Short version: Buy this book.
Long version: You know how some movies aren’t just made up but are based on real events? And, then, when you watch these movies, you know how right at the beginning you get a little tagline, a little disclaimer, and this disclaimer reminds you that while some of the things in this movie really did happen—more or less as they’re depicted on the screen—you’re really probably better off just thinking of the movie as “inspired” by these real life events because, clearly, some artistic liberty had to be taken in order to fashion that raw material into something shaped like a movie that you would want to pay $15 to watch?
This response to Joe’s book is kind of like that.
In what follows, I’m not (exactly) going to talk about what Joe actually says in The Vision of All. Rather, I’m going to say some things that are “based on” the things Joe talks about in this book. I’m going to say things that are “inspired by” the real things Joe actually says in this book. I’m going to offer you something like a “ripped from the headlines” fictionalization of what Joe says, exaggerating and dramatizing some of his ideas, punching up the script as it were, in order to foreground some things that, I think, really make the book remarkable.
And make no mistake: this book is remarkable. We’ve never seen anything quite like it in the history of Mormonism. And once you’ve seen it, you’ll wonder what on earth we have been doing for the past 200 years.
We don’t all have to do the kind of work Joe does, but you do have to wonder: why hasn’t anyone done the kind of work Joe does?
At any rate, say I’ve got two minutes with the president of the Warner Bros. to give him the elevator pitch for optioning Joe’s book for the big screen. My elevator pitch of Joe’s book is this: the Book of Mormon is a lure, a trick, an elaborate Trojan horse more than 2500 years in the making designed by God to sucker the human race into finally reading Isaiah.
The Book of Mormon is the world’s most extravagant booby trap, a trap entirely designed to trick us into reading and understanding the one part of the Bible that nobody wants to read. The Book of Mormon itself is the cherry-flavored shell, the chocolate glaze, the spoon full of sugar designed to make Isaiah finally go down. Because only what God reveals there can save us and only what God promises there can heal our world.
God gave us the Bible and he gave us Isaiah as the key to what the Bible is doing. But nobody wants to read Isaiah. It’s so old. There’s a lot of poetry. We’d have to learn 2-3 things about ancient Israelite history. Etc.
“Okay,” God says. “I’ve got a back-up plan. If you don’t want to read Isaiah, then I’ll give you another book, I’ll give you some brand new scripture.”
Then, voila: the Book of Mormon. Enjoy!
But it’s a trap! Isaiah isn’t simply some scriptural padding, meant to round out the Book of Mormon and got Joseph past the 500 page mark. The Book of Mormon is itself just an elaborate vehicle, a carefully designed and disguised delivery mechanism for injecting Isaiah into the heart of our religious experience.
Is this actually true? Is the whole Book of Mormon just a ruse on God’s part to lure us into reading Isaiah? Reading Joe’s book, I’m more than halfway convinced that this may actually, literally be true.
How’s this trap working, though? Not so great. We nibble around the edges of the book, sniff around the trap, host some committee meetings about maybe bringing that giant Trojan horse inside the city walls, but we’re not falling for it. We’re not reading Isaiah. And, as a result, our “minds in times past have been darkened,” we’ve “treated lightly the things [we’ve] received” and this “vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation.”
Section 84 is clear about this: “this condemnation rest[s] upon the children of Zion, even all. And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given unto them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written.” (D&C 84:54-57)
What is this “new covenant” we have forgotten? Inspired by Joe, I think we might simply say that this new covenant is not just the Book of Mormon in general but Isaiah in particular. Isaiah is at the very heart of these “former things” that God has tried to give. Our vanity and unbelief follow from not reading and believing Isaiah. They follow from not seeing Isaiah’s vision.
And what is Isaiah’s vision? What did Isaiah see? Again, as Joe’s put it in the title, Isaiah’s vision is the “Vision of All.” Missing this vision, we miss the new covenant itself.
What, according to Isaiah, is the point of God’s covenant with Israel? Is it to save Israel from the world, to sequester Israel, his covenant people, safely behind Zion’s city walls and city ordinances?
No! God forbid! as Paul would say.
[And, speaking of Paul, let me just say that Joe’s book has prompted me to adopt a very specific hypothesis about exactly what is in the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon. If the Book of Mormon is an elaborate trick for getting us to read Isaiah, I’m betting that the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon consists of nothing but Paul’s epistles, with Paul’s letter to the Romans included, in full, twice. But that’s for another day.]
Isaiah’s vision is not the vision of some. It’s the vision of all. As Isaiah reveals God’s hand at work in world history, God hasn’t been sifting out and sequestering a covenant people away from the dangers of the Gentile world with its crazy, Gentile ideas.
Rather, God has been scattering and dispersing and distributing Israel throughout the body of the Gentile world in order to effect the salvation of the world itself. And not only is Israel crucial to the redemption of the Gentiles, but Isaiah is adamant that the Gentiles are the only thing that can save Israel from itself. Isaiah’s vision is the vision of all.
As Joe puts it, citing Isaiah 49:6:
“It is a light thing that thou shouldst be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved of Israel. I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the ends of the earth.” With these words Isaiah offers a crucial corrective to Israel’s self-understanding. They seem to think that their whole work is to look out for their own redemption, to see that they do what’s necessary to secure the Lord’s blessing. But when they express their inevitable frustration at failing, the Lord responds by making clear that there’s a bigger picture. It’s too “light,” too easy, just to redeem Israel. God’s got his eyes on the whole world. You see, Israel isn’t there with the task of redeeming itself, but of being a “light to the Gentiles,” of being God’s “salvation unto the ends of the earth.” (89-90)
Israel will less have a covenant that puts them in relation to God than be a covenant that puts all human beings in relation to God. (90)
Or, as Joe puts it a few pages later:
Israel is languishing in exile, distant from her promised land. But it turns out that this is part of a strategy on the Lord’s part, an attempt to force Israel to mingle with the Gentiles in such a way that redemption for Israel can lead to Gentile conversion. (93)
Is this the very moment in which we find ourselves? Are we on the brink of another great scattering, another great diaspora, of Israel? This time, a generational diaspora in which Mormonism loses whole generations of children?
But, if so, can this disaster itself be part of God’s plan, his dark work in the shadows of history, to force Israel to mingle with Gentiles, so that, in the end, he can bare his arm and save both Mormonism and the world?
I pray it will be. Because, either way, this great demographic scattering is already underway.
If our minds continue to be darkened, if vanity and unbelief continue to bring the whole church under condemnation, it’s because we’ve forgotten this new covenant. It’s because we’ve rejected Isaiah’s vision. It’s because we’ve tried to only read some of the Book of Mormon and, similarly, we have tried to impose a vision only of some being saved.
If we remain under condemnation, it’s because we’ve swapped a trying but saving “visional of all” for a more comfortable “vision of some.”
But a “vision of some” won’t do. It won’t save us or the world.
God is waiting for us. His patience won’t last forever. We must remember the new covenant.
We must finally read Isaiah. We must, as Nephi did, see for ourselves Isaiah’s vision of the all.
And, I’m willing to bet, maybe this book can help get us started.