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REVIEWING THE REVIEW: VOL. 14 (2002)


Overview

            First, to clarify, there was only one issue of volume 14. On the website, it calls it issue 1, on the binding it says “Number 1-2.” I decided to just call it volume 14 in the title (above).

            This volume may have superseded 18/1 as my personal favorite. This was a very enjoyable read. Of the 19 articles, I have recommended a whopping 13 of them (and thought about recommending a couple more). So many of the articles had useful and interesting information. On top of that, this volume had a lot variety, which (in my opinion) is a trademark of the very best issues of the Review. It covered topics such as Book of Mormon geography, Evangelical/Mormon dialogue, the Christian question (Are Mormons…), anti-Mormonism, the “Bible Code,” and various figures in the Mormon history, such as Joseph Smith (of course), Sidney Rigdon, and George Q. Cannon. In the middle of the volume is a block of reviews and responses to the collaborative effort of Evangelical scholars, The New Mormon Challenge. These featured some very interesting exchanges, well worth the read.


Recommended Reading:

            Daniel C. Peterson, “Editor’s Introduction: Historical Concreteness or Speculative Abstraction?,” pg. xi-xxvi: This is the publication of a presentation Peterson originally gave at a debate sponsored by the Society of Evangelical Philosophers, the American Academy of Religion, and the Society of Biblical Literature hosted in Denver, Colorado on November 17, 2001. The debate was hosted as a sort of promotional event for (what was then) the upcoming publishing of the book The New Mormon Challenge. Peterson’s presentation focuses on how Latter-day Saints express their faith through story telling rather than through rigorous theology/philosophy. His comments are similar to that of his introduction to 12/2, though he uses a different approach. Also includes a postscript in which he assesses some developments in the anti-Mormon community that have occurred since the publishing (and revolving about the book) of The New Mormon Challenge.

            John E. Clark, “Evaluating the Case for a Limited Great Lakes Setting,” a review of Duane R. Aston, Return to Cumorah: Piecing Together the Puzzle Where the Nephites Lived (Sacramento, CA: American River Publications, 1998); Paul Hedengren, The Land of Lehi: Further Evidence for the Book of Mormon (Second Edition, version 2.3, Provo, UT: Tepran, 1999); Phyllis Carol Olive, The Lost Lands of the Book of Mormon (Springville, UT: Bonneville Books, 2000), pg. 9-78: When it comes to Book of Mormon geography, Clark is a force to be reckoned with. Anyone who wishes to present a case for either a Great Lakes model, or a Mesoamerican model must deal with (and at attempt to resolve) the difficulties Clark points out in his critiques of Book of Mormon geographies. It is a great benefit to the LDS community that we have such a capable and willing critic right within our own midst, thus allowing one to assess the merits of different geographical proposals while maintaining the faithful perspective (as in still believing that there is a real-world setting for the Book of Mormon). In this review, Clark analyzes the three books together, as well as some arguments from Delbert Curtis’s Christ in North America. Clark is even-handed in every case, granting the various strengths of each case; but nonetheless, Clark does not sugarcoat the situation. His criticisms are, in my view, fatal blows to the cases made by each of these authors. As always though, it is clear that Clark’s purpose is not to score points, or “win” the debate , but rather to point out the problems and difficulties so that future authors may avoid the same mistakes as they seek to make a more compelling case.

            David L. Paulsen, “A General Response to The New Mormon Challenge,” a review of Francis J. Beckwith, Carl Mosser, and Paul Owen, eds., The New Mormon Challenge: Responding to a the Latest Defenses of a Fast-Growing Movement (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), pg. 99-112: Paulson is another one of the LDS scholars who was invited to participate at the debate mentioned above. This review is a printing of comments presented at that debate. Paulson examines the stated aims of the authors, acknowledging and expressing appreciation where appropriate, but also pointing out where they have fallen short of such aims, and noting that some tension exists in that some of their aims seem to be contradictory.

            Benjamin I. Huff, “Of Course Mormonism Is Christian,” a review of Craig L. Blomberg, “Is Mormonism Christian?,” in Beckwith, Mosser, and Owen, eds., The New Mormon Challenge: 315-332, pg. 113-130: Huff notes that Blomberg ultimately fails to offer a real reason for rejecting Mormonism as Christian, and that Blomberg’s own provided definitions qualify Mormons as Christians. Huff also notes what may be the real issue for evangelicals: that the labal “Christian” gives a certain measure of “approval,” and evangelicals just can’t approve of Mormons.

            Kent P. Jackson, “Am I Christian,” a review of Craig L. Blomberg, “Is Mormonism Christian?,” in Beckwith, Mosser, and Owen, eds., The New Mormon Challenge: 315-332, pg. 131-138: Jackson uses his own life experience to demonstrate that Mormons fit the definitions of Christianity given by Blomberg, and thus illustrate why it is problematic to dismiss Mormons from the Christian community.

            Louis Midgley, “Faulty Topography,” a review of Carl Mosser, “And the Saints Go Marching On,” in Beckwith, Mosser, and Owen, eds., The New Mormon Challenge: 59-88; Richard N. Ostling and Joan K. Ostling, Mormon America: The Power and the Promise (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1999), pg. 139-192: Because the editors of The New Mormon Challenge refer readers to Mormon America for a background on Mormonism, Midgley reviews the Ostling’s book as a part of the response to The New Mormon Challenge. While some references are made throughout the review to Mosser’s essay, this is principally a review of Mormon America. Midgley discusses the Ostling’s foray into the debates over the Book of Mormon and Church history, their tendency to use ideological labeling, and the claim that Mormon doctrine has changed and shifted in an effort to become more “mainstream.” Throughout the review, Midgley brings the readers back to the same theme as Peterson’s introduction: that Mormons experience and express their faith through stories, rather than set theological formula.

            Kevin Christensen, “A Response to Paul Owen’s Comments on Margaret Barker,” a review of Paul Owen, “Monotheism, Mormonism, and the New Testament Witness,” in Beckwith, Mosser, and Owen, eds., The New Mormon Challenge: 301-308, pg. 193-221: As one can tell from the title, Christensen focuses on Owen’s criticisms of Margaret Barker, who is not even a Latter-day Saint scholar (she is Methodist). The reason for this seems to be that many LDS authors and scholars have latched on to Barker’s work, as her conclusions are strikingly similar to several aspects of the LDS faith – and thus she provides some compelling evidence to LDS truth claims, and is a considerable threat to evangelicals. Christensen notes that Owen assumes the authority/truth of the texts and beliefs that Barker is challenging, thus Owen is begging the question. Christensen provides a good discussion of the Deuteronomists movement, Deutero-Isaiah, and the other matters related to Barker’s work. Barker’s own reaction to Owen’s essay is appended to the end of the article.

            Michael D. Jibson, “Korihor Speaks, or the Misinterpretation of Dreams,” a review of Robert D. Anderson, Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith: Psychobiography and the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 1999), pg. 223-260: Jibson is not a historian, so he appropriately limits his comments on historical matters and instead focuses on his field of expertise, which is psychiatry. Hence, Jibson provides a good critique of Anderson’s attempt to use psychoanalysis to explain Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. Ultimately, he finds most of Anderson’s comparisons unconvincing.

            David P. Harper, Howard K. Harper, and Steven C. Harper, “Van Wagoner’s Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Biographical Excess,” a review of Richard S. Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon: A Portriat of Religious Excess (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 1994), pg. 261-274: I do not know if these three Harper’s are related or not, though I would assume so. David has an M.D. and is a medical professional, Howard has a Ph.D. in psychology and runs a private practice, and Steven also has a Ph.D. and is an assistant professor of church history (at BYU). As such, these three Harpers bring together a unique blend of expertise – just the right blend to assess the claims made by Van Wagoner, who attempts to diagnosis Sidney Ridgon with manic-depression through the methods of psychohistory. They amply demonstrate that Van Wagoner’s diagnosis is off the mark.                                                                                                                                   

            Davis Bitton, “George Q. Cannon and the Faithful Narrative of Mormon History,” a review of George Q. Cannon, Life of Joseph Smith the Prophet (Salt Lake City, UT: Juvenile Instructor, 1888; reprint Deseret Book 1986), pg. 275-294: This “review” was originally presented as a paper at a symposium help at BYU on March 16, 2002. As such, it does not seem to be an actual review. It is, it seems, rather a presentation of George Q. Cannon’s role in shaping the LDS view of history, with the Life of Joseph Smith acting only as one (albeit the primary one) source among the many other “histories” written by Cannon. Thus, with the publication of this essay, we see the Review seems to be at crossroads. On the one hand, it is beginning to publish non-review essays; yet on the other, it remains dedicated to classifying everything published within its pages as a “review.” All that aside, I found Bitton’s assessment interesting, and he provides some insights into the appropriateness of both “objective” and “subjective” history and how to balance both.

            Glen M. Cooper, “Historical Paradigms in Conflict: The Nauvoo Period Revisited,” a review of John E. Hallwas and Roger D. Launius, eds., Cultures in Conflict: A Documentary History of the Mormon War in Illinois (Logan, UT: Utah State University, 1995), pg. 295-314: Cooper provides methodological criticisms of another psychoanalytic approach to aspects of Mormon history. This flawed method seems all too popular in Mormon-critical circles.

            Russell C. McGregor, “The Anti-Mormon Attackers,” a review of James Patrick Holding, The Mormon Defenders: How Latter-day Saint Apologists Misinterpret the Bible (Self-Published, 2001), pg. 315-320: In this brief review, McGregor identifies methodological issues which are common among evangelical anti-Mormons.

                        Ralph C. Hancock, “The Authority of ‘Academic Freedom’: On Two Cases of Miseducation at BYU,” a review of Bryan Waterman and Brian Kagel, The Lord’s Univeristy: Freedom and Authority at BYU (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 1998), pg. 321-328: Hancock openly discusses the issue of academic freedom at BYU, and does not simply dismiss the issues brought up by Waterman and Kagel, but rather he notes that their presentation is one sided and brings up questions that they (and other critics) do not take into consideration. Hancock seems to think there is an important discussion that is to be had on the issue of academic freedom at BYU, but that it needs to be fair and balanced.

Final Thoughts

            The only criticism I have of this volume is that too many reviews dealt with psychohistory (Jibson, the Harpers, and Cooper), but that maybe more the critics fault (since they are the ones who keep writing bad psychohistory). Nonetheless, I grew weary of reading criticisms of psychoanalysis being used for historical purposes. The reviews of The New Mormon Challenge (and I include Peterson’s intro in this group) make this an important volume, as it provides a major contribution to Evangelical/Mormon dialogue, and those reviews (Peterson, Paulson, Huff, Jackson, Midgley, and Christensen) are all must-read articles for those interested in that dialogue. Along with those, Clark’s evaluation of several Book of Mormon LGL geographies is also a must-read for those interested in Book of Mormon geography. The reviews by the Harpers, Bitton, and Cooper are also important contributions to Mormon historical studies.

Rating: 5/5

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