On February 16, 2012 Terryl Givens, University of Richmond professor of literature and well-known expositor of Mormon thought, published a short piece in Sightings, the blog of the Martin Marty Center For the Advanced Study of Religion, entitled, “Romney, Mormonism, and the American Compromise.” Ostensibly a response to the the furor surrounding the practice of baptism for the dead at the beginning of the year, the piece was perhaps more importantly the first portent of Givens’ new project (with his wife Fiona Givens) of overt engagement in constructive (Mormon) theology. This passage from that article in particular is significant in this regard:
…….Mormons have largely left others to frame the theological discussion. In opting to emphasize Mormon culture over Mormon theology, Mormons have too often left the media and ministers free to select the most esoteric and idiosyncratic for ridicule. So jibes about Kolob and magic underwear usurp serious engagement, much as public knowledge about the Amish is confined to a two-dimensional caricature involving a horse and buggy. But members of a faith community should recognize themselves in any fair depiction. And it is the fundamentals of Mormonism that should ground any debate worth having about Mormon beliefs or Mormon membership in the Christian community. What are these fundamentals?
Givens then outlines what he calls five fundamental ideas derived from Mormonism  that compose his new book (one chapter for each fundamental), co-authored with Fiona Givens, The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life. As listed in the article, the fundamentals of Mormonism are the following:
1. God is a personal entity, having a heart that beats in sympathy with human hearts, feeling our joy and sorrowing over our pain.
2. Men and women existed as spiritual beings in the presence of God before progressing to this mortal life.
3. Adam and Eve were noble progenitors of the human family, and their fall made possible human life in this realm. Men and women are born pure and innocent, with no taint of original sin. (We find plenty on our own).
4. God has the desire and the power to save, through his son Jesus Christ, the entire human family in a kingdom of heaven, and except for the most perversely unwilling, that will be our destiny.
5. Heaven will principally consist in the eternal duration of those relationships that matter most to us now: spouses, children, and friends. 
This book is important enough that I’ve decided to not limit myself to the traditional review that provides a general overview of its contents, highlights a few specific, important passages, and then sums up with some brief reflections and remarks. Instead, I’ll be writing a series of reviews that engage each chapter of the book, and therefore each of the Givens’s fundamentals (I’ll treat the introduction separately as well). I will not, of course, be without criticisms, but the book is notable enough to deserve a thorough (if incomplete) theological engagement from a fellow Mormon with an interest in theology.
First, though, a few thoughts about the actual appearance of this book, why it is significant, and some general impressions. Here I will necessarily and in a rather unequal manner refer to Terryl’s prior publications. This is because the current volume, though equally a product of Fiona Givens, needs to be put in its proper historical and theological context as additionally an outgrowth and in some ways a culmination of Terryl Givens’ previous work. That is, The God Who Weeps directly addresses and expounds on themes that were more or less indirect but pervasive throughout out most of the books he has previously authored. If this is the case, (and I am confident that it is) then this context needs to be addressed.
Though not singular by an means, the appearance of a book that engages Mormon theology in a fairly rigorous way (and especially one that has the potential to have a relatively wide distribution) is somewhat rare in Mormondom. It is particularly noteworthy that Deseret Book has chosen to both stock and promote the volume. As essentially the flagship literary arm of the LDS Church, for good or for bad Deseret Book functions as the imprimatur of acceptable LDS literature, and it is basically a truism among many Latter-day Saints looking for sophisticated intellectual engagement with their faith that almost all of Deseret Book’s offerings are more or less intellectually vacuous and thoroughly fideistic. There have, of course, been serious books published on Mormon theology in the last several years, but none of these have come from Deseret Book, nor would we expect them to. But as this recent post/interview published by Jana Riess reveals, Givens himself has been vocal on this point in the past. To Deseret Book’s credit, in response to this criticism it asked Givens to write a book on Mormon theology and this book, co-authored with Fiona, is the result. We can only hope that this is a positive sign of things to come, that serious, sophisticated intellectual works by Mormons and about Mormonism will be seen on Deseret Bookstore shelves alongside the words of prophets and apostles, a dynamic, interconnected relationship of faith, spirituality, and scholarship, evocative of the heart and soul of Mormon literature in decades past, and one in which Deseret Book itself once participated.
I mentioned above that the volume might be best described as a work of constructive theology. Briefly put, constructive theology is a kind of systematic theology in which teachings and doctrines of a faith are arranged in a particular manner in order to delve more deeply into the theological possibilities and resonances that emerge out of such an arrangement, building a potential world rather than deconstructing one to examine individual parts (a full-blown systematic theology would be the attempt to comprehensively include all doctrines and teachings in such a way that everything about the faith is fully accounted for. This is not what is happening in this volume). This, I think, is where we see Terryl Givens at his best: as undisguised and conspicuous theologian. Givens’ heretofore published oeuvre can more or less be reasonably seen as a covert, sophisticated apologetics, despite historical, sociological, or philosophical packaging . However, when we read his works as theology and not as history or sociology they take on a different and even more productive kind of life. This is, in fact, where Givens can legitimately be seen as an heir of Hugh Nibley and, to a lesser degree, Truman Madsen, whose Eternal Man is quite similar in form and focus. Like Nibley, Givens scours the histories, philosophies, theologies, and literatures of the world for ideas that resonate with Mormonism, and vice versa. In this way Mormonism is both a port for the infinite fount of truth and wisdom as well as a ship sent to gather all truth and intelligence where ‘ere it may be found. Nibley as historian and anthropologist is not nearly as strong and convincing as Nibley as Mormon theologian, one who directly channels the original visions and sensibilities of Joseph Smith, who inserted himself and his people into the histories of the world and claimed its truths and productions as their own. Indeed this is the recovery of the original Mormon universalism, not just in asserting that God will save nearly the whole of humanity (as Terryl and Fiona do in this book), but in insisting that true Mormonism must save and recover the whole of human truth.
Of course, in this book Givens is a co-author. That his wife, Fiona, can claim equal credit for the expositions of this volume may very well alone be indicative of its relative theological strength. This brings me to my next point, and that is that I can only hope that we will see more sophisticated meditations on Mormonism from wife-husband co-authors. In a tradition where the institution of marriage is so highly and ritualistically lauded, this seems especially appropriate for and conducive to Mormon literature and scholarship. Only those who know the Givens family well might be able to isolate where Terryl is speaking versus where Fiona is speaking, but this is in the end no more productively consequential than parsing the complex, entangled (Joseph here? Mormon there?) translation process of the Book of Mormon–the text is strong and productive whatever the process of its construction, but also because it came about as a collaborative process. Apostle Neal A. Mawell, was, I think, wise to say that for too long in the Church men have been the theologians and women the Christians . Of course, too often we read this as solely a call for men to become more Christ-like, but collaborations such as these take seriously the call for women to assert themselves more boldly as theologians, scholars, etc, and hopefully in the future to then produce standalone works of sophisticated theology.
Overall, then, the book must be seen as a most welcome serious theological engagement with some of the more resonant ideas Mormonism has promulgated in its 180 year history. Of course, you needn’t wait until the last in this review series is published to read the book. As Julie Smith succinctly and persuasively insisted in her review of the volume at Times and Seasons, “Just, please, read it.”
 Ascribing to anything calling itself “fundamental” within a religious community is problematic because faith communities and interpretations of texts and doctrines change and evolve over time. Nevertheless, in the book itself, this is not the language that is applied. Instead, the authors use the word “proposition” to describe five distinct ideas that Mormonism teaches, and this seems to be much more descriptive of how they employ these distinct Mormon ideas.
 In an interview with Jana Riess, Givens elaborates a little more on the description of each of these:
1) We have a Heavenly Father whose heart beats in sympathy with human hearts. [As the book puts it, “He feels real sorrow, rejoices with real gladness, and weeps real tears with us.”]
2) We lived in his presence as spirit beings before we came to earth. The human soul is eternal.
3) Mortality represents an ascent, not a fall. God is a great designer, not just a repairman. [From the book: “The momentous choice made by Eve and Adam was itself fortunate, insofar as it did not unleash the double specter of depravity and universal condemnation, but rather made possible the introduction of the human family into the schoolhouse of the world.”]
4) God has the desire and capacity to save the entire human family . . . and he will. We’re universalists. Mormons don’t understand this, because Bruce R. McConkie obscured that tradition for us, but we have to reclaim it.
5) Heaven represents the extenuation of those relationships we must cherish in the here and now.
 Not, of course, that this is inherently a negative criticism. I think nearly all of the recent excellent scholarship by Mormon authors is in an important sense apologetic. (See my series of posts on apologetics on this point here). But then again, most serious, influential scholarship is apologetic in some way, inasmuch as it subscribes to and defends ideals, concepts, and positions.
 Wherefore, Ye Must Press Forward (1977), 127.