I love the Book of Mormon. I view it as a 19th century document, produced by Joseph Smith. I view it similar to the Bible. It shouldn’t be viewed as accurate history. But I believe it to be inspired by God and accept it as scripture. Scripture is best understood as the creativity of man intersecting with divine influence, and used as a common set of stories and doctrines for a community of worshipers to study together in their attempt to worship God and serve each other and define a common set of teachings in which to exert their faith.
Though I don’t view the BOM as historical, and I’m resistant to supernatural explanations, I view its production as a miracle of sorts. It’s a very ambitious project. Complex geography, generations of people interrelating with each other, all in a consistent way. Yes, it has KJV Bible in it. But the complexity with which it’s woven into the book is remarkable. Yes, it has 19th century Christian phrases and ideas, but again the way it’s done is extremely complex and consistent.
But this is not really important. What’s important is the spiritual value and transformative power. Millions have testified of this.
One of my favorite ways to study the Book of Mormon is to take the example of scholars like Grant Hardy, in Understanding the Book of Mormon, and Adam Miller in some of his essays in Letters to a Young Mormon and Future Mormon. They teach us to take the Book of Mormon seriously, applying the same literary analysis we would with other texts and retranslate the stories for our own benefit. Or as Nephi would say, liken the scriptures unto ourselves.
When I do this, the Book of Mormon inspires me. I find spiritual insights that have great meaning to me. I’ve written on this on some blog posts such as the Allegory of the Olive Tree, Alma’s people in the wilderness, the story of Abinadi, and King Benjamin’s address.
The Book of Mormon is a great asset for the LDS Church.
I view the Book of Mormon as the culmination of the Christian debates, which started with Paul moved through Augustine and Pelagianism, honed through the Catholic period, picking back up with the Reformation with contributions from Luther, Calvin, Arminius, Wesley, and finally Alexander Campbell’s restorationism. By Joseph Smith’s time, nearly all the great questions related to Christianity had been dissected thoroughly and it was an appropriate time to put a final stamp, so to speak, on all the debates. The BOM contains a unique set of doctrine choosing the best from the theologians through time. The BOM packages this up and presents it as the sacred story of an ancient people written in pseudepigraphic style. When we read the BOM, we watch the doctrine unfold to ancient prophets. We see anti-Christs or other antagonists like King Noah’s court take on the foil role to allow this debate to occur, or to emphasize aspects of it, like in the King Noah-Abinadi case the Law of Moses vs doctrine of Christ. We see an embedded narrative of God interacting with a people going through ups and downs, with the point of it all to convince us of the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the goodness of God.
Setting this doctrine in stone formally as scripture as the Book of Mormon was important to anchor the church in the pure doctrine of Christ. This grounding allowed Joseph to reveal expansive doctrines such as eternal families, temple ordinances, the three degrees of glory, preexistence, eternal progression, and allows the church today to reveal new doctrine and policy and react to modern issues while being rooted in this core gospel of Jesus Christ defined in the Book of Mormon.