Title: Feeding the Flock – The Foundations of Mormon Thought: Church and Praxis
Author: Terryl L. Givens
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Genre: Mormon History and Doctrine
Year Published: 2017
Number of Pages: 424
Reviewed by Kris Wray for the Association for Mormon Letters
This volume is essentially broken into three parts, composed of eleven chapters. The first chapter explains what the Church is and why it is necessary. It reviews fundamental concepts of Latter-day Saint theology introduced by Joseph Smith, such as the preexistence, the fall of Adam and Eve, deification, and how these subjects relate to the purpose of mortal life and covenant theology. Givens explains why a Church is helpful and even necessary towards receiving redemption. A helpful background of Christian Church history is provided to put LDS similarities and differences in perspective.
Chapter two covers the Book of Mormon’s place in the LDS interpretation of covenant theology. Givens discusses different reasons why Mormons consider an apostasy from the biblical everlasting covenant a vital reason for a restoration of scripture, doctrine and sacraments. Such a restoration was necessary in Mormon thought to bring a people who considered themselves modern Israel closer to the path God desires his children to follow, in order to grasp the salvation He and His Son offer. He emphasizes that while individuals seek salvation, the Church as a whole is commanded to work towards achieving Zion, which is the collective uplifting of the whole community into a godly life. For Mormons, this entailed gathering to certain locales and sharing the responsibilities of becoming pure in heart as a people.
In chapter three, the author tackles the question of sacramental theology. He juxtaposes the doctrine and practices of various Christian denominations and leaders to that of the Latter-day Saints, arguing the importance of such ordinances for fashioning and sustaining relationships wih other beings, both human and divine. Salvation of the deceased via vicarious sacraments on behalf of dead ancestors is touched upon, and connects that work with LDS temple building.
The place of priesthood, or the power and authority to act in the name of God logically follows in chapter four. LDS theology demands that in order to, among other things, perform the sacraments discussed in chapter three, a human being must attain the necessary power of God. Various ideas outside of Mormonism are cited to put LDS thinking in a broader context. A history of the restoration of the priesthood to early Mormon leaders is given, along with an explanation on the various officers who hold that power in the Church.
Chapter five lays out the presiding priesthood leadership structure of the LDS Church, and discusses the question of the place of women in priesthood, acknowledging that LDS sources can be read in such a way as to suggest women did indeed receive priesthood power and keys in particular circumstances, and that this has been the source of some debate among Mormons themselves.
In chapter six, Givens returns to the history of sacraments within the LDS Church. He explains the ordinances themselves, i.e. the symbolism, meaning, and the manner in which they are executed. In addition to the sacraments performed in the Church itself, the author deals with those performed within LDS temples. In the following chapter, additional sacraments, defined as non-salvific by Givens, are discussed, such as sacrament, patriarchal blessings, blessing the sick and children, and dedications.
Chapter eight reviews the various spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit which God provides to the Church to assist them in their journey as individuals and as a people. Revelations, visions, prophecy, healings, speaking in tongues, and exorcism are some of the gifts which Givens explores, while pointing out the distinct ways in which Mormons have enjoyed and experienced them. He laments that several of these gifts have not survived in the modern Church, at least in comparison to earlier times.
Chapter nine is on the topic of scripture. A history of the reception of LDS scripture and authoritative counsel is given.
The manner and times in which members of the LDS Church worship God is dealt with in chapter ten. The Sabbath day, church services, and fast and testimony services are aptly explained in this short chapter.
The last chapter of Feeding the Flock covers how order is maintained, and sin and apostasy are dealt with by the Church and its leadership. Details on the practice of cutting members off from the Church, and withholding privileges by taking away temple recommends, are provided. Violations ranging from not paying a full tithing, breaking the Word of Wisdom (a dietary code followed by Mormons), being unchaste, or losing one’s testimony are cited and discussed as common reasons why one might face disciplinary action.
I found Feeding the Flock to be a refreshing explanation of LDS ecclesiology and praxis. While one might initially view the content as covering basic themes, the interesting and succinct manner in which the author presents them, in addition to the historical and theological Christian background he often provides when he is addressing any given topic, makes it informative reading. I was surprised at how much I learned.
While there is an apologetic tone to the book, there is also plenty of independent reasoning, and approaches outside the box of some mainstream Mormon literary explorations.
This is a good book for all seeking to comprehend the foundation of Mormon theology, even if they are lifelong members and well versed in these subjects. Givens has an admirable hold on this topic and conveys it well to his audience. Feeding the Flock does not disappoint if you have enjoyed the other works by this author, or desire a fresh, intellectual look at LDS ecclesiology.