Title: School of the Prophet
Author: Richard E. Bennett
Publisher: Deseret Book
Year Published: 2010
Number of Pages: 163
Reviewed by Jeffrey Needle for the Association for Mormon Letters
The other day I was reading my favorite part of my daily newspaper, the comics. There's nothing quite like sitting back after reading all the news and the inconsequential editorials and cracking a smile at the sometimes offbeat humor of the men and women who give us so much entertainment. In a recent "Dennis the Menace" cartoon, Dennis and his dad are watching, I think, a new driver. My memory fades as to the details. But Dennis can't quite understand – he asks, "But where are the training wheels?" In Dennis' mind, you need to have training wheels in order to propel anything!
What about religion? Does the founder of a religion need to have "training wheels" before setting out and upsetting the religious landscape? Or can one just dive in without preparation? Is there a need to hone one's skills before trying to improve the skills of others?
I suppose that, when you're a church built on revelation, anything is possible. Why not just raise your head above the waters and shout, "I'm here, people! Pay attention to me!" I suppose this is how God might have dealt with the restoration of the gospel. It doesn't take book learning, only openness of heart.
However, to be sure, God chose another path for Joseph Smith. According to Bennett, God set aside the decade of 1820 to 1830 to prepare and equip Joseph Smith, to give him his training wheels. In this brief treatise, the author sets out to document this training time.
This ten year period was marked by some of the foundational events in Mormon history – the First Vision, the translation and publication of the Book of Mormon, the restoration of priesthood authority, etc. Quite a busy time! But all of it was necessary in order for Joseph and his co-workers to accomplish the mammoth task to creating and defining what would become a major world religious movement.
While longtime historians will find little here that is new, Bennett offers this period of the Mormon story as a miraculous and wonderful act on the part of God to prepare His servant to bring the message of the gospel to the masses. He would use a flawed human instrument (as we all are), carefully sharpening Joseph's skills and knowledge, until he was ready to emerge fully as the Prophet of the Restoration.
Without this preparatory period, one wonders how successful Joseph would have been in the coming years. Bennett lays out this formative time in Joseph's life in ways that everyone can appreciate and understand. And for many Latter-day Saints, his narrative will tie together these events in a cogent and consistent manner.
"School of the Prophet" is a fine effort by a fine writer. Consider adding this book to your library. It will be treasured for years to come.