Thursday, August 14, 2008

Dialogue Review: The Grandest Principle of the Gospel

It's time for the fall issue of Dialogue magazine, and doesn't this article sound scrumptious? “The Grandest Principle of the Gospel”: Christian Nihilism, Sanctified Activism, and Eternal Progression" by Jacob T. Baker. In this article, Baker explores why many of the early Mormon Apostles and writers, and even evangelical scholars, believed that the doctrine of eternal progression was Joseph Smith's most innovative idea, rich in possibility and potential. He focuses on the period directly following the Manifesto of 1890 and the reordering of Mormon theology which took place. Baker states:

Mormon thinkers of this period understood the purpose of all activity—premortal, mortal, and postmortal—to be the achievement of human deification and also understood that the joy of eternal progress applies to all intelligences, including God.
I am well aware of the difference in emphasis among many of the sects who believe that heaven is a place of peace and rest, and the Mormon view that purposeful work and acquisition of new knowledge continues in the eternal realms. I, for one, hope that there are liberal quantities of both. Mormon mothers can certainly use a considerable period of cloud-sitting! Baker makes a good point that Mormon writers have sometimes exaggerated Christian ideas to contrast and extol the virtues of our own. We mischaracterize these groups when we imagine them to be all about harp-playing and never about growth. However, the doctrine as presented by Joseph Smith and expanded by Brigham Young and later leaders has a majesty and power unsurpassed by other parties of religionists.

As I read the quotes Baker includes in his paper describing the doctrine of eternal progression in exultant terms, I couldn't help but marvel. These early Mormon writers present the idea of deification as an impetus to mental activity, an idea which takes hold of the acolyte and lures him/her to greater and greater efforts: "in a way that wearies not." I found these statements quite inspiring. If, in the past, you have been one of those Latter-day Saints who feels uncomfortable with the theosis aspect of eternal progression, I would point you to this article. It is presented in a way which will surely touch your soul, no matter what your doctrinal reservations.


Christopher said...

Thanks for the heads up on this, BiV. It looks like this is an expanded version of the paper Baker presented last year at the Bushman Summer Seminar. Also, if you're not aware, Baker maintains the blog Mormon Philosophy and Theology, though he hasn't posted in quite some time.

Bored in Vernal said...

Great, I'll link to him.

Jacob Baker said...

Thank you for your kind review, BiV. It is sad that, for the most part, we no longer discuss the various facets of eternal progression as they were thought of in the early 20th century. They truly were inspiring and uplifting