Theses passages are tremendously challenging. On the one hand they insist on the historical nature of their prophecies—an understanding of history and of God’s movement in history is their whole raison d’etre. But even retrospectively it’s difficult to get much traction, to pin down events or movements or historical happenings, or to see these passages as illuminating particular events. Nephi’s mind was clearly riveted on his posterity and that of his “brethren.” Without any precise means of identifying who these descendants are or what events related to them these passages might signify, my own mind wants to run away into more universalizing generalities (as opposed to Nephi’s familial particularities).
I note that it’s the Gentile’s taking of the Book and the other books to the remnant of the Lehites that allows a conversion of both peoples. I imagine our quads traveling through the Guatemalan highlands, converting native families of the region as well as the missionaries whose native language skills are even worse than their broken Spanish. Our proselytory practices lead to the conversion in multiple senses. And throwing the Jews into the mix, I think of my old friend Adi who was the son of an Israeli diplomat living in Guatemala when he began sneaking out of his window in order to meet with the missionaries.
But moving away from such specifics, perhaps it’s not conversions of any particular group, but a more general impact or influence or meaning that our Restoration Scriptures bear—a witnessing to the world of certain truths—in particular the identity and role of the Messiah. How should we read the “making known” that these scriptures offer to the world? Perhaps it’s not conversion, but a mere understanding. Will our Scripture reach the point of general cultural knowledge (with the help not just of our missionaries and congregations but also via scholars and neighbors and Broadway satires) in such a way that whatever else is known, people generally understand our Books as a testament of Jesus Christ? Can we hope for an even more nuanced common understanding of who we think Jesus Christ actually is?
One of the key functions of the Books being prophesied here is that they will make known that which is plain and precious, but which was lost. Just what is it in Restoration scripture that restores that which is plain and precious? I want to think that it must be unique aspects of Mormonism. Depending on how we interpret the reference of these other books (the Doctrine & Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price; others?), I imagine it’s our orthopraxy and temple worship and views on the unity and divine origins and destiny of humanity, together with our notion that it’s the same sociality existing here and there that imparts meaning to the afterlife (and this one). These are the sorts of candidates that strike me as plausible—things that have been lost from important elements of the monotheistic tradition, and even more from Western culture writ large. Things that our Books restore.
But the text focuses not on such particularities but on Messianism. What is it about Restoration Messianism that is unique or restorative? Nothing in this passage seems to offer a hint. In fact, it’s extraordinarily difficult not to hear in these verses the same tone and themes as our contemporary sacrament meetings: mere American evangelicalism dressed up a bit with divine history. Is there more that we as Latter-day Saints are offering up with regard to the Messiah that is plain and precious?
Maybe that’s it right there: our communalism, our peoplism, our notion that the atonement is not simply about God and individuals, but about God and peoples, about covenant. The Anointed One came to fulfill the terms of a Divine Covenant that not only brings individuals salvation but does so by constituting those who believe in such a way that the posterity of Eve and Adam down to the last child can be sealed together in eternally efficacious bonds and fill the measure of our collective creation. Here is something plain and precious and something that does seem to have been taken out of much of Western Christianity. And it is something that comes not just with our Book of Mormon, but with that book married to our other Books.
Even so, I worry that we’re not winning that cultural battle. Far from convincing the world that this is a central aspect of the atonement, I fear we fail to understand this truth ourselves. Whether sitting in Sunday School or wrangling over issues on the Bloggernacle, despite the broad spectrum of visions articulated, most Mormons appear bent on making Mormonism a legitimate Twenty-first Century Church—rather than a pan-dispensational manifestation of God’s people.