SALT LAKE CITY — Some Mormons suffer emotionally and spiritually because they have appropriated far too much Protestant thought and language, say Terryl and Fiona Givens, authors of the new book "The Christ Who Heals: How God Restored the Truth That Saves Us" (Deseret Book).
That language traps some members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints into feeling unworthy, incapable and overwhelmed, they say.
"Perfection is horrifying to Mormons," Fiona Givens said in a recent interview, "and it's based on a mistranslation. The Greek refers to 'wholeness,' to being 'entire.' We are carrying the traditions of the fathers to a degree that we are a wounded people."
"'Be ye therefore perfect' is not a commandment or imperative," her husband added. "It means, 'You will be whole.'"
The couple regularly spend time with Mormons who feel disenfranchised and wounded, and their book promotes a shift in the way Mormons refer to and think of Jesus Christ, a shift the Givenses say is healthier, closer to Restoration theology and backed by recent statements by leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
They suggest that Mormons set aside the Protestant view of a Christ who saves sinful, unworthy people from the original sin of Adam in favor of a Restoration view of Christ as an ever-present healer who is a collaborative partner on a journey through an educational experience. The Mormon view of Christ is still the Savior, overcoming physical and spiritual death, but he is more.
"They are describing what they see as the more of Mormonism," said Spencer Fluhman, executive director of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at Brigham Young University.
"Our Christ is radically different, radically more beautiful, profoundly loving, more continually concerned in the plan of salvation," said Terryl Givens, a professor of literature and religion at the University of Richmond who has published a dozen books on Mormonism.
"He is not a repairman that steps in after Eden, that steps in to remedy a catastrophe, but he was part of a committee that prepared the plan of salvation from the beginning. We are still contaminated, to what we think is really a tragic degree, by the traditions of the fathers. We are still immersed in a language of sin and depravity."
The Prophet Joseph Smith restored a much more positive form of mortality as an educative sphere where we learn the attributes of Godhood, Givens said. Mormonism teaches that life came into the world by the Fall, rather than the Protestant version that death came into the world by the Fall.
He said "The Christ Who Heals" answers the question, "Do we believe in the Christ of Christianity?"
"The answer," he added, "is a resounding no."
Mormons should, for example, consider using the word "heal" rather than "save," because the word translated as "save" in the Bible is alternately translated as "heal," which is closer to Restoration language and theology, Givens said.
"We feel it is much more consonant with Joseph Smith's cosmic vision and a Restoration plan to think of Christ as the Great Healer rather than as the Savior, because saving suggests we are in a position of loss, of catastrophe, of depravity, of condemnation as a result of Adam's sin. That's the Protestant notion of sin and salvation. We see the plan of salvation as encompassing necessarily our immersion in a world of pain and suffering and sorrow. Because of the collateral damage we suffer in this educative process, a healer is necessary to restore us to wholeness and health."
The Givenses' focus on Christ as healer is a natural follow up to a previous book, "The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life," in which they rejected the notion of a vindictive, angry, even genocidal Heavenly Father in favor of loving, caring Father. They now see "The God Who Weeps" and "The Christ Who Heals" as the beginning of a trilogy they want to complete with "The Spirit Who Sanctifies."
The books are published by Deseret Book, for whom the couple also co-authored "The Crucible of Doubt: Reflections On the Quest for Faith."
"The Christ Who Heals" is a brisk 130 pages, but includes both a history lesson on how LDS practice is closer to Eastern Christianity practice than Western Reformation Christianity and a theological meditation on the healing role of Christ, said the Maxwell Institute's Fluhman.
"It reforms LDS theology slightly," Fluhman said. "They end up with a Jesus who heals our spiritual wounds more than simply rebukes."
"It also," he added, "reforms spirituality as a long game of transformation, as an endless story of change and becoming."
Fluhman called the book provocative and said it asks readers to take a fresh look at familiar passages of scriptures and triangulate them to the Restoration rather than the Reformation.
The Givenses' position reminded Fluhman of a recent BYU conference on grace and a classic, 1993 statement by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles that "above all, (God) is not some sort of divine referee trying to tag us off third base."
"He's not an accountant adding up the plusses or minuses on your scorecard," Fluhman said. "Rather, Christ is drawing all humanity to himself. The Givenses' position on divine love and divine patience add up to a hopeful call to parents and kids alike."
Terryl Givens said many Mormons remain under the traditional Christian idea that if they slip up, they lose some of God's love. Instead, Restoration Christianity, as Givens calls it, teaches that God's love is infinite and unfailing.
Elder Holland said the same thing in his October general conference talk, titled "Be Ye Therefore Perfect — Eventually," in which he encouraged Mormons to give up "toxic perfectionism" and described a God with "limitless love for his children, of his unquenchable desire to help us heal our wounds, individually and collectively."
Fiona Givens, an independent Mormon scholar with a master's degree in European history, also pointed to the April general conference talk by Elder Dale G. Renlund of Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, "Our Good Shepherd," who referred to God's use of the word "disease" for sin in the scriptures.
"As the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ views disease in his sheep as a condition that needs treatment, care and compassion," Elder Renlund said. "This shepherd, our Good Shepherd, finds joy in seeing his diseased sheep progress toward healing."
For the Givenses, Mormon understanding of the plan of salvation is that Heavenly Father and Christ knew that mortality would create a state of woundedness — the original word used for "blindedness" in 1 Nephi 13:32 — and Christ was sent as a healer to help God's children along their planned ascent toward godliness.
Shifting Mormon discourse from Protestant language to Restoration language is part of an ongoing Restoration.
"We're seeing the continuing unfolding, where the richness of our theology is increasingly coming into the full light of day," Terryl Givens said.
"I've been reading them so long," Fluhman said. "I'll read whatever they put in front of me. They are valued fellow travelers for me.