I recently saw a blog post by Dr. William Hamblin that responded to a Round-Table panel on the topic: “Is Scripture Relevant.” I have since gone back and watched the panel discussion and came away with sentiments similar to Dr. Hamblin’s. As Dr. Hamblin suggested, some of the ideas presented in the discussion can be boiled down to, at least in part, the differences between a liberal versus a conservative understanding of what scripture is and how it functions in a community.
The LDS understanding of scripture can appear, for those on the outside looking in, to be very complex. Most Mormons could legitimately be described as having both a liberal and a conservative view of scripture. For many of my protestant/evangelical friends and colleagues, our dismissal of the idea of sola scriptura (i.e., the Bible is the inspired word of God and as such is of higher authority than tradition or ecclesiastical authority), or of scriptural inerrancy is a very liberal position. For some, like Catholics, Anglicans, and Methodists, our position, in this regard, is perhaps not so radical (although our acceptance of additional scripture beyond the Bible is).
As I went through my graduate degrees in theology and Biblical Studies, I had many discussions with troubled evangelical students whose world seemed to be crashing down around them because in class after class they were presented with evidence that the process of the scriptural canon coming together was a rather messy one and that there are many conflicting manuscripts, apparent contradictions, and human errors that entered into that process. Some expressed to me that they had lost their faith or were in the process of losing it, because of these revelations (if you pardon the pun). They wondered how I was able to get through my studies without feeling so shaken. I would tell that my Mormon faith taught and prepared me to accept a view of scripture that allowed for errancy — the fallible hand of human beings in the transmission of the inerrant word of God. It is one of our articles of faith that “we believe the Bible to be the Word of God, as far as it is translated (or ‘transmitted’) correctly.” But for many of my Christian friends, this is an unacceptably liberal position.