Although scholarly investigation of the Book of Mormon has increased significantly over the last three decades, only a tiny portion of that effort has been focused on the theological or doctrinal content of this central volume of Latter-day Saints (LDS) scripture. This article identifies three inclusios which promise definitions of the doctrine or gospel of Jesus Christ and proposes a cumulative methodology to explain how these definitions work. This approach reveals a consistently presented, six-part formula defining ‘the way’ by which mankind can qualify for eternal life. In this way the article provides a starting point for scholarly examinations of the theological content of this increasingly influential religious text.
While the names of the six elements featured in Mormon's gospel will sound familiar to students of the New Testament, the meanings he assigns to these may differ substantially from traditional Christian discourse in ways which make Mormon's characterisation of the gospel or doctrine of Christ unique. (1) Faith is understood primarily as action displaying complete trust or reliance on Christ and the power of his atonement. (2) Repentance requires turning away from one's own way and humbly submitting – by covenant – to the way of the Lord. (3) Water baptism is then the prescribed sign of that covenant a repentant person gives in witnessing both to God and to the world that she has repented and undertaken to follow Christ in all things. (4) The baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost brings the remission of sins in a spiritual rebirth to the repentant individual at such time as God judges her repentance to be true. It also provides converts with a direct witness of the Father and of the Son and of the promises of salvation for those who follow this gospel – as they may be led by the continuing guidance of the Holy Ghost. (5) But only those who endure to the end in this way will (6) receive salvation in the kingdom of God.
The overall pattern suggested is a dialogue between man and God, who initially invites all people to trust in Christ and repent. Those who respond by repenting and seeking baptism will be visited by fire and by the Holy Ghost, which initiates a lifelong interaction, leading the convert day by day in preparation for the judgement, at which she may finally be invited to enter the kingdom of God.