Latest Review Rolls off Press
The FARMS Review of Books has a long tradition of providing its readers with insightful and substantive reviews of books on the Book of Mormon, Mormon studies, and Christian studies, as well as those books that attack the beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The latest issue does not disappoint. It contains reviews and responses to 18 books or articles on diverse topics, such as ancient Nephite culture, the conversion of Alma, hidden ancient records, the temple, the LDS concept of the nature of God, and the ark of the covenant.
In one review Brant A. Gardner observes that John L. Sorenson's 1997 book Nephite Culture and Society: Selected Papers, though lacking the kind of detailed analysis of historical setting found in his 1985 "watershed book," An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, "provides some in-depth views of themes that were not as extensively treated in [the earlier book]." He notes further that Sorenson's substantive approach and overall vision of how the pieces of Nephite culture fit together inform the essays, allowing readers to better understand the Book of Mormon.
Gardner provides a synopsis and critical discussion of each essay and concludes by focusing on the book's final essay, "The Political Economy of the Nephites," which he considers sufficient reason to purchase the book. Gardner explains that "this topic clearly underscores the radically different conceptual structures that govern Book of Mormon events." He praises Sorenson for opening up "new vistas of understanding," though he believes the author should have relaxed "his self-imposed restriction of examining only the text without seeking links to the outside world."
In another review Alonzo Gaskill responds to an unpublished document of limited circulation that defends the Catholic Church's recent pronouncement that baptisms performed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are not valid. The author, Father Luis Ladaria, cites doctrinal differences between the two faiths as key to the ruling. Gaskill challenges Ladaria's arguments involving such issues as the Trinity, the purpose of baptism, and authority and finds them scripturally unsustainable, contradictory, and self-defeating.
Gaskill notes that the Catholic Church, which rejects LDS baptism partly because LDS beliefs contradict the Catholic conception of the Trinity ("one God existing within three persons of one substance"), does not apply that standard to baptism in other Christian faiths. For example, the Eastern Orthodox notion of the Godhead, like the LDS view, is essentially "subordinationist" and therefore in harmony with the views of early Christian fathers whom the Catholic Church accepts as orthodox. Yet LDS baptism is rejected while Eastern Orthodox baptism is not. Gaskill identifies other "false dichotomies" in Ladaria's reasoning but acknowledges that the ruling itself is inoffensive and fair, since the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints baptizes its Catholic converts.
Kurt Widmer's book Mormonism and the Nature of God: A Theological Evolution, 1830-1915 prompted a review and response by David L. Paulsen. In his book Widmer claims that the Latter-day Saint concept of the nature of God evolved during the lifetime of Joseph Smith from modalism (the idea that the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost are different modes of the same being) to binitarianism (a belief in the Father and Son as separate beings, but a denial of the divinity of the Holy Ghost) and finally to cosmic henotheism (the idea that many gods exist, but only the one God is worshipped). Widmer also claims that LDS theology remained unclear until the early 1900s, when LDS General Authorities James E. Talmage, John A. Widstoe, and B. H. Roberts clarified and defined the nature of God.
In his review Paulsen responds to Widmer's claims by quoting the scriptures and the writings of Joseph Smith and other early church leaders. While he admits that the early LDS concept of God grew and changed as Joseph Smith received knowledge "line upon line, precept upon precept" (2 Nephi 28:30), Paulsen shows that the Book of Mormon, the Book of Moses, the Book of Abraham, and the Doctrine and Covenants consistently point to a Godhead of three beings who are unified in purpose and action.
This issue also includes reviews of Come unto Christ: The Conversion of Alma the Younger, by Merrill Jenson and Betsy Jenson; The Book of Mormon and Other Hidden Books, by John A. Tvedtnes; Charting the Book of Mormon, by John W. Welch and J. Gregory Welch; A Guide to the Joseph Smith Papyri, by John Gee; The Temple in Time and Eternity, edited by Donald W. Parry and Stephen D. Ricks; and many others, as well as responses to several articles and books written by detractors of the church. Reviewers include Barry R. Bickmore, Brant A. Gardner, William J. Hamblin, Hugh W. Nibley, John A. Tvedtnes, and John W. Welch. The Review also includes a bibliography of books on the Book of Mormon published in 2000.
To purchase the Review, see the enclosed order form or visit the catalog section of the FARMS Web site.