Two Essays on Sustaining and Enlarging the Doctrine

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Abstract: In a pair of recent books, Patrick Mason and Terryl and Fiona Givens seek to revitalize, reinvigorate, and deepen our understanding of basic terms and concepts of the Restoration. I welcome such efforts, convinced (even where I sometimes quibble) that the conversations they will engender among faithful and committed believers can be very healthy. Now that “the times of refreshing [have] come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:18), it is imperative, both for ourselves and for a world that needs to hear the news, that we not lose sight of the radical freshness of the divine gift and of its comprehensively transforming power. My hope for The Interpreter Foundation is that — while joyfully recognizing, indeed celebrating, the fact that prophets and apostles lead the Kingdom, not academics and intellectuals — it will contribute not only to the defense of the Restoration but to the explication of Restoration doctrines and enhanced understanding and appreciation of their riches.

[Page vii]A few weeks ago, the remarkably prolific, learned, and always interesting Latter-day Saint thinkers Terryl and Fiona Givens kindly sent me a copy of a brief new book they had just published. It’s entitled All Things New: Rethinking Sin, Salvation, and Everything in Between.1

I’ve enjoyed it very much. Twice. I’m in deep sympathy with the fundamental project, and I recommend the book enthusiastically. Like Patrick Mason’s soon-to-be published Restoration: God’s Call to the 21st-Century World, which I read in manuscript before it went to press, it is a book that will challenge faithful Latter-day Saint readers in a good and [Page viii]positive way and that deserves to be widely discussed.2 Indeed, in my view, discussing these books would benefit us considerably as a community.

Discussing such matters can be not only beneficial, but truly part of the “sweet work” of the Kingdom. As the prolific English minister and hymnist Isaac Watts (1674–1748) reminds us,

Sweet is the work, my God, my King,
To praise thy name, give thanks and sing,
To show thy love by morning light,
And talk of all thy truths at night.3

We benefit not only because it is genuinely sweet to talk of “poems and prayers and promises and things that we believe in,”4 but because through such conversations we might become better equipped to defend, commend, and build the Kingdom. We might be more effective in sharing the Gospel and serving the Saints and the world in which we live.

Terryl and Fiona see us as being harmed by a kind of disease, and I’m inclined to agree:

We believe that … many … struggling Saints are suffering as a consequence of what scripture calls “the traditions of the fathers, which [are] not correct” (Alma 21:17). … The philosopher Friedrich Schleiermacher describes the situation well. He wrote that one can believe and teach that “everything is related to the redemption accomplished by Jesus of Nazareth” and yet that redemption can be “interpreted in such a way that it is reduced to incoherence.” His diagnosis is the subject of this book.5

Now, please don’t jump to the conclusion that Terryl and Fiona Givens are apostate heretics, calling out The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- day Saints and stepping forward to steady the ark. They are energetic believers in the Restoration.6 But they also believe that the [Page ix]Restoration is ongoing, and that, while the Saints have been given (among many other divine blessings) great doctrinal gifts, our understanding of those gifts is still limited in some important ways, even stunted, by the language in which we speak and write about them, which has been corrupted by centuries of misunderstanding and apostasy.

[W]e offer here what we hope may provide bases for an ongoing conversation about the language of the Restoration. … Here are a few caveats about what this sketch is and is not. We are neither offering dogmatic definitions nor offering a comprehensive treatment. We are trying to model and inspire fresh ways of thinking through the religious vocabulary that pervades our wounded world and particularly our Church that is still emerging from the wilderness.7

They want to get back to what they believe to have been the original Christian vision, and they set that vision out in their first chapter:

We will discuss two doctrines that were part of Christian self- understanding in the early years: the eternal nature of our souls, extending back beyond the formations of the world, and the parenthood of God taken as more than mere metaphor. These two sacred truths — the eternal nature of men and women, and the loving, selfless, devoted love of a parental God — were the lifeblood of a vibrant Christian community that saw the purpose of life as an educative experience in the school of love.8

These two doctrines — our premortal life with the plans there set in motion and the true parental nature of God — are the foundations of the Restoration and are unique in the current Christian world.9

They cite a beautiful passage from the 1997 book Sanctuary, by the late Chieko Okazaki (1926–2011), who served as first counselor in the general presidency of the Relief Society between 1990 and 1997:

At the end of this process, our Heavenly Parents will have sons and daughters who are their peers, their friends and their colleagues.10

This essay wasn’t really intended to be a review of All Things New, let alone of Patrick Mason’s Restoration, but it’s clearly evolved as I’ve written it beyond what I had planned. Consequently, before I use them as a platform [Page x]from which to make the one simple point that I intended to make with the present article, I want to say a few more things about the Givens’ book.

Throughout the book, they cite “many beautiful and God-touched voices,”11 ancient and medieval and modern, both Latter-day Saint and mainstream Christian, and occasionally Jewish. “Latter-day Saints,” they correctly point out, “can find much to applaud and much to learn from earnest God- and Truth-seekers across the spectrum.”12 “God- touched souls have recurrently provided pinpricks of light amid the greater darkness.”13 A significant number of these are the voices of women — enough to suggest that including them was a deliberate choice. I enthusiastically welcome this choice.14

At many places in All Things New, I found myself exclaiming “Yes!” Sometimes this was because they had just made a point that I myself have made somewhere or other. (I’ve always loved this definition from Ambrose Bierce’s minor 1906 masterpiece The Devil’s Dictionary: “Admiration, n. Our polite recognition of another’s resemblance to ourselves.”) At other places, though, it was because of a fine insight that crystallized something for me that I had maybe not seen before.

Here is just one of a large number of examples:

We might venture a definition of salvation: to be saved is to become the kind of persons, in the kinds of relationships, that constitute the divine nature. … If salvation is about what we are to become as individuals, heaven is the name given to those relationships in which individuals find fulness of joy. That may not be a complicated idea, but its implications are far-reaching. [Page xi]For one thing, it clarifies why neither salvation nor heaven are rewards that God can dispense, or that we can earn.15

Heaven, as Joseph taught, is not a matter of reward or position or place but a particular kind of sociability.16

Significantly, the title of their Chapter 6 is “Heaven: From ‘Where’ to ‘with Whom.’” I find that profound. Moreover, it gives serious meaning to a witticism from Joseph Smith that is often treated as a mere joke:

[L]et me be resurrected with the Saints, whether I ascend to heaven or descend to hell, or go to any other place. And if we go to hell, we will turn the devils out of doors and make a heaven of it.17

Ultimately, to be saved is to become like Christ, who is like the Father:

And ye shall be even as I am, and I am even as the Father; and the Father and I are one. (3 Nephi 28:10)

This is, as All Things New expressly recognizes, a daunting prospect:

Restoration theology is, from the first word, far more ambitious, presumptuous, and gloriously aspirational than we may recognize. Restoration theology goes far beyond the current Christian hope of personal redemption from death and hell. Our faith tradition aspires to make us into the likeness of our Heavenly Parents. Our sin, as Saints, may be in thinking that such an endeavor could be anything other than wrenching, costly, inconceivably difficult, and at times unimaginably painful. We do not become, in C. S. Lewis’s phrase, “little Christs” by a couple of well-spent hours ministering to our assigned families and abstaining from tea and coffee. … We are still very much in the morning of an eternity of striving.18

There are no shortcuts to Christlikeness. If God were able to make us Christlike with a simple wave of a magical divine wand, he could and presumably would — and certainly should — already have done so, long before there had ever been Adolf Hitlers, Jeffrey Dahmers, Joseph Stalins, Colombian drug lords, mass murdering terrorists, abusive husbands, [Page xii]abused children, dishonest accountants, and cheating spouses. Long before our own fumbling attempts at righteousness, our own acts of selfishness and thoughtlessness, our repeated failures at acting as we know we should.

But — and until you read All Things New for yourself, you’ll have to take my word for it — despite the intimidating, bracing character of the Givens’s message, this book is resoundingly hopeful, deeply reassuring, and encouraging. God, they remind us, is a loving Father, not a hanging judge, who wants to share with us all that he possesses.

Or, in the spirit of the book itself, perhaps I should say that God are — note the purposeful plural — a loving Father and Mother who want to share with us everything that they have and are, and who sent God the Son, Jesus Christ, as our divine healer.

One of the most striking aspects of All Things New is its common practice of using plural verbs and pronouns to refer to God. As others no doubt will, I found this grammatically jarring. (I’m a grammarian, not only in English, and I spend much of my daily time writing and editing, and grading student papers. Verb-subject agreement is one of my particular small and pedantic obsessions.) But I also found it stimulating and exhilarating.

After saying, early in the book, that “a change in pronoun usage may be in order” with respect to the word God, they proceed to make the change.19 And for such a change, unaccustomed to it as we are by either official Church usage or our own folk habits out in the pews, there is certainly doctrinal justification in Latter-day Saint tradition:

Elder John A. Widtsoe wrote: “The glorious vision of life hereafter … is given radiant warmth by the thought that … [we have] a mother who possesses all the attributes of Godhood.” The Apostle Erastus Snow went further: “Deity consists of man and woman. … I have another description: There never was a God, and there never will be in all eternities, except they are made of these two component parts: a man and a woman; the male and the female.” If this is true, then when we employ the term God, it will often be the case that two divine Beings are behind the expression. The writer of Genesis employed the name Adam to refer to a fully collaborative couple; Adam is effectively their surname (Gen. 5:2; Moses 6:9). Just as Adam can refer to both Adam and Eve, there will … be instances when God is rightly followed by the pronoun They. Brigham Young taught that “we were created … in the image of our father and [Page xiii]our mother, the image of our God.” His statement indicates that calling Heavenly Mother “God” is consistent with the biblical account of the creation of both the “male and female” being in “the image of God” (Gen. 1:26–27).20

But let’s get back to the hopeful, optimistic, encouraging character of All Things New. As the epigraph to their introduction, the Givenses quote William Tyndale:

Evangelion (that we call the gospel) is a Greek word and signifieth good, merry, glad, and joyful tidings, that maketh a man’s heart glad, and maketh him to sing, dance, and leap for joy.21

And that is very much the spirit in which they write. It is all about healing, love, and the hope that all might ultimately be saved — a universalistic or at least quasi-universalistic position to which I have also long been inclined.

So, it may seem churlish on my part to acknowledge that at some points in All is New, I quibbled with what they had to say.

Although, for instance, I think that their criticism of the renewed influence of St. Augustine in the Reformation is well-aimed and worthy of serious consideration, I’m a bit more inclined than they evidently are to see positive developments from the Reformers and the Reformation, as well. (In other words, I’m somewhat more traditionally Latter-day Saint in my attitudes here, while believing that the traditional Latter-day Saint attitude needs their correction.)22

Moreover, while I think their criticism of “penal substitution” models for the atonement of Christ is entirely justified — I’m inclined to agree with them that “Brokenness, not sinfulness, is our general condition; healing from trauma is what is needed”23 — I’m not sure that I understand exactly what it is that they’re putting in its place.24 It isn’t clear to me, in their model, why our salvation demanded that Jesus absolutely had to suffer in Gethsemane and be crucified on the cross at Golgotha. And yet, evidently, he did. And as to why he did, the “penal substitution” theory has the great advantage of clarity, even if it [Page xiv]lacks the advantages of truth and of suitably depicting the nature of God. Nor is it apparent to me what role the performance of vicarious temple ordinances for the dead can play in their conception of Jesus as Savior and of the healing role of his sacrificial offering. And yet we’re repeatedly told that such ordinances are absolutely necessary — they don’t dispute this — and we devote great effort and expense to seeking out our dead and performing the required rituals on their behalf.

For a much smaller issue, I was struck by the fact that in one passage they approvingly cite the theologian David Bentley Hart as saying that “Paul speaks of … sin as a kind of contagion, disease with which all are born; … but never as an inherited condition of criminal culpability.”25 And then, three pages later, they observe, with what I take to be disapproval, that “In the Christian past, sin was equated with a contagion.”26 I think that I can see a way to reconcile the two statements, but perhaps I’m wrong.

And, while I myself have come to the view (which is plainly also theirs) that our eternal progress to Godlikeness will, at best and if we make it at all, require eons of time and learning beyond the grave, I would have appreciated some engagement with such passages as Alma 34:32, which seem (at least at first and second glance) to run counter to such a viewpoint:

For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors.27

Furthermore, I would very much like to discuss with them their continual use of the term woundedness to describe the human condition. It is, in crucial ways, fundamental to their project (with which, I stress again, I am deeply sympathetic).

I worry about it not because I disagree with the idea of the word. I happen to find it extraordinarily apt and insightful, and it’s crucial to the way in which I myself have tried to act when I’ve been entrusted with stewardships in the Church (e.g., as a bishop) that involved pastoral counseling. I see wounded souls (in everyone, very much including myself) that need education, coaching, encouragement, and healing more than they require punishment. What caught my attention, though, was the way, in All Things New, the word went from being a textual variant to being the foundation for discussion:

[Page xv]In 1 Nephi 13, the Lord’s messenger characterizes the modern world’s inhabitants as being in a state of “awful woundedness” (1830 edition) or in an “awful state of blindness” (1837 edition).28

The 1837 and present editions replace “state of awful woundedness” with “awful state of blindness.” The common point of both descriptive words is telling: woundedness and blindness alike describe a condition for which we are not responsible; the injury is due to the agency of others who have removed “plain and precious” things from the scriptural record.29

Those two passages, one on the third page of All Things New and the other its accompanying chapter endnote, represent essentially the last mentions of the fact that woundedness might not be the actual, accurate word at 1 Nephi 13:32. Elsewhere — for example, in these passages — no doubt about the word is apparent at all:

  • “what Nephi called ‘the state of awful woundedness’ that we inhabit”30
  • The book’s ninth chapter, entitled “Sin,” bears the subtitle “From Guilt to Woundedness.”31
  • “[T]he most pervasive image the New Testament and Book of Mormon employ in reference to our condition is woundedness. The angel uses that word to describe the human condition to Nephi.”32
  • “When the angel referred to the world of today as being in a “state of awful woundedness,” he provided a term, woundedness, that is accurate and is a catalyst to love.”33

It is true that 1 Nephi 13:32 reads “state of awful woundedness” in the Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon. Next, when Oliver Cowdery copied the Original Manuscript onto the Printer’s Manuscript, he initially transposed those words, writing “awful state of woundedness” before correcting them back to the Original Manuscript’s “state of awful woundedness.” And accordingly, that is the way that the passage reads in the Book of Mormon’s 1830 first edition. However, in his preparation [Page xvi]for publishing the 1837 edition of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith went back to the original word order of the Printer’s Manuscript while changing woundedness to blindness. Thus, in the 1837 edition, the relevant passage reads “awful state of blindness.” Subsequently, this has remained the reading of all of the official editions of the Book of Mormon published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ever since.

So, should “state of awful woundedness” be the preferred reading? I readily acknowledge that such a reading is attractive and that it might afford — indeed, does afford — a rich basis for theological, soteriological, and anthropological reflection. However, I have to point out that Royal Skousen’s critical Yale edition of the Book of Mormon, based on decades of meticulous study of Book of Mormon textual history and language, reads “state of awful wickedness” — in contradiction not only to the Original Manuscript, the Printer’s Manucript, Joseph Smith’s 1837 revision, and the current official edition published by the Church. Although I genuinely like “awful woundedness,” I’m persuaded by Skousen’s reasoning that “awful woundedness” may have been a dictation or scribal error, and that “state of awful wickedness,” although conjectural, is very possibly the proper reading. At a minimum, it must be said that “awful woundedness” is very far from a sure thing.34

My concern is that if we try to base ourselves on how we think scripture should have been worded rather than the way it actually was worded, we risk cutting ourselves loose from our mooring into untethered subjectivism. Happily, though, in this case I judge the damage to be minimal (if, indeed, there is any damage at all).

But, as I approach my peroration, I want to stress that I like All Things New very much. I like the ambition, even the audacity, of it. The Restoration and its vision of human destiny are audacious — radical — and that should not be forgotten. Years ago, a rather distant relative, intending to say something nice about the place where I had just accepted a faculty teaching position, described Provo, Utah, as a pleasant little religious town. He meant well, and I responded in kind. But the last thing I want is to be associated with a quaint and sentimentalized “Old Time Religion.” I love, and have always loved, the sheer adventurousness, the revolutionary ambition, the radicality and expansiveness, the cosmic [Page xvii]vision, of the doctrines of the Restoration, and that’s what I like so very much about both the Givens’ new book and Patrick Mason’s Restoration: God’s Call to the 21st-Century World.

Not surprisingly — I love these passages, too — All Things New happily quotes the stirring words of “the visionary member of the Seventy, B. H. Roberts”:

Mental laziness is the vice of men, especially with reference to divine things. Men seem to think that because inspiration and revelation are factors in connection with the things of God, therefore the pain and stress of mental effort are not required; that by some means these elements act somewhat as Elijah’s ravens and feed us without effort on our part. … “[W] hy then should man strive and trouble himself to understand? Much study is still a weariness of the flesh.” So men reason; and just now it is much in fashion to laud “the simple faith;” which is content to believe without understanding, or even without much effort to understand.35

The Givenses say — and I strongly concur — that we need to be continually rethinking the doctrines we have received, to receive them afresh and to teach them in ever fresh ways. Admittedly in a unique way, the Reformation formula Ecclesia semper reformanda est — “the church must always be reformed” — applies to the Restored Church of Jesus Christ every bit as much as it applies to the churches of Protestantism. Semper reformanda. It is true, of course, that we have the distinct advantage of being led by living prophets and apostles, and intellectuals and scholars should not — nay, must not —attempt to usurp their authority. But that’s no excuse for laziness on our part. We must escape traps of tiredness, stale routine, irrelevance to real, contemporary concerns.

B. H. Roberts foresaw this need and hoped for its fulfillment in our day. He found his inspiration in the writings of the eminent American philosopher Josiah Royce. Disciples, Royce said, “are of two sorts. There are, first, the disciples pure and simple. … They expound, and defend, and ward off foes, and live and die faithful to one formula. … On the other hand, there are disciples of a second sort. … The seed that the sower strews upon [his] fields springs up in [his] soil, and bears fruit — thirty, sixty, an hundredfold. … Disciples of the second sort cooperate in the works of the Spirit … [and] help lead … to a truer expression[Page xviii](our emphasis). B. H. Roberts read these words and built them into a prophecy and a call to action. “Mormonism,” he said, “calls for [these disciples of the second sort,] disciples who will not be content with merely repeating some of its truths, but will develop its truth; and enlarge it by that development. The disciples of ‘Mormonism,’ growing discontented with the necessarily primitive methods which have hitherto prevailed in sustaining the doctrine, … will cast them in new formulas; cooperating in the works of the Spirit, until they help to give to the truths received a more forceful expression.”36

Patrick Mason and Terryl and Fiona Givens have given us examples of “second-sort” discipleship. Whatever flaws may exist in their books, I honor and respect them for that.

The Interpreter Foundation, you might think — along with this, its flagship journal — is dedicated to discipleship of that first sort, to defending what we’ve received and to warding off foes. It is certainly true that doing so is one of our principal missions. But it’s my devout hope that we can also contribute to the second sort of discipleship, to developing enlarged and more forceful expressions of the Restoration.

Of course, as the author of Ecclesiastes recognized, “to every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). In a letter to his wife, Abigail, the American Founder John Adams wrote

The Science of Government it is my Duty to study, more than all other Sciences: the Art of Legislation and Administration and Negotiation, ought to take Place, indeed to exclude in a manner all other Arts. — I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine.37

I thank all of those who have brought the Interpreter Foundation to where it is today, and who will carry it yet further. Without the time and effort and financial support offered by a large number of generous people, there would be nothing. Specifically, now, I’m grateful for those [Page xix]who have written the articles and reviews in this issue of Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship. They do their work without financial compensation. I’m grateful to the source checkers, the copy editors, the anonymous peer reviewers, and all those who make the production of the Journal possible — and especially to Allen Wyatt and Jeff Lindsay, who have been assigned that ceaselessly demanding task, week after week after week. To all, my sincere and deep appreciation

1. Fiona and Terryl Givens, All Things New: Rethinking Sin, Salvation, and Everything in Between (Meridian, ID: Faith Matters Publishing, 2020).
2. See Patrick Q. Mason, Restoration: God’s Call to the 21st-Century World (Meridian, ID: Faith Matters Publishing, 2021).
3. “Sweet is the Work,” Hymns, no. 147.
4. The phrase comes, of course, from the 1971 John Denver song named, precisely, “Poems, Prayers and Promises.”
5. Givens and Givens, All Things New, 3.
6. See Nathaniel Givens, Jeffrey Thayne, and J. Max Wilson, “Latter-day Saint Radical Orthodoxy: A Manifesto,” a late-2020 document to which — along with a number of others, including me — Terryl Givens and Fiona Givens are original signatories,
7. Givens and Givens, All Things New, 78, 79.
8. Ibid., 5.
9. Ibid., 27.
10. Cited at ibid., 81.
11. Ibid., 5.
12. Ibid., 21.
13. Ibid., 31.
14. I’m very pleased to see them draw several times on thoughts from Francine Bennion, a friend who belongs to a monthly reading group in which both my wife and I have participated for something on the order of three decades now. I believe that there is much to be learned from different voices generally, and specifically from women’s theological reflections. A case in point: When I was first writing the article recently republished in more accessible form than hitherto as “Notes on Mormonism and the Trinity” (the title of the article dates back to long before President Russell M. Nelson’s admonitions regarding the terms Mormon and Mormonism), I was delighted to discover that the readings I found most rich in profitable insights came, to a large extent, from liberation theologians and feminist theologians. See Daniel C. Peterson, “Notes on Mormonism and the Trinity,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 41 (2020): 87–130,
15. Givens and Givens, All Things New, 82, 86.
16. Ibid., 142.
17. Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 vols., edited by B. H. Roberts, 5:517.
18. Givens and Givens, All Things New, 84.
19. Ibid., 25.
20. Ibid., 27.
21. Ibid., 1, citing David Daniell, William Tyndale: A Biography (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1994), 123.
22. See, for example, the discussion at Givens and Givens, All Things New, 43–50.
23. Ibid., 105.
24. See the discussion in Chapter 13, “Atonement: From Penal Substitution to Radical Healing,” in Givens and Givens, All Things New, 131–50.
25. Givens and Givens, All Things New, 105.
26. Ibid., 108.
27. Alma 34:32. See, too, Alma 34:31–36.
28. Givens and Givens, All Things New, 3.
29. Ibid., 6n2. For Terryl Givens’s thoughts on the phrase, see also
30. Givens and Givens, All Things New, 21–22.
31. Ibid., 103.
32. Ibid., 104.
33. Ibid., 108.
34. See Royal Skousen, ed., The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), 36; also the argument given in Royal Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, Volume 4 of the Critical Text of the Book of Mormon, Part One: Title Page, Witness Statements, 1 Nephi 1–2 Nephi 11, 2d ed. (Provo, UT: FARMS and BYU Studies, 2017), 295–97.
35. Givens and Givens, All Things New, 70. The description of B. H. Roberts comes from page 72.
36. Givens and Givens, All Things New, 72.
37. John Adams, “John Adams to Abigail Adams, 12 May 1780,”

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About Daniel C. Peterson

Daniel C. Peterson (PhD, University of California at Los Angeles) is a professor emeritus of Islamic studies and Arabic at Brigham Young University, where he founded the University’s Middle Eastern Texts Initiative. He has published and spoken extensively on both Islamic and Latter-day Saint subjects. Formerly chairman of the board of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) and an officer, editor, and author for its successor organization, the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, his professional work as an Arabist focuses on the Qur’an and on Islamic philosophical theology. He is the author, among other things, of a biography entitled Muhammad: Prophet of God (Eerdmans, 2007).

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