Book Review: A Reason for Faith – Navigating LDS Doctrine and Church History,
editor: Laura Harris Hales
On February 26, 2016, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles spoke to all Institute and Seminary teachers across the world. Noting the wonderful developments in CES over the past century, he then said that he is more keenly interested in the next century of training the young minds of the Church in religious doctrine and testimony. Elder Ballard then gave an important warning and guidance on the needs of the new century:
“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. Gone are the days when students were protected from people who attacked the Church. Fortunately, the Lord provided this timely and timeless counsel to you teachers: “And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.”
“This is especially applicable today because not all of your students have the faith necessary to face the challenges ahead and because many of them are already exposed through the Internet to corrosive forces of an increasingly secular world that is hostile to faith, family, and gospel standards. The Internet is expanding its reach across the world into almost every home and into the very hands and minds of your students.” (Elder M. Russell Ballard, An Evening with a General Authority)
Speaking of medical inoculations and treatments, he added:
“If that is the sensible course to take in finding answers for emotional, mental, and physical health issues, it is even more so when eternal life is at stake. When something has the potential to threaten our spiritual life, our most precious family relationships, and our membership in the kingdom, we should find thoughtful and faithful Church leaders to help us. And, if necessary, we should ask those with appropriate academic training, experience, and expertise for help.
“This is exactly what I do when I need an answer to my own questions that I cannot answer myself. I seek help from my Brethren in the Quorum of the Twelve and from others with expertise in fields of Church history and doctrine.” (Ibid)
This is a timely warning for instructors and parents alike. In fact, it was guidance that parents could have used even 20 years ago. Back then, some good friends of mine had a son, who was preparing for a mission. Waiting for his call, he attended one year at a prestigious science university. He returned an atheist, having seen evidence on evolution and other concepts that contradicted what he had learned in Church (even though the Church does not have an official position on evolution, many members still teach against it). Now, with the Internet and the ability of anti-Mormons, secular scholars and others to cast doubt on doctrines and histories, often with a negative slant, the world seeks to cast doubt on Christ and his Church. We live in the day “if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect” (Matthew 24:24).
I have been an apologist and serious student of the gospel since I joined in 1975. I’ve worked with FairMormon, written articles for the More Good Foundation, and blogged on the Sunday School lessons. For me, I can handle the many issues that cause young and old in the Church to struggle. Then again, I’ve spent decades studying and learning about these issues. Most parents and many seminary and Institute instructors do not have such luxury of time. When there are dozens of issues, most do not have the time nor energy to read dozens of scholarly books and long articles on those issues.
That is where “A Reason for Faith: Navigating LDS Doctrine and Church History” comes in. Laura Harris Hales (editor) realized that most members needed a basic, one-stop shop for all the biggest issues challenging the faith of our young people today. And that is exactly what we get: seventeen key topics, each covered in layman’s terms, most of the chapters 15 pages or less.
Laura Hales went to some of the biggest and brightest LDS scholars to write the chapters on topics like seer stones, translation of the Book of Mormon, polygamy, blacks and the priesthood, Freemasonry, women’s roles in the Church, homosexuality, DNA and the Book of Mormon, etc.
Authors include Richard L Bushman, Brant Gardner, Kent P. Jackson, Brian Hales, Kerry Muhlestein, Ugo A. Perego, and Neylan McBaine among others. These are top notch scholars in their areas of expertise. I noted that my friends Daniel C. Peterson and William Hamblin were not included in the list and — with tongue in cheek — thought that would help prevent anti-Mormons from discrediting the entire book. Seriously, the list of scholars is very impressive.
More impressive is that most of the articles are easy-to-follow and understand. Because of the technical level of some of the issues, there are moments where some of the articles bog down, but I can’t see how the authors could easily have avoided it, without leaving out key important information.
For example, Don Bradley and Mark Ashhurst-McGee write about the Kinderhook Plates. These were some metal plates “found” near Nauvoo and presented to Joseph to review. He gave some notes and a brief translation on some of them. Later, those involved in finding the plates claimed they had forged them. Recent testing shows they were made with techniques available in Joseph Smith’s day, but not anciently. Don and Mark show that Joseph’s translation effort was not attempted through revelation but rather through traditional translation methods, using an Egyptian alphabet he had developed while translating the Book of Abraham. So, a figure of a boat in the dictionary gave him the translation of a boat in the Kinderhook Plates. The work is more detailed than what I just described, but shows some excellent detective work done by Don and Mark. I should note that Don’s research is especially important to me, as he recently returned to the Church with a newly discovered, strong testimony, after being among those who doubted their faith over such issues in the past.
One of the nice things about the articles is they do not pretend to be what they are not. They do not have solutions for everything. On many articles, given the evidence available, the authors will provide possible solutions, or even say that certain parts of an issue are still left uncertain. It shows that even for scholars, it is okay to not have all the answers. However, the articles also show that we have enough quality information to give members a sound foundation upon which to build faith.
For example, Kerry Muhlestein, an Egyptologist, discusses the issues regarding the Book of Abraham. He notes two important components to why Joseph’s translation does not translate directly from the Facsimiles or the papyri we currently have. He points out that Joseph’s colleagues noted that the writings of Abraham were on a long scroll, known to have been destroyed in the great Chicago fire, and not on the papyri fragments that survived. He also discusses the Catalyst Theory, where Joseph’s form of translating is different from that used in normal translation means. We simply do not know whether one or both of these points correctly address the issue of papyri and the Book of Abraham, but they are valid possibilities. Kerry also points out that while anti-Mormons attack the problems they see in the papyri translation, none have ever discussed the connections the text of Abraham has with other ancient texts, unknown in Joseph’s day.
Many years ago, a friend of mine visited with a noted anti-Mormon that lives in Salt Lake, who owns an anti-LDS bookstore. He asked her, “If archaeologists were to find an ancient sign in Mesoamerica that said, “twelve miles to Zarahemla,” would that be enough evidence for her to believe?” She paused and then said, “It would be a point of discussion.” This book will likely not change many anti-Mormon hearts. However, it can “inoculate’ our youth and adults from the incessant attacks from the world around them.
The articles are simple enough for parents, instructors and bishops to read with their youth to situate them in a position to evaluate alternative narratives from an informed position. I would hope Institute, seminary and Sunday School teachers would add this book to their library, sharing the information as kids have questions or when those issues come up in the normal discussion of the lessons. This book will help our youth to do as President Uchtdorf encouraged, “doubt your doubts” and to start on a solid intellectual foundation when building their faith.
I personally wish I had this book decades ago, as I tried to help many struggling members with their questions regarding such issues. Perhaps there would be fewer losses in the Church, and fewer people drifting away from their faith.
So, what are you waiting for? Get the book and start using it!
You can find A Reason for Faith on major social media platforms.
YouTube: A Reason for Faith