Does Mormonism have a theology? My gut response, as someone who reads 17th-century theological debate for fun, is to say “no.” We do not, as a people, engage in the sort of definitional arguments that characterize formal theology. Ask someone after sacrament meeting what kind of Christology Mormonism has and you’ll probably still make it to Sunday School on time (unless that someone is Blake Ostler). This isn’t to say that your typical Mormon is stupid for not knowing what Christology is, or for not being able to place Mormon belief within the historical arguments about it. The typical Catholic probably couldn’t do that either. The difference is that Catholicism has a long history of philosophical engagement with these questions, and Mormonism doesn’t. Our engagement tends to be more ad hoc, with an Orson Pratt here and a Sterling McMurrin there. At present, in addition to Ostler (and approaching theology in a quite different way), we have the triumvirate of Jim Faulconer, Adam Miller, and Joseph Spencer.
Digging up the root of my confusion,
if no one planted it, how does it grow?
And why are some hell-bent upon there being an answer
while some are quite content to answer “I don’t know”?
I’m conflicted about an aspect of our faith which stretches back into the fuzzy past and seems to be reaching through our future. If anything, Mormonism has had a strong confidence, even outright pride, in knowing God. Who God is, what God does, our relation to God then now and always. In our more polemical moments, church leaders have even ridiculed the God of the creeds; a God without body, parts, or passions is simply a God “without”– a nothing. Our philosophers have dissected the “omni” God as impassible and thus impersonal, incapable of being moved by our troubles or pleased by our happiness. Mormons have (sometimes confidently and sometimes not) described God as embodied. God is one who took upon flesh and lived and suffered and died. In this we join with broader Christianity, although others restrict this embodiment to the Incarnation, to the person of Jesus Christ while Mormons typically include God the Father in this same category of embodied beings. And we’re comforted to proclaim and to believe that we “know God, and Jesus Christ” who he sent because such knowledge is “eternal life” (John 17:3). But I’ve never seen God, though I’ve felt that I’ve seen the works of God’s hands. And I’ve never heard God’s voice, not audibly at least, as far as I know, though I’ve felt God’s guidance and comfort, sometimes rebuke, at times in my life. But I’ve also sensed God’s absence. [Read more…]