Terryl Givens holds the James A. Bostwick chair of English and is Professor of Literature and Religion at the University of Richmond and the author of several books. His writing has been praised by the new York Times as “provocative reading” and includes the most recent title, When Souls Had Wings, a history of the idea of pre-mortal life in Western Thought.
Fiona Givens is a retired modern language teacher with undergraduate degree’s in French and German and a graduate degree in European History. She is now an independent scholar who has published in several journals and reviews in Mormon studies, including the Journal of Mormon History, Exponent II, and LDS Living.
Terryl and Fiona are the grandparents of five, and parents of six. Welcome Terrly and Fiona Givens. They co-authored the book The Crucible of Doubt: Reflections on the Quest For Faith published by Deseret Book.
Questions addressed in this interview:
With two authors to a title I am always a bit curious as to who wrote what, or how that process took place. So how did that process take place?
This book is entitled The Crucible of Doubt and subtitled, Reflections on the Question for Faith. You have written on having doubts or experiencing what has been termed a faith crisis, would you call yourselves doubt scholars?
Now another word for crucible is trial, so the title itself implies that you approach having doubts or questions about LDS beliefs is a trial, but what makes these doubts such a trial? Why can’t they simply be viewed as a natural occurrence and something to address in some sense of normalcy rather than a “trial?”
While the book is primarily a devotional text, there does seem to have an apologetic subtext to it in that it helps the reader to reframe themselves with respect to the LDS Theology is such a way that questions are more answerable. What that part of the intent in your writing or did it simply speak to me that way?
Some introductions to books are superfluous. Your’s does not fit in that category, in fact, I would venture to say that if you skip over the introduction to the book, you will miss a good bit of the remainder of the text. That introduction starts out with a profound analogy using James Mossman’s front door in Scotland. Please help me to not sound so random in my reference. Please explain that story.
What are some of the common “wrong questions” that we encounter in current discourse?
The book continues to give an appraisal on the value of reason or in another sense the place of scientific information as the foundation upon which reason is based. Your argument sounds a little like a literature professor seeking to give more weight to their subject of scholarship.\
Let’s talk for a minute about the role of suffering.
It is the position of some today that questioning certain teachings, or even publicly advocating for things that shake up the norm is the act of an apostate, while others praise their actions as bringing people to a higher plane of Christianity through their advocacy. The next chapter of your book The Crucible of Doubt, deals with this idea and is entitled On Provocation and Peace: Of Life’s Fundamental Incompleteness. So is Christianity. What then is the role of questioning, of even experiencing a gospel that shakes us to our very core?
The Role and Function of the Church, a chapter that walks a line that few have articulated the way you have. There are those that feel that the church is the answer to all problems, and others that feel that church is the cause of all their problems. In order to talk about this concept we need to first put out your definition of religion, and your definition of church—then if you could go into what is the role of true religion and a true church in our spiritual journey?
Much has been talked about with the role of grace and works. A quote from your book comes from the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoffer, “cheap grace is the mortal enemy of the church” and one version of cheap grace is “baptism without discipline of community.” As we are talking about the disciples journey through doubt to greater faith and spirituality, what then do you attribute the role of ordinances and spiritual ritual in the overcoming of doubts?
There is a progression in your material as you address various paradigms that some have adopted, The Use and Abuse of Scripture, The Perils of Hero Worship, another interesting chapter is the Mormon’s and Monopolies chapters, and I am going to go ahead and leave those sections as a tease to go get the book, but these chapters lead in some ways to this idea of Spiritual Self-sufficiency, subtitled, Find Your Watering Place. What does Spiritual Self-sufficiency look like?
Let’s conclude with the articulation of what just might be at the heart of true faith, and that is the risk it presents. There is this quote, “The question may remain, how does one lock onto the propositional assertions of a restored gospel that is also laden with claims about gold plates and the Book of Abraham and a male priesthood and a polygamous past and a thousand other details we may find difficult? One might consider that the contingencies of history and culture and the human element will always constitute the garment in which God’s word and will are clothed. And one might refuse to allow our desire for the perfect to be the enemy of the present good. Finally we might ask ourselves, with the early disciples, “to whom [else] shall we go?” The Worst risk such a life of faith entails is not that such a life might be wrong—but that it might be incomprehensible to those unprepared to take such a risk.” It then goes to assert that to be faithful or to be a Christian disciple (that is my word not yours) that to live in faith is to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.”
Terryl and Fiona Givens are the co-authors of The Crucible of Doubt: Reflections on the Quest for Faith. Available now through Deseret Book at Deseret Book.com and other LDS retailers.