Who can say something new?
Is Mormon theology, as an academic project, possible for Mormons committed to the primacy of revelation and prophetic leadership?
It depends on what you mean by new.
Who can say something new for Mormonism?
Only those called by God and sustained by the common consent of the church. No Mormon theologian, as a scholar, should ever attempt to speak for Mormonism.
But this is not the question at stake in scholarship. The question at stake in scholarship is this:
Who can say something new about Mormonism?
The answer to this question is very different. Anyone willing to pay enough attention to make an observation can say something new about Mormonism.
Theologically, these observations about Mormonism can be new in one of two ways. (1) They may be new because they have noticed something about Mormonism proper that has gone unnoticed. Or (2) they may generate new material because they put Mormonism in dialogue with other cultures, religions, philosophies, and theologies.
The first kind of work is important but this second kind of exploratory, bridge-building work is what’s crucial to the future of scholarly work on Mormon theology.
The key to understanding the relationship of this exploratory work to Mormonism itself is a recognition of its fundamentally hypothetical character.
The theologian decides nothing for the tradition.
Rather, the theologian, by putting Mormon ideas in dialogue with other traditions, poses a hypothetical question: if we put Mormon idea X into dialogue with non-Mormon idea Y, then what could we say that is new? What are the points of resonance? What are the points of divergence?
What can be observed about Mormonism that couldn’t be observed without this new set of non-Mormon eyes? What kind of hybrid results?
It is the explicitly hypothetical character of this work that makes theology, as a scholarly project, viable for Mormonism.
This scholarship may serve as raw material to which the tradition itself may eventually respond, but those decisions are up to the tradition, not the scholar.
As a result, in one really important sense, the specific content of the work of the theologian is immaterial to the tradition itself.
But in a second sense, if, in general, the hypothetical work of the theologian is not a live possibility for the tradition, then the tradition itself risks a kind of isolation and self-absorption that is incompatible with the outward facing orientation of a disciple of Christ.