In 1950, LeGrand Richards of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints published what would become one of the most widely-read and influential books in Mormon literature – “A Marvelous Work and a Wonder.” Now, over 70 years later, this comprehensive work on the history and doctrine of Mormonism still provides invaluable insights into the foundation and evolution of the LDS Church.
Richards, who served as president of the Quorum of Twelve from 1952 to 1959, originally wrote the book as a missionary tool to fulfill the Great Commission of preaching the gospel to all nations. Drawing from the Book of Mormon and other LDS scriptures, “A Marvelous Work and a Wonder” outlines the key events, figures, and beliefs that define the Mormon faith tradition.
The book traces the origins of Mormonism from the First Vision experience of church founder Joseph Smith in 1820 to the subsequent restoration of Christ’s church on earth. It recounts Smith’s angelic visitations, the translation of the Book of Mormon, the restoration of priesthood authority, and the organization of the LDS Church. Richards argues that these events represent the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy regarding a “marvelous work and a wonder” that would come forth in the last days before Christ’s Second Coming.
A major portion of the book is devoted to Mormon beliefs that often set them apart from traditional Christianity. This includes doctrines like continuing revelation, temple ordinances, plural marriage, the plan of salvation and three-tiered heavenly kingdoms, and the potential for man to achieve exaltation and godhood. Richards examines these sometimes controversial teachings matter-of-factly, arguing they restore lost truths and authority from Christ’s original church.
While a work of apologetics, “A Marvelous Work and a Wonder” is fairly successful in sticking to a respectful, academic tone. Richards avoids overt attacks on other faiths, instead focusing on positively presenting Mormon doctrines and practices. This approach likely contributed to the book’s broad appeal and popularity among both Latter-day Saints and those wanting an overview of the fast-growing young religion.
First published in 1950, “A Marvelous Work and a Wonder” has never gone out of print and has sold over a million copies. It has been translated into over 30 languages, making it one of the most widely-disseminated introductions to Mormonism in the world. For many, especially prior to the internet age, Richards’ book was their first in-depth encounter with the LDS Church beyond missionaries. The work heavily influenced perceptions of what Mormonism is and is not.
“A Marvelous Work and a Wonder” had a major impact on missionary work and church growth during an important transitional period for the LDS Church. In the post-war era, church membership expanded well beyond the Intermountain West into a global institution. The book was an invaluable proselyting tool as mission outreach extended into Latin America, Europe, and Asia. Many new converts, especially intellectuals and religious scholars, found Richards’ methodical, well-researched approach convincing.
However, some critics argue “A Marvelous Work and a Wonder” presents a somewhat outdated perspective that glosses over controversial aspects of LDS history and doctrine that have come under increased scrutiny. These include polygamy, the race-based priesthood ban, the Mountain Meadows massacre, and architecturally-flawed scriptural translations. The book reflects 1950s orthodox Mormon thought that avoided transparent discussion of such complex issues.
Additionally, Richards’ arguments and appeal to Biblical prophecy may not resonate as strongly with today’s postmodern, secular society skeptical of claims to exclusive divine authority. The LDS Church has shifted toward emphasizing more universal Christian themes over denominational exceptionalism. Thus, while still useful, “A Marvelous Work and a Wonder” should be read with the understanding it was written for a different time.
Yet LeGrand Richards’ signature work retains relevance as a critical text in the Mormon canon. It continues to inspire Latter-day Saints in their missionary work and personal religiosity. The book provides crucial perspective on how the contemporary LDS Church evolved from its 19th century roots. For scholars and observers, “A Marvelous Work and a Wonder” is essential reading for understanding the historical worldview that shaped modern Mormon identity and practice.
Seventy years since publication, LeGrand Richards’ comprehensive defense and examination of Mormon theology still engages readers. “A Marvelous Work and a Wonder” offers an insightful retrospection of LDS thought while inspiring Saints in an unfolding faith. This prolific work will remain a classic that defined an era in the emergence of Mormonism onto the world stage as one of the fastest-growing faiths. For these reasons, it merits ongoing study and reflection.
Beyond its doctrinal overview, “A Marvelous Work and a Wonder” provides a fascinating window into the Mormon mindset in the mid-20th century. Richards’ arguments and prose style reflect the zealous optimism and traditional values of the post-war period. His tone is unapologetic about Mormon distinctiveness and divine mandate. There is strong belief in the righteousness of the LDS Church as God’s kingdom restored in preparation for the imminent Second Coming.
The book also illustrates mid-century Mormon emphasis on works, moral living, and conformity to authoritative guidance from top church leaders. Richards frequently cites the importance of maintaining orthodox belief, participating in required ordinances like baptism and temple rituals, adhering to the Word of Wisdom health code, and paying tithing. There is little focus on grace or flexibility in living the faith.
The book’s lengthy chapter on plural marriage reflects the lingering tension surrounding post-Manifesto polygamy. Richards insists that the earthly rejection of plural marriage does not negate its eternal truth. This indicates the official church stance on polygamy was still evolving in the 1950s despite the 1890 and 1904 Manifestos officially discontinuing the practice.
While containing some dated perspectives, “A Marvelous Work and a Wonder” still stands as a monumental work of Mormon literature. It assembles the key components of LDS theology and history into one thorough narrative. The book captures the essence of Mormon thought during a critical era of expansion and correlation. And it continues to inspire new generations of Saints in participating in the unfolding restoration of Christ’s gospel. Few works so cohesively summarize the foundations and ethos of this unique modern faith.
As the LDS Church has grown into an international faith, “A Marvelous Work and a Wonder” has been a crucial tool for transmitting a standardized Mormon narrative across cultures. The book has been integral to correlating Church teachings and worldview consistently from Salt Lake headquarters to far-flung regions of the globe.
his has supported unity and cohesion even as cultural differences emerge across a diverse membership. “A Marvelous Work and a Wonder” has provided the scaffolding to anchor global Mormonism to its roots in 19th century frontier America.
However, some argue this heavy emphasis on uniformity has come at the cost of stifling theological diversity within the faith. Mormon studies scholar Patrick Mason critiques that the book espouses a “Russian doll” perspective of church history, wherein each era perfectly builds upon and encapsulates the previous.
This results in a faith reluctant to critically examine its past or doctrines. It also leaves little room for dynamic evolution or contextual adaptation of belief. As a new generation of millennial and Gen Z Mormons come of age, there are calls for modernizing traditional LDS perspectives while celebrating the diversity already within its ranks.
Yet “A Marvelous Work and a Wonder” remains a powerful testament to the passion and conviction of the mid-century Saints. While the Church continues to grow and progress, LeGrand Richards’ book is a monument to the foundations poured by those who shaped modern Mormon identity. It is a snapshot of the vision carried through the post-war period that expanded Mormon community across the world.
For this seminal influence on building unity and spreading awareness of the LDS faith, “A Marvelous Work and a Wonder” will maintain its stature. Future scholars may critique Richards’ unapologetic style and outdated assumptions. But his comprehensive magnum opus will stand the test of time as the definitive overview of 20th century Mormon thought and exceptionalism. Link to the original: A Marvelous Work and a Wonder
Thank you for visiting our Christian Resource website. We’re building a special place here that brings Christians together from all walks of life, and your help would be great!
What we need from you are suggestions. Ideas for things we can include on our site that would help you, and other Christians, to learn, grow, and feel united in faith. Maybe there’s a specific topic you’d like to see covered, a prayer that touched your heart, or a Christian song that’s been on your mind.
This is a place for all of us, so let’s keep it friendly. We’re cool with different opinions – that’s how we learn from each other! But let’s remember to share our thoughts respectfully, with the kind of love that Jesus showed us. No room for ugliness or bashing here.
We appreciate your time and look forward to hearing what great ideas you have to make our site even better. Together, we can create a place that truly serves and unifies the Christian community.