My post on New Mormonism last week raised a lot of questions. First of all, we need a new name for New Mormonism. My term “sacramental paradigm Mormonism” is not very catchy, and the term “New Mormonism” gets some people really upset. 🙂 To be clear, New Mormonism to me is not a new church, it’s a new paradigm with which to view and engage in the LDS church in the exact same we always have.
The main questions I received were related to how Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and unique LDS doctrines would be treated in New Mormonism. I think people are assuming this is the Community of Christ model, where those things are de-emphasized, and the church evolves into a mainstream Protestant church. This is definitely NOT how I view it.
Marcus Borg was a Progressive Christian scholar and minister who died earlier this year, known for books The Heart of Christianity, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, and The God we Never Knew. His view of Christianity is where I base my model for how I view Mormonism.
He takes a scholarly view of the Bible. He doesn’t believe the historical figure Jesus was divine, but he accepts the Bible’s message that Jesus is divine as a valid, metaphorical view helping us relate to God. He fully engages in Christianity in a way that you wouldn’t know his views on literal vs metaphorical belief unless he was specifically speaking about that. In this interview, Marcus answers a couple questions that give insight into the questions I was asked about New Mormonism.
Question: The Bible becomes a human book as opposed to a divinely created or revealed book . Once you go there, the Bible has no more value than any other book. What in your view gives the Bible value and status even as a human composition?
Answer: For a Christian, the Bible has its status because our spiritual ancestors a long time ago declared the book to be sacred. To be Christian it means to be in a continuing dialogue with this particular set of documents. It is sacred in its function but not in its origin.
Question: In the Bible, you have God doing things that don’t seem like the God we believe in. For example, endorsing slavery or the genocide of the Amalekites. How do you go about deciding what you accept as truth and what is not? Whose job is that?
Answer: It is the discerning Christian community. It’s not up to the individual to pick and choose. You’ve heard the quip of Cafeteria Christians that just take what they like. No it’s the responsibility of the Christian community working under the direction of the Holy Ghost to make decisions of which of this material is relevant, and applicable, and authoritative for our time.
So, you can see that changing his view of the literalness of the Bible didn’t change his overall view of Christianity. Just because he doesn’t believe in certain aspects literally, he doesn’t advocate moving to a generic view of Judaism. In the same manner, I don’t advocate dropping faith in anything unique to Mormonism, just because the literalness is challenged.
I need to understand the Community of Christ better, but if they have de-emphasized the Book of Mormon or other aspects of the restoration as a reaction to historical accuracy of restoration events, then that is not the same pattern I advocate for New Mormonism. This implies that there is scripture and doctrine (ie from Bible) they are defining as literal or more valid than the unique truths that came from Joseph through the restoration. I view all the truths defined within the LDS church as having equal status. New Mormonism would apply a metaphorical view to them all and wouldn’t favor Bible truths over restoration truths.
New Mormonism is not Cafeteria Mormonism. It’s not an individual’s right to decide what is valid and what is not. The church has a well defined process of how to make changes in scripture and doctrine. New Mormonism supports the brethren and that process.