In studying about different levels of “authoritativeness” of Church doctrines, I found this article by Anthony Sweat, Michael Hubbard MacKay, and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat of the BYU faculty. It proposes some different types of doctrine, from the core, unchangeable everlasting truths of the Gospel to Church policies that apply to the current needs of the Church in a given moment. It is an excellent article that helps one determine for themselves when something is authoritative or not. It also explains how to handle changes when they occur. I highly recommend this article to anyone interested in this topic.
Here is an excerpt:
“Many … wonder and have pressing questions related to Latter-day Saint ‘doctrine,’ such as ‘If God is unchanging and truth is eternal, then why does Church doctrine sometimes change?’ or ‘Why don’t we still teach some of the doctrines that were taught in the early Church? Were they wrong, or are we?’ When discussing the Latter-day Saint faith, some imply or assume that everything ever spoken by any Church authority past or present constitutes eternally binding Church doctrine. Additionally, upon hearing an idea brought up in the Church, some want to know, ‘Is that teaching an official doctrine? How can I know?’ These questions and many others about Latter-day Saint doctrine have caused difficulty for many, both within and outside the Church.”
Every so often, I find myself walking through Deseret Book thinking, “I’m sure all of these books are good, but which ones are really great?” It is at times like this when I really wish I had a list of books that someone had reviewed. A list of the books that, in their opinion, were the most edifying, uplifting, thought-provoking, and informative. To this end, I maintain a page of recommended Books and References that I feel fit this description.
In this post, I wish to recommend one book in particular. It is called “The Infinite Atonement.” This work holds a place among the best available about the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, Robert L. Millet, the Dean of Religious Education and Professor of Ancient Scripture at BYU wrote the Forward of this book. In Brother Millet’s words:
“Some things simply matter more than others. Even some doctrines, though interesting and even fun to discuss, must take a back seat to more fundamental and foundational doctrines. It is just so with the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The Atonement is the central act of human history, the pivotal point in all time, the doctrine of doctrines. Everything we do and everything we teach should somehow be anchored to the Atonement.
“I trust that the reader will conclude, as I have, that this book is worthy of repeated study, first because it is so well written, but, more important, because it addresses a subject, the subject, that is of everlasting import to every son and daughter of God.”
Brother Millet says it eloquently: Christ’s Atonement is the very most important doctrine to be understood, and this is an excellent resource for gaining a deeper understanding of it.
“Using the scriptures and the words of the prophets, Brother Callister explores the Savior’s divinity and the depth of his love for mankind. He explains the blessings that flow from the Atonement, providing insight into the resurrection, repentance, and the gifts of peace, motivation, freedom, grace, and exaltation. He explains the relationship of justice and mercy and the importance of ordinances. Through discussing the effects of the fall of Adam and our individual sins, he reminds us in a powerful way of the incalculable debt of gratitude we owe Christ for his unparalleled offering.”
The multitude of glowing reviews of this book also make a very strong case for owning a copy. Here are a few:
“This is the most thorough treatment of the atonement that I have ever read. After reading and highlighting passages over the first 1/3 of the book, I realized I needed to read it again with my scriptures open and adding commentary into the margins for future reference. It will definitely be a book that I re-read several times in the future.”
“Callister does an outstanding job of describing the Atonement. My understanding of the Atonement and of the passages in the scriptures that teach of the Atonement was broadened. I especially enjoyed the chapters that explain why the Atonement is called ‘infinite.’ This is a must read.”
“There are LDS classics and it would not surprise me if this book becomes one. It has an excellent chapter on the gifts of the Spirit and the exalting and perfecting power of the Atonement. The gifts are essential for our development. If you understand that relationship, it maps out a journey more thrilling than any other earthly adventure could offer. This is a must read book.”
They go on and on, but are nearly all of the same tone and praise. Personally, I am so very thankful that I was introduced to this book. “The Infinite Atonement” is one of those books that you will read many times. Each time, you will learn something new about the most important topic in the history of the world.
While a member of the First Council of the Seventy, Elder Gene R. Cook wrote what seems to be one of the best books available on studying the scriptures. He has a considerable amount of expertise on the topic, being an Emeritus General Authority of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To our good fortune, we have available to us this book, called “Searching the Scriptures.” The subtitle reads, “Bringing power to your personal and family study.” No truer description of this book could be conceived.
Elder Cook begins with an in-depth elaboration of what the scriptures are. He insightfully expounds their importance to each of us. It feels as though his primary purpose is to enlighten, uplift, and edify readers. Should you wish to gain a solid foundation of scripture study, this book must become part of your library.
The next 70 pages are spent laying out the whats, whys, and hows of personal scripture study. Elder Cook explains the different facets of feasting upon the word of the Lord. His recommendations include asking questions, pondering about what is being read, looking for patterns, applying the scriptures to ourselves, and how to receive deeper understanding.
The balance of the book broadens the scope slightly to instruct us regarding family scripture study. Elder Cook again goes to great lengths to convey his message. He begins this third section with an explanation of how we will be blessed by studying together as a family. His personal experience with this subject affords him a wealth of examples, stories, and suggested formats for family scripture study.
One of the most valuable purposes of the scriptures is to serve as a tool to help us hear the voice of the Lord. But, as Elder Gene R. Cook emphasizes in his book, that blessing doesn’t come through casual effort.
In Searching the Scriptures, Elder Cook explores how we can effectively ponder, question, and mark the scriptures and understand how they apply to our lives. He also shares his testimony of the power and blessings that come from knowing God’s word. And he gives suggestions on how to organize family study and how to use the scriptures as a way to bless each family member. Relating personal experiences to show what has worked and what hasn’t, Elder Cook shares ways to motivate everyone in the family to participate and work to invite the Spirit to be present at reading time.
Elder Cook’s hope is to help Latter-day Saints gain a deeper understanding of what scriptures really are and how they apply to us today, and thereby have a desire to learn more from them.
Whether a seasoned scriptorian or someone who just wants to gain a solid foothold on mastering the Gospel, I highly recommend “Searching the Scriptures” by Elder Gene R. Cook. It spends little time on my own bookshelf, as I gain a deeper understanding of scripture study every time I read it. This book is fully deserving of the spot it has earned in our Recommended Books section.