Introduction. The study of the Book of Mormon can be organized around five categories of Christian doctrine, doctrines taken from within or inherent to the book itself. In this two part attempt to reach out to technical theologians, the first part focuses on five key Book of Mormon doctrines. The second part is 30 theses about the Book of Mormon’s language transposed into a theological key. In showing this to Chaired Professors of Theology so far the unanimous verdict is they consider the Book of Mormon to be Christian. And it is really written for them, so I expect to experience being misunderstood by good people from getting lost in translation.
These five match categories from the New Testament: Revelation, God, Creation, Reconciliation and Redemption.
A brief discussion of each category provides an overview of the thesis of this brief book, namely, that five motifs of Christian theology are the Book of Mormon’s foundational message. They can open up the Book of Mormon to nonMormons Christians to help clarify Mormons are Christians. And therefore, Mitt and Huntsman are Christians by inference, despite trying to strangle each other as at present, the day of the New Hampshire Primary.
Their dispute’s vigor helps clarify another point. Mormons can disagree. You might keep that in mind as you read this column.
Revelation. In 1830 when the dominant view of balked revelation within Christian Theology contradicted the logical possibility that the Book of Mormon could be Christian scripture, that skepticism put a scholarly halt to the book’s scholarly non-Mormon study. The book could be attacked on the theological terms of the day, and was in a way that drove the Mormons with Book of Mormon in hand from one state to another. The history of the Mormon “hejira,” as Wallace Stegner competently refers to, is well documented and even [better] studied. In fact, it is no exaggeration to state that while Mormon history has been able to flourish, Mormon theology has come very close to dying on the vine.
Part of the reason for the distinction which I am suggesting between the success of historical Mormon studies and –not the failure of– but the absence of theology is, I believe, ultimately tied into Mark P. Leone’s neglected observation that since 1890, Mormonism has become a “colonial religion.” The fact nonMormons scholars of religion do not read the Book of Mormon as they do the Koran or the Gita or the writing of Lao Tzu has been internalized by Mormon scholars. The result is that Mormon Theology is wrongfully discounted by Mormon intellectuals and the proof of this is a proof of self-evidence from picking up any edition of Dialogue or Sunstone.
Meanwhile, back at the Book of Mormon, the book’s incandescent brilliance is quietly discussed and absorbed in (especially) the Mission Field and, to a lesser extent, once every four years, in Mormon Sunday School. “Incandescence brilliance,” theologically speaking, is meant ordinarily as well as referring to the Lights that go on in the soul of the Book’s careful readers.
I win as Mormon Theologian today though not tomorrow on all of these points I’m making because nonMormons theologians have absolutely no clue what’s actually revealed in the Book of Mormon. They don’t read. I win. This debate has been both an honor and a privilege to participate in.
God. Before changing subjects, especially since the next subject is God, I would note how important within the Book of Mormon is the doctrinal category of the sacred and the ethical category of purity. Secularity, as I write, threatens to rob us of both a respect for the sacred as well as our loving obedience to God through choices of purity. Studies of the sacred and what is clearly starting to fade from the social world of American Christianity – Christian Ethics, are restored interstitially in the Book of Mormon. This helps make clear a logical point of some importance, which is that the Book of Mormon, when controlling, uses allies and alliances to accomplish the will of the Lord in this time between His Ascension and the fulfillment of His telos for His Creation.
The rest on this topic is in the book on the Book.
Creation. The Christian doctrine of Creation is the Book’s doctrine of Creation, and in saying that I mean three things.
The first thing is that Mormons understand Creation backwards, using as point of departure Creation’s finality. Many Book of Mormon doctrines, with time’s passage, and without anyone realizing it, become internalized in other Christianities. On putting teleology or Aristotle’s final causation of the Creation as premise, Mormon theology has lost some of its loneliness, because theologians such as Jrgen Moltmann have creatively put substantial parts of the mirror cracked after 200 AD, a mirror that had originally been Christian Theology back together again. Moltmann denounces the concept of a systematic theology, for example, as well as seeing the end “In the beginning,” either literally or historically as well as teleologically, the fulfillment of His purposes on a daily basis what He intended with Adam and Eve.
Reconciliation. “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, seems to stand the orthodox view of reconciliation on its head.
Yet tis not so. Longfellow at Hymn 214 writes, I think, one testimony of the whole of the Book of Mormon. “God is not dead nor doth he sleep.”
(I was only 12 years old but still recall that harried (and clueless) chorister who cut off the Congregation singing Hymn 214, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” at the end of the third verse (“For hate is strong . . . .”), then sitting down.)
All the Book of Mormon is a testimony to the different aspects of your and my Redemption, aspects which are also called for convenience doctrines.’ (
I think I Nephi 15:14’s “knowledge of our Redeemer and points of his doctrine” points to doctrines in heaven which angels are sent to testify of, of the work and person of the Lord Jesus Christ and our redemption. The most slothful of readers will know that, if they read as far as the “Introduction” of the Book.
That slothfulness causes nothing but misery in life. It also causes the “sin of stupidity.”
But in the gift of agency, much was given to us so much . . . you know the rest.
Hence, II Nephi 10:24.
Among the illiterate the constellation of thoughts that make-up the doctrine of Reconciliation is a Book of Mormon teaching which Protestant friends are borrowing from us, self-invited to the Ward’s theological picnic.
And what they are borrowing specifically is the indispensability of effort. “No pain, no gain,” said the poster in the weight room. Now, oddly, Protestant notions of grace accommodate pain quite well. But it has too often been pain per se, a purposeless pain, which was associated with justification.
From, on one hand, the “freebie” of the pain that disconnected from our preparation for the world to come to, on the other hand, correlate the novelties such as the free grace of imputation of the Lord’s righteousness. Now, hold the train. Before rushing on, it behooves me -us-to note that there is much more in the theological articulations underwriting the Protestant novelties, and certainly only brute Mormon incomprehension would scoff at the “high concepts,” or slogans, of grace as Protestantly understood.
A moratorium on Mormon cheap shots at Protestant doctrines is in order, while serious Mormon thought listens more carefully to, e.g., Calvin’s Commentaries on the Old Testament.
What is more interesting than listening -and without gainsaying– is to note the resurgence of Mormon types of effort within Protestant theologies and Protestant theological ethics, for which I would give just three quick examples. (Like the Latter-Day Saints, Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, understand human effort as part of the Lord’s plain and simple plan for us. Do His will for you as you understand it as you are optionally working out doctrinal nuances.)
The first point is a short quote from a former Professor at UTS, Roger Shinn, Reinhold Niebuhr of Christian Ethics, and Professor Niebuhr’s protg for years, and my professor for just one. Oops you’ll just have to wait for the book, I can’t find my notes on point, but trust me, Niebuhr came around to recognize the validity of disciplined effort. (There, I say to myself, the mystery of those missing notes ought to condition the market for my book.)
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. “Judges? . . . no, not the answer we were looking for . . . .”
That quotation is literally from the 1830 Book of Mormon, of course, and that 1830 quotation is literally from 1992 in volume three of Thomas Oden’s Systematic Theology at page 98.
The third and final point is from a rag tag book I gambled 67 cents on Amazon because of he who penned it. Robert L. Calhoun, Pitkin Professor of Historical Theology at Yale, like Roger Shinn, did not leave us much of a legacy of theological books-to help people through theological scholarship involves many variables; ideally a computer could do the variables, to let Roger and I and Calhoun have written more.
When I was two years old, Calhoun published God and the Day’s Work. Shocking to some Mitt-hating, Huntsman-hating Protestants, I propose that Calhoun’s book could be stapled to the Book of Mormon. And how come only one Mormon candidate gets a first name basis with America, what’s up with that?
Moroni as Calhoun, but Moroni was quoting his father, Mormon, could have said this: “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.”
Mormon: “Oh my beloved son, how can a people like this, that are without civilization [a civilization, Moroni the culture dweller states, that passed away in “only a few years”], [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, even if futility stares us back in the face].
“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[.”]
Finally, on Redemption, we come to the doctrine of the Atonement that is for a Mormon the whole ball game. No less than Sterling M. McMurrin could write (topically) this:
“The finest passage in Mormon literature appears in the Book of Mormon itself.”
“‘And thus we see,’ it reads in part, that all mankind were fallen, and they were in the grasp of justice.'”
“‘And now, the plan of mercy could not be brought about except an atonement should be made; therefore God himself atoneth for the sins of the world, to bring about the plan of mercy, to appease the demands of justice, that God might be a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also.”
I Must Go Away For a Time
I hope to return in May.
I am like the butcher who hasn’t been paying attention and . . . recommend the following as rules of the theological road, as well as theses, tentative ones, of the Book.
First, as Luther said, not to cry “Peace, peace, when there is no peace,” has changed in today’s culture where, I believe, civilization is at the tipping point.
Secularity and not other Christians including us: Secularity, that’s the enemy.
Crying “War, war, between Christians” is error because to fight Secularity we must all be, in our own way, well . . . Christians.
Second, Wittgenstein was right as far as my limited learning of theology goes: “Don’t ask for the meaning, ask for the use.” Terms spelled the same way, if that’s the point of departure for “doing theology,” quickly become confusion without inquiry into contrasting usage.
Finally, beware the clique.
Theologians often are intellectuals, and intellectuals love their own. Beware the clique, because it leads to sloth in missionary work-for example. It hurts people who feel excluded. C.S. Lewis, and Elder Maxwell answered every letter. So did Tony Kimball when I was on my mission, which was a ginormous (sp?) help.
Quit wearing only tweed jackets to Church.
Your bow tie may offend a brother who has a murderous rage from intense self-loathing and you might die. No, scratch that last one.
President Woodruff took off his silver buttons on his jacket while on his way to a Church meeting because of a prompting it would offend a member’s feelings.
That’s spiritually meaningful personally, but it was also smart churchmanship: there is no necessary conflict between the two.
Now send me your drachma, I am retiring for the day. (I’m kidding!)
(PART TWO COMING SOON)
2012 Ashby D Boyle 2d