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E. Johnson (Sandy, UT)

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Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith
Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith
by Jon Krakauer
Edition: Hardcover
72 used & new from CDN$ 2.50

46 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Polygamy, Fundamentalists, and the history of the west, Jan. 15 2004
Well-known author Jon Krakauer (Into Thin Air, Into the Wild) originally wanted to write a book titled History and Belief that would focus "on the uneasy, highly charged relationship between the LDS Church and its past." In this not-yet-written book, he planned to see "how does a critical mind reconcile scientific and historical truth with religious doctrine? How does one sustain belief when confronted with facts that appear to refute it?"
Instead of writing this book, though, Krakauer's research led him to write about the dual July 24, 1984 murders committed by the infamous Lafferty brothers (Ron and Dan) in American Fork, Utah. The story told in Under the Banner of Heaven (paperback comes out July 2004) is both intriguing and revealing. In fact, Krakauer makes it very evident that the Laffertys not only held fast to Mormon fundamentalism and a deep-seeded belief in polygamy, but they were also closely aligned with the thinking of numerous early Mormon leaders, especially Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, the first two LDS prophets.
Krakauer opens the book by giving background information on the night when the actual murders that occurred. Ron and Dan brutally ambushed their younger brother Allan's infant daughter and his wife, Brenda, whom they blamed for causing Ron's wife to leave for Florida. The murders are not exactly described until the latter part of the book, but it should be understood that graphic details are given...and it's not a pretty sight.
However, this is more than just a tale centering on the Laffertys. Throughout the book, as the account is unfurled describing how the Laffertys got to the point of cold-blooded murder and thinking their actions were God-ordained, Krakauer weaves in the basic history of the LDS Church, starting with LDS founder Joseph Smith in chapter 5. Events such as Carthage, Mountain Meadow (he points out that only later was it called "Meadows"), and the Manifesto are detailed.
Krakauer intersperses the historical aspects of Mormonism with the different interpretations of this religion as explained by numerous leaders. Since many fundamentalists place special emphasis on polygamy, Krakauer highlights the more well-known polygamous individuals such as LeRoy Johnson, Brian David Mitchell (who kidnapped Elizabeth Smart), Tom Green, and the LeBarons. Displayed are the many problems associated with polygamy including incest, spousal abuse, septuagenarians marrying teenagers, and the stealing from the government.
Although the general history is accurate and can be easily supported, this book is not meant to be a historical work. In fact, Krakauer utilizes other researchers such as Fawn Brodie (No Man Knows My History), Will Bagley (Blood of the Prophets), and D. Michael Quinn. Thus, anyone hoping for new historical nuggets may be disappointed (though I did learn a few new things). Truly this book is tailor-made for the person who doesn't have a deep understanding of Mormonism's roots.
One thing that Krakauer does not provide is the in-text citations of his sources. Instead, he merely uses asterisks and provides the footnoted information at the bottom of the page. No resource/page number addresses are provided, meaning that the reader has to take the author's word for it. While there may be a place for these kinds of books, this type of documentation drives researchers who thrive on specific source/page information crazy. At the same time, Krakauer makes some very astute observations that show how he understands the many inconsistencies in Joseph Smith's philosophical system.
Under the Banner of Heaven, which hit the presses in July 2003, has infuriated many Mormons who consider this tome as an affront to their faith. After all, how dare the author insinuate that these Mormon Fundamentalists are even faintly related to the only true church on earth, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints! Yet this thinking is quite flawed. As the author insinuates, if Smith and Young were to return to the earth today, certainly they would recognize the Fundamentalist churches as being more authentic than the LDS Church and its structure. Why should we think so poorly of these modern-day polygamists when their attitude is certainly shared by those who guided the church in the early years?
He has a point, though Mormons have flooded the Internet with their ranting protests. For instance, many of the more than 300+ reviews of this book on are LDS critics complaining that Krakauer is somehow anti-Mormon and therefore must have a vendetta against the Church. Thus, many of these reviewers give the book a "one star" rating and display their ignorance with archaic reviews, which clearly show they never read the book. This proves that there are many Mormons who are more concerned with their religion's public relations image rather than history or, egad, the truth. While Krakauer is an agnostic/atheist and is certainly no friend to Christianity, I believe that he holds no bigoted bent against the LDS Church.
Overall, I recommend this book, especially for those who would like to better understand the polygamist mindset that can be found throughout the western United States. Since I personally know polygamists from Utah, I commend Krakauer for accurately displaying the mentality that characterizes many of these sincere folk (i.e. "it's us against the world"). The only caution I would give is that the book is quite graphic when it comes to the description of the murders and the language used by the Lafferty boys.
Finally, though I certainly disagree with Krakauer on theology, I would like to encourage Krakauer to pursue the book he originally set out to write. Of course, Mormons will once again color him with that dirty "anti-Mormon" label, but I for one would be an interested observer should he ever complete that book.
And one last thing. More than 30 people have given this review negative ratings. I'm thinking this is so because you disagree with my point of view. However, you should not rate books based on whether or not you agree with the reviewer. Did I provide information that helped you decide whether or not you ought to buy this book? I think I have. Please be fair in your feedback...thanks.

In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith
In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith
by Todd Compton
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 51.22
11 used & new from CDN$ 44.72

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The plain truth about Smith's polygamous ways, Aug. 23 2003
Todd Compton, who has a Ph.D. from UCLA in classics, has outdone himself with this book. Written from a factual perspective while incorporating the individual story of each woman who married the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith, this book is interesting reading for Mormon or nonMormon alike. Although Latter-day Saint Mormons have not officially practiced polygamy since 1890 (still, many who belong to splinter groups and follow Smith continue its practive even today), having relations with more than one woman is a foundational piece upon which the Mormon Church was built.
Although Compton is more conservative than others when it comes to how many wives Smith had--he says 33 while others count more than 50--the author shows that these women married Smith in secret ceremonies in order to keep his wife Emma from finding out. Smith also convinced them to have his children, oftentimes while they were married to their original husbands. (This is better classified as polyandry rather than polygamy.) In essence, Smith had relations with each of his wives at his personal convenience. Generally these women did not live with him, and when they did, they did not live openly as wives but rather as helpers around his home. It was Brigham Young who first flaunted his polygamous ways. So, in all actuality, they were merely Smith's play toys in the name of God, allowing him to have a variety of sexual partners with little responsibility for his actions. His first plural wife, Fanny Alger, was only 14 when he (in his late 20s) married her in 1833, well before the "revelation" on polygamy that he received in the early 1840s.
Most of Smith's marriages took place in Nauvoo, ILL, and after he was martyred in 1844, the lives of these women took many different directions, which Compton details through diaries and historical records. Ranging in age from 14 to 54, these women were "colorful, tragic figures," as Compton puts it. The vast majority of these women are painted in lonely colors. All in all, I would say that I did not read one of Compton's stories that made me feel like polygamy helped any particular wife reach her potential. Instead, I only saw sadness and despair regarding the effects of polygamy. Perhaps this is why many of his wives later campaigned against polygamy in their later years.
I recommend "Sacred Loneliness" for those readers who are interested in the real story of Joseph Smith's wives and the reality of their many hardships. Indeed Smith's actions should never be considered a fun little innocent hobby. Instead, it served as nothing more than benefitting Joseph Smith.

The Challenge of Bible Translation: Communicating God's Word to the World
The Challenge of Bible Translation: Communicating God's Word to the World
by Kenneth L. Barker
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 31.99
14 used & new from CDN$ 25.39

4.0 out of 5 stars In honor of the eminent Dr. Youngblood, Aug. 3 2003
I have been one of numerous people influenced by the teaching ministry of Dr. Ronald Youngblood, a man whom I call both a gentleman and a scholar. This book is comprised of 21 essays that were dedicated to Dr. Youngblood's honor. Personally I have been taught by several of the contributors(James Smith, Mark Strauss, Walter Wessel). Thus, for me, reading through this compilation was a delight because of my familiarity with these people during my time in the mid-1980s/early 1990s at Bethel Seminary San Diego. Dr. Youngblood's mastery in the classroom as well as his style (nobody has a more dry sense of humor, as any student of his can attest) and scholarship are duly noted in these pages.
As far as this book's collection of essays goes, most of the topics are only going to interest the biblical scholars. If you're not familiar with the ancient languages and other technical writing, the vast majority of this book will have little impact. Personally, I did not bother reading a quarter of the essays from their beginning to end because the individual content of these particular chapters just did not interest me.
However, this is not to say that there are not some jewels here. In fact, let me briefly mention four of my favorite essays. First, chapter 3 by D.A. Carson ("The limits of functional equivalence in Bible translation--and other limits, too") gives a good history of the gender-neutral debate, especially as the Today's New International Version (TNIV) is concerned. This is an informative chapter for those not very familiar with the background of the TNIV controversy, and thus I recommend it.
A second essay was the book's next chapter by Mark Strauss ("Current issues in the gender-language debate: A response to Vern Plythress and Wayne Grudem"). I liked it because: a) it was cutting edge and not just a rehash of previous work, which a number of these essays were; b) it deals with the current TNIV controversy from the perspective of Dr. Strauss, who does a good job answering his (and the TNIV) critics. Even if you disagree with Dr. Strauss, one must admit that his points are worthy of consideration.
Third, I liked Dick France's chapter 7 ("The Bible in English: An Overview"). Of course, general overviews of the translation of the Bible are a dime a dozen, and some may criticize its inclusion. However, I think that this was one of the most interesting and informative overviews on Bible translation I have ever read.
Finally, I appreciated John Stek's chapter 10 ("The New International Version: How it Came to Be"). This is one of the most detailed histories of the NIV in a short-order format. Based on the faithfulness of God and those (including Dr. Youngblood) who responded to His calling, I believe the process of the NIV translation was quite ethical and completed in a godly fashion. Perhaps this is why God has blessed its use throughout the world.
Each person is different and may find other chapters to be of more interest, but for me, these four essays made the purchase of this book worthwhile. May God continue to bless the work of Dr. Youngblood, and may we continue to work through the texts of scripture provided to us by God Himself.

God's Secretaries: The Making Of The King James Bible
God's Secretaries: The Making Of The King James Bible
by Adam Nicolson
Edition: Hardcover
43 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

2.0 out of 5 stars Mediocre treatment, a dry read, July 7 2003
I picked this book up when I read a positive review in a local newspaper. It sounded like a book that would be very interesting. However, I was wrong. Nicolson's style tends to drag, and when he decided to include major quotes in the exact language from the 17th century--well, I, for one could not understand what most of the quotes were saying without studying each one. Two-thirds of the way through the book, I gave up and didn't finish it, which is very unlike me. Rarely do I quit a book when I have made such an investment of time and money.
Now that I've had my appetite whetted on this subject of translating the KJV, I might need to look for other treatments, as I've heard there are some better overviews. So I'm sorry, but I just have to say that I was disappointed in God's Secretaries and am therefore not able to recommend it.

Answering Jewish Objections To Jesus: General and Historical Objections
Answering Jewish Objections To Jesus: General and Historical Objections
by Michael Brown
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 28.89
24 used & new from CDN$ 13.51

5.0 out of 5 stars Something to use when sharing with Jewish friends, June 18 2003
I really don't remember if I have ever seen a book solely dedicated to evangelizing the Jews, but Michael Brown has provided this resource to us. This is the first of his three volumes, with the final volume being released in 2003. (Boy, I sure wish that we could have had the opportunity to buy one large combined volume; it's no fun trying to remember which of the three books where you saw something and then try to reference the point.) I plan on reading the other two volumes as well. Although there were some places where the writing is a little dry and hard to stay focused, overall I appreciated the questions that were raised and how Brown was able to answer them. I like the fact that Brown is a Jewish Christian, so while some of his brethren may not consider him to be a true "Jew," I think he probably has more authority than a typical "goyyim" like me! His sympathy of the Jewish mindset was very much appreciated. Overall, this book is an excellent resource and has found a place on my bookshelf. I will read the other two volumes and utilize Brown's arguments in the years to come.

The Passover Plot: A New Interpretation of the Life and Death of Jesus
The Passover Plot: A New Interpretation of the Life and Death of Jesus
by Hugh J. Schonfield
Edition: Paperback
22 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

2.0 out of 5 stars Apparently it's not supposed to be a fictional book, June 18 2003
In this book Hugh Schonfield delivers a theory that portrays Jesus as a deceiver who bent the rules in order to fulfill prophecy. According to Schonfield's story, Jesus planned His own resurrection, which was apparently foiled when He was accidentally pierced on the cross by a soldier. However, the disciples--what would a dead Jesus look like anyway? Schonfield asks--wanted so badly to believe in the resurrection that they mistakenly thought they saw Jesus and began what we today call Christianity.
Pity the poor Christians today, Schonfield seems to be saying. Here they are, believing in a nonhistorical fairy tale. If his story is correct, then the Christian is truly the most pitied of all people, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:1ff. But if he is wrong, there is a terrible price to pay. Yet I believe that history shows the swoon theory, the wrong tomb theory, or even the spiritual resurrection theory as much more likely possibilities than what Schonfield has to offer.
In effect, Schonfield is calling into question the integrity of both Jesus and his disciples. Was Jesus really a deceiver? Was He looking for popularity? If so, then why did He not accept the accolades of the people that He received on Palm Sunday and just become their political ruler? Certainly it could have ended no more tragically than what really took place. Jesus' popularity would have given Him an edge in trying to overthrow the Roman government in the Judean region, and perhaps He could have been more successful than the many other "messiahs" who, for the most part, were all unsuccessful and eventually lost their lives. But to claim that Jesus was in this for the power or because He Himself was under dillusional thoughts is not very historical at all.
Another problem with Schonfield's theory is that there were many events not under Jesus' control for this theory to take place. Here is a man whose very birth was predicted in scripture (Isaiah 7:14; Micah 5:2). What He would say on the cross and other circumstances of His death were also very clearly predicted (Psalm 22, Isaiah 53). His life fulfilled these things. Despite His death and the "plot" wallowing in shambles, everything is supposed to work out just right? Are we to believe that Thomas really touches Jesus, but this really wasn't Jesus? (John 20:26ff) So why does Thomas take the gospel message to India and die a martyr's death? To make everything work, Thomas and the other disciples must have been complete dolts, which is the only possible way it would have worked. With Jesus out of the picture, there is no way in the world this could have fooled so many different people, including the more than 500 who saw Jesus at one time (1 Cor. 15:1-7).
All in all, I believe that a person will have to own a lot of faith in order to believe The Passover Plot. If the author was not serious about his research, it would almost be a fun theory. But Schonfield shows how far off a person can get by reading into history and creating one's own "what if" theory. To me, believing in the many eyewitness accounts of Jesus' resurrection appearances, the evidence of the power of changed lives because of this resurrection, and a tomb where no body could be found is a much better risk of faith than believing anything Schonfield has to offer. Unless you're curious to see how Schonfield explains his theory, I just don't recommend this book.

Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life's Greatest Lesson
Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life's Greatest Lesson
by Mitch Albom
Edition: Paperback
194 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Watch out so nobody sees you cry, June 8 2003
Whether you are the sentimental type--which I'm not--or just the opposite, anyone with a heart will appreciate Albom's book about his relationship during the last days with his old sociology professor, Morrie Schwartz. Written in a short, easy to plow through style, "Tuesdays with Morrie" tugs at the heart strings as we see Albom discover a new side of himself that he had ignored for the previous two decades. I like the honesty of the book as professor and old student dealt with the sensitive issue of death. I hope that I would/will be able to deal with death as Morrie did rather than deal with it by hiding under the covers, which is not the way we were meant to leave this life.
One thing I would have liked to have had more insight on was Morrie's religious beliefs. Besides showing his Jewishness and referring to God several times (for instance, Morrie felt God "overdid it" when it came to the story of Job), we never really know if Morrie was atheist, agnostic, orthodox Jew, or what. Maybe Morrie was not really open about his religious views, but I think his philosophy in this area would have been very interesting to many. Otherwise, this is a fine book that can easily be read in two short sittings. I highly recommend it as it will cause you to reflect on your own mortality and the things that make this life worthwhile (i.e. relationships with other people).

Same Sex Controversy, The: Defending and Clarifying the Bible's Message About Homosexuality
Same Sex Controversy, The: Defending and Clarifying the Bible's Message About Homosexuality
by James White
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 24.22
30 used & new from CDN$ 9.52

5.0 out of 5 stars Good rebuttals to the homosexual arguments, May 31 2003
White and Niell give a good biblical response to those who want to promote a "homosexual Christian" lifestyle. For those in this camp who believe in the authority of the Bible, they ought to consider the cogent arguments offered by these gentlemen.
At this point I wish to disagree with the several reviewers before me (from Virginia and Canada) who criticized the book. As far as not answering all homosexual arguments, the writer from Virginia lists two:
1) Jesus did not mention homosexuality (well, they basically answered this when they said that not everything is listed in the Bible, i.e. pediaphilia, Trinity, etc. Just because something is not specifically named does not make it wrong if the principle is there. The gospels don't specifically have Jesus naming many things as wrong, though he certainly would have thought they were);
2) The issue of the "love" shared between Jonathan and David. (There is absolutely nothing in the context of the relationship between these men to hint at anything erotic between them; it seems to be such a ludicrous argument that it hardly needs a response.)
As far as the argument that the authors already had their minds up and did not take the scripture to heart--as the critique from Canada says--this is an unbelievable statement! Everything about The Same Sex Controversy deals with scripture. It is up to the pro-homosexual advocate to show where in scripture the Bible endorses or promotes homosexual behavior. Besides inuendo and far stretches, there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that the biblical commands were not meant for all time, such as for today.
For those who want answers in response to the homosexual agenda, I would recommend The Same Sex Controversy. The only thing the book lacks is a scripture index in the back. However, the authors probably felt this was not needed because the main passages referring to homosexuality (i.e. Leviticus 18, Romans 1, etc.) are listed in the "Contents" section. Besides this, I will keep the book on my shelf as a reference tool for this issue.

In the Presence of My Enemies
In the Presence of My Enemies
by Gracia Burnham
Edition: Hardcover
49 used & new from CDN$ 0.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A story of a courageous woman and her heroic husband, May 18 2003
Martin and Gracia Burnham lived a year of hell with an integrity that I would hope I would have if, God forbid, I ever had to go through a similar circumstance. This book is an encouragement to persevere regardless of the circumstances put in our paths. While I do not know Gracia and never met Martin, I did spend a week with Martin's parents in the Ibaloi tribe (Philippines) back in 1983. Based on my short time with Martin's parents, I can see why Martin was as strong of a person as his wife portrays him as being. I also was part of a work team that helped in the construction of a two-story school building at Aritao, a small missionary village/air base located on the main Philippine island of Luzon that was often mentioned throughout the book because it was home to the Burnhams and their children.
I also want to commend Dean Merrill for helping make this a book that even a 4th grader could understand and follow. I appreciate the "rosters" of the three dozen characters in the front of the book. This is the map for the reader to understand the personalities and backgrounds of the Abu Sayyaf and the hostages. Without this, the book would have been utterly confusing. The reader ought to keep his finger there for quick reference.
Finally, I was tickled to see where Gracia dedicated "In the Presence" to those who prayed for her and Martin during their year-long ordeal. I was one who tried to pray regularly from the time I first heard about the kidnapping. It was ironic for me when I read how Gracia believed that her prayers were almost for naught late in the ordeal. This was probably around the same time (early 2002) that I questioned God about "how much longer do I have to pray" before He would have something happen. The more time that elapsed after the initial kidnapping, the more I began to doubt that either of them would survive, especially because I remembered praying for the three NTM missionaries in South America through many years before finding out that they had been killed.
Thanks, Gracia, for sharing your story and being an encouragement for many Christians. My feeling is, if this humble servant can make it through her ordeal and retain her faith, I can make it through whatever the Lord puts my way!

Jesus' Resurrection: Fact or Figment?: A Debate Between William Lane Craig and Gerd Ludemann
Jesus' Resurrection: Fact or Figment?: A Debate Between William Lane Craig and Gerd Ludemann
by Paul Copan
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 21.36
26 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars No contest, Craig shows strong case, May 2 2003
While only a fifth of this book involves the actual debate between William Lane Craig and Gerd Ludemann, it was the highlight of a book that also includes articles from others commenting on the points made in the debate. Unfortunately, I didn't feel Lundemann was on the same page as Craig, who laid out a clear and concise plan of why the historical resurrection is true. At the time of the debate, Ludemann apparently considered himself to be a Christian, though he has apparently changed his mind since this debate and now declares himself a nonbeliever. Ludemann has a theory (hallucination) that I just don't see how everything matches up. Ludemann does not seem to give an adequate explanation to many important points made by Craig. Except for a disconnect on the actual debate, though, the book is worth a read for those wanting two sides to the issue of Christianity's most important claim.

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