I interact with evangelicals regarding LDS beliefs. Our way of approaching issues of “doctrine” drives them crazy because they feel like they are shooting at a moving target. It seems to me that they are shooting at no target at all. We approach the way of being in relation to God so differently that we are not really even talking to each other about doctrine. Let me explain.
The notion of “doctrine” is that of a carefully formulated or set of beliefs that are adopted as definitive for a “religion”. For traditional Christians, “doctrine” means the set of propositions affirmed in the creeds or in carefully thought through statements about belief. The careful statements at Trent or Chalcedon were worked out by scholars skilled in elucidating “doctrine”. The LDS Church started out in this vein. Section 20 of the D&C was intended as the Articles of the Church which set forth its basic beliefs and practices. However, Section 20 was a statement at the beginning of an incredible deluge of revelation — and the revelations that have followed have not been nor can they be so easily formulated. We’re still drowning in this deluge and we’re not sure how to navigate these waters. We have no doctrine of “grace” though we know grace. We have no doctrine of the “Trinity” though we know God. We have no doctrine of “baptism” though we have baptismal practices and baptize.
With due respect to Bruce McConkie, I propose that we now have no Mormon “doctrine” whatsoever. There are a few very basic assertions that are not really theological in nature that define what is essential — and these questions are those of the temple recommend interview. What is essential is orthopraxis or what we do and are rather than the content of our beliefs. What that means is that it is pretty difficult to be right or wrong about LDS “doctrine”. I don’t know anyone who has been excommunicated for having wrong ideas — I know some who have been because what they taught essentially undermined and usurped priesthood hierarchical authority. The real issue is almost always political it seems to me.
It also seems to me that LDS are also therefore unfettered and free to explore the implications and inspirations of LDS revelations and how they illuminate issues of interest. We have powerful messages that may revolutionize many areas of academic pursuit. So, for example, because we have no doctrine of God’s providence (like Calvinisists and Thomists who have carefully articulated systems) we are free to explore various ways of approaching these issues and we are free to accept what works best for us. However, we are not free to define appropriate conduct or practice. I’ll address that in my next post.