"Just say . . . whatever!"
Presumably, just as we sometimes run up against questions for which we feel an acute need for rational answers, early Christians were also, secondarily, responding to questions that arose in their minds as they thought about their religious lives. Apart from the challenges to religion made by skeptics of one sort or another -- believers or not -- genuine intellectual challenges arise as we think about our life before God. In a culture with a history such as that of the West, those challenges push us to demand answers that accord with reason. Unavoidably those answers will eventually be metaphysical / theological. Q.E.D. again.
So it isn't enough to say, "Don't do that!" Many of us and many of our children and friends seem unable to keep ourselves from it. Just saying no won't help, and it may well hinder those who have questions. The advice to stop thinking about theological questions, like advice to stop looking at pretty women by constantly reminding yourself not to do so, is likely to make those questions all the more acute. It is certain to make religion look like nonsense to someone who is struggling with faith.
The Mormon response to the difficulties created by the tension between metaphysics and its unavoidability is ingenious and perhaps unique among Christians: On the one hand, hold to basic beliefs and practices while giving as few as possible officially approved or even officially suggested metaphysical explanations of those beliefs and practices. But, on the other hand -- rather than, as might be expected, simply demanding the impossible by forbidding metaphysical explanations of beliefs -- allow that speculation to proceed apace, but without official sanction.
That's not an official Mormon position. As far as I know, Mormonism doesn't have an official position on having official theological positions. But refusing theology while permitting it is certainly a wide-spread, though often unrecognized, Mormon approach to these things, and I wish it were more widespread as well as more recognized. It's how we've done things for almost 200 years, and I recommend that we continue. In my view taking this approach implicitly recognizes that a religion needs a standard of belief -- a creed and then a theology to interpret that creed -- only if belief is the standard for genuine religion.
But suppose instead that things such as practice and narrative are the standard for what it means to be a Mormon (or anything else). I take the practice of Christian religion to mean being part of the body of Christ (rather than subscribing to a set of beliefs), which means participation in and communion with the church. That communion will usually include agreeing to some, but not necessarily many, beliefs. I take narrative to mean the religious histories and testimonies, scriptural or not, that those in the body of Christ share to remind ourselves of who we are and to help us hear the call to continue to be who we've been called to be. If practice and narrative are the standard, then the rejection of theology as necessary, combined with a tolerance for considerable theological talk -- as well as theological messiness -- is a good way to deal with the tension between the difficulties of metaphysics and the need for it: allow it to continue, but drastically limit its authority. So the Mormon response to metaphysics and theology is not, "Just say no," but "Just say . . . whatever."
James Faulconer is a Richard L. Evans Professor of Religious Understanding at Brigham Young University, where he has taught philosophy since 1975.