Copyright © 2010-2012 by Edwin A. Suominen
An Examination of the Pearl is a study of the doctrine and history of Conservative Laestadianism, a small, exclusivist Christian group that is organized in Finland and North America as the Suomen Rauhanyhdistysten Keskusyhdistys (SRK) and the Laestadian Lutheran Church (LLC), respectively. The book also looks at the teachings of Martin Luther, early Christianity, Christian fundamentalism and sectarianism, and the Bible.
The Gospel of Matthew records Jesus as comparing the Kingdom of God to a merchant who found a valuable pearl and sold all that he had in order to buy it. No merchant of fine pearls would ever buy one that he had not examined carefully. To take the supreme leap of selling all for the price of one particular pearl would require that merchant to have either found it flawless after detailed examination, or to enter blindly into what might well turn out to be a bad bargain out of impulse, emotion, or deceit.
This book is an honest and unflinching examination of the pearl that Conservative Laestadianism puts on offer as the Kingdom of God. It is a study not just of that obscure revival movement from 19th century Lapland, but also of Martin Luther, fundamentalist and sectarian Christianity, and the Bible itself.
About 18 centuries ago, Clement of Alexandria wrote, “If our faith is such that it is destroyed by force of argument, then let it be destroyed; for it will have been proved that we do not possess the truth.” Many dare not take the risk to their faith, or the faith of those under their influence, of reading or allowing the reading of anything critical about what they supposedly believe. But is that really faith in anything other than the others in the fold who are themselves just repeating the old slogans? They, too, are all too often ignoring the facts about their own unexamined faith that is itself supported only by the claims of others.
There are many such unexamined and fearful faiths competing in the marketplace of religion, some of them also claiming to be the truth outside of which no one will be saved. And without critical reflection like that found in this book, each one is a self-sustaining doctrinal bubble that quivers unsteadily in the air, vulnerable to being poked by the slightest intrusion of fact.
Epilogue | Index
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The book’s Introduction tells the story of my personal struggle with Christianity in the Laestadian Lutheran Church, why I wrote the book, how I wrote it, and things to keep in mind as you read it. It ends with this:
In the calm waters of a pool of reverence, even a drop of criticism creates disquieting ripples. No doubt my bluntness and, at times, even bemusement about sacred matters will cause discomfort for those who have never heard their faith discussed with anything but devotion, piety, and praise. I’m sorry about that, I really am. I wish there were a way to honestly share the knowledge I’ve acquired over these past years without some of those who have been my closest friends taking it as an act of betrayal. I have already lost many of those friends, and know that I am likely to lose more. Please don’t think it hasn’t weighed heavily on my mind
Here’s the only thing I really ask: Please only talk about this book to the extent that you have read it. I understand if you’d rather not read it at all. In fact, I sincerely think that it’s not in some people’s best interests to do so. If you are one of those people, I ask (through those who have dared to read at least this far) that you refrain from characterizing or condemning either this book or its author.
It’s really just an issue of honesty–you cannot justifiably criticize that which you do not understand. That’s why I spent over a year of full-time work researching the faith that had been causing me so much heartburn. I take it too seriously to have done otherwise. Only now do I dare to speak out about its problems, after having done everything possible to understand them.
Dr. Robert M. Price has been an inspiration, seemingly endless repository of biblical knowledge, and valued friend, and his words of introduction to an early edition of the book describe its author’s motivations as well as anyone could:
He cannot abide the thought of being a hypocrite. He will not impose himself on a faith community that will not have someone like him, a “doubter,” in its ranks. Thus this book. It is a forthright record of his deep and troubling questions, really a self-examination as much as an examination of his inherited theology. He asks the reader and his church: do you love our tradition, and do you love the Bible, enough to look at them unafraid, let the chips fall where they may? Because if we do not, then our professed loyalty to both Bible and Church will be hollow, pat, superficial, and not nearly so deeply rooted as we claim. If we love our faith we will not hesitate to question it. Otherwise we can never really understand it or appreciate it.
The contents of this book can be viewed for free at this site. The e-book is available from sales channels at the lowest price possible, DRM-free, and licensed for free redistribution. I don’t make any money off this thing, though the grateful feedback I’ve received from so many people has made it more worthwhile than filthy lucre could ever have.
If you really want to pay me something for my writing, buy a copy of Evolving out of Eden, my second book co-authored with Dr. Price about the conflict with evolution and Christianity. It’s available from Tellectual Press in both print and e-book. See EvolvingoutofEden.com for a summary, author info, ordering information, and a free sample from an introductory chapter.