Sunday, December 27, 2009

11 August 2009 - Enthusiasm
 (This section was written when I was about a third of the way through and reflects a sense of youthful enthusiasm and rediscovery.  In many ways this is almost an allegory of most people's journey in the church, when it's still new and exciting and fresh)

Being reintroduced to the BoM after four years of studying other things, I find it to be a jewel. It’s an amazingly consistent exposition of the kind of “processed” evangelical thought not found in the Bible. What you get in the New Testament is the raw pieces. The commandments. Mosaic law including the sacrifices. Jesus’ ethical teachings. Paul’s teachings on the divinity of Christ and the doing away with the law by Christ’s coming, how we are no longer justified by the law, how we are saved by grace through Christ. Paul’s ethical teachings.

The Book of Mormon processes this doctrine and assembles it into a coherent outline, an “elevator speech” if you will, that sums it up. In many ways the Book of Mormon is almost like a series of setups for the speeches of the major characters. It begins with the speeches of Nephi, Jacob, Benjamin, and Abinadi on God coming to earth as a man and paying the price for our sins. The basic plan of salvation, repeated as a consistent theme by each speaker. It then moves on to Alma, who introduces the theme of revival and more fully lays out heaven and hell.

Then we have the opponents, like the horsemen of the apocalypse, each of whom represents a form of evil. Sherem, the anti-Christ. Nehor, priestcraft. Korihor, atheism. Amlici, political ambition.

I find tremendous truth in the Book of Mormon, because it’s the most coherent exposition of evangelical thought found in the scriptures. It most clearly lays out the orthodox trinity, which is not even mentioned in the Bible, and connects up God coming to earth in human form to accomplish our salvation.

One of the most difficult things to figure out in Christian thought is the balance between works and grace. On one hand the Bible talks about grace, and on the other hand it talks about works, but it’s never clear just how our thoughts on the toxicity of sin and the importance of ethical behavior impact our salvation by grace, because the subjects are never really dealt with together in the Bible.

We seem to get that in the Book of Mormon, which is repetitively clear that salvation is accomplished by faith and trust in Christ, repentance, which is a turning of our hearts toward God and away from sin, baptism for the remission of sins, and a process of enduring to the end. Keeping our focus on God and away from wickedness. Keeping the commandments to the best of our ability. Remaining strong in the faith and not returning to our self-centered ways. If your viewpoint is that we don’t have eternal security in our salvation, the Book of Mormon is the clearest, most concise, and most consistent summary of what you need to do to be saved and stay saved and to be a person of faith.

In addition to being a repository of some of the best preaching in the scriptures, outside the Sermon on the Mount, which is mostly concerned with ethical behavior, the Book of Mormon also has the best stories and the most inspiring characters.

Nephi and his persistent faith in the face of opposition by his brothers and the family of Ishmael. Enos and his coming to Christ for the forgiveness of sins. The martyrdom of Abinadi and his lecturing of the priests of Noah. The impact of Abinadi’s one convert, Alma. The radical turnaround of Alma the Younger, which is an inspiration for any father of a wayward son. The martyrdom of the Christians in Ammonihah and the conversion of Zeezrom. The servanthood of Ammon and his mission to the Lamanites, becoming a servant to a bloodthirsty people in order to bring them to Christ. The faith of the Anti-Nephi-Lehis as they are slaughtered by their brother Lamanites, and their example that brings even more of the Lamanites to faith in Christ.

And more will be added to this list as I finish the book. It would be much harder to be a Christian without these examples of faith to look to for inspiration.

As to the authorship of the Book of Mormon, I definitely believe it’s inspired of God. Even with notes in front of them and a reference library of evangelical preaching to draw from, it would be difficult to write a book like this. Imagine having to craft it and then repeat it back to a scribe while looking at a rock in a hat, never going back to correct words or to re-craft a story line. Think about J. K. Rowling having to dictate the Harry Potter books like this, and the Book of Mormon is much more carefully crafted in terms of the themes it teaches than those books. It’s clearly a masterpiece of some kind of revelation.

Is the Book of Mormon historical? I don’t think so. The story lines are too carefully crafted to represent real people. The characters are too perfect, and the crowds are too consistent. When anyone preaches, all are converted. All reform. To a man and woman they all respond, and human nature just isn’t like that. Just where are the women in the Book of Mormon also? The Old and New Testaments are from a very patriarchal Hebrew society, yet women have consistently important roles to play. In the Book of Mormon women are very much on the sidelines, yet personal experience tells us that women are always the first to respond in faith.

There is positively no Hebrew influence on Native American culture or language, nor is there any remnant of the Hebrew or “reformed Egyptian” language to be found, yet people could consistently read the writings on the plates for a thousand years, up until at least 400 A.D. The Nephites and Lamanites had very complex cultures based on trading, they had written language, they had records, and absolutely none of this survives. Not one artifact with Hebrew or Egyptian language survives. Not one word in any Native American language that can be traced to Hebrew.

Does that mean it’s not “true”? Just what is truth, anyway? Does something need to be historically true to be “true”? I think the truth of the Book of Mormon is in its content and the fact that we read the Book of Mormon and come to Christ and salvation as a result. The Book of Mormon is true in the sense that it’s another testament of Jesus Christ, perhaps the most consistent one found in the scriptures. It’s true in the sense that it leads us to greater faith and commitment. It leads us to greater faith and perseverance. It inspires us to endure to the end in the hopes of achieving the salvation that was the goal of the main characters in the Book of Mormon. That is the ultimate truth.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

This was fun reading. I am currently carrying out the nonviolent study of the book of mormon while attempting to follow the set up of the Institute Study manual. You can find the first five study chapters at

I like the part of the Book being true, but probably not grounded in historical truth. This is also my approach, but I think you formulated it much better than I could. However, what does that mean for mormonism, if we can't say that the Book of Mormon is historically true or correct?

Of course, we love the book - we grew up with it, we have read it and reread it. The stories as you say, and the characters - all perfect, all convert, and yet no women.

Having only gotten as far as to 2 Nephi, I cannot yet comment on all the things you mention - but I would like to add to your long list "Lehi's dream" and Nephi's interpretation of that dream: it's rich in symbolism that writers in the book always seem to come back to.

So did God, also in the case of the Book of Mormon, speak in parables to put his point across, the Book of Mormon being one large parable revealed to Joseph Smith for its pedagogical value with the objective to restore plain and precious truths (or principles) that were lost? Does that make us the only true church - or just an additional and perhaps clearer voice?

I look forward to your next postings on your readings of this great book...

ChristFollower said...

I think "mormonism" is much deeper than we have led to believe. I don't know that I have the space (or your attention span. ;-)) to go into a lot of detail, but I feel like God draws people to himself through many ways. Possibly he has given us the BoM as a confirming witness to the principles of the New Testament, along with a broken church so that we don't confuse the church with the raw gospel.

I don't necessarily find the principles of mormonism to be completely bound up in the institutional church. I think "mormonism" is better represented by the first vision story of a young man who went into the woods seeking direct communication with God and found it. Joseph Smith's understanding of God evolved continually over his lifetime and he was not bound by institutions. Mormonism is essentially that restless seeker spirit of wanting to know more about an unknowable God, and the institutional church has boiled that spirit out of the church like overcooked vegetables.

I don't think there is such a thing as a true church as long as churches are made up of people. God shows this to us over and over again. It's the gospel (the good news) that is true and not institutions. People can't be trusted with power over each other, and we're forced to learn that over and over again.