My Religious-Themed Required Reading List, Part III

The Price We Paid, by Andrew Olsen

For how legendary (in both a good and bad sense) the Willy and Martin handcart companies are in our collective consciousness, it was good to read a scholarly work on the subject. 

Oxford Translation of the Bible

Everybody should read a solid non-KJV translation (and one that doesn’t lean towards word-for-word literalism like the KJV).

Passage by Faith. Exploring the Inspirational Art of James Christensen

Maybe my tastes are kitschy and lowbrow, but I find James Christensen’s art to be some of the most straightforwardly inspiring out there. 

Gospel Principles

I know we don’t have a gospel principles class anymore, but when you’re raising your own kids it’s easy to just think that gospel basics will just be absorbed via osmosis. Embarrassing but fun personal anecdote, despite having been born of goodly parents and having a solid religious upbringing I somehow got to junior high without knowing that Jesus was the literal biological son of God and not just the spiritual son from Joseph and Mary; I wasn’t informed about this fact until my brother started talking about how schmaltzy the conceived-by-the-power-of-the-force Christian reference was in Star Wars, Episode I. 

It’s surprising what random holes some people have in their religious education. It’s useful to literally have a list of the basics published by the Church to teach your kids to make sure nothing gets missed.  

Life After Death: The Evidence, by Dinesh D’Souza

Dinesh D’Souza has gone completely nuts politically, but this book is a very readable introduction to religious arguments about the afterlife. 

The Five Books of Jesus, by James Goldberg

A moving take on the Savior’s life story by our own James Goldberg. 

40 Years Among the Indians, by Daniel Webster Jones

I’m a little partial because this is my wife/children’s ancestor, but also a very readable primary source of early Utah from the perspective of somebody who lived quite the swashbuckling/adventurer life. 

The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary, by Robert Alter

In some sense this book is a placeholder for any book by Robert Alter. I don’t get the sense that he’s a believer, but he is the go-to writer if you want to learn how to appreciate the prose and poetry of the Bible.

Saints Series

The Church Office Building folks really hit this one out of the park. A highly readable history of the Church digestible by almost all ages. 

Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe, by Brian Greene

Physicist Brian Greene is, IMHO, one of the greatest popular writers of physics today, but this book takes a step back and looks at the broader picture. Unlike some materialists that wax poetic about beauty and meaning seemingly oblivious to the implications of the reductionism and inevitable oblivion logically baked into their worldview, Green is willing, if hesitant, to bite the materialist bullet and ask serious, brave questions about meaning in the face of absolute, eternal, blackness at the end of the universe. While a secular book, I’m mentioning it in the same breath as spiritual/religious books because he takes seriously the limitations of the finite, materialist worldview in creating meaning. 

Nature’s Destiny: How the Laws of Biology Reveal Purpose in the Universe, by Michael Denton

While whispers of design and fine tuning are more acceptable in the physics community, the New Atheist types have executed a rather effective smear campaign against any whispers of design in biology to the point where “intelligent design” is a hiss and a byword in biology in ways that “fine tuning” is not for physicists. Of course, it doesn’t help the ID folks when many of them make common political cause with the anti-evolutionists. Wrongheaded political strategy notwithstanding, the fact is there are still some pretty big gaps that aren’t all resolved by a simple appeals to evolutionary mechanisms (for example, the first reproducing cell), and this book is as good as any about laying out all these gaps. 

The Children of Men, by P.D. James

I’ve already written at great length about how intrinsically pronatalist our theology is. This fictional work about a world where people can’t have children and are slowly moving to extinction raises a lot of uncomfortable, queasy questions about how much of our meaning is tied to somebody generating the next generation, even if it isn’t us. 

Jesus the Christ: A Study of the Messiah and His Mission According to Holy Scriptures, Both Ancient and Modern, by James Talmage

I wrote a whole post on this one. 

The Return of the God Hypothesis: Three Scientific Discoveries Revealing the Mind Behind the Universe, by Stephen Mayer

Everything written about Nature’s Destiny above applies to this book, which is another readable synopsis of all the little coincidences in both the physical and biological world that add up (and no they aren’t all easily answerable by just saying “Darwin”). 

Giant Joshua, by Maurine Whipple

There are some eyeroll parts (as I duck to avoid the darts from the Mormon-Lit Danites), but it’s not hard to see why this has become the undisputed canonical great work in Mormon literature. 

Great Divorce; Mere Christianity; Screwtape Letters; Yours, Jack; by C.S. Lewis

I don’t have anything particularly unique to say about CS Lewis and why he is wonderful. In this sense I’m a pretty typical Latter-day Saint. The Great Divorce gets it so right.  The cosmology matches up quite well with Latter-day Saint perspective, and I sort of suspect that he received personal revelation on a number of issues, his take on theosis in particular. 

10 comments for “My Religious-Themed Required Reading List, Part III

  1. Robert Alter is Jewish.

    I like Talmage’s “Jesus the Christ”, but it is horribly dated. I wish there was an modern life of Christ that wasn’t based upon 19th century writers.

    “Saints” was a home run for the youth of the Church. We now are in the odd situation in which a good many of the older generations think they know church history but the teens who have read “Saints” know more than they do!

  2. Interesting lists. Thanks for sharing.

    One wonder: what do you mean by “Jesus was the literal biological son of God”? How do you understand “literal biological son”?


  3. Since we believe in a God of flesh and bones I guess in our case it means that half of his genes are from God the Father. Of course, there are different takes on what that means in Christendom, but I wasn’t even aware that any version of that was Christian theology.

  4. There is a companion work to Holzapfel’s Jesus the Christ called: James E. Talmage’s Jesus the Christ Study Guide.

  5. On personal holes, I remember being excited when I was 18, during a particular class on the Book of Mormon taught by Vern Sommerfeldt at BYU, when he connected the Liahona with the word of God, particularly the Book of Mormon, as per Alma 37. It seems obvious now; how else would one interpret that? But despite having already read the Book of Mormon several times by that point, it was a new insight for me. About the same time, I remember my roommate (who was recently called as a mission president) commenting on his realization that the figure in 1 Nephi 13:12 was Christopher Columbus. It’s interesting how we all have different areas of ignorance and we probably shouldn’t be too judgmental of each other for those.

    On another note, I was excited to read your comments about Daniel Webster Jones’ *Forty Years Among the Indians,* and learn that we’re related. You don’t know who I am (probably), but I’ve been reading you here for a while now, so I think it’s cool . I come through Daniel Webster Jones–>Daniel Philemon Jones–>Daniel Dudley Jones–>Myles Jones. Would you be willing to share some of your wife’s lineage?

    By the way, speaking of areas of ignorance, while transcribing his book online in 2003, I learned for the first time that he was a grandfather of Fay Wray (King Kong, 1933). I was surprised that that bit of knowledge had eluded me until then.

  6. Fun. Check the history page–I started that article in 2006 and included that detail, just a couple of years after learning it myself. :) So if that’s your source, you’re welcome. :)

    I included some family information of his children and grandchildren with my transcription of *Forty Years Among the Indians*: (I moved it to Blogspot/Blogger after the original on Geocities went defunct in 2009).

    He’s a great character with some great stories. I feel honored to be descended from him and pleased to reach out to someone else with a family connection.

    (By the way, that line from a while back about being done with naked emperors in academia–I loved that:

  7. Fun! That was my source! Good work on Wikipedia editing, we should have more of it for pioneer figures that aren’t as well known but should be. That’s an excellent compilation of Daniel Webster primary sources. Looking forward to sharing it with my wife’s family’s groupme.

    Also, another connection-Vern Sommerfeldt was my Stake President growing up.

  8. There are actually many more notable pioneer figures on Wikipedia now than there were in 2006 (I guess it’s been a while since then, somehow). I haven’t been a major contributor, only dabbled here and there, but I appreciate the work others have done. And its accuracy is generally a lot better than those in some circles would have you believe.

    I’m glad you appreciated the compilation of sources. And Brother Sommerfeldt was/is a good man. I remember that he’d always say hello to me when he would see me through the rest of my time in Provo (-2001).

  9. I got burned out of Wikipedia editing in the Joseph Smith wars back in the day, but I should get back into it if for the underappreciated figures if for nothing else.

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