In a new book out today, Terryl and Fiona Givens highlight the five most beautiful teachings of Mormonism. Titled The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life, the book is a brief exposition of those five teachings and why they matter to Mormons and to the world.
These may or may not be things you learned in early-morning seminary. If they weren't, they should have been.
I was on a panel with Terryl earlier this month and got the chance to sit down with him to discuss the new book. (His wife and co-author Fiona was not at the conference, unfortunately.) The behind-the-scenes story of the book is that last year at BONCOM 2011, Terryl made a strong statement about how Deseret Book had abandoned its mission to publish serious theology that would explain Mormonism to outsiders, as well as to its own adherents.
Deseret CEO Sheri Dew heard about it, but instead of being offended, she contacted him and asked him to write a book about Mormon theology. Deseret is publishing it through its Ensign Peak imprint to signal the book's appeal for a wide national audience. It's thoughtful, well-written, and engaging, so it definitely deserves that wide audience. --JKR
JKR: So what are the five things that Mormons need to know about God? What is the good news about the gospel?
1) We have a Heavenly Father whose heart beats in sympathy with human hearts. [As the book puts it, “He feels real sorrow, rejoices with real gladness, and weeps real tears with us.”]
2) We lived in his presence as spirit beings before we came to earth. The human soul is eternal.
3) Mortality represents an ascent, not a fall. God is a great designer, not just a repairman. [From the book: “The momentous choice made by Eve and Adam was itself fortunate, insofar as it did not unleash the double specter of depravity and universal condemnation, but rather made possible the introduction of the human family into the schoolhouse of the world.”]
4) God has the desire and capacity to save the entire human family . . . and he will. We’re universalists. Mormons don’t understand this, because Bruce R. McConkie obscured that tradition for us, but we have to reclaim it.
5) Heaven represents the extenuation of those relationships we must cherish in the here and now.
JKR: Do you include friends in that last part? Will heaven include friends and not just family?
TG: Yes, absolutely. That’s why we specifically used the generic term “relationships.”
JKR: What are you trying to accomplish with this book?
TG: There are several virtues of thinking about Mormonism within these terms. First, every single one of those has resonance with the great traditions of poetry, philosophy, and theology. So this book is chock full of allusions to, and borrowings from, various thinkers from Robert Frost to Kierkegaard to C.S. Lewis.
I think it also reverses some of the unfortunate stereotypes of Mormonism. It shows us not only not to be elitist and insular, but to be expansive and liberal in the way we think about inspiration and salvation alike. Joseph Smith was told in the Doctrine & Covenants that God had holy men reserved unto himself that Joseph knew nothing about, which is an indication of how many great and noble spirits and traditions that exist outside the confines of the Church.
And finally, it diverts attention from the esoterica and the minutiae and the distractions of the margins, and takes us back to the central governing narrative that Joseph constructed.
JKR: How has the book been received so far?
TG: People who’ve seen this say it’s a wonderful vision of the gospel, but “it’s not the one I was taught in seminary.” And I say, “But it should be the one you were taught in seminary, because it takes us back to Joseph Smith’s original vision.”