BYU professor analyzes Joseph Smith's contribution to the Second Great Awakening

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 6 2013 4:45 p.m. MDT

PROVO — While Joseph Smith may be linked to many other religious leaders of the Second Great Awakening, a closer look reveals his unique contribution that one researcher says stands out among his contemporaries.

Lynne Wilson, an adjunct professor at BYU and director of the Menlo Park Stake LDS institute of religion, led attendees of the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research's annual conference in an examination of "pneumatology," or the study of the Holy Spirit.

Wilson spoke on the second day of the FAIR conference, held Aug. 1-2.

"While Joseph Smith’s thoughts on the Holy Ghost appear to fall within the mainstream of the enthusiastic outbursts of the Second Great Awakening, a closer look shows that his restored doctrines made an abrupt and radical departure from the pneumatology of his day," Wilson said.

The Second Great Awakening references a period of time in the early 1800s featuring great religious revival. Many people sought out new or different congregations that preached doctrine that would declare them "saved."

The proof of Joseph Smith's originality, Wilson said, is in the Prophet's ideology on matters such as the trinity, canon of scripture, gifts of the Spirit and election.

When it came down to doctrine, especially doctrine regarding the Spirit or the Holy Ghost, Joseph simply did not fit in with contemporary religious leaders, said Wilson, who has spent more than 10,000 hours researching this subject.

What sets Joseph Smith, the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, apart from other religious leaders of the early 19th century was his contribution to theological understanding of the Spirit, Wilson said.

“One of the reasons many people place Smith into the Second Great Awakening is that Joseph uses the same biblical vocabulary as his peers do," Wilson said. "But his definitions were quite unique, especially in pneumatological matters.”

Wilson said that the Prophet's study of the Bible kept his vocabulary in accord with biblical vocabulary. But additional LDS scripture and teachings revealed through Joseph expanded on accepted views of the Spirit in numbers, names and details.

One example of an increase in numbers comes from Wilson's study of terms regarding the Spirit, which she counted in the Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants. She found that words regarding the Spirit are mentioned 217 more times in the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants than in the Bible.

A condensed version of Wilson's dissertation was published online through BYU Studies.

Emmilie Buchanan-Whitlock is an intern for the Deseret News with Mormon Times. She recently graduated from Brigham Young University-Idaho. Contact her by email: ebuchanan@deseretnews.com or on Twitter: emmiliewhitlock

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