I transcribed the following from the third part of an interview with Terryl Givens on the Mormon Stories podcast. I can’t remember how I came across this interview, but I remember seeing Terryl Givens’ name which immediately drew my interest. I’m a big fan of Terryl and his wife Fiona, they are delightful people.
Based on my own research, I am inclined to agree with Terryl’s perspective on many (but not all) things. Here are a few highlights concerning Joseph Smith and the restoration that I find extremely insightful and consistent with my own beliefs.
“Joseph Smith, I mean, if I were to define how he understood his own calling, the term I would use is ‘inspired eclecticist’. Yeah, he was a sponge, absolutely. And that’s a problem for a lot of Latter-day Saints who have read a very different version of history where Mormonism erupted in an absolute vacuum. But it’s not to denigrate the role or calling of a prophet or the scope of Joseph Smith’s contribution to say that most of his ideas, or many of them, probably most, already existed in the environment, or among predecessors.
“Because his job, he felt, was to filter them. St. Augustine said the same thing, St. Augustine used the example of what he called ‘spoiling the Egyptians’, right, when the children of Israel take all of the gold from their Egyptian captors then use it to found their own new Israelite civilization. Similarly, Augustine said that we’ve got to steal the truths from the pagans and return them to the right context.
“I think the best example of how Joseph did that blatantly, right, out in the open, was to take the Masonic ritual and say, ok, they’ve got all of these signs and tokens and drama but they don’t understand what it’s real eternal significance is. Now we put it in the temple, that’s where it belongs. Mormons get scandalized, ‘oh he’s stealing from the Masons!’ well of course he was stealing from the Masons, because he said they didn’t know what to do with it and he did.
“(D&C section 5 he refers to the coming forth out of the wilderness, the Church) What Revelation 12 says is that the truth was not taken from the earth, but that it retreated into the wilderness where it was nurtured of the Lord. Now think about the implications of that. The church is in the wilderness, it’s being nurtured by the Spirit of the Lord, throughout this period of so-called darkness and apostasy. This, to my mind, gives us a radically different paradigm for understanding the relationship of Mormonism to the rest of the church and understanding the place of Mormonism in dispensational history. It also gives us an answer to the question: “When is Mormonism going to produce a Dante, or a Shakespeare or a Beethoven?” And the answer is, we don’t need a Mormon Dante or Shakespeare or Beethoven, we have Dante and Shakespeare and Beethoven. We’ve got Handel’s Messiah, why do they have to be authored by Mormons?
“In other words, Joseph seemed to be suggesting that there is this ‘reservoir’ of truth and beauty throughout the Christian world and even beyond, and his job was to try to select from these scattered fragments of Mormonism and reconstitute them into an institutional church. But the point is, God has made abundant provision for there to be sources of inspiration, truth, and beauty throughout culture and throughout history; Mormons don’t have the monopoly.
“So that’s the first point I would make, this so-called narrowness of Mormonism isn’t the problem that we think it is, because nobody is claiming, or nobody should be claiming, a Mormon monopoly on the avenues to these truths and what they represent. Second of all, I think if I go back to my statement about the most important part of the institutional church being the ordinances of the temple, then you don’t need a church of 2 billion people if your role is to serve as custodian to those rituals and make them available, and also provide the means whereby their benefits can be extended to the entire human family; either vicariously now or throughout the Millennium or however you expect that’s it’s going to be fulfilled.
“And then finally, if you return to what I said earlier about Mormon universalism then you don’t have to be a member of the institutional church to secure your salvation. So I think the image is much more apt to think of Mormonism in the way that Christ referred to the leaven in the bread. All it takes is a little bit of leaven, and Mormonism is here to provide that, as I understand it.”
Interesting things to ponder.
“God has made abundant provision for there to be sources of inspiration, truth, and beauty throughout culture and throughout history; Mormons don’t have the monopoly.”
As a convert to the church, such a concept has always perplexed me. People (Mormons) seem to be dumbfounded and astonished when I say that life in another christian religion was satisfactory and fulfilling. Am I glad I found the Church? No question. I found it at age 18, when I was in a position to see outside of my own “sphere of influence.” It was a very natural thing to join the Church, and for me it happened at a very natural time.
Another way of looking at it is this: I was raised by goodly parents who taught me the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They gave me much fruit on which to feast. Later in life I was an hungered and desired more fruit. Upon seeking, asking, and knocking, I received more fruit. This pattern has always existed in my life. If ever I stop receiving more fruit, I suppose I would change my ways – but that hasn’t happened yet.
“Mormonism” cannot claim a monopoly on paths to truth. No such claim can ever be made, for truth is eternal and has no end or beginning – it was always one with God. As we learn in the Holy Scriptures, that which is of God is Intelligence, or light and truth, and as such is eternal. Mormonism seeks to UNVEIL all truth. It’s like the 13th Article of Faith: If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things. You might say that is a main goal of Mormonism – to unveil all truth from all corners of the earth.
And I will liken this unto the parable of, ummmmm, oil. Yeah, let’s use oil for the purpose of demonstration. Did anyone discover oil? No, it was always there. Well, perhaps certain types of oil were “unearthed” by people at different periods of time, but as far as I’m aware no one has the discovery of oil to their name. Why? Because it exists everywhere! It is waiting to be found, and has been from the beginning. God planned it that way. So no one can rightfully come forward and lay claim to its discovery – it was meant to happen, and has happened over and over again. I’d like to discover some myself ;)
So it is with truth. Truth has been available to everyone who has ever lived from the beginning. Perhaps certain types of truth were “unearthed” or “unveiled” by people at different periods of time, but as far as I’m aware no one has the discovery of “truth” to their name. Why? Because it exists everywhere! It is waiting to be found, and has been from the beginning. God planned it that way. So no one can rightfully come forward and lay claim to its discovery – it was meant to happen, and has happened over and over again. I love to discover truth, and I’m grateful for God who makes this discovery possible.