Do Mormons do theology?

mcginn coverDepending on who you ask you’ll get a different answer. I offer a qualified “yes,” which may be against the grain depending on who you ask and how the discussion goes. BYU professor James E. Faulconer has called Mormonism “atheological,” stressing that Mormons emphasize history, practice, and lived experience above rational, propositional content.1 In the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Louis C. Midgley characteristically skewers theology along similar lines, saying that in spite of a few caveats, theology is “not entirely at home in the LDS community.”2 Philosopher Adam Miller has paradoxically or puzzlingly depicted theology as excess, likening his own work to the construction of a Rube Goldberg machine (it depends on how you read Miller whether this is a good or bad thing).3 Blake Ostler’s three volume series is heavily theological, but he uses a different “T” word in the title: Exploring Mormon Thought.4

Soon, Terryl Givens will publish his ambitious overview of “the foundations of Mormon thought.”5 [Read more…]

Defending God’s Sovereignty (Who is God?, Part 2)

The title of this post is a lie: I’m not going to defend God’s sovereignty, not really anyway. I’m not not going to do it for two reasons. First, because I have no theological belief about God’s nature or power or personality or sovereignty firm enough to qualify as something that I am genuinely capable of “defending.” Frankly, God is a mystery to me, and I tend to believe that He wants it to be that way, for His own mostly unknowable reasons. Second, because to engage in a defense means to present an argument–in this case, one against the position that Jason has sketched out, which presents some questions and possibilities in connection with the idea that the Mormon notion of God presents Him as vulnerable, not sovereign–and while I’d like to think I’m at least minimally well-read in the theological literature, my disagreement with him, and my belief that the God which Christians like ourselves worship is not essentially vulnerable, but rather is essentially sovereign, is rooted in other perceptions that lack the rigor of theological argument. The best I can do, then, is talk about where those perceptions came from, and what they’ve meant to me. [Read more…]

Who is God? (part 1)

Recent events—the death of Jordan Fowles, the shooting of the Stay family in Texas—have prompted some internal BCC discussions about the character of God. Commenters occasionally accuse BCC of being an echo chamber, but our discussions of this topic have turned out to be full of lively debate and disagreement. We’ve decided to bring our discussion to the blog, with several posts on the subject over the next few days. Our collective goal is to stimulate further conversation, not to defend any particular theological position (although some of us might choose to argue vociferously in the comments).

Terryl and Fiona Givens’ The God Who Weeps offers a provocative vision of a God whose heart beats in sympathy with human hearts, presenting this, as its subtitle (How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life) proclaims, as a compelling answer to the difficulties of being human. I want to follow in the spirit of Adam Miller’s thoughtful critique of Weeps in the Spring 2014 issue of Dialogue (subscribe if you haven’t yet) by probing some of the implications of the vulnerable God that the Givenses find in Moses 7:28-29. This probing will be ad hoc rather than systematic, stirring up dust rather than settling questions. With Miller, my aim is not to denigrate the book (pas du tout!), but rather to honor its contribution by allowing it to provoke further thinking.

[Read more…]

Line upon [or reading between the] line in the development of Mormon theology

Part 4 of my series, “Intellectual disability in Mormon thought…”

Pastoral with Injured Fool, by Brian Kershisnik

Jim Faulconer has depicted Mormonism as “atheological,” meaning that Mormonism lacks the sort of systematic theology found in other traditions, especially Catholicism. He writes that Mormonism privileges praxis over doxy, but I’m not convinced these two elements can be so neatly separated. Belief and practices are intertwined; they inform each other in ways I doubt any researcher can fully untangle. Still, perhaps Faulconer is right to say that, with a few exceptions (the Lectures on Faith, for example), Mormon belief and practice has often been created according to pressing concerns and needs, and is thus not formulated in a systematic manner. Pieces of theology would crop up not only in revealed scripture, but also in table conversations, in a red brick store, in council meetings, in sermons lost to time, in missionary journeys.

This non-systematic development of Mormon thought leads to interesting contradictions. Joseph’s theological project was incomplete at the time of his death, and the “chaos of materials prepared by” the prophet, to borrow a phrase from Parley P. Pratt, have proven fertile ground in which subsequent church leaders and members have harvested a variety of fruits.[1] Joseph’s scriptures and sermons have been employed in a piecemeal fashion to answer questions he didn’t apparently ask. This is especially true in regards to intellectual disability. [Read more…]

Review: Molly C. Haslam, “A Constructive Theology of Intellectual Disability”

Title: A Constructive Theology of Intellectual Disability: Human Being As Mutuality and Response
Author: Molly C. Haslam
Publisher: Fordham University Press
Genre: Theology
Year: 2012
Pages: 134
Binding: Paperback
ISBN13: 978-0-8232-3941-2
Price: $24.00

Here’s another (perhaps over-long) review. For the benefit of people wrapped up in the holiday season and not able to spend much time on a blog post, here’s a little synopsis of the review:

SYNOPSIS: Theologian/physical therapist Molly Haslam claims that Christian theology is problematically biased in its typical definition of “human being” according to attributes such as agency, rationality, and intelligence. Christian anthropologies thus marginalize people with profound intellectual disabilities. She describes several recent attempts to account for the disabled in Christian theology. She finds them inadequate because they still seem to privilege the rational self. She seeks to construct a theology which explains how people with severe intellectual disabilities can be seen as being created in the image of God. Her account is excellent despite a few internal contradictions, and it has interesting implications for how a Mormon theology of intellectual disability might look. Above all, it very fruitfully invites you, good reader, to think about what it means to be human.

Now for the full review.

Chan was born with cerebral palsy. [Read more…]

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