Thursday, September 20, 2012

Theology of the Book of Mormon, Part I

Since BYU has turned the ball over five times to Boise State already, perhaps now would be a good time to record a few thoughts about the proceedings of today's meeting of the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology at Utah State University in Logan, Utah.

The theme of the conference is "Theology of the Book of Mormon".  The plenary session this afternoon included an interesting discussion on Book of Mormon typology, based on a recent publication by Joseph Spencer.  I have not yet read the book, but from what I understand, the basic premise stems from a study of what sort of reading the Book of Mormon text itself calls for.  Much of the discussion hinged upon the difference between "the book" and "the words of the book" mentioned in 2 Nephi 27.  Whatever your personal sensibilities are toward Mormon apologetics and Mormon Studies, it is clear that the Book of Mormon is a work that merits close and careful reading, not to mention consistent application of its principles.  The Prophet Joseph Smith declared that "the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”  If Spencer's new book represents a careful theological analysis, much like Grant Hardy's Understanding the Book of Mormon represents are careful literary analysis, then such efforts may serve to inspire others to delve more deeply into the marvelous work and a wonder that is the Book of Mormon.

After the plenary session, a large audience gathered at the Logan Tabernacle to listen to Professor Terryl Givens expound upon the topic "The Prophecy of Enoch as Restoration Blueprint".  Givens endeavored to prove the centrality of the prophecy of Enoch to Joseph Smith's work, specifically in the time period after the publication of the Book of Mormon and the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Givens argued that the most distinctive and vibrant doctrines of Mormonism can be found in the prophecy of Enoch (Moses 6-8) and Joseph Smith's own prophetic role as a modern type of Enoch, builder of Zion.  More specifically, while much of the Christian world continued to worship a God without "body, parts or passion", Mormonism revealed not only an embodied God with parts, but a passionate and compassionate God.

Givens wove together the concepts of premortality and theosis (becoming like God), and he drew parallels between Enoch and the Prophet Joseph Smith.  Both Enoch and Joseph Smith were godlike particularly in their capacity to love, a capacity that found expression in weeping.  In similitude of God himself, Joseph Smith wept for Zion, and Enoch wept over the residue of the people.  Givens argued that Joseph Smith saw himself as an Enoch figure even more than as a Moses figure, in part because Joseph Smith envisioned that he would be successful in establishing Zion whereas other prophets had failed to do so. 

Given's rich and thought-provoking presentation convinced me that a closer reading of the Enoch Prophecy in connection with Joseph Smith's labor in Zion is in order, and that one of the most distinctive and vibrant teachings of Mormonism is that God, our Heavenly Father, is not only a personal God, with body and parts, but also a passionate and compassionate God.  I am not convinced, however, that the Book of Mormon is lacking in doctrinal distinctiveness, even when compared with the Enoch Prophecy.  In other words, while much of the Book of Mormon may have been neglected, or is still neglected, and while Joseph Smith may have drawn more inspiration from the Prophecy of Enoch in his later years, there is still much within the pages of the Book of Mormon and in the life of Joseph Smith to distinguish Mormonism from other forms of Christianity, and from other religions in general.  Not only this, but the depiction of a weeping God in the Enoch Prophecy, while certainly providing a greater understanding of our Father in Heaven, is incomplete without evidences of his other complementary and perfected attributes such as justice, omniscience, and omnipotence.  This is to say that the weeping God of the Enoch Prophecy is the same God that brought forth the Book of Mormon through the instrumentality of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and that the Book of Mormon contains doctrinal diamonds that have yet to be excavated...

... but I suppose that is one of the reasons why the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology is holding a conference on the topic of "Theology of the Book of Mormon".  To be continued...