In speaking at the April 2015 General Conference about the Atonement and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland boldly stated that “the simple truth is that we cannot fully comprehend the Atonement and Resurrection of Christ and we will not adequately appreciate the unique purpose of His birth or His death–in other words, there is no way to truly celebrate Christmas or Easter–without understanding that there was an actual Adam and Eve who fell from an actual Eden, with all the consequences that fall carried with it” (“Where Justice, Love, and Mercy Meet”; lds.org; italics in original). In making such a strong claim about the importance of a literal understanding of the Garden story, he caught many Latter-day Saints off guard. Does genuine, transformative faith in and appreciation for the Atonement, Resurrection, and the many other gifts that we can experience through the gospel of Jesus Christ require literal understandings of the Fall exactly as described in scripture? Can one still attain and sustain transcendent faith if one understands these as powerful, even if not literal, stories?
In this episode, Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon along with three good friends–David Bokovoy, Stephen Carter, and Bill Turnbull–discuss their reactions to the direction taken in Elder Holland’s remarks, as well as their own journeys with the issue of whether or not scriptural accounts should be seen primarily through literal vs. figurative lenses? How would one know which is appropriate, and in which instances? What is gained and what is lost when we view scripture literally? Can we find ways to value both ways of reading and exploring scriptural texts? And what about when we teach scriptural stories in LDS devotional settings? Is it possible that within these contexts our teaching scriptural characters and stories as real people and literal events can be very helpful in eliciting potentially transformative spiritual experiences, and we can therefore feel un-conflicted about doing so, whereas when speaking in more academic settings it would be more appropriate, yet still not being unfair to the accounts, to teach more metaphorical and figurative readings?
These are just a few of many questions and issues the panelists address in this podcast. Please listen and then share your reactions and ideas in the comments section below!