372: Jesus’ Abba: The God Who Has Not Failed

John B. Cobb is one of the world’s most renowned theologians and philosophers, noted especially for his Christological pluralism and work across many disciplines, and lately in major ways in ecological sustainability circles. His writing and thinking are marvelously clear and powerful, continuing even today at age 92. We are thrilled that just last week he agreed to sit down with Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon and great friend of the show and frequent panelist James McLachlan for a brief discussion of his life and the development of his thought, and then a much more extensive focus on his latest book, Jesus’ Abba: The God Who Has Not Failed.

Jesus consistently referred to God the Father by the Aramaic term, “Abba,” which is very intimate, indicating an unconditionally loving stance from the father to the child. Shortly after Jesus’ death, Christianity began to employ monarchial titles to God—Lord, King, King of Kings, etc.—emphasizing God’s sovereignty and power. This shift, coupled with all the wrong turns brought on by modernity (individualism, industrialization, professionalization, rationalization, pervasive technologies), have all but eliminated the use and feel of “Abba” in today’s world. For Cobb, Jesus’s “Abba” understanding led him to begin to look at others in the world through God’s eyes. Abba is a God who loves ALL of us, not just those on “our” side. As such, we must meet the world with radical love; we must love even our enemies. God loves even sinners. Living out of this consciousness, Jesus rejected the compromises involved in accommodation of Roman rule in Palestine, but he likewise rejected the path of revolt, rightly predicting what eventually happened in Jerusalem when that strategy was tried. Instead, Jesus lived out a “third” option. And he lived it right on through to the cross. It was so powerful, many people were moved then, and throughout history (think of someone like St. Francis of Assisi), and even more recently (Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., along with many, many Christians who have an Abba understanding of God). They live powerfully even as they live counter-culturally. In them, and should society shift its values away from money, power, and all the other distractions and selfishness of this world, Abba God has not failed.

Tune in to hear from this most powerful thinker who has been and is changing the world person by person, book by book, and whose work and influence is growing in places as far away as China and is inspiring great movements in ecological activism. It’s a wonderful treat to have him engaging us in Mormonism.

Note: This was recorded on a single digital recorder rather than in the normal way Mormon Matters connects with guests, and is therefore a bit more uneven in volume, and also contains some small distortions we couldn’t eliminate as we’d move the recorder to face whoever was speaking. Still, we believe it is very listenable.

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Links:

John B. Cobb, Jr., Jesus’ Abba: The God Who Has Not Failed (Fortress Press, 2016)

John B. Cobb, Jr.,  A Christian Natural Theology, Second Edition: Based on the Thought of Alfred North Whitehead (Westminster John Knox Press, 2007)

Herman E. Daly, John B. Cobb, Jr., For the Common Good: Redirecting the Economy Toward Community, the Environment, and a Sustainable Future (Beacon Press, 1994)

John B. Cobb, Jr., David Ray Griffin, Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition (Westminster Press, 1976)

371: New Perspectives on Joseph Smith and Translation

As Richard Bushman mentions in this podcast episode, one of the very first things Joseph Smith did in announcing himself to the world was to take on the title of “translator.” What an audacious thing, especially as Mormonism associates translation with the gift of seership, even proclaiming that “a seer is greater than a prophet” (Mosiah 8:15). Since declaring himself a translator, and yet it being apparent that he knew no ancient languages, exactly what Smith meant by “translation” has been an ongoing debate both within and without the faith. Though never a particularly settled question, it has in recent years become a topic of renewed fascination within Mormon scholarly circles, and with the release in the past 18 months of images and more information of the seerstone Smith used in translating the Book of Mormon, it has caught on as a fresh area of inquiry among non-specialists as well. In addition new angles of inquiry are emerging that examine the notion of translation far beyond the confines of Book of Mormon production.

Recognizing this renewed interest and the fascination of the approaches being taken, the Utah State University religious studies program, in partnership with the Faith Matters Foundation, are convening a conference (“New Perspectives on Joseph Smith and Translation”) on 16 March 2017 at Utah State exploring these emerging perspectives with great energy. This episode of Mormon Matters hosts three of the conference’s participants, Richard Bushman, Samuel Brown, and Philip Barlow, to tease some of the new perspectives that are finding some footing and why discussions like this are important and fascinating both to scholars and lay church members. The episode, of course, mentions the conference a lot, but even for someone not able to consider trying to attend, there are wonderful insights aplenty as Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon turns these three great thinkers loose to talk about things for which they have great passion.

We think you’ll love listening in, and after you do, we hope you’ll add your thoughts in the comments section!

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Links to things discussed in this episode:

Faith Matters Foundation website (opens on page with conference information, including schedule and parking. Also sign up to receive emails from the foundation, including when video of the conference is ready for viewing)

Joseph Smith’s Use of a Seer Stone in Bringing Forth the Book of Mormon,” Mormon Matters podcast, Episodes 287-288, 10 August 2015 (featuring Ann Taves, D. Michael Quinn, and Ronald Barney)

Ann Taves, Revelatory Events: Three Case Studies of the Emergence of New Spiritual Paths (Princeton, 2016), paperback; Link to purchase Kindle edition of same book)

Selected Books and Writings by authors on this episode:

Samuel M. Brown, First Principles and Ordinances: The Fourth Article of Faith in Light of the Temple (Maxwell Institute, 2014)

Samuel M. Brown, In Heaven As It Is on Earth: Joseph Smith and the Early Mormon Conquest of Death (Oxford, 2012)

Philip A. Barlow, Mormons and the Bible: The Place of Latter-day Saints in American Religion (Oxford, 2013)

Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, reprint edition (Vintage, 2007)

Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (University of Illinois Press, 1987)

Richard L. Bushman, “Faithful History,” Dialogue 4, no. 4 (Winter, 1969)

369–370: Helping Children Plant Lasting Seeds of Faith

Every person is different, and this is completely true with children, as well. Often we as parents will assume our children are picking up ideas, teachings, and various behavioral cues from us, our families, and our church in the way we hope they are, but this certainly isn’t always true. And certain children will be very sensitive to the times when there is a mismatch between their own experience and what they believe is going on all around them. For instance—and this is an example from one of the stories shared in this podcast—a child might feel he or she is not receiving answers to his or her prayers the way everyone else does, causing this child to wonder what’s wrong with them, if they are still worthy of love, and so forth. So how do we parent and grandparent and aunt and uncle and mentor in ways that teach values and solid ethics and faith, and at the same time communicate that these are not one-size-fits-all things? And that this is not only okay, but it is wonderful! How do we empower them with a sense of trust in themselves, and help them find their own best way to access God/Spirit?

In this two-part episode, Caleb Jones, Jennifer Finlayson-Fife, and Jordan Harmon join Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon to talk about child raising within a context of faith and values. In this case, one of the contexts for this parenting is Mormonism, which is wonderful in so many ways, but how might we assist them in still finding their own unique faith connections within this sometimes overwhelming church and culture? Guided by Caleb’s story with his oldest son, and ending with a thorough discussion of his and his wife Irene’s ten one-liners that often guide their parenting and work their way into conversations with their children, the panelists and host draw from their backgrounds (two are therapists, all are parents with children at various ages) to share insights, personal stories, and ideas for conscious parenting that seeks as a primary goal to always assist children in feeling completely loved, heard, and cared for by them as well as God.

Please listen and then share your ideas and tips in the comments section below!

367–368: Faith within a Mormonism that Points Beyond Itself

We all sort of “know” but still very often forget that God and religious and spiritual truths are couched in symbols, language, propositions, metaphors, stories, and ritual actions, meaning that, by definition, a religion’s primary languages themselves are not meant to be taken literally. Words and stories and teachings are not the things in themselves but rather pointers toward them, guides for us to experience these beings and powers more directly and “learn” them for ourselves. In a provocative post a couple of weeks ago on the Rational Faiths blog, “Mormonism as ‘Metaphor and Sacrament’,” Benjamin Knoll introduced writings from scripture, a mystic, a Christian theologian that all made this point about the need to remember to not mistake the pointers for the real thing, to center in relationship with God/Spirit rather than the forms of language and praxis that are central in religious lives. From part of a quotation by Marcus Borg cited in the post: “The Christian life is about a relationship with the one whom the Bible both points to and mediates—namely, a relationship with God as disclosed through the Bible as metaphor and sacrament. To be Christian is to live within this tradition and let it do its transforming work among us.” For Borg, a sacrament is “something visible and physical whereby the Spirit becomes present to us. A sacrament is a means of grace, a vehicle or vessel for the Spirit.”

In this episode, Benjamin Knoll, Brian Hauglid, and Susan Meredith Hinckley join Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon to talk about this paradigm–and especially possibilities of it finding more of a home within Mormonism, for this might be quite helpful to many Latter-day Saints struggling for breathing room within a church culture that emphasizes literalness of most scriptural stories and various truth claims. The panel also evaluates the weaknesses of this model and drawbacks that many would see should too many church members come to hold this view. How might a “metaphorical and sacramental” view change one’s interactions with the institutional church, with LDS scriptures, with our wards and branches, with various behavioral expectations in contemporary Mormonism?

It’s a lively discussion that we hope you will join in through the comments section below!

Links to items referenced in these episodes:

Benjamin Knoll, “Mormonism as ‘Metaphor and Sacrament’,” Rational Faiths blog, 2 February 2017

 “Theory of Religious Economy,” Wikipedia (relates to issues of stricter, more high-cost of membership, churches tending to grow and thrive better than others)

Marcus Borg, The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith (HarperCollins, 2004)

Marcus Borg, Convictions: A Manifesto for Progressive Christians (HarperOne, 2014)

Frances Lee Menlove, The Challenge of Honesty: Essays for Latter-day Saints by Frances Lee Menlove (Signature Books, 2013)

 Grant Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide (Oxford University Press, 2010

123–124: “Emergence Christianity and Mormonism,” Mormon Matters Podcast, 29 August 2012

Reza Aslan, “Why I am a Muslim,” Believer, CNN.com, 26 February 2017 (speaks to similar themes as this podcast episode)

Reza Aslan, “Three Questions to Ask Yourself about Faith,” SuperSoul Sunday, Oprah Winfrey Network

366: Sin

Because it’s so central to Christianity, and because of the concerns so many have about “salvation,” the concept of “sin” deserves fresh consideration. What does scripture say about it? Does that match up with how it is often thought and spoken about within Mormonism? How have our views of it been affected by readings of scripture and thoughts about the Atonement that focus on laws and punishments for breaking them, which, in many ways leaves the view of a loving God practically out of the picture except for providing Jesus Christ to overcome the demands of justice? Does this emphasis on law distort the real harm and effects on us that come from sin? Are there better ways to think about all of it? A few passages of scripture come to the fore as being especially in need of different readings, such as ones that speak of “no unclean thing” being able to “enter the kingdom of heaven,” of God not being able to “look upon sin with the least degree of allowance,” that “the wages of sin is death,” and admonitions to “sin no more” yet “unto the soul who sinneth shall the former sins return.”

In this episode, Adam Miller and Julie de Azevedo-Hanks join Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon for a fresh look at sin and the ways our thinking about it can and often does become distorted. What are the panelists thoughts about the true nature of sin?

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Links:

Julie de Azevedo Hanks, The Assertiveness Guide for Women: How to Communicate Your Needs, Set Healthy Boundaries, and Transform Your Relationships (Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, 2016)

Julie de Azevedo Hanks, The Burnout Cure: An Emotional Survival Guide for Overwhelmed Women (American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2013)

Adam S. Miller, Future Mormon: Essays in Mormon Theology (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2016)

Adam S. Miller, Grace Is Not God’s Backup Plan: An Urgent Paraphrase of Paul’s Letter to the Romans (2015)

Adam S. Miller, Rube Goldberg Machines: Essays in Mormon Theology (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2012)

C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (HarperCollins, 2015), paperback

Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Four Titles,” April 2013 General Conference address

365: More on the Mormon God (with help from Process Theology)

In somewhat of a continuation of our previous episodes (363 & 364), Jim McLachlan and Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon are joined by David Ray Griffin, a world-renowned philosopher and theologian specializing in process theology. Griffin has recently published a new book, God Exists But Gawd Does Not: From Evil to Atheism to Fine-Tuning, in which lays out the powerful the arguments against the existence of the omni-everything God of classical theism (what Griffin terms “Gawd”–pronounced as you would “awed”) yet challenges this as the only “God” possible to believe in and worthy of that title. Hence, in the second part of the book he presents and evaluates arguments for the existence of another type of God (that he labels in the book “God”) that is the God of process theology, and very much like the Mormon God in terms of its rejection of creation ex nihilo, and its affirmations of a God who is powerful yet not omnipotent, who exists within a context of other pre-existing entities with whom God seeks to persuade to embody the greatest amount of life and experience possible for them. It’s certainly a book well-grounded in the arguments of many, many other thinkers, with some technical philosophy/theology here and there, but ultimately it is a very accessible and readable overview of arguments for and against the existence of God, which is one of the key issues of the philosophy or religion, but also of many faith journeys, including Mormon ones. For those who find themselves in turmoil as older conceptions of God are falling away for them, this is a must-listen episode. There is a lot of terrific common sense here, as well as hints about lovely possible ways to re-engage with Deity as well as persons and the world around us.

Links:

David Ray Griffin, God Exists But Gawd Does Not: From Evil to New Atheism to Fine-Tuning (Process Century Press, 2016) paperback; Kindle version is here
Element: A Journal of Mormon Philosophy and Theology, link to online journal. Issue 6:1 (2015) is a special one devoted to Mormonism and Process Theology (including pieces by James McLachlan and Dan Wotherspoon)
Donald W Musser and David L Paulsen, eds., Mormonism in Dialogue with Contemporary Christian Theologies (Mercer University Press, 2007). Contains a section on Mormonism and Process Theology with David Ray Griffin and James McLachlan.
David Ray Griffin, God, Power, & Evil: A Process Theodicy (Westminster Press, 1976), reprint
David Ray Griffin, Evil Revisited: Responses and Reconsiderations (SUNY Press, 1991)
David Ray Griffin, Reenchantment without Supernaturalism: A Process Philosophy of Religion (Cornell University Press, 2001)
John B. Cobb, Jr., Jesus’ Abba: The God Who Has Not Failed (Fortress Press, 2016)
Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki, God, Christ, Church: A Practical Guide to Process Theology (Crossroad Publishing Company, 1992)
Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki, The End of Evil: Process Eschatology in Historical Context (SUNY Press, 1998)
Richard Kearney, Anatheism: Returning to God after God (Columbia University Press, 2011)
Charles Hartshorne and William L. Reese, eds., Philosophers Speak of God (Humanity Books, 2000)
Daniel Wotherspoon, Awakening Joseph Smith: Resources in Mormonism for a Postmodern Worldview (doctoral dissertation written under David Ray Griffin, Claremont Graduate University, 1996)