Reading the Book of Mormon transforms and heals lives. From healing heartache to quickening our intellect, the Holy Spirit’s power is intensified during our study of the Book of Mormon. Not only are our hearts touched with a feeling that is more than mere emotion, but our minds can also become filled with light as we learn the doctrines of Christ. And then stay lit all day.
The power of the Holy Spirit is past our knowing, which we learn from both the Bible and the Book of Mormon. There is a certain equivalency: with the Spirit’s companionship, we can discern both the Christian nature of the Book of Mormon, as well as the Mormon nature of the Bible.
Through the works of a few academic theologians five key Book of Mormon doctrines can be proven as Christian doctrines. These examples help prove the point that more academic Mormon studies are needed to eliminate bias and disdain within the Christian academia against the pursuit of Mormon research.
Revelation, God, Creation, Reconciliation and Redemption: 5 Book of Mormon Doctrines
When accompanied by the Spirit an edifying conversation about the Book of Mormon is possible between (i) a Mormon who typically will lack technical theological training and the specialized terminology absorbed in such training with (ii) a Christian who because “of the traditions of their fathers” feels uncomfortable studying the Book of Mormon because of an inherited suspicion of the Book’s doctrines.
The outcome of failed communication in this context is too often an allegation of darkness against the Book of Mormon while the Member Missionary may stop communicating. The Light of the Book wrongfully loses, while the Mormon may be unfairly victimized.
In an increasingly secularized society like ours, discrimination flourishes-often against both the Mormon and the religious non-Mormon Christian. Christian discrimination against a Mormon by someone of another faith eventually becomes a self-inflicted wound. Anyone who is religious has a reason never to discriminate in a society where our culture has ceded from religion.
Bias in a perfect world would be banished. In a fallen world like ours, bias is deadly evil. Worse, in the case of one Christian’s bias against the Mormons and their scripture, such bias is irrational because it contributes to a growing social movement that threatens all religion.
An Adventure in Christian Theology Written in Five Acts and One Encore
Five doctrines of Christian theology help compose the Book of Mormon’s foundational Christian theology.
Revelation from God.
The doctrines of revelation and God can be paired. God is known in the Book of Mormon through revelation, and someone else is always around at those times.
Doctrinally, this pairing is not only our Mormon home base; but it is the doctrinal home base of every other Christian sect’s too.
In the 1830’s, this pairing within Christian Theology was much more controversial than today. For starters, the relationship between God and the World amongst the learned doctors of divinity over-emphasized God’s transcendence. In theology most disputes are ones of emphasis.
This was not the case with either the First Vision or the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon testified to a God who was in intimate contact with the World (and by “World,” cosmos was meant) that was consistent with the Prophet Joseph’s testimony he had been in God’s immediate presence.
Such propinquity between God and man contradicted the theological possibility that the Book of Mormon could even be Christian scripture. The learned divines -back then but not so much now– understood revelation either formalistically or dramatically. Things change with time and now theologians from John Macquarie to philosophers like Sterling McMurrin concede the existence of a responsive God. The late Thomas F. Torrance went so far as to insist Christ literally sat at the right hand of God.
I can also think of theologians who reduce personal revelation to being loony. One such theologian was the Dean of my Cambridge College, Don Cupitt, who said once in a university lecture that far from pairing revelation with God, that revelation should be paired with dementia-but respected as religiously respected.”
A minority of high-culture, but powerful, and impressively elite theologians, still hold a criticism against revelation. It is viewed by others as “enthusiasm” or being koo-koo. The influence of these theologians is so great, that their skepticism can still put a scholarly halt to the Book of Mormon’s scholarly non-Mormon study. Prejudice continues to carry the day too often. But all religious prejudice, even if done at the Harvard Divinity School against a single Mormon in a single New Testament course, is an act of social violence against all religion. This is because the right to religious liberty is indivisible.
The history of the Mormon “hegira,” as Wallace Stegner competently refers to, is well documented and well-studied. In fact, I consider it no exaggeration to state that while Mormon history has flourished, Mormon theology has academically languished (with exceptions).
The primary reason for the distinction between the success of historical Mormon studies (and not the failure of) and the absence of theological Mormon studies can be understood through the work of Professor Mark P. Leone, formerly of Princeton and now at the University of Maryland. Professor Leone’s work has been neglected, especially his observation that since 1890, Mormonism has become a “colonial religion.” This is thankfully changing, it appears, from within Church scholarly circles.
The fact that non-Mormons scholars of religion -until now- have never read the Book of Mormon as they do the Koran, or the Gita, or the writing of Lao Tzu, has led to Mormon scholars to view the Book as weak theologically as to its Christian doctrines. Not to be too judgmental, but this is an atrocious error of intellectualistic incompetence, that has resulted in Mormon Theology being discounted’ within religious scholarship.
Here is the issue for every Member I am really raising: Should we cut ourselves off from what is our legacy of theological sophistication in “primitive” Mormonism, beginning with the Prophet Joseph’s own theological studies? The answer can only be “no!”
Partial proof that our Christian Theology has too often been thrown under the bus may be derived from the experiment of picking up any edition of Dialogue or Sunstone. Apologizing for the good these Journals contain, I am certain that the recent Mormon theological intellectual work that will endure comes from the contributions of Elder Boyd K Packer in BYU Studies.
Non-Mormon theologians have absolutely no clue -this from my thirty years in or around academic theologians– about what’s actually revealed in the Book of Mormon. Resistance from them and the fellow Mormon sitting in the pew next to me has eaten up so much of those years; those who follow such a feeble effort will inch the Church closer to having within it the theological sophistication which the Prophet Joseph and Brother Brigham desired.
BYU Studies has done an incredible work -the names of Louis Midgely, Daniel Peterson, and editor hard-working editor Jack Welch, and others come to mind –to flag non-Mormon scholars who issue scholarly articles that read as if press releases, attacking and mocking our Scripture. We also need theologians not paid for by the tithes of the Church, to add independent voices.
The Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship (of which I am an affiliated) holds great promise. (The publications and work-product of FARMS is best found on the web site maxwellinstitute.byu.edu. FARMS itself no longer exists.)
Scripture as Sacred
Before changing subjects, I would note how important the doctrinal category of the sacred and the ethical category of purity are within the Book of Mormon. Secularity threatens to rob us of a respect for the sacred, as well as our loving obedience to God through choices of purity.
Far from obvious to the non-Mormon Christian academic theologian, studies of the sacred and of purity are clearly starting to fade from the social world of American Christianity, as is the basis of Christian Ethics upon Jewish Ethics, which are restored interstitially in the Book of Mormon so that they only require our making them expressly manifest.
This helps make clear a logical point of some importance. The Book of Mormon, through revelation and provided its doctrines are controlling, can freely use without risk, and as a matter of Christian liberty, those allies and alliances, to accomplish the will of the Lord between His Ascension and the fulfillment of His telos for His Creation.
The Christian doctrine of Creation is the Book’s doctrine of Creation, with Mormon corrections concerning the Fall.
I find it interesting that sometimes a Mormon will seek to understand Creation backwards, using as her or his point of departure the Creation’s finality and fulfillment. I see the point in reading in this way. Today such a reading will directly influence my choices and actions for the better. Who’s better? Everybody’s betterment! Why? Because I believe that my knowledge of the Final Judgment influences my choices and actions. This is also how many Christians read the Bible- from the New Testament back to the Old Testament, to see the “OT’s” anticipation in types and figures of the ministry revealed in the new Testament.
Many Book of Mormon doctrines are becoming such powerful doctrines as part of the theological “social imaginary” that they become internalized in other Christians core beliefs. We will not (never?), nor at least is it likely, that we will receive the theological credit for the intellectual power springing forth from the Book of Mormon into our religious culture.
Joseph Smith, for example, reintroduced the fact of a responsive God. At the time, classical theism wouldn’t hear of the doctrine. Now, on the other cheek, sitting around the Common Room of Yale’s Department of Religious Studies, I hear Catholics speak of their “theology of discernment,” in which through prayer and meditation, God is approached for an answer to an individual’s key life decision.
In another example of the seminal nature of Mormon revelation, German theologian Jrgen Moltmann denounces against the concept of a systematic theology. Why does he take such a position? Among one reason he states, is because the false logical consistency falsifies what we find taught in the Scriptures. And so much of theology has always essentialized the Scriptures into their one key idea. For example, if you only help the poor, you’ll be saved in the Kingdom. Walter Rauschenberg theologized that in his famous social gospel movement. Adolf Harnack thought love was the one doctrine all the Scriptures were about-so be a nice fellow and the Kingdom shall be yours. (Herr Doktor Moltmann has, as of this writing, joined the Church because of this mutual belief.)
Systematic theology is also a snake pit, which routinely incorporates the Apostasy’s theological Greek distortions. “You need in Christian theology,” writes another theologian, “both a testimony of Socrates and one of Jesus.”
What we can articulate is the fulfillment of His purposes on a daily basis of what He intended with Adam and Eve-opposition in all things–with one big hook: that we repent.
The Creation is key to understanding another scripture: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with your entire mind.” (Matthew 22:34-37.) Theological reflection about the Creation leads us on to a purer understanding and worship of God.
Reflecting in the “very goodness” of the Creation needs to percolate though our feeling and thoughts about God. What does it mean to you “to delight in the glorious vision of our God-created world?” asks the British theologian Alister McGrath.
We live in a secularized time when the Creation is intellectually being down-sized and taken for granted. Not thinking or not intellectually and spiritually focusing on the Scriptures presentation of God’s creation, we may neither appreciate, nor love, the Creator for the beauty, truth and placement in God’s eternal plan for us. We have no intellectual context for looking into the Creation to realize God’s greatness.
“Reconcile yourselves,” the Book of Mormon states,” to the will of God.”
Put that way, not of God reconciling Himself to man, but vice versa, puts the orthodox view of reconciliation on its head.
Yet tis not so. In my opinion, Longfellow’s hymn, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” echoes a testimony of the whole of the Book of Mormon. “God is not dead nor doth he sleep.”
1 Nephi 15:14, “knowledge of our Redeemer and points of his doctrine” pleases me to think that in heaven angels are sent to testify of the work and person of the Lord Jesus Christ and our redemption.
Even the most slothful of scholarly readers will know that fact, if they read only as far as the “Introduction” of the Book of Mormon, which is a part of the Book.
Slothfulness causes, as a matter of Book of Mormon ethical lessons, nothing but misery in life.
It also causes the intellectual’s “sin of stupidity.”
Because with the gift of agency, much was given to us. It is as if we are all 7 feet tall, so much is given.And it is impossible to be that tall and not carry the consciousness of it. Agency gone awry means misery of the heart, especially with our eyes now opened to what we’ve got. Hence, 2 Nephi 10:24.
Protestant friends are borrowing from us. What is more interesting is to note the resurgence of Mormon types of effort within Protestant theologies and Protestant theological ethics, of which I give three quick examples.
These three examples invert the question, Are Mormons Christian to: Are Christians Mormon?
1. Like the Latter-Day Saints, Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, understand human effort as part of the Lord’s plain and simple plan of mercy or happiness for us. Do His will for you as you understand it.
2. The second point is a quiz. Who wrote this (“you have ten seconds”)- “One is not saved in one’s sins, but from one’s sins.” See Alma 11:34-37.
The quotation is literally from the 1830 Book of Mormon, and is literally from 1992 in volume three of Thomas Oden’s Systematic Theology (page 98).
3. The third and final point is from a rag tag book I gambled 67 cents on Amazon because of who penned it- Robert L. Calhoun, Pitkin Professor of Historical Theology at Yale.
Calhoun’s book, “God and the Day’s Work,” could be stapled to the Book of Mormon from which he seemed to copy it. “To understand what man is and ought to be . . . . Man is a working animal, a culture dweller, a talker, a moral agent, a worshiper-in short, a person.”
In the Moroni Chapter 9 we read, “And now my beloved son, how can a people like this, that are without civilization… [a]nd now not withstanding” civilization’s collapse, “let us labor diligently; for we have a labor to perform whilst in this tabernacle of clay [we are working animals]…” “I am laboring [talking] with them continually; and when I speak the word of God [as a worshiper] with sharpness [as the moral agent I am], they tremble and anger against me [.”]
To paraphrase the Prophet-Theologian John Taylor, “Not every Mormon need be a Technically-equipped Theologian. Every Mormon is a theologian in their own fashion. But Technically-equipped theologians must be ready for the defense of the Book of Mormon, welcomed, and given member encouragement.”
Such would be the premise of my personal plea to Members.
Just please remember, my approach here is missionary-based. My point is that “divinity school” theologians overwhelmingly appear to control the non-Mormon Christian leadership’s attitude towards Mormons and as Christian. This same unfellowshipped constituency controls public perceptions regarding the Christianity of the Book of Mormon.
There is a much easier way of saying all this: With an open mind any Christian outside the Church can discover that the doctrines of the Book of Mormon are Christian. And with an open heart, anyone can learn that the Book of Mormon is true.
2013 Ashby D Boyle II