Monday, October 27, 2008

Reflections: National Student Dialogue Conference II

Last Saturday I had the opportunity to attend Standing Together's National Student Dialogue Conference II. This event was held October 24-25 on the campus of Utah Valley University. It was co-sponsored by a number of organizations, both evangelical as well as Latter-day Saint, including institutions like UVU, Fuller Seminary, BIOLA University, Brigham Young University, and my own Western Institute for Intercultural Studies.

Unfortunately, my schedule only permitted me to attend one of the plenary sessions on Saturday, a discussion between Dr. Dennis Ockholm of Azusa Pacific University, and Dr. Spencer Fluhman of Brigham Young University. Their discussion topic revolved around the question, "Was the Restoration Necessary?" I found Dr. Fluhman's presentation refreshing and helpful in that he stated he was pleased to find evangelicals who were open to dialogue with Latter-day Saints, and he expressed his own openness to such things and a breadth of interpretive options within his understanding of the question for discussion during this session.

A couple of elements within Fluhman's presentation and his interactions with Ockholm stood out for me. First, Dr. Fluhman spoke of a development in Smith's notion of an apostasy that was evolving and fluid. Early on it was not primarily doctrinal, but over time it shifted to an inclusion of doctrinal elements.

Second, Fluhman noted that Joseph Smith's story of the First Vision developed over time in relation to his own changing relationship with traditional Christianity and its increasing opposition to his message. Dr. Fluhman reminded us that our recollections and presentations of the past vary and develop in light of present circumstances. As Smith's relationship with various Christian communities of his time worsened, his description of his vision changed, eventually arriving at a place where the vision incorporated a strong sense of restoration in light of a state of apostasy in 19th century Protestantism.

Finally, related to the above item, Dr. Fluhman also stated that in his view many Latter-day Saints have an ahistorical (and I would add acultural) view of their faith where divine truths fall in people's laps (Fluhman's words) free of historical considerations. As I heard Fluhman describe this situation it dovetails with my own feelings that evangelicals often think of Mormonism in the same way, and fail to give due consideration to historical and cultural considerations in light of LDS theology. In addition, evangelical beliefs are often ahistorical and acultural as well, and Fluhman's words serve as a reminder for both religious communities to become more holistic in their thinking about the issues that inform evangelical-LDS dialogue.

I believe that the National Student Dialogue Conferences serve an important function in both bringing evangelical and Latter-day Saint students together to discuss important issues, and in providing a forum for scholars on both sides of the religious divide together to bring their academic expertise to bear on the issues, thus providing a good foundation for student interactions. I hope others found this conference as helpful and significant as I did.


Aaron S said...

Good post, John.

John W. Morehead said...

I am pleasantly surprised by your postive reaction to my post, Aaron. Good to see you at the conference Saturday.

Ms. Jack said...

Spencer Fluhman, gosh he sounds so familiar. I'm pretty sure that I met him my very first semester at BYU and had a talk with him concerning LDS-evangelical interfaith topics. He was one of the people who encouraged me to look into studying LDS church history. Really great guy.

Hearing about conferences like this really makes me miss living in Utah.