What do I think of Richard Lyman Bushman’s book published by Knopf? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
Mormonism is certainly a fascinating movement to look at. It’s got a founder who had a reputation even in his time of being a con-man and grew up to knowingly have multiple wives and yet establish what is seen as a branch of Christianity if not a restoration of the ancient faith by millions of people. Today, the Mormon Church has at least 15,000,000 members.
It all started with Joseph Smith. This account of Joseph Smith is written by a Mormon. Still, I went through it thinking that this is important information that I wish more Mormons would read. Some of the problems that many missionaries try to deny are there stated. Joseph had multiple wives. He really did hold to divine exaltation. He was involved with the Masons. He did have an army of sorts called the Danites.
The story begins not with Smith but with his family. Bushman looks at who Smith’s parents were and how they got where they were. The story seems to start off slow as it seems to take awhile to get to the story of the plates and their translation. I do note that there isn’t much interaction with the problem of the date of the first vision in comparison to the revival in the area.
From here on there is a thoroughly detailed look at the life of this man. At some times, I could actually have sympathy for Joseph. Particularly at the start when I read about a leg injury he had as a boy.
A benefit though for this one is that though Bushman is, as I said, a Mormon, this book is not glowing with praise of Smith. There is some of that there, but it does not stand out. Bushman is trying to be as impartial as he can be.
Those who are not familiar with the history of Mormonism will see a lot more of how it was interacting with the culture of the time. These interactions were not just religious ones, but they were also political in nature. While our country may uphold separation of church and state, and properly understood I support that, there is a sense in which it is also unavoidable. There will always be interaction between the church and the state.
If anyone is left being someone I have great sympathy for in this book, it’s Joseph’s wife Emma. For some strange reason, she was never really happy with plural marriage. There are times of great anger and when she told her kids later about her husband after Joseph died, she tried to avoid anything about plural marriage.
Mormons need to read a book like this so they can get an account of Joseph Smith from a Mormon source. There can be no claims of anti-Mormon bias. They can read all about the Danites and about polygamy.
Christians need to read this to get a better understanding of Mormons they want to evangelize to. They can understand the history of Mormonism and also contrast it to the history of Christianity. When I have been told that the faiths were similar in their founding, it’s pretty clear that they were not.
I am thankful Bushman wrote this account. It is a long one, but it is a readable one. The only big hurdle for most readers will be the length, but it is worthwhile if you get through it.