In many ways, the Doctrine & Covenants is my favorite book of scripture, and as it now stands it is the result of a failure. The original Doctrine & Covenants had somewhat ambiguous status. Like the Book of Commandments that preceded it, it was a collection of revelations that were accepted as canonical (whatever that means) but there was some attempt to arrange them thematically, and they were coupled with the Lectures on Faith. In short, the Doctrine & Covenants was, in some sense, an attempt to organize and systematize the theology of the Restoration. Reading a facsimile of the first edition of the D&C today, it doesn’t seem especially systematic but there was definitely a move in that direction.
This movement, however, failed. Over the course of the century or so between 1835 and 1920’s the Doctrine & Covenants disintegrated. New sections were added. Some were revelations and some were simply redactions of discourses. The sections were rearranged according — more or less — to chronology rather than to any abstract schema. Most dramatically, in the 1920s the Lectures on Faith were dropped in their entirety.
There are lots of ways of viewing this evolution, of course, but one useful way of thinking about is as the long march of theology out of the Mormon canon. From time to time, I will hear people claim that Mormonism is an atheological religion. This is not strictly speaking correct in my view. We have theology. What we don’t have is canonized or official theology. Rather, we have are a set of more or less arbitrarily arranged and untheorized sacred texts. Theology is what we do when we try to make sense of them as some sort of coherent whole. In this sense, however, theology is always something that happens outside of the text among the readers. Hence, the disintegration of the original rationalized view of the Doctrine and Covenants represents the liberation of theology from canon and of scripture from theology.