Once upon a time, The Great Apostasy by Elder James E. Talmage was on every Mormon’s reading list. But somehow that topic went out of fashion for a couple of decades — no LDS books treated the subject and it received considerably less attention in General Conference talks. Suddenly, the Great Apostasy seems to be back.
First, the books. In 2005-06, four LDS books on the subject were published, two by Deseret Book (Tad Callister’s The Inevitable Apostasy and the Promised Restoration and Alexander B. Morrison’s Turning from Truth: A New Look at the Great Apostasy), one by FARMS and BYU Press (Early Christians in Disarray: Contemporary LDS Perspectives on the Christian Apostasy, edited by Noel Reynolds), and one by Cedar Fort (Scott R. Peterson’s Where Have All the Prophets Gone?). The most recent FARMS Review conveniently summarizes all four books in two short reviews (here and here). My sense of the reviews is that if you’re buying one for yourself, buy the volume edited by Reynolds; if you’re buying one for your mother, buy the one by Morrison. Comments by anyone who has read these books are welcome (I’ve read only the first few articles in the Reynolds volume).
Then there was Elder Holland’s talk in the most recent Conference, “The Only True God and Jesus Christ Whom He Hath Sent.” It’s not the only recent talk to include commentary on the Great Apostasy (there was Elder Oaks’ talk in 1995), but Elder Holland included rather bold statements on the topic, including the following:
It is not our purpose to demean any personâ€™s belief nor the doctrine of any religion. We extend to all the same respect for their doctrine that we are asking for ours. (That, too, is an article of our faith.) But if one says we are not Christians because we do not hold a fourth- or fifth-century view of the Godhead, then what of those first Christian Saints, many of whom were eyewitnesses of the living Christ, who did not hold such a view either?
So is the Great Apostasy back on the menu? Are there any other signs from official or unofficial sources of a new willingness to explicitly address and discuss this logically necessary precursor to the Restoration?