Living the Book of Mormon
Reviewed by Catherine K. Arveseth
Abiding By Its Precepts
This collection of papers presented at the 2007 Sperry Symposium (Brigham Young University ) is centered on how the Book of Mormon can bless our lives as we strive to abide by its precepts. Several weeks ago I shared with our gospel doctrine class the editors’ opening paragraph. It is a perfect introduction to the symposium’s intent.
Mark Twain reportedly said, “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.” Perhaps a similar statement could be made regarding the Book of Mormon: The person who reads the Book of Mormon but does not follow its teachings is no better off than the person who does not read it (vii).
A halting thought. In all our reading and studying of this “most correct book on earth,” are we “getting nearer to God,” as Joseph Smith promised, by sincerely living its teachings? It is a question worth contemplating.
Since beginning a study of the Book of Mormon this year as part of the Sunday School curriculum, Living the Book of Mormon is the best new supplemental commentary I have encountered.
The book begins with a keynote address given by Elder Joe J. Christensen (emeritus member of the First Quorum of the Seventy). Elder Christensen lays a strong and thorough foundation with his remarks. He introduces the topic intelligently, provides explanation when needed, and begins immediately to speak about how the book has blessed his life and the lives of those he knows.
While focusing on five of the most dominant doctrines found within the Book of Mormon, Christensen writes the following in a section titled “Dangers Growing from the Sin of Pride”.
It is always better to be invited to take a place of recognition or honor rather than to assume that we should be there. Book of Mormon precepts teach that we can become overly concerned about organizations we belong to, which side of town we live on, the size of our home, how much money we have, what race or nationality we are, what kind of car we drive, what church we belong to, how much education we have been privileged to acquire, what we wear and so on .
We should place our concern on simple, less worldly things. In our mercenary and materialistic society, we could also learn from what Henry David Thoreau said: “My greatest skill has been to want but little.” Precepts taught in the Book of Mormon, more than in any other book, help us overcome these spiritually destructive tendencies of pride (17-18).
I appreciate the symposium presenters. They are dedicated in their fields of study and professions. They offer fresh perspectives on Book of Mormon principles and people already familiar to us. They speak in personal terms while sharing insights that are the result of tedious study and inspired thinking.
You may be familiar with some of them. Elder Joe J. Christensen, Clyde J. Williams, Scott C. Esplin, Robert L. Millet, Charles Swift, Victor L. Ludlow, Michael A. Goodman, Daniel L. Belnap, Terry Szink, Jared T. Parker, Jerome M. Perkins, Jennifer C. Lane, Richard O. Cowan, Terry B. Ball, Lloyd D. Newell, C. Robert Line, Frank F. Judd Jr., Michael L. King, Michael J. Fear, Brian K. Ray, Neal W. Kramer, and Matthew O. Richardson.
Some of the topics discussed include agency, separation and reconciliation through sacred covenants, writing the things of God, restoration, “The Three R’s of the Book of Mormon – Restoration, Redemption, and Resurrection”, the Atonement, and charity.
Becoming or Not Becoming
Two chapters I particularly enjoyed were titled, “Laman and Lemuel: A Case Study in “Not Becoming” (does that not cause you to chuckle just a bit?), and ” Alma the Younger: A Disciple’s Quest to Become.” These two chapters make for a good comparative read. I share with you two excerpts from Michael Goodman’s chapter on Laman and Lemuel. Goodman’s ideas are actually more sobering than the chapter title lets on.
The Book of Mormon often teaches principles by contrast, or through opposites. Readers learn the value of freedom as they view the consequences of captivity. They learn the joy of righteousness by viewing the price of wickedness.
Some wonder why Mormon included so many examples of wickedness in a book meant to bring us to Christ . the reasons for this emphasis on the ways of the wicked are fully explained by the book itself. They are meant as a warning and example to that peculiarly wicked age for which the Book of Mormon message has been preserved and to which it is addressed (100-101).
Laman and Lemuel failed to allow the Atonement to work in their lives and never developed the needed motivation and help. In the end, like Laman and Lemuel, some people may ultimately refuse this priceless gift of love. As a result of not overcoming their fallen nature and failing to comprehend the nature of God and their relationship to Him, they may refuse to partake from the tree of life. However, understanding the possible reasons for this refusal enables each of us to more fully “come unto Christ, and be perfected in Him” ( Moroni 10:32). We are then more able to help others avoid the same mistakes that ensnared Laman and Lemuel (110).
From Jerome Perkins’ discussion of Alma the Younger we read,
Before Alma could comprehend anything regarding eternal progression, the Lord had to awaken him to the truth that he had become an enemy to God. Alma emphasized this awakening: “I was struck with such great fear and amazement lest perhaps I should be destroyed, that I fell to the earth and I did hear no more” (153).
For individuals to embark upon the quest of becoming like God they must first be awakened to the reality of their present lives, what they have already become . If we are not aware, if we are not at times shaken and awakened, our lives can go terribly wrong, and we won’t even notice the change. That is why, in the process of becoming, Alma the Younger stands as the example that each of us needs to be awakened to who we have really become.
The Lord does this awakening all throughout scripture, especially in the chapters revolving around the life of Alma the Younger. The Savior uses many different means to help us grasp the gravity of those times when we have become less than what we and God desire (154).
The Pure Love of Christ
I share one final passage from Matthew Richardson’s paper on charity as taught in Moroni chapter 7. This chapter was exceptionally enlightening to me. As I monitor the headlines each day, the words of Isaiah (and Nephi) come repeatedly to mind. “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light and light for darkness” (Isaiah 5:20).
Richardson points out how easily society embraces “forms” of godliness while, at the same time, vehemently opposes any type of connection with God. Even without trying, we begin to adopt worldly ideas or “forms of godliness” wrapped in the guise of kindness or equality. I am learning that unless we are reading often from the Book of Mormon, the mind of the world will slowly replace our efforts to acquire the mind of God.
Of charity, Richardson says,
Typically society readily accepts the acts of Jesus Christ – kindness, compassion, promotion of peace, understanding, and love – but will not acknowledge any serious connection these acts have with Christ and his doctrines or precepts. “For many,” wrote Robert L. Millet, professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University , “the doctrine of Christ has been replaced by the ethics of Jesus.” Thus, some enjoy the “ethical aspects of the ministry of Jesus but cannot tolerate the doctrinal teachings of the divine Christ. In short, they love the form of godliness but despise the power thereof, namely, God. It is in this sense that charity is really little more than a “form of godliness; and is disconnected from its power – the divine (292).
Following a conscience-pricking discussion of love from Christ, love for Christ, and the counterfeits of charity (a must read!), Richardson shares some concluding thoughts.
When we receive the pure, undiluted love from Christ (which comes only through the Atonement of Christ and by entering into sacred ordinances) and the pure, undiluted love for Christ (which empowers our ability to keep His commandments and love others just as Christ loves us), we experience a mighty change and we become as Christ is .
Because the ultimate purpose of charity is to cause us to become as Christ is, we must never mistake charity for its counterfeits – regardless of how good and important they may seem. Only when charity is inseparably connected with Jesus Christ can the real outcome be realized – to be as He is. In this light, when Mormon preached that a man “must needs have charity; for if he have not charity he is nothing” ( Moroni 7:44), one can see that a man without charity really is nothing like Jesus Christ (300).
For Our Day
Living the Book of Mormon is one of the more accessible Sperry Symposium books published. This is not because it is lacking in scholarly expertise, word etymology, or breakdown of scripture. It is simply because the theme chosen grants readers an unusual access to divine truth sincerely meant for application and internalization.
I thoroughly enjoyed the book and would recommend it to any student of the Book of Mormon. If you have been searching for a good supplemental read to your gospel doctrine study, this is it! Just as the Book of Mormon was written for our day, this collection of essays is written for our day so we can better abide God’s precepts, and live Christ’s teachings with more fullness and joy.