Edward Watson's "Mormonism: Faith of the 21st Century"

This work by businessman Edward Watson represents an attempt by a "rank and file" adherent of Mormonism to present a comprehensive defense of the Mormon faith. The first of eight planned volumes, it focuses on the subjects of divine embodiment and the identity of Christ. Here are a few observations.

First, as a second-generation English major, I just can't leave this aside: Watson's prose is so fractured that it could cause mental anguish. I don't have anything against self-publishing efforts, obviously, but I rather think Watson could have spent a few extra dollars to have an editor make some suggestions. His tortuous sentence structures ("Despite I disagree with some when they come to conclusions on certain issues..." [xx]; "I am not concerned at the sophisticated historical arguments our opponents use..." [lxxxiii]) don't inspire much confidence.

Which relates to a larger concern -- this is a decidedly unscholarly work, and what is worse, that it is unscholarly is not seen by the author as a problem. We are told in several places that intellectual reasoning should play second fiddle to divine guidance -- well, doesn't this beg the question of whether divine guidance is actually at work? Doesn't the "prophet test" of Deuteronomy suggest a rational evaluation and weighing of evidence ("Did what the prophet say come to pass?")?

We are told that Watson's writings should be judged by content rather than by a degree on his wall -- to which I say, fine; but it is not so much the lack of the piece of paper as it is the obvious lack of training that that degree represents. Merely paging through lexicons and Bible dictionaries, or using sources without verifying their reliability or relevance (i.e., the Kabbalah!) makes for poor judgments.

For example, as I show in Chapter 1 of The Mormon Defenders, Watson's case (shared by many LDS apologists) for the embodiment of God, related to the meaning of the words "image and likeness" in Genesis and thereafter, is entirely off the mark; a little parallel literary and anthropological data would have made a big difference. But this is simply exemplary of Watson's mode of operation: to read the text in English, with the help of only a few study aids, and then reach his own conclusion. (For another example of how Watson approaches problems, see the note mentioning him in my chapter on baptism for the dead.)

Watson's work will be of use to anyone interested in how "Joe Mormon" might defend and explain his faith. It contains some interesting variations, such as a theory of multiple universes that sounds a great deal like something out of Star Trek or Crisis on Infinite Earths. But as far as being an accurate and succinct defense of Latter-day Saint belief, it is a failure.

-JPH