"This Is My Doctrine": The Development of Mormon Theology
The principal doctrines defining Mormonism today often bear little resemblance to those it started out with in the early 1830s. This book shows that these doctrines did not originate in a vacuum but were rather prompted and informed by the religious culture from which Mormonism arose. Early Mormons, like their early Christian and even earlier Israelite predecessors, brought with them their own varied culturally conditioned theological presuppositions (a process of convergence) and only later acquired a more distinctive theological outlook (a process of differentiation).
In this first-of-its-kind comprehensive treatment of the development of Mormon theology, Charles Harrell traces the history of Latter-day Saint doctrines from the times of the Old Testament to the present. He describes how Mormonism has carried on the tradition of the biblical authors, early Christians, and later Protestants in reinterpreting scripture to accommodate new theological ideas while attempting to uphold the integrity and authority of the scriptures. In the process, he probes three questions: How did Mormon doctrines develop? What are the scriptural underpinnings of these doctrines? And what do critical scholars make of these same scriptures? In this enlightening study, Harrell systematically peels back the doctrinal accretions of time to provide a fresh new look at Mormon theology.
This Is My Doctrine will provide those already versed in Mormonism’s theological tradition with a new and richer perspective of Mormon theology. Those unacquainted with Mormonism will gain an appreciation for how Mormon theology fits into the larger Jewish and Christian theological traditions.
By Chad, Submitted on 2015-02-25
It's somewhat rare to find good historical analysis of how Church doctrines and practices originated and developed and this book does a great job of doing just that.
In case you're on the fence about whether to purchase the book or not you can get a good idea as to it's content and the views of the author by listening to a two-part podcast interview of the author about this book at the Mormon Stories podcast site: http://mormonstories.org/?p=2414
By Loyd, Submitted on 2015-02-25
In this book, Harrell looks at the historical development of key Mormon beliefs and shows how those beliefs (and surround teachings) have changed from the time of the early Israelites, through New Testament Christianity, into 19th protestant theology, incorporated into early Mormon thought, and finally how they have evolved (and sometimes contradicted themselves) over the first century of Mormonism. Utilizing contemporary Biblical criticism, Harrell shows how Joseph Smith followed the historical prophetic tradition of taking old scripture and religious narrative, and making them new and relevant to contemporary followers.
The primary short-falling of this book is that it attempts to do so much in just under 600 pages, when each chapter alone is perhaps worthy of its own volume.
Perhaps my favorite part of the volume are the expansive subject and scripture indices at the end of the book. With thousands of entries, the book is a powerful resource for quickly looking up particular beliefs and scriptural passages.
Harrell's insights and observations about Mormonism's rich theological history is a wonderful and enlightening read.
By David, Submitted on 2015-02-25
I like to think of this book, in one way, as the Snopes.com of Scriptural Prooftexts. A guide to clearing up misapplication and misunderstanding. A prolegomena for further study and application.
It begins with a powerful stand-alone essay in Chapter 1 that introduces (for many) the concept that Mormonism, believe it or not, does not actually hold a doctrine of Inerrancy of Scripture, or even of its leadership. It explains (in a of-necessity extremely brief overview )the general context and worldviews of the Old Testament, New Testament, 19th Century Christianity, and Early Mormonism. It introduces the concept of "Proof-texting" - using an out of context Scripture to prove a doctrinal point - and shows how this practice was used in each of those historical and scriptural contexts to further express the then-current theological message.
It's a very gentle - but necessary - introduction for what's to come. It's a slow ramp down into the rabbit hole. Harrell uses quotations from well-known General Authorities, and popular BYU Professors - individuals who would be recognized as safe, and trustworthy. These are not elite fringe Intellectuals, or so-called Faithless Apostates. He lets them present the concepts that may be new to many, and shatter preconceived "unwritten order of things" communally held by many members.
The chapters are arranged in a logical topical progression that mirrors in many ways the Gospel Principles manual. Looking down the Table of Contents, you could easily think you're looking at a standard Topical Guide, or a teaching tool such as True to the Faith, or the Missionary lessons of Preach My Gospel.
Most chapters follow a simple pattern, where general observations about the doctrine or principle nare given, followed by an exploration of how scriptures often used to teach those principles were understood in their original context. What will be quickly seen is that a great many of the scriptures of earlier canonical records did not mean at all what we often by default assume them to mean today. In fact, sometimes the original meaning is presented to mean something distinctly opposite.
Harrell, a faithful and practicing member of the Church, asserts that a belief in a seamless story isn't necessary to maintain faith in God, Jesus Christ, or Joseph Smith's prophetic call, and the authority of Restored Church. What he does suggest, in part, is that sometimes our understanding of key assertions and definitions (and especially attitudes of arrogant exclusivity) may need to be adjusted.
Harrell argues for the legitimacy of a dynamic and pragmatic religion that is not held captive by former dogmatic theological assertions. It embodies the principle that living "prophets" are more valuable than dead ones when it comes to expressing and understanding our dynamic religious heritage.