Friday, June 29, 2012

Book Review: Offenders for a Word by Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks

The subtitle for this book is How Anti-Mormons Play Word Games to Attack the Latter-day Saints, and that about sums up the book right there. This book is not for the faint of heart as it is packed full of scholarly references, page numbers, author lists, historical references, philosophical and theological terms and esoteric arguments. The book Offenders for a Word is essentially a collection of responses and research that the two authors collected over many years in response to numerous and dishonest attacks from anti-Mormons. They make no attempt to sugar coat their topic and respond to all the accusations with blunt force.

Even though there are a large number of topics covered, many of them are very similar and thus there does appear to be some repetition, but that is the nature of the topic they are dealing with. I would not recommend this book so someone who is struggling with their testimony (unless they are a serious scholar and like reading dense books), but it is a very good book to have as reference for someone who is helping people who are struggling with their testimonies due to an over exposure of anti-Mormon literature. The book can be used as a reference to draw ideas from and to get the facts straight and to understand and frame the arguments so that a more honest and enlightening discussion can be had.

Because this is a book written in response to a set of polarizing and (let's face it) dishonest anti-Mormon works it does have the tendency to draw out that polarization. This means that this WOULD NOT BE A GOOD BOOK TO GIVE TO MISSIONARIES, they have a different work to do and should not be arguing polarizing topics. Nor would this be a good book to give to someone who is only slightly interested in the Church, and would definitely not be a good book to give to someone who is already antagonistic towards the Church. But this book can be used as a reference to frame a discussion, but that discussion should be done in such a way as to minimize the polarization.

The bulk of the book is a section that deals with the question, "Are Mormons Christian?" The general thrust of the response looks at all the reasons why Mormons are accused of not being Christians and then goes through Christian history and finds examples of Christians who believed the exact same thing or at least something similar but were not (and still aren't) accused of being non-Christians. To which the authors argue, "If they can be called Christian, then why can't we?"

For a large portion of the first section of the book the authors go through 22 specific claims made by anti-Mormon authors about why Mormons are not Christians and give detailed, referenced (with extensive footnotes) responses to each claim. It was a bit of a hassle switching between the text and the very extensive footnotes, where a lot of the interesting stuff was.

All the claims that the authors respond to can be broken down into two categories, those that are demonstrably false (or that rely on a very false and skewed interpretation of what happened), and those that come down to nothing more than a difference of opinion. An example of the former would be, "Mormonism is non-Christian because, in the nineteenth century, it practiced the hideous doctrine of blood atonement--killing heretics, adulterers, and the like." The response to that one was simple and short. An example of the latter would be, "Christianity teaches creation ex nihilo. Mormonism does not. Therefore, Mormonism is not Christian." That one took a little longer to explain.

One thing that I found interesting about the book was that a large number of the things that are used to exclude Mormons from Christianity can also apply to Catholics (which the authors note, by pointing out that many of the "Christian" ministries that write the anti-Mormon literature also accuse Catholicism of being a non-Christian cult. Interesting.). Another thing pointed out by the authors is that if one were to take the criteria used by the anti-Mormons in determining who could or could not be Christian then those criteria would end up excluding just about the entire population of Christians in the world from being Christian. In some cases the restrictions are so severe that it would restrict Christianity to one specific pastor and his church. The authors argue that if a definition of Christianity goes so far that in excludes a majority of Christians in the world, or even nearly all Christians in the world (and in the extreme case exclude Christ himself) then perhaps that definition of Christian is not an honest definition and should not be used in determining who is or is not Christian.

Overall the book was informative, if a little dense (and repetitive) but good. I would use it as a reference if I were helping someone who had been overexposed to anti-Mormon literature and was at a loss with how to respond.


robin marie said...

nice review - sounds like an interesting read. my best friend's father in law is one of the authors!

Amy said...

I had the two of them (Peterson and RIcks) for a team-taught class. And of course the whole field of Mormon apologetics is in an uproar right now, centering around Dan Peterson, but I'm trying my hardest to ignore all of that. The book sounds interesting. Thanks for the review.