Read Part One of Christian Theology and the Book of Mormon: A Religious Study

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.

PART TWO:        


Thirty Theses Towards a Book on the Christian Doctrines of the Book of Mormon.

Express statements foster simplicity and the Book itself place a premium on the explication of its text in terms of simple and brief doctrine.

  1. Simple and brief does not however dictate a loss of mystery in the Book. Here the Book of Mormon contains interesting clues for the sympathetic reader of the interpretative or hermeneutical principles by which the Book instructs us how it is to be read.
  2. Complex, complicated “God-talk” is discouraged through the Book of Mormon. God gives into confusion in theology if his creatures persist, as Israel did for a King, granting them complicated and complex intellectuals forms of thinking though to do so, is the gift of confusion.

Excursus: The propaedeutic query, “Is there such a thing as Mormon theology as such?” is, it seems to me answered by inference in the negative by the Book of Mormon. Theology requires the reader to take a step back, which is a removal from the narrative.   And it seems to me that all Mormon reflection is bound to its narrative, its historicity, its factual telos.   The argument for truth seems to be based upon witness: that it is. Witness or testimony plays a primary part in this claim upon truth, and not reflection. 

It also seems to be the case there’s a de facto teaching office in the Mormon Church that is licensed by its membership to essentially distinguish doctrine from dogma, to thereby call “flagrant fouls” regarding doctrine that betrays a core belief of the Mormon Church. These core beliefs that cannot be denied or contradicted are designated by the term “dogma, out of convenience. Hence dogma controls doctrine.

3.The theological world as the Book’s authors found it lacked the complexity of the theological world as, for example, Karl Barth found it, or you or it. Therefore my first chapter, on Revelation ends -and here the terms will require some effort to introduce them to the reader, justify their utility, and clarify their meanings– with a consideration of what is known as “eschatological realism.”   Eschatological realism is compared with “actualism,” which has been described as perhaps the “most distinctive and perhaps the most difficult of the motifs” in the thought of Karl Barth. (Adam Neder, Participation in Christ).

4.I then plan to make suggestions comparing realism and actualism with the “presentism”of Kierkegaard and his emphasis on being contemporaneous with the New Testament. With all of these alien terms clarified, the stage is set for a comparison with what the Book of Mormon teaches about Revelation.

5.The Book of Mormon’s “realistic actualism of contemporaneity” is articulated with reference to specific passages, and a comparison and contrast with nonMormons doctrines is offered. That it is helpful to follow such a path becomes transparently clear. The Barthian-Kierkegaardian views as depicted by my comparisons provide a way from the stand point of academic theology to understand the Book of Mormon as revelation within Christian theology, while adducing its distinctiveness as well. This leads to the conclusion that the Book if referentially transparent, draws much more on Hebraic assumptions rather than Greek assumptions.

6.Regarding Providence and the Accompanying God, I plan to discuss concursus by first listing to what concursus does not mean. In this context it is especially important to confront the use of the word “cause” in the concurrence of human and divine wills.

7.Without giving in to the temptation of relying on Ludwig Wittgenstein heart and soul, or the fideistic purposes to which his work has been put in Christian Theology, Wittgenstein’s advice “don’t think, look and see” is useful practical advice.

8.The Book of Mormon encourages “feasting on the words of Christ.” And I come home to the Book after having seen and known things from life’s experience that produce a sense of wonder about Mormon’s Book. This produces a specific result that only barely may be called a Mormon theological philosophy. And even then, while I conclude it is unwise to insist on a Mormon theological philosophy, doing so must take its justification not apologetically, but heuristically, as necessary to communicating between distinct and different religious perspectives.

9.The Book of Mormon allows the risk because it is a continual catalyst for avoiding intellectual confusion. A strong force in the theological cosmos, Babel, names this confusion. As Umberto Eco noted in interpreting Dante, construction of the tower of Babel was construction of “the tower of confusion.” Lost as a result was the “particular gift from God to Adam” of a perfect “forma locutionis”:

“[A]t Babel there had disappeared .

. . languages capable in which the modi essendi of things were identical with the modi significandi [.]”
Babel seems to be a foreseeable risk in comparative theological work. The deceptive drifts into confusion from Babel in a fallen world’s such as ours turns attention to wariness regarding the “modi significandi” used in thoughtful writing. Careful is a step in the direction of clarity which the Book of Mormon imposes on the reader. Specific overlapping terms are shown to lack overlapping meanings.
Take again the term “grace,” a term that’s launched a thousand books, of which probably three or four a year are dedicated to the alleged absence of grace in Mormonism.
Grace abstracted and systematized is, the Book of Mormon makes manifest, grace denied.
One recent summary of pneumatology (better than most because of the author’s express struggle to listen to the Scriptures, better –that is-by Book of Mormon criteria) notes that the Holy Spirit can be “almost synonymous” with grace in the New Testament.
The comparison of differing beliefs of “grace” as justifying the conclusion Mormons don’t believe in grace is a case in point of unnecessary misunderstanding, because ultimately academic theology’s understanding of grace is based on theory while the Book of Mormon’s understanding is based textual loyalty.
Comparisons that lack an awareness of this difference are like collecting rocks that look alike but that, upon further comparison, may be proving to be utterly different.

10.“It is imperative, as Thomas F, Torrance never tires of reminding us, that we recognize that all of our theological knowledge is grounded in the fact that God is toward us what he is eternally in himself.” This claim is at bottom made in defense of the doctrine of the Trinity.

11.The Book of Mormon is not only frankly Trinitarian, but insightful in both economical and immanent ways. Regarding inter-Trinitarian communication for example, “there are many mysteries kept,” it is noted, “that no one knoweth save God.” (Alma 40:3)

12.The Trinity was and is controversial. It is the reason given for the persecution of two preacher-prophets, Amulek and Alma, who had preached “that there was one God” who “should send his son among the people.” (Alma 14:5) Earlier, the same two prophet pair had been engaged in a dialogue with a lawyer named Zeezrom, an ancient American sophist, who asked them, “Is there more than one God?” The question is answered in the text twice, once by Amulek, who answered “No,” and once by Alma, who answered: “[A]ll shall be brought and be arraigned before the bar of Christ the Son, and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, which is one Eternal God[.]” (Alma 11: 29 and 44).

13.The claim made here is modest. Admittedly it does very little to clarify a divine perichoresis of coinherence, largely because it has a recognizably Hebraic trinitarianism in contrast to Augustine’s Latin version – Augustine never learned Hebrew – emphasizing three wills in one. As Rahner notes, no express statement of the Trinity is made in the New Testament. The Restoration was left to do that in the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon doctrine of the Godhead “is not ultimately a teaching about God’ but a teaching about God’s life with us and our live with each other.” The Trinitarian teaching I have only sketched can go some distance to help explain the Church’s tension with its own theological feminists.

14.The Trinity is eternal (“one Eternal God”) but eternal in a way which is distinctive. To seek reliance on the canon outside the canon that is the Early Church Fathers (“Fathers” here is used as a liberty), being understood by Gregory the Great. “Analogia plageris” must be my method.

15.The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. (II Nephi 31:12)

16.On Creation, what’s especially interesting is the Book’s “doctrine” of providence, including concursus (III/3). “The word providence’ . . . is derived . . . from Genesis 12: 14, 8.” (III/3, 3)

17.Concursus, the idea that God works with those who work, in the Book of Mormon begins with the fact of the gift from God of agency, and ends with God as the finisher of our work. In between, specific to how God works with those who work, providence puts prayer in this middle.

18.Mosiah 2:21.

19.I think the Book on concursus is explanatory of the high status of present time, the belief in effort, and the allegation of no grace in Mormonism from its critics.

It is also of interest how the Book has a weak doctrine of theosis as participation in Christ (Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics, IV/3.2). This participation view of deification is a basic Book of Mormon belief that complements but does not contradict other views. For example, the Book of Mormon sets forth a complementary “ex nihilo” creation compatible with an “ex materia” creation.

20.Creation itself involved the Godhead, it was Trinitarian. Was and is, and remains so, as creation is also present tense, as the Book of Mormon on these points is clear. In a 6 day instantaneous creation, creation is less imp’t as an on-going process.

21.In a doctrine of Creation of 6,000 years ago, there is less of a role for deity in sustaining creation, because that calendared creation correlated with an understanding that there had been no organization or loss of matter, limiting God’s sustaining role to only regulation of fluctuations in matter’s form.

22.On creation, to compare another perspective, the Catholic circle is a closed circle. Theologically, there is no other possible

23.As I understand Mormon thought, this circle is not closed, but remains open, so that other potential worlds are possible, though with the same Trinity.

Alas, to follow that line of thinking will take a separateAll that can be said here, circumscribed by the object of this inquiry, is that the Book of Mormon contemplates this but does not yet say there are other possible creations and other worlds possible, but with the same Trinity.

24.There is de mimimus natural theology in the Book. But Mormonism, unlike its brother religion, Catholicism, the reason natural theology is so important for Catholicism is because the Catholic Church itself, in its depositum fidei, is not self-referential in its claims of truth. In this sense, Catholicism lives outside itself.

Excursus. The Book of Mormon is pre-Kantian for a post-Kantian age. The truth that there is God does not rely upon the dogma that God exists. This is unthinkable in a Kantian universe: a tautology, redundant, naive.

These two doctrines -Reconciliation and Redemption– in the Book of Mormon are interesting because of their lack of any novelty. The Book of Mormon is Christian, reaffirming the basic Christian narrative.
As of August 1, 2010, the cover of the Book of Mormon reads: The Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ. I have tried and will try to demonstrate that The Book of Mormon between its covers is an uncomplicated additional testimony of Christ that specifically excludes reference to ideas about a pre-existence (“pre-“) other than God’s, as well excluding ideas on our post-existence after the resurrection and judgment (“post-“): “pre- and post-” are book ends to the Book of Mormon, pointing in each direction to noncontradictory additional Christian revelation.
True, the “pre- and post-” are fascinating, and the only part of Mormonism Professor Bloom wrote about. It also connects to Cyril O’Regan’s Gnostic works, but is not Gnostic.

25.The chance of this study being misunderstood by the person in the Mormon pew can be assumed to be quite likely. Confronting that prospect, I can only hope, to paraphrase Socrates, that good persons, who are the only ones worth worrying about, will consider this book with the care with which it has been composed. Of course, on the other hand, being understood may not provide much cover either. “No community cares greatly for self-critique, nor does the church,” to quote Robert W. Jenson from his Systematic Theology at I:11.

26.To the extent this book as read as unwelcome criticism, Jenson’s insight in my case puts me in no person’s land, each of Mormondom and Christendom offended.

27.Clarity, not criticism, is my basic aim.

28.However, since the present age presupposes a “hermeneutic of suspicion,” being misunderstood by good people becomes just the cost of writing good Mormon theology.

29.Here I stand. I can do no other.

30.I was asked to write for professional theologians in their own language. So I am stuck with the Finnish, e.g., professional theology-speak. A member knowing Finnish is licensed to do great good or great harm. Choose carefully, please.

2012 Ashby D Boyle 2d