A guest post from Jared C
Something that I have been thinking about while reading the interesting back and forth between Tim, our Evangelical friend and us Mormons is our theories of revelation. This may be a bit controversial for some of my fellow Mormons but I would like to hear a reaction from all sides:
Both Evangelicals and Mormons accept and rely on revelation for understanding of God. LDS and Evangelicals as groups, take all scripture very seriously as inspired of God. Both groups generally reject revisionist descriptions of biblical authorship and both generally agree that the books of the Bible were written by unique inspired men. (e.g. they both generally believe in one Isaiah, not three). They reject the so called “liberal” scholarship that explains away the miraculous and supernatural in the text.
Evangelicalism and Mormonism seems to be equally rooted in the idea that although people can and do receive messages, callings, inspiration, guidance from God. Evangelicals believe, however that the Bible is the ultimate and final source of truth and all other revelation and inspiration needs to be gauged and measured against it. This is because the Bible is considered free from error and therefore can be used prove and reprove doctrine and ideas brought up in the church. Although the Bible was written by men, was directed and brought forth by God, much as the director of a play with the scripture authors as the actors. Mormonism challenges the notion that the Bible is the only possible source of such inspired and directed truth and contends that the play is not over, but in another act.
Latter-Day Saints cogently point out that (1) there is nothing in the Bible that says future revelation is not possible and (2) it is not consistent with how God has operated throughout the bible to refrain from speaking to his people through revelation.
Even if you reject the Book of Mormon, even if it was a proven hoax, these objections would remain. There appears to be no biblical reason to limit God in such away as to preclude Him from sending down additional scripture that should be considered as important as canon. Further, knowing what we know about the prophets and patriarchs in the Bible, we cannot rule out someone from scripture authorship for any particular character flaw. There is no reason to limit a God whom prophets have foretold would use the weak things of the world to pull down the wise.
However, there remains a serious problem, from my perspective, for LDS to be able to coherently explain this process of revelation to the rest of Christianity. Without a coherent explanation of how prophets work that jibes with history of those who were purported to be prophets (Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, etc. along with Biblical prophets.)
From one perspective, I can understand the Evangelical position. Opening up the canon opens up Pandora’s box in a theological sense. Without a standard, that is taken unquestioned and closed, you are left open to question (or accept) almost any doctrine or idea inside or outside the Bible. The ultimate standard of the Spirit, which LDS believe teach to be the test of all Scripture and Prophets, in practice does not yield the ideological and doctrinal unity that a large organization craves in order to remain intact as a global organization. This is, of course, due to the accepted idea within Mormonism that the Spirit effects men differently and blends with their prejudice in a way that even allows Prophets to firmly believe doctrines that no one (now) accepts as inspired (i.e. the Adam-God theory).
What I see happening in the Church is a process of refining and reforming doctrine and history to make it cohere into a more unified package. The problem I see is that this process appears as political and “people centered” as the Council of Nicaea that is so often scorned by LDS. The “correlation” of LDS doctrines and teaching into a more coherent whole, in principle, appears no different than the consensus and tradition method that traditional brands of Christianity have followed. We knock off and disregard the more “radical”, unpopular, or “speculative” ideas, without really strong reasons for preferring the less-radical, non-“speculative” sides of the issue . Some LDS, I think reasonably, are resentful of the “correlating” that seems to nip and tuck doctrines to make the church more compatible with more traditional notions about God. Doctrines that were clearly held to be absolutely inspired by previous prophets are essentially forgotten or disregarded by current leadership and membership (i.e. polygamy). It is like Nicaea with the added drawback of being LESS transparent and open.
So, from where I sit, while Evangelicals don’t have a good answer for why they firmly reject the idea of writing new Scripture, Mormons really don’t have a good explanation for why some inspired writing is Scripture and some not. Without such an coherent explanation that matches previous practice, I think Mormons will have a hard time convincing the hundreds of millions that cling to the Bible as the final word, to open themselves to the thousands that have claimed to be Prophets since the canon was closed.