Saved by Charis: A Review of “Relational Grace: The Reciprocal and Binding Covenant of Charis”

Paul Writing His Epistles attr. Valentin de Boulogne (17th century).
Paul had a thing or two to say about salvation.
The Book of Mormon famously teaches, “For we labor diligently to
write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23). This teaching has prompted a number of explorations into Mormon soteriology (the theology of salvation) and has left not a few Evangelical critics of Mormon doctrine peeved at what is perceived to be a “works based” theology of salvation. I myself, I confess, have paid little attention to the debates surrounding Mormon teachings on grace beyond some of the popularized work of Stephen Robinson and Brad Wilcox and a quip by C. S. Lewis.[i] Of course, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf gave a moving General Conference sermon on the topic of grace not too long ago that I appreciated,[ii] but beyond this handful of material and a 2010 article by John Gee,[iii] my interest in grace has been limited. There’s the treatment of grace by Latter-day Saint thinker Adam Miller,  which has been recommended to me by a number of my friends and acquaintances, but frankly I haven’t, at this point, mustered enough interest to pursue this work.[iv] (This admission, I hope, is not misconstrued as an indictment against Miller, but rather as an example of my own laziness.)

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A Treasure Trove of Questions

A review of James E. Faulconer, The New Testament Made Harder: Scripture Study Questions. The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2015, 518 pages with endnotes. $21.95 (paperback).

Abstract: The New Testament Made Harder is a book that collects study questions that follow the Gospel Doctrine reading schedule. The book contains very little commentary and does not provide answers to the questions posed. The main objective is not to provide information, but rather to encourage students of the New Testament to think more deeply about what they are reading. For those who are willing to put forth the effort, they will find this book to be a helpful tool in learning to analyze the scriptures more closely.

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Not Leaving and Going On to Perfection

A Review of Samuel M. Brown’s First Principles and Ordinances: The Fourth Article of Faith in Light of the Temple, Provo, UT: Neal A. Maxwell Institute, 2014. 167 pp., index. $16.95.

In his most recent book, First Principles and Ordinances: The Fourth Article of Faith in Light of the Temple (hereafter First Principles), Samuel M. Brown observes that “the Plan of Salvation [is] fundamentally about relationships.”1 This recognition drove the prophet Joseph Smith and early Church members to “forge communities [of saints] that could endure beyond the veil of death” (151). Today, the importance of the temple and its ordinances to family relationships, eternal in their design, are clear to most Latter-day Saints. However, our collective view of the meaning of the principles and ordinances that precede the temple — and lead us to it — is somewhat murkier. Brown demonstrates that what Latter-day Saints sometimes perfunctorily regard merely as “the first principles and ordinances of the gospel” (Articles of Faith 1:4) are — every bit as much as the temple itself is — about relationships. In fact, one cannot fully contextualize the temple and its ordinances unless one understands this aspect of the first principles and ordinances of the gospel. Continue reading

The Prodigal’s Return to the Father: House of Glory and Rediscovery

Review of S. Michael Wilcox. House of Glory: Finding Personal Meaning in the Temple, 1995. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book. 146 pp. with bibliography and index. $14.99 (paperback).

Abstract: The temple of God is a new experience with any visit, but its wonders are nigh astonishing to someone who has lost the privilege for a long time. Wilcox’s House of Glory is more than a guidebook to the House of God, it is a camera panning from the physical (such as the meanings of symbols and the appearances in and outside of temples) to the intensely personal (like the requirements and rewards of temple work, its ancient history, its powers of protection, and so on). Essentially a book for the experienced temple goer (one no longer stunned by the newness of it all), Wilcox’s prize-winning book fills in the blank spaces and answers questions. And awes the Prodigal Son. Continue reading

“The Great and Terrible Judgments of the Lord”: Destruction and Disaster in 3 Nephi and the Geology of Mesoamerica

Review of Jerry D. Grover, Jr., Geology of the Book of Mormon. Vineyard, UT: Self-Published, 2014. 233 pp. +xi, including index and references. $39.99.

Abstract: Over recent decades, several Latter-day Saint scholars and scientists have offered analysis and comparison to geologic events and the destruction recorded in 3 Nephi 8-9. Jerry Grover makes an important contribution to this literature as he provides background on geologic processes and phenomena, details the geologic features of the Tehuantepec region (Mesoamerica), and applies this information to not only the description of 3 Nephi 8-9, but other incidents in the Book of Mormon likely connected to geologic events. In doing so, Grover yields new insights into the narratives he examines, and adds clarity to geographic details that have been subject to varying interpretations. Continue reading