While I wait for Blake Ostler’s book 3 to arive in the mail from Amazon.com, I’ve been whiling away the free moments skimming Paulson and Musser’s excellent introduction. Mormonism in Dialogue with Contemporary Christian Theologies . (It’s a great book, with some great introductions to different schools of thought. Check it out if you get the chance.)
One thing that has been impactful on me is Musser’s well written and extremely accessible introduction. In it he breaks down theology into two schools of thought: Traditionalism and Modernism. He basically defines these schools by their emphasis on different inputs, which are basically tradition, sacred texts, religious and social experience, and reason. Traditionalists tend to emphasize the first two and modern therologies emphasize the latter two. Musser gives a revealing statement on this, saying traditionalists tend to “look back, seeking to conserve the essentials of scripture and religion”, while modern theologies “look around at current personal and social experiences and contemporary ways of thinking, seeking to confirm the essentials of scripture and tradition in light of the present age.”
Musser is quick to point out that most theological positions and people are “more complex” than the above bifurcation, and are usually a shade of the two, but I thought this model sounded like a very interesting way of looking at the membership of the church.
My first thought was that as a church we teach our children in primary and seminary to be traditionalists, holding on to the scriptures and the traditions of the church, but we teach our converts to be modernists, using reason and personal experience (revelation) to claim for themselves the truths of the Gospel. In this way, we set up a fractured society to an extent, with some significant spillover between the two groups. (I guess, being a convert, I am giving away which camp I think I fall into).
In other ways, I think we compartmentalize our religion, with some area pushing for more reason and personal experience(the fast and testimony concept of inspired speaking), and others begging for adherence to tradition and sacred text (temple worship).
So what do you think: Are we artificially dividing our church with a problematic “convert”, “life member” divide that stems to epistemological roots like those I’ve outlined above? Is the traditionalist camp teaching their children to be “cultural mormons”?
Or do we segment our religion along compartments of modernism and traditionalism? Or am I imagining the whole thing and my generalizations don’t match your experience [or understanding of modernism and traditionalism]…