Conversations about the religious and spiritual life on the other side of fundamentalism
116:  Terryl Givens at the Rockwell Museum:  An American Journey Across the Landscape of Mormon Theology

116: Terryl Givens at the Rockwell Museum: An American Journey Across the Landscape of Mormon Theology

givenspOn 7 March 2015, Terryl Givens gave a wonderful lecture and was interviewed at the Rockwell Museum in Corning, New York. The occasion was a Mormon History Association satellite event in which Givens was asked to speak on “An American Journey across the Landscape of Mormon Theology.” Since MHA does not have a podcast, and this is definitely a lecture and interview worth receiving a wide hearing, they asked Mormon Matters and A Thoughtful Faith podcasts to co-release the audio. A full video of the evening, including an additional 27 minutes of introductory material will soon be available to view. Stay tuned here for a link when it becomes available.

In his lecture, Givens roots Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon in the various milieus of his time, both culturally and theologically. His special focus in on the current notions of Christianity’s “covenant theology” at play during his time, and how Smith re-imagined it—not always consciously but eventually coming to understand that aspect of his work. Ultimately Givens places Mormonism squarely in the Christian camp but prior to the time of the councils in which the ideas of the church fathers Origin and Pelagus were rejected and Christianity took the forms it did. In Givens’ hands, Mormon theology takes a path that emphasizes human beings as expansive, co-eternal with God, with their “covenantal” relationship far different than that of traditional Christianity. It’s quite compelling.

Please listen and then share your reactions and ideas in the comments section below!


  1. athena

    I’m so glad I decided to listen to this! I was a little unsure about whether I wanted to listen to Givens and glad I doubted my doubts (hehe). Really quite fascinating. I may have to listen to it again and next time take notes. Lots of name dropping that need looking up. 🙂

  2. JT

    I enjoyed the lecture. Just one counter point.

    Dr. Givens interpreted Joseph Smith’s theological endowment of God with emotions as an innovation in the context of the longstanding Protestant consensus of Him being immutable – “without body, parts, and passions.” (Westminster Confession, 1646).

    But it seems at least as likely that Joseph was was merely restoring the God of the Old Testament, who on plain reading is as susceptible to fits of jealousy, anger, and vengeance as tender sorrow for human suffering.
    Indeed, one only needs read a few verses down from the weeping episode Dr. Givens referenced in the Book of Moses to read,

    ” 34: And the fire of mine indignation is kindled against them; and in my hot displeasure will I send in the floods upon them, for my fierce anger is kindled against them.”

    I think it is plausible to regard Joseph’s theology as unsophisticated anthropomorphism, perhaps motivated by exceptional hubris. He found the Old Testament Yahweh appealing because he identified with Him in a self-aggrandizing way. After all, he would go on to claim that he achieved more as a prophet than Paul, John, Peter and Jesus (at least in terms of keeping a church together) and crown himself king of the earth. Such behavior also contradicts Dr. Givens’s references to Joseph referring to himself as one of God’s chosen “weak things,” which may have been an expression of self-serving false modesty.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *