Recently, the cover of Terryl and Fiona Givens’ The Crucible of Doubt: Reflections on the Quest for Faith has been splashed across seemingly every major Mormon blog as reviewers have praised its frankness and lack of “theological Twinkies.” I myself preordered a copy of the book shortly before its release—and subtly endorsed it—based solely on the high praise of many early reviews; my admiration for the authors’ previous book, The God Who Weeps; and my respect for Givens themselves, who have become vocal champions of what we might call the “New Faithful” of Mormonism. Since The God Who Weeps, that is, the Givens have come to represent an alternative approach to faithful Mormon practice that seeks to change certain culturally-inscribed attitudes and practices by modifying the tone and focus of the dominant discourse of contemporary Mormonism. (To get a sense of what I mean, I recommend listening to interviews with the Givens on Mormon Stories and other podcasts. Or read their books.) Buying the book, and encouraging others to read it, seemed like a safe bet a month ago. And now that I’ve read the book, I can say, with great relief, that it was. The Crucible of Doubt is a beautiful book, and you should read it as soon as possible.
If you do, you’ll soon discover that the Givens are revolutionaries, but not in any radical sense. As you would expect from authors published through Deseret Book, their tone towards the institutional church is always positive and affirming. This accounts probably for their popularity with readers, including me, who are easily wearied by disillusioned critics of the institution; yet, I think it also strikes a chord with readers for the honest, earnest way it offers hope to those who struggle with faith, who recognize within themselves an encroaching disillusionment. If The God Who Weeps is a book for believing Mormons seeking cultural-intellectual affirmation for their beliefs, as well as a slightly bigger tent, then The Crucible of Doubt is for Mormons who are beginning to wonder, in an era of MormonThink “objectivity,” if there is anything in the Church worth affirming. Like The God Who Weeps, therefore, it makes a case for Mormonism and faith drawing upon the great minds of the Western tradition, particularly the Romantics Terryl Givens so admires. Yet, the book is more ostensibly Mormon than its predecessor, particularly in the way it draws unabashedly from latter-day scripture and General Authorities. For me, this subtle change in approach is a necessary shift, considering their topic, because it reiterates the value of Mormonism’s intellectual tradition and heritage, which critical voices often disparage as thin and platitudinous.