Joseph Smith and Money Digging
Chapter 1 about Joseph Smith and money digging isn't an attempt to explain away or "answer" critics like some of the apologetic texts that seem to be as overly simplified as the critics. Dr. Bushman's chapter helped me to understand some of the critics points and gave information from a professional historian on the context of the larger society, which was different from our cultural norms today. It helped me to understand that there were others in that day who had a belief in what might be called today folk magic, something totally unaccepted now but was more common then.
Women in the Church
I enjoyed reading this chapter because it gave me better insight into how some women feel in the Church. As I have been living in California and have been in a position of leadership in the Relief Society, I have encountered many who feel like their role in the church is less than what a man's role is. I have never felt that way, and it has been difficult to understand how to address these concerns that some of my sisters have had. I feel that Neylan McBaine has done a wonderful job at addressing these concerns and being able to still bring us together and build our faith.
Race, the Priesthood, and the Temple Ban
Race and the priesthood ban is for many people one of the more challenging aspects of Latter-day Saint history. W. Paul Reeve, a scholar of American History, provides an excellent overview of the origins, evolution, and eventual demise of racial doctrines, attitudes, and policies in the LDS Church. By placing it within the wider context of historical Mormon and American attitudes about race, polygamy, and communal identity, we are able to interpret the statements and actions of early Mormons with more charity. Reeve doesn't stop there, however, but offers a plausible path forward for Latter-day Saints who might be struggling to reconcile the priesthood ban with their faith in LDS prophets and leaders. This is highly recommended reading for anyone struggling with this issue.
The Book of Abraham
Before reading chapter 8 on the Book of Abraham I had already done research of my own regarding the origins of the Book of Abraham and the translation process utilized by Joseph Smith Jr. I have always had a particular interest in the Book of Abraham as I have lived in the Middle East and the Mid-West.
The amount of research and analysis contained in Chapter 8 exceeded all of my previous inquiries and research into the topic. The author, Kerry Muhlestein, has taken a complex subject and broken it down into a balanced and fair portrayal of the possible explanations relating to the origin and translation process of the Book of Abraham.
Although there are those out there that would like you to think that the Book of Abraham can be authenticated today with the surviving papyri that remain today, this direct comparison is not one that can be easily made as demonstrated in this chapter. Kerry Muhlestein has given us, through his extensive research, many if not all of the possibilities relating to the subject, so the reader is able to give those explanations equal weight and consideration. In the end, as the title of the book implies and as with so many things in life, there is a reason to have faith when explanations fall short of proving anything with 100% certainty.
Sometimes there are those that lose their faith because they are not adequately versed on a particular subject and when they are told something that goes against what they have been taught or heard they immediately accept it as truth without taking the time to familiarize themselves with other possible explanations. The editor of this book, Laura Hales, has picked authors to write on many complex issues in the church, so that its readers can be fully informed and educated.
Each family should have this book in order to protect its members from feeling "blind-sided" when they hear something that they have never heard before.
Restoration of the Priesthoods
The chapter on the restoration of the priesthood explains a complicated topic in a straightforward way. The priesthood restoration can be difficult to understand, with heavenly messengers visiting Joseph on multiple occasions, each playing a unique role. This chapter explains how each step of the priesthood restoration fits into the modern framework of Latter-day Saint belief. The chapter also provides insight on Joseph's evolving understanding of priesthood and the ways he taught the Saints about the priesthood restoration at different times. The chapter is most helpful to me as a simple, well researched summary of all we know about the restoration of the priesthood. It provides valuable background on a central tenet of LDS doctrine.
The Translation of the Book of Mormon
After reading the chapter dedicated to the translation of the Book of Mormon, I have a deeper understanding of the seer stones and the literal translation of the book by Joseph Smith. The author brought many things to mind that I had not considered before reading this chapter. It was helpful to me to have facts and misunderstandings of earlier church history explained in regards to changes in text that have been made since the original translation. I also appreciated the suggestion that the physical plates were not necessarily needed for Joseph to translate them. This was very informative and interesting.
DNA of Book of Mormon Peoples
Outside of my general courses in biology and anatomy, I have not studied DNA. Recently, however, I have been doing a lot of genealogy and for that reason had my DNA testing done through Ancestry.com. It opened up a new world to me in terms of where my ancestors were from.
I found the chapter on Book of Mormon DNA interesting. It was not an easy read, although I have read the Book of Mormon many times.
I was surprised how different my view of these people is from the mainstream. For example, I always thought there were many different tribes here, and they were constantly intermarry and moving around. I am from Jamaica and so the Native Americans there were different from the ones on the continent in disposition as well as physical features.
Overall I would say that the chapter left me wondering about the subject. I guess it is a highly debatable topic, and there are many ways to look at it. It was interesting to read the author's perspective on it.
Witnesses of the Book of Mormon
I thoroughly enjoyed the chapter on the testimonies of the Book of Mormon witnesses. The author did a wonderful job showing both sides of the subject. He documented and explained the details very well. I found it very interesting to read what those who don't believe have written on the subject. It was all handled really well. I really love the idea of this book: a place where we can see the controversy, but in a controlled environment. Great book for inquisitive minds.
Race, the Priesthood, and the Temple Ban
I was drawn to W. Paul Reeve’s essay because of my personal experiences with race relations over the years. The race-based conflicts I witnessed in my family, the Church, and larger society were deeply troubling to me. Additionally, the reasons that I was given for the Church’s restrictions on priesthood and temple blessings as a youth were extremely unsatisfying.
As I became a teacher and leader in the Church as an adult, I found myself using the same unsatisfying answers in a poor attempt to answer my own students’ questions. Because of my discomfort with these answers, I chose to deflect or avoid the questions altogether.
Maturing as a teacher and leader, however, I arrived at the conclusion recently expressed by Elder M. Russell Ballard: “Gone are the days when a student asked an honest question and a teacher responded, ‘Don’t worry about it!’ Gone are the days when a student raised a sincere concern and a teacher bore his or her testimony as a response intended to avoid the issue.”
W. Paul Reeve’s essay is a thoughtful and well-documented foundation on which to answer difficult, but sincere questions. It combines answers and sources that are not otherwise readily accessible. Not only is the historical development of Church policy and practice explained, but an answer to the question "Now what?" is also provided.
Reeve’s essay is a valuable resource to those who are seeking to respond to Elder Ballard’s call to “inoculate your students by providing faithful, thoughtful and accurate interpretation of gospel doctrine, the scriptures, our history and those topics that are sometimes misunderstood.”
Book of Mormon Anachronisms
We sat down to discuss with our two teenagers some of the anachronisms in the Book of Mormon. We asked our oldest to describe to his sister how to make a shelf without using hand actions or clarifications. He quickly discovered that it was not that easy to get across exactly what he meant. We then asked his sister if she could sit down and make the shelf based on what he said. She said she could not. We then used this experience to tie into the Prophet Joseph Smith trying to explain things from another time period and language with his limited understanding and background.
This led to a discussion with our younger children, led by our son, as to the similarities with the Prophet Isaiah trying to describe airplanes and cars in his writings.
Our children quickly began bringing up other examples. One of my favorites was a reference to a favorite children’s book, “The Aminal” by Lorna & Lecia Balian, which tells of a young boy describing his new pet. (As the children pass along their understanding it turns into a terrible monster, when in reality it is just a small turtle.) We wrapped it up by focusing on the fact that others will try and shake their testimonies with any number of theories, but if they follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost they will be led to do what is right.
Freemasonry and the LDS Temple Endowment
I really enjoyed reading and learning more about Freemasonry and the temple. It's a subject that I've wondered about, but have not looked into extensively. Because what takes place in the temple is sacred, and Freemasonry is a very secretive organization.
I've wondered about the similarities. Finding out about the Mason's and their background with Solomon's temple was enlightening. I also found the involvement of some of the brethren in Nauvoo with the Mason's interesting.
After reading the chapter about Freemasonry, I came away with a better understanding of why it is called the restored gospel, and how the Lord pointed Joseph Smith to existing truths and then added upon them through revelation to guide the saints. I now see that parallel through much of Joseph's life. Adding truth upon truth.
Homosexuality and the Gospel
The conversation on sexuality is far too often reduced to antagonistic sound bites meant to defend one’s position or attack another. This chapter deepens the dialogue and defines the breadth of the discussion. Most importantly, it invites us to use our God-given sexuality for good, by connecting more meaningfully in all of our relationships. I am a trained therapist and have used the material in this chapter in training other therapists who work with members who navigate the difficult struggle of maintaining identity and managing choices on both the physical and spiritual level.
The Practice of Polygamy in the Early Church
Polygamy has always been a topic I have felt confused about. There is so much information out there yet who to believe? Brian and Laura Hales have lovingly and unbiasedly clarified polygamy for readers like me who don't have a bunch of time to research. Now, I have a general knowledge of this doctrinal history I can share with my children when they ask me tough questions, and I no longer worry about having to live polygamy.
Science and Religion
My family enjoys science, and we very much enjoyed the chapter on Science and Religion. Many religions think that religion cannot harmonize with science, especially in the areas of the creation and evolution. This chapter shows the scientific evidence supporting the age of the earth, evolution, and the Big Bang. It also shows what prophets and apostles have stated about these subjects over the years. We had a great discussion about this with our teenagers. It was helpful to have the why of what we believe and also the why of what science says and to be able to see how science and religion can harmonize and complement each other.
Isaiah and the Book of Mormon
In this chapter, Kent P. Jackson uses this line of reasoning to address these issues and presents clear analysis to counter the questions raised by critical writers. His conclusion supports the fact that the words of Isaiah contained in the Book of Mormon are the words God intended be included in the book. They were provided to Joseph Smith through the power of revelation, and once one has tested successfully Moroni's challenge ( Mor. 9:4-5 ), the Book of Mormon can be used as the best argument to answer such questions.
DNA of Book of Mormon Peoples
The author makes a great argument that DNA studies can't be used to prove one way or another that the Book of Mormon is true or false based on genetic DNA testing. He identifies some unknown variables and explains a few common misconceptions to show why DNA analysis of Native Americans is not a definitive method of judging the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. This chapter takes a complex subject matter and breaks it down into smaller bite size concepts that a non-expert can understand in an interesting and comprehensive manner.
The Explanation-Defying Book of Abraham
The Book of Abraham has left many members "wondering" in awe. We are fascinated with the culture, the traditions, and the environment of the ancient society. But how does one explain the various discrepancies between Joseph Smith's rendition of the papyri and modern day understandings? What does science prove? What can faith prove? This essay logically parses out this mysterious religious drama.
The First Vision Accounts
This chapter adequately addresses the issues surrounding Joseph Smith's first vision accounts and is completely satisfactory for those who can reasonably hold true to what they know. I have found that simply because we don't know every answer doesn't mean the answers don't exist. This chapter is written in a way that it can be retaught and explained to members and non-members alike without being too complex or sophisticated. It is unadulterated truth and edifying.
Just because this issue of multiple first vision accounts is not the current emphasis taught each Sabbath day does not mean the church is hiding this information. We must do our homework and ask questions in church if we have them; not pretend we know something we don't. We will be learning saving principles long after death, so there is no shame in asking questions and asking again if the first answer does not suffice.
This is a good book for the rank and file of the church and others who want to use it as a tool
A Reason for Faith provided me with an honest and logical explanation of the circumstances surrounding Joseph receiving and translating the Kinderhook plates. I’m grateful for the amount of historical work that is being accomplished in the Church today. As Paul stated “For now we see through a glass, darkly … now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12, KJV)
Thank you Sister Laura Harris Hales for compiling this research into one spot for easy reference. It will be a blessing and faith promoting resource for my family and friends.