Reflections on Good Friday

I’ve always been a bit ambivalent about the stories surrounding Easter. I remember as a child listening to adults talking in solemn and hushed tones about the death of Jesus, and wondering how I was supposed to react. Should I be feeling guilty, since as a sinner I shared part of the blame for his suffering? Should I be feeling horrified? (Some of those who went into excruciating and grisly detail seemed to be hoping to provoke a bit of that reaction.) All too often, hearing the story of Good Friday left me with an image of a Jesus who quite possibly resented me for having messed up so badly that he had to pay for it, and who was now scrutinizing my every action to see if I was good enough to be worthy of his help. Read More

History and Faith

A couple of recent discussions have gotten me thinking about the relationship between history and faith. Not every person takes the same approach to navigating the challenges posed by historical problems, of course, and I respect that there are a variety of ways of conceptualizing the interplay betwen the two. What I can’t quite make sense of, however, is the idea that they can be completely separated, that one can talk about faith without reference to history or dismiss history as being irrelevant to faith. (In other words, the “if you have a testimony, then history doesn’t matter” line of thought.) Read More

Toward an LDS Theology of Religions

“Theology of religions” has been a particularly pressing concern in Christian thought since at least the middle of the twentieth century. The term refers to the effort to make theological sense of other religions. It involves questions like, from the perspective of a Christian, is God involved in other religions, or are they merely human constructions? Is Christianity the only true faith–and if so, why hasn’t God revealed it to everyone? As I’ve posted about before, theologians often speak of three general approaches to the problem: exclusivism (Christianity is the one true faith and there is no way to salvation outside of membership in it), inclusivism (only Christ can save, but explicit belief in or knowledge of Christ is not necessarily required for this to happen), and pluralism (there are multiple true paths and ways to salvation, and Christianity is only one of them.)

I’ve often thought about what an LDS theology of religions might look like. Read More

Questions

When I look at the religious conversations I’ve had again and again, the papers I’ve written, the books I’m fascinated by, I can’t help noticing how frequently I find myself coming back again and again to some of the same themes. There are certain questions which have haunted me for years; I feel almost compelled to keep returning to them, to explore them further, to try approaching them from yet another angle. When it comes to these particular problems, you might fairly accuse me of being somewhat obsessed (my siblings and friends could certainly attest to this). Some examples: Read More

The Value of Theology

“It is very strange. But we Christians often seem to be completely unconvinced of the power of thought with regard to our Christian faith.” (Karl Rahner)

I’m currently in my sixth year of studying academic theology. (I’ve posted before about how I ended up in this area.) Despite those inevitable moments of feeling tired of it all, on the whole I honestly can’t imagine doing anything more engaging. However, I’m all too aware that from the point of view of many Latter-day Saints, what I’m studying is worthless at best, and possibly even downright harmful. It’s nothing but the philosophies of the world, I repeatedly hear. It denies the value of revelation. And so on. Read More

Augustine, Pelagius, and Questions of Grace

One of the theological conundrums in Christianity concerns the relationship between God’s grace and human freedom. What role does God play in the process of salvation, and what do humans contribute? Views ranges from one extreme in which everything is done by God, with humans only playing a passive role, and another extreme in which salvation is entirely merit-based, a reward for our works. Read More

Thinking About the End of the World

I have to confess that I’ve never been terribly interested in eschatology (the study of “last things.”) I remember being anxious about the Second Coming when I was younger, but by the time I was attending Seminary, I found the extended discussion of “signs of the times” and detailed speculations about events described in the book of Revelation to be, quite frankly, boring. The first time you hear that the world is about to end it’s a bit thrilling, but for me at least, it didn’t take much repetition for the excitement to wear off. (The “imminent end of the world” thing also loses a bit of its punch when you realize for just how many years people have been making that claim.) And I found many of the doctrines related to the Second Coming to be so bizarre-sounding that it was difficult to see them as having any significance for my actual life. Read More

Doctrinal Development and Continuing Revelation

One of my Catholic professors once wryly observed that ten seemed to be the magic number for official Catholic pronouncements: after a new teaching had been repeated ten times, documents would begin with the phrase, “as the Church has always taught . . .” The comment made me laugh, because it reminded me of the LDS tendency to assert that every current notion in the Church must have existed in antiquity. Like other religious traditions, we are confronted with the challenge of theologically accounting for change while maintaining continuity with the past. Read More

The LDS View of Original Sin

Mormons, I frequently hear, reject the doctrine of original sin. Yet I am not convinced that the concept has no place whatsoever in LDS theology. I suspect that the Mormon claim that we don’t believe in original sin is frequently no more than an assertion that 1) individuals are not held personally accountable for the choices of Adam and Eve, and 2) unbaptized infants should not be seen as guilty of sin, and will not be eternally doomed should they die in their unbaptized state. If original sin is understood not in terms of personal guilt, but as some kind of negative effect on human nature resulting from the fall, I think it might actually be compatible with LDS teachings. Read More

The Universal Salvific Will of God

In 1 Timothy 2:4, God is described as one “who will have men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” The assertion that God has a universal salvific will, that he desires the salvation of every person, poses problems for any theological claim that only a certain group of people (e.g. Christians) are eligible for salvation. Augustine, who saw the majority of humanity as a “lump of sin” headed for perdition, resolved the dilemma by re-interpreting the scripture to mean that God wants salvation not for all people, but for all whom he has predestined. In the 20th century, by contrast, many have taken this verse quite seriously and re-thought the exclusive claims of Christianity in its light. Read More

(Possibly Nonsensical) Musings on Sense

The question of whether church teachings “make sense” (and to what extent it matters whether or not they do) has come up in a couple of places lately, and I’ve been mulling over my own views on the subject. I’ve always been a bit fascinated when I’ve heard people assert that they find the LDS church appealing because it makes so much more sense than any other religious system. I don’t doubt their sincerity, but my own experience has been rather different. Read More

Glimmers of Grace

From the beginning of my studies in theology, I’ve been fascinated by the doctrine of grace. As with many questions in this field, I’m particularly interested in what it actually means for lived experience. If grace is something real, I keep asking, what concrete difference does that make in how I live? What does it mean to wake up in the morning to a world of grace? Read More

“You’re Studying What?” How I Ended Up in Theology

I’m currently in my third year of a PhD program in theology, in the area of systematic theology. When asked for a quick definition of what exactly that is, I usually find myself at a bit of a loss. Perhaps I should simply confess that we’re those awful “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin” types. (And despite the name of the field, we’re not even all that systematic about it.) I work a lot with 20th century Protestant and Catholic thought, and my interests include the relationship between grace and human freedom, the challenges posed by religious pluralism, and narrative theology. Read More

Life as a Test

I actually attended Gospel Doctrine yesterday (don’t fall over in shock, anyone), and there was much discussion of this scripture:

“And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.” (Abraham 3:25)

I’ve heard all my life that life is a test. But I’m not entirely comfortable with that way of talking about it, and I’ve been thinking about why that is. Maybe it’s that a “test” sounds to me like something being given by a neutral, disinterested party– as if God were a scientist running us through mazes and observing whether we or not we succeed. It strikes me as rather similar to the notion that God is responsible for all the trials in our lives, an idea which I’ve always found tremendously disturbing. (To clarify, I do believe that God can bring good out of even awful situations, but I don’t think that’s the same as saying that God is the one responsible for such situations.) Read More