Feast upon the Word Blog

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Mormons and Theology

Posted by douglashunter on April 19, 2009

Something that my reading and writing of the past few months has gotten me thinking about are the distinctions between various types of thought and work that occur within the religious realm.  I am wonder about the distinction between theology and ideology, between theology and philosophy, and between theology and doctrine. These area very different questions so I’ll focus on the last one.  

I may not have very good language for addressing such a question. In addition for some folks this might not even be a question. So maybe I should start by asking if a distinction between theology and doctrine is meaningful in the Mormon context, or is the latter constitutive of the former and that’s that? 

Granted theology has a fairly broad definition that points to the various ways we understand religion and religious beliefs. Beyond being fields of study or types of knowledge doctrine and theology are also both processes, both exist as performative aspects of a community, they are idioms and social practices.  In the Mormon context I think there may be a case to be made for a distinction between theology and doctrine because of the kind of work that our leaders do, what is expected of us as teachers, priesthood holders, members, and thinkers. Along these lines might it be accurate to say that we Mormons do a lot of doctrine but very little theology? 

In this sense doing doctrine means the work leaders, teachers, thinkers, etc are expected to do is to regularly re-articulate a finite set of core beliefs drawing on scripture and religious history to provide specific example of how and why doctrine is what it is, and how it applies to “daily life” etc. 

But isn’t the work of theology much greater than this?  What’s almost always missing within the institutional church setting (and from Mormon culture) is the idea that there is interpretive work that needs to be done, that scripture and religious history  are sources for a great deal of learning and meaning beyond they ways in which they can be brought to bare on a narrow set of established doctrines.  Further, doesn’t theology open the way to reinterpret doctrines  in ways not previously canonized, doesn’t theology address ethics, philosophy and doctrine in broad ways that are heuristic for us members, but in excess of doctrine?  What is the significance; religious, social and doctrinal of doing that kind of work, specifically in a Church with such well established methods and priorities that seems to not place much value on such work?  

I think that in other religions traditions these questions are no brainers, but are they as self evident in the Mormon context?  I suspect they aren’t, after all BRM wrote a book called Mormon, Doctrine not Mormon Theology,  This month’s 1st pres. message is titled Teaching True Doctrine, not Teaching True Theology, obviously many more such examples abound. So how do you understand the distinction between doctrine and theology, as bodies of knowledge, as social practice, as necessary to the community, as part of teaching a GD, RS, or MP lesson? Do you do doctrine or theology?  What do you find most productive?

30 Responses to “Mormons and Theology”

  1. BrianJ said

    I like your distinction between theology and doctrine, but I’m not sure how it will work when you get into the difference between theology and philosophy. I’m not so clear on that difference. That’s just pointing out my lack of understanding, not some problem with your definitions.

    You bring up BRM and I think that is a good example: he’s really the last LDS leader to publish “deep study”—which I think probably qualifies to some degree as theology in your framework (right?). There may be a reluctance on everyone’s part (both members and leaders) to have or be another BRM. Also, it’s probably worth mentioning that Elder Holland’s and Elder Bednar’s Conference addresses typically strike me as “theologically motivated,” though not theological. In other words, they seem to be doing the theology behind the scenes and presenting the doctrine that comes out of it.

    As to your last questions, “Do you do doctrine or theology? What do you find most productive?”: I used to do a lot more doctrine, but find myself doing a lot more theology lately. Which is more productive? If by that you mean which brings me a greater measure of the Spirit, closer to God, and has a more profound impact on my righteous behavior, then there’s no contest: theology wins by a mile.

  2. joespencer said

    Well, Douglas, you know how to force me out of my swamp of things-to-be-done-in-too-short-a-time: you just have to ask a question like this!

    I think the distinction can be put in terms of the role of hierarchy: doctrine implies that the instructor or teacher “has the answers” and “delivers” those answers to the students; theology implies a kind of leveling of the playing field, since students and teachers explore possibilities together speculatively with the recognition that they are seeking edification rather than answers.

    I really like what Brian is saying about Elders Holland and Bednar. I think there is much more to think about there.

    And, I certainly agree with Brian that, in terms of “productivity,” I find theology infinitely more productive.

  3. Mark D. said

    Doctrine has to come from somewhere, and most of the it comes from some form of theology, implicit or otherwise. In our church we call leaders doing theology they feel is sufficiently inspired “revelation”, i.e we don’t distinguish between that and more direct revelatory processes.

    At its best, leaders document their thought process sufficiently so that one can understand where they are coming from and where they might be going. At worst, you get a policy announcement with implicit discouragement not to seek to understand the logic behind it.

  4. Mark D. said

    implicit discouragement “from seeking to understand”, that is.

  5. aquinas said

    Thanks for the post Douglas. What I’m about to say isn’t sophisticated or nuanced or even original, but it’s the first thing that came to me as I read your post. I tend to see doctrine as the end product of theology. Theology is what you do, and doctrine is what you end up with. In that sense, everyone does theology. The act of reading the scriptures is an act of “doing theology.” When people take a verse from the New Testament, and the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon to support a particular idea, to me, that is doing theology. When someone has a religious experience and tries to make sense of it in light of the scriptures, to me, that is doing theology. It is extracting from the source material or experience some overarching theory or principle.

    In my observations of theological works, theology seeks to offer theories of the inner workings of particular doctrines. One might say that Christ atoning for the sins of mankind is doctrine, but the theology of the atonement is about trying to extrapolate a kind of theory or explanation for the best ways we might understand what the atonement is and how it can work that best fits the data and doesn’t violate other principles in the process. One might say it is doctrine that the holy scriptures are inspired but theology seeks to offer a theory of inspiration or how to best account for inspiration and not, for example, have God override or suspend human free will in the process.

    As an aside, I see some discussions of Mormonism and theology as intertwined in self-identity. Latter-day Saint thinkers in the past have used the language of theology, but some Latter-day Saints have argued that they don’t do theology or have theology but I see this more as an identity argument. In other words, theology is what the Catholics or Protestants do, not what Latter-day Saints do, because (then fill in the blank with modern revelation, or lack of paid clergy, or emphasis on praxis, etc.) I think it is important to tease apart whether people are trying to emphasize religious identity when they talk about Latter-day Saints not doing theology. For a long time, in Mormon thought, theology has been understood or discussed through an apologetic perspective (e.g. theology is a substitute for revelation).

    However, functionally speaking, I tend to agree with those that say Latter-day Saints do theology. It seems to me any kind of religious community which has a body of dogma or certain tenants is going to engage in theology. Whenever one tries to put what is contained in the scriptures into some organizational format, one can’t help but engage in theology. It is making theological choices from a realm of theologies possibilities. McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine is full of theological conclusions and McConkie clearly chooses theological positions from various possible theologies that we can find inside the Mormon tradition.

    I also think of theology in a similar way as philosophy, it is about showing your work. The conclusion is important but we need to show everyone else how we arrived at that conclusion so they can examine it. Now, there is going to be a tension with revelation because revelation tends to assert, it doesn’t offer an argument, and you can’t examine it, it just is. Sometimes Joseph Smith, for example, just tells us what he saw, he doesn’t offer an argument. Other times, he offers reasons and shows you the thought process he is going through.

    Philosophers get credit for the question and it doesn’t matter whether they have the answer. What makes Plato great isn’t that he satisfactorily answered all the questions he raised but that he raised the question in the first place. It is the question that is important; it is the question that drives us. Now, generally speaking, in some devotional settings, this is flipped upside down. The question is less important, the answer is everything. And some people don’t want to let a question go unanswered. In many respects people understand the Gospel as the answer to all life’s questions. Generally speaking, I would see teaching doctrine as providing answers. However, teaching theology in my view, is less teaching about answers, but rather presenting the questions, the questions that everyone will eventually have to deal with. Doctrine says I have the answer to all your questions. Theology says I have all the questions you will ever ask, and I also have examples of how other people have wrestled with this problem.

    Some have said that doing theology is inevitable and I tend to agree with that. Now, how they go about doing theology might be unique or different from other religious communities, or they may do it well or poorly. These are just my musings at the moment. I haven’t attempted to answer all the questions your post raises just what came to my mind. I’m not married to any of the above so if I’ve missed something or anyone thinks I’ve got it wrong, I’m more than happy to concede a good point.

  6. BrianJ said

    Joe, you should know that every time you agree with something I said I write “Joe said I’m right” on a piece of paper and wear it around on my shirt all day as a badge.

  7. joespencer said

    Brian: I expect pictures! :)

    Aquinas: I very much like what you’re saying here. I want to respond in more detail when I have some time….

  8. Mark D. said

    The problem is that too many LDS do theology while implicitly denying that they are doing theology. That doesn’t work out very well. The best part about self-described theology is that it doesn’t pretend to be the last word on the subject.

    It is something that can be developed and improved with time. The problem with announcing theology as doctrine is that members get the idea that it should be set in stone for the next century, and that anyone who disagrees is a borderline apostate. This is probably why LDS leaders don’t do LDS/BRM style theology anymore – not in any detail anyway.

    Theology *should* be tentative for decades before it becomes doctrine. The problem is that other than minor technical and textual issues, the Church doesn’t really leave any room for that development process to take place. So it looks atheological because it is Doctrine the moment any leader opens his mouth and no one cares what anyone else says beyond footnotes and commentary.

  9. Jim F. said

    It won’t surprise anyone that I think differently about this issue than some who’ve posted. Though I’ve argued that the Church has no theology and that theology is dangerous, I don’t disagree that Mormons do theology. Reading almost any blog or attending a priesthood or Sunday School class should be enough to convince us of that. And I find myself doing theology all the time. But I think that theology–thinking about what we believe–comes after doctrine, the teachings of the Church. It is an oversimplification to put it this way, but I think my oversimplification is useful: we are given the teachings by revelation (doctrine), then we reflect on them and develop additional beliefs (theology).

    If we put it the other way around, assuming that theology leads us to doctrines, then I don’t see how to avoid our beliefs being our beliefs rather than those we have received by revelation. We will unavoidably teach for doctrines the precepts of men.

    Of course the reason this categorization is too simple is that sometimes we reflect on something, come to a conclusion, and then adopt that conclusion as one of our beliefs, as something taught by the Church. That is further complicated by the fact that it is conceivable that such a belief would, in fact, be adopted officially by the Church as revealed. Revelation also comes through our reason and through the agreement of the body of the Church. So we need two categories of doctrine (i.e., teaching), revealed doctrine and other doctrine, and we need to stipulate that things can move from the latter category to the former. But we are unclear (often?) about whether some beliefs belong in one category or the other.

    For the most part, however, I think we understand far too many things as doctrines of the Church (revealed teachings) rather than other doctrines (things most of us believe and teach). We would be better off recognizing that there are a few central revealed teachings and a great deal of developed but not necessarily revealed belief.

  10. Mark D. said

    Jim F., I think if you accept that the Holy Ghost guides the authoritative endorsement of a theological process that conclusion is not necessary at all. In addition, I believe it is reasonably straightforward to demonstrate that most of Joseph Smith’s teachings were derived from a personal theological process of study, pondering, and inspiration. He said as much on at least one occasion. D&C 9:7-9 is the most explicit scriptural reference to that principle.

  11. Mark D. said

    I am referring to this paragraph, by the way:

    “If we put it the other way around, assuming that theology leads us to doctrines, then I don’t see how to avoid our beliefs being our beliefs rather than those we have received by revelation. We will unavoidably teach for doctrines the precepts of men.”

    I agree, of course, that theology does not become doctrine unless, until, and to the extent that it is endorsed by the authorities of the Church.

  12. Jim F said

    Mark D.: I don’t deny that the Holy Ghost guides an authoritative endorsement of a theological process. Indeed, I explicitly said that the result of a theological process could be adopted officially by the Church. But I don’t think that most of what we believe is authoritatively endorsed by the Church.

    Of course Joseph Smith’s teaching were the result of a process of study, pondering, and inspiration. Whether they were theological depends on which definition of “theology” one uses, but whatever definition one uses, I don’t see much reason to believe that the speculations of Brigham Young, Orson Pratt, B. H. Roberts, Joseph Fielding Smith, or Bruce R. McConkie, as interesting as they may be, as widely held as they may be, are the same as revealed doctrine. Indeed, I would say the same thing about Joseph Smith: not everything he taught was revealed doctrine. The Church has sometimes used a theological process, one I assume was directed by the Holy Ghost, to decide what was and what wasn’t.

    It appears to me that we disagree about the quantity of revealed doctrine, not about the process.

  13. douglashunter said

    Brian J: I actually think that BRM is a challenging example. Yes, he did do theology but in Mormon Doctrine I think we see someone who was also very ideologically motivated, who probably didn’t care to distinguish between ideology and theology so I see his work being a not so great example due to that synthesis.

    Joe S: I very much agree with the distinction you make. Your distinction and several of the other comments raise the question of what the impact of theology is on the community, the institutional church, and individuals. How does that specific distinction play out on Sunday as we teach our classes, in Mormon culture, and even at (maybe specifically at) conference.

    Aquinas: “I tend to see doctrine as the end product of theology” . . . and . . .”In my observations of theological works, theology seeks to offer theories of the inner workings of particular doctrines. ” I’m skeptical of these ideas. Yes, I’m sure that we can find examples in which these statements are descriptive. but I wouldn’t want to limit theology to a relationship to doctrine. I think of the work of theology as being broader than that, it has its own reasons and processes that don’t necessarily have a direct bearing on doctrine. Isn’t it the case that doctrine is always proscriptive but theology need not be? Theology can be exploratory and poetic but doctrine has no need for either.

    “Now, there is going to be a tension with revelation because revelation tends to assert, it doesn’t offer an argument, and you can’t examine it, it just is. ” Does this idea tie together the idea that Mormon self-identity is related to doctrine without theology? This would partially explain why Jim F. and others would want to say that we don’t have theology or theology can be dangerous. In this understanding revelation is in excess of theology, it can not really be subject to theological examination the “doing the work” that you mention. Perhaps there are times when it can, but we can’t assume (the argument might go) that theological work would lead us to an understanding of revelation which can be disjunctive, can break radically with our traditions and ethics, etc.

    Jim F: “If we put it the other way around, assuming that theology leads us to doctrines, then I don’t see how to avoid our beliefs being our beliefs rather than those we have received by revelation. We will unavoidably teach for doctrines the precepts of men.” But doesn’t this happen anyway even if one believes that he/she is starting with doctrine and moving to theology? I tend to think that the precepts of man and doctrine as so intertwined on a structural level that its hard (impossible) to pry them apart. Admittedly I am thinking broadly here about revelations, Mormon culture(s), history, geographic context, etc.

    “It is an oversimplification to put it this way, but I think my oversimplification is useful: we are given the teachings by revelation (doctrine), then we reflect on them and develop additional beliefs (theology).”
    Is doctrine the only proper origin of theological work? Doesn’t taking sacred texts seriously, and applying ourselves to the interpretive process serve as an excellent starting point for theological exploration? Do we need to be so conscious of using specific origins?

    Not directed to anyone in particular but is there any room for the poetic in the various models described in this thread? What we seem to be describing in our comments is something administrative, linear, teleological. One of the reasons I have so much respect for someone like Brueggemann is that he gets the fact that we are dealing with poetry and this is essential part of his theology, he also creates plenty of room for wonder. Yes, he can be outcome oriented but he does a better job than anyone I have read of diverting the ideological while working towards a specific outcome. This is not something we see in the Mormon context (i’d be please if someone would prove me wrong on that last bit.)

    So in the comments there are specific relations being described between theology and doctrine, but how do these work themselves out in the Mormon context. Jim asserts that theology is dangerous but what does this mean for people like Joe, Brian and me for whom theology is really a central part of our experience? To personalize it, if I had to teach EQ without theology I would be at a loss. I admit that in my experience teaching by the spirit and poetics and theology are closely tied together. Maybe this is pointing to the different styles or structures of faith / belief?

  14. Mark D. said

    Jim F: By themselves, no. In concert with the rest of their quorum, yes, insofar as the Church is concerned.

  15. Jim F said

    Douglashunter: “Doesn’t this happen anyway?” Yes. “Is doctrine the only proper origin of theological work?” Yes, but doctrine–teaching–is rarely found outside of scriptural texts, so yes also to your question about whether we ought not to take “sacred texts seriously and [apply] ourselves to the interpretive process.” Is there room for the poetic? I don’t think we can read scripture if we are not attuned to the poetic, both in reading and in our response.

    What does the danger of theology mean for people like Joe, Brian, Douglas, and me? That we are in danger and ought to be aware of that danger. Not all dangers should be avoided, but they must be recognized.

  16. Jim F said

    Mark D: I neither said nor suggested otherwise.

  17. douglashunter said

    Jim, what kind of danger do you think we are in? Are you thinking in terms of orthodoxy or something else?

    How do we allow the poetic to be poetic when the descriptions we have thus far seem to be striving to find or establish an order or linear priorities, for lack of a better term?

    • BrianJ said

      I like what Jim is saying here—a voice of caution in how we do theology, or what we do with the theology we do. I don’t know exactly what he has in mind, but I can think of some of the dangers (having falling prey to some of them myself): Know-it-all syndrome, arrogance (being above all that mundane doctrine everyone else is talking about), discounting the testimony of others by assuming they haven’t thought through their doctrines, mistaking the good feeling that comes from doing good theology with a confirmation that one’s conclusion is actually right (confusing the process with the goal), inappropriately sharing one’s conclusions….

  18. joespencer said

    Jim says: “Not all dangers should be avoided, but they must be recognized.”

    That describes the theological endeavor perfectly, in my opinion.

    I also agree unreservedly with Jim (and, because of the point’s importance, wish I had said it in the first place) that there is a big gap between “doctrine” and “doctrine,” between what the Latter-day Saint is (I’ll say) bound to believe and what the Latter-day Saint generally believes to be “Mormon doctrine.” And I agree with Jim that the former category is confined, for the most part, to scripture.

    The implication, of course, is that doing Mormon theology is (or, to make the prescription here explicit, should be) a question of reading scripture, of doing scriptural theology. And that means: the dangers of theology are the dangers of reading scripture. And, it seems to me, it would be well worth talking about those dangers….

  19. BrianJ said

    Joe: I don’t follow how theology should be confined to scriptural theology.

  20. Jim F said

    Douglashunter: I see the kinds dangers that BrianJ mentions, as well as the dangers both of and to orthodoxy. Orthodoxy is itself a danger, but the alternative is not Maoist doctrinal anarchy, the other side of the same danger. The fundamental danger is that our theologizing will cease to be testimony and become something else—self-aggrandizement, means for control, escape from the demands of faith, refusal to obey, the options are many.

    Joe: It is always pleasing when Joe agrees with me. I’m not sure what his agreement means and I worry when it is unreserved, but it is pleasing anyway.

    With BrianJ, I don’t think that all theology should be scriptural theology, but I don’t think that is what Joe was saying. The coming forth of the Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price, and the revelations of the Doctrine and Covenants and the pronouncements of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve are central to the Restoration, so our theologizing ought to be fundamentally scriptural. But that doesn’t mean that other kinds of theology cannot be done or ought not to be. Indeed, personally I think we ought to be doing liturgical theology and pastoral theology, among others. But our other efforts at theologizing would nevertheless remain closely connected to scriptural theology.

  21. douglashunter said

    Jim F: “Is doctrine the only proper origin of theological work?” Yes, but doctrine–teaching–is rarely found outside of scriptural texts, so yes also to your question about whether we ought not to take “sacred texts seriously and [apply] ourselves to the interpretive process.”

    I can’t let this go so quickly. Do you mean to say that personal revelation, spiritual curiosity, intellectual curiosity, the pleasure of discovering surprises in the text are not proper origins of theological work? Granted you take them all as part of a process, but I’m curious about how strict you want to be with the origins and purposes of theological work.

    I don’t think the idea that doctrine teaching is rarely found outside of the texts necessarily equates to a yes to my question about the text. These are two very different ideas about the purposes and potentials of the text. As we all know the most common form of using scripture to teach doctrine is proof texting. Something that we shouldn’t see occurring in theology.

    Joe S: “And that means: the dangers of theology are the dangers of reading scripture. And, it seems to me, it would be well worth talking about those dangers….”

    With all this talk of danger I’m suddenly finding myself nostalgic for the good old days of jouissance.

    Brian J: Aren’t you pointing directly to one of the main tensions between doing doctrine and doing theology in the Mormon context? Since JS treated the Bible as something that needed to be brought into conformity with, or corrected by the prophetic voice, the kind of scriptural work that I think everyone here is in favor of tends to be suspect in the larger community or at least problematic because of the recognition that theological work with the text always risks being rendered meaningless by the prophetic voice. Jim could probably chime in here and say this is why revealed doctrine needs to be the origin of theological work.

  22. Jim F said

    Douglashunter: “Do you mean to say that personal revelation, spiritual curiosity, intellectual curiosity, the pleasure of discovering surprises in the text are not proper origins of theological work?” Of course I wouldn’t say that. One cannot take sacred texts seriously without such things. I think the work I’ve done with scripture shows that I value them.

    You’re right that the most common form of using scripture to teach doctrine is proof texting. All the more reason to do something other than proof texting. Most Saints don’t know the difference or the problem, so they need models of good reading of scripture. But proof texting is just one of many dangers.

  23. BrianJ said

    Douglas, I didn’t mean my critique of the dangers to be Mormon-specific.

    “theological work with the text always risks being rendered meaningless by the prophetic voice” Not sure what you meant, but here’s how I read it: Even very careful theological work that focuses on scripture could be overturned simply by a prophet ‘revealing’ that all your work was wrong. I can hear it now: Elder Uchtdorf, in the October 2009 Conference, gives a talk titled, “Don’t listen to BrianJ; he is a dolt.”

  24. Jim F. said

    BrianJ: Elder Uchtdorf would be much gentler than that.

    The “risk” of having one’s theological work undone by the prophetic voice is an important risk for Mormons to take up since it is central to who we are. That risk means doing whatever theology we are engaged in as carefully and faithfully as possible and being willing to give it up without regret.

  25. douglashunter said

    Jim, it’s not at all a question of whether or not you value scripture or the elements I mentioned. I know you value them highly. But in #15 you stated that doctrine is the only proper origin of theological work. This is a powerful assertion of a specific ordering. It suggests limitations and a system so I want to know what that system is and how this other stuff fits into it. But then in #23 you are open to other origins for theological work so I really don’t know where you stand. That being said, I am fully on board for the projects of liturgical and pastoral theology.

  26. Jim F. said

    Douglashunter: I don’t see why the claim that doctrine is the only proper origin of theological work is “a powerful assertion of a specific ordering” nor that it suggests a system. I’m not sure what you mean by the first, but I assume that these mean the same thing. I certainly don’t think that theology ought to be primarily systematic. I’ve argued against systematic theology, and I don’t think that a belief that theology begins from the teachings we have been given implies systematic theology since I don’t believe that those teachings are themselves necessarily systematic. As a result I don’t see my comment in #21 (I think that is what you meant, rather than #23) as opening up to other origins than scripture (broadly understood) for theological work. I am happy for there to be many kinds of theology, but scriptural theology remains fundamental, primary.

    Perhaps the difference between us is in how we understand the word “doctrine.” I take it to mean “what is taught,” but I don’t think that what is taught is necessarily obvious or already known. Too often we assume that we already know what scripture teaches–what the doctrine is–and we read scripture through the lenses of that assumption. Instead, as we read scripture the question ought to be “What is taught here?” or better yet, “What questions does this ask of me / us?” Answering those kinds of questions requires imagination, historical insight, rethinking what is “known,” language skills, and many other things.

  27. Jim, I should have written methodology rather than system, in any case you seem to be taking a question as an accusation, which is too bad.

    I did mean #23 I think you are misreading me on that point.

    Anyway, the difference between us is that we have different ideas about what the starting point is for theological work. I think there are many possible starting points other than doctrine -no matter how one understands that term. Also I don’t think that the dangers you and others have mentioned are dangers of theology any more than I think that the desire for certainty is a danger of doctrine.

    If, in my comments, you see me attending to the idea of doctrine as what is already known it’s because as far as I can tell that is by far the most common understanding of doctrine in the Mormon community. Yes, there are others (we discuss that issue on this blog now and then), but any discussion of doctrine is going to brush up against the common ideas of doctrine as a form of certainty, as what is fixed (barring future revelation), as what is already known, because these are ideas are institutionally and culturally normative. But that does not mean I myself embrace such thinking in any way.

    I have no argument with your understanding of doctrine or what questions we should be asking other than they don’t go far enough.

  28. Jim F. said

    Douglashunter: Perhaps I was taking a question as an accusation, though it didn’t feel like it at the time. Sorry to have come across as defensive. And I see how I misread your point about my comment in 21. My apologies for that as well. Part of the problem has been that I began with what I admitted was a caricature. Having begun with it, I’ve been trying to add more detail, but the caricature has determined how what I say is understood.

    We agree that “doctrine” means, for most Latter-day Saints, “what we already know, or think we know.” But I’m not willing to let the devil have all the good words, so I want to insist on using the word but meaning something more by it. Further, I haven’t at all read you as embracing that standard notion of doctrine. Indeed, it seemed to me that you thought I was embracing some version of that notion. Perhaps that’s why I may have been defensive or at least seemed it.

    In any case, you’re right: the difference that remains is whether we start with doctrine or from more than doctrine. But I think that even that difference is smaller than it may appear to be since I understand “doctrine” widely in comparison to the norm.

    To restate my claim so as to be clear after our exchanges: I think that foundation for our theology is our doctrine and that our doctrine is ultimately found in the texts of scripture and the pronouncements of ordained authorities (which means that it is slippery and changing), but I think that what that doctrine is is a question much more often than it is a conclusion. As I said, though, I’m not sure how much difference our theoretical differences make in practice.

  29. jon said

    I have enjoyed this exchange and it has led me to think about some things from a new perspective. I would very much appreciate it if some of you could provide an example or two of issues that have actually concerned you where doctrine and theological exploration have intersected in some potentially “dangerous” manner.

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