Book Review: 2nd Nephi – a brief theological introduction, by Terryl Givens
“A little learning is a dangerous thing.
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring;
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
and drinking largely sobers us again.” Alexander Pope
2nd Nephi, by Terryl Givens, is the second book in a series by the Maxwell Institute on theology in the Book of Mormon (see 1st Nephi by Joseph Spencer, here).
Theology is the study of God. While other religions have a theological base that determines and establishes their doctrines and beliefs, Latter-day Saints have only begun to study or “do” theology in the last few decades. Yes, we are very good at history, “likening” the scriptures to our day, apologetics (defending the gospel), and finding archaeological discoveries that support the Book of Mormon, but we have not spent the time to intensely study the text of the Book of Mormon. As noted in the book series, C.S. Lewis remarked that in studying the gospel, we tend to be “hurried tourists” who only spend a few moments in the entry way. This series is a beginning for the average reader of the Book of Mormon to begin to sober up by drinking deeply.
In its short 93 pages, Givens gives a refreshing and stimulating look at what he sees as the key points taught by Nephi, Lehi and Jacob in 2nd Nephi. The book is divided into four chapters or sections:
1. The New (and Very Old) Covenant
2. They are not Cast Off
3. To the Convincing of Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ
4. More Plain and Precious Things
There are many amazing insights in the book, and I’ll share a couple, knowing I cannot do the book justice.
Givens explains why Nephi divided his works into two books, and why he separated them where he did. In 1st Nephi, Lehi tells us that Jerusalem is going to be destroyed. There is doubt among some of his followers. Laman and Lemuel attempt several times to return to Jerusalem, even though their father has made such an incredible claim. 2nd Nephi begins with Lehi telling his family that he saw Jerusalem destroyed in a vision. Just think of the shock this would be to the whole family!
Palestine had been the Promised Land since the days of Abraham. The Abrahamic Covenant and the land were inseparable. Moses brought the children of Israel out of Egypt and returned them to the land of promise. Under King David, Jerusalem became the capitol of the Promised Land. Solomon built the temple. It was the place with the ark of the covenant, the Presence of God.
Imagine being an astronaut, suggests Givens in a thought experiment, headed to a new colony on Mars. Your history is earth. It is the place of your birth and the place of your ancestors. It is where your loved ones are, whom you communicate with over the expanses of space. After living on Mars for a time, you suddenly get notice that earth is destroyed. There is no return trip, no communication with loved ones. “Planet earth, their home, with teeming cities and myriad peoples, with its cultural monuments and holy places, with its childhood haunts and familiar vistas–is no more.”
Suddenly, we find ourselves in the realm of Laman and Lemuel, knowing the city and life they loved, was no longer there. All of their beliefs and hopes lay in ruins, as the promised land was destroyed. In this scenario, Lehi and Nephi can describe a new Land of Promise, with Lehi’s family as the seven Tribes of Israel. Nephi’s newly constructed temple replaces the once majestic temple of Solomon, which now was rubble. The ancient covenant continued with Lehi’s family.
Givens discusses how the “new and everlasting covenant” is one that has been around not just since Adam, but since the premortal existence. While the rest of the Christian world condemns Adam and Eve for our sinful nature, the Book of Mormon celebrates their choices, which was part of the eternal plan. He explains several traditional Christian doctrines, such as original sin and predestination, which the Book of Mormon proclaims as wrong. It also explains why they are wrong, and why at birth we are closer to a “blank sheet” of paper with agency to choose, rather than depraved and evil with no redeeming qualities nor any ability to choose good for ourselves.
2nd Nephi discusses two of the key concepts that Moroni placed on the Title Page of the Book of Mormon: that the Jews/Israel are not cast off, and that Jesus is the Christ. Givens shares important insights into both of these key issues. In speaking of the atonement and resurrection of Jesus, Givens notes that since “those earliest heavenly councils, the everlasting covenant depended upon and centered around the grace-drenched offer of Jesus Christ to be the Atoning One, our healer and guarantor of life eternal.”
While the Bible discusses the life and mission of Jesus, it does not do so to the level and depth that the Book of Mormon does. As Catholic scholar Stephen Webb* once noted, the Book of Mormon emotes high-Christology throughout the volume. Givens gives several examples in 2nd Nephi regarding the importance Jesus Christ, the atonement and resurrection, really are to Nephi and his contemporaries.
There are so many more gems to be found in this small book. In reading Givens’ 2nd Nephi, I know that the next time I read the Book of Mormon, I will study it with new eyes, a new heart, and a better understanding and appreciation for what Lehi’s family was experiencing, and how the everlasting covenant, through Jesus Christ, is more than just a piece of land in Palestine. With this book and series, we no longer need to sip from the Pierian Spring, dizzy from an occasional spiritual moment. Givens’ 2nd Nephi will help us drink deeply and experience the true spiritual power of the Book of Mormon.
Available at Amazon.com
* My live blog post on a Fireside with Alonzo Gaskill and Stephen Webb