A request for good books on your church

I do try to understand belief systems other than my own, and I don’t consider that I have succeeded until I can explain the system to one of its adherents, and he will agree that I have stated his beliefs accurately.  I once tried to do this with Protestantism, writing a blog post on the difference between Catholic and Protestant theological concerns and trying to be equally respectful to both.  The subsequent discussion with theologically astute Protestant bloggers Gerry Neal and Alan Roebuck made it clear that I had failed my test.  I had not represented the Protestant view in a way that a Protestant would find adequate.  I still don’t understand Protestantism.

But I would like to, and I’m willing to expend a little effort on it.  What I am looking for is a book or essay, less than 300 pages (ideally much less), that explains the distinctive features of Protestant theology.  It must not be aggressively anti-Catholic (although, of course, it will disagree with Catholicism in places), because making me defensive will defeat the point of the exercise.  On the other hand, it must be written by a believing Protestant, because otherwise I won’t accept it as accurate.  I promise that I am not using this study to look for weaknesses and compose an attack on anyone’s creed.

Given recent discussions, I would also welcome suggestions for a good book or essay on Mormonism.  Again “good” means theologically sophisticated, sympathetic but not combative toward orthodoxy, and written by an actual Mormon.

And just for fun, I’ll throw this question open to everyone, including Catholics and Orthodox.  Is there a good book on your church for the educated and curious but busy?  If so, please give the title and author.  If not, somebody should really get to work on that, don’t you think?

53 thoughts on “A request for good books on your church

  1. Just to get the ball rolling, I’ll throw out “The Spirit of Catholicism” by Karl Adam as a pretty good book on Catholicism, although there may be a few annoying jabs at Protestantism–I don’t remember.

  2. I know it’s not exactly the suggestion you’re looking for, but I think you would do well to read the Westminster Confession and Shorter and Larger Catechisms. It meets the requirements in that the documents are a statement, written by believing Reformed churchmen, that is a summary of what we believe the Bible teaches. The approach I think you should take is to first understand the definitions of our terms and then go back and look at how those concepts are put together to form a system of theology.

  3. This might sound weird but I think the best books are the book of Romans and the book of the Ephesians. Perhaps you need to read it in a very good Protestant study bible like the Life Application Study Bible. But as a Protestant I think the most fundamental truths that I’d want to communicate are salvation by Grace alone and that all Christians are “priests”. And Finally the Making of A Leader by Frank Damazio (http://www.amazon.com/The-Making-Of-A-Leader/dp/0914936840). The first 2 chapters go into historical, theological and believing discussion on how we lost the original concept of what a Christian should be and why we came to rely on those that have a theological degree to do all the “ministering”. Yes, Protestants will say that only the Catholic church does it, but we do it unofficially a lot. Where we see error such as works institutionalized or among a large group it also comes in the individual as well.

  4. “The Orthodox Church” by Timothy (Kallistos) Ware. Author Clark Carlton has a series of books specifically directed towards Protestant (“The way”) and Catholic (“Truth”) readers who want to understand Orthodoxy, as well as a general book (“The Faith”).

  5. For the Mormon case, I recall Bruce Charlton recommending McMurrin’s “Theological Foundations of the Mormon Religion” (http://charltonteaching.blogspot.ca/2013/02/sterling-m-mcmurrin-theological.html), which turned out to have the admirable virtue of being concise.

    I have no idea how closely accurate it is to what actual Mormons believe, but my impression from it ended up being that the doctrinal disagreement between Mormonism and Nicene Christianity is substantial, but a lot less interesting and relevant to ordinary Christian belief than people make it out.

    As far as I could tell, the claims of the Bible are generally taken at face value, and filtered through a sort of commonsense American materialism, without reference to the conclusions of any of the Ecumenical Councils. I found the resulting picture neither particularly outlandish/heretical nor particularly compelling; your mileage will probably vary, though.

    • I would add that, out of the limited amount of material I’ve seen on Mormonism (I take far less interest in it than Bruce Charlton does), McMurrin’s book probably fits Bonald’s criteria of {theologically sophisticated, written by a Mormon, not combative towards mainstream Christianity} most closely. Other materials I’ve seen were either polemical (whether for or against Mormonism), or severely downplayed the points on which Mormonism diverges from Christianity.

      • McMurrin might be worth reading, but he was outside the Mormon mainstream, theologically if not socially.

      • So, you mean to say that McMurrin’s book does not give an accurate description of mainstream-Mormon theology?

        (If not, then I don’t see how McMurrin’s personal beliefs and social position are relevant here.)

      • As a Mormon, I’d say that mainstream Mormon theology doesn’t exist. What Mormons believe isn’t a worked-out philosophical stance but a series of readings of scripture, revelation, pragmatic responses to developments, and the sensus communis of the Mormon people. These can by systematized, but any systematization is beyond the mainstream.

      • I don’t think either one really fits the challenge. How Wide the Divide softpedals some distinctions and Gospel Principles is a Sunday School manual that isn’t set up to address the kinds of questions that theologically informed orthodox Christians would have.

  6. Personally, I think that the best introduction to Orthodoxy, especially for Protestants and Novus Ordo Catholics, is to go and see for oneself what the Eastern Orthodox Divine Liturgy is. During the week if not on Sunday. If not, even vigils in the evenings are something.

    – The most widely known introduction to Orthodoxy is “The Orthodox Church” by Timothy [now Bishop Kallistos] Ware. Earlier editions are better.

    – More detailed one is “Orthodox Dogmatic Theology: A Concise Exposition” by Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky, though it is longer, specifically about dogmatic theology, and more critical of Western Christianity. Though not focused on the last one, it is for more patient readers.

    And Bonald, I completely agree with you. You can’t say you understand, say, Islam, if you can’t explain it’s main ideas/practices to a Muslim who will agree with you. If you are incapable of doing so, you should suspect a distortion of the other’s worldview. Unfortunately, if most people had the honesty and rigour to do this, a majority of the people on the Internet would have to shut up quite often.

  7. The problem with Protestantism is that the leading intellectuals tend to be either Anglicans or liberals, neither of which tend to give you an entirely accurate idea about orthodox Protestantism simpliciter.

    For a basic overview, you might want to try Mark A. Noll’s Protestantism: A Short Introduction. More historical than doctrinal though.

    Louis Bouyer’s Spirit and Forms of Protestantism is by a former Lutheran who converted to Catholicism. Seems to be respected by everybody.

    R.C. Sproul’s What is Reformed Theology? and Essential Truths of the Christian Faith might work though they are focused on the Reformed (Calvinist) end of things. I don’t think they should be too polemical for you in tone, but Sproul is on the more conservative end of Protestantism, so I can’t guarantee you won’t take offense at his characterizations of Catholic doctrine. If you can stomach more polemic, then his Are We Together? might fit the bill.

    Piper is more of a popular preacher than any sort of thinker.

    • Wayne Grudem is John Piper’s more intellectual colleague. His books include Christian Beliefs (160 pages) and Bible Doctrine (500 pages), which might work. The former is within Bonald’s page range, but is a bit oriented towards those at the beginner level.

  8. It’s not exactly what you asked for, but Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic by David B. Currie was written by a former Southern Baptist as a theological defense of why he chose to convert, and highlights the most important differences from a Protestant perspective. I am a former Assemblies of God myself, and can vouch for the authenticity of his viewpoint from the Evangelical perspective (minor dogmatic quibbles between the two denominations notwithstanding).

    • I second Pomazansky and Lossky — anything by Lossky. You may wish to try his _Orthodox Theology: An Introduction_ or his essays in _The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church_. I find Bishop Kallistos (Ware) to be a lovely and wise man, but he is an ecumenist convert from Anglicanism who kept his Anglican manners. He downplays differences with the West and with modernity.

      • That’s why I would recommend earlier editions of his books, where he was less “ecumenically”-correct. The site orthodoxinfo.com has a good review of his book “The Orthodox Church” where some of the book’s ecumenism is corrected.

        And I forgot to mention Vladimir Lossky’s “The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church”, It is much more advanced than Bishop Kallistos’s though. But the theologically-learned bloggers in the Orthosphere will be capable to understand most of it – and the same goes about “Orthodox Dogmatic Theology: A Concise Exposition” by Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky.

        But among these three books, only Bishop Kallistos’s “The Orthodox Church” fills in the category of “for the educated and curious but busy”. It doesn’t even require to be *too much* educated.
        “The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church” touches much more the authentically Eastern Orthodox theological mindset, and that – in detail.
        “Orthodox Dogmatic Theology” is the Eastern Orthodox answers to many Western questions.

  9. My husband recommends “Putting Amazing Back into Grace” by Michael Horton of White Horse Inn, he likes how it refers back to the reformation.

  10. John Stott – Basic Christianity

    This very short and concise volume is maybe the basic frontline systematic text for conservative Protestants of most denominations, but especially evangelicals in both the UK and the USA – written by a man who was sometimes jokingly described as ‘The Pope’ of evangelicals.

  11. First of all, I commend you for wanting to know more about other belief systems. As I read more Catholic writers and bloggers, I have come to the conclusion that their distaste for Protestantism in general, and the Reformed faith (i.e., Calvinism) in particular, while understandable, is misguided, in that they do not show that they understand that which they criticize. In Catholics’ writings, Reformed positions are often reduced to caricatures, and their arguments do little more than knock down straw men.

    This has brought me to the conclusion that I also probably fail to understand Catholicism well enough to disagree with it accurately, though Kristor has done admirable work in explicating some of those beliefs here at the Orthosphere (I’m thinking in particular of the explanation for how Catholics view Christ’s sacrifice at Mass not as a new sacrifice but as part of the one and only sacrifice).

    Of course, none of this is for the purpose of “better” arguments, on my part or yours, for or against any position. I believe the Protestant/Catholic gap to be too large to be bridged, so rather than waste time trying to persuade the unpersuadable, we are better off understanding our own, and others’, creeds.

    Next, I wanted to offer some recommendations.

    For Calvinism in general and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) in particular, I recommend the following pamphlets, each less than 40 pages long:

    What Is the Reformed Faith?, Thomas E. Tyson & G. I. Williamson

    Welcome to the OPC: A Primer on the Orthodox Presbyterian Church*

    What Is the OPC? Basic Information About the Orthodox Presbyterian Church*

    These are available at nominal cost, or as free e-book downloads in various formats from the OPC website. The asterisked ones are available for free to non-members of the OPC.

    Fighting the Good Fight: A Brief History of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, by D. G. Hart & John Muether, while focused on OPC history, is relevant to your topic because it goes over the liberal coup in American Presbyterianism, and the conservative/traditionalist response to it. It also covers some of the salient differences among Protestant denominations, including Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism. It’s just over 200 pages of text.

    The OPC has also made the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms with Proof Texts, recommended above, available on-line and as a free e-book.

  12. For Latter-day Saints, one has to start with the unique LDS canon. Beyond that I would recommend Jesus the Christ and The Articles of Faith by James E. Talmage. These are recognized as LDS classics. A Rational Theology by John A. Widtsoe is another classic exposition. By the Hand of Mormon by Terryl L. Givens is a recent noteworthy book. Of making of many books there is no end.

  13. Sadly, I’ve come to the reluctant conclusion that there are debates and dialogues that just cannot be had honestly between friends, because a friend is too unwilling to “go in for the kill”, as it were; too unwilling to offend the other’s feelings. The only way to truly see the error of an argument is to watch the position be destroyed by someone with no connection or sympathy for the arguer. Regrettably, I believe many theological disputes are like this, which is one reason why I mostly stay away from them with friends.

  14. Dear Bonald: An effective explanation of the theology espoused by the people who currently control the institutions of our Western society is the Necronomicon by the “Mad Arab,” Abdul Alhazred. Unfortunately, copies of this important book are rare; the Necronomicon can only be consulted, by appointment, in the Special Collections of the Library of Miskatonic University and in a vault in a secret sub-sub-basement of National Public Radio.

    Ia ftaghn!


  15. As a Lutheran of a theologically conservative synod, I’d like to point out that we have significant doctrinal differences with the Reformed or Calvinist branch of Protestantism. So much so that we don’t consider ourselves “protestant.” Rather than a book, I would direct you to http://www.wels.net and read thoroughly through “What We Believe” as it’s convenient, free, and accessible to all. But briefly, we differ with our Calvinist friends in that we reject a limited atonement; that is, we believe that God has forgiven the sin of the world through the once-for-all death and resurrection of Jesus and that this forgiveness is appropriated only through faith. I remember long ago when I was a Calvinist sitting at the feet of J.I.Packer (at a Memphis conference) and he expounded on John 3:16 and taught with great care that the “world” was not all men, but just the elect. At any rate, that is just a sample of our differences.

    This is an important enquiry and I wish you well in your pursuit of understanding.

  16. Try We Confess the Church by Hermann Sasse if you’re interested in a presentation of confessional Lutheran understanding by a scholar knowledgeable about patristics and also current developments in world Christianity, notably the Roman church.

    • Quite so, Wurmbrand. I have in my library also “We Confess the Church,” “We Confess Jesus Christ,” and “We Confess The Sacraments.” These tomes are not written to the general reader, it seems to me. But if one is of both a cerebral and scholarly bent, then by all means include them in your survey of Lutheran orthodoxy study.

  17. The classic book regarding Mormon beliefs is Bruce R McConkie’s “Mormon Doctrine”. It is similar in style to a dictionary where you can look up various topics and have them explained. It is currently out of print but easily found on places like ebay.

    Available in print is a more modern book written in a similar style called “LDS Beliefs” by Millet, Skinner, Olsen, Top. Likewise it is in a dictionary format where topics are easily available to look up and study.

    Bruce R McConkie gave an easily found talk at BYU entitled “Seven Deadly Heresies” where he spells out LDS beliefs by using false teachings as starters. “The Three Pillars of Eternity” is another talk of his that lays out the foundations of LDS theology.

  18. Thank you for the suggestions, everyone. I’ve marked down McMurrin (Mormon), Sproul (Calvinist), Lossky (Orthodox), and Sasse (Lutheran) for a first pass. Now that we’ve got this thread saved at the Orthosphere, I’ll have something I can come back to later as well.

      • It’s non-canonical and its written down from memory by people in the audience, so there are several versions floating around that differ substantially from each other.

      • “To the scriptural passages above, I would add Lorenzo Snow’s epigram and Joseph Smith’s statements in the funeral address for King Follett that God is an exalted man. Neither statement is scriptural or canonized in the technical sense, and neither has been explained or elucidated to the church in any official manner, but they are so widely accepted by Latter-day Saints that this technical point has become moot.” – Stephen Robinson

        Robinson, How Wide the Divide?, p. 85-86.


      • I hate to break it to you, but Robinson is also non-canonical.

        Please stop winking. Adopting the pretense of camaraderie in accusing someone of being deceitful is unctuous and oily. You are a son of God–act like it.

      • I hate to break it to you, but Robinson is also non-canonical.

        And before you can say “beside the point” . . .

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  20. Like you I would be interested in seeing something like this; however, I don’t think it is possible.

    John C. Wright, Catholic and a fiction author recently completed a series of blog posts/essays in which he describe why, being a born-again Christian, and initially raised Lutheran prior to being (temporarily) atheist, he chose to join the Catholic Church. The problem with something like the Westminster Shorter Catechism is that it doesn’t pass Wright’s basic test of logical consistency.

    Q: If “The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, [a] is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him,” then where does it say that in those Scriptures?

    A: Nowhere.

    Q: Who wrote the Scriptures?

    A: The (Catholic) Church.

    Q: So the Church had the authority to make Scripture?

    A: (Yes?)

    Q: So when did the Church lose its authority?

    A: (Is there any answer to this that is not nonsense?)

    Joseph Smith is at least logically consistent, claiming that John the Baptist consecrated him as the head of the True Church (a revelation only Smith could attest) and the Apostolic Fathers somehow engaged in a centuries-spanning conspiracy to corrupt the teachings of Christ, which corruptions were somehow supported by the people who actually knew Him in life, as well as hundreds of saints and thousands and thousands of priests and monks and nuns and worshipers over centuries and centuries. Furthermore, like Mohammed, Smith claimed that the True Scripture was revealed to him and only him, along with perhaps a few trusted witnesses, as opposed to what thousands of people attested was actually said by Jesus, whom they saw with their own eyes, and whose words and acts were written down and corroborated by multiple witnesses.

    I don’t have anything against Protestants and Mormons, far from it; it’s just in my experience there are a lot of good, charitable, godly Protestants and Mormons out there who really have not the slightest clue what they are supposed to profess to believe, and would find it absolutely absurd if they ever looked at it rationally.

    This doesn’t mean that the Church is right, but it means the Protestant criticisms of Catholic doctrine necessitate that the Church’s authority be paramount right up until the Protestant schism, or in the case of the LDS or Islam it necessitates the propogation of a multi-century conspiracy of world-spanning proportions, including by the very people who really knew Christ best when He frequented Jerusalem.

    Anyways Wright’s full Apology covers quite a lot of ground, and while he’s Catholic now, he wasn’t raised that way and had been an atheist prior to conversion and beginning his period of “church-shopping”. (His conversion was due to a supernatural experience, as he says, he didn’t have much choice about being Christian, just which denomination of church to join.)

    • As far as I can tell, the responses above amount to,

      1. Read Scripture (written, universally, by Church Fathers) as a means of understanding why the Church they founded is not the real Church. Is this even logically possible?

      2. Read some modern interpretation by someone who figured out this horrible mistake nobody else saw for well over a thousand years, including early Church founders who had seen and heard Christ. This is possible, but absurd.

      Furthermore, not one of these heresies is at all new, but all of them have been seen throughout the history of the Church, but none of their modern adherents thinks that those original heresies were correct, they only think their own interpretation, exactly the same, is true today.

    • As is typical of Catholic critiques of Reformed (i.e., Calvinist) doctrine, Wright misrepresents the position he criticizes, and appears to misunderstand salient features of the Shorter Catechism.

      Q: If “The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, [a] is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him,” then where does it say that in those Scriptures?

      A: Nowhere.

      Let me put it this way.

      God is three Persons in one Godhead. Where does it say that in Scripture? Nowhere. Therefore, according to Wright’s reasoning, we are to reject the Trinity.

      However, I’m certain that both Wright and Mr. de Johnstone believe in the Trinity. If this is the case, then they, like all Christians, believe in something not explicit in Scripture, yet still found in the Bible.

      As it so happens, both the Longer and the Shorter Catechisms are available with Scripture proofs (the link also leads to links to the Westminster Confession of Faith). Here are the first two Q/A points of the Shorter Catechism:

      Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
      A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

      Q. 2. What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?
      A. The word of God, which is contained in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.

      The proofs for Q/A 1 are found in 1 Corinthians 10:31 and Psalm 73:25-26; the proofs for Q/A 2 are in Ephesians 2:20, 2 Timothy 3:16, and 1 John 1:3. As Alan Roebuck put it, “[confessions and catechisms have] authority only by virtue of being a faithful summary of what the Bible teaches, the Bible being the supreme (and only inerrant) authority on every subject about which it speaks.” (Prof. Roebuck notes that this is the true meaning of sola scriptura.) For confessional Protestants, the points in the Shorter Catechism are in Scripture, in exactly the same way that the Trinity is: not explicit, but inferrable.

      Q: Who wrote the Scriptures?

      A: The (Catholic) Church.

      This is one of those unbridgeable gaps between Protestants and Catholics. I don’t find it productive to hash them out on the Orthosphere, as no one is going to convince anyone else that his position is wrong. However, since the attack was made, I feel it necessary to defend the Protestant position.

      For Protestants, the assertion that the Catholic Church wrote the Bible puts the Catholic Church above the Bible in authority, and therefore above God. However, as noted above, Protestants believe that the Bible is from God, not man, and that since it is the inerrant word of God, it is the ultimate authority (on those topics it addresses). We believe this is based, in part, on 2 Timothy 3:16: All Scripture is breathed out by God. Men no more wrote the Bible than my computer wrote this post; in both cases, an intermediate tool was used. In the case of the Bible, the Holy Spirit moved the various authors of the books of the Bible to write God’s word, just as the Holy Spirit gave the ability to speak in foreign languages to the Apostles.

      Q: So when did the Church lose its authority?

      A: (Is there any answer to this that is not nonsense?)

      Yes. The Catholic Church never had the authority; it has always rested with God.

      Again, this is an unbridgeable gap: Catholics believe in the authority of the Magisterium; Protestants reject it. There’s little value in trying to hash this out, because for most believers, their position is axiomatic, backed up by tradition and arguments.

      it means the Protestant criticisms of Catholic doctrine necessitate that the Church’s authority be paramount right up until the Protestant schism

      Another misrepresentation. It’s called the Reformation because Luther, Calvin, Wycliffe, and others saw the need to reform what they perceived to be the errors of the Catholic Church. For Protestants, the Catholic Church had already gone wrong and was persisting in its errors, hence the need for reform (change to a better state; put an end to abuses; cause to abandon wrong conduct).

      Like Mr. de Johnstone, I have nothing against Catholics, but in my experience, there are a lot of good, charitable, godly Catholics who who really have not the slightest clue what they are supposed to profess to believe, and would find it absolutely absurd if they ever looked at it in light of the clear teachings of the Bible that contradict what the Catholic Church teaches. (My apologies for the paraphrase.)

      • One more thing.

        Q: So the Church had the authority to make Scripture?

        A: (Yes?)

        From the Protestant point of view, the answer is No. No human or human institution has that authority; only God does. Again, we turn to Scripture for the justification of that position: 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19-21; and Deuteronomy 4:2, amongst others.

        Again, I’m not trying to re-fight the religious wars that wracked Europe here. I’m just pointing out that in the Protestant-Catholic schism, the axioms held by on each side render the other side’s position patently false, even nonsensical, and this is why we gain nothing by our internecine strife. Indeed, that strife weakens us in our fight against our common enemies: liberalism and Islam. Let’s worry more about the forces that threaten our destruction than each other.

    • “Joseph Smith is at least logically consistent, claiming that John the Baptist consecrated him as the head of the True Church (a revelation only Smith could attest) and the Apostolic Fathers somehow engaged in a centuries-spanning conspiracy to corrupt the teachings of Christ, which corruptions were somehow supported by the people who actually knew Him in life, as well as hundreds of saints and thousands and thousands of priests and monks and nuns and worshipers over centuries and centuries . . . . . . .the case of the LDS or Islam it necessitates the propogation of a multi-century conspiracy of world-spanning proportions, including by the very people who really knew Christ best when He frequented Jerusalem.”

      1. Peter, James, and John. Not John the Baptist.
      2. You don’t understand the LDS position on the interruption of authority very well. There wouldn’t need to be a centuries-spanning conspiracy or indeed any conspiracy at all. People can err, collectively and individually, without there being a cabal, especially a continuing cabal. Also, while Mormonism has no particular doctrine on when the interrruption in authority had irremediably occurred, most suggestions range from around the 2nd C. to the 4th C. No one but no one suggests that it occurred with the Apostles or the original disciples.

      As for Protestants, well, I see your point about accepting the authority of scripture while rejecting the scripture-creating body. But I suppose that sophisticated Protestants would claim that the Holy Spirit guided them aright. After all, if God could use Assyrians as part of his providence, and could use brawls and politicking and state power in the early Church councils (as I think you believe), then He may even use-gasp-Catholics.

      • Adam,

        I don’t think it’s appropriate to call the early church the Catholic Church, in that the various institutions and doctrines that characterize Catholicism were not yet fully developed (though I’m far from knowledgeable in this area, and couldn’t really put a date on when the Catholic Church started). Also, many Protestants respect the works of great churchmen like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, so I don’t think there is a general issue regarding God’s use (as you put it) of Catholics.

        But I suppose that sophisticated Protestants would claim that the Holy Spirit guided them aright .

        It’s not sophistry; it’s Scripture. 2 Peter 1:21: “For no prophesy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Only God’s authorship of the Bible can explain the unity of a 66-volume book written in three languages by 40 authors over a millennium and a half.

  21. Re: Mormonism- do you want early Mormon history and doctrine or the modern church’s version? The Discourses of Brigham Young are amazing as are the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith but the modern day LDS church has abandoned a lot of older teachings so many Latter-Day Saints wouldn’t suggest older resources and rightfully so as it doesn’t reflect the modern church (an example of this mindset is found upthread re: the King Follett Discourse). Of course there are many sects of Mormonism (little known fact) and the different Fundamentalist branches (there are far more than just the FLDS) still adhere to the old teachings. If you are interested in that as well this is a great source http://journalofdiscourses.com/ I will warn you, though, that the mainstream LDS church isn’t upfront about its history. You really have to find better sources then things from the Ensign or church manuals with regards to the history of the church from the beginning.

    Rough Stone Rolling is a really great biography of Joseph Smith. It’s written by a member of the LDS church (a Patriarch, in fact http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patriarch_(Latter_Day_Saints)) but he doesn’t whitewash or glorify Smith (which has angered some in the modern mainstream church). Anything at all by Hugh Nibley. Much of his stuff is available online here http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/authors/?authorID=2

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