In my limited experience it is a commonplace amongst many Mormons to emphasize the continuity that exists between modern day prophets and the prophets of ancient days. Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Thomas Monson, and the other Presidents of the modern LDS Church stand in the line of prophetic succession that also includes such ancient worthies as Peter, Isaiah, Elijah, Moses, Enoch,
Utnapištim Noah, and Adam. Except in times of general apostasy, God, as an act of love, always has sent the prophets to teach, warn, admonish, and encourage humanity, his children.
This emphasis on the continuity of the prophetic tradition is not infrequently connected with the argument of God’s never-changing character. God doesn’t change, so the argument goes, so he acts in all ages in a consistent manner according to his divine benevolence. The gospel that the prophets, both ancient and modern, proclaim is ultimately the same.
This rhetorical emphasis on prophetic continuity, however, seems to stand in some tension with other Mormon notions, such as covenant history and the doctrine of continuing revelation. Persons and their situations and circumstances are manifold and ever changing. God, in Mormon thought, adapts his messages to them “according to [their] understanding[s]” and other limitations. Such an acknowledgment would seem to entail that the messages that he provides to humanity are different to varying degrees depending on the times, locations, and situations of the recipients.
This paradox, or tension, it seems to me, may be productive or destructive. As I have argued elsewhere, ancient biblical prophets were quite different from modern LDS prophets in many ways. Moreover, modern LDS prophets are rather different from each other in a number of ways. Just compare, for example, the basic work, activities, accomplishments, and preaching of Joseph Smith to Brigham Young or Joseph Fielding Smith. It seems destructive to ignore or gloss over these differences. Rather, I think it spiritually and theologically healthy to note these differences in honesty. Indeed, why should Mormons want their modern prophet(s) to be identical to the prophets of the past? Our world is very different now from the world of the ancient Israelites or the earliest Christians.
When Mormons stress the notion of prophetic continuity, what, in your humble opinion, should they emphasize–and how? To what extent should LDS Christians emphasize the differences between the prophets? In what ways is an (over)emphasis on one or the other of these aspects productive and/or destructive? In short, what makes a prophet a prophet given, both historically and theologically, their substantial diversity and differences?