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POST: Daniel Peterson and his 4 points on people leaving

Daniel Peterson on his recent blog post made 4 points for which he argues the following


#1 “I don’t believe that the Church should ever welcome it (a non historical view of the Book of Mormon) as a viewpoint on a par with belief in Lehite historicity.”


The trouble we get into when we make assumptions is obvious.  We are often wrong.  Dan here seems to make the argument that the Church and hence God does not want to allow a non-historical view of the Book of Mormon to be valid.  Put yourself in God’s shoes for just a second.  You love your children and have given them the gospel to bring them home.  What about your children’s beliefs are important to you?  What is it that is crucial for them to hold a stance on that you see as needed for their salvation.  In no world, Bizarro or otherwise, can I hold ground on a God who feels it is crucial to the salvation of his children that they ascend to a belief in historicity of something other than the atonement and resurrection in order to participate full in my gospel and my church.  Good grief, that seems utterly ridiculous to me.   I should be clear here.  If God, as I “assume” him to be places no salvific value for his children in mortality, in beliefs regarding historicity and instead values the development of his children spiritually and the good they do to serve each other, then there is little room in my mind for our church stepping into this space.  Picture a person who is good and who loves to serve humanity and who makes it their life’s errand to make the world better.  Now picture that person dying and meeting God and God telling them that they need to hold Moses to be literal, or they need to believe in a literal global flood, or literal Nephites in order to move into heaven (Celestial Heaven even).  Do you sense the silliness in having a belief determine salvation rather then one’s heart or desires or even behavior.  Whether one can or can not ascend to a belief where evidence is all over the place is a ridiculous way in my “opinion” to determine anyone’s salvation.  And if truly ridiculous then God’s Church must also abdicate such a stance in order to be “all-in” in the Lord’s Church.

Edited to add:  I should be clear we are talking historical beliefs.  I realize the one exception that butts heads with my perspective here is the Atonement & Resurrection.  One could argue against my view that our Church and God himself requires us to believe in the atonement and resurrection of Christ and to accept on faith those two historical events.  I could spend time arguing that the atonement s incomprehensible and that the resurrection is as well and that to proclaim faith in those two could very well be interpreted in a whole host of ways (ex: historical Jesus vs Christ of faith, literal vs mystical) but will concede here that these two items may very well be the exception to my argument.


#2 “I do not believe, however, that the Church can relax or change its standards regarding sexual behavior without direct and powerful divine revelation.  And, frankly, I don’t expect such revelation — if what is expected is, say, authorization for sexual relations outside of heterosexual marriage.”


The Mormon perspective of God’s plan in this regard hinges on the Old Testament being a literal account of God’s dealings with his children.  The realty is once you allow the Old Testament to be man’s effort to interpret God and that many if not most or all of the stories are mythological tales developed over centuries of oral tradition created to help a people feel chosen and to have a sense of identity and importance in the world, then having any rule or law based in such myth become a very fragile foundation.  We acknowledge this in many places.  Many of the Old Testament laws have been done away and now are seen as no longer valid.   Scholars have for a long time understood scripture, especially ancient scripture, in its context and as lay people come to understand the scholarship and social constructs of their day we slowly must come to grips with how much we attribute to God and perhaps just how little he actually had a hand in.  In the end I simply don’t see the social (including sexual) constructs of the Old Testament to be a wise approach to gauging what is healthy and what is not and what God is okay with.  Once you remove the Old Testament as a gauge you also have removed the authority on this issue from Paul’s words.  Once you remove the authority of Paul’s words on this subject and allow his teachings to be just as fallible as the church leaders  whose teachings we now disavow, then it is only a matter of being willing to ask “could we be wrong” before room to change is laid out on the table.  Why are we willing to say Brigham young was racist and it influenced his teachings?  Why are we willing to say that George Albert Smith held racist views as Doctrine?  And yet Paul or Moses get a free pass?  In the end we have not yet been told who inhabits the lower two glories in the Celestial Kingdom and while we preach of a resurrected man and woman sealed in a heterosexual marriage receiving the exalting powers of God and creating worlds, our only doctrinal example of those powers being used was by two pre-mortal men (Michael and Jehovah) having created this earth.   I am open, as I wish we all were, to the possibility that at any given moment we might be wrong especially when we consider how many people are hurt by an insistence that we are right.


#3  “I don’t believe that we can back away from our exclusive claims without effectively transmuting Mormonism into another faith and casting aside the claims of the Restoration.”

This statement seems so Black and White.  Why is it all or nothing?  For example we could find the following middle ground.  It actually exists in our theology and teachings.  We could do more to acknowledge that God is truly working amongst all his children.  That God calls and authorizes people both inside and outside of the LDS Church to carry out his work.  That the while the LDS Church is perhaps just one instrument in the orchestra its responsibility is to oversee the saving ordinances and to hold the keys for them.  And while it has that exclusive role and it is unique to Mormonism that there are other unique gifts and roles played by those outside the Church that still carries the authority of God in them doing so.  This allows more exclusivity and more of a big tent while still maintaining uniqueness and holding truth claims.

#4 “I cannot, frankly, regard Gina Colvin as a reliable guide to the Church’s optimal future.”


I would simply say over the Church’s history it has shifted towards the progressive voice.  Take any time frame in the Church and what the progressive vs conservative debates have been.  and then fast forward 50 years and ask yourself who was more prophetic….. the progressive voice or the conservative voice?   Polygamy, race, feminist issues, stay at home mom as the taught standard, birth control, what a couple does behind their bedroom doors,  temple garments or ordinances can’t change, transparency, and a thousand other issues.  Which way does the Church shift generally?  It may be slow and it may be resistant to the point that it lags decades behind but don’t kid yourself.  The church heads generally in the direction of the progressive voice.  So as someone who respects Gina’s work….. I would simply ask us as a people to make a list of what she has called for us to consider and then tune back in in 50 years and my guess is she is a whole lot more prophetic then folks like Daniel Peterson wish to give credit.



10 thoughts on “POST: Daniel Peterson and his 4 points on people leaving”

  1. So far the stronghold of Status-Quo is the only camp getting open support from the people who control the Church. It’s going to be a long time before alternative interpretationss get any mic time in General Conference.

  2. Dan Peterson is like nails on chalkboard for me. I simply can’t follow his rationale. I have read several of his articles. He often writes in sarcastic tones and demeans others who don’t share his opinions. I don’t care for his heartless approach and style. Thanks for commenting about his blog Bill.

  3. Spot on Bill! Spot on!

    There’s a reason the Maxwell Institute fired Dan and most of his staff. We know there is no way at least some of the top 15 weren’t directly involved in that decision. Anyone with half a brain could see past all the ad hominem attacks and shoddy apologetics that Dan and his crew dispensed for decades.

    I wish Dan the best but I am so glad the church is finally moving away from apologists like Dan Peterson and almost everyone at FAIR. People want honesty and rational arguments and that is why these types of apologists are a dying breed.

  4. Great post Bill.

    I think it would be hard for one to calculate the damage Dan has done to the church over the last couple of decades by publishing personal attacks, hit pieces and ad hominem articles.

    I’m glad he has been marginalized by the church and byu. Hopefully, he will just be an obscure footnote when this strange chapter on Bill “Butthead” Hamblin and Dan.

  5. Mario S. De Pillis emeritus professor of American Religious history at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has made the following statement about Dr. Petersen:

    “As a non-Mormon I find that Daniel C. Petersen is almost always instructive. (I can usually skim the apologetic or faith-promoting passages). Gifted with an irenic temperament, enriched by a well-stocked mind and fortified by a sophisticated mastery of key languages and cultures, he is almost always well worth reading.
    His extremely wide ranging current essay is one of the most historically sophisticated to come out of Zion on the place of Mormonism in Christian history. Professor Petersen is one orthodox Mormon intellectual that I still listen to. And I go way back 60 years to friendships with the young Leonard J. Arrington and Fawn McKay Brodie.
    Though Professor Petersen’s conservative view of his church is not shared by all Latter-day Saints, I think that it is a necessary point of view in the present Mormon dialogue.
    Moreover, despite Professor Petersen’s conservative conception of his own faith, his generosity toward non-Mormons has the effect of mollifying outsiders’ disdain for the claims of Joseph Smith. An invaluable Mormon voice”

    1. Robert60,

      Unfortunately, the Maxwell Institute, and at least some of the apostles who had to approve such a drastic measure to clean house, obviously don’t share Mario’s sentiments.

      1. “his (Dr. Petersen’s) generosity toward non-Mormons has the effect of mollifying outsiders’ disdain for the claims of Joseph Smith. An invaluable Mormon voice”

        This substantiated comment is from one who is prominent in Mormon Studies. Your comment is simply a guess that some apostles do not agree with Mario’s statement. You do not know. We should be careful when attacking ones character.


        1. I never attacked his character. Read my words. I said, “I wish him all the best.” I was stating that the brethren have changed course from the type of apologetics and tactics of Dan Peterson. If the brethren favored Dan’s apologetics, they would not have cleaned house so I am stating the obvious by saying that the brethren were not on board with some of the tactics and scholarship of Dan and those that worked with him. You are highly sensitive if you consider that an attack on Dan’s character.

          If you seriously think that the brethren were unaware that the Maxwell Institute was going to get rid of the most well known LDS apologist, I pity how naive you are to the workings of the church. There is absolutely no way that such a major decision was not initiated by or at least approved by the top 15.

  6. Ryan:

    I’ve just come across this discussion.

    “There is absolutely no way,” you write, “that such a major decision was not initiated by or at least approved by the top 15.”

    And yet I’ve been explicitly told, at their own initiative, by more than one person ideally positioned to know whether the decision was initiated or approved by “the top 15,” that, as a matter of fact, it wasn’t.

    As far as my horrific record of personal attacks, hit pieces, ad hominem articles, shoddiness, dishonesty, demeaning sarcasm, and irrationality goes — I THINK I’ve culled all of the relevant descriptors from the comments above — I’m content that, in the long run, the actual facts will speak for themselves.

  7. Evangelical Protestant

    As a Protestant and a reader of Peterson, yet unpersuaded, it appears that Peterson has adopted a Mormon Christological interpenetration similar to Rudulf Bultmann’s demytholization hypothesis for the historicity of the New Testament. Bultmann, like Peterson, felt that the historical matters that surrounded Jesus’ life were saturated in historical myth. The importance of the New Testament message, Bultman writes, is the “kerygma,” the preaching, i.e. the “life” and “crucifixion” of Jesus is what really matters.
    When I hear Peterson exclude Book of Mormon history, yet the atonement and resurrection are what matters in faith, then he, like Bultmann, arbitrarily selected what matters to his “faith,” i.e., atonement and resurrection. It is no different from the “faith” that Bultmann expressed in his Keygma.
    We ask in Protestant theology classes upon what grounding does Bulmannianism select one New Testament idea over another (Christ’s life, message, crucifixion) while he rejects others (virgin-born, miracles, casting out demons)? To that question we get blank stares and the Bultmannian Christology dissolves.
    I would like to ask Peterson the same thing. Upon what grounding do you select “atonement” and “resurrection” as opposed to other theological tenants for a wider Christology? If the Petersonian Jesus is inadequately surrounded by faulty historical matter that effects the non-atonement and non-resurrection tenants to the point that they need not be embraced for true “faith,” then Petersonism, like Bulmannism, collapses due to arbitrary choice. I remain an Evangelical Protestant for good reason.

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