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...]

Beethoven’s Cello Sonatas, or Why I Might Be Okay With the 3-Hour Block

Last night, my wife and I went to hear the final performance in this season’s Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s Chicago residency. Pianist Wu Han and cellist David Finckel performed all five of Beethoven’s sonatas for piano and cello.  [Read more...]

Sunday Evenings With The Doctrine and Covenants. Section 130. Part I. The Manuscript Source of D&C 130.

In honor of the Doctrine and Covenants study this year, this begins a short series on one of the sections that doesn’t get too much play in the Gospel Doctrine course this year.

Sunday posts are generally doomed to obscurity. That is the conventional wisdom. And Super Bowl Sunday posts? They must be sucked into an internet black hole. That being said, enjoy: you two readers in Botswana!

Section 130 of the Doctrine and Covenants consists of excerpts of sermons by Joseph Smith. It found its way into the Doctrine and Covenants in 1876, 34 years after the date attached to the heading of the section.
[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...]

“The Dawning of a Brighter Day,” a sacrament meeting talk on the Restoration

Originally delivered on 29 July 29 2012.

[the cosmos]

If you open that green hymnal resting in the back of the pews and turn to the first hymn you’ll find a song Parley P. Pratt published in England in 1840, ten years after the founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

The morning breaks; the shadows flee;
Lo, Zion’s standard is unfurled!
The dawning of a brighter day
Majestic rises on the world.

Parley wrote of the Restoration of the gospel. But his song calls to my mind a much older morning—the morning of God’s initial creation. Perhaps this ancient morning is the one physicists say happened about 13.75 billion years ago. Most refer to it as “the Big Bang,” but some have suggested it would be more appropriate to call it the “Flaring Forth.”1 According to Joseph Smith, you and I perhaps were there, perhaps angelic assistants in the creation of this world. A world as a place of progression for God’s family, a home for the family of God. This puts a different spin on Parley’s concluding verse: [Read more...]

Thursday Night Theological Poll: Morality according to O’Donnell and Jeter

Republican Senatorial candidate Christine O’Donnell appeared on Politically Incorrect many years ago, and opined on honesty and the moral imperative to avoid telling lies:
[Read more...]

Creativity, Generosity and Humility: Grand Fundamentals of Mormonism

At a recent FAIR conference, Terryl Givens, while introducing his work on the history of the Pre-Mortal life in Western thought, made this statement: ‘What I have come to appreciate is this cardinal insight: If the restoration is not yet complete, then other traditions have much to teach us. Not by way of confirming, corroborating, or verifying the truths we already have. But by way of actually adding to the body of revealed doctrine we call precious and true. The Restoration is neither full nor complete… What if, instead of scrambling frantically to find explanations when Joseph appears to have borrowed from the masons, or Ethan Smith, or Tom Dick, we instead see another marvellous possibility of his actually practicing what he preached.’ [Read more...]

Astrid grills a phone-missionary about evolution

The following is a dialogue my friend Astrid sent me between herself and a Missionary (both names changed) manning the church’s live chat at Mormon.org:

    Astrid: Do you believe in Evolution?

    Charles: hi, how are you

    Astrid: do you believe in Evolution?

    Astrid: is anyone there? [Read more...]

The Dead Thing in My Can of Tuna

Guest Blogger, Steven Peck is an associate professor and evolutionary ecologist at BYU who blogs on issues of science and faith at the Mormon Organon. He is currently doing a year sabbatical with the United Nations in Vienna, Austria working on African tsetse fly population ecology.

After class one day, I guiltily grabbed one of those over-packaged lunches so indispensable for those in a hurry to gulp down something quickly. This one was canned tuna salad and crackers. I felt guilty at the amount of unnecessary material piling up as I squirreled through the packaging to find my meal. [Read more...]

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