Review of Greene, Mark H., III. The Scriptural Temple

Greene, Mark H., III. The Scriptural Temple. Springville, UT: Cedar Fort, 2004. [Israel/Solomon/Second/Temple/Mormon/Theology/Mountain/New Temple/Ritual/Liturgy/ Worship]

It is only fair to acknowledge a few things at the outset of this review. First, the intended audience of this book is the Mormon community, therefore, this review is primarily for Latter-day Saints. It will not likely be of much interest to non-Mormon users of this website. Second, I acknowledge that book reviews are highly subjective. Reviewers typically discuss those things that appeal to them and those things that do not. I will follow that pattern here, calling attention to its subjective nature. Third, it is not common for reviewers of non-academic LDS publications to be very critical of the work they are reviewing, even if it may not be a very good book however the reviewer may define that term. This tradition acknowledges that Latter-day Saints should be humble and careful about not giving offense to fellow Mormons. Thus the good things to be found in a book are highlighted and only the gentlest criticisms are given. We try to recognize the good-faith efforts of authors who spend time to research and write, an endeavor most of us do not find particularly easy. This book which was published in 2000 and again in 2004 shows evidence that Greene has read fairly widely in LDS temple-related literature, and he has apparently been a very active, attentive and thoughtful worshiper in the temples.

Having said this, I also concede that I am not enamored with this book and I believe that LDS literature is not going to improve if we constantly overlook such weaknesses as I find in it. It is important to be fair with the reader as well as the writer of a book. However, I desire to express my opinions without being personal or offensive, acknowledging Mr. Greene’s good-faith effort because the book is helpful in a number of ways.

The title, The Scriptural Temple, is unusual. The general notion of the book is that the temple with its doctrines and practices can be found throughout the LDS Standard Works much more than one might suspect and Mark Greene has set himself the task to unearth these for his readers. His personal odyssey which went from taking the temple for granted to a strong conviction of its centrality in Mormonism and the salvation and exaltation of mankind accounts for the considerable energy, underlying emotion and frequently hortatory nature of the work, and most importantly the general conviction that he has something valuable to say about the temple.

Three-quarters of a dozen sub-themes permeate the book. I use the word “permeate” intentionally, because, and this is one of my problems with the book, most of these themes reappear regularly throughout the remainder of the book once they are initially highlighted. That is not bad in and of itself, but in my view, in Mr. Greene’s case the subsequent references to previously discussed themes is largely redundant and/or in review. This made the book’s organization problematic and the book itself more than a little tedious for me.

The metaphor undergirding the entire work is that of Mount Zion as the temple mount which church members must climb to gain the blessings, insights, perspective, and eternal life that are made available to them through the ordinances, rituals and doctrines of the temple. A “mighty change of heart” is required to recognize one’s need to climb the mountain (live the gospel principles faithfully and endure the challenges of life), but also to fully comply with the covenants one makes when one arrives at the summit and partakes of the temple ordinances. The change of heart leads to the development of the Christ-like virtues enumerated in many places in the scriptures, the culmination of which is “charity” or the pure love of Christ–which Greene acknowledges is both the pure love which Christ exhibits towards us, but also that we may possess this same quality of love in our lives which we in turn express toward others. One of Greene’s main points is that this love, as well as the other virtues, are only truly mediated through the Holy Ghost and the temple ordinances. So, though the change of heart and development of Christlike virtues can begin before one becomes a “temple Mormon,” they are only brought to fruition through the temple. This transformation and development of the Christ-like virtues and pure love, of course, is possible because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ–the fourth ubiquitous theme. For Greene of course, the Atonement is much more pervasive than simply bringing about the change of heart necessary to access and fulfill temple covenants. It is infused in and effects every aspect of life and the temple. Here Greene is on solid ground. With reference to the atonement and the temple, it was Vaughn Featherstone who voiced in one line what many church leaders have said over the years: “All that we do in the temples ties to the Atonement.”1 And Greene tries hard to show this, but for me at least, he did not hit the nail squarely on the head. His glancing blows gave off a number of sparks of light, but didn’t drive the nail home. The fifth and sixth topics, of rebirth and growing up to the Lord in (and through) the temple, is directly related to the change of heart and acquisition of the virtues. Indeed, the discussion of rebirth and growing up or maturing spiritually may be seen as the process by which the change of heart and becoming Christlike are accomplished. As seems evident from a statement by Joseph Smith, this rebirth is evidently not an event as much as a process and is mediated through ordinances. He said, ““Being born again, comes by the Spirit of God throughordinances.”2 Allofthiswillonlyhappeninthelifeofanindividualifhewillseek,learntorecognize, and follow “true messengers” who are authorized to speak for God and when they do so they speak the “true message.” Finally, when one has climbed Mt. Zion successfully, experiencing a change of heart, being reborn, growing up, developing Christ-like virtues, especially love, all mediated and made possible by the Atonement, one can then enjoy the “great and last promise” of the Gospel. Section 88 where this phrase is used, goes on to elaborate on the promise in verse 68 in these words: “…and the days will come that you shall see him; for he will unveil his face unto you….” Greene comes back to this promise again and again, but from his initial discussion of the subject the meaning of the phrase seems to expand to receiving the fulness of the priesthood, becoming exalted and obtaining eternal life.

The above review is positive and laudatory. However, I must warn the reader that getting to this distillation is daunting. Greene’s explication of each of these themes is marked by excessive wordiness, lengthy forays on related and sometimes tangential points, seemingly endless repetition, all punctuated by his italicized generalizations and fascination for and infatuation with his own metaphors and symbols. And these prove to be a mixed blessing. Some are interesting, even insightful, but many seem to be his attempt at creativity that was stillborn, and others even a bit trite if not silly. Two examples follow. The first comes under the sub-heading “A Full Moon Over Mount Zion.”

When we cry like the people of King Benjamin, we have finally understood the message of the heralding music that Moroni is trumpeting from the temple. It is the music of a full moonlight sonata captured in Don Busath’s most beautifully significant picture of the Salt Lake Temple with a full moon silhouetting the angel Moroni. The symbolic meaning of the full moon is the fulness of Christ’s love which is the fullness of the power of the Atonement. …

After further discussion and citations he concludes:

“In the finale of Moroni’s trumpet solo, the power of the full moon, the Savior’s perfect love in His perfect Atonement, shines in all its glory.” (pp. 192-193)

A second challenging illustration is his discussion of and subsequent use of the word “proselyte.” He is discussing the Abrahamic Covenant and one of its provisions from the Abraham 2 version which expresses our obligation to be missionaries and spread the gospel message. Regarding the word “proselyte” he writes:

I take the liberty with the word proselyte, using it to reveal a deeper meaning. The word proselyte can be considered a composite of three words: Pro-Sel-Light. Sel is the French word for salt, so in my mind, proselyte means “for salt and light.” The scriptural temple clearly states the obligation of those accepting the “everlasting covenant” to be for salt and light:….” (p. 217, emphasis in the original)

Again on page 224:

The charge to ”pro-sel-light” was committed by the Lord “into [the] hands” (see D&C 110:16) of the elders of the Church….”

And one more on page 225:

The Savior taught the Nephites at the temple of the land Bountiful their obligation to”pro-sel-light” by emulating Him….”

It required a couple of tries and more than a bit of endurance for me to get through the 238 pages of this book because of so much personal philosophy and interpretation encapsulated in so much repetitive verbiage and personal symbolism. Because of these problems I suspect that readers, especially young readers in particular, may have a difficult time finishing this book.

I conclude this review with an additional positive note. As is inevitable I suppose, in a book of this size (230 pages of small and close type) when closely read, one finds things that he has heretofore overlooked and which further enrich his understanding. This happened to me frequently in reading this book. After all, in writing even an average book one generally does a lot of reading, research and thinking before and during the writing. So, although I am more than a little critical of this book, I freely acknowledge that I learned a few things, but more often was caused to reflect on many subjects, often in new ways and with new insight. An example of this was Greene’s stress on “true messengers,” a subject to which I had give little or no thought until I read this book. The subject is now part of a new file in my temple studies collection and I look forward to further expanding on this theme. When one is familiar with the temple through both experience and extensive reading, the phenomena I have described above occurs more frequently because of the wider base of knowledge to which what one is reading may be applied. Though it was sometimes a difficult task for me, I am glad I read this book.

Notes:

1. Vaughn J. Featherstone, The Incomparable Christ, Our Master and Model, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1995), p. 6.

2. Joseph Smith, TPJS, p. 162.

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