Religion News Service: In-depth. Impartial. Engaged.

Blogs » Jana Riess - Flunking Sainthood

Flunking Sainthood has moved: Click here to read the latest posts

The 5 Most Beautiful Teachings of Mormonism

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.”



Topics: Faith, Doctrine & Practice
Beliefs: Mormon
Tags: 5 things about mormon theology, bruce r. mcconkie, c.s. lewis, deseret book, doctrine & covenants 49, fiona givens, flunking sainthood, jana riess, joseph smith theology, mormon afterlife, mormon heaven, mormon theology, mormon view of god, robert frost, soren kierkegaard, terryl givens, the god who weeps mormonism


  1. This book sounds great. But, I’m honestly really sad to see “We have a Heavenly Father who ...” and “We lived in his presence ...” when one of the beautiful, central doctrines in Mormonism about who we are and who we can be means that we actually have a Heavenly Father AND Mother, that we lived in THEIR presence, and that TOGETHER They ache for our return. When we will stop forgetting our Mother?

  2. Excellent point, Danielle, and you’re perfectly right.

  3. I thought part of LDS doctrine was that Satan and those very few humans who were irretrievably evil, would be cast into eternal damnation? What sources point to Universalism?

  4. Interesting, Danielle, that I had the same reaction.  I began the article intending to read it, maybe even considering buying the book, but ended up just skimming because I was so turned off by point number 1.

  5. I made my own list of five before reading the article and it was almost in agreement on all five. I had “repentance,” and “temple&seeing; God” while Givens had (1) God cares and (3) Mortality is an ascent, but I think those are close enough.

    I hope this book makes a difference in the publishing world.

  6. Hi Jana,
    many thanks for posting your review of our book. I notice the resentment of some readers over our perceived slight of Heavenly Mother, and was sorry to see you express your sympathy with their concern. I wondered if you in fact managed to make it through the entire book yet. From page 110:

    And just as the young man in the Hymn of the Pearl returned to
    royal parents, so did Eliza R. Snow, an early Mormon poet, capture
    the sense of a heavenly homecoming that involves a Father *and* [emphasis in book] a divine Mother.

    I had learned to call thee Father,
    Thru thy Spirit from on high,
    But, until the key of knowledge
    Was restored, I knew not why.
    In the heav’ns are parents single?
    No, the thought makes reason stare!
    Truth is reason; truth eternal
    Tells me I’ve a mother there.

    It would hardly be prudent to lead off with Mormonism’s most radical innovation, when we are trying to start out with what we share with so many outside our tradition. But for readers who make it through the book, we make a point of including Heavenly Mother.

    Thanks again,


  7. 1) Thanks for staying topic (leaving out politics).
    2) Thanks for the review - it did make me interested in reading the book.
    3) I certainly agree with the Universalism point - but I’m not sure the supporting scripture happens to relate.  “D&C 49:8. Wherefore, I will that all men shall repent, for all are under sin, except those which I have reserved unto myself, holy men that ye know not of.”  This might not in fact refer to good men of other faiths (unknown to Joseph Smith).  This refers to some unknown individuals that had no need to repent.  What mortals do not need to repent?  Perhaps this refers to something else.

    On the other hand, there are many examples of early Church leaders making comments about divine influence in the origin of many other faith traditions, so I believe the notion is well supported regardless of whether or not this particular verse applies.

  8. The book does sound very interesting.  I think the expectation of learning everything there is to know in Seminary is not realistic.  Generally, Seminary aged students are not ready to ponder, consider and search Gospel topics in an intellectual way.  In my opinion Seminary is an aid to keep our great youth on the correct path, or at least give them a little spirituality during their teenage years.  I think we are putting an expectation on seminary that is really our burden.  I believe part of the Gospel experience (in any religion really) is the self learning aspect.  I don’t believe we will learn very much by just attending our Church meetings.  In my experience, the most satisfying knowledge I have gained has come through personal study, personal pondering, and personal prayer.  I believe that is what God intended for us, just as Joseph Smith did.  I think this is a very personal, individual religion, that can be very spiritually rewarding on a personal level, if we are willing to put forth the effort. 

    I am curious of the book touches on any of this.  Thank you for the review, and I look forward to the book.

  9. Thank you for the enlightenment!

    I am always looking for things to expand, not contract, my thinking about God and the world.  As such, I will be very happy to find and devour your book. 

    Early-morning seminary should be the starting place for LDS Experimentation upon the Word, and certainly not the filling of the tank before LDS minds are closed and sealed tight.

  10. Do you think that Mormon teaching could come to understand God as the one, unchanging, allpowerful, infinite Being understood by traditional Christianity?

  11. I taught an LDS seminary class for high school students in Omaha for four years.  This is a weekday religious education class that helps Mormon students progress in their spiritual and religioys knowledge and experience in parallel with their secular educations.

    The standard curriculum for Seminary and other LDS Church programs seeks to impart specific knowledge along with an opportunity to gain spiritual insight, what Mormons call experiencing the influence of the Holy Ghost in heart and mind to understand and affirm the truth of what is taught. 

    This new book sounds like a perfect complement to that purpise, helping Mormons to understand WHY they shpuld WANT the restored gospel to be true. 

    The Book of Mormon describes Christ as entering fully into our suffering, not just paying the price for our sins, but experiencing vicariously the sorrows of each human being.  That perfect empathy born out of perfect love and perfect knowledge describes a God that is far different from the passionless disembodied god described in traditional Christian creeds that have adopted definitions of God from Greco-Roman philosophy.  God is not an otherworldy being who has no experience of the sufferings of his creatures, but a Father who knows us and oyr lives intimately, who knows the names of each child as well as he knows the names of each star.  That makes a vast difference in how we persevere in the face of pain and loss.  Joseph Smith said we cannot understand ourselves until we understand God.  Learning who God is, and thus knowing themselves, is one of the prime goals for young Mormons.

  12. Philip, Mormons do not see God as being limited buy embodiment. After all, Christ is God, and lives as God in a physical but glorified, resurrected body.  That is the Gospel narrative. If Christ is fully God but embodied, able to suffer as well as embrace us, what reason do we have to think that Godnthe Father cannot also be embodied?

    Certain Protestant theologians have propised that we shpuld ubderstand the Bible as teaching that God is open to our suffering, that he experiences real love among the three persons of the Trinity, and real love for mankind. They criticize the Aristotelian categories that have been soldered over the Bible’s diction of God, and argue that Christians have beenndeprived of the hope and reassurance they are entitked to feel coming from God by the creedal depiction of an emotionless, disembodied intelligence.  According to Joseph Smith, God shares in that critique of the modern creeds.

    No, the Mormons are not going to reject the God who weeps for the conceptual, sterile deity of the modern creeds.

  13. 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.”]

    I disagree.  it is a fall into hell space.  it is true that after the desent many will ascend but not all.  sons of perdition is a great example of spirits who were exlalted, but then decended into the pit not even to be resureted because they will not confess Jesus is the Christ and received his attonment and reserection over death.

    Accourding to Isaiah   Sons of Perdition go into black holes time slows down and if they do not confess Jesus is the christ they become star dust. 

    A great book to understand this is Isaiah decoded by avraham Giliadi.

  14. Isaiah talks about our day…

    Isaiah uses Code name Egypt who was a super power in his day… for what will happen again in our day Which the great super power America (code name Egypt) ..

    1. The covenant curse of withering vegetation.
    Isaiah 19:5-7
    The waters of the lakes shall ebb away
    as stream beds become desolate and dry.
    The rivers shall turn foul,
    and Egypt’s waterways recede and dry up.
    Reeds and rushes shall wither;
    vegetation adjoining canals and estuaries,
    and all things sown along irrigation channels,
    shall shrivel and blow away and be no more.

    The covenant curse of withering vegetation—synchronized with a plethora of additional misfortunes—overtakes Egypt as its vibrant society wanes like the vegetation itself. A metaphor for people, Egypt’s flora epitomizes the transitory nature of life for its wicked inhabitants (cf. Isaiah 5:24; 37:27; 40:6–8, 24). Foliage that “shrivels and blows away and is no more” typifies the fate awaiting them. Egypt’s bodies of water that dry up and rivers that turn foul resemble its people (cf. Isaiah 8:7–8; 18:2, 7; 37:25; 42:15), their evaporation and pollution signifying its society’s descent into chaos.

    Fishermen will deplore their lot
    and anglers in canals bemoan themselves;
    those who cast nets on water
    will be in misery.
    19:9 Manufacturers of combed linen
    and weavers of fine fabrics will be dismayed.
    19:10 The textile workers will know despair,
    and all who work for wages suffer distress

    A supremely industrialized and agricultural land, Egypt, spirals into decline. Whereas there once existed plenty, now there is a dearth; where Egyptians were once gainfully employed, now they are idle. Even the nation’s traditionally staple livelihoods disappear. A spirit of misery, dismay, despair, and distress pervades Egyptian society. A hitherto highly prosperous nation is imploding, leaving its large populace without seeming recourse (cf. v 15). Like all who comprise Greater Babylon, Egypt, the most exalted of nations, is rendered wretched as God’s judgments overtake her (cf. Isaiah 24:4).

    Read all about Ameiricas fall, that Isaiah sees…
    1. see the Black President connection, who is in office before america is taken over.
    2. Read about the fools of Wasingition DC and how America no longer has good leaders…
    3. The upcoming civil war…. and total break down of america- becasue America is wicked.

    Read about the Happy ending….

    taken from

    click below


Sign In

Forgot Password?

You also can sign in with Facebook or Twitter if you've connected your account to them.

Sign In Using Facebook

Sign In Using Twitter