REVIEW: Mormon: a brief theological introduction, Adam Miller
Adam says early in the book that “Mormon’s discipleship depends, first and foremost, on his ability to witness the end of the world” (28). The idea of witnessing is central to Adam’s conception of Mormon’s discipleship. Adam draws attention to the ways that discipleship is tied to the idea of witnessing, to truly seeing and recognizing what is happening. I was struck by the way that Adam draws out this theme of witnessing throughout Mormon’s writings, and the ways that it feels particularly powerful for living in a world that is often hostile to what I see as the true path of discipleship (not in a culture war sort of way, but in a much deeper unwillingness to live and value the core teachings of Jesus found in the Sermon on the Mount, for example).
Mormon’s discipleship weaves this witnessing to intentional, sacrificial loss. Adam writes that “the only possible way to steer is to steer the loss itself into a sacrificial gesture of love. The only way to strive with God is to willingly (and preemptively and redemptively and counterintuitively) steer into that loss by way of consecration and sacrifice” (56). Adam picks up a thread that runs throughout most (all?) of his writing—loss and sacrifice. Here, Adam talks about the ways that Mormon models “a sacrificial gesture of love”, steering into the loss that we all must feel.
Adam’s reading of Mormon here, and throughout the volume, is drawing out big picture ideas and themes, rather than focusing on narrative moments (partially the result of how Mormon structures his text himself). Though the sense of loss is manifest powerfully in the choice to include Mormon 6 in white font on black pages in the center of the book. This is the chapter that relays the thousands of Nephite lives that were lost in war and violence. The pages are typeset in a way to give each unit of the army their own page, which combined with the color choices, helped me really slow down and experience the loss of life that courses through these verses. Mormon knew loss. It wasn’t something abstract for him, but a part of his existence.
The contrast that Mormon offers of what the alternative to this life of discipleship, witnessing, and consecration is, is damnation. Adam describes that alternative as “Living as someone who curses this world and condemns it’s imperfections as faults rather than as occasions for healing and creation—this is itself a curse. Such is the life of the damned.” (64-65). I was struck by this interpretation of what it means to be damned. Here, damnation is an approach to the world around us (and one incidentally that seems particularly appropriate as a counter to the eternal progression of Mormon theology). In Adam’s telling, I am damned every day, though I try not to be. I find myself condemning imperfections left and right, failing to see that each imperfection is an invitation, a call, to heal and create.
This is probably obvious by now, but I loved Adam’s Mormon: a brief theological introduction and will be thinking about the vision of discipleship that he offers for years to come.