REVIEW: Moroni: a brief theological introduction, David F. Holland
David F. Holland writes the final entry in the Maxwell Institute’s Brief Theological Introductions series, Moroni: a brief theological introduction. The book is a solid conclusion to an overall excellent series, highlighting some interesting elements of the book of Moroni that I had not previously noticed or thought through very carefully.
Holland’s work focuses on a variety of tensions and semi-paradoxes that Moroni explores and describes in his book. One of the first of these tensions that Moroni describes is that of the divinity and humanity of each of us. Holland writes, “if I believe I have a divine gift to offer to those around me, I also have a heavy and sacred obligation to work to be worthy to carry it” (29). He then describes the counter position, saying “at the same time, if I believe the offering of a fellow saint to be good…I should not lose confidence in it because it was brought to me by a fellow fallen creature” (29). Here Holland gets at the ways that Moroni lays out a model for us as givers and as receivers, suggesting that we all occupy both positions at different times and need to act accordingly.
Moroni, for Holland, also sees this sort of back and forth and balancing at play on a grander, cosmic scale. Holland writes that:
“No one dispensation can be made perfect without the check and balance of the others. Moroni appears to believe this as his book begins by jumping back four hundred years and ends with an affirmation of continuing revelation. He writes in his present, to future readers, about a distant past.” (33)
Moroni is bringing different dispensations together, using the past to speak to the present and the present to speak to the past, all while insisting that the future will continue to speak and listen to both. I think this is a very fruitful approach to scripture and doctrine. Too often I find myself either privileging the past or the present or sometimes the future, instead of trying to think through the ways that those different time periods are interacting with one another, calling my biases and assumptions into question, rather than using my preferences to dictate what should happen in other times and places.
Though perhaps my favorite tension that Holland draws out of Moroni’s text is that of solidarity and independence:
“We are part of a community of mutual care; Christ is sufficient for our spiritual welfare. Such paradoxical phrasing suggests a community that keeps us attentive, nourished, and prayerful, while its church structures and relationships appear as means to an end, a collective scaffolding in support of a personal experience with divinity. The phrasing of the verse suggest paths of discipleship that are necessarily marked by elements of both solidarity and independence.” (61-62)
I am constantly returning to the tension of solidarity and independence in the ways that Holland lays out here (and others). I find myself pulled to both sides depending on the day, more recently feeling a need to re-emphasize the importance of solidarity (partially because of the spiritual independence that I have felt driven to by covid and my own general introverted nature). I would perhaps push what Holland says here a tad, thinking that the community is how we find and recognize Christ and achieve the spiritual nourishment that we need.
I was initially a little underwhelmed with this volume, but as I’ve let the ideas that Holland finds and illuminates in Moroni’s words percolate, I have found some unexpected spiritual insight that I did not initially find. I admire the way that Holland derives these themes from not only the language of the text but a consideration of Moroni’s own situation, thinking through what it must have been like to be living in isolation, cut off from your spiritual community. I hope to follow the type of thinking that Holland illustrates here in my own engagement with scripture. A lovely conclusion to a truly remarkable series, that I cannot recommend highly enough.