Wednesday, April 16, 2014

By The Hand of Mormon by Terryl Givens Book Review

This is a review of By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion by Terryl L. Givens:

I had wanted to read this book as soon as I learned about. I grew up in a home where the scriptures and mormon history were allowed to have their warts and difficult areas. There was no problem in this. Ever since, I have been fascinated to learn more and more of the history of LDS scripture and this book was a scholarly step forward.

Ok, I’m going to be frank. I love the the Book of Mormon. It is my favorite set of scripture in the LDS canon. It speaks to me clearly, teaches me in its allegories and truly shows me who Christ is as deliverer, teacher and Savior. I have found it to be a book of great depth when approached from all angles.

Terryl Givens has arisen as one of my favorite author’s and speakers, but this was the first book of his that I read in full. I have read quite a bit about the Book of Mormon from various sources seeking to understand the beauty of the book from every angle and the critiques/criticisms from their respective angles as well. I love the Book of Mormon and know that it is the word of God, even in the face of criticisms and difficulties.

Anyway, on to the book! At a first glance, this is a very scholarly, and wordy at times, take on the Book of Mormon. Givens covers a lot of ground starting with the First Vision and coming forth of the Book of Mormon.

This book is heavy. Not in weight, but in content and style.

It handles the Book of Mormon, it's coming forth, religiosity and criticisms in a scholarly manner, so that's different than most books that I had read about the Book of Mormon at the time (I read it in December 2011). Terryl Givens was still relatively obscure at the time. He has since written The God Who Weeps with his wife Fiona that was published by Deseret Book and has sold like wildfire.

So, something I really enjoyed was the amount of ground that this book covered. The chapter headings illustrate this:

Chapter One: "A Seer Shall the Lord My God Raise Up": The Prophet and the Plates

Chapter Two: "Out of the Dust": The Book of Mormon Comes Forth

Chapter Three: "A Marvelous Work and a Wonder": The Book of Mormon as Sacred Sign

Chapter Four: "I, Nephi, Wrote This Record": The Book of Mormon as Ancient History, Part 1--The Search for a Mesoamerican Troy

Chapter Five: "I, Nephi, Wrote This Record": The Book of Mormon as Ancient History, Part 2--The Search for a Rational Belief

Chapter Six: "Devices of the Devil": The Book of Mormon as Cultural Product or Sacred Fiction

Chapter Seven: "Plain and Precious Truths": The Book of Mormon as New Theology, Part 1--The Encounter with Biblical Christianity

Chapter Eight: "Plain and Precious Truths": The Book of Mormon as New Theology, Part 2--Dialogic Revelation

Chapter Nine: "A Standard Unto My People": The Book of Mormon as Cultural Touchstone

The chapter about criticisms and, mainly, possible influences and sources of the Book of Mormon is quite good, but it is a chapter that took me a while to get through. I’m quite familiar with a variety of criticisms toward the Book of Mormon, but this chapter goes deeper into a specific area (authorship and creation of the text) than I was familiar with at the time, so, it was rough going at first, but I’ve come to really appreciate that chapter’s honesty in considering what others have said, even if their ideas don’t hold much water.

The chapter on dialogic revelation (chapter 8) is my favorite. This chapter can be covered in a small way by a talk that Terryl Givens gave at BYU in 2005 entitled “Lightning Out of Heaven” (here’s the link Givens brings to bear the idea that Joseph Smith taught a certain type of revelation. He brought back the idea that revelation and communion with God was a dialogue with God and it is accessible to ALL men. A beautiful quote from the chapter says:

“The Book of Mormon here becomes a study in contrast. Through chiastic form, thematic structure, numerous textual examples, and a final concluding instance of readerly invitation, the scripture hammers home the insistent message that revelation is the province of everyman. As a consequence, in the world of the Book of Mormon, concepts like revelation, prayer, inspiration, mystery find powerful and substantive redefinition. That may well be the Book of Mormon’s most significant and revolutionary--as well as controversial--contribution to religious thinking. The particularity and specificity, the vividness, the concreteness, and the accessibility of revelatory experience--those realities both underlie and overshadow the narrated history and doctrine that constitute the record. The “knowability” of all truth, the openness of mystery, the reality of personal revelation find vivid illustration within the record and invite reenactment outside it.” (p.221)

This book is worth anyone’s time that wants to have a greater appreciation of the influence that the Book of Mormon has had on the Church from the beginning.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Thoughts from "Increase in Learning" by David A. Bednar--Part 3

Sorry that this took a couple extra days! Oddly, it is shorter than the other parts of this particular series.

Chapter 3: Prayerful Inquiry: Asking, Seeking, and Knocking

"...note the requirement to ask in faith--which I understand to mean the necessity not only to express but to do, the dual obligation both to plead and to perform, the requirement to communicate and to act."--P.106

This is one of my favorite ideas that Elder Bednar pushes. This has been expressed before in his conference talk, “Ask in Faith” from April 2008. Living our prayers is what I like to call this. This idea is brought up in Alma 34:28 after Amulek talks about what we should pray for and how often we should pray, he says “do not suppose that this is all; for after ye have done all these things, if ye turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart of your substance, if ye have, to those who stand in need—I say unto you, if ye do not any of these things, behold, your prayer is vain, and availeth you nothing, and ye are as hypocrites who do deny the faith.”

"Action alone is not faith in the Savior, but acting in accordance with correct principles is a central component of faith."--P.109

Great clarification on “what is faith?” I had a friend in my singles ward several years ago that asked me, “What question would you ask a General Authority if you could ask them anything?” I wasn’t sure, too many things to ask. He said that he would ask, “What is faith?” Not because he didn’t have a good idea of what faith was, but because faith can be approached from so many different angles and can be split into different categories and even levels (Elder Lund wrote an interesting article about seven levels of faith taught in the scriptures--I’m not sure this is available for free online, but I’ll look) that he wanted a straight, simple answer. I think Elder Bednar shows that there is more to faith than originally meets the eye. Perhaps faith is just a very encompassing word to cover quite a bit.

"The object of our prayerful inquiry should not be to present a wish list or a series of requests or demands, but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is eager to bestow, according to His will and timing."--P.112

This helps me to look at prayer in it’s proper light. I have no problem expressing gratitude in prayer and have no problem understanding why we need to express gratitude to God in prayer, but sometimes I forget that we are seeking to secure blessings that God wants to give us, according to HIS will and HIS timing, and not just asking for those things that we think are things we need or that others need. The Spirit can and will prompt us to ask for those things which God seeks to bless us with if we listen.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Some Great LDS Inspirational Books

That previous short list of LDS books had to deal with mostly scholarly/analytical approaches to the topics, ideas and concepts, but that are wonderfully faith promoting. Also, I could have made that list longer :-)

I will make other suggestions for that list another day, however, today I wanted to get out a list of my favorite "inspirational" books. I mean the kind you'd find in the "Inspirational" section at Deseret Book or Seagull Book.

Increase in Learning by Elder David A. Bednar--I've posted the first two parts of a four part series on this one. The next post will be up this Friday.

The Broken Heart by Bruce C. Hafen--This book is beautiful. Elder Hafen does a fantastic job explaining how we can apply the Atonement to our daily experiences. He talks about mercy, justice, etc...

Hearing the Voice of the Lord by Gerald Lund--My favorite book about personal revelation. There are so many stories and quotes that help to teach concepts and ideas that we can apply and learn from so that we better recognize the promptings of the Spirit.

The Power of Everyday Missionaries by Clayton Christensen--Best book about the HOW of sharing the Gospel. I was hesitant on this one because of how much it is lauded, but it deserves the praise in my opinion. Elder Ballard even mentioned Clayton Christensen in the October 2013 conference as a good example for sharing the Gospel.

Finding Peace, Happiness and Joy by Elder Richard G. Scott--This is a very personal look into the mind of Elder Scott. Some of this reflects some talks from a few years ago, but it he expounds on some ideas. Some of my favorite parts are when he talks about things he does to help keep the Spirit in his life and find balance. I learned that he plays the saxophone and is learning jazz piano!

Christ and the New Covenant by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland--This is a good book that provides insights from Elder Holland into the Book of Mormon--who doesn't want a little piece of Elder Holland's thoughts? My favorite chapters had to deal with rending the veil of unbelief.

Ok, I have to stop there. I have more, but those will be for another day.

One major difference in this list is that I have read all of these from cover to cover except for Everyday Missionary, but I'm getting close to finishing it. Yes, I read a bunch of books at the same time and jump around, call it book ADD if you will, but it works for me.

Also, my review of By the Hand of Mormon by Terryl Givens is taking me quite a bit of time, but it is coming after the Increase in Learning series is done. I want to make sure to share what I loved about it.