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.