Much has been said in recent years about the development and “evolution” of thought and practice in Mormonism. Of particular interest to some is what is perceived to be a “reconstruction of Mormon doctrine,” a movement on the part of the Church away from a traditional view of God, man, and salvation, toward a radical “progressive theology.”
O. Kendall White has described what he calls a type of “Mormon neoorthodoxy.” From White’s perspective, Mormonism emerged in the midst of Restorationism, with a theology not terribly unlike other Protestant faiths of the day. White believes, however, that in time Joseph Smith and the Mormons reached beyond their primitivist roots and developed into a progressive and expansive faith characterized by such beliefs as a finite God, the innate goodness of man, and exaltation by works. But with the expansion of the Church in the modern world, White proposes that a “crisis” in faith has taken place in the lives of many modern Mormons, particularly as they have engaged a growing secularization, more liberal ethical systems, accelerated efforts of anti-Mormons, or revisionist explanations for foundational events of Mormonism. He suggests that a form of “Mormon neoorthodoxy” has begun to develop—an attempt to return to a tighter “redemptive” theological system, based primarily upon a belief in the sovereignty of God, the moral depravity of man, and salvation by grace. Because Joseph Smith’s progressive brand of Mormonism ingeniously linked the other-worldly with the here and now—because it pointed man in a positive and lifting direction, away from the pessimistic worldview of traditional Protestantism—White fears that “few things portend a more ominous future” for the Church than the growing trend toward a redemptive theology.