But I still want to write a few more posts on Blake Ostler’s Exploring Mormon Thought books before putting the project to bed.
The third volume of the series, Of God and Gods, begins with some 200 pages dedicated to summarizing some of the most persuasive and respected contemporary work in biblical criticism.
In particular, Ostler focuses on what this scholarship reveals about what the biblical text’s themselves say about the nature of God. It turns out – surprise! – that the ancient Hebrews didn’t have anything like the creedal Trinity in mind. (It also turns out that NT authors didn’t either.) Moreover, it even turns out that many of the Hebrew authors didn’t have anything like a strict (metaphysical) monotheism in mind. This is true even of the Shema. Rather, monolatry is more apt as a general descriptive category for the milieu than monotheism.
I won’t rehash Ostler’s own summaries and arguments on these points here (though you should read them yourself – they’re persuasive, instructive, accessible and don’t require any philosophical training), but I do want to make a kind of meta–observation about what Blake’s approach, here, models for Mormon thinking in general.
He’s what Ostler does in this book: he marshall’s, to devastating effect, the best of contemporary biblical criticism in order to cut creedal monotheism off at its knees and make room for a Mormon conception of God that is more complex, plural, and passible.
Read that previous sentence again: Ostler sides with contemporary biblical criticism in defense of Mormon theology.
The interesting by-product of this strategy is that, having cut creedal monotheism off at the knees, he has also cut generations of CES-style, neo-evangelical Mormon readings of the biblical texts off at the knees.
Further, the most remarkable aspect of Ostler’s work here is that he sides with biblical criticism without divesting the biblical texts of their revelatory force and authority. In fact, he engages biblical criticism as a way of affirming and defending the Bible’s revelatory authority.
On this score, take the first 200 pages of Volume Three as a primer on how to think biblically as a Mormon theologian.
Don’t hide in the skirts of neo-evangelical literalism and inerrantism. Take all of the best historical and critical scholarship on the Bible that we have, look it square in the eye without gullibility or bias, and then work with it on behalf of Mormonism.