Abstract: The following are reflections on some of the complicated history, including the abuses, of what is commonly known as theology. The Saints do not “do theology.” Even when we are tempted, we do not reduce the contents or grounds of faith to something conforming to traditional theology. Instead, we tell stories of how and why we came to faith, which are then linked to a network of other stories found in our scriptures, and to a master narrative. We live in and by stories and not by either dogmatic or philosophically grounded systematic theology. Instead, we tend to engage in several strikingly different kinds of endeavors, especially including historical studies, which take the place of (and also clash with) what has traditionally been done under the name theology in its various varieties, confessional or otherwise. Continue reading
Review of Marjorie Newton, Tiki and Temple: The Mormon Mission in New Zealand, 1854–1958 (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2012), xv + 328 pp. (including a glossary of Māori words, three appendices, bibliography, two maps, twenty-nine illustrations and a photography register, and index). $29.95 (paperback).
Abstract: Marjorie Newton’s widely acclaimed Tiki and Temple is a history of the first century of Latter-day Saint missionary endeavors in Aotearoa/New Zealand. She tells the remarkable story of what, beginning in 1881, rapidly became essentially a Māori version of the faith of Latter-day Saints. Her fine work sets the stage for a much closer look at the deeper reasons some Māori became faithful Latter-day Saints. It turns out that Māori seers (and hence their own prophetic tradition) was, for them, commensurate with the divine special revelations brought to them by LDS missionaries. Among other things, the arcane lore taught in special schools to an elite group among the Māori is now receiving close attention by Latter-day Saint scholars. Continue reading
Review of Mark A. Noll. Protestantism: A Very Short Introduction, New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. xvi + 161 pp., with bibliography of further reading, glossary, index. $11.95 (paperback).
Mark Noll’s Protestantism is a brief, interesting, and useful account of a religious movement that began with the remonstrance of a contentious German monk who, much like others in the Latin Catholic Church before and after him, called for reform. On 31 October 1517 in the small town of Wittenberg in Saxony, Martin Luther (1483–1546) certainly did not plan on founding a new church. His was merely a “local protest” (p. 10). Among other things, Luther complained about the sale of indulgences, which were believed to ease the pain of those presumably undergoing a necessary postmortem purging. This tiny event eventually led to a radical division of Western (Latin) Christianity into Protestantism and the Roman Catholic Church. Continue reading
Review of Diarmaid MacCulloch. The Reformation. New York: Viking Penguin, 2004. xxvii + 832 pp. with appendix of texts and index. $35.95 (hardcover). $22.00 (paperback).
In this fine book, Diarmaid MacCulloch provides a learned, clear, richly detailed, and even encyclopedic account of “many different Reformations” (p. xix), not merely a story of what happened when Martin Luther (1483–1546) complained about indulgences and other manifestations of corruption in the Latin portion of Catholic Christianity. MacCulloch deftly uncovers signs of what Paul Tillich liked to describe as a Catholic substance and a Protestant principle at work in Western (Latin) Christianity. The conflicting forces representing these competing principles tore Europe apart during what is often called early modern European history. MacCulloch describes in rich detail what was at work in both Protestantism, in all its enormous diversity, and in the Roman Catholic Church, with its magisterium (official teaching office). His complex, subtle, multilayered account challenges the overly simple, naive notions of heroic reformers like Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin doing battle with demonic forces centered in Rome. Continue reading
Review of Roger E. Olson. Against Calvinism. Foreword by Michael Horton, author of For Calvinism. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. 207 pp., no index. $16.99 (paperback).
The arguments in Roger Olson’s Against Calvinism rest on his deep sympathies with the Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius (1560–1609), whose followers were known as Remonstrants. Arminians traditionally qualify, question, or reject what is commonly known as Five-Point Calvinism which is often but not necessarily summed up by the acronym TULIP: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance. Olson traces the versions of Calvinist dogmatic theology to which he objects back to the decisions made at the famous Synod of Dort, a gathering of Calvinist divines that took place in the city of Dort (Dordrecht in Dutch) in 1618–19. Continue reading