In 1830, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church) began in upstate New York with six men. At the millennium, it counts over ten million members (more than half of them living outside the United States), and, at the present rate, projects a likely 263 million members by 2080. Now that's success, especially in a time when the organized church is regarded with suspicion and distaste by many spiritual seekers.

Apart from the Catholic Church, the Mormon Church is possibly the most organized church in Christendom. The Ostlings (husband and wife, admittedly conventional Protestants ) have produced a candid but nonpolemical overview that fully achieves their intention to focus on what is distinctive and culturally significant about this growing American movement for outsiders and insiders alike.

They detail the results of intensive research into such matters as Mormon history, structure, unique teachings, and redefinitions of traditional Christian beliefs. In the judgment of this non-Mormon Gentile, the authors succeed for the most part in their objective stance, although Mormon readers may not agree. In either case, they provide much to ruminate upon and, in the process of comparing Mormonism to other Christian faiths, a short course in traditional theology for adherents who tend to be ignorant these days about the basis of their own beliefs.

The Ostlings point out the many strengths of the Mormon Church: the Saints' devotion to their faith, their high expectations for their young, their personal moral behavior, their extraordinary tithing, and their fasting for the needy. More controversial matters are not glossed over, such as Mormon teachings on continuing revelation; the position of women and blacks; vicarious baptism for the dead (including Catholic saints, Jews, and others); and secret temple rites (curiously Masonic).

Agree or disagree, you will be enlightened and instructed by this book.

Maude McDaniel has written over 300 book reviews for the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, among others.

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