Terryl Givens, the Godfather of New Mormonism.


I’ve been following a few discussions on the Mormon Discussions board the last few day on the topic of “New Mormonism“. These spawned from a post on the Ex-Mormon reddit board called “I don’t recognize this new version of Mormonism.”

I was born in the 1970s. I was molded by prophets like Benson and Hinckley. Bruce R. Mckonkie was a rock star. “Mormon Doctrine” was on the shelf of every TBM home. The gospel was black and white. The restored church was true. Other churches were false…More and more people are now talking about adopting a “nuanced” view of the restoration and Joseph Smith in order to make it work. We now see the emergence of Bushman and the Givens, people that Mckonkie would have curb-stomped a few decades ago. This talk of nuance is completely foreign to me…The “google problem” is very much an issue for the church. And it’s only getting worse. We are hearing recent General Conference talks that I couldn’t imagine even a few years ago…

The framework for the discussion was introduced like this:

(Name) has suggested a grassroots effort by Mormon intellectuals concerned with the church’s future as a responsible social institute to adopt/influence a new version of Mormonism. In this version, the church would move away from its foundational truth claims. Aside from some issues already highlighted, namely not having the support of leadership, no way to succinctly describe it, how do you garner support without gaining a following and risking apostasy, and being a form of Mormonism not recognizable, what other issues does this new Mormonism face? …One of the biggest problems I see is how do you get anyone to participate? If you move away from the foundational fundamental truth claims, why would anyone participate in Mormonism? The motivating factor in Mormonism is fear/reward. If you move away from those teachings as (Name) suggests, how do you get someone to donate their time as a volunteer bishop or what will motivate anyone to consistently give 10% of their income? If there is no fear of penalty or no reward for obedience, why would anyone participate in any meaningful manner?

The Problem

The internet information age is exploding information that is challenging the foundational truth claims of Mormonism. Some of the “best and brightest” are leaving the fold because they see it as a binary decision: if truth claims are shown to be literally false, leaving the church must be the only choice with intellectual integrity.

Proposed Solution

“New Mormonism”, (which I call the sacramental/metaphorical paradigm) where the obstacles of faulty truth claims are completely removed. Emphasis is made on the beauty and enrichment one enjoys by engaging with Mormonism, ignoring or shelving the historical truth claims. Viewing Mormonism as a path to connect with God, learn and live a Christ centered life, and serve and be served in the Body of Christ with fellow worshipers.


Within Mormonism, you’ve got:

a. literal believing Mormons who are fine with the history and could have their testimony damaged by embracing New Mormonism
b. literal believing Mormons who have already lost or are on their way to losing their testimony due to historical issues and desperately need the message of New Mormonism
c. leadership who would rather have you switch to New Mormonism view than leave completely but prefer a member to retain literal belief and have a history of disciplining members whose message gets too far from the preferred view

How do you articulate New Mormonism to help preserve the doubters, while not destroying the literal believers, and not upset the brethren?

Further, once you articulate it, how do you convince people to fully engage, ie pay tithing, obey commandments, go on missions, serve in callings, etc, if these are not seen as direct mandates from God required for salvation?

My Plan

I deeply love Mormonism and find truth and value in it despite losing my literal testimony many years ago.  In recent years, I’ve undergone a rebirth of faith, with a new sacramental paradigm approach.  I feel called to help publicize this paradigm as a way to help those who are struggling with historical facts but want to hang onto their faith.

1. Provide a full and detailed, coherent narrative of New Mormonism.

My opinion is that New Mormonism is working in the sense that the message is getting out there in a way that’s preserving some members, but not as effective as it could be, ie we could retain more with a more articulate message and organized plan. We have the New Apologetics approach.  This is the approach of Terryl and Fiona Givens, Richard Bushman, much of the new Maxwell Institute, and much of what you read at www.bycommonconsent.com.   This is “New Apologetics” compared to the old style apologetics of Nibley-FARMS, defending historicity.  My perspective of this new approach is that they focus on the beauty of scripture and church doctrine and teachings, and table or downplay historicity issues. I’m not saying all these “New Apologists” have the same views as me, but I suspect some are very similar.   A lot of people are simply confused by this (see quote below–it took me a couple years before I understand what this new approach was all about).  From that thread on the Mormon Discussions board on this topic:

Lately, there have been many threads that might be very interesting. I say “might be”, because when I read them, I don’t know what the freak they are saying – thus I don’t really know if they are actually interesting.

I understand the stance that New Mormonism leaders are taking in speaking with clarity on historical claims. If they speak out clearly on that side of it, they might harm people’s faith and get stopped by the brethren. They are taking a half step towards New Mormonism. Some people are taking that half step with them and figuring out the rest by themselves but most are giving up and jumping ship. I favor a direct approach. Religion is man made. Human creativity responding to divine persuasion. LDS historical origins are not exactly what many of us were taught. Though the historical record suggests Joseph had some kind of powerful interaction with God in his youth, the 1838 account of the First Vision emphasizing exclusivity of the LDS church is likely not accurate. The BOM most likely is not a translation from writings of ancient Americans. The way polygamy was implemented was most likely not what God wanted. And by the way, other religions have all the same problems.  The Bible’s likely not what you think it is either. But there is so much more to Mormonism than this.

2. Articulate the reason for engaging fully in New Mormonism. How do you get people to fully engage, ie obey commandments, go on missions, serve in callings, etc, if these are not seen as direct mandates from God required for salvation?

Do we believe God gave us this plan just for the heck of it? Or do we think there’s a reason for tithing. A reason for missions. For church attendance. For the sacrament. For obedience. For sacrifice. They help us progress to become like God because by doing them something happens inside us. We are blessed. Our souls are transformed and we come unto Christ and become like him. We find peace, joy, and safety. We connect with God and enjoy a relationship with him. We gain insight into our relationships with others and discover how to enhance them. It might take more discipline, more faith, but in a way it’s more beautiful and potentially even more rewarding to fully engage in Mormonism because you really believe in the purpose of it not just because you have to.

This is the new job for the LDS Apologists. The Mormon Defenders of the 21st century will no longer be arguing about tapirs and missing scrolls and presentism and why scientists are wrong. LDS Apologists of the 21st century will be talking about the spiritual value of the Christ centered LDS life.

3. Stay loyal to the brethren and avoid becoming the “Loyal Opposition”

a. This is not a movement. I don’t have an ego about this. If my stake president calls me in and tells me to take down my site, it will be down. I’ll be in church the next Sunday with my family dressed up sitting in the chapel worshiping God with what I believe to be the true Body of Christ in the LDS church. Maybe another person will fill a similar call and take up the work. I truly believe this is destiny for the LDS church. The truth claims are coming crashing down and something has to be done. I don’t know if the church is ready just yet. But, IMHO, it has to happen at some point.

b. I don’t criticize the brethren. I’m not demanding change. I’m presenting a view I think fits within the big tent of Mormonism. I’m not going to be outspoken on issues like racism, gender equality, LGBT issues. I sustain the brethren as those we trust to make those decisions. I’m not against those who respectfully dissent and ask for change, as that is a historically accepted aspect of the Body of Christ, but I’m pretty conservative in how I interpret the proper way to communicate that dissent.

c. Be mindful of literal believers. I really take this charge seriously. Someone shared one of my links in a facebook group for prospective missionaries, and I asked them to take it down. I’d like my message to be public enough that the doubters and strugglers will become aware of it before they choose to dump Mormonism. But I don’t want to push it in the face of young testimonies or those comfortable with their literal beliefs.


10-14-2016 update.  For more posts on this topic see:

Shareable pdf document with quotes from LDS scholars

Grant Hardy at FairMormon.  Yale PhD and counselor in stake presidency, Dr. Grant Hardy shares his view of the gospel, including exclusivity claims and scripture historicity.

Richard Bushman and New Mormonism.  Quotes from Richard Bushman’s interview with Bill Reel.

Greg Prince and New Mormonism.  Greg Prince shares his view of the gospel with John Delhin that correlates nearly exactly with New Mormonism.



Like it or hate it? Share and discuss.
  • roysie

    Agree with you on many points. I like how you outright stated truth claims and historical stuff that was false. But then you jump to why would the lord ask us to do this stuff? And that’s just it I don’t think the lord has literally asked us to do all this because I feel foundational claims are false. Yes I see the good and it help me change, but I get much more excited giving my 10% away to a cause I am passionate about to help refugees, or those in need instead of trusting it to the church to build more malls. I’m happy to serve in callings in my ward as I think serving is always good. As far as missions go, I wish they were all service missions, and if people are interested in joining the faith from seeing the service they do, then they can teach them. I think we need to love one another first before all else. I appreciate what you are trying to do. I hope it helps a lot of people. I love my faith, and while my inner authority has taken over obeying outer authority I hope there is a place for me in this religion as its a huge part if me.

  • http://www.aaronshaf.com/ Aaron Shaf

    What about integrity?

  • GPPNeil

    So, no gold plates, but believe it anyway? None of it really happened, but love it anyway? It’s a good message (albeit untrue) so let’s just keep this ball rolling, right?

    Why bother? Catholics have a good message. Methodists have a good message.

    Souldn’t the name of this website need to be changed to http://www.churchistruebutnotreallybutwearegoingwithitanyway.com?

  • johnrpack

    The church is actually true. Yes, many people have an incomplete or fantasy version of the founding of the church — and we need to move past that. But, ultimately, after all the simple backwoods early members of the church are taken into account, the gospel and priesthood power were restored through a simple, uneducated, imperfect young man whose understanding grew with each revelation. Those who expect perfection ask for what never was and never will be — and they deny the atonement of Christ which is for every single human being.

  • Bryce

    Would OP be willing to come on a podcast to discuss this new view? If so, contact me at nakedmormonism@gmail.com. I would really like to fully understand this new position.

  • http://www.youtube.com/mormonfan YouTube.com/MormonFan

    Hey good work! I might make a video on this point of view. Or if you’d like to be interviewed that would work too.

  • Mit Eonbhtar

    This is the most irrational attempt to rationalize the “New Mormonism”. I was raised Mormon in a Church that was like a family, now the church treats members like Corporate Employees. The B OF M is a 19th century Fiction fraud. J.S. was a charlatan. Jesus never existed the bible is mythology. Give it up folks. Evolution is a fact. The is no Laminate D.N.A. no historical / archaeological evidence for the B of M. Joseph Smith was an eclectic bi polar man who borrowed or stole from every mythology or religion he came in contact with. The temple ceremony is Freemasonry. The church is a business and that is all it is.
    A L<ie can never be th4e truth . Now how can anything based on a lie be true? Unless it teaches the the mono myth or Hero's Journey is what is referred to as the Gospel. This myth is found every in the world and in Mormonism temple ceremony.

    That is the only truth I know.
    There is no way to rationalize a lie. These leaders have been lying for years and know it. I happen to know one who was church historian while I was researching church history in the l.d.s. archives. He told me the reality of things. It was mind blowing.
    I am proud to say Mormon no more.

    It is like fascism or Nazi Germany. You live under ecclesiastical tyranny.
    I have always maintained that wherever the RLDS/ Community of Christ goes the LDS church will follow 10-20 years later. It has to change to survive.

  • FredWAnson

    So what one is left with in the end is a godless, man made religion with no basis in ultimate reality – in other words, no basis in truth. Do I have this right?

    If so, then essentially what I’m seeing here is advocacy for a feel good social club for atheists with the historical legacy of Mormon Culture as its unifying common core principle. Am I wrong?

    If not, is this where the leadership of the Mormon Church REALLY wants the institution to go? If so why don’t they just shutter the institution of the LdS Church and merge with the Unitarian Church which has been there for some time now? Or perhaps merge with the Community of Christ where such accommodations to atheist Neo Orthodoxy are common.

    Regardless of whether I’m getting the above right or wrong, as someone else has already noted in the comments here, personally I feel like in the end this “New Mormonism” lacks integrity because it’s a Postmodern leap into unreality. It creates an empty shell of irrational nihilism called “the institution formerly known as Mormonism”.

    So while I appreciate the thought, effort, and sentiment here I just don’t see this working in the long run. Frankly, I think that there are better options than this.

    • ronniebray

      That might be what you are left with and you will be aware that whatever it is that you believe is also subject to the same or parallel charges by unbelievers.

    • FredWAnson

      @Ronnie Bray, you wrote: “That might be what you are left with and you will be aware that whatever it is that you believe is also subject to the same or parallel charges by unbelievers.”

      Nonsense Mr. Bray. Mainstream Christianity isn’t divorced from empiricism. The Christian faith doesn’t involve SOLELY evidence nor does it involve SOLELY faith – it involves BOTH.

      Paul didn’t see Christ die nor did he see Him resurrected. The first is a historical fact that he could easily verify. The second he had to take on faith at least to some degree. And he ACKNOWLEDGES that if Christ wasn’t resurrected then Christianity is a fraud and a sham:

      1 Corinthians 15 (NKJV)
      14 And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. 15 Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. 16 For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. 17 And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! 18 Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.

      But that FOLLOWS what he had previously said, look at the beginning of the chapter:

      1 Corinthians 15 (NKJV)
      1 Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

      3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. 7 After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles.8 Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.

      9 For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. 11 Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

      See that? Paul isn’t just saying that evidence is important, he’s encouraging his readers to seek out those who have evidence.

      So Paul was not only NOT afraid of evidence but he encouraged the early Christians to seek it out. So why is it that modern Mormonism tells it’s members to not only NOT seek it out but to avoid it?

      A: Because when subjected to empiricism Mormon falls apart.

      Mainstream Christianity isn’t a man contrived Post Modern construct, as the author is proposing here. Either it – and it’s founder – are historical or it is, as Paul said, is futile and our faith is vain.

      You are comparing apples and oranges Mr. Bray.

  • Annette Welburn

    I see your point about the Mormon origins not being what they claimed to be, but disagree with your statement that the Bible isn’t either. The Bible is the most historically accurate book on earth. Almost all of the ancient places are known places to this day. Archaeology confirms it again and again. Geography confirms what the Bible says. Prophesies that were recorded hundreds and thousands of years beforehand, have come true, to the finest detail. The written languages are known languages, which linguists tell us were translated correctly based on copious amounts of ancient Bible manuscripts. What we hold in our hands today in the King James Version is the same as the original language spoke, simply translated into our language. The Bible Stands. Whether what you thought it was, was accurate is another question, but if you read the Bible like a child, it absolutely stands on solid ground. The Bible is the one thing we must hold to. It is truth. When all else falls away, and is proven a liar, God’s Word, the Bible, will still be truth. I encourage you to read the New Testament like a child with no preconceived ideas. Just read what God spoke though the apostles (first hand witnesses, by the way, who consistently and thoroughly support the truth of each other’s accountings). In the pages of the New Testament you will find new life in Christ, if you read it with the faith of a child!

  • Enoch’s Author

    I think we’ve been here before. Anyone want to discuss “The New Mormon History” of the 1980’s

  • Varden Hadfield

    It doesn’t make sense to believe a book is inspired and helpful, while rejecting it’s subtitle and every claim for its’ origins as false: “An Account Written by the Hand of Mormon upon Plates Taken from the Plates of Nephi.”

    I’ve spent hours listening to and reading the mental gymnastics people go through to somehow live with the contradiction–but the more I listen, the less it makes sense. Except for this most honest one: “Well, I don’t want to believe. . .”

    And I’ve still never heard any solid alternative explanation for the origins of the Book of Mormon that makes sense.

    And I love those people and want them to benefit from the Church and stay involved. It just seems weird for them to claim they believe it’s still true through some “middle ground” approach that is not rational.

    Here’s the problem: Many who reject historicity do so by fervently believing some things as “historical fact,” that are far from proven in the historical record. Without true academic history study, they may not realize how many other historical documents they’re rejecting. They treat their view of history as an evangelical cause and not as a true, balanced historian in an academic study.

  • aaron

    After reading your gibberish I’am convinced you have fallen away from the church as it exists,and like a homosexual or other deviants your trying to justify changes to fit yours and thiers twisted views and excuses.God is the same today yesterday and forever,and your analysis is just Satan trying to fool the very elect,I see clearly and there is no need for changes in a perfect church,just imperfect men

  • Jeff Seaman

    All of this pre-supposes that practicing faith and believing in Mormonism is in some way good for you. I would have agreed with you while I believed in it. After I lost my literal belief in it, I walked away. With time and a change of perspective I’ve found life is far better outside than in the religion. I’m mentally, emotionally, and physically better off than I was as a Mormon. Life is good.

  • Joseph Smith CMFT

    I like this plan. I like your dedication to the brethren. Agreed, no one should concern themselves with who had sex with who or who said what or what revelation contradicts what revelation, or who might have died on the plains for a made up story. After all, it’s not happening today to you, so don’t worry about who it did happen to. What’s really important is just believing in what you were raised in and making sure to avoid any information that might make you feel uncomfortable. Dig a large hole and bury all your cognitive dissonance, intellectual honesty, and individual free agency really deep. Really deep.Trust me, I know about digging holes.

  • Ron Hill

    New Mormonism sounds a lot like giving the baby a bathwater enema…

  • Joe

    It is interesting to note how Satan is succeeding in changing the foundation. He doesn’t attack the branches but the roots. He changes the entire premise of the discussion so we are choosing between the lesser of two evils, when 20 years ago we would have rejected the evil on its face. Things of the spirit are understood by the spirit—things of man are understood by men. To anyone having doubts about reconciling their faith in this nutty world, go back to the basics. Pray with faith, walk forward a step at a time into the unknown, and I promise that the spirit will light the way.

  • http://fireark.com James Muir

    There cannot be a New Mormonism. Why? Because there never was the Original Mormonism to begin with. D&C 84:52-59 is the death knell that never was removed from condemning early Mormonism. What I mean is you are making a new fake of the old fake. This is not about IF there ever were Golden Plates. It is about DOING what was commanded and not just SAYING it. The first chapter of Acts is where Jesus spent forty days coaching the Jews and his apostles and disciples how to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness by taking no thought of the world UNTIL you get the promise of the Father. This, by the way is perfect science, where Jesus made a prediction of the outcome of doing what he commands. You shall receive the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost. Is the Book of Mormon extensively about anything else. NO, it is not. Upon this the nations would rise and fall. Mormons rejected the commandment to do the gospel as it is demonstrated true in both the Bible and the Book of Mormon. Therefore, what ought to have counted for Mormonism or the Restoration never came to be. And now great big heads want to reinvent a new hypocrisy. Fools and slow to believe! No Zion can arise without the foundation of the promise of the Father making saints of sinners and sanctifying those who can thereby be worthy to partake of sacrament and priesthoods and higher ordinance. As it is none are worthy and only condemnation and ruination awaits this generation of the fearful and unbelieving who crave a disguise of enlightenment through hard won degrees of the honors of men. Whoopie all.