There are 3 thoughts on “Jacob — The Prophet of Social Justice”.

  1. A short drive from my home is a beautiful mountain which overlooks a beautiful town at the mouth of a beautiful lake. At the top of that mountain is an overlook. Positioned around that overlook are coin-operated stationary binoculars, attached to a mounting pole, that tourists can rotate in almost any direction. From that position, and through those binoculars, a tourist can gaze down upon pretty vistas of the town, surrounding mountains, and the lake.

    There are several of these mounted binoculars there, each positioned to allow the viewer a bit of freedom to rotate and angle the binoculars, and they each have a very deliberate object or vista toward which they have been generally positioned. Some are pointed at the lake, some at the town below, and some at the adjacent mountaintops.

    One does not have completely free reign to spin the binoculars in all directions or angles, or point them at whatever one may like. Some vistas lie very obviously outside of the possible range of a particular viewfinder. For one pointed at a mountain, you can choose which part of that mountain to view, for example, but you can’t see (or claim to see) the town or lake through those particular binoculars. There are obvious limits to what that instrument can, and should, do.

    An individual’s perspective is quite similar to those binoculars, as it happens. One cannot wrench a perspective out of its own context, nor contort it in such a way that it sees whatever is desired by the one doing the yanking. At some point, it stops becoming their perspective entirely. When we reduce theology to an intellectual sandbox wherein we twist perspectives and wring from them our chosen interpretations, we delve into mere creative writing or playful literary exploration, at best.

    This installment of the “Brief Theological Introductions” series was a remarkably underwhelming read. It mistakes the mountain for the binoculars. It is certainly the weakest and least compelling of the lot, thus far (I’ve got them up to Alma pt. 1 at the time of writing). It reads like a diary, and it smacks of Green’s particular, predictable scholarly axe to grind: “womanist theology” and post-structuralist interpretation of text and narrative. In her hands, Jacob in this BTI sounds conveniently similar to Kierkegaard in her “Works of Love in a World of Violence.” Neither Jacob nor Kierkegaard seem to much resemble themselves when taken at their own word rather than at hers.

    This BTI installment is hardly a serious look into the book of Jacob. Apart from a brilliant take on “embodied knowledge” (pgs. 26-27) and a genuinely ingenious application of “love as a matter of the mind” (pgs 37-38), there is nothing of any worth whatsoever for the average, non-ideologically progressive layperson in the Church. If the average layperson in the Church, though, actually now is ideologically (not merely politically) progressive, then I suppose they are in good hands with Dr. Green, even if the Church as a whole wouldn’t therefore be so.

    It is a lamentable volume and is a step back for the series so early on, but I suppose it does present a different theological perspective, one that is perhaps alluded to on page vii of each book wherein it states:

    “…All the rooms in this mansion [the Book of Mormon] need to be explored, whether by valued traditional scholars or by those at the cutting edge, and one LDS scholar cannot say to the other, ‘I have no need of thee.”

    Dr. Green’s work certainly would not qualify as being that of a “valued traditional scholar,” and I maintain that her work is more on the “fringe” than “at the cutting edge” of LDS scholarship as aforementioned.

    To this particular work, as one who is certainly not a self-proclaimed scholar by any stretch, I feel that I may freely say “I have no need of thee.”

    Of course, not all books on a scriptural topic need to follow the same formats (historical insights, philosophical insights, catchy check-lists, scriptures-made-easier, popular apologetics, fun-fact styles, etc.). There should be, however, great care taken to distinguish robust scholarship (whatever that may be argued to mean in the final accounting) from the faddish tangents of the self-conscious scholarship produced by those in the various liberal arts in the modern University, who have sought novelty in thought for the sake of novelty since the late 50’s.

    The BTI on Jacob is a rather squinted look, albeit technically through the eponymous prophet’s writings, out onto the wide open vista of what can be labeled “Critical Theory” as it relates to Mormonism. Luckily, Critical Theory and its frenzied offshoots haven’t yet had much place in the popularized study of Mormonism, though the field is white (very white, ironically, for some of its aims) and ready to harvest.

  2. It is always interesting to read or hear someone’s unique perspectives on well known and lesser known scriptural accounts. For that reason, Deidre Nicole Green’s interpretation of the writings of Jacob as found in the Book of Mormon is welcome. Based on this review, however, I have some concerns.

    The first involves the use of the term “social justice” which, in our day, carries with it a lot of baggage. Employed in many contexts, it can be alienating. I’d much rather a treatise evaluate elements of the scriptural text without using such a loaded descriptor.

    The second concern is related to the statement that Jacob’s concern with social justice demonstrates “that religious life and social life should not be separated into distinct spheres. Jacob’s personal experience of suffering, his compassion for those on the margins of society, his concern for equality, and his commitment to forming a faithful and just community inform his testimony of Jesus Christ….”

    I rather view elements of the above statement inversely to how Green does. Her conclusion seems to be that social issues should inform our religious life and our testimonies of Jesus Christ whereas I see my testimony of Jesus Christ informing my perspective on and involvement with social issues. Giving social issues, or any outside influence, such a preeminence in our religious life can present a danger. When the social issue cannot be adequately addressed by one’s religious life – which one wins out? When others in our local ward or stake do not incorporate social justice platforms to the same extent as we, or perhaps not at all, does estrangement result?

    Admittedly, there is a fine line between “likening the scriptures” to ourselves and “wresting the scriptures” to support a pre-existing worldview. We all tend to engage in both to a certain extent even as we try to avoid “wresting”.

    I hope I have not been too harsh in my comments. To use another popular term related to social justice, perhaps there were some “triggering” words in the review that caused red flags to be raised in my mind. It will take reading Deidre Nicole Green’s work for myself to get the proper context of her thoughts.

    Cheers.

  3. I am highly skeptical of any attempt to impose a contemporary definition of so-called “social justice” onto Jacob’s book or onto Zenos’s allegory. Jacob says nothing about dispensing doctrine so all Nephites will feel or be “equal”; he never heard of social justice. He does emphatically state that his purpose is to teach and warn the people according to what God tells him to say by the power of the Holy Spirit, so he can be rid of their sins. The alleged insight that the atonement is for all equally is nothing new and has been taught since the church was organized. It is obvious.

    I do not want my understanding of scripture melded with the feminist or equality or social justice views of a graduate of a modern divinity school steeped in philosophy. Rhetorically speaking, I ask: What compliments and informs her understanding of the text?–Kierkegaard or prophets and apostles? Where are we warned about mingling the two?

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