I had not realized either how busy our lives tend to get. As the Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gassett once wrote, “There are just too many books. We always are made to feel guilty that we are not reading more. So we read in a hurry. Or we read too slowly.”
With this thought in mind, I am able to better recommend books for Mormon readers which can be of direct benefit to our minds weary from becoming over-intellectualized, but without becoming anti-intellectual.
It was E.B. White in a high school English class who first taught me that ordinary dreariness (but not clinical depression, which is a far more serious problem), can be relieved by learning a new idea. New perspectives can be self-perfecting, leading to heightened understanding of our own obstacles.
So here are two book recommendations. First off, I recommend Kent L. Yinger’s The New Perspective on Paul: An Introduction.
Though only 105 pages long, this book is a quick summary of how Pauline scholars –scholars of the ancient Apostle Paul—are now emphasizing concepts of obedience to commandments as having been over-looked in theological learning.
Latter-day Saints have often been informed that we were somehow not Christians because the “real” Christianity was Paul’s supposed teaching that salvation was all and only about grace. Works were false.
This book shows why a paradigm shift has occurred to dethrone the false dichotomy of only grace or only works. Membership in the chosen people through covenant has been rediscovered as an emphasis within Paul’s letters.
For our membership, the Lord expects His “peculiar people” to be obedient, Paul taught. And when we transgress, then atonement for those moral or ethical failures requires our repentance in the Lord. In fact, it begins to seem like the “new” Paul is now much closer to what Latter-day Saints have always believed, especially about the importance of covenants in becoming a true Christian.
It is still true, and this is just my opinion, that secularity continues to provide an anti-faith “opposition in all things” to faith. But fortunately, as “anti-religion” as secularism can be, the pundits and spokespersons of secularity can state no charges against the importance of spirituality. (We are still perfectly free from the thought police to be spiritual.)
What the “new perspective” is correcting in part is an anti-Jewish bias, especially among influential German theologians in the early part of the last century. That blind spot now stands revealed, rebuked and corrected, as the new perspective points out. The time-honored interpretation of Paul’s theology as just about grace and not at all about works of loving obedience, it is suggested, is now revealed as insufficiently Hebraic.
The trumpet’s call for a more accurate understanding was sounded by E.P. Sanders in 1977, in his densely-argued inductive argument about Paul entitled Paul and Palestinian Judaism.
In just one sentence, Sanders stated his thesis that Paul ought not be seen as anti-Jewish:
“God’s plan is established on the basis of the covenant and that the covenant requires as the proper response of man his obedience to its commandments, while providing means of atonement for transgressions” (Yinger at page 9, quoting Sanders at page 75).
Some Latter-day Saints will recognize N.T. Wright’s thinking in the new perspective on Paul, about which he has been a leader. A “frequent flier” to Utah, Wright appears to like Mormons just as many Mormons like him, in a C.S. Lewis kind of way.
Mutual admiration still has limits, or Wright might convert. But Wright remains firmly unconvinced about LDS temple worship. Nevertheless, Wright is on the side of the angels in his reading of the Apostle Paul. Wright, a Protestant leader, still faces a largely unpersuaded Protestant “old” perspective.
Yinger, author of the book, tries to let both sides speak clearly, so the book “works.” He writes without condescension.
But his own bias, if I had to guess, goes to the “old-school He remains in the old school of “sola gratia” (which means, “[salvation comes exclusively] by grace without works”). The simplicity of the “old school” meant it clearly worked as a slogan. But then again, slogans can sidetrack genuine inquiry.
The second book is a great graduation gift for those young Mormon thinkers you may be worried about, even of benefit those struggling with the Church and their place within it.
By the father of President Henry Eyring, Henry Eyring, Senior’s book, Reflections of a Scientist, is both edifying and instructive.
It may shock some fellow saints that there are loyal Members of the Church who prefer doctrine and ideas to church meetings that are sometimes it may seem but a pep rally for the Church.
And for those who may experience self-doubt, Eyring’s utterly candid Reflections of a Scientist is a balm of Gilead.
We too quickly seem to have forgotten who President Henry Eyring’s father was (both father and son are named Henry).
The father was a Princeton man, being dean of the Princeton graduate school, where the son grew-up with Elder Hales. Princeton is where the father circulated in rarified intellectual circles, in fact, the same circles in which Einstein himself mingled. That is a salient fact as far as this book goes, and for two reasons.
The first reason is that Dean Eyring, as he sets forth with simplicity, discusses Einstein and his theories in connection with revelations of the Prophet Joseph, discovering connections important to Mormon religious thought. The second reason is that Eyring is brutally candid about how tangential Einstein the man was, how infrequently their paths crossed. (One wonders if a lesser person than Father Eyring might have been tempted to exaggerate his or her relationship with Einstein.)
Eyring likes the truth as unvarnished as it can be. As such, Dean Eyring represents a vanishing “type” of Latter-day Saint, seemingly eclipsed by the cheer-leading values of a new age, “name-dropping” type of Mormon. For Dean Eyring, there are dangers lurking for true faith in the Lord when we create of a false “cult of personality” about the Brethren.
Dean Eyring’s candor about the Church continues to refresh. For many it will paradoxically nurture faith in the Church to the benefit of the Brethren. As a neighbor of the late Elder Neal A. Maxwell, Father Eyring and Elder Maxwell share some of the same values of spiritual strength and candid truthfulness about the Kingdom.
So this is a solid book of great value. Though billed as the reflections of a scientist, the “science” label merely gets us inside, and past our fear of new ideas, opening us up to the theological treasure room of Dean Eyring’s edifying mind, of his faithful thoughts and perceptions.
This book can have a real upside of heightened self-acceptance for members of the Church who have internalized the value of candor, and who are weary of too much public relations.
It is a mystery how this brief book has escaped our attention for so long, being around for essentially two decades. Many will benefit from reading it. Published by Deseret Book, the book, Reflections of a Scientist, deserves a much larger readership.
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