The person who probably comes closest to my own views on many matters is Adam Miller. Back in the heyday of LDS-Herm we had tons of fantastic discussions on theology and philosophy. Ever since Adam’s last book came out I’ve wanted to do a reading club on it but just hadn’t had the time. One nice thing about this book is that it engages with a lot of the core theological topics where we disagreed.
I’ve found I learn the most from disagreements. In agreements I’m usually just either confirming my biases or else I don’t read as closely as I should since I already agree. With disagreement I pay much closer attention. It forces me to rethink why I think the things I do think. Sometimes I find more reasons for my beliefs, but at other times I find myself reconsidering them.
The first chapter is “A General Theory of Grace” and is a fantastic place to start. I’ll update below with each post so you can find all of them here.
Chapter 1: A General Theory of Grace
Chapter 2: Burnt Offerings – Reading 1 Nephi 1
Chapter 3: Reading Signs or Repeating Symptoms – Reading Jacob 7
Chapter 4: Early Onset PostMortality
Chapter 6: A Radical Mormon Materialism
Much of Adam’s thinking has oriented around the question of grace. He did a “paraphrase” of Romans that was intriguing. His non-Mormon philosophical book Speculative Grace looked at grace not as Christ’s grace but as a general ontological feature of the universe. That was deeply influenced by the rise of Object Oriented Philosophy that was coming into form in academic circles around that time. Indeed in many ways Adam was part of that rise. I still maintain a certain skepticism about that movement primarily due to its focus on speculation rather than confirmation. Yet it’s an intriguing way of rethinking certain issues. Since then much of his work has revolved around the question of grace.
Fundamentally there appears to be a bifurcation in Mormon thought between the source of being or existence ontologically speaking and God. One way of putting this is that the God of greek philosophy and the more interventionist and anthropomorphic God of the Bible were merged by Christianity. Frequently Mormons see that merger as an element of the apostasy. Distrust of the God of philosophy as the source of being goes back far in Mormon though. Brigham Young wanted theology to focus on a kind of anthropology. What concerned him wasn’t the ultimate constituents of the universe but what God as a person was doing. Even Orson Pratt, whom he opposed in many ways, never really engaged well with these fundamental questions. It’s primarily been in recent years people like Adam and Sam Brown have started asking about how this aspect of the God of philosophers relates to Mormon theology.
Hopefully you’ll pick up your books and read the first chapter to join me in a discussion and critique of Adam’s work.
1. Admittedly he did try somewhat such as in his famous work “The Absurdities of Immaterialism.” However from a philosophical perspective that was an embarrassingly bad set of arguments. That said Pratt probably did engage with these issues more than anyone else. He offered a foundational theology in which a more traditional platonic conception of God was transformed into a material version more in line with Spinoza or the stoics but using the then prominent idea of atoms. The divine shared mind becomes the Spirit as a fluid made of atoms permeating the entire universe. As such he comes closer to asking the question of grace that Adam asks.
List of Reviews
Here’s a list of reviews that often engage Adam’s book. Some might find these perspectives worthwhile. If I’ve missed some please post links in the comments.
Ralph Hancock at The Interpreter
Jeff Lindsay at The Interpreter
Walker Wright at Worlds Without End
Gerald Smith at Millennial Star
List of Papers Engaging with Adam
Duane Boyce “Reclaiming Jacob”
I hope Blake Ostler chimes in on this discussion. Can someone send up signal flares?
I sent a note to both LDS-Phil and LDS-Herm so hopefully old members of both will chime in.
In a local book club I’m in we recently read this. Look forward to the series.
I’ll put up some links to various discussions of Adam’s book for those interested later tonight at the end of the OP.
Sign me up…