J. Michael Feazell. The Liberation of the Worldwide
Church of God. Grand Rapids, MI:
Zondervan, 2001. 224 pp., with index. $18.99.
More than anyone else on the margins of Protestant religiosity, it was Herbert
W. Armstrong who fashioned the “electronic church.” Starting out
in advertising in Oregon, he switched in 1933 to pitching religion on the
radio. He amassed a fortune, built a massive headquarters, and founded Ambassador
College in Pasadena, California, where he moved his business ventures in 1947.
Armstrong blended end-time speculation and the idea that the Brits were Israelites
with the slogans of pre–World War II fundamentalist religiosity. Some
may remember hearing his booming voice on The World Tomorrow
radio show or seeing him eventually perform on television, or recall reading
his Plain Truth mass-circulation magazine. Armstrong could have been
the model for the comic Dave Barry’s amusing quip: “Jesus saves, send
the money.” He eventually augmented his Radio Church of God with congregations,
launching the Worldwide Church of God (WCG). He led the WCG as its pastor
general until his death in 1986. His “church” was not without controversy;
his troubles surfaced when he ousted his even more gifted son, Garner Ted
Armstrong, who turned out to be a high-living, spectacular moral failure.
When Herbert W. Armstrong passed away in 1986, his financial empire was in
decline. Joseph Tkach, who replaced Armstrong, lacked his theatrical skills.
In 1995, Joseph Tkach Jr. replaced his father and was soon forced by massive
financial setbacks to cut much of the headquarters staff, sell real estate
holdings, and then in 1997 close Ambassador College.
Feazell provides the official, but highly sanitized, account of the fall
of the Armstrong empire. He grants that under Joseph Tkach Jr. the leadership
of the WCG was driven to abandon various unorthodox doctrines, including much
of the end-time speculation and the British-Israel connection (p. 12).
This was necessary to salvage what remained after the collapse of the Armstrong
empire. Feazell seems to indicate that those who remained at the WCG headquarters
believed the bizarre teachings of Armstrong. But Feazell also admits that
“despite the poor research skills of certain [unnamed] cult-watchers,
Herbert Armstrong did not deny the divinity of Jesus Christ” (p. 216
n. 14). The Armstrong movement, whatever its strange ideology on crucial
issues, was also well within the parameters of fundamentalist Christianity.
Much like a failed business venture, it tried to hold some of the badly splintered
followers of Armstrong together while also finding a way of salvaging something
in the aftermath of a dramatic market failure. While downsizing the Armstrong
empire, its managers claim to have discovered orthodox religion. With this
strategic shift, the WCG was eventually admitted to the National Association
Why should any of this be of interest to Latter-day Saints? When on 14 November
2004 Richard Mouw and Rabi Zacharias spoke in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, Joseph
Tkach Jr. was on the stand supporting the effort of Greg Johnson (Standing
Together Ministries) to evangelize the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints. Earlier Johnson had introduced Michael Feazell, special assistant
to Joseph Tkach Jr., to his Latter-day Saint friends and evangelical associates.
Included in this group were the ardent anti-Mormons at Living Hope Ministries
who specialize in attack videos. Those folks then produced a video entitled
Called to Be Free, which purports to tell the story of how and why the WCG found the real
Jesus and gained evangelical respectability. This video appears to be an attempt
by countercultists to suggest to the Saints, based on the model of the WCG,
how they can gain full recognition as an evangelical denomination.
Allan D. Fitzgerald, gen. ed. Augustine through
the Ages: An Encyclopedia. Grand
Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999. il + 902 pp., with index, list of entries, general
This is a remarkable collection of more than four hundred essays of varying
lengths by nearly one hundred and fifty scholars. Most of the entries contain
useful bibliographies citing ancient and modern literature. Since Augustine’s
speculation is important for both Roman Catholics and Protestants, this authoritative
collection should be useful for Latter-day Saints seeking to understand both
strands of Christian theology and the disagreements between them. There are
valuable essays in this collection setting out the influence Augustine’s writings
had on various later authors and movements, both Roman Catholic and otherwise,
including Luther and the Reformed tradition. There are also essays on such
topics as “Deification, Divinization” and “Nature.”
Through the ages, Christians struggling to account for what God does for
human beings through Jesus Christ came to contrast what one might become by
realizing one’s own nature with what one might become with gifts bestowed
by God that could result in theosis. Originally nature and grace were contrasted. This helps to explain why
one discovers that the Latin natura,
with its cognates, appears “over five thousand times in Augustine’s works”
(p. 586). One can also be reminded that “natura, essentia,
ousia, and substantia denote the same thing” for Augustine (p. 586).
And one can also discover that, while “Augustine forcefully distinguishes
between nature and grace,” “the first use of the word ‘supernatural’
occurs in Greek and actually postdates Augustine by some one hundred and fifty
years” (p. 586). Augustine did not, as we now do, distinguish the
natural from the supernatural. We now no longer tend to see nature and grace
as correlates but follow a later unfortunate theological accretion in which
a quite different distinction is made between the natural and supernatural,
a distinction unknown in our scriptures but common in contemporary loose discourse.
This little-known fact should illustrate the kinds of information packed into
this wonderful reference tool.
Sam Harris. Letter to a Christian Nation. New York: Knopf, 2006. xii + 96 pp., with no index.
Several books have gained popularity as weapons in an ideological war to
liberate the world from presumably deadly illusions about divine things. Other
than those intent on excluding any rational consideration of intelligent design,
the two most fashionable of these recent manifestations of an evangelizing
atheism are Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion, published in 2006, and Sam Harris’s The End
of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Religion, which appeared in 2005. The End of Faith became a runaway best seller, with all that augurs.
Harris is back with yet another diatribe against every faith that has content
other than an atheist dogma.
For several reasons ancient atheism was an essentially private matter and
not a public dogma. One reason for reticence was that skeptics genuinely feared
the consequences of a popular loss of belief in divine sanctions. But modern
atheists like Sam Harris are bold and brazen; they seek to liberate others
from what Harris calls “collective delusion” (p. 5) or illusion.
Ancient atheists fought covertly against faith in God because it tended to
spoil what few pleasures there might be. Modern atheists fight against God
because they are confident we no longer need consolation for our inevitable
miseries. Modern atheists, unlike their grimly pessimistic predecessors, promise
a Golden Age that will follow the disappearance of faith in God. Harris fits
this mold. He lectures us fools about our “dangerous and divisive mythology”
(p. 33), about “preposterous ideas about sin and salvation”
(p. 37), and about our failure to ground our “core beliefs”
(p. 43) on evidence, corroboration, proofs, and so forth. Unlike skeptical
Europeans, we American fools follow a fashionable illusion and thereby make
ourselves and others miserable.
Since we American Christians tend to “declare that monsters like Adolf
Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, and Kim Il Sung spring from the
womb of atheism” (pp. 39–40), Harris shifts to complaining about
dogma. “The problem with religion—as with Nazism, Stalinism, or any
other totalitarian mythology—is the problem of dogma itself” (p. 43).
Harris claims that “Auschwitz, the Soviet gulags, and the killing fields
of Cambodia are not examples of what happens to people when they become too
reasonable” (p. 42). He shifts to moaning about dogma and away from
attacking faith in God, since atheism has often clearly “led straight to
moral chaos” (p. 46). But is not his atheism itself a dogma? Not according
to Harris, since atheism is a “term that should not even exist” (p. 51).
And yet he insists that there have been “many brilliant attacks upon religion”
before his own efforts (p. 91). Can one not find in this literature core
beliefs and hence dogma? Harris detests recent talk about intelligent design
(pp. 71–75, 77), indicating that his fondness for reason has its
limits. Instead, Harris again appeals to strictly ineffable “spiritual
experience(s)” (pp. 87 and 90) or “profoundly transforming experiences”
(p. 89). His passionate appeals to mystical reveries offer no hope, since
he grants that “it is terrible that we all die and lose everything we love”
(p. 56). This book is laced with bald opining and unseemly name-calling.
It is, however, one of the signs of the times.
Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, Eric D. Huntsman, and
Thomas A. Wayment. Jesus Christ and the World of the New Testament: An
Illustrated Reference for Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2006. vii + 327 pp., with sources and
The ancient world of the New Testament is brought to life with images, photos
of artifacts, maps, artistic reconstructions, and timelines. This richly illustrated
book provides historical context and cultural, literary, and linguistic background
for the place and times in which Jesus spent his mortal ministry. After introducing
how the text of the New Testament was transmitted and after exploring the
world between the testaments, the remainder of the book is divided into three
parts: the world of Jesus’s ministry, the world of the apostles’ early ministry,
and the world of the apostles’ later ministry.
In support of the regular text, sidebars on many of the two-page spreads
feature details, legends, and textual portraits of events, places, artifacts,
and people. For example, the reader can learn of such diverse matters as the
background of Claudius, the shroud of Turin, bread and circuses, and the dating
of the Pauline epistles through reading these succinct summaries. The Greek,
Roman, and Jewish cultures all played a role in the way the gospel was shared
and recorded. This volume is a fascinating and informative look at the times
and world of Jesus Christ.
Hugh Nibley and Alex Nibley. Sergeant Nibley PhD:
Memories of an Unlikely Screaming Eagle.
Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain [an imprint of Deseret Book], 2006. xii +
366 pp., with notes, bibliography, and index. $24.95.
This is a truly remarkable book. Those who have encountered Hugh Nibley could
hardly have missed the occasional glancing reference to his experience during
World War II. From time to time he would include sardonic remarks about Maxwell
Taylor and the 101st Airborne, the beastly behavior of soldiers, the endless
blunders of those planning and directing battles, the arrogance of officers,
or the utter boredom and sheer evil and waste of war. What has not previously
been known is that this passionate passivist volunteered for military service,
avoided some safe desk job somewhere, and did what he could to actually be
there in middle of those terrible battles that took place in Europe. Alex
Nibley has not shied away from the anomaly of his zealously passivist father
having volunteered and then fought in World War II. Nibley, it seems, very
much wanted to be both an observer and a participant in one of the truly great
military encounters in recent history.
Nibley was in on both the planning and execution of the Normandy invasion.
He was proud of having driven his jeep shortly after the beginning of the
invasion onto Exit Five (aka Madeline) at Utah Beach, and down the causeway
and into battle. How he happened to be there and what happened subsequently
are all told in detail. Nibley wanted to be an observer; he knew he would
survive, but he was a combatant with a carbine. Some of Nibley’s war experiences
have been recounted by Boyd Petersen, his biographer, in Hugh Nibley: A
Consecrated Life. Alex Nibley has fleshed
out and contextualized Nibley’s World War II experiences. Alex mined letters,
various interviews, scraps of diaries, the reminiscences of his father and
others who knew him, and whatever other textual materials that could be located
to produce a truly stunning book. As reluctant as Hugh Nibley was to have
this story told, he was pleased with the result of the valiant efforts of
Alex (and others in his family) to tell his story without hiding anything.
Alex has also assembled a host of supporting materials. Without these, many
of Nibley’s stories might seem contrived or embellished. Alex holds nothing
back. Even matters that were later troubling to Nibley are set out in detail.
For those interested in Nibley, in World War II, in the Normandy invasion,
in Operation Market Garden, in so-called military intelligence, or in the
virtues and vices of those involved in war, this is a wonderful book. Alex
is a gifted writer, and fortunately this book has been well edited.
Matthew A. Paulson. Breaking the Mormon Code:
A Critique of Mormon Scholarship regarding Classical Christian Theology and
the Book of Mormon. Livermore,
CA: WingSpan, 2006. vii + 285 pp., with bibliography, scripture citation index,
index of early Christian writings, and subject index. $15.95.
Matt Paulson does not claim, as the title of his book would seem to indicate,
that he has somehow broken some insidious “Mormon Code” and thereby
discovered the otherwise hidden venality lurking beneath the surface of the
faith of Latter-day Saints. Instead, the “code” in the title of this
book is what Paulson describes variously as “the Church Education System
Honor Code” (p. 271 n. 892), “their Mormon code” (p. 271),
or “the BYU Honor Code” (p. 271)—that is, the code of behavior
required of students attending Brigham Young University. On virtually every
page of his book, Paulson strives to demonstrate that “FARMS contributors
and BYU professors have repeatedly, either knowingly or unknowing, violated”
the terms of the BYU Honor Code (p. 272). Paulson classifies every defense
of the faith and the Saints found in the FARMS Review as manifestly dishonest.
In the concluding remarks of his book, Paulson offers his readers a “list
of words” that he thinks
might apply to the research of Mormon theology and history: enhancement,
aggrandizement, embellishment, clumsiness, exaggeration, redaction, distortion,
defraud, over-generalization, heresy, lie, cheat, fraud, and cult. Within
this range of words lies the appropriate assessment of Mormon theology. The
LDS writers and contributors to FARMS publications will likely choose the
descriptions that are on the upper end of the spectrum, i.e., the more optimistic
theological assessment. Evangelical Christians might see the infractions of
Mormonism on the latter end of the spectrum. (p. 272)
Breaking the Mormon Code is filled
with confused and confusing sentences; it is also a garbled diatribe against
the FARMS Review and those who
have published in it or who are, in Paulson’s imagination, in any way associated
with the Maxwell Institute. “These scholars,” Paulson claims at
the beginning of his book, “are too hastily [sic] to label critical polemics to be ‘anti-Mormon’ if
it slightly challenges Mormonism, although it is honest, factual, and indisputable”
(p. 2). This rather typically incoherent sentence also manifests the
confrontational, aggressively adversarial mode of evangelizing currently being
fashioned by the Walter Martin–inspired, anti-Mormon segment of the
How did Paulson come to be an anti-Mormon? Paulson actually tries to explain
how this happened. He indicates that he knew virtually nothing of Jesus until,
at age 28 (in 1985), he heard “Dr.” Walter Martin on the radio. Paulson
experienced an emotional conversion to Martin’s brand of evangelical religiosity.
As one might expect, this soon included pestering (and amusing) Latter-day Saints
(p. 4) with a crude pamphlet and bizarre correspondence. Martin’s disciple,
the litigious Kurt Van Gorden, “who helped in the finalization” of
this book (p. 22), insists in a blurb on the back cover that Paulson has
set “straight the lie that Mormonism is changing into biblical Christianity.”
High among Paulson’s targets are people like Richard Mouw (see pp. 1–2)
and anyone else—either evangelical or Latter-day Saint—who is not
down with him (and his anti-Mormon countercult associates) slugging it out in
the rhetorical gutter.
Ronald J. Sider. The Scandal of the Evangelical
Conscience: Why Are Christians Living Just Like the Rest of the World? Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005. 140 pp. $12.99.
This book is a fascinating look at the societal impact of the adoption of
Calvinist theology. Ronald J. Sider uses information from Gallup polls
and the Barna Group to survey the lifestyles of those classified as evangelicals
based on criteria developed largely by George Barna. These criteria include
the assent to various intellectual propositions or theological positions.
Tracing connections between the theological tenets held by evangelicals, particularly
Calvinists, and their behavior in matters such as abuse, almsgiving, divorce,
sexual morality, and race relations, Sider notes that their behavior does
not align with biblical teachings. Sider bemoans the fact that most evangelical
institutions do little about the problem and, indeed, are often part of the
problem. He also holds out little hope that with the organizational chaos
in the movement much will change in either theology or behavior.
Vickie Cleverley Speek. “God Has Made Us
a Kingdom”: James Strang and the Midwest Mormons. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2006. xii + 396
pp., with bibliographical references and index. $34.95.
Vickie Speek has produced a remarkable book that enlarges our understanding
of James J. Strang and those believers who followed him as a claimed successor
to Joseph Smith the Prophet. An important and instructive episode in Mormon
history, the story of the Strangites has often been neglected in considering
the plight of those who fled Nauvoo but stayed in the Midwest rather than
go West under Brigham Young’s leadership.
Strang was a remarkable personality who gained quite a few followers during
those turbulent times. He claimed to have received a letter from Joseph Smith
that pointed to him as successor after Joseph’s death. The letter, written
in block letters, has been greatly disputed, but along with Strang’s claim
to angelic appointment, helped him to gain converts. To his people he appeared
to be one of authority like Joseph Smith, and this is what attracted some
of Joseph’s followers. He claimed to have unearthed and translated ancient
plates and to have received other revelations. Especially important were the
Book of the Law of the Lord and the very brief Rajah Manchou of Vorito. He
appointed apostles and organized his church in Wisconsin and later moved to
Beaver Island in Michigan, where he had himself crowned king. He attempted
a law of consecration and the united order, and while first rejecting polygamy,
later took additional wives, as did some of his followers. He sent out missionaries
and was successful in gaining some converts, especially among those who had
previously been followers of Joseph Smith. His own disciples scattered after
experiencing much friction and antagonism with the nonmembers in Michigan
and after Strang’s own violent death at the hands of some of his disillusioned
and disgruntled associates. Many of the Strangites later joined with the RLDS
Church. The present Strangite church consists of about one hundred persons.
Speek—a former newspaper and radio reporter and now a feature writer
and columnist in the Midwest—proves herself an able sleuth in ferreting
out sources on the history of this movement. Past works on Strang have stressed
the man himself. Speek provides a great deal of information on what happened
to his people and traces the lives of Strang’s wives and families after his
death. Appended are the texts of important documents and a fine collection of