Out of the best books…

Dear reader,

I am once again, too lazy/busy to come up with an actual topic for discussion (although I do have a couple that I am pecking at on the keyboard). That said, the discussion from my last post has gotten me thinking about the books that we read in the church.

What book have you read that has best helped you to understand the atonement?

Here are the ground rules for this discussion:
1. The scriptures are disqualified (this isn’t because I don’t like them (the opposite is quite true) but because it is a too easy answer).
2. Explanations are not necessary but are appreciated.
3. Books do not need to be limited to the LDS publishing market.
4. More than one entry is acceptable.

As for me, I think the best book I have ever read for helping me understand the atonement in The Brothers Karamazov (runners up include Believing Christ, The Miracle of Forgiveness, and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek). I like it because it is concerned with how the atonement plays out in the real world. There are no easy answers in the book and the atonement remains hidden through much of it, but it is there throughout. For all its realism, the book is nowhere near reality, but Dostoevsky is exceptionally good at exploring the extremities of human existence which is as good a place to test the reality of the atonement as any (and better than most). It is a glorious thought experiment and a powerful testimony of the workings of Christ and his atonement, brought to us by an alcoholic, compulsive-gambling, religious fanatic. I love this book so much that I make my students read bits of it each semester. So, there is that.

What have you read?

8 Replies to “Out of the best books…”

  1. It’s hard to say. Believing Christ , Following Christ, particular passages in the Word Biblical Commentaries on Exodus, Leviticus and Hebrews, and some scenes from an Orson Scott Card novel, either Xenocide or Speaker for the Dead. I’ve never been able to get into Karamazon. I’ve even read the famous grand inquisitor scene and come away wondering if I was reading the same book as everyone else… Does that scene make more of an impact if you’ve read the rest first? Posted by Ben S.

  2. The best book I ever read on the atonement is Mediation and Atonement  by John Taylor. But that is partly because half of the book is just a compilation on all the pertinent scriptures. The other half of the book is John Taylor’s commentary and his thoughts on the matter. I need to go back and reread it because I read it in 1974, and it has been so long that I don’t remember a lot about it. Still, most of my current understanding of the atonement comes from there. Posted by John W. Redelfs

  3. Ben, The Grand Inquisitor has much more impact if you read the chapter prior, entitled “Rebellion”. Dostoevsky lays out a pretty powerful set of arguments against believing in God in the two chapters and then, at the end of Inquisitor, sets them aside and believes in Him anyway. It makes a powerful statement regarding the irrationality of faith, the nature of the atonement, and the gift of grace. Definitely worth a reread (IMHO).Of course, the character who writes the Inquisitor later goes insane and starts chatting with the Devil, so you may not want to trust his take on things anyway. Posted by John C.

  4. Although I think that it is mostly wrong, Cleon Skousen’s The Meaning of the Atonement lecture really got the ball rolling in my mind.I also really liked Dennis Potter’s article in dialogue “Did Christ Pay for Our Sins?” Again, I think that he is wrong in a couple of important places, he facilitates good thought.My favorite source would be Givens’ “By the Hand of Mormon” on Pages 203-208 he gives a really good explanation of what the BoM offers in understanding the atonement. It answers a lot of questions which were raised in my mind while reading Potter’s article.

  5. Ben, I should have added that I like your choices (even if I am a bit skeptical of the WBC). Did you choose the WBC because it is more explicitly devotional than other scholarly commentaries or was it something peculiar to those particular books?John R., I think that Mediation and Atonement  is probably the most forgotten important book in the LDS tradition. I myself keep thinking I ought to read it and then forgetting about it. Thanks for the reminder.Jeff, So, your favorites are your favorites not for their explanatory power, but because they give you more interesting questions? You are a born academic.Carrie Ann, It has been too long since I read them to remember anything aside from Aslan on the table, but you’re right. I intend to read them again before the movie comes out in the Fall, but now it will probably be sooner rather than later.Thanks to everyone for their responses so far. Posted by John C.

  6. Did you choose the WBC because it is more explicitly devotional than other scholarly commentaries or was it something peculiar to those particular books? ”I went with WBC primarily because I could get all 58 published volumes for cheap ($240), and I liked what I saw- Some historical background, attention to linguistic/criticial issues, but some preaching as well. I’m trying to see how other traditions have made the texts relevant for their practitioners, how to pull useful (“spiritual”?) things from the text. Posted by Ben S.

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