A paradigm is a way of looking at something. It’s a view or perspective. Marcus Borg in The Heart of Christianity talks about two paradigms of viewing religion. I will summarize his words here, which are applied to Protestantism.
Earlier Paradigm (Literal Paradigm)
Scripture and religious doctrine are literally true. Historical references are factual and accurate. Faith is an expression of belief in the literal accuracy of scripture and teachings. Scriptures contain divine authority. Challenges to scriptural historical events would be damaging to faith. Very concerned with factual reality of the Bible. Believing scientists are involved with attempting to provide alternative science and historical explanations not accepted by mainstream scientists. Religion is a “top down” exercise, revealed from God to man. Jesus is divine, born of virgin Mary, performed miracles, and was resurrected. They have fear in not accepting a literal, inerrant view of scripture because it will allow Christians to become cafeteria Christians, picking and choosing which doctrines they like. Salvation is not universal and only for those who accept Christianity. Faith = belief. Modern science and historical understanding is viewed as a temptation, as worldly, as a choice man must make between God and Satan.
Emerging Paradigm (Metaphorical or Sacramental Paradigm)
Scripture is seen as metaphorical. Factual accuracy of scripture and doctrinal teachings are not critical. The importance and power of religion is in the concepts and lessons. Faith is an expression of loyalty and devotion but not necessarily a belief in the factual accuracy of scripture or historical religious origins. Challenges to scriptural historical events are not damaging to faith. Even one with a non-supernatural view of the New Testament can be included, as the faith in Jesus as the Christ and the image of God is more essential than the belief in the historicity of actual events. Though divine inspiration and intervention is seen as possible, religion is seen as a “bottom up” thing, created by man as a way to seek God, worship, and show devotion. Scripture and religious doctrine are viewed as sacramental. A sacrament is something visible and physical whereby the Spirit can become present to us. Scripture is sacred in its status and function but not in its origin. Scripture is a human response to God. Christian life is about relationship with God and transformation of self. Human development in science and intellectualism is embraced. There could never be conflict with religion, because no past views within a religion can’t be modified as we understand more about our world.
Applying the Sacramental Paradigm to the LDS Church
This site’s purpose is to share the Metaphorical/Sacramental Paradigm as it relates to the LDS church, sometimes called “New Mormonism”.
When we attempt to apply this to the Mormon Church, we see how it can fit. We shouldn’t get trapped into a binary view of the two paradigms. There is crossover between the two paradigms. Traditionally the LDS church has heavily relied on the literal view, but we’re not unfamiliar with applying metaphorical view to scripture as it makes sense. For example, the parables of Jesus are obvious. But many mainstream LDS consider Job, Jonah, and even Noah’s flood as non-historical allegories with spiritual value. Applying the emerging paradigm to LDS doctrine and beliefs would push that metaphorical view into all areas of scripture and understanding of historical origins, such as the restoration of the gospel through Joseph Smith, the coming forth of Book of Mormon, view of the Bible, and for some even a view of the mortal life of Jesus Christ.
With this perspective, we can easily address all the difficult historical issues, such as the Book of Abraham, polygamy, Book of Mormon historicity, or other issues you might have heard listed in the CES Letter. It is quite a paradigm shift from a traditional LDS perspective, which opens up a lot of questions.
- How does the sacramental paradigm view priesthood authority and the prophet, apostles, and leadership of the church?
- Within this paradigm, how certain can we be of LDS doctrine and teachings?
- Do we lose too much of what’s unique about the LDS church?
- What is the point of obedience?
- Why take this paradigm view? Isn’t it easier to just take the literal paradigm, and if you can’t reconcile it with history, to just leave the church?
- What value does the LDS church provide in this paradigm?
- Joseph Smith and other past and current prophets have not interpreted things this way. Does this mean they are lying? Am I being dishonest engaging in the church with this perspective?
I embrace this paradigm, and I am a devoted member of the LDS church. Over time after grappling with all these questions, I have developed satisfactory answers to these questions for myself. On the pages and blog posts of this site, I share my views on these questions and share information that will help to formulate one’s own individual answers.