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There are many ways to approach scripture. At times we search the sacred narratives for doctrinal understanding or theological insights. Other times we might be interested in historical, cultural, and linguistic issues. Another, more common, approach is to see ourselves in the narrative stories and interpret them based on our own personal journeys and intellectual and spiritual background—to draw lessons for our own lives.
Best known for his fiery apologetic writings such as A Voice of Warning (1837), Key to the Science of Theology (1855), and for his autobiography which was published posthumously in 1874 by his son, who wrote most of it, Pratt nevertheless defined Mormon doctrine and theology for much of the nineteenth century. He was killed in 1857 in Arkansas by the estranged husband of one of his polygamous wives....
The author of several dozen seminal treatises on Mormon doctrine, Orson Pratt (1811-81) produced a library of spirited and thoughtful expositions and defenses of the LDS church that charted the course for all subsequent church theologians.
As illuminating as commentaries are, nothing conveys Joseph Smith's character like his own unadulterated words. In his distinctive language—a mix of biblical and frontier idioms—and in his famously spontaneous humor, one can imagine him speaking and feeling the force of his charisma. Like Old Testament prophets, he was alternately contemplative and poetic, animated and surprisingly earthy.
As a geology professor, he was consulted about underground ventilation options for the Salt Lake Tabernacle and about the scientific evidence for organic evolution, which he cautiously promoted. At the church president's request, Talmage also delivered a series of lectures on church theology which would form the basis for his later influential books.
Self-educated and preoccupied with the day-to-day business of his widespread empire, Young rarely found time to read. But he delivered hundreds of lively, extemporaneous sermons which blended common sense with theological speculation.
On one occasion Roberts defended the traditional Mormon view of the godhead—perfected men who "eat, drink ... and procreate" as exalted mortals; another time he seemed less comfortable imposing limitations on a God who cannot be fixed to a single location, for whom Jesus was a mortal incarnation, and for whom the term "trinity" seemed more eloquent than the "presidency of heaven."
Stanford J. Layton, former managing editor of the Utah Historical Quarterly, is a visiting professor of history at Weber State University.
In Line Upon Line, sixteen thoughtful, compelling essays offer reflective historical discussions of the development of Mormon doctrine from the statements of church leaders to the writings of LDS theologians to canonized scripture, rather than on the authors' personal speculations.