Book Notes

Book Notes

Mark Lyman Staker. Hearken,
O Ye People: The Historical Setting of Joseph Smith’s Ohio Revelations
. Salt
Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2009. xlii + 694 pp., with appendix,
bibliography, and index. $34.95.

To be well-informed, any student of Latter-day Saint history
and doctrine must now be acquainted with the remarkable research of Mark Staker
on the important history of the church in the Kirtland, Ohio, area. Staker, a
researcher in the Church History Department, informs us with much additional
detail on the background of Kirtland, before and after Latter-day Saint
settlement, and on the circumstances surrounding the revelations received by
Joseph Smith while in that area. Such background is essential to better
understand the meaning of the revelations, for often it shows why Joseph
inquired of the Lord and adds depth to our interpretation of the language and
content of the revelations.

Following a useful chronology of events in the history of
the church in Ohio (pp. xvii–xxxi), Staker divides his study into four
parts. The first provides the background of Kirtland before the Latter-day
Saints, describing the people in the area and the religious setting and
practices there when the missionaries arrived. This is an illuminating
discussion, which includes many events in the earliest history of the church.
Part 2 has a thoroughgoing account of the law of consecration—how and why
it was first implemented and how it was conducted. Part 3 treats happenings in
nearby Hiram, Ohio, including the people concerned and problems of opposition
and apostasy. It informs us on Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon’s receipt of “The
Vision” (now the very important doctrinal revelation in section 76 of the
Doctrine and Covenants), describing the remarkable reaction to it, both pro and
con. The mobbing of Joseph and Sidney is discussed in detail. Part 4 of the
book deals with the economy of Kirtland and the rise and fall of the Kirtland
Safety Society, giving us a better understanding of that trying episode in
church history.

An appendix to the book provides several important sermons
by George A. Smith and Brigham Young that discuss significant matters
concerning the history of the church in Ohio.

  George L.

Christopher Catherwood. The
Evangelicals: What They Believe, Where They Are, and Their Politics.
Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010. 166 pp., no index. $15.99 (paperback).

The Evangelicals is intended to situate contemporary
evangelical politics, location, and beliefs. British scholar Christopher Catherwood,
who is married to an American and “has talked about the issue of politics
with [unidentified American] evangelical friends now for over thirty years”
(p. 126), has “seen major shifts, from the years of President [Jimmy]
Carter when evangelicals seemed to be Democrats, to the present, where meeting
an evangelical Democrat is increasingly rare” (p. 126). He bemoans “the
public failures of an elected American politician” (p. 127), and hence “the
sheer ineptitude of the Bush Administration,” which he believes brought “damage
to the reputation of the United States in the wider world” and also embarrassed
the evangelical world as well (p. 127).

Catherwood’s own political ideology is a bit pink, which
explains his quarrel with American evangelicals. He radically distinguishes
fundamentalism, which he detests, from what he understands as evangelicalism.
He tends to conflate fundamentalism with American-style evangelicalism. Other
than Billy Graham, whom he praises for not having been involved in the usual
scandals that seem to follow popular evangelical preachers, he detests
politically conservative American evangelicalism, though he sees hope for
evangelicals in the United States since “Bush is no longer President”
and Jerry Falwell and James Kennedy, on the “religious right,” have
died and James Dobson has retired (p. 127).

The new evangelical bellwether,
according to Catherwood, is Albert Mohler, who is “controversial for
trying to reintroduce Reformed theology back into the Southern Baptist
Convention” (pp. 127–28). Catherwood is pleased by this shift in the
SBC since he approves of the of the “new Calvinism” that is catching
on in the United States (pp. 145–57). The reason is that he believes that
authentic evangelical ideology can be summed up in the acronym TULIP,
or five-point Calvinism (see pp. 149–52 for details). Hence he believes
that radical Calvinism “is becoming one of the hottest beliefs among
students and twenty-somethings all over the United States, with Calvinist
African-American rappers taking the music world by storm!” (p. 149). He is
also pleased that Baptists, among others, are stressing absolutes and hence are
not surrendering to postmodernism. He does not see this as a new

Catherwood, who lectures on Balkan and Middle Eastern
history, with an emphasis on the struggles between Christianity and Islam, at
St Edmund’s College, Cambridge, stresses the enormous diversity among
contemporary conservative Protestants. His “evangelicals” are thus “very
cosmopolitan,” “multinational, multicultural, interdenominational”
(pp. 9–10), as well as “genuinely global” (p. 19–20). He
has learned this from observing his own Anglican congregation in Cambridge, and
from the work of Philip Jenkins, who has alerted him to a “global
evangelical renaissance” (p. 10). He knows the American evangelical
movement from conversations with some unidentified Americans. For his
understanding of the remarkable growth of conservative Protestantism in the
Southern Hemisphere, he turns to Philip Jenkins (see pp. 71, 75ff., 81), and
for estimates of the size of various Christian denominations, he turns to David
Barrett (p. 83), a respected source. For his understanding of “evangelical,”

Catherwood insists that his “evangelicals” all
accept the Trinity (p. 15) and hence see Jesus as “part of the Trinity
itself” (p. 16), and they also hold to the Bible alone (pp. 16, 28), an
essential idea going back to the Reformation (p. 17). They also believe in
total depravity (p. 17, compare p. 53)—that is, an innate (or by nature)
sinfulness (p. 18), as well as justification by faith alone, whereby “only
our faith in [Jesus’s] saving action justifies us, or declares sinners
like us righteous in the eyes of God” (p. 21). None of these “central
truths” (p. 15) are explained in any detail, but are merely asserted as
givens. Catherwood is profoundly impressed by the enormous growth of Christian
faith in China (pp. 87–89), much of which has taken place under a
Communist regime that has been officially, and very aggressively, atheist. He
cites statistics reporting eighty to a hundred million Christians now in China.
Without knowing what these new Chinese Christians believe, he merely assumes
that their faith is “evangelical in tone” (p. 88)—that is, they
hold solidly to contemporary American or British understandings of that label.
For obvious reasons, Latter-day Saints should find Catherwood’s comments on the
rise of Christian faith in China the most interesting part of this slim book.
The growth of some measure of faith in Jesus Christ in China seems to me to be
the preparation for the introduction to the fulness of the gospel to that
strange and wonderful land.


Royal Skousen. The
Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text.
New Haven: Yale University
Press, 2009. xlv + 789 pp., with appendix. $35.00.

Professor Royal Skousen, an internationally respected
linguistic theorist based at Brigham Young University, has also devoted more
than two decades to intensive, meticulous study of the textual history of the
Book of Mormon. His recent Yale University Press edition of the book is a very
important product—though not the only product—of that dedicated
engagement. The
Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text
represents the bottom-line results
of one of the most impressive and sustained individual scholarly undertakings
in the history of Mormonism. The multiple volumes already published by Professor
Skousen through the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS,
now part of BYU’s Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship) are
indispensable for serious scholars of the Book of Mormon. But they’re also very
large, rather expensive, and . . . well, multiple. In other words, they’re
unwieldy for speedy reference when one simply wants to see the text quickly in
order to know the likely original reading of this or that passage. There has
long been a need for a single, convenient volume that would make the fruit of
Professor Skousen’s labor readily accessible, and now it’s here. Moreover, with
its “sense-lines” and its superb physical characteristics (e.g., it
easily stays flat on a table or a desk, even when opened virtually to the front
or the back of the volume), The Earliest Text is a wonderful
version for simply reading the book through. It’s a great study edition.

What are “sense-lines”? With the help of the
national-award-winning typographer Jonathan Saltzman, Professor Skousen has
laid out the text in a page-wide column on each of the volume’s wide pages. The
text has then been divided into the standard verses, with the verse numbers
placed visibly but unobtrusively in the left-hand margin. But, more than this,
the verses have been divided into multiple lines, each line representing a
significant, separate unit of thought. This may seem a small thing, and in some
ways it is, but it substantially clarifies the flow of the text and greatly
eases reading.

It’s instructive to read the responses to the Yale edition
of the Book of Mormon that appear on “This format,”
writes a Virginia woman, “makes my autistic daughter feel like she is reading
shorter verses. She’ll read huge chunks, as long as they are composed of ‘short
verses.’ ”
A reader in California reports that he has particularly enjoyed the
sense-lines. “I have read the Book of Mormon many times, but after reading
a couple of chapters I was always ready to quit. With the Earliest Text, I
started to read it at the beginning—and before I knew it, I was at
Chapter 4. . . . I didn’t feel [the] stress in my reading which I usually feel
while reading the double-column version in the standard edition. . . . I plan
to always use the Earliest Text for my daily reading.”

The Earliest Text changes no
doctrines, but it will almost certainly change the way even experienced readers
of the Book of Mormon perceive and understand the book’s sense and style. They
will notice aspects of the book that they have previously overlooked. Their
understanding will be enhanced. In fact, although Professor Skousen (himself a
believer) has been a consummate scholar who has followed the evidence where it
leads, never trying to skew or spin things in a faithful direction, many who
study The
Earliest Text
carefully will find this edition faith
promoting—as well they should. For one thing, it illustrates the remarkable
consistency of the text as Joseph Smith dictated it, and it even contains
Hebraisms that have been edited out of official editions over the years
because, although they exemplify good Hebrew style, they’re odd English. As a
reader from Michigan observes on the Amazon website, the book “allows us
to stand a bit closer to the words of the original revelation.” For those
who believe that God intervened to restore lost scripture through Joseph Smith
in the early nineteenth century, there can scarcely be any higher commendation
than that.

  Daniel C.

Kenda Creasy Dean. Almost
Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church.
York: Oxford University Press, 2010. x + 264 pp., with five appendixes, notes,
and index. $24.95.

A Methodist minister and
professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, Kenda Creasy Dean is no fan of
Mormon doctrine. “It may be difficult for a ‘gentile’ or non-Mormon to
read Mormon views on God, community, vocation, and eschatology without raising
an eyebrow,” she writes in her book Almost
Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church
, “but it is just as difficult to read the
data on Mormon teenagers without feeling a hint of awe” (p. 59).

Professor Dean, a collaborator on the well-respected
National Study of Youth and Religion, indicts her own mainstream Christianity:
The religious faith of most American adolescents is inarticulate and shallow,
she declares, and “we’re responsible” (p. 3). She fears that emphasis
on “a do-good, feel-good spirituality” (p. 4).at the expense of real
discipleship—she calls it “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism”—may
lead to the loss of the next generation.

“American young
people,” she says, “are, theoretically, fine with religious
faith—but it does not concern them very much, and it is not durable
enough to survive long after they graduate from high school” (p. 3). She
condemns what she terms a “Christian-ish” pseudo-faith, “the
Cult of Nice,” a “diner theology,” “a bargain religion,
cheap but satisfying, whose gods require little in the way of fidelity or
sacrifice” (p. 10).

“Teenagers tend to view God as either a butler or a
therapist,” she explains, “someone who meets their needs when
summoned (‘a cosmic lifeguard,’ as one youth minister put it) or who listens
nonjudgmentally and helps youth feel good about themselves (‘kind of like my
guidance counselor,’ a ninth grader told me)” (p. 17).

“The problem,” writes Professor Dean, “does
not seem to be that churches are teaching young people badly, but that we are
doing an exceedingly good job of teaching youth what we really believe: namely,
that Christianity is not a big deal, that God requires little. . . . What if
the blasé religiosity of most American teenagers is not the result of poor
communication but the result of excellent communication of a watered-down
gospel so devoid of God’s self-giving love in Jesus Christ, so immune to the
sending love of the Holy Spirit that it might not be Christianity at all?”
(pp. 11–12).

In fact, the passage from early Methodist leader George Whitefield
(d. 1770) that appears on the book’s frontispiece (and supplies its title)
strikingly echoes the language of Joseph Smith’s first vision, defining an “almost
Christian” as somebody who “is fond of the form, but never experiences
the power of godliness in his heart” (p. vi).

Nevertheless, according to Dr. Dean, “A minority of
American teenagers—but a significant minority—say religious faith
is important, and that it makes a difference in their lives. These teenagers
are doing better in life on a number of scales, compared to their less religious
peers” (p. 19). “Decades of research consistently link high levels of
adolescent religiosity with prosocial behavior and success in both academics
and social and familial relationships” (p. 16). Such youth are more likely
to succeed in school, have a positive outlook on life, and even wear their

Conservative and black Protestant adolescents do well in the
data, followed (in decreasing order) by mainline Protestant, Roman Catholic,
Jewish, and nonreligious youth. But one group really shines: “Mormon
teenagers attach the most importance to faith and are most likely to fall in
the category of highly devoted youth. . . . In nearly every area, using a
variety of measures, Mormon teenagers showed the highest levels of religious
understanding, vitality, and congruence between religious belief and practiced
faith; they were the least likely to engage in high-risk behavior and
consistently were the most positive, healthy, hopeful, and self-aware teenagers
in the interviews” (p. 20). In fact, chapter 3 of Almost
is entitled “Mormon Envy.”

But there’s plenty of room for improvement—I’ve been a
bishop of a young single adult ward—and none for smug complacency. Nor
can we forget how fragile things are. “This Church,” Elder Jeffrey R.
Holland told a BYU Education Week audience nearly thirty years ago, “is
always only one generation away from extinction. . . . All we would have to do,
I assume, to destroy this work is stop teaching our children for one
generation. Just everybody stop, close the books, seal up your heart, keep your
mouth shut, and don’t bear a testimony. In one generation it would be 1820 all
over again” (“That Our Children May Know,” 25 August 1981).

  Daniel C.

N. T. Wright. Following
Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship.
Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009. xxiii + 114 pp., no index. $14.00.

Following Jesus is an anthology of twelve of N. T.
(Tom) Wright’s sermons delivered before 1994. In a clear, readily accessible
form, his Biblical
Reflections on Discipleship
, first published by SPCK, are now
available in an American edition. Wright is a fine writer. His style is bright
and clear; he wears his learning modestly. In this collection of speeches, he
explores the meaning of the “death of death” and the resurrection of
Jesus. He seeks to understand more deeply what following Jesus means for us
here and now. His sermons also provide a fine introduction to his more complex,
dense scholarly works. Originally delivered from the pulpit, the twelve
speeches have been arranged in two parts. The first part, entitled “Looking
to Jesus,” consists of sermons that unpack the basic meaning of six books
in the New Testament (Hebrews, Colossians, Matthew, John, Mark, and Revelation)
(pp. 3–62). The second part, entitled “A Living Sacrifice,”
consists of thematic sermons—for example, “Temptation” (pp.
83–89), “Hell” (pp. 91–98), and so forth. I suggest that
the reader begin with the second part of this book.

In the sermon entitled “Heaven and Power” (pp.
99–105), Wright argues that it was “Jesus himself, no abstract
principle but a human person,” who was “exalted as the still loving,
still giving, still generous Lord, to whom one day every knee shall bow, and
whom we are today summoned to follow.” He insists that we who are the
children of God “should take our own part in implementing his victory, the
victory of the power of love over the love of power, throughout his creation.
Those who commit themselves to following the ascended Lord Jesus are thereby
signing on for this task (pp. 104–5). Unfortunately, our age, much like
the past, “is dying for power, and that is in fact dying of power” (p. 102). Wright sees the death and eventual ascension of Jesus as
a sign that the power of love is stronger than the lust for power. He insists
that the death and resurrection of Jesus was not a defeat but a victory over
the “powers that be.” Hence “the generous self-giving love of
Jesus, giving himself for the sins of the world, has been vindicated and
exalted as the supreme principle of the universe” (p. 104).

Even though there are areas where we might ultimately part
company with Tom Wright, there are good reasons that Latter-day Saints should
enjoy his works and also learn from him. The most obvious reason is that this
respected English evangelical New Testament scholar, and also sometime Anglican
churchman, has many of the same rhetorical and literary gifts that made C. S.
Lewis a favorite among the Saints, including especially Elder Neal A. Maxwell.
In addition, Wright eschews what can be called preacher prattle—that
is, among other things, the notorious alones (faith alone,
Bible alone,
Jesus alone,
and so forth) that lard contemporary American Fundamentalist/evangelical

Wright has also challenged the idea that one is justified
(saved) by confessing Christ. This idea is considered the very heart of the
Protestant Reformation and hence is the core of much American
Fundamentalist/evangelical religiosity. He rejects the notion that God
justifies the sinner by imputing righteousness to the still totally depraved
one; no one is “saved” in sin. Instead, much like the teachings set
forth in the Book of Mormon, Wright contends that through the work of the Holy
Spirit, with the full attention and effort of the new disciple, a cleansing,
purging sanctification must necessarily take place before the final judgment,
at which time those who are sanctified from sin, and hence are genuine Saints,
will be justified. We all must seek to follow Jesus in deed and not merely in
word as we undergo the long, difficult, often painful process of rebirth. Much
like Elder Maxwell, Wright is eager to comprehend what it means to be a genuine
disciple of the Lord.

 I highly
recommend Following
. It is a solid introduction to Wright’s scholarship on the New
Testament and related matters.