Saturday, November 1, 2014

Wrestling with Wrestling the Angel

"And I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God, before I received a remission of my sins." (Enos 1:2)
Recently I've been reading Terryl Givens' first volume in his two part series on the foundations of Mormon theology and practice, and I've almost reached Theosis (the last chapter in Wrestling the Angel: The Foundations of Mormon Thought: Cosmos, God, Humanity).  In the unlikely event that while reading the last chapter I will be wrapped in the power and glory of my Maker, and caught up to dwell with Him, I have decided to begin writing a review immediately.

Various scholars have already summarized and analyzed Wrestling the Angel (see here, here, here, here, and here) with great precision and detail, and Givens' ambitious work certainly merits more careful scrutiny than I can possibly provide in one blog post.  Nevertheless, since my own apotheosis still appears to be at least as remote as the next time I open his book, perhaps I can contribute a brief exegesis of Givens' exegesis.

What stood out most to me, besides the most excellent chapter on our Mother God, was the value that a perspective informed by intellectual formation in the fields of comparative literature and religious studies adds to the world's collective understanding of intellectual history in general, and of the history of Mormon thought in particular.  Rumor has it that Givens' second volume will focus more specifically on Mormon praxis.  If that is the case, the trajectory of Givens' latest works seems to follow his earlier descriptions of the paradoxical nature of the Articles of Faith contained in Joseph Smith's Wentworth Letter:

"I want to add a fifth paradox to those I have surveyed. I would refer to it as a hallmark of the modus operandi of Joseph Smith—the twin imperatives of originality and assimilation, or revelation of what is new and syncretism based on what is already present. I see this duality beautifully enacted in the way Joseph Smith commences his exposition of doctrinal belief, the Articles of Faith." (Paradox and Discipleship)

This is not to say that Wrestling the Angel and its sequel are merely more elaborate re-articulations of Joseph Smith's original Articles of Faith, but that Givens' understanding of that which he calls Joseph Smith's "modus operandi" ("Joseph the syncretist; Joseph the Prophet.") plays a major role in his reading of the history of Mormon thought, especially as it pertains to the positioning of Mormon thought in the larger context of the Western intellectual and religious tradition.

Givens' Wrestling the Angel might not be a book that you would want to quote from during your next Primary class (if you are a Primary teacher), nor do I suspect that many missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will choose to distribute copies of Givens' book instead of pamphlets containing the original Articles of Faith, but it is definitely a book that should be read by anyone who has not yet reached apotheosis.  If there is still time, it would not hurt to read Givens' other books as well:

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