It’s unlikely that I believe the right things about God, Jesus, the gospel, or the Church. It’s even less likely that I could express my beliefs in a coherent and justifiable way. I used to think that, because my ideas were clever, I was at least closer to being right than most. This I took as a consolation.
But cleverness isn’t much to live on. God, I think, has been working to pry this cleverness from my cold, dead hands. I have felt God more than once pushing me to echo Meister Eckhart’s deeply orthodox prayer: “I pray to God to rid me of God.” In the midst of such a prayer, the wind stops howling and God bestows a terrifying calm. In this stillness, God gives a precise revelation that bypasses belief and instructs practice.
Here, the gospel is given as a certain way of sitting in a chair, a certain way of meeting a child’s eyes, a certain way of kissing a woman’s cheek, a certain way of biting into an apple, a certain way of sheltering a breath, a certain way of reading a book, a certain way of folding a sheet, a certain way of greeting desire or holding, in open hands, a flush of anger.
Perhaps it is no suprise, then, that so many Mormon beliefs are so unsettled. As Jim Faulconer notes in Faith, Philosophy, Scripture (Maxwell Institute, 2010),
relatively few of what are often described as the beliefs and teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ are required of its members, and even fewer beliefs have a generally agreed-upon rational explanation or description. Yet most Latter-day Saints are not bothered by the absence of official theology – and the leadership of the church seems not to be looking to fill in that absence. (91)
The centrality of practice to Mormonism and the priority of continuing revelation combine to encourage such open-endedness.
To be a believer is to respond to God’s saving activity with repentance and in rebirth and with tokens that testify of God’s saving power. One can do that and, at the same time, have some, perhaps many, false beliefs. But if the exemplary pious person can have false beliefs about his or her religion, then belief cannot define what it means to be religious. The locus of religion is practice rather than belief, though particular beliefs are often inseparable from practices. (96)
The gospel has little to do with my being right. Rather, in relation to God, the gospel unfolds as a precise revelation about the way in which I ought to be wrong.
The gospel instructs us in a certain way of being imperfect.
In scripture and prophetic teaching, the question is not “What can I know?” and, so, “What can I master?” but “How should I be?” and “What should master me?” In them, knowledge means being related to others and the world, in experience and acquaintance, in the right way. (100)
[Photo: Ali Dover]
This reminded me of the scripture: “If so, his faith and hope is vain, for none is acceptable before God, save the meek and lowly in heart; and if a man be meek and lowly in heart, and confesses by the power of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ, he must needs have charity; for if he have not charity he is nothing; wherefore he must needs have charity.”
“Here, the gospel is given as a certain way of sitting in a chair, a certain way of meeting a child’s eyes, a certain way of kissing a woman’s cheek, a certain way of biting into an apple, a certain way of sheltering a breath, a certain way of reading a book, a certain way of folding a sheet, a certain way of greeting desire or holding, in open hands, a flush of anger.”
That’s absoultely beautiful – and I’m glad to see that Mormons appreciate the Meister!
Great post Adam.
I think the notion of justification is fully about how to correctly be wrong. If we understood that I think we’d be a bit more charitable to how we view people in the past.
Amen, brother! The process is everying. It’s being not believing – even if believing is a part of being. The rest is doing.
Wonderful to see our orthopraxy lauded and rendered so articulately. I’m definitely in your choir. One of the reasons I appreciate seeing you champion these (what I consider central) elements of Mormonism, however, is that I’m not sure that they’re quite as firmly in place as we might wish. The cynical side of me says that Mormons are anything but content with the “unsettled” nature of our theology – quite the opposite, many Mormons are completely convinced of that we have firm, explicitly articulated dogmas, ones that answer all the great questions of human existence. They’re content because they’re woefully ignorant of the woeful inadequacies of our position vis-a-vis the demands of systematic rationality and a more comprehensive view of human experience. But my less cynical side says, “Sure, maybe, but that’s just fine too so long as they DO have the underlying way of living right.” And if I’m wrong about that too, well, give me hope that I’m wrong in the right sort of way.
I hear you, James.
I dig what you’re laying down, Adam.
Just the other day, either on this site or over at BCC, one of the sidebar links pointed to an open letter from a non-Orthodox Jew to Glenn Beck. Among other things he pointed out was that even for an Orthodox Rabbi, as opposed to Mormons (he specifically pointed out that it would be hard for Glen, as a Mormon, to understand this…), “It’s all about what you do. Follow the commandments, perform the mitzvot, and you’re a good Jew, even if you don’t believe in God.”
Would you say we are closer to that kind of flexibility in belief/focus on practice than the author of that letter seems to think?
“many Mormons are completely convinced of that we have firm, explicitly articulated dogmas, ones that answer all the great questions of human existence.”
That’s my impression as well.
thanks for sharing with us.
the three pillars of truth:
In the Catholic Faith, there are three sources of truth:
and the Magisterium
Tradition and Scripture together constitute the Sacred Deposit of Faith, also called Divine Revelation. All the truths taught by Tradition and Scripture are the teachings of God, divinely-revealed.
Like Herrod, Americans are flocking to counseling that incorporates a spiritual or religious element. Faith-based therapies—from pastoral counseling to ecumenical Christian counseling to fundamentalist Bible-based treatment—have surged in popularity. The American Association of Christian Counselors has grown from 15,000 members in 1999 to 50,000 today. Specialized services are also thriving: It is becoming increasingly easy to find Christian-based eating disorder treatment centers or Christian life coaches.