REVIEW: Alma 30-63: a brief theological introduction, Mark A. Wrathall
Updated: Feb 15, 2022
Alma 30-63: a brief theological introduction by Mark A. Wrathall is fascinating and somewhat paradoxically focused on practice, given its philosophical and somewhat heady tendencies. It took me some time to get into the groove of Mark’s writing style, but once I did, I found some really interesting and provocative insights.
One of the grounding insights of the book, which works to balance the more theoretical and abstract elements, is that for Alma, faith is primarily a practice, not a set of beliefs or a precursor to knowledge. Mark’s reading of Alma 32 offers this as a compelling insight to the relationship between faith and knowledge that is sketched out in Alma’s sermon. Throughout the text Mark returns to this grounding insight and the ways that it ripples throughout the different observations and readings that he offers of Alma’s work.
Later, Mark offers a reinterpretation of ‘eternal’ and ‘endless’ in their relationship to punishment and the Atonement, which builds on the way that Alma sees faith functioning. Here, ‘eternal’ and ‘endless’ are working in a way similar to how they’re described in the Doctrine & Covenants as adjectives, functioning similar to a possessive indicating belonging to God. Rather than that specific link, Mark suggests that ‘eternal’ and ‘endless’ are meant to describe the type of experience—essentially, that the pain and torment that Alma describes as ‘eternal’ and ‘endless’ is a type of pain that would always be felt, that could not end, even if it comes to an end at some point in time.
This functions as a motivator and a key to the relationship between justice and mercy—that justice is satisfied by the lingering sense that you are not worthy of mercy, which pushes you to live life in a way that makes restitution for your sins (Mark’s work here is a fascinating complement to Kylie Turley’s insights throughout her volume on Alma 1-29).
Throughout the book, Mark dives deeply into specific phrasings and wordings to offer his interpretation, paying close attention to the language that is used and how that language is used throughout the Book of Alma to help us interpret the best way we can. This approach is very intellectually satisfying, which Mark works consciously to connect to the practice-oriented nature of Alma’s preaching. The text then is quite philosophical in its approach to scripture, but grounded consistently in what these ideas mean in the lives of believers.
An insightful volume that is particularly valuable for its insights into faith (could be compelling to read alongside Adam Miller’s work in Letters to a Young Mormon), perspective on justice and mercy, and how it complements Kylie’s great work in her brief theological introduction to Alma 1-29.