of the Morley Farm gathering, wasn’t even referring to the “Church of Christ” rather, it was referring to the “Church of God” which was producing the testimony of the Father and the Son and the seven spiritual fruits that always are associated with the true and “living” church.

    Unfortunately, as previously observed, the greater light and associated church went back into the wilderness and the necessary name changes took place.

    Section 115 arguably differentiates the “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints” as referring to those disciples who are in a “scattered” condition while identifying those who faithfully gather to one of the designated places of gathering in a consecrated union as the “Church of Zion”

    “And also unto my faithful servants who are of the high council of my church in Zion, for thus it shall be called, and unto all the elders and people of my Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, scattered abroad in all the world”

    I appreciate your research. I confess I have not finished the interview yet but hope to soon



  23. Great podcast. Harrell’s approach very much speaks to me and my experience with Mormonism (beliefs and practice). I loved Harrell’s response to John that the flexibility and the theological framework which can support contradiction IS the beauty of the doctrine. That’s how I interpreted what he said anyway – and this very much is my stance.

    His approach also speaks to my experience with life in general – I’m glad that he generalized the discussion to the arguments that are being made among Christian scholars. Many of the questions and problems that critics and disaffected bring up with LDS church seem to be echoed in other organized religions.

    I don’t think Harrell’s approach is a far jump from what we profess to believe as Mormons. I do think though it is something we struggle to practice in culture. We believe in God speaking to man according to his language. We believe in things that have yet to be revealed. Harrell gives a more explicit framework for these ideas.

    I’ve been indulging my amateur interest in philosophy lately and have loved reading Hegel’s work. I think there is a lot of validation for the institution of the church as a human and fallible organization that is also approach truth (spirit/geist) through a process of necessary letter AND spirit push and pull. The idea that “God” could use social evolutionary processes (like a social theory of functionalism) to work with his people seems very reasonable to me and consistent with ways that we have historically come to turns with evolution.

    Often times disaffected folks seem to be upset with the God’s church being behind the times in social justice issues. this is frustrating for me as well and yet if the church is a worldwide organization we have to consider the “chruch’s place” in social justice issues in regard to the cultural norms and mores of the all the church members in the world. it would be ethnocentric to say that the church is behind when we may be coming from a white, middle class, educated, liberal point of view. When considering the global picture the church is likely ahead in many social justice issues.

    I liked the discussion of BIG G vs. little g God. My Mormon understanding of this idea is that Big G God would cease to be God if he intervened beyond the certain laws of Mercy and Justice that exist independent of him. And that it’s not out of neglect but rather love (with some suffering) that leads him to allow for pain and suffering to come to his children so that they can become like him. 

    lots of disjointed thoughts here. great podcast.

  24. I loved this, got the book after finishing, but unfortunately I could not get the site to read my Visa, so I had to go with Amazon.com (wonder if others had this probem?).  Picked up E.P Sanders while I was at it.  Professor Charles Harrell’s way of being Mormon is initially what turned me onto the church.  I’m glad to contribute to him & his publisher, but I wish I could have seen some of that $ go Mormon Stories way with the pass code.  It is more expensive than Amazon’s price, but a good cause is a good cause.  

  25. Great interview.

    Can someone clarify something for me?  Around 57 minutes they start talking about Original Sin.  I thought that the traditional view of Original Sin was a justification for infant baptism.  That because of the transgression of Adam we are all born/conceived in sin, and therefore, infant baptism is necessary to save children who are born into the same Fallen state of which we are all bound.  Is this mostly a Catholic view of Original Sin rather than an Evangelical one?  Mormonism differs in this view in that we believe we are not responsible for the Fall of Adam, merely thrust into a world of good and evil of which we must choose, and that children are born pure and innocent (not in an automatic fallen state from which they need to be saved) until they are at the age of accountability and can understand the difference between good and evil.  Dr. Harrell made it sound like traditional Original Sin had more to do with inheriting the “guilt” and “carnal nature” of The Fall, rather than a justification for infant baptism.  Is one truer than the other or are both valid definitions for the traditional view of Original Sin?

    1. Based on my limited understanding of the topic of original guilt as it pertains to infant baptism, it is primarily Catholicism that practices infant baptism to redeem infants from the guilt of the Fall. In contrast, many Protestants who practiced infant baptism at the time of JS did so because they believed little children were innocent and therefore meritorious of baptism.[1] Martin Luther contended that since children are innocent, the only way to “suffer the little children to come unto [Christ]” (Mark 10:14) is by baptizing them.[2] Under the Puritan system, children of baptized parents were considered to be “born in the covenant” and therefore rightful heirs to God’s grace. These children were baptized to symbolize the seal of the covenant of grace into which they were born by virtue of their parents’ faith. So regarding your question about the relationship between infant baptism and original sin, most Protestants who practiced infant baptism did not do so in order to remit original sin.
      [1]Alexander Campbell, Christian Baptism with Its Antecedents and Consequents (Bethany, Va.: Alexander Campbell, 1851), 316, tells of a clergyman’s letter “pleading the innocence of children as a reason why they should certainly be baptized.”

      [2]See John Calvin as quoted in Mark L. Shand, “A Presbyterian View of Covenant Children,” Protestant Reformed Theological Journal 38 (November 2004), https://www.prca.org/prtj/nov2004.htm.

      1. Perfect, thank you.  Very interesting facts, I was not aware of much of this and I’m excited to look more into.  I did not expect to get a response directly from you Dr. Harrell, thank you for responding!  I am looking forward to reading your book.  Good luck in your future endeavors!

  26. I can see there are some non-members interested in this podcast that have commented, I just want those who read this to understand my attention is only aimed to members of the LDS Church in general. 
    I came across this great read just the other day after listening to this podcast, I thought it was very interesting to have come in contact with both materials near the same time. https://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?hideNav=1&locale=0&sourceId=3518b00367c45110VgnVCM100000176f620a____&vgnextoid=da135f74db46c010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD I know the previous link is long but the entire page has great information. Here are some other scriptures I came across after studying these things also:Excerpts from Three Addresses by President Wilford Woodruff Regarding the Manifesto
     The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty. (Sixty-first Semiannual General Conference of the Church, Monday, October 6, 1890, Salt Lake City, Utah. Reported in Deseret Evening News,October 11, 1890, p. 2.)
     It matters not who lives or who dies, or who is called to lead this Church, they have got to lead it by the inspiration of Almighty God. If they do not do it that way, they cannot do it at all. …After quoting Joseph Smith—Matthew 1:22, PresidentHarold B. Lee defined the elect as “members of thisChurch” (Stand Ye in Holy Places, 384). Similarly, ElderMarion G. Romney, then a member of the Quorum of theTwelve Apostles, said: “Now, those ‘who are the electaccording to the covenant’ are members of the Church, sowe ourselves are on notice to beware” (in ConferenceReport, Apr. 1956, 70; see also D&C 29:7–9).President Joseph F. Smith warned: “Let it not be forgottenthat the evil one has great power in the earth, and that byevery possible means he seeks to darken the minds ofmen, and then offers them falsehood and deception inthe guise of truth. Satan is a skilful imitator, and asgenuine gospel truth is given the world in ever-increasingabundance, so he spreads the counterfeit coin of falsedoctrine. Beware of his spurious currency, it will purchasefor you nothing but disappointment, misery and spiritualdeath. The ‘father of lies’ he has been called, and such anadept has he become, through the ages of practice in hisnefarious work, that were it possible he would deceive thevery elect.Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to condemn anything or anyone here, but lets remember the 12 Apostles and the First Presidency of the Church are the ONLY people with the authority on EARTH to speak for entire body of the LDS Church. I can assure you that the only reason they will make such statements are because the MASTER HIMSELF requested it.

    I can already see that plenty of the previous logical statements have been attacked, and yes, I listened to the entire thing, and yes, I really stated what I feel is the most important things for members of the LDS faith to remember, even after hearing this interesting interview.

    1. Interesting post. In all honesty though, it sounds like it cut and pasted right out the the correlated teachings of the church. What you seem to have left out, what I would be curious to know, is what leads you to such certainty to make such a statement? A little more detail than just a statement such a “a witness of the spirit” would be nice. It already goes without question that most any dedicated member of the church would proclaim that as part of their story.

  27. Thank you
    Prof. Harrell. Years ago I had a crisis of faith while at BYU. I decided over
    time to continue in the church with the people that I loved. I was able to
    do that because I came to a similar theological/ mental / spiritual place that
    Prof. Harrell seems to profess. But I had to leave the church after many years
    when I started to see the negative impact it had in my children. I cannot teach
    them intolerance or require them to do mental gymnastics to fit in with the
    saints. I stayed for so long because to me the church was about the people…
    helping one another to be better. I came to realize that the doctrine created a community that I could no longer be a pert of, and did not want my children to be a part of. Too bad
    there aren’t more people like Dr. Harrell, and more acceptance for those like
    him in the church. I’m always torn when folks speak out like this. They help so
    many people who quietly suffer in the church, but are often cast out for doing
    so. So sad.

  28. Professor Charles Harrell seems to practice the most palatable flavor of Mormonism. Thanks for the interesting discussion!

  29. Pingback: An Open Letter to Fellow Evangelicals « Beggar's Bread

  30. I bought the book and didn’t really get past the first 100 pages.  I think Harrell gave an outstanding interview and I’m going back to re-read the book.  Definitely John’s kind of guy.

  31. Benjamin Harrison

    This interview is exactly what doesn’t make sense in the church. Our leaders have the absolute flexibility to ask what ever they want of us, inspired or not, and our duty is to fall in line. If anyone points out the contradictions it is their fault for not realizing that prophets are not perfect.

  32. Sorry for the belated comments John, I came upon Mormonstories just last year and I’m still just catching up on all of the episodes. I know I’m late in reply here but wanted to comment. I have been following your work from youtube and “why people leave the LDS church” to your interview at mormonexpression, and of course your podcast here. I sure do appreciate what you do and cannot express enough how valuable it is to many of us who have in our own minds worked out what the church of our childhoods is and is not (the razor of Ockham was indeed sharp in my process) yet would like to remain engaged, promoting and being involved with the good things that an organization of good people are capable of doing…making bad men good, and good men better.

    Thanks for the articulation in the second hour as you said exactly what I would have. Holding Brant Gardner’s esoteric interpretations and reconciliations up to the exasperation we feel as “words start to hold no meaning if horse doesn’t mean horse, if faith doesn’t mean faith, and if skin color doesn’t mean skin color” (which seemed to mean “pigmentation” to every policy effecting the priesthood question). I too found Professor Harrell genuine and appreciate the differing perspectives of presenting paths that many of us who are beyond belief can come back and tread along side our Mormon families, friends and neighbors.

    Many here who are true believeing to the faith need to comprehend that whether it’s cultural, intellectual, historical, or just plain genetical, there are those of us who cannot find much to grasp onto as far as belief goes. We talked about doctrinal development today, but don’t forget there are other doors to faith challenges that would take months of podcasts to get aquainted with, and that’s just internal teachings church related. There are external doors of the natural world that open wide to our truth claims and do devestating harm.. I would like to think that even though we may not believe, we still would like to belong, participate, mourn and comfort, and I think that is one of John’s main purposes in his work, keeping us square pegs near to the church body.

    Thanks John, and thankyou Dr. Harrell for another great podcast. I listen as I run mile after mile and there are times when I just have to stop, collect my thoughts, look towards the rising sun and contemplate how lucky I am to be experiencing the beauty that life has to offer, and these podcasts contribute to that inner peace.

  33. Thanks for the podcast, John. I too have been a listener for the past year or so and am trying to catch up.

    The podcast discussion echoed many of the thoughts that I have been having of late. Though it has been a difficult process, I have certainly appreciated the new perspectives toward my belief system. I would rather face the hard evidences, and make my own decisions in choosing what to believe, than live in a state of ignorant bliss. Listening to the expressions and observing the effects of the correlated curriculum, each Sunday, is becoming increasingly difficult and frustrating. I come from a very dogmatic history (personal and family), and I don’t know if I will be able to find the middle ground position that Dr. Harrell seems so comfortable in; though, I am trying to take things slowly, and we will see what the future brings for me.

    From my limited perspective, one of the big questions looming in my head is the validity of “exclusive authority” claim. The fairly recent church statements regarding the past “practice” of denying the priesthood to black members of the church left a sour taste in my mouth. While it was refreshing to hear the church label it as opinion and folklore, it failed to address that it was proclaimed as “doctrine” by a past First Presidency of the church. Certainly, as Dr. Harrell noted, “doctrine” is not what many would profess it to be. It would be nice if the church could release a current glossary of terms as, one way or another, I think it would help to alleviate a lot of current confusion. In all sincerity, as a someone looking for answers, the church’s current definition of “Prophet, Seer, and Revelator” would be the first definition I would look up.

    This may not be possible in its entirety, but what do you think about running a podcast exploring: (1) How do those holding the title of Prophet, Seer, and Revelator (and special/especial witnesses of Christ) view its meaning? (2) If they hold the literalistic view of of the term(s), what experiences have they had that enable them to make such a claim? In the stories of Moses, Paul, Alma the Younger, Joseph Smith etc., they seem to not have any issues sharing their miraculous experiences as evidences in support of their zelousness and/or authority. Why does there seem to be such a secrecy about such experiences today? If these miraculous experiences are happening to Apostles today, are they so much more sacred than those of the past that they cannot be shared?

  34. OMG. How many people are going to come on here and state with a straight face that the leaders don’t want members to put them on a pedestal or assume they are infallible when the leadership is stating over the pulpit in general conference that they ARE INDEED INFALLIBLE. So irritating.

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