Most members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have probably never thought of the Pearl of Great Price as controversial. The Book of Mormon, yes—it has been under attack practically since the night Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith. Yet, Givens and Hauglid  use this book to argue that the Pearl of Great Price is even more so. Unfortunately, the majority of the effort goes into attempting to prove the point, and it leaves the book less than faith-promoting. It does have some bright spots, however.
The book begins with the assertion that “without the Book of Mormon, the Church of Jesus Christ would lose its principal evangelizing tool and its most conspicuous sign of Smith’s prophetic vocation but relatively little of its doctrine.… With the Doctrine and Covenants, the church would lose a good bit of its ecclesiology—organization templates and guidelines for church government and its offices—but would not suffer a devastating loss of the deeper theological underpinnings of its faith.”  I found these statements to be very surprising. The Book of Mormon has enough unique doctrine in it for Tad Callister to devote an entire chapter of his recent book to it, and in several places Givens admits that doctrine found in places like the Book of Moses was first taught in the Book of Mormon. In addition, the Doctrine and Covenants contains a great deal of unique doctrine, in spite of the removal of the Lectures on Faith (which the book points out is commonly thought to have been the Doctrine of the Doctrine and Covenants). A comparison of our edition with that of the Community of Christ shows some of what would be missing without it.
The book goes on to make its point: “Mormonism, in other words, is absolutely inconceivable apart from this collection of scriptural texts that provided the faith’s theological core from the beginning but only received canonical recognition in 1880. At the present moment, controversies regarding multiple accounts of Smith’s ‘First Vision,’ as well as the origins of the text of the Book of Abraham, have brought unprecedented attention to this hitherto largely neglected work. The consequence is that the Pearl of Great Price represents at one and the same time the greatest vulnerabilities and the greatest strengths of the Church of Jesus Christ.”  As I argue below, this is quite an overstatement. [Read more…] about Book Review: The Pearl of Greatest Price: Mormonism’s Most Controversial Scripture