Over at his blog, Tarik LaCour has an interesting post on Mormon theology. The actual focus is a review of the book Mormon Christianity: What Other Christians Can Learn From the Latter-day Saints. In the process of the review he mentions how Mormon theology is underdeveloped. I think that’s true, but I’m not sure a systematic theology such as our friends in mainstream Christianity have, is necessarily a good model. Allow me to quote Tarik:
As a practicing Latter-day Saint who is trained in philosophy and theology, I think you can make a pretty good case that Mormons fall under the Christian umbrella, but I also believe Mormon theology can be better developed. We would do well to remember that Christians have had 2,000 years to develop their theology while Mormons have had less than 200 years; it is not logical to expect the same amount of content in 10% of the time. However, Mormons should do better at developing their theology and encouraging members to attend seminaries (not the LDS seminary) and learn how theology is done. We do have some good theologians in Mormonism (David Paulsen, Blake Ostler, Robert Boylan, Adam Miller, Joseph Spencer), but we will need more in years ahead.
While I certainly agree our theology is woefully underdeveloped, I worry about mainstream Christianity as the model. Part of the reason for that is that theology quickly became dogma in historic Christianity. That is theological ideas inferred from scripture became dogma that then came to trump scripture. (Think of the doctrine of the Trinity for an example of this) Theology inexorably comes to have an inappropriate authority of its own.
Now not all theologians necessarily push a systematic theology that leads to dogma. For instance Adam Miller has pushed quite hard against such a notion. We should recognize a theology that fundamentally accepts the open somewhat ambiguous nature of how we should read our authoritative texts. Simultaneously theology must take seriously the idea of continuing revelation that may overrule established dogmas. That is any theology to be a Mormon theology must be forever tentative. In a way theology ought be seen analogous to the way scientific theories are tentative. They’re always just a single experiment away from a scientist showing they are wrong or at least limited.
When we look at how Mormon theology has developed historically we can see this danger of dogma arising from theology. Orson Pratt, arguably the best known systemizer of Mormon Theology, found many of his ideas condemned by Brigham Young. While some of his theological foundations seemed persuasive at the time, they now seem naive or difficult to accept. Even theology that attempted to stay true to recent prophetic statements, like Bruce R. McConkie, found people appealing to his systematic writings rather than the more ambiguous scriptures. Some also came to privilege the statements of some general authorities, like McConkie, above others. We might say that none of these things are necessarily consequences of theology. Yet it’s interesting that these problems happened in early Christianity.
Augustine inexorably shaped the path of Christianity when he applied platonic assumptions about its foundations. While he modified his platonism it still (somewhat like Orson Pratt) dominated how he read scripture. From a contemporary Mormon perspective those assumptions were fundamentally wrong and led Christianity quite astray. Other figures did the same thing.
What I think we need isn’t a developed theology so much as people raising theological questions and potential interpretations. That is less a systematic theology than becoming aware of theological possibilities. That in turn prepares a place for future revelation which can dismiss certain theological possibilities. Yet such a theology requires a strong distrust of theology to avoid falling into dogmas. In many ways not having a developed theology ought be the realistic goal of any Mormon theology. So let’s do theology while being deeply suspicious of theology and especially any developed theology.
 I’ve been doing a reading club of Adam Miller’s recent theology book Future Mormon. While it’s a critical interaction with Adam’s book, Adam’s own views on theology most likely come closest to my own. Unfortunately time commitments with work and family have meant I’ve not been able to post weekly as I’d planned. I hope to get a new post out soon though.
 Orson Pratt thought all that existed was matter. The foundation of matter were indivisible atoms of intelligence. Unfortunately his arguments for these foundations were found in scripture and appear extremely problematic today. Much of his theology arose out of these foundations.