Saturday, June 25, 2016

Mormon Book Bits #16: Duane S. Crowther, Prophecy—Key to the Future & The Prophecies of Joseph Smith

Editor's note: This is # 16 in a series of posts by Dennis Horne about collectible books. The introduction is here.

            In the 1960s Duane Crowther published (through Bookcraft) his expanded BYU master’s thesis as Prophecy—Key to the Future. The work included fairly specific designations of time periods and sequential events that he believed were associated with the future and the second coming; even a chart on the end-sheets laying it out. This book sold phenomenally well, instantly placing Crowther at the pinnacle of the world of LDS doctrinal writing. His second book on the prophecies of Joseph Smith also enjoyed considerable success. This sales windfall allowed him to establish his own publishing concern, Horizon Publishers & Distributors, a modestly successful company (eventually combined with CFI and then dissolved) located in Bountiful, Utah. At one point he was enabled to say, with Cleon Skousen, that they were the only two authors in Mormonism able to make a living solely on the strength of their literary works.

            Because the books sold so well they began to have a substantial influence on the doctrinal thinking of Church members—who asked for and received counsel from Church leaders on how to view such writings.

One caution on the subject of prophecy came in general conference from President Harold B. Lee, some ten years after Prophecy—Key to the Future came from the press:

“One more matter: There are among us many loose writings predicting the calamities which are about to overtake us. Some of these have been publicized as though they were necessary to wake up the world to the horrors about to overtake us. Many of these are from sources upon which there cannot be unquestioned reliance.

“Are you priesthood bearers aware of the fact that we need no such publications to be forewarned, if we were only conversant with what the scriptures have already spoken to us in plainness?

            “Let me give you the sure word of prophecy on which you should rely for your guide instead of these strange sources which may have great political implications.

            “Read the 24th chapter of Matthew—particularly that inspired version as contained in the Pearl of Great Price. (Joseph Smith 1 [Joseph Smith—Matthew].)

            “Then read the 45th section of the Doctrine and Covenants where the Lord, not man, has documented the signs of the times.

            “Now turn to section 101 and section 133 of the Doctrine and Covenants and hear the step-by-step recounting of events leading up to the coming of the Savior.

            “Finally, turn to the promises the Lord makes to those who keep the commandments when these judgments descend upon the wicked, as set forth in the Doctrine and Covenants, section 38.

            “Brethren, these are some of the writings with which you should concern yourselves, rather than commentaries that may come from those whose information may not be the most reliable and whose motives may be subject to question. And may I say, parenthetically, most of such writers are not handicapped by having any authentic information on their writings” (Conference Report, October 1972, 128). Some have thought that Cleon Skousen’s Prophecy and Modern Times, and Gerald Lund’s The Coming of the Lord were also targets of this counsel.

            Some five years previous to President Lee’s address, Elder Bruce R. McConkie had talked about the issue with a group of Church Educational System teachers at BYU during a class lecture. He said:

“I think there is tremendous value in studying the second coming and trying to evaluate what it’s going to be and trying to read the signs of the times. I think we are supposed to do that, but unfortunately a lot of what we do is off in this sensational field. It’s done without the secure knowledge of how all these things fit in and there is an awful lot of nonsensical speculation in this field. People take out of context and don’t know what con­text they should go in, what Heber C. Kimball or Orson Pratt or somebody else said, who probably knew infinitely more than the compiler and the present author and you end up not being too sure that they solved all the problems that they set out to solve. Now, I would be scared to death to try and resolve problems of the second coming in writing chronologically, setting out what is going to be in successive events. I feel secure as long as I stay on the ground we were on yesterday from the scriptures, but when you begin to try and drop into slots all these prophecies that you mentioned that the early brethren said, you have got to have somebody do it who has almost infinite wisdom and understanding of this whole latter-day concept. Otherwise, you are in an uncertain speculative realm and of course some people have done that.” (Bruce R. McConkie, “Who Shall Stand at His Coming” BYU 1967 summer school lecture.)

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