Putting the Book of Mormon Front and Center

Elder B.H. Roberts of the Seventy once wrote that:

So long as the truth respecting it is unbelieved {the Book of Mormon} will remain to the world an enigma, a veritable literary sphinx, challenging the inquiry and speculation of the learned. But to those who in simple faith will accept it for what it is, a revelation from God, it will minister spiritual consolation, and by its plainness and truth draw men into closer communion with God.[1]

It can be difficult to pin down the Book of Mormon due to the many different things that can be used as evidence for or evidence against a divine origin for the book. In a recent 10 Questions interview with Kurt Manwaring, Tad Callister talked about his newest publication, A Case for the Book of Mormon, which discusses some of these evidences. What follows here is a short summary with commentary, but for those who are interested, the original discussion can be found by clicking here.

Tad R. Callister is relatively well known at this point. He served as a general authority in the Seventies and might be remembered for giving short but pointed talks in general conference like “The Book of Mormon—a Book from God” and “Joseph Smith—Prophet of the Restoration”. He later served in the General President of Sunday School in the Church, where he was involved with bringing the “Come, Follow Me” curriculum to all age groups. He has also published several books, including The Infinite Atonement, The Inevitable Apostasy and the Promised Restoration, The Blueprint of Christ’s Church, and A Case for the Book of Mormon. Among these, The Infinite Atonement is best known—Deseret Book has been selling it for nearly 20 years and continues to find new ways to republish the book as a modern “Gospel classic” (most recently as a part of the “Pocket Gospel Classics” series).

In the 10 questions interview, Tad Callister discussed some of how he approaches the gospel. When asked if he has “ever struggled with an apparent conflict between your faith and reason?”, he responded that: “I’ve had questions I couldn’t answer that caused me to want to do more searching. But I don’t think I’ve ever had a crisis of faith.” Questions were what spurred him to write A Case for the Book of Mormon:

I knew there were a number of contentions by critics about the Book of Mormon, and it raised some questions in my mind that I wanted to further research. I had done a lot of research before, but decided to go into depth in my research, which I did for the last two years, and felt that the members of the Church deserved a fair response to the critics’ arguments. I felt there were many good answers to share. Many answers were already out there, but I felt it would be helpful if they could be consolidated in one place—including many positive evidences the critics did not refer to because it diminished their case.

I felt like we didn’t have to be on the defense all the time. We could also be on the offense. If someone’s a true, honest critic, they should not only have the privilege to ask questions but should be responsible for answering some of our questions—including some that are very difficult for them to respond to.

It seems like a healthy way to respond to difficult questions—to do more research and see what answers or new understanding emerges from the study. When approaching Callister’s work, this statement is also is a good indication that the book is primarily apologetic in nature.

The layout of the book is divided into two main parts. The first part is defensive (responding to critics) while the second part is focused on presenting evidences in support of the Book of Mormon. Concerning the second part, Brother Callister said:

Some of our very, very difficult questions for the critics to respond to are: “Where does Joseph Smith come up with all this doctrine? How does this 23-year-old have such divine eloquence in these profound, thoughtful messages that you reflect on and that give you comfort and insights, that you put on your refrigerator door and memorize? Why is the Book of Mormon in fulfillment of Bible prophecy? How does the book give us such insights into the Savior, time and time again, and why does it inspire us to be better people? And what about the eleven witnesses and their incredible, enduring testimonies?”

It is my experience that the critics have a very difficult time adequately responding to these types of questions.

These types of questions are part of why I began this post with the statement about the Book of Mormon being a literary sphynx. In my experience, there are strong points to both sides of the argument, which is why I am curious to read Callister’s book and see the full gamut of his responses to critics and arguments in favor of the Book of Mormon.

Part of why Tad Callister seems to have felt that writing this book was so important is that he has a very straightforward view of the Book of Mormon’s role in the truth claims of the Church. When asked if it is “a record of people who actually lived or is it inspired fiction? Is there any middle ground?”, he responded that:

I don’t see how you have any middle ground.

For example, was the angel Moroni a real angel who came to Joseph Smith—or is it fiction? It’s either true or false.

Did the gold plates really contain the record of the Nephites and Lamanites—or is that a falsehood?

Was Nephi a real prophet who lived in the Americas—or not?

Joseph Smith and the Church claim that all those things were real. Either they are real or they’re a fraud. They’re not inspired fiction. They’re not claimed to be inspired fiction. They’re claimed to be as real as real can be.

Therefore, it’s either a falsehood—a fraud— or it’s absolutely true. I see absolutely no room for middle ground on that issue.

The middle ground referenced here is a way of dealing with the fact that the Book of Mormon is able to provide spiritual nourishment (and thus is assumed to have God’s hand in its creation) while also acknowledging some of the facts that critics bring up to indicate that the Book of Mormon was written by someone in Joseph Smith’s time and place. It can be an attractive approach for Church members who are struggling with maintaining a testimony in the face of critiques. Brother Callister doesn’t feel like there’s room for that approach and wants to push people to acknowledge the Book of Mormon as completely true and historical or not.

For more insights into the Book of Mormon, its importance in the mission and theology of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and evidences that help Tad Callister believe that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, read the 10 questions interview with Kurt Manwaring here.

 

References:

[1] B.H. Roberts, New Witnesses for God, 3 vol. Vol. 1: Salt Lake City: George Q. Cannon and Sons, 1895. Vol. 2 & 3: Salt Lake City: Deseret News (1903-1908), 3:406.

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