Abraham's Seed and Covenant - The Story of the Sacred Lineage of the Human Race
Douglas T. Bentley
Cedar Fort , 2003. Quality Paperback:
Suggested retail price: $12.95 (US)
Let me begin this review with the biographical information given on theback cover:
Douglas T. Bentley was born and raised in St. George, Utah, and heserved an LDS mission in Washington and Oregon. He received abachelor's degree from Southern Utah University and a master's degreefrom Idaho State University. He is currently in his third decadeteaching in the Church Educational System. He and his wife Deonn havefour children.
Also on the back cover is an endorsement from Kenneth Preston, owner of R&Kbooks:
This book is a must for every missionary to read before they enter themission field! It is also a valuable resource for the Gospel Doctrineteacher, or for any person who wants to understand the gospel better."
And finally, there is a Foreword by Herbert C. Davis that begins with thefollowing statement:
As a convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at theage of 50 years, I can say without hesitation that I would have beenlight years ahead in my understanding of the restored gospel of JesusChrist as recorded in the Book of Mormon, if I first had theopportunity to read Abraham's Seed and Covenant before I had met withthe LDS missionaries. (p. xv)
I shall return to these thoughts a bit later.
The logical flow of this book emerges very quickly:
1. God set apart a race, beginning with father Abraham, through whichsalvation would come to the world.
2. Israel was chosen to be the nation commissioned by God to bringblessing to all humanity.
3. Israel failed in its mission. And while the writings of Judah survivedand have been readily available for centuries, the writings, or "stick," ofJoseph, remained hidden until the early 19th century.
4. The early Christian church likewise failed, and authority to performsaving audiences was taken from the earth. A "restoration" was needed, butthe recovery of the "stick of Joseph" must first occur. This happened withthe translating of the Book of Mormon.
5. No other church claims to have the "stick of Joseph." No other churchclaims to have sole authority for the administering of saving ordinances.Therefore, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints must be the oneTrue Church upon the earth.
Does any of this sound familiar? In fact, does all of this soundfamiliar? It should. If you've attended Seminary, Institute, SundaySchool, Relief Society, Sacrament meeting, etc., you've heard it before.Even if you've only taken the missionary discussions, you've heard it.
In other words, I couldn't find anything new in this book. So why writethe book? Why publish it? Does this book add to the store of knowledgeprovided by manuals and missionary discussions?
As best as I can see, Abraham's Seed and Covenant was written to carrythe reader through sacred history, focusing on the concept of "birthright"and how a correct understanding of birthright inevitably leads the readerto an acceptance of the claims of the Church. This is a high goal, andone, I believe, almost impossible to achieve. Along the way, the readermust be convinced that all the links that connect the sacred events are a)present and b) unambiguous. A lofty goal, indeed.
One danger that such writers must avoid is the trap of presuppositionalapologetics -- assuming the outcome of your argument and using the outcomeas part of the argument. Inasmuch as Bentley's audience is likely thealready-convinced, this may not be so serious a flaw. But recalling thewords of the Foreword, of what value would such a work be prior toreceiving the missionary discussions and coming to belief?
If I may coin a phrase, what we're seeing here is the "Baldwin effect."James Baldwin, the brilliant and controversial author who passed awayrecently, offers an interesting insight in his autobiographical The FireNext Time. As a young boy, he attended a largely white, Jewish school.As a black son of a Baptist minister, he was clearly in the minority. Hisfather had him bring fire-and-hell tracts to school, to try to "save" theJewish kids. Most of the children tossed the tracts into the trash. Laterin life, reflecting on this, Baldwin realized that the only ones who wouldhave been convinced by anything in those tracts were the ones who alreadybelieved what was in the tracts.
The "Baldwin effect" is in strong evidence in Abraham's Seed andCovenant. Let's take a few examples:
Jeremiah 1:4-5 is a powerful evidence of the pre-mortal existence ofman. The Lord told him that he knew him before he was formed in hismother's womb. (p. 33)
Now, sit in the seat of a person who is not LDS, who is not convinced ofLDS doctrine, including the concept of the pre-existence of man. IsJeremiah 1 "powerful evidence"? I think not. If you are not LDS, butperhaps an evangelical, you believe that God sees past, present and futuresynoptically. Thus God can "know" you long before you come into existence.Who will consider this "powerful evidence"? The one who already believesin the pre-existence.
Another example, discussing baptism for the dead:
This is done by those still living, by proxy. This might sound like astrange practice, but it was a part of the Lord's gospel, anciently:"Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the deadrise not at all, why are they then baptized for the dead?" (1Corinthians 15:29) As we can see, this was a practice in the originalchurch. (p. 81)
"As we can see"? Who is the "we"? The "we" is clearly those whoalready believe in the concept of proxy baptism. A quick look at theentry for baptism for the dead in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism would haveshown the author that there is considerable scholarly disagreement over themeaning of Paul's words in 1 Corinthians.
I'm focusing on this "Baldwin effect" idea largely because of the way thebook itself is framed, both on the back cover and in the Foreword. I couldhave cited many other examples of where the author presupposes the outcome,convincing me that this book really has no proselyting value beyond whatthe missionaries teach.
And there's the rub. This isn't a bad book. It's is written on a popularlevel. The story is easy to follow. However, it is, in my view, anunnecessary book. It breaks no new ground, formulates no new methods orapproaches to the Gospel. It could have been produced by cutting andpasting existing manuals.
This does not at all address the rightness (or wrongness) of hisconclusions, only that which he believes is compelling evidence. If yourevidentiary base will only convince the already-convinced, then its valuein proselyting is questionable.
Inasmuch as the author is in his third decade of teaching within the Churcheducational system, are we to assume that this teaching has produced no newinsights that he might have incorporated into his book? This would be asurprise. Teaching should encourage curiosity and scholarly pursuit. Butconsider the following "List of Sources," as presented near the close ofthe book, on page 123:King James Bible: Old Testament/New TestamentLDS Bible DictionaryThe Book of MormonThe Doctrine and CovenantsThe Pearl of Great PriceReligion 302 Institute St. ManualOld Testament: Holy Land and Jewish Insights by Daniel RonaThe Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, by Edward KimballJeffrey R. Holland, CES Symposium Address, August 1994Dallin H. Oaks, BYU Fireside Address August 1990Believing Christ/Following Christ By Stephen RobinsonA Marvelous Work and a Wonder by LeGrand Richards
Would it be unkind for me to say that, as respected and dependable as thesesources may be, none of them jumps out as being particularly innovative ornoted for its pursuit of creative ways of presenting the Gospel? If thisrepresents the extent to which the author was willing to research andstudy, then the outcome, I suppose, was inevitable.
I'm going to repeat what I said earlier: this is not a bad book. Theauthor takes some liberties, but they are not fatal. It suffers from poorediting, but this is nothing new. If you want a brief summation of theflow of sacred history as it pertains to the birthright promises, and thefulfillment of those promises in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-daySaints, then it's pretty good. But it seems to me to be redundant.
I suppose that, in the battle of the apologists, there is room for acheering section. Apologetics with pom poms, perhaps. And there is value,given the proper audience, for such books. Some folks want affirmation fortheir belief. Some don't want to explore beyond what they've already beentaught, and that's okay. This book would be a good one for them.
But given the grandeur of the theme, and the possibilities inherent inexploring it, it's a shame that the author chose to break no new ground.Rather than being a feast for the curious, it is rather comfort food forthe satisfied. Not much to my taste, but perhaps satisfying for others.
If you're looking for standard fare in an inexpensive format, give this onea look.
Jeff Needle September 14, 2003
© 2003 Jeff Needle