Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Disney and the Beast

In the night
the fires are burning bright
the ritual has begun
Satan's work is done
6-6-6 the Number of the Beast
Sacrifice is going on tonight

- Iron Maiden, "The Number of the Beast," The Number of the Beast (EMI, 1982)

Many Christians, including Pat Robertson, seem to think tonight is "Satan's night." As I pointed out last year, the most recognizable aspects of modern Halloween are not rooted in paganism or Satanism, but Christian holy days (let's not forget Reformation Day).

Nonetheless, who was this Satan of the Hebrew Bible who could enter God's presence with the sons of God (Job 1:6-12) and testify in God's court (Zech. 3:1)?

In the OT Satan appears as a member of the heavenly court whose function reflects his name -- the Accuser (see Job 1:6-12; Zech. 3:1). In 1 Chr 21:1 he is depicted as a more active inciter toward evil (cf. the anonymous spirit in 1 Kgs 22:19-23). It is the combination of the mythology connected with the Canaanite gods Mot/Yam and the OT figure of Satan which gives rise to the Christian figure of the devil. By the time we reach the NT this process has transformed a morally neutral legal function in the heavenly court into a powerful, angelic adversary of God -- Paul's "the god of this world" (2 Cor 4:4) and the satanic dragon of the book of Revelation (Rev 12:7-9).[1]

Biblical scholar Michael Heiser puts it into layman's terms:

Basically, "the satan" in Job is an officer of the divine council (sort of like a prosecutor). His job is to "run to and fro throughout the earth" to see who is and who is not obeying Yahweh. When he finds someone who isn’t and is therefore under Yahweh’s wrath, he "accuses" that person. This is what we see in Job — and it actually has a distinct New Testament flavor. (We also see it in Zechariah 3). But the point here is that this satan is not evil; he’s doing his job. Over time (specifically the idea of “being an adversary in the heavenly council” was applied intellectually to the enemy of God — the nachash (typically rendered “serpent”) in Eden, the one who asserted his own will against Yahweh’s designs. That entity eventually becomes labeled “Satan” and so the adversarial role gets personified and stuck to God’s great enemy (also called the Devil). This is a good example of how an idea in Israelite religion plays out and is applied in different ways during the progress of revelation.

With that, let us honor Disney's $4.05 billion purchase of Lucasfilm (and consequently future Star Wars films, including 2015's Episode 7) with a little Fantasia Satanism:

1. A. Peter Hayman, "The Wisdom of Solomon," in Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible, eds. James D.G. Dunn, John W. Rogerson (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2003), 766. See also Cilliers Breytenbach, Peggy L. Day, "Satan," in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible DDD, Revised edition, eds. Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, Pieter W. van der Horst (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1999).

Sunday, October 21, 2012

"Dance into the Fire"

But can we dance into the fire
That fatal kiss is all we need
Dance into the fire
To fatal sounds of broken dreams
Dance into the fire
That fatal kiss is all we need
Dance into the fire
When all we see is the view to a kill

- Duran Duran, "A View to a Kill" (EMI, 1985)

A View to a Kill (originally titled From a View to a Kill) was Roger Moore's final Bond film and "one of the series' critical and financial low points,"[1] being "a veritable remake of Goldfinger. And it self-destructs on so many levels that it makes a critical analysis difficult."[2]  Not only this, but Moore was 57-years-old and it shows (James Brolin had been considered for the part prior to Octopussy). What is not self-destructive is Duran Duran's awesome title track. The song had a number of things going for it: "1) It was by far the most popular Bond song up to that point with a number one position in the U.S. and a number two position in the UK; 2) It was the first James Bond song to expertly utilize the new media of music videos; and 3) It was not only financially successful, but the song's melody was actually incorporated into the body of the underscore, making it an important part of the whole musical tapestry" (various aspects demonstrated in the above performance).[3]

Duran Duran's song still stands today as one of the most rocking, entertaining Bond songs, even if the lyrics make absolutely no sense.

1. Hubai Gergely, "Recapturing the Midas Touch: A Critical Reading of the Bond Songs' Chart Positions," James Bond in World and Popular Culture, eds. Robert G. Weiner, B. Lynn Whitfield, Jack Becker (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010), 135.

2. Steven Jay Rubin, The Complete James Bond Movie Encyclopedia, Revised Edition (New York: Contemporary Books, 1995), 433.

3. Gergely, 2010, 135.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Frank Moore Cross, 1921-2012

 Joseph Fitzmyer (left), Hershel Shanks (middle), and Frank Moore Cross 
(right and looking a lot like Sean Connery in Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade
discussing the James Ossuary*

Hershel Shanks (seen above in the middle), founder of the Biblical Archaeology Society and editor of the Biblical Archaeology Review, sums it up well:

I will leave it to scholars to write of his scholarly accomplishments. I will write only of what I know: He stood at the very pinnacle of the profession, universally respected and admired. When he spoke, others stood in awe. The Hancock Professor of Hebrew and Other Oriental Languages at Harvard University, the third oldest endowed academic chair in the United States, Cross was a specialist in the Dead Sea Scrolls, in obscure ancient languages, in the science of dating ancient inscriptions based on shape of the letters, in the Biblical text and in archaeology, to name but a few.

My own personal encounter with Cross' work was his From Epic to Canon, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic, his contribution to the BYU-published The Temple in Antiquity, and various other articles.[1] His essay "Kinship and Covenant in Ancient Israel" in From Epic to Canon single-handedly revolutionized my understanding of covenants and helped me recognize more fully the familial and social context of the temple worldview. It was due mainly to Cross' insights that early Mormon temple practices (e.g. polygamy, adoption) began to take on greater significance for me.[2] His Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic and JNES article "The Council of Yahweh in Second Isaiah" were two of my earliest readings on the subject of the divine council in the Old Testament.[3]

In other words, the scholarship of this man greatly influenced both my scripture study and my approach to covenant-making. I am deeply indebted to him because of this. He will be missed.

*Photo found at James Tabor's blog

1. From Epic to Canon: History and Literature in Ancient Israel (Baltimore, Maryland: John Hopkins University Press, 1998); Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1973); "The Priestly Tabernacle in the Light of Recent Research," The Temple in Antiquity: Ancient Records and Modern Perspectives, ed. Truman G. Madsen (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1984).

2. See Kathleen Flake, "The Emotional and Priestly Logic of Plural Marriage," Arrington Annual Lecture 15 (2009); Jonathan A. Stapley, "Adoptive Sealing Ritual in Mormonism," Journal of Mormon History 37:3 (Summer 2011); Samuel M. Brown, In Heaven As It Is On Earth: Joseph Smith and the Early Mormon Conquest of Death (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), "Part Two: Everlasting Communities."

3. Specifically "The Council of Yahweh in Second Isaiah," Journal of Near Eastern Studies 12:4 (1953).

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Uncertainty Undervalued

In all the number crunching and politicized statistics this election season, the human behavior behind the numbers is sometimes forgotten. Jeffrey Lacker, the current president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond and "the Fed's Mister No," demonstrated in a recent Charlie Rose interview why he is one of (if not) the most restrained voter on the Federal Open Market Committee. His skepticism over more stimulus spending and increased regulation is, in my view, most welcome along with the implied understanding of incentives and human behavior. While his praise for 'living wills' is arguably overstated, his desire to see the business and political culture of “too-big-to-fail” eradicated is important. He rightly notes that government bailouts breed expectations of future bailouts. This type of expectation creates a moral hazard (often unknowingly) and incentivizes high-risk decisions that would possibly be tapered if the financial institutions were expected to shoulder the burden of their own decisions.

Furthermore, Lacker seems to understand that the economy is not an abstract entity living above and beyond U.S. citizens, but the citizens themselves. He recognizes that uncertainty has a perverse effect on entrepreneurship. Much of this uncertainty has been placed at the feet of Dodd-Frank, with almost 36% of its near 400 rules remaining unwritten.[1] Some of the more recent discoveries within the act have been compared with the lending activity that helped fuel the financial crisis, though on a smaller scale. One study, sampling 29 countries, found that “the size of government, the quality of the monetary policy and overall financial environment are strong determinants of entrepreneurship across the small sample…for which there are comparable data.”[2] Furthermore, government consumption is negatively correlated with entrepreneurial activity, both out of necessity and out of opportunity.[3] The effect on opportunity entrepreneurship is three times larger than that out of necessity. This is most likely related to what economist Robert Higgs calls "regime uncertainty." If Washington bureaucrats want the economy to pick up, they need to unleash the entrepreneurs

Business confidence was very low a couple years ago, causing Scott Shane of Case Western Reserve University to write, "If policymakers want small businesses to participate in the economic recovery, they need to revive the business owners' optimism…Make a credible commitment to reduce the uncertainty facing small businesses. Promise them that their taxes won't increase and that they won't face new regulations or major changes in how they operate until after the 2012 Presidential election, at the earliest." Unfortunately, his advice was not heeded and recent evidence paints yet another dismal picture. The National Federation of Independent Business released an August study demonstrating a dip in the Small Business Optimism Index. The recession-level optimism makes this the worst recovery period in NFIB survey history, beginning in 1973. The NFIB reported a slight bump in the Small Business Optimism Index the following month. Yet, 38% of owners said it was not a good time to expand due to economic uncertainty, while 22% (a record high for this business cycle) said it was not good due to political uncertainty. Similarly, “Uncertainty over Economic Conditions” was ranked the second greatest concern for owners (below “Cost of Health Insurance”) and “Uncertainty over Government Actions” was ranked fourth. The most recent survey found another drop in the Small Business Optimism Index, with job creation plans dropping 6 points, job openings falling 1 point, and further decreases in employment (despite the recent drop in unemployment).[4] This is the 56th time the Index has dipped below 93 (currently at 92.8) since 1986 (32 of these occurrences have been since June 2009). 

NFIB chief economist William Dunkelberg points out,

The election is just weeks away and essentially a horse-race, and its outcomes would have vastly divergent policy implications. Everyone is waiting to see what happens, especially small-business owners who have a lot at stake in the outcome—which could mean higher marginal tax rates and more deficits, OR lower marginal tax rates and less government. Small-business owners are reporting that the political climate is a reason not to expand—second only to the economy, which is only keeping up with population growth. And so, in the meantime, owners are in maintenance mode; spending only where necessary and not hiring, expanding or ordering more inventories until the future becomes more ‘certain.’

Back in 2010, three Chicago economists (including Nobel laureate Gary Becker) argued in The Wall Street Journal that shattered confidence and policy uncertainty in particular were slowing the recovery. Reforms and major adjustments to the health care system, antitrust policy, monetary policy and so forth created a business climate of uncertainty. "These facts suggest that it was a serious economic mistake to press for a hasty, major transformation of the U.S. economy on the heels of the worst financial crisis in decades," write the authors. "...By failing to adopt a measured approach to economic policy, Congress and the president may be slowing the economic recovery, and thereby prolonging the distress from the recession." A recent study found economic policy uncertainty in 2010 and 2011 to be four times higher than on average between 1985 and 2011. While this uncertainty revolved largely around taxes and monetary policy, the list included entitlement programs, health care, financial and labor regulation, and sovereign debt and currency issues. This uncertainty leads firms to delay investments and other costly decisions.[5]

Thankfully, consumer confidence is beginning to gain momentum, particularly in housing. Jeremy Siegel of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania has been claiming for months that housing will drive the U.S. economy in 2013, including the Dow surging to 17,000. Purchases of new U.S. homes were almost at a two-year high toward the end of August. The National Association of Realtors reported that existing home sales exceeded forecasts, reaching a two-year high, 4.82 annual rate. July was the sixth month in a row to see a rise in home prices, with consumer confidence rising significantly from August to the highest level since February. The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan September Survey of Consumers reported gains in consumer confidence (including positive home buying plans), but with a dose of reality regarding the "rocky road" ahead. The latest report placed consumer sentiment at a 5-year high. This may be due to the nearing election (Cornell's William Jacobson makes an interesting case for a positive correlation between Romney's spike in the polls and consumer sentiment).

The Chicago Booth/Kellogg School Financial Trust Index recently found that only 21% of Americans trust the financial system, which is the lowest since March 2009. Scholars Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers have documented that trust in public institutions has declined in the United States, particularly since the financial crisis. A 2010 study found that increased regulation decreases social trust and vice versa.[6] As various research has shown, social trust is correlated with positive economic performance.[7] 

Uncertainty has been undervalued when discussing our economic troubles. The election outcome will provide an idea of what policies will be instituted. This will allow businesses and consumers to have a better grasp of the future economic direction. Ultimately, I think the market will pick up no matter who is elected. To what extent is another question.

1. See also Penny Crosman, "As Dodd-Frank Turns Two, Tech Solutions Lacking," American Banker (July 18, 2012); Peter J. Wallison, "Dodd-Frank: The Economic Case for Repeal," The American (June 27, 2012); Jim Turner, "Uncertainty in Dodd-Frank, Presidential Contest Clouds Florida's Economic Future," Sunshine State News (Sept. 8, 2012); Nicole Gelinas, "Dodd-Frank's Protection Racket," City Journal 22:3 (Summer 2012).

2. Christian Bjornskov, Nicolai J. Foss, "Economic Freedom and Entrepreneurial Activity: Some Cross-Country Evidence," Public Choice 134 (2008): 324. See also Christian Bjornskov, Nicolai J. Foss, "How Institutions of Liberty Promote Entrepreneurship and Growth," in James Gwartney, Robert Lawson, Joshua Hall, Economic Freedom Around the World: 2012 Annual Report (Fraser Institute, 2012).

3. Opportunity entrepreneurship is the state of those that "have engaged in an activity for the reason that they perceive that it represents an economic opportunity to them." Necessity entrepreneurship is the state of those "engaged in an activity for the reason that they perceived it "necessary," probably in order to uphold a decent standard of living or, in developing countries, to be able to support their family." (Ibid.: 315-316)

4. While I sympathize with Jack Welch's skepticism, I think it can be demonstrated that the books were not cooked. Both AEI's James Pethokoukis and David Altig of the Atlanta Fed provide useful commentary.

5. See also the Economic Policy Uncertainty Index. A new working paper out of the University of Washington found that a 1% increase in economic policy uncertainty is associated with a 1.495% decrease in the one-month unexpected return on the country-level market index (this continues for at least two years). Increases in economic policy uncertainty correlate with decreases in GDP for at least seven quarters, driven by a decrease in private investment and consumption.

6. Philippe Aghion, Yann Algan, Pierre Cahuc, Andrei Shleifer, “Regulation and Distrust,” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 125:3 (2010).

7. For example, see Francis Fukuyama, Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity (New York: Free Press, 1995).

"The Man With the Midas Touch"

He's the man, the man with the Midas touch
A spider's touch
Such a cold finger
Beckons you to enter his web of sin
But don't go in

- Shirley Bassey, "Goldfinger" (Capitol, 1964)

Bond producer Michael G. Wilson recently said, "The director Sam Mendes and Daniel are taking [Skyfall] back to a '60s feel - more Sean Connery" with "a magical Goldfinger feel surrounding it all." Given what I call "The Goldfinger Effect," this is inspiring news, as are the glowing reviews of the film.

As mentioned in my previous post, Adele's new song uses elements from the original Norman/Barry theme. The heavy brass and theme-laced tune (listen especially to the last forty seconds or so) of Shirley Bassey's song helped it reach #8 in the US (her first American hit) and #21 in the UK, while the score itself catapulted the Goldfinger soundtrack to the top of the Billboard chart in the spring of 1965 (displacing the Mary Poppins soundtrack and Beatles '65). Bassey provides a "hollering rendition of one of the oddest songs ever written," which cannot be matched by even the most talented vocalist (just listen to Celine Dion's concert version).[1] The song "combines the sinister with the melancholy" and "incorporates the menacing four-note opening figure from the James Bond Theme."[2] In short, it is the golden standard of James Bond themes. Shirley Bassey, described as "one of the most popular female vocalists in Britain during the last half of the 20th century," would go on to perform the songs for Diamonds Are Forever and Moonraker (the only singer to do three Bond songs).[3]

Goldfinger was the first film to marry the theme song to the opening titles. The lyrics describing the evil nature of Mr. Goldfinger are made even more disturbing by the film scene projections on largely motionless (lifeless, perhaps, from "the kiss of death"?) golden girls.[4] Bassey's final, belting note really gets the blood flowing as the titles end and the adventure begins. Yet, how she hit that note is very fitting for a film franchise that constantly features naked women in its opening title sequences:

1. Sinclair McKay, The Man With the Golden Touch: How the Bond Films Conquered the World (New York: Overlook Press, 2008), 54. Co-lyricist Anthony Newley comes closest to doing the song justice with a jazzier, more restrained version.

2. Karl Madden, "The Melancholy Touch: Romantic Shades of John Barry's Bond," James Bond in World and Popular Culture: The Films Are Not Enough, eds. Robert G. Weiner, B. Lynn Whitfield, Jack Becker (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010), 122.

3. There is also the very Bondian "The Living Tree."

4. It must be remembered that early in the film, the character Jill Masterson is murdered via asphyxiation. "She died of skin suffocation," Bond explains to M. "It's been known to happen to cabaret dancers. It's alright so long as you leave a small bare patch at the base of the spine to allow the skin to breathe." The skin suffocation theory is untrue, though being painted gold would most likely lead to heatstroke and death.

Friday, October 12, 2012

"Let the Skyfall"

Let the sky fall
When it crumbles
We will stand tall
Face it all together
At sky fall

- Adele, "Skyfall" (Columbia/Sony, 2012)

October 5 marked the 50th anniversary of Dr. No and with it came the release of Skyfall's theme song performed by English singer and Grammy-winner Adele. According to Adele's producer and co-writer Paul Epworth, a little bit of the film can be found within the lyrics of the title tune: 

We went very much with the narrative of the film. We talk a lot about Bond's relationship to the country...and to MI6. There's a little bit of that in the lyrics, and I guess we were trying to find a way to almost make that romantic, you know? I think you will need to see the film and see where the song happens in the context of the film...and it will all make sense.

As any casual listener can tell, the song has at its core Monty Norman's signature "James Bond Theme". This was a conscious decision, with Norman being "honoured" for the "large nod" to his theme. According to the original guitarist of the famous surf rock style guitar lick, Vic Flick, Norman's version was "a very slow tune." After the Bond producers heard John Barry's (featuring Flick on guitar) theme for the film Beat Girl, both Barry and Flick were hired to rearrange Norman's piece. The end product was what you hear at the beginning of Dr. No. Flick was apparently paid $15 for his contribution.

My last post described the importance of Skyfall's November release and this musical throwback to the 1960s incorporation of the Bond theme is a step in the right direction. As Skyfall's release date closes in, I will be posting performances of some of my favorite Bond theme songs. Let's begin with Vic Flick and the original:


Monday, October 8, 2012

A November of Utmost Importance

This is the first of my Bond Series. See "'Let the Skyfall'," "'The Man With the Midas Touch'," "'Dance into the Fire'," "'Are You Willing to Die?'," "'And He Strikes...'," "You Used to Say 'Live and Let Live'," "Bond Is Forever," and "Nobody Does It Better...Still."

The Wright family tradition regarding Christmas gifts was rather different from others I knew growing up. On Christmas Eve, family gifts were exchanged. In other words, I received gifts from my parents and my sisters and they received presents from me. We each took turns and would open one gift at a time until there was nothing left under the tree. Christmas morning was for Santa gifts. These gifts (never wrapped from what I can remember) were placed in the living room, each pile designated for each child. There was no need for labels because it was fairly obvious which gifts belonged to whom. One of my most cherished and memorable gifts from Santa was Steven Jay Rubin's The Complete James Bond Movie Encyclopedia. This revised edition included tidbits on Brosnan's 1995 film GoldenEye. It must be remembered that this was late 1990s. Brosnan's second film Tomorrow Never Dies had either yet to be released or had just been. This was the most up-to-date Bond encyclopedia available. I was ecstatic. It turns out that my mother had actually special ordered it since it was unavailable in Texas (I believe she got it in Utah, where my sister lived at the time). That may not mean much to anyone now, but seeing that Amazon and eBay were fairly new at the time, I was touched and very grateful. My mother has always had thoughtful, creative insights when it comes to giving.

Everyone has been up in arms about the importance of this November. And they are correct. This November is incredibly important because it could indicate the direction of, not the country (we'll see about that), but one of the longest running film series in Hollywood history: James Bond 007. November marks Daniel Craig's third outing as James Bond in Skyfall.

Why is this important? "There is a theory among Bond fans that it is always the third Bond film in any sequence...that tends to have extra punch and confidence and consequent success."[1] This is what I call "The Goldfinger Effect": the third film for a James Bond actor is his best, except when it's not. While I have yet to find the term used anywhere else, the thought did not originate with me. Rubin explains,

Although From Russia With Love has a better story, Goldfinger is the best film in the James Bond series. It alone elevated the series to a level of pop entertainment that very few films achieve. Goldfinger was a worldwide phenomenon when it was released during Christmastime in 1964. It was so popular that many theaters stayed open 24 hours a day to accommodate the crowds. It was the first mega-hit film...Goldfinger was a big fantasy story with three elements that have never been quite equaled. First, it has Goldfinger himself, the best of all possible Bond villains, with the most perfect of all schemes...Second, the film has the most alluring gallery of women ever seen in the series...Third, the film had the "excalibur sword" of the series--the Aston Martin DB5 with modifications...From Russia With Love had introduced some memorable set pieces, but Goldfinger introduced legendary ones.[2]

The silliness of Oddjob's razor-rimmed hat or the absurdity of Pussy Galore's name (she was a lesbian in the novel) with the slightly disturbing, macabre nature of murdering a woman by asphyxiation via gold paint (paid tribute to in Quantum of Solace) mixed, oddly enough, rather well.[3] As did the Aston Martin ejector seat (Is Skyfall's "you must be joking" line a throwback to the original Q/Bond interplay?), the laser beam torture ("No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!"), and the epic Fort Knox assault. As Bond creator Ian Fleming once quipped, "the trick...was to take much-loved ingredients and find the perfect cocktail blend for them."[4]

Following George Lazenby's solo outing in the excellent On Her Majesty's Secret Service and Sean Connery's brief, expensive (a then-record $1.25 million, which he donated to the Scottish International Educational Trust) return in the camp-filled Diamonds Are Forever, Roger Moore began taking the role in a more humorous direction fitted for what has been aptly described as a "gentleman adventurer."[5] Producers dabbled in blaxploitation with Live and Let Die and scraped the bottom of the barrel with The Man With the Golden Gun. A forced interruption due to Kevin McClory's plans to make James Bond of the Secret Service (a Thunderball remake that would eventually emerge as Never Say Never Again) brought a much needed break and time for creative renewal. Lucky for us, the result was Moore's best Bond film: The Spy Who Loved Me. In his summary of Roger Moore's third outing, Rubin writes,

The film single-handedly revived the sagging Bond series in the mid-1970s. Lavishly produced and featuring a Roger Moore who had grown comfortable in the role, The Spy Who Loved Me was the best Bond film since Goldfinger...Returning to the elements that had contributed to Goldfinger's success, producer Albert R. Broccoli gave production designer Ken Adam a free hand...Like Thunderball, The Spy Who Loved Me introduced a sense of worldwide alarm...Broccoli had carefully updated hi saga of 007, and the huge success of The Spy Who Loved Me guaranteed the series's longevity.[6]

The third Bond film for both Connery and Moore was their best and impacted the series as a whole. Timothy Dalton had been expected to return after Licence to Kill, but legal battles forced the Bond series into what would become a six year hiatus. Dalton eventually departed. "But when Bond failed to return in 1991, there was not much of an outcry. This was the gravest crisis that the whole enterprise faced. Was it possible that Bond might finally be killed off by indifference?"[7] The release of GoldenEye was like a phoenix rising from the ashes. It had the proper blend of elements, including the best pre-titles sequences since the ski-jump in The Spy Who Loved Me or free fall in Moonraker, while providing some self-awareness to its new era (e.g. M's verbal emasculation of Bond). However, instead of rising in quality (as in the case of Connery) to crescendo, the Brosnan films sank. Tomorrow Never Dies was harmless fun, if not knowingly stupid, while The World Is Not Enough (Brosnan's third) was bland. Granted, TWINE has an amazing pre-titles sequence and exceptional villainess (and death) in Sophie Marceau's Elektra King. However, GoldenEye was "a throwback to the intrigue-laden Bond films of the '60s;" "an interesting blend of Goldfinger glitz and From Russia With Love intrigue."[8] Following TWINE was the train wreck Die Another Day, which barely loses to The Man With the Golden Gun for worst film in the series. With that, Brosnan left us with one of the best and worst Bond films to date. In essence, TWINE was the exception to the Goldfinger Effect.

It would take a new actor and the return of GoldenEye director Martin Campbell to breathe new life into the series. Having finally acquired to rights to Fleming's first Bond novel, the producers were finally able to make a proper film version of Casino Royale. The book had previously been made into a 1954 TV episode for Climax Mystery Theater, with an American "Jimmy" Bond as the protagonist and an inspired Peter Lorre as Le Chiffre. Later, after a deal could not be reached between Charles Feldman and Broccoli and Saltzman, a 1967 spoof was made starring David Niven, Peter Sellers, Ursula Andress, and Orson Welles. And it is terrible. The new film carried the well-known personality of Bond, while giving it a realism and emotion that is often difficult to portray in the James Bond universe (Vesper's suicide is particularly moving and terrifying).[9] While Bond films had received prestigious awards in technical fields, both Daniel Craig and the film itself were nominated for BAFTA awards. "There was significant sentiment to reward the popular Casino Royale" with an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, according to one writer, "but only five nominees at the time."

However, in an attempt to compete with the Bourne series,[10] the simple-minded Quantum of Solace lost much of the wit, emotion, and intrigue that made Casino Royale one of the best in the series. Only a handful of sequels surpass the original, including The Empire Strikes Back, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, The Dark Knight, and From Russia With Love (SPECTRE was seeking revenge for the death of Dr. No). Most fall short of the original. Quantum was the only other sequel in the series and it certainly showed.

To recap, Connery's first three films improved in quality, each one topping the previous. Moore began with a mediocre film, stumbled even further to the worst in the series, then skyrocketed to one of the best. Brosnan began with one of the best films, sank to a mediocre film, and instead of bouncing back, continued to sink. And now we await Skyfall. This has the potential to cement Craig as James Bond and set the tone for the James Bond series. No longer is the story tied to Vesper's betrayal and death. It is, in some sense, a fresh start. With director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition) stating the film will be "epic," perhaps the series is in good hands. Add to the mix Daniel Craig's belief that the four-year break helped (remember The Spy Who Loved Me) and the speculation pertaining to the film's potential as Oscar Bait and we might have a winner. Let's hope it does not suffer Brosnan's fate.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. No. Whatever the outcome, this November is of the utmost importance.

1. Sinclair McKay, The Man With the Golden Touch: How the Bond Films Conquered the World (New York: Overlook Press, 2008), 318.

2. Rubin, The Complete James Bond Movie Encyclopedia, Revised Edition (New York: Contemporary Books, 1995), 162-165.

3. McKay writes of the golden girl scene, "Those three or four seconds of screen time as Connery stares with disbelief at Eaton are possibly the most memorable of the entire series. (McKay, 2008, 56)

4. Ibid., 15.

5. Ibid., 159.

6. Rubin, 1995, 389-390.

7. McKay, 2008, 287.

8. Rubin, 1995, 479, 312. This last quote was used by Rubin to describe 1983's Octopussy, but I thought it was a perfect description of GoldenEye.

9. When M later inquires about Bond's state due to Vesper's death, he coldly responds, "The bitch is dead." This is actually the final line in the book ("The bitch is dead now"), following Bond's discovery that Vesper was a double agent and thus overdosed on sleeping pills.

10. Watch how Bond uses random objects in a hotel fight, similar to both The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Ultimatum. The rooftop chase in Quantum also has a similar flavor to that of Ultimatum.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

A Welcome Change

When my sister-in-law began having a fair amount of success on her mission in Chicago, I shared with her that in the early days of the Church, ordinances (e.g. baptism, washing & anointing) were used not only as salvific rituals that heal spiritually, but physically as well.[1] It was only after temple anointings were revealed that anointing was used in healing rituals. The current process of anointing with consecrated oil followed by sealed blessings was adapted from the temple ordinance. The temple itself was also considered a place of healing to which people would go to be relieved of their sickness. These gifts of healing acted as evidence of the Church's restoration for Mormons and non-Mormons alike. It also acted as a way of purging and distinguishing between God's power and what was considered "folk magic" in the 19th century. Baptism for healing was the most common form of ritual healing (imagine baptizing someone in the font rather than giving a blessing), but this eventually fell out of practice by the early 20th century.[2] The most interesting part, though, was that LDS women were prominent healers. Healing was considered a gift of the Spirit and a blessing of the temple, not a formalized priesthood practice.[3] Then again, priesthood early on was understood as the means, power, and authority by which God organizes and exalts His people.[4] Over time, priesthood became conflated with the hierarchical, corporate structure that we know today. Some scholars have gone as far as to say that women have been receiving the priesthood ever since the temple endowment was established (women are prepared to become queens and priestesses in the temple endowment).[5] This, however, depends on how we define "priesthood." My own views regarding modern practice are similar to those of Nate Oman.

The Church has a rich history, much of which is lost on modern members. It is unfortunate because, in my opinion, some of the greatest evidences for the restoration of the gospel are found in some of the earliest customs that are no longer practiced. As I wrote to my sister-in-law, "So, don't ever feel out of place as a sister missionary. You are as much of a healer and revelator as any of the "priesthood-holding" elders if not more."

The Church may be agreeing, given President Monson's announcement at the beginning of General Conference lowering the age for both male and female missionaries. Several thought-provoking responses have been written,[6] though my favorite has been Rosalynde Welch's Times & Seasons article. Neylan McBaine's (of The Mormon Women Project) insightful Facebook comment pointed out, "This isn't about increasing missionary effectiveness or bumping our numbers. This is about creating a future culture of equal scripture scholarship, increased opportunities for cooperative leadership in platonic settings, and reducing the stigma of unmarried girls on the BYU campus."[7]

I'm personally thrilled about the change. I think it is a long overdue step in the right direction and a recognition of the changing dynamics of society. This is what continuing revelation is all about: changes for the better, for the here and now. Changes that will make both sexes better human beings and better disciples of Christ. There is still much to do in the Church, though I think the leaders are wisely cautious about implementing changes too fast. The Church is no longer an isolated theocracy, but a global community interacting with various governments and organizations. Careful analysis and earnest prayer are in order.

Perhaps the service time for sisters will be extended in the near future.[8] Perhaps priesthood keys will be extended to female members or the priesthood will take on the more nuanced definition found among early saints. Perhaps there is something even more wonderful in store.

Then, maybe, the way elders talk about sisters will stop sounding like this:

Update: The Church has already seen a spike in new missionary applications, many of which are female. It is possible that the Romney presidential campaign opened the door for a missionary revolution.

1. See Jonathan A. Stapley, Kristine Wright, "The Forms and the Power: The Development of Mormon Ritual Healing to 1847," Journal of Mormon History 35:3 (Summer 2009).

2. See Jonathan A. Stapley, Kristine Wright, "'They Shall Be Made Whole': A History of Baptism for Health," Journal of Mormon History 34:4 (Fall 2008).

3. See Jonathan A. Stapley, Kristine Wright, "Female Ritual Healing in Mormonism," Journal of Mormon History 37:1 (Winter 2011); Linda King Newell, "The Historical Relationship of Mormon Women and Priesthood," in Women and Authority: Re-emerging Mormon Feminism, ed. Maxine Hanks (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 1992).

4. See Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Alfred Knopf, 2005), Ch. 10 "Exaltation: 1832-33."

5. See D. Michael Quinn, "Mormon Women Have Had the Priesthood Since 1843," in Women and Authority: Re-emerging Mormon Feminism, ed. Maxine Hanks (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 1992).

6. See Benjamin Park, "(Re)Conceptualizing our Gendered Missionary Image," By Common Consent (Oct. 6, 2012); Brad Kramer, "Thoughts On Today's Announcement," By Common Consent (Oct. 6, 2012); Joanna Brooks, "LDS Church Drops Missionary Age for Women to 19," Religion Dispatches (Oct. 7, 2012).

7. For an excellent read on gender and the Church, see McBaine's 2012 FAIR presentation "To Do the Business of the Church: A Cooperative Paradigm for Examining Gendered Participation Within Church Organizational Structure." V.H. Cassler argues that the telos of eternal marriage is ultimate gender equality.

8. Elder Holland said that extended service times were considered, but it was decided, "One miracle at a time." (at 29:35)

Saturday, October 6, 2012

General Conference

Eugene England wrote decades ago, "'If the gospel's true, nothing else matters.' At least not nearly as much. Going to conference made it possible for me to feel more strongly than ever that the great soul-satisfying truths of the gospel and my experiences of love and growth in the Church are much more important than the things that give me trouble."[1] Conference is a reminder of my paradoxical commitment to Mormonism.[2] In it, I find the precious counsel and truths that I hold sacred. As historian Richard Bushman told his Catholic friend,

Not stopping to think, I told him I remained a Mormon because when I followed my religion I became the kind of man I want to be. No philosophy, no evidence, nothing elaborate. Simply the personal reality that my religion helps me get better. That’s what it comes down to in the crunch. The scripture verse explains what will happen when you listen to the spirit speaking in the wilderness: “My Spirit is truth; truth abideth and hath no end; and if it be in you it shall abound.” For me that promise becomes a simple matter of fact: when I hearken to the spirit, truth seems to abound in me as the verse promises. By that I mean not just truth as propositions about the world but truth as in the true and highest way to live.

Yet, Conference is also a reminder of some of the more immature aspects of Mormon culture. In Conference you will find one of the best follow-up talks to President Benson's famous discourse "Beware of Pride" (itself relying heavily on C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity), earning itself the right to be read side-by-side with the inspiring original. Yet, in the very same meeting, one will hear the story of a self-righteous father who bellows during family scripture study, angering his daughter, and has to go pray alone in order to figure out why the Spirit has departed from his home (apparently "Go and say, 'I'm sorry'" had to come by revelation rather than common sense). The approach to this storytelling not only assumes the moral immaturity of its audience (it is more fitting as a Primary lesson), but perhaps reflects it as well.

This mixed bag nonetheless provides a kind of camaraderie among Church members; a biannual, quasi-ritual in which all may participate via physical attendance, satellite television (either in homes or churches), or the Internet. It sets the topics for future sacrament talks, immersing local members in the same counsel and teachings with more personalized applications. I look forward to Conference (though I look even more forward to its wide availability in various formats soon thereafter). Between the spiritual edification and cringe-worthy moments, it reminds me of where I came from, where I'm going, and (perhaps most important) who I am. 

With that, enjoy the inspiring words of Carly Rae Jepsen as expressed through the Lord's anointed:

1. England, "Growing Up Mormon: Going to Conference," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 7:2 (1972): 83.  

2. See Terryl L. Givens, People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007).

Grace and Faith in History and Within the Context of Mormon Soteriology

This is the formal, written version of a presentation I gave at an interfaith dialogue held at the UNT Institute building on Dec. 10, 2010. This was done with Brad Eggerton, a member of Denton Bible and the director of Religion & Redemption: A Documentary of Mormonism. It has been posted elsewhere and even cited at FAIR. While a bit amateurish, I nonetheless thought it was worth posting here. The clip from Les Miserables (1998) was inspired by one of Loyd Ericson's blog post on grace.

When Martin Luther nailed his now famous Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church, it was not meant as an act of rebellion. Contrary to popular belief, Luther was merely following the standard method for proposing a theological debate. The door itself was used as a kind of “bulletin board” by the faculty of the University of Wittenberg, of which Luther was a member. While his intent was academic in nature, Luther eventually found himself theologically opposed to the Pope and fleshing out the doctrine known as sola fides – salvation through faith alone: what sociologist Rodney Stark sees as the “slogan” of the Protestant Reformation.[1] It must be remembered that Luther’s reformation technically failed. It did not reform the Catholic Church, but instead created a new one with new (or at least adjusted) interpretations of scripture. Lutheranism’s popularity in large part gave way to Calvinism, but Protestantism was alive and well and remains so today. What also remain are the concept of salvation by grace through faith alone and the rejection of salvific deeds or rituals. This is one of several doctrines that continue to drive a theological wedge between modern evangelicals and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. One particular aspect of Mormonism that receives heated criticism is the belief that works are a necessary factor for salvation, thus denying sola fides and supposedly the sufficiency of Christ’s grace. With absolutely no apologies, we as Latter-day Saints 1) declare the necessity and salvific nature of both deeds and rituals, 2) reject the Protestant doctrine of sola fides as it is commonly understood, yet 3) embrace the complete sufficiency of Christ’s grace (as paradoxical as that may sound at first).

The third of our Articles of Faith reads, “We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.” In plain fashion, Joseph Smith laid out a system in which both grace and personal obedience bring about salvation. In response to this position, many critics turn to the words of Paul the Apostle:

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus...Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. (Romans 3:23-24, 27-28)*

Put more simply, Paul wrote to the Ephesians,

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

These verses as well as others are often used to object to the idea of good works being necessary in fully achieving salvation. Good works are instead hailed as the products of salvation. To be clear, Mormon theology has not, does not, and will not ever claim that eternal life is attainable outside the grace of God. As one of the prophets found in the Book of Mormon, Lehi, says, “Know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah.” (2 Nephi 2:8) There is no LDS concept of earning salvation in the sense of obligating God as one would an employer. This is made quite clear by another Book of Mormon prophet, King Benjamin:

I say, if ye should serve [God] with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants…And now, in the first place, he hath created you, and granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him. And secondly, he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you. And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever; therefore, of what have ye to boast? (Mosiah 2:20-24)

Though commandment keeping is mentioned, it is established beyond doubt that mankind is unable to repay God. It is difficult to obligate one to whom you are “eternally indebted.” (vs. 34) Bruce R. McConkie, one of the most well-known leaders of the LDS Church, explained, “God’s grace consists in his love, mercy, and condescension toward his children. All things that exist are manifestations of the grace of God. The creation of the earth, life itself, the atonement of Christ, the plan of salvation, kingdoms of immortal glory hereafter, and the supreme gift of eternal life–all these things come by the grace of him whose we are.”[2] This view expands grace to encompass the entire aspect of existence.

The prophet Lehi’s son Jacob provides us with one of the clearest explanations regarding salvation:

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, reconcile yourselves to the will of God, and not to the will of the devil and the flesh; and remember, after ye are reconciled unto God, that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved. (2 Ne. 10:24)

Here we are told that it is only by God’s grace that we are saved, yet we must reconcile ourselves to God’s will (i.e. repent). Jewish scholar and philosopher Rabbi Byron Sherwin notes, “To effect complete reconciliation, the return must be mutual. Therefore, repentance requires both a human initiative and a divine response. The corollary of human contrition is divine grace (hesed).”[3] The Book of Mormon prophet Nephi more famously proclaimed, “For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled unto God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” (2 Nephi 25:23) This verse has been a controversial element in Mormon/Evangelical discussions. One of the main points that plague the discussion is the emphasis on “after all we can do.” Unfortunately, the plain meaning of “it is by grace that we are saved” is too often ignored. The verse reads more after the fashion of an exhortation rather than a rigorous theological treatise; a call to repentance and a recognition of God’s loving-kindness.[4] It is similar to the aforementioned words of Jacob as well as that of another Book of Mormon figure, Anti-Nephi-Lehi: “And I also thank my God, yea, my great God, that he hath granted unto us that we might repent of these things, and also that he hath forgiven us of those our many sins…and taken away the guilt from our hearts, through the merits of his Son…for it was all we could do to repent sufficiently before God that he would take away our stain.” (Alma 24:10-11; emphasis mine)

As revealing as these verses may be to those unfamiliar with our faith, they do not do justice to how faith and grace are understood within the LDS community. In an attempt to paint a clearer picture, I will draw on some of the most recent scholarship regarding these terms. Grace (Greek charis) in New Testament times was not a uniquely religious term, but one of secular usage also. In the Greco-Roman world, reciprocity was a key component to society and operated by means of client-patron systems. When one was unable to access a particular need, individuals who did have access were petitioned. David DeSilva, Professor of New Testament and Greek at Ashland University, provides this overview:

If the patron granted the petition, the petitioner would become the client of the patron and a potentially long-term relationship would begin. This relationship would be marked by the mutual exchange of desired goods and services, the patron being available for assistance in the future, the client doing everything in his or her power to enhance the fame and honor of the patron…, remaining loyal to the patron and providing services whenever the opportunity arose.[5]

While God is never directly called the patron of the Christian church, the language of New Testament writers (like Paul) carries “a strong patronal tone.”[6] It is worth noting that the patron and the client did not hold an equal status due to the former’s ability to provide necessary resources that the latter was incapable of acquiring on his own. “It was this state of dependence…that formed one’s identity as a client. In exchange for receiving these needed goods from the patron, the client was expected to give back to the patron.” Since he was unable to provide his own necessities, “a client could hardly give something from himself, and therefore could only give of himself to the patron.”[7] The concept of giving of ourselves resonates with the words delivered by LDS apostle Dallin H. Oaks in a 2000 address to the Church: “[T]he Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts—what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts—what we have become. It is not enough for anyone just to go through the motions. The commandments, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel are not a list of deposits required to be made in some heavenly account. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a plan that shows us how to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become.”[8]

Given this context we can discern that grace in antiquity was not only the initial gift of the giver, but also included the response of the receiver. DeSilva confirms, “Grace thus has very specific meaning for authors and readers of the New Testament, meanings derived primarily from the use of the word in the context of the giving of benefits and the requiting of favors.” This

The Three Graces in Sandro Botticelli's
suggests implicitly what many moralists from the Greek and Roman cultures stated explicitly: Grace must be met with grace; favor must always give birth to favor; gift must always be met with gratitude. An image that captured this for the ancients was the picture of three goddesses, the three “Graces,” dancing hand in hand in a circle…From [many] ancient witnesses, we learn that there is no such thing as an isolated act of grace…Only a gift requited is a gift well and nobly received. To fail to return favor for favor is, in effect, to break off the dance and destroy the beauty of the gracious act.[9]

This reciprocal nature of grace fits quite comfortably into LDS scripture:

For if you keep my commandments you shall receive of his fulness, and be glorified in me as I am in the Father; therefore, I say unto you, you shall receive grace for grace. (D&C 93:20)

And may God grant, in his great fulness, that men might be brought unto repentance and good works, that they might be restored unto grace for grace, according to their works. (Helaman 12:24)

Warren Zev Harvey of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem defines “grace” in Judaism (the native religion of the New Testament authors) as follows:

The Hebrew hesed (plural hasadim) is usually translated as "grace" or "loving-kindness," but sometimes also as "mercy" or "love." An act of hesed is an act of kindness done neither to repay a debt nor for the sake of gain, but freely and purely out of love.[10]

Judah Goldin (one of the most prominent Jewish scholars of the 20th century) defines hesed as a “word expressing the phenomenon of “loyalty”, “devotion”,” corresponding “fairly closely to the Latin pietas [piety]…” He further explains that an “act of grace” or gemilut hasadim is an “act by means of which one demonstrates his response to someone, in obedience to him or out of loyalty to him. In short, it really is an act of piety. And strictly speaking, any action...which an individual carried out as a fulfillment of a divine command, was an act of gemilut hasadim.”[11]

This review of the historical uses of grace also makes it easier to comprehend Paul’s mentioning of those who have “fallen from grace” in Galatians. (Galatians 5:4) Peter’s warning to “beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness” becomes more understandable as does his exhortation to “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:17-18) The author of Hebrews speaks of those who “fall away” after being “enlightened,” having “tasted of the heavenly gift,” and having been “made partakers of the Holy Ghost” (Hebrews 6:4,6) and thus reminding his readers that “we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end.” (Hebrews 3:14)

In the book How Wide the Divide?, written with New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg, BYU professor Stephen E. Robinson argues, “Latter-day Saints enthusiastically endorse the validity of salvation through grace by faith…but insist that 'faith' not be totally divorced from its Semitic origin meaning “faithful” (Hebrew aman) and become watered down to mean mere mental assent…To have “faith” in Christ must in some degree imply subsequent “faithfulness” to Christ as Lord...”[12] A favorite among Mormons is the epistle of James, in which “pure religion” is defined as visiting “the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep [one's self] unspotted from the world.” (James 1:27) “Faith,” James states, “if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” (James 2:17) According to James, “by works” faith is “made perfect” (vs. 22) and man is justified by works, “not by faith only.” (vs. 24; oddly enough, this is the only place in the New Testament where “faith alone” is mentioned) The prophet Joseph Smith defined faith as a “principle of action,” a “principle of power,” and “the moving cause of all action…”[13] LDS apostle Richard G. Scott recently summarized this description by noting that “faith and character are intimately related.”[14] Zeba A. Crook of Carleton University has found that the Latin fides and Greek pistis (from which we translate the English word “faith”) functioned “in many aspects of political life in the Roman Empire, such as friendship, love, obedience, power, fellowship, benevolence, patronage and tutelage.”[15] Drawing on a number of ancient sources, he concludes that the terms should be defined as “faithfulness, steadfastness, and trustworthiness, all in the sense of loyalty between parties.”[16] Even Raymond E. Brown, one of the most prestigious scholars on the Gospel of John, defines the Greek as “an active commitment to a person” that “involves much more than trust…The commitment is not emotional but involves a willingness to respond to God’s demands as they are presented in and by Jesus…for to have faith implies that one will abide in the word and commands of Jesus.”[17] Therefore, we can more fully understand why the author of Hebrews describes Christ as “the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.” (Hebrews 5:9)

Returning to Robinson, he further explains, “[T]he LDS concept of being “in Christ” (Paul’s term) or being “perfect in Christ” (Moroni’s term) is one of covenant relationship. While there are no preconditions for entering in the covenant of faith in Christ to be justified by his grace through faith, there are covenant obligations by so entering. Those who have been justified by faith are obliged to serve Christ and to make Him their Lord by imitating him in their behavior and keeping his commandments.”[18] It is here that we begin to understand the LDS perspective more fully. Mormon doctrine is seen through the paradigm of covenants, which were also the centerpiece of the Jewish faith as well as early Christianity. Even the familiar terms “Old and New Testament” are more accurately translated “Old and New Covenant.” In Galatians, Paul exhorts us to have “faith which worketh by love.” (Gal. 5:6) The term love was understood to have covenant implications within the ancient Near East as demonstrated by its usage in a variety of ancient treaties. This was not some romanticized emotion, but a declaration of loyalty and brotherhood.[19] Thus Christ declares the two greatest commandments to be “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” and “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (see Matthew 22:36-40) To the apostles, He says, “As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love…Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.” (John 15:9-10,14) Even more straightforward, He states, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) By loving God, we come to intimately know Him. If to “know God” is eternal life (as the Savior says in John 17:3), then it is noteworthy that John writes, “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.” (1 John 2:3)[20]

But doesn’t Paul state emphatically, “if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace” (Romans 11:6)? Did he not say, “Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt” (Romans 4:4)? This is quite true. The subtle, but important distinction between what has been explained and what Paul condemns is that of reciprocal and contractual systems. Contractual relationships differed in that they formally laid out in advance “precise evaluations of favors,” thereby calling for an “even exchange” rather than an “ongoing exchange.”[21] The key is realizing that “we love [God], because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) No one obligated God to act; hence the debt or legal obligation spoken of in Romans 4 would not apply. Rather, God is who initiated the process to begin with.[22] The only reason good works are salvific is because of God’s grace. He could have easily left us to our hell-bound fate, but instead provided a framework in which redemption could take place and salvation could be attained. This was an act purely out of love and in no way earned by us. As E.P. Sanders pointed out decades ago in his groundbreaking book Paul and Palestinian Judaism, according to the Jewish people in Paul’s day, “salvation is by grace but judgment is according to works; works are the condition of remaining ‘in’, but they do not earn salvation…The point is that God saves by grace, but within the framework established by grace he rewards good deeds and punishes transgression.”[23] Thus, the Book of Mormon prophet Samuel the Lamanite was correct when he said that the atonement of Christ “bringeth to pass the condition of repentance.” (Helaman 14:18) Paul did not discover some abstract principle of “grace” in contrast to “works.” He instead reinterpreted Israel’s salvation history in light of the resurrection of Christ.[24] Yet, Paul still maintains (as did Jesus and the Psalmist) that “[God] will render to every man according to his deeds: to them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: but unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath.” (Romans 2:6-8) By doing so, Paul continues to hold his Jewish view of judgment and grace. As one scholar put it, “One need but consult the rabbinic morning prayers to recognize that while responding to God’s call to responsibility, Jews also look to God's loving kindness, grace, and forgiveness. The actions undertaken, just as for Christians, are in grateful response to God's kindness and the covenant relationship into which this people have entered.”[25]

In conclusion, I will summarize using both modern philosophy and modern scripture. Blake Ostler, one of the greatest contemporary LDS philosophers, explains,

There is no sense of earning the relationship by keeping the commandments. We keep the commandments to maintain our fidelity with God...One is justified when one enters into the relationship, for acceptance into the relationship is justification…Through faithfulness to the covenant conditions, one is thereafter sanctified in the sense that the Holy Ghost makes the person over in the image of God which was lost through the fall…Through grace, persons are made “partakers of the divine nature” by being purified and becoming pure as He is pure...Thus, the Mormon doctrine of divinity entails that divinity is humanity fully mature in the grace of Christ.[26]

Finally, from modern revelation revealed by the Lord through the prophet Joseph Smith:

And we know that all men must repent and believe on the name of Jesus Christ, and worship the Father in his name, and endure in faith on his name to the end, or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God. And we know that justification through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true; And we know also, that sanctification through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true, to all those who love and serve God with all their mights, minds, and strength. But there is a possibility that man may fall from grace and depart from the living God; Therefore let the church take heed and pray always, lest they fall into temptation; Yea, and even let those who are sanctified take heed also. (D&C 20:28-34)

*All Bible references are KJV. Thanks to Tyler Andersen, Allen Hansen, Robert Boylan, David Larsen, Daniel McClellan, and David Bokovoy for their reviews and suggestions.

1. See Rodney Stark, For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), 85. For an excellent treatment of Christian reformations, including that of the 16th century, see Ch. 1 “God’s Truth: Inevitable Sects and Reformations” in its entirety.

2. Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1966), 338-339.

3. Byron L. Sherwin, In Partnership with God: Contemporary Jewish Law and Ethics (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1990), 126.

4. This view was advocated by political scientist Jason Nelson-Seawright in the blog post “The Problem of 2 Nephi 25:23,” By Common Consent (Jan. 15, 2008).

5. David A. DeSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 97. Also see Jerome H. Neyrey, “God, Benefactor and Patron: The Major Cultural Model for Interpreting the Deity in Greco-Roman Antiquity,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 27:4 (2005) for an informative layout of the patronage system.

6. Mark A. Jennings, “Patronage and Rebuke in Paul’s Persuasion in 2 Corinthians 8-9,” Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism 6 (2009): 113.

7. Ibid.: 114.

8. Dallin H. Oaks, “The Challenge to Become,” Ensign (November 2000).

9. DeSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity, 105-106. For an LDS view, see John Gee, “The Grace of Christ,” FARMS Review 22:1 (2010).

10. Warren Zev Harvey, "Grace in Judaism," Encyclopedia of Love in World Religions, Vol. 1, ed. Yudit Kornberg Greenberg (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2008), 268.

11. Judah Goldin, "The Three Pillars of Simeon the Righteous," Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research 27 (1958): 45.

12. Stephen E. Robinson, Craig L. Blomberg, How Wide the Divide?: A Mormon & Evangelical in Conversation (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 145. See Ch. 4 “Salvation” for the full discussion.

13. “Lecture First,” Lectures on Faith, prepared by Joseph Smith, Jr. (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book: 1985 [originally delivered to the School of the Prophets in Kirtland, Ohio: 1834-1835]), 1, 3.

14. Richard G. Scott, “The Transforming Power of Faith and Character,” Ensign (Nov. 2010).

15. Zeba A. Crook, “BTB Readers’ Guide: Loyalty,” Biblical Theology Bulletin 34:4 (Nov. 2004): 167. John Gee came to similar conclusions. See his “The Corruption of Scripture in Early Christianity,” Early Christians in Disarray: Contemporary LDS Perspectives on the Christian Apostasy, ed. Noel B. Reynolds (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2005). Others have noted that it takes the form of a pledge, covenant, or oath. See David M. Hay, “Pistis as “Ground of Faith” in Hellenized Judaism and Paul,” Journal of Biblical Literature 108:3 (1989).

16. Ibid.: 168.

17. Raymond E. Brown, The Anchor Bible – The Gospel According to John (I-XII) (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1966), 513.

18. Robinson, Blomberg, How Wide the Divide?, 145-146.

19. See Frank Moore Cross, "Kinship and Covenant in Ancient Israel" in his From Epic to Canon: History and Literature in Ancient Israel (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1998), 7-11; William L. Moran, “The Ancient Near Eastern Background of the Love of God in Deuteronomy,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 25:1 (1963); J.A. Thompson, "The Significance of the Verb Love in the David-Jonathan Narratives in 1 Samuel," Vetus Testamentum 24:3 (1974).

20. The late biblical scholar John L. McKenzie translates hesed as “covenant-love,” viewing it as a parallel to the “knowledge of God” in the book of Hosea: “[K]nowledge, to the Hebrew, was not a mere intellectual apprehension, but a vital union of possession. Knowledge of Hebrew morality did not mean ethical science, but a vital union with the traditional morality which qualified the whole human life; one knows this morality by having it, by living it.” See his “Knowledge of God in Hosea,” Journal of Biblical Literature 74:1 (March 1955): 27.

21. David A. DeSilva, An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods & Ministry Formation (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 130.

22. See Ibid., 618.

23. E.P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977), 543.

24. For a recent discussion of this subject, see J.R. Daniel Kirk, Unlocking Romans: Resurrection and the Justification of God (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2008).

25. Mark Nanos, "The Myth of the 'Law-Free' Paul Standing Between Christians and Jews," Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations 4:1 (2009): 3. Paula Fredriksen’s brand new article “Judaizing the Nations: The Ritual Demands of Paul’s Gospel,” New Testament Studies 56 (2010) has a similar thesis.

26. Blake T. Ostler, “Re-vision-ing the Mormon Concept of Deity,” Element: A Journal of Mormon Philosophy and Theology 1:1 (Spring 2005).