Toward Becoming a Gospel Scholar
When reading articles and books written by Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, or secular scholars, a Latter-day Saint gospel scholar needs, of course, to be highly sensitive to some of their assumptions, purposes, methodologies, skepticism, criteria, and biases, for most Mormons probably would not join in all of their thinking. Their problems are not necessarily your problems. Their purposes are not likely the same as your purposes. By reading with discernment and appropriate selectivity, however, any serious Latter-day Saint reader can learn an enormous amount from the research, data, dissection, and analysis of these scholars.
I enjoy knowing what issues other people are struggling with; and often I find that modern scripture puts those issues into an entirely new setting. I am humbled by the fact that lots of people know lots of things. I hope to learn from all of them, including critics, people with another point of view, or even some who turn out to provide only an example of what not to do.
I find that reading Jewish and Gentile scholarship, much like reading the Apocrypha, can be of benefit in many ways, if the spirit is present: "And whoso is enlightened by the spirit shall obtain benefit therefrom" (D&C 91:5). Probably the best source for many standard biblical reference works is the Academic Catalog of the Christian Book Distributors headquartered in Peabody, Massachusetts. Being on their mail list even once will make you their friend forever.
Finally, it is important for gospel scholars to keep up with the latest LDS research and publications. Although there are many popular publishers, magazines, symposia, and lectures that one might wish to read or attend, it is impossible to do it all. For the most carefully researched and source-checked publications, you will probably want to subscribe to BYU Studies, 403 CB, BYU, Provo UT 84602 [http://byustudies.BYU.edu]. As the editor of this publication, I know I am biased toward it and its mission. For forty years, the BYU Studies staff has tried to bring you the best possible faith-promoting scholarship. Over the years, hundreds of the best LDS scholars have published landmark research projects in this journal. This quarterly publication is supported by Brigham Young University and is available to all people for only $20 per year. Drop BYU Studies a note and they will send you a free 1998 catalog.
In addition, the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, P.O. Box 7113, University Station, Provo UT 84602, regularly mails out newsletters, catalogs, flyers, and other information about reprints, papers, books, and journals hot off the press. As Hugh Nibley once said, anyone embarking on a serious study of the Book of Mormon should first consult FARMS.
Much, much more can and should be said about striving to become a gospel scholar. Elder Bruce R. McConkie once went on to list other keys for unlocking the gospel truths in the scriptures: learn of local customs and traditions, distinguish between literal and figurative passages, and of course, ponder, pray, and seek the spirit. All of this lays out a lifetime of rewarding learning.
No one should expect to become a gospel scholar overnight. President Ezra Taft Benson admonished faithful members of the Church to make the study of the scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon, a lifetime pursuit. A gospel scholar is always keenly aware of the distances yet to be traversed and yet is not discouraged. The fact that scholarship is never finished gives new meaning in a gospel setting to the commandment to "endure to the end." Eventually, being a gospel scholar becomes less of a destination and more of a journey. The trip is difficult at times, but it is doable and full of satisfying rewards.
Ultimately, the challenge is to look into your heart and decide that you really want to walk the path of becoming a scripture scholar, eventually coming to love the words, the principles, thoughts, and experiences on each page of scripture.
If you do, the human beings who stand behind those words will become welcome friends in your life. Each verse or chapter will be cherished, like a dear friend. Each time you open the scriptures, you will want to hear what your friend has to say to you. You will remember those messages, each like a separate picture in a treasured photo album.