Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who approach.  Hebrews 10:1 (NRSV)

“Creatures which God has given us for a stepladder to God we have ourselves made into an offense by stopping in them on our way to safety.” — Meister Eckhart

As many readers know, contemporary orthodox Mormonism teaches that the law of Moses as found in the Hebrew Bible was a “lower law” given to the Israelites to prepare God’s people until the “higher law” would be given by Jesus Christ and then restored through Joseph Smith after it had been lost during the Great Apostasy. (This is similar to interpretations of many other conservative Christian traditions.)

The late Marcus Borg, in his discussion of emerging Christian frameworks in a postmodern world, wrote the following to describe how these frameworks might interact with the Bible (or other sacred texts) and a Christian life:

Being Christian is not primarily about believing, in the modern sense of believing certain propositions to be true. Instead, the emerging paradigm emphasizes the relational meanings of faith and leads to a relational and transformational vision of the Christian life. To be Christian means a relationship with God, lived within the Christian tradition, including especially the Bible as the foundation of the tradition, as both metaphor and sacrament [“mediator of the sacred”]. The Christian life is about a relationship with the one whom the Bible both points to and mediates – namely, a relationship with God as disclosed through the Bible as metaphor and sacrament. To be Christian is to live within this tradition and let it do its transforming work among us.  (“Heart of Christianity” pgs. 59-60)

Could this be reworded slightly and applied to those in the Mormon tradition, perhaps like this?:

Being Mormon is not primarily about believing, in the modern sense of believing certain propositions to be true. Instead, the emerging paradigm [of Mormonism] emphasizes the relational meanings of faith and leads to a relational and transformational vision of the Christian life. To be Mormon means a relationship with God, lived within the Mormon tradition, including especially the Bible, Book of Mormon, and teachings of the latter-day prophets as the foundation of the tradition, as both metaphor and sacrament [“mediator of the sacred”]. The Mormon life is about a relationship with the one whom the standard works and prophets both point to and mediate – namely, a relationship with our Heavenly Parents as disclosed through the scriptures and prophets as metaphor and sacrament. To be Mormon is to live within this tradition and let it do its transforming work among us.

Taking this paradigm one step further, might someone be able to argue the following?:

“Just as the Law of Moses is understood as a ‘shadow of the good things to come and not the true form of these realities’ (Hebrews 10:1), could the Restored Gospel as understood by the Mormon tradition also be a ‘shadow of good things to come and not the true form of these realities’? Might Mormonism, with all of its doctrines, traditions, rituals, ordinances, organizational structures, etc. be merely a metaphor of an even higher manifestation of the Transcendent Absolute? In other words, is it possible that Mormonism or even Christianity itself is a ‘lower law’ that will eventually be supplemented, enhanced, or replaced entirely by a ‘higher law’ of some kind?”

 

Discussion questions:

  1. Is this a logical conclusion based on the ideas described above? Why or why not?
  2. What are the merits of Dr. Borg’s paradigm of the Christian tradition as described above? What are the drawbacks or shortcomings?
  3. What leverage does this kind of thinking provide to explain other kinds of important questions or phenomena in contemporary Mormonism or, more broadly, the Western religious tradition?
  4. Assuming this were either entirely or partially true, how would someone come to know? How could such a question be answered? What kinds of evidences would we expect to have if this were true? Do we see those evidences?
  5. Even though the Law of Moses was in force prior to the death and resurrection of the Savior, Jesus himself often did not feel obligated to follow the various rules of the Law of Moses with exactness, opting instead to disregard them frequently to teach lessons about how the Law pointed to something even more important. Assuming the scenario discussed above is true, to what extent would we then be obligated to follow the various rules of Mormonism given that it merely points to something even more important?
  6. How might understanding Mormonism itself to be a ‘shadow of good things to come and not the true form of these realities’ affect how we interact with the Mormon tradition? How would it affect our interactions with the institutional LDS Church and its leadership? With the Standard Works? With our wards and branches? With the various behavioral expectations of contemporary Mormonism?
  7. Hebrews 10:1 (NRSV) says: “Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who approach.” Assuming the scenario described above is true (or at least partially true), does the same apply to Mormonism? Can it “never, by the same [ordinances] that are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who approach”? Why or why not?

 

 

Benjamin Knoll is a political science professor at a liberal arts college in central Kentucky. He's a married father of three girls and currently serves as a Sunday School teacher in his ward.

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