by O. Kendall White, Jr
The past two decades have witnessed an explosion in Mormon scholarship. Those Mormon neo-orthodox theologians who remain firmly committed to the theology described in this book currently enjoy greater institutional support from the apparent resurgence of anti-intellectualism and authoritarianism among some church officials, who have tended to reinforce neo-orthodox doctrine in both substance and language (see Norman 1985 and Robson 1980, who identify neo-orthodox propensities in the works of McConkie and Maxwell). At the same time, significant scholarship within the church promises to bring issues implicit in the rise of Mormon neo-orthodoxy into the public arena. Indeed, this process has already begun in scholarly Mormon journals, such as Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Sunstone, the Journal of Mormon History, the Journal of the John Whitmer Historical Association, and, to a lesser extent, Brigham Young University Studies, in which a generation of Mormon scholars have explored the strengths and weaknesses of their theology.
I will identify several published essays that are particularly relevant to issues related to the neo-orthodox phenomenon. Articles on the historical development of traditional Mormon theology, such as those by Thomas G. [p.178] Alexander (1980) and T. Edgar Lyon (1975), are especially illuminating. The role of Joseph Smith’s controversial “King Follett Discourse,” in which he publicly proclaimed the necessity of human existence and the eternal progression of God, is discussed at length by Stan Larson (1978), Donald Cannon (1978), and Van Hale (1978). Hale also addressed the reception the sermon has received among RLDS and LDS officials in an article published in 1983. Other historical analyses of the Mormon concept of God include those by Boyd Kirkland (1984; 1986), Van Hale (1985), David John Buerger (1982), and, tangentially, Gary James Bergera (1980).
As previously noted, some scholars have argued that traditional Mormonism, especially its concept of a finite God, is in an enviable position for addressing the problem of evil. While McMurrin, Edwards, and Ostler have made this point and hinted at guidelines, the development of a Mormon theodicy has yet to be accomplished. Still, a careful reading of Peter Appleby’s brief but superb essay, “Finitist Theology and the Problem of Evil” (1981), indicates how much even traditional Mormonism may have to abandon to ensure logical consistency.
Increasingly sophisticated analyses of the philosophical and theological difficulties inherent in Mormon theology are supplementing the work of McMurrin, Edwards, and Ostler. The implications of Alfred North Whitehead’s philosophy for Mormon metaphysics have been explored by Floyd Ross (1982) and Garland Tickemyer (1984). [p.179] Mormon philosopher Kent Robson has raised a number of crucial philosophical problems for both traditional and neo-orthodox Mormonism in such essays as “Time and Omniscience in Mormon Theology” (1980), “The Foundations of Freedom in Mormon Thought” (1982), and “Omnis on the Horizon” (1983). While Kim McCall explores ethics in “What Is Moral Obligation within Mormon Theology?” (1981), Keith Norman raises important questions regarding a theory of the Atonement, the meaning of the Godhead, and the relationship of human beings to Jesus in “Toward a Mormon Christology” (1985).
The foregoing identification is not intended to be comprehensive. On the contrary, it merely functions to indicate issues and problems of growing interest to Mormon scholars. Working within the tradition itself, these intellectuals are addressing philosophical and theological problems of particular relevance to ecclesiastical officials and Mormon neo-orthodox theologians. Though they lack institutional support and sometimes encounter censure, their commitment to both the Mormon tradition and responsible scholarship is nonetheless reinforced by the growing popularity of such forums as the annual Sunstone Theological Symposium held in Salt Lake City, Washington, D.C., and California.
While the scholars dealing with these philosophical and theological issues are almost exclusively Mormon, the preoccupation with anthropological, historical, political, and sociological questions has spread to non-Mormon scholars. [p.180] Articles by Mormons and non-Mormons frequently appear in social science journals, for example, and books by both are published with increasing regularity by academic and commercial presses (see Mauss 1984; Mauss and Franks 1984). This improvement in the quality of scholarship and burgeoning interest in the Mormon phenomenon promise to render the coming decades the most intellectually stimulating in Mormon history.
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