New Review a Double Issue
The latest FARMS Review of Books is actually two issues in one. It reviews 15 books in the usual categories of Book of Mormon, Mormon studies, and biblical studies but also devotes more than 100 pages to a multipronged response to an evangelical book titled The New Mormon Challenge: Responding to the Latest Defenses of a Fast-Growing Movement.
Review editor Daniel C. Peterson's introduction features remarks he gave at a specially arranged panel discussion between Latter-day Saint and evangelical scholars at last year's annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion. Peterson explains why philosophy and systematic theology are not important modes of LDS religious reflection and then questions the motives behind such publications as The New Mormon Challenge.
Ralph C. Hancock responds to the book The Lord's University: Freedom and Authority at BYU, wherein authors Bryan Waterman and Brian Kagel (former student editors of the Student Review and the Daily Universe, respectively) document the history of academic freedom conflicts at BYU during the 1990s. Hancock, a professor of political science at BYU, notes that while amply recording instances of "ideological commotion at BYU," the authors are too quick to defend embittered faculty members regardless of their views and thus show a lack of "any capacity to criticize even the most radical critiques of the church." According to Hancock, the first few chapters of the book are more even-handed and useful to "anyone trying to find a way into the historical record of BYU's developing mission in the face of various challenges from the evolving culture it partly inhabits."
John E. Clark reviews three books that propose a Great Lakes setting for Book of Mormon geography. He evaluates them using the standards of scholarship, focusing on the authors' arguments that can be evaluated against established facts and leaving out issues of personal belief and speculation. After considering each approach individually, Clark, an anthropology professor at BYU, discusses how the authors treat specific items such as the narrow neck of land, the river Sidon, demographics, and archaeology. For example, one author "simply ignores all evidence for temporal placement that does not suit her purpose," he says, and another correlates the river Sidon with the Susquehanna River, which "flows southward rather than northward, as required by Book of Mormon description." The major flaw of all three theories is that none "begins by creating an internal map to compare to the real world[,] . . . a recipe for disaster because it lures the model builder into distorting the meaning of the text to fit the proposed real-world setting." All three authors assume that Hill Cumorah in New York is the hill mentioned in the Book of Mormon, a setting that Clark argues does not work. He concludes that "when we pay attention to time and to cultural context, it becomes clear that the events described in the Book of Mormon do not seem to have occurred in the Great Lakes area."
Two reviews deal with a psychoanalytical approach to the lives of Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon. Michael D. Jibson, director of residency education and clinical associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Michigan, reviews Robert D. Anderson's book Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith: Psychobiography and the Book of Mormon. Jibson deals crisply with Anderson's "brutal" assessment of Joseph Smith's character: "It was a puzzle to me that anyone, especially a psychiatrist, could see another human being as so utterly unidimensional." Questioning the validity of psychoanalysis in interpreting biographical data, Jibson rebuts Anderson's attempt to relate central events in the Book of Mormon to Joseph's "severe personality disorder."
Howard K. Harper, clinical director of the Behavioral Health Center in Idaho Falls, Idaho, and David P. and Steven C. Harper bring various disciplines to bear in reviewing Richard S. Van Wagoner's Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess. While recognizing that this award-winning biography "is undoubtedly the best to date," they find it "fundamentally, not simply tangentially, defective." In diagnosing Rigdon with manic depression, Van Wagoner inaccurately "caricatur[es] Rigdon's long, varied life in a clinical profile." Finding the author's evidence problematic, and arguing that what he declares to be "a classic bout of manic-depressive illness" was in fact recurrent malaria, the Harpers conclude that in his "zeal to expose Rigdon's warts and double chins," Van Wagoner probably "added appendages that the important and still elusive Rigdon never had."
David L. Paulsen, a professor of philosophy at BYU, introduces the section on The New Mormon Challenge by assessing how well the book meets its stated aims. He finds most of those aims to be "refreshing." In regard to the aim "to retard the growth and progress of the [church] by disproving or otherwise discrediting its beliefs," Paulsen finds the book "strikingly at odds with [its] additional goal of engaging Latter-day Saints in a genuine and fruitful dialogue" and characterizes it as an anti-Mormon book. Despite the book's limitations - especially its failure to identify LDS beliefs - he is "impressed with the quality of the critiques" and their courteous approach. However, he concludes: "I do not get the impression from reading The New Mormon Challenge that the editors and contributors are even open to the possibility of learning anything from us, especially pertaining to Christian doctrine or theology. . . . How [do] they expect [the book] to generate fruitful dialogue?"
Benjamin I. Huff, a Ph.D. candidate in philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, and Kent P. Jackson, a BYU professor of ancient scripture, both review the article "Is Mormonism Christian?" by Craig L. Blomberg. Huff faults Blomberg for concluding Mormonism is not Christian without addressing the "question in its most relevant and important sense," namely, whether or not Latter-day Saints accept Christ by repenting and striving to live his teachings. Blomberg points to "major contradictions of fundamental doctrinal issues between historic Christianity and official LDS teaching," but Huff contends that such a position involves "extrabiblical assumptions" and hence "begs the question" of whether Latter-day Saints believe the Bible. Huff argues that LDS belief and practice are quite consistent with Blomberg's own definition of what it means to be a Christian.
Jackson points out that "my friend Craig L. Blomberg concludes with regret that I cannot be a Christian because I exercise my faith within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and sincerely believe all its teachings." Jackson argues that in order to say he is not Christian, the authors of The New Mormon Challenge must either deny the reality of his own conversion experience or "insist that salvation does not come through Jesus after all. . . . If I have been transformed through Jesus . . . but am nonetheless not saved because I believe the teachings of Mormonism, then [for them] salvation is not in Jesus but in correct thinking." Therefore "they must . . . assert that my relationship with Jesus is not real. But I won't let them do that. I can testify of the redeeming power of the atonement because I am a witness of it in my own life and in the lives of people I love."
The Review also contains an index to last year's two issues of the Review. To obtain a copy, use the enclosed mail-order form or visit the bookstore section of the FARMS Web site. !