Within the Book of Mormon, 3rd and 4th Nephi are arguably some of the most important portions of the book, with their focus on the in-person ministry of Jesus Christ among the children of Lehi and what followed because of that ministry. Daniel Becerra, author of the book 3rd, 4th Nephi: A Brief Theological Introduction, recently sat down with Kurt Manwaring to share some of his insights from the process of writing his theological introduction to the books. What follows here is a co-post to the interview, with excerpts and some discussion, but if you want to read the full interview, you can head on over to Kurt Manwaring’s site here.
Daniel Becerra is a scholar of early Christianity who is an assistant professor of ancient scripture at BYU. As he explained in the interview, his background played an important role in how he approached the Book of Mormon: “My training is in early Christian literature and my research focuses on moral formation, so I am very interested in how Christians understand perfection as well as in how they conform themselves to this ideal. I think the shape of my volume reflects this.” He added:
I … tried to situate the teachings of 3–4 Nephi within the larger tradition of Christian theological thought. I was pleasantly surprised at how much more I was able to get out the Book of Mormon when I started reading it in conversation with other Christian theologians, like Gregory of Nyssa, Evagrius, Ammonas, and Narsai. I began to see how the Book of Mormon is similar to and distinct from other theological writings, as well as how it might also be further illuminated by them.
This was, of course, in connection with intense study of the text itself, but contributed to his focus on the pursuit of Christ and Christlikeness.
Becerra highlighted a few of the prominent themes that stood out to him from his efforts to allow the text to speak to him through study. He spoke of the overall experience as one where it “felt like having a dialogue with the Book of Mormon. It would present questions and I would try to answer them. I would pose questions and it would reveal answers in its pages.” One of the major blessings on display in the text that stood out to him was that:
Speaking generally, a consistent theme in these books is that Christ never abandons his people. There are times in 3 Nephi, for example, when disciples feel that Christ is absent or not invested in their lives as much they would like. In some cases, the faithful thought he would arrive sooner than he did and stay longer than he was able. In other cases, the Savior was present among them in spirit but the faithful didn’t know it.
Mormon, however, frames such absences, perceived or real, as pedagogical. He writes that Christ periodically withdraws and withholds from his people in order to “try their faith” or to allow them time to “ponder” and “prepare” themselves for his return (3 Ne. 17:3; 26:9). In such cases, the cavity quarried by Christ’s absence creates more space for his indwelling; it allows him to bless his followers with “greater things” (3 Ne. 26:9).
In the same way that eyes in darkness are most sensitive to light, so periods of distance from the Savior help his covenant people to better discern, know, and appreciate him.
It’s an important reflection on our relationship with the Christ through the lens of the Book of Mormon.
It’s a pleasant interview to read through, and if you want to read more about things like the process of writing the brief theological introduction volume, insights into how we can better approach the Christ, and how feminine imagery helps us to know the Savior better, you can head on over to Kurt Manwaring’s site here. Out of curiosity, have any of your read the volume? What did you think, if you did?