One day, while teaching in the city of Capernaum, Jesus challenged the trust of his followers. He taught them that the Father had sent spiritual bread—manna—from heaven to nourish the children of Israel. Those listening assumed that He was talking about divine teachings that would nourish their hearts and minds. They said, “Lord, evermore give us this bread” (John 6:34).
To this question, Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. … I am the bread which came down from heaven” (John 6:35, 41). In other words, Christ was not there to give them nourishing words from God—He was the bread that would nourish them. Despite their Hebrew heritage, many of those who listened did not like this response. We read,
From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him. Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?
Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God. (John 6:66-69)
Peter’s response is important: “Lord, to whom shall we go?” They were sure that Jesus was the Son of God. Even if they did not fully understand what He taught—only later would John describe Jesus as the Word, rather than merely having words—they knew no one else who claimed the same divine commission. The question at hand was not, “What should we believe?”, but rather, “Who has divine authority?”
Many of the beliefs and practices of the LDS faith simply do not make sense in the modern world. To use a metaphor, encountering Hebrew thought today might be as bewildering as encountering the lion Aslan on the bridge of the starship Enterprise. The universe of C. S. Lewis’s Narnia is fundamentally different from the universe of Star Trek—the moral assumptions that saturate the Chronicles of Narnia would appear foreign to characters such as Spock, Captain Kirk, or Doctor McCoy.
Similarly, Hebrew thought may appear irrational from the perspective of Greek philosophy, and the person view of truth may look bizarre to those acculturated into an idea view of truth. This is why many of the questions we ask—however simple and honest they may seem—simply do not have immediate answers. It is because our questions implicitly assume a Greek world, and we are dealing with a Hebrew faith. The idea view of truth (and its Greek assumptions) has made Hebrew tradition and belief look like nonsense.
However, these same beliefs and practices make perfect sense if we see the world with Hebrew eyes, and adopt a person view of truth. When we know the differences between Greek and Hebrew thought, we can develop a richer understanding of our beliefs. Matthew Arnold, a British poet, once incisively wrote, “Hebraism and Hellenism [another term for Greek philosophy]—between these two points of influence moves our world.”  When we tease out the influences of each, we can better frame questions about our faith.
We will use polygamy as our case example. When we adopt a Greek view, we might ask the question, “How can we reconcile Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy with the Book of Mormon’s condemnation of polygamy?” This question assumes that there is a broad principle—a universal moral code—that makes rational sense of God’s varying instructions. But from a Hebrew perspective, we might ask instead, “What does God requires of us in the here and now? Are the apostles and prophets who lead us today commissioned by Him?”
When we adopt an idea view of truth, we might ask God, “Is the doctrine of polygamy a true (or false) doctrine?” Our concern is whether or not certain ideas are “truth.” When we ask these sorts of questions, we may or may not receive the answers we seek. But when we adopt a person view of truth, we might ask God, “How can I be a better spouse? How can I invite your hand into my marriage? What can I do to serve you in my family responsibilities?” Our concern here our relationship with God and others—how we can fulfill our covenants duties to God and our family.
Consider the sorts of questions that God answered in the scriptures. When Nephi was instructed to build a ship, he asked, “Lord, whither shall I go that I may find ore to molten, that I may make tools to construct the ship after the manner which thou hast shown unto me?” (1 Nephi 17:9). Nephi’s question was one of action, not doctrine—how he could serve God and fulfill His commandments. When Aaron taught the Lamanite King about the Plan of Salvation, the king asked:
What shall I do that I may have this eternal life of which thou hast spoken? Yea, what shall I do that I may be born of God, having this wicked spirit rooted out of my breast, and receive his Spirit, that I may be filled with joy, that I may not be cast off at the last day? (Alma 22:15)
Shortly after, the king prayed and asked God, “O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee” (Alma 22:18). These sorts of questions presume a person truth—and these are the sorts of questions that find answers.
When this happens, our testimony becomes a testimony of Christ and His redeeming grace in our hearts and minds, not a testimony of abstract doctrines. The Church and its institutions become less a system of abstract belief, but tools that help us make covenants and live out our moral duties. We begin to see God’s influence in our communities as we fulfill our callings and responsibilities. And we become sure—with a surety grounded in personal experience—that the Church was established by God and is lead by Him, even if it is administered by mortal people. And we become sure of God’s hand in our own life, and He unfolds His purposes to us.
Before we close this book, we want to caution our readers. We do not claim that the Hebrews had everything right. After all, the Old and New Testaments are full of stories about Hebrews getting things wrong. Recall Nephi’s warning against adopting all the ways of the Jews of his time: “for their works were works of darkness, and their doings were doings of abominations” (2 Nephi 25:2). It would be a mistake to assume that everything about the Greek worldview is corrupt while everything about the Hebrew worldview is pure.
In addition, we treat the ideas in this book as a useful heuristic, that is, a broad-brush-stroke mental “rule of thumb” or “guideline.” If we take the ideas in this book too rigidly, we are bound to end up in trouble. This book is itself a conceptual framework, a set of ideas. It should be treated like every other ideological perspective: useful whenever it strengthens our covenant relationship with God, dangerous when it alienates us from God. For example, nothing in this book should be used to rationalize moral relativism. There are reliable patterns in human experience, and most of God’s commandments will not change willy-nilly from decade to decade. Our hope is simply to avoid both the extremes of moral relativism and dogmatic absolutism.
And, most importantly, we will be less likely to mistake abstract philosophical systems for the divine, embodied Truth we worship. We do not reject philosophy or abstract ideas altogether. This book is, after all, written in the Greek tradition. If we were writing in the Hebrew tradition, we might have simply told stories instead—stories about people’s experiences with God. We agree with Slife and Reber, who wrote:
We do not advocate the rejection of [abstract ideas] altogether. We need theories to help organize and make sense of things and events. However, we do not have to make our theories into truths. … The problem is that such principles can ultimately hamper our recognition of the truth that is there (concretely) in the … room with us—the Holy Spirit.
This applies for the abstract ideas discussed in this book. Do not adopt these ideas in inflexible ways that might lead you to ignore correction from the Truth Himself or from His chosen servants. We have failed if our readers adopt our approach as a dogmatic theology of its own. We will be deeply troubled if readers use our ideas disparage or criticize prophets and apostles who teach and warn the Church. Not every leader of the Church will agree with our perspective. This in no way diminishes their stewardship as the Lord’s appointed servants. If we take our approach seriously, the words of the living Christ, as delivered by his chosen servants in the here-and-now, take precedence over the reasoning of men, no matter how nuanced such reasoning might be.
Our final caveat is, perhaps, the most important. We believe that our view can help us navigate the intellectual and spiritual labyrinths of our day. That said, we do not have to know anything about philosophy to live a life of faithful, dedicated discipleship. To borrow a phrase from James Faulconer, “the proverbial farmer in Santaquin” can live a devoted life without ever learning about philosophy or the history of ideas. We genuinely hope this book is illuminating for our readers, but we certainly do not believe that understanding any of it is essential to keeping our covenants with God (even if, at times, it may be useful).
If you are unconvinced by our perspective, but you keep your covenants with God and faithfully serve in the Church, that is great! If we take our own perspective seriously, then we shouldn’t be too worried if others don’t see things quite like we do, as long as they live out their covenants with God. If the viewpoint in this book strengthens your commitment to God and your willingness to serve in His kingdom, then that is also great. Our main goal is to help readers focus on their relationship with Christ and value their participation in the Church.
Our goal has been to explore some of the implications of our Israelite heritage. As we stated in the introduction, we echo the words of Nephi, who wrote, “For the fullness of mine intent is that I may persuade men to come unto the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and be saved” (1 Nephi 6:4). We want our readers to come to know God through prayer, by studying His words, by living His commandments, by participating in the rituals and ceremonies of His holy temple, and by heeding the words of His modern-day prophets and apostles. These things will help us to come to know God, rather than merely know about Him. Our goal is to witness the hand of God in our lives, so that we can testify of our own experiences with the Almighty.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Matthew Arnold, Culture and Anarchy (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 126.|
|2.||↑||Slife and Reber, “Comparing the Practical Implications,” 167.|
|3.||↑||James E. Faulconer, “Why a Mormon Won’t Drink Coffee but Might Have a Coke: The Atheological Character of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Element 2, no. 2 (2006), 29.|