The Latter Rain” by James M. Conis. I received a free copy of the book to review, as is the usual custom in the publishing world, but had no obligation to say nice things.
I am going to say them any way. I was very impressed by this book.
The Latter Rain is a complex book that on the surface appears deceptively easy. Although tackling a serious subject (a detailed analysis of the writings of the prophet Isaiah), because Conis’s writing style is very open and engaging, on first impression is seems like it will be a fairly simple read. There is nothing stuffy or ostentatious about how he presents his material. Throughout each chapter Conis outlines various concepts with a basic formula:
1. Make a point 2. Give a biblical scripture which embodies that point. 3. Explain the symbolism of that scripture in clear, every day language. 4. Restate and reinforce the point.
Conis does this so often and so well that at times it truly does seem that the ideas being presented are very simple, even obvious ones. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Reading Isaiah is anything but simple or obvious to most.
For most of my life I have been completely baffled by Isaiah’s writing. I mean seriously, the dude had some horrendous issues with lack of framing. Everything gets topsy turvey because aside from all his metaphor and symbolism, he doesn’t put things into context very well and he had no idea how to build a clean segue. He’d be talking about the problems of his own time among the people of Jerusalem, then all of a sudden he’s off having visions about the end of the world with no transition in between! It’s pretty hard to keep straight without a secret decoder ring.
What Conis attempts to do in this book is to present the secret decoder ring.
While the initial focus begins with Isaiah’s writings, Conis also addresses Ezekiel, Daniel and others, both in the old and new testaments. This book seems to be a painstaking effort to use ONLY biblical references to explain the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.
Whether explaining how “rain” is used as a symbol in Deuteronomy or laying out the ways in which the Passover Feat foreshadowed the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, Conis uses language that is clear and appealing. Although it is evident throughout that Conis made a thorough and scrupulous study of the Bible in preparing this book, this is no dry, academic treatise. It is very clear that Conis has a strong testimony of God and a true love of the scriptures.
On page 204 he writes:
“What is required to find the Lord? We must seek him with all our hearts and with all our soul. Some are lost and do not even realize it. Others know they are lost and desire relief from their plight, but never appeal to the Lord directly. They seek comfort among the man-made solutions of the earth. But these false organizations have not the power to save, nor satisfy. Only those who seek the Lord directly and call upon him in prayer will ultimately find him and his kingdom. He will guide them out from among the heathen through the promptings of the spirit as if they were led by the hand.”
I was particularly impressed by the section toward the end where Conis explains the Book of Revelations. I must say, while Isaiah usually just confuses me, reading Revelations gives me the heebie jeebies and makes my head hurt! However, using the same technique as with the rest of the book, Conis alternates between the original bible reference from the Book of Revelations and his explanation of the figurative language. (I admit at this section I started skipping past all the bible stuff and only reading Conis’s own writing….) There were several key insights in that section that I found interesting, such as the stuff about the seven candlesticks, the seven seals, and the seven heads of the beast. He makes a case in very convincing manner for what each of these represent. There were a few spots where I became genuinely excited to FINALLY understand something that had previously been clear as mud.
If I have any misgivings about this book at all, it is for what it does NOT say. Nowhere in the book does the author ever say anything directly about the LDS faith. He never mentions the name Joseph Smith. He never talks about the Book of Mormon. I went through the whole thing carefully looking for even a veiled reference to the church. It’s not there. But for anyone who is familiar with the faith at all, there is no doubt whatsoever that establishing the true authority of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the central purpose of the book.
He talks about thinks like the authority of the priesthood, the apostasy, a restoring of what was lost, the "stick of Judah" and "the stick of Joseph" as two different companion works of scripture, temples, missionaries, God having a physical body. Yeah, it is very abundantly clear that the concepts Consis explains so meticulously with the prophecies and teachings from the bible are those which are the core doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints. But he does it in a painstakingly neutral way, NOT taking a voice of proselytizing, but rather pointing out what it is the Bible has alluded to all along, and leaving it up to the reader to decide what they think about it.
So I cannot help but wonder, does it make the book stronger or weaker that he makes all these references to core LDS doctrine without ever naming the church? Will it make the book of greater interest to the non-LDS audience? Will it make it any less appealing to the usual LDS book buying crowd? I honestly don’t know. I suspect part of the appeal of the book to me was how much it reinforced what I already believe to be true. I’m eager to share this book with a couple of my non-LDS friends and get their take on it.
As for me, my impression is that James Conis is an incredibly intelligent, articulate bible scholar who has made a tremendous contribution to scriptural based literature. He definitely answered some questions that I had, and did it in a way that was inviting and clear. It’s not a lightweight book. But for anyone who is even moderately interested in biblical analysis, regardless of what their views about the LDS faith are, I think it will be a very worthwhile read. For those who may be on a journey of faith looking to find personal answers, this is definitely a book I can recommend.
You can see what others have to say about this book at the virtual book tour HERE. (Books reviewed are over on the left - just scroll down to find this one. It's the 6th one down.)I'm the second reviewer so far, there will be several others in the coming weeks.
The book may be purchased HERE
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Mr. Conis’ interest in the scriptures began when he took a course on the New Testament at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The main lecturer for the course was an orthodox Jewish professor, while the recitation sections for the class were taught by lay ministers from Christian faiths. The resulting dynamic of this course created deep philosophical questions concerning the doctrines and truths found in the Bible and those espoused by modern-day religion. This led to a life-long quest on the part of Mr. Conis to understand the true meaning intended by the ancient prophets.