[A interview of the author can be found here.]
Tad Callister is an emeritus member of the Seventy and was the Sunday School General President until his release in the recent April General Conference. He has previously written books on the atonement and the apostasy. He has degrees in accounting and tax law and was a lawyer professionally. He is scheduled to speak at the 2019 FairMormon Conference in August.
This book presents both a spiritual and intellectual case for the Book of Mormon, drawing on previously published and unpublished books and talks by the author. In fact, the last chapter (which is a summary of the book) is a slightly modified version of his October, 2017 General Conference talk, “God’s Compelling Witness: The Book of Mormon,” and chapter two is from a talk he gave at a BYU Devotional on November 1, 2016, “The Book of Mormon: Man-Made or God-Given?” Much of the research cited is from FairMormon, Book of Mormon Central, and FARMS (now the Neal A. Maxwell Institute), along with classic scholarship from B. H. Roberts, Richard Lloyd Anderson, and Hugh Nibley.
The book has five parts, starting with an introduction stating that the Book of Mormon must be either true or false, a divine work or a fraud, and explaining why. And we are reminded why all this is important, with a quote from Anglican theologian, Austin Farrer: “Though argument does not create conviction, lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish” (page 9).
Part two discusses common criticisms of the Book of Mormon and responds to them. There is a chapter that talks about different authorship theories (including plagiarism) and knocks them all down. Then Hugh Nibley’s challenge to write a comparable book is outlined to show that no mortal man could have done such a feat.
The next chapter is on anachronisms, comparing them to the striking clocks in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar that did not yet exist in that context. These include large populations, the existence of writing on metal plates, cement, barley, Alma as a male name, Jesus being born “at Jerusalem,” and the phrase “and it came to pass,” all of which have been vindicated since being pointed out by critics. He then goes on to talk about chiasmus and advances being made in archaeology, and then reminds us that even with all the physical evidences it is the spirit that will give us a sure witness.
The following chapter focuses on half-truths that are meant to deceive. Some examples used are comparisons of View of the Hebrews and The Late War with the Book of Mormon. The way parallels between them are presented by the critics, it appears at first glance that there are striking similarities that may not be coincidental. On close comparison, however, they just don’t hold up. Other topics covered where critics distort the facts are coinage and DNA.
In part three, Callister explains that he is transitioning “from defense to offense” (page 91) and begins giving evidences for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. He devotes a chapter to the unique doctrines that are taught, which do not appear in the Bible. Another chapter lists many of life’s questions and how they are answered by the Book of Mormon. For example:
How can I know if I have truly repented?
“And behold, he preached the word unto your fathers, and a mighty change was also wrought in their hearts, and they humbled themselves and put their trust in the true and living God. And behold, they were faithful until the end; therefore they were saved.
“And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?” (Alma 5:13-14). (page 126)
Chapter seven talks about the Three Witnesses. Much has been said by critics to discount their testimonies, but the evidence shows that they literally saw the plates and were true to the end. “The question was occasionally asked if the plates were real or an intangible object comprising part of a ‘spiritual vision.’ Critics point to a statement by Martin Harris that he saw the plates with ‘the eyes of faith and not with the natural eyes’ and similar statements suggesting the plates were not a real and tangible object. That has never seemed like much of an argument to me. Of course Martin Harris needed faith to see the angel and the plates, and no doubt he was spiritually transfigured in some way to behold the divine messenger who showed him the plates (see Moses 1:14). Thus, he saw the angel and the plates, both as real as can be, with an eye of faith. David Whitmer…wrote: ‘Of course we were in the spirit when we had the view, for no man can behold the face of an angel, except in a spiritual view, but we were in the body also, and everything was as natural to us, as it is at any time.’ …Martin Harris declared: ‘Well, just as plain as you see that chopping block, I saw the plates; and sooner than I would deny it I would lay my head upon that chopping block and let you chop it off’” (pages 148-149). Callister continues with several other quotes from Martin Harris affirming his testimony.
The next chapter continues in this vein with testimonies from each of the eight witnesses. Then to summarize, Richard Lloyd Anderson, whose life work was on the witnesses of the Book of Mormon, is quoted: “I’ve got about two hundred times [documented statements] when one of the witnesses said, ‘I did sign the statement.’ ‘The statement means what it says.’ ‘I saw the angel.’ ‘I saw the plates.’ Or in the case of the eight witnesses, ‘I handled the plates.’ So, two hundred very positive and specific statements in many cases and I’m dealing today with about eight or ten documents [with negative comments allegedly from or about the Book of Mormon witnesses], in other words, five percent. And the question is ‘Do you believe the 95 percent or do you believe the five?’” (pages 161-162) Callister points out that in a court of law, a judge would ignore the aberrant testimony.
The following chapter discusses the Book of Mormon’s teachings about Christ, focusing on the atonement and resurrection, and that the purpose of the book is to bring us to Christ. “I believe that individuals who honestly read the Book of Mormon can learn by the Spirit ‘that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations,’ exactly as declared on the book’s title page. The book is indeed a witness, a divine witness, even the crowning witness of Jesus Christ, His Atonement, and His divinity” (page 184).
The tenth chapter goes through the Bible in search of prophecies of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. They are found mostly in the Old Testament, which describes the inheritance that would be received by the descendants of Joseph. Isaiah alludes to some Book of Mormon events and about the book itself. Ezekiel talks about the sticks of Judah and Joseph. And, of course, Jesus himself referred to his other sheep in the New Testament.
The fifth part of the book is about gaining a testimony of the Book of Mormon, with a chapter on the need for a spiritual witness in spite of the physical evidence available. When relying solely on the evidence, “that testimony will be prone to crack or collapse with every tremor of intellectual concern…. One cannot discover a spiritual truth by intellectual means alone” (page 198). We can gain our own spiritual witness by accepting Moroni’s invitation, but this is often hard won. When we have paid the price, “it will become our personal iron rod…to keep us on the straight and narrow path that leads to eternal life” (page 206). This is then followed by a chapter about recognizing the spirit.
The final part consists of a single chapter, which is a summary of the book. As mentioned earlier, it is basically the author’s talk from the October 2017 General Conference. It contains this powerful paragraph near the end: “This book focuses on a case for the Book of Mormon, but in one sense the Book of Mormon does not need a case presented on its behalf. It is its own best witness – its own best evidence. It is the unmitigated word of God from beginning to end; it teaches the doctrine of Christ in purity; it bears witness of the Savior with precision and power; and it invites the Spirit in unrestrained proportions. Every aspect of the Book of Mormon bears witness of its divine origin because, in fact, it is divinely inspired” (page 237).
This is a great book for anyone that wants to learn more about evidences for the Book of Mormon, or defenses against common criticisms used today (particularly those in the so-called “CES Letter”). It contains in one place the accumulated scholarship in support of the book, as well as material focusing on the spiritual aspects. It is a little repetitious in places, but that is because each chapter could be self-contained (and at least some originally were), which can actually be advantageous to the casual reader who might be interested in one particular aspect at a time. The information contained in it could be helpful to those wanting to gain or regain a testimony, or to familiarize oneself with the critical arguments and defenses in a faith-promoting context.