Mormonism hangs its hat, so to speak, on the reality of revelation. It claims that God the Father and Jesus Christ visited a teenage boy in 1820 and made it perfectly clear to him that he should join none of the existing churches and that through him they would restore to the earth lost teachings and priesthoods. It also claims that revelation and the ability of Latter-day Saints to learn and come to “know” for certain truths via the mediation and inspiration of the Holy Ghost is alive and active today. Given one’s stewardship, whether it is over the whole earth and church, as is the case with the LDS prophet and apostles, or one’s own family, which is the responsibility of parents and siblings, clear and specific direction is available and can be (and is being) received.
But the process of receiving revelation is not at all simple—or at least not as simple as some imagine it to be. When is someone receiving revelation versus simply having a good idea come to her or his mind? Are the thoughts that enter into one’s consciousness fully God’s/Spirit’s advice for the next move to make or direction to head in, or does this process also involve in a heavy way the interaction of the human side of things? Is it colored by personality, pre-conceived ideas or assumptions the person already has? Their language? Their expectations? The myths and exemplars who stand prominent in their thoughts? The formats (“still, small voice,” prophetic dreams, visions, visitations) and type of content they imagine God might use or share in making the Divine will known to them? Theologians have been working for centuries on questions like this. In revelation, such as scripture, what percentage of what ends up on the page or one’s tongue is actually contributed by God, and how by the person receiving it? It’s a complex set of questions!
Luckily we have two wonderful thinkers and students of both revelation and Mormonism as guests in this three-part exploration of the intrigue and messiness of revelation. Charles Harrell and Ronald Barney join Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon for a serious dive into the nature, scope, and factors involved in it. They explore various models for revelation and the Divine-Human dynamic and then apply them to specific instances and accounts in Mormon history and contemporary experience and discourse. And in the course of the discussion they all also share a bit about their own personal wrestles with this important and interesting subject.
It’s a terrific podcast! You’ll be glad you tuned in!
Charles R. Harrell, “This Is My Doctrine”: The Development of Mormon Theology (Greg Kofford Books, 2011)
69: “Patriarchal Blessings,” Mormon Matters podcast episode (January 2012)
Edward L. Kimball, “Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on Priesthood,” BYU Studies 47:2 (2008)