"Levels of Understanding" in Isaiah(?)

Thank you for the invitation to participate here at FPR.

My post comes out of the intersection created by my ongoing academic training and attending Gospel Doctrine class on a somewhat regular basis. (The fact that I recently spent a year teaching a Stake Institute class on Isaiah also influenced my thoughts in this post.)

Last week’s lesson was from lesson #37 “Thou Hast Done Wonderful Things” (Isaiah 22; 24-26; 28-30). The instructor did an excellent job of attempting to situate these chs. in their historical context. She even mentioned that chs. 24-27 (the so called “Isaiah Apocalypse”) are likely post-exilic and thus don’t date to the historical Isaiah! All of this was done despite the fact that the manual fails to provide any shred of historical background to any of the Isaiah material in this lesson. She began the class by sharing a quotation from Camille Fronk Olson who states:

“I had been teaching released-time seminary for about five years when a student I had taught when she was a sophomore came back to visit me when she was a senior in high school. After a few pleasantries, she informed me that she was no longer attending The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; she told me she now attended a Protestant church in the area. I felt as though she wanted me to react with alarm when she made this announcement, so I remained calm and simply said, “Oh, that is interesting, what led you to that decision?” Her answer shook me from my calm demeanor because it was not at all what I expected. She said, “When I attended my LDS ward, we talked about being honest, the importance of reading scriptures and getting married in the Temple, and the importance of a living prophet, but I never heard much about Jesus Christ. In this new church I attend, Jesus is the heart and soul of all their sermons.’. . . I made a silent vow that day that I would never teach a lesson or give a talk without making a connection between the topic or scripture block and the Atonement of Jesus Christ.”[1]

I (or at least part of me) feel that Olson, my Gospel Doctrine instructor, and the manual are correct in pointing out that our lessons, talks, etc could stand to be more Christ-centered as opposed to being centered on many good, but by no means ultimate, subjects. But just then the critical HB student part of me pipes up and begins to wonder how we can effectively present HB passages if the ONLY thing we ever do is read Jesus back into the HB. Isaiah is a particularly good case to look at because of all the “messianic” prophesying going on (or so the chapter headings say). This “Christianizing” of the HB text is certainly not unique or original in any way to Mormonism; nevertheless, I speak from a Mormon perspective.

Though the manual provides 9 scriptures (all dealing with Christ of course) from Isaiah to assist the instructor in presenting Isaiah chs. 22-30, I consider here only the first suggested scripture: Isa 22:22.

The Manual’s title, “The Savior opens the door to Heavenly Father’s presence,” picks up on several catch words to latch (pun intended) onto, particularly in an LDS setting; however, a full application of these verses to Christ seems to fall apart at some point.

Isaiah 22 is the next to the last ch. in a section of Isaiah (chs. 13-23) often identified as the “oracles against the nations.” The superscription of ch. 22 explains that this oracle concerns “the valley of vision.” While this phrase is obscure, details later in the ch. suggest that this oracle is directed against Judah. Beginning at v. 15 a self-aggrandizing official in Hezekiah’s court by the name of Shebna is portrayed as being demoted for an unspecified offense. One “Eliakim son of Hilkiah” is called to take up the fallen official’s place. He is thus clothed with a robe and bound with a sash (v. 20). Furthermore, “authority” is committed to him and “the key of the house of David” is placed on his shoulder” (vv. 21-22). “[Eliakim] shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open. I will fasten him like a peg in a secure place (KJV: “a nail in a sure place”), and he will become a throne of honor…And they will hang on him the whole weight of his ancestral house…” (vv. 22-24).

Many “types and shadows” of Christ can be read into these verses from the royal (and divine?) nature of robes and sashes to “authority” and “a key” that could be interpreted as sealing power (cf Matt 16:19; Helaman 10:7; D&C 7:7; 27:13). The perceived references to the resurrection can also be seen as powerful descriptions of an assured atonement. All of these “types and shadows” were perceived and commented upon by students in class.

Now comes the “but wait a minute..” part: it seems important to remember the nature of these verses, namely that they are an oracle given to Judah with the message that their “shouting from the housetops” may be a little premature in light of present/future events. Even when Shebna is replaced by (the more upright?) Eliakim, the LORD pulls out a last minute surprise by stating that, “the peg that was fastened in a secure place will give away…and the load that was on it will perish” (v. 25). The parallels of an anointed savior who performs an eternal atonement seem to fail at this point. That would change the message of the atonement a bit: even though Christ has lived/died for you, it will all come crashing down “for the LORD has spoken it” (v. 25).

So what to do? The instructor utilized a “levels of understanding” approach to Isaiah; thus, one can read Isaiah on multiple levels (e.g. historical, allegorical, etc.). This is certainly the route that I took with my Institute class on Isaiah since I wanted to delve into 8th-6th century B.C.E. Judah while many of them (and who could blame them based on the traditional ways of reading Isaiah) wanted to talk about Second Coming, Jackson County, food storage, bomb shelters, helicopters, and trains. I found that the “levels of understanding” approach allowed my students to know what context we were talking about so, for example, Isa 14:7 could be referring to Jesus on one level, but on another level it was part of a larger sequence of the naming of children being used to foretell (or forth-tell?) the happenings in ancient Judah.

This method brought about satisfactory results for the most part, but I am still open to other/better ways of approaching this issue. What say ye readers of FPR?

_______________

[1] Camille Fronk Olson, Joseph Smith Lecture given at Brigham Young University-Hawaii, 10 Nov 2009. Lecture can be found at: http://devotional.byuh.edu/node/386. Accessed 29 September 2010.

  • http://www.smallsimple.wordpress.com Eric Nielson

    Isaiah is scatter-brained and disorganized.

  • http://www.visionsofthekingdom.com David T

    I actually sent off an email to the curriculum department on exactly this issue – that of teaching the class that Eliakim represents Christ, whereas the context ends with this figure crashing down.

    I suggested a way this could be taught is to compare and contrast this figure with what we know of Christ – which includes pointing out some significant differences (such as those who place their hope and dreams in Eliakim will come crashing down with him, but that Christ will never fall nor fail).

    I do feel that it adds to LDS scriptural illiteracy, and takes away from the Savior’s admonition in 3 Nephi to diligently study Isaiah when the more nuanced and application-to-society (and politics !!?) elements of the context of Isaiah and his messages are simplified into merely, “Isaiah talks about Jesus.” – all of the lessons taught in the Isaiah lessons in the OT manual can be easily taught using the NT or the BofM – why not use this time to express some uniquely Isaianic messages?

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com Chris H.

    “….many of them (and who could blame them based on the traditional ways of reading Isaiah) wanted to talk about Second Coming, Jackson County, food storage, bomb shelters, helicopters, and trains.”

    Our Amos lesson ended up being about President Monson and President Hinckley. Sort of a prelude to all the 14 points talks. We do not understand 6th century BCE culture so ignore it instead. It seems that we also end up ignoring the Bible.

    Deadhead, thanks for the post. I am the least Biblical around here, but have recently discovered a love for the OT.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com TT

    Great set of pedagogical questions for how to deal with these issue in a church context.

    When I have taught this kind of material, I general discuss Christian interpretations as part of a tradition in which these texts became powerful for explaining the Christian present. Those who were doing the interpreting had an entirely different set of heremeneutical rules than we do today. In modernity, we typically don’t read texts in this way, but we should be senstive to the fact that our ways of reading and making meaning are not objectively better, but also may one day be rejected. We can and should still appreciate the Christian interpretive tradition as having a certain brilliance to it.
    I find that this approach validates the reading, but also allows me to get out of saying that God or Isaiah or whoever intended multiple meanings. I put these meanings in the hands of those who produced them, rather than Isaiah.
    Now, I also happen to have problems with modernist notions of authorial intent and original meaning that are embedded in historical critical methods, but that is a different topic.

  • JOHN WILLIS

    In my struggles to understand Isaiah I have been impressed that many passages can be interpreted and have meaning in different contexts and time periods.

    Example. Isaiah chapter 40. In its original context it,clearly refered to the Exiles returning to Zion from the Babaylonian captivity, John the Babtist saw his mission as the “voice crying in the wilderness” refered to in Isaiah 40.

    Latter day Saints in handcarts traveling to Utah in the 1850′s could see their journey as a return to Zion , Jews immigrating to Israel after holocaust could see themselves as returning to Zion. Martin Luther King in his I have a dream speech could refernce the passage in Isaiah 40 which speaks of “every valley shall be exalted and every mountain be made low” as refering to Civil rights movement in the United States in the 1950′s.

    Whatever the original author of Isaiah 40 thought he or she was doing and saying later interpreters like John the Babtist , Brigham Young and Martin Luther King’s use of the passage to my mind is a valid use of the Scripture.

    But we need to start with an honest attempt to understand the original context.

    LeGrand Richards may have been right when he said he believed that Isaiah saw the Salt Lake Temple in vision when he refered to the “house of the Lord being established in the tops of the mountains.” But that is not the one. true meaning of the passage. and we ignore the original context at our peril.

  • http://thepierianspring.wordpress.com/ aquinas

    Speaking beyond the Sunday School setting, I think that our treatment of Isaiah tends to contain some assumptions about the nature of prophets and prophecy that may have gone unexamined.

    For example, one apologetic for living prophets is that each generation or each period of time requires guidance for those living in that time that they cannot receive from prophets past. Thus, in one sense we propose a nature of revelation where prophecy is “best if used by” or it has a kind of expiration date. Under that framework, we should seek to uncover how the original audience understood the message as best we can, because God was revealing his words to the audience in that time period. On the other hand, we have counter examples of prophecy that is not targeted towards a current audience, as with Mormon who claims to be speaking to individuals not yet born. In that way, a past prophet is speaking only to a future audience. And yet further we have examples of prophets who try to “liken” the words of past prophets to present situations, without concern for the original intent of the author or how the original audience may have received the message.

    I’ve heard explanations on Isaiah that argue that Isaiah’s prophetic genius was that he was able to craft eloquent passages of scripture that simultaneously held true for multiple periods of time, and that he saw multiple time scenarios. Of course, the other explanation is that people in multiple time periods have found ways to “liken” Isaiah to their own circumstances. It isn’t exactly clear which direction interpretation flows.

    Likening Isaiah to present circumstances seems arguably easier because there tends to be a feeling that historical background or understanding is not as important or necessary to draw parallels to our present circumstances. It would seem this approach lends itself well to devotional settings where time is limited and the audience is generally not familiar with historical background to prophetic books. If one desires to introduce historical background I think one of the most fruitful ways to do so is to ask the question: How would those living in the time of Isaiah have understood his message?

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com Chris H.

    “Likening Isaiah to present circumstances seems arguably easier because there tends to be a feeling that historical background or understanding is not as important or necessary to draw parallels to our present circumstances.”

    Doesn’t this too often lead us to make faulty connections?

  • MormonDeadhead

    Eric

    I agree and I think this is an important point for LDS working with Isaiah. In my experience, LDS tend to want overarching themes that run all the way through from Leviticus to George Q Cannon to the Strength of Youth pamphlet to Preach my Gospel. Trying to establish what the gospel is with three bullet points is obviously difficult if not impossible though I see LDS trying all the time none the less. All the more difficult to try and explain that Isaiah(s) doesn’t contain one theological message, but rather several that seem to represent each group/person’s experience, even tension, with the divine.

    David T

    Awesome! Have you heard back from the curriculum department? Does anyone know of any “success” stories in getting curriculum changed?

    Chris H

    surely the Lord God will do nothing… :)

    TT

    “I put these meanings in the hands of those who produced them, rather than Isaiah.”

    Yes!! I have found this to be true as well. Is it a gross misunderstanding to describe this approach as “reception history” to a class of LDS? Still, and this plays on your “authorial intent” comment, people get really nervous when truth isn’t proclaimed with a big T (even if I happen to fully agree with calling into question modernity’s so called objective views). Nevertheless, if LDS can suspend the absolute truth claims for a few minutes, I think they find value in “looking into the mirror” of the scriptures and discovering what they bring to the text and what that picture looks like.

    JOHN W

    I like the “scriptures have different meanings at different times to different people” approach. Another group worth mention is the group associated with the DSS who saw Isa 40 as a reference to their “voice crying in the [Judean] wilderness. Seems to be very similar to what was described in TT’s comment. Maybe what I refer to as the reception history model is the way to go in church settings.

    aquinas

    I find that the best way to view the interpretive flow is the direction that best proves your point :) In all seriousness, this does seem, as you say, to be the way LDS uphold both ends of prophecy. Perhaps, being more specific about what we are going to do with a text (e.g. “How would those living in the time of Isaiah have understood his message?”) is the way to go. I have found that this is about the only way to catch the creative name-giving prophecy about Emmanuel without immediately moving into a discussion about the virgin birth. If you ask “how would they have understood it?” you have to ask how a prophecy about a deliver that would show up 700 years from their day would be at all comforting.

    Chris H (again)

    I think yes most of the time, but I don’t think it necessarily has to be this way.

  • g.wesley

    thanks m-d-h.

    any thoughts on why we are happy to do this with the ot but not with the nt or book of mormon? the non-historically bound reading, i mean.

    i seem to remember someone of importance saying in a certain formal setting recently that the book of mormon is not a history book (nor it is a novel).

  • JOHN WILLIS

    Thanks for your kind response to my attempt at showing how different groups in different eras might interpret Isaiah 40 in different ways.

    You mentioned how the Quamran Community which produced the Dead Sea Scrolls also saw themselves as the “voice crying in the wilderness”. I mentioned how John the Babtist saw himself as carrying out the same scripture. The fact that these two groups had the same interpretation may be no accident. There is good evidence (though no absolute proof ) that John the Babtist may have spent his youth in the Quamran Community. The fact that John the Babtist and the Quamran Community looked at the passage in the same way is one bit of evidence that John spent time there.

  • http://the-exponent.com Deborah

    Thanks for this. Speaking as a Gospel Doctrine teacher with no formal biblical training . . . I don’t know what to do with the manual sometimes. Because I got to the last verse in Chapter 22 and said, “Huh? There goes the carefully constructed argument!” Jim F’s notes at Feast Upon the Word certainly helped provide context, because while I want (really really) for class to provide a spiritual experience and point people’s thoughts to Christ, I also want to do justice to the text. This lesson seemed like two pages of proof-texting, and it felt vaguely unethical to bring in no further discussion of the text at hand.

  • Charles

    It seems to me that you are trying to reconcile two different goals — the goal of the Church for spiritual edification, and your own goal for intellectual edification. While these don’t have to be opposed, they are not necessarily the same thing.

    The Church has a goal — a very definite objective — to increase faith in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ such that it creates changes in behavior that lead to reception of the Holy Ghost, which should then teach all things somewhat mystical and revelatory means. The goals that you seem to want to mix in there are all scholastic. They certainly are interesting and in some ways that can be “faith promoting”. But in the end, these things are not very important to the mission of the Church and I suspect they are not considered to be the purpose of Church lessons.

    In a sense, you are striving to adulterate the message.

    Long ago, I learned that when I am teaching a lesson in Church, it is not so important that I teach the details, but rather that I teach a point. The “facts” in the lesson are only important in as much as they support the moral point of the lesson. Which as you point out, should often if not always, point to Christ. This is, after all, the mission of the Church. It is NOT the Mission of the Church to make people scriptorians – despite LDS Scripture Mastery Programs.

    Sunday School, in particular, is not intended to be an in depth, scholarly review of things. The lessons have an objective, and deviation from that objective is just confusion.

    Institute, is also not really very deep, although it is intended to be more in depth than Sunday School. It is still study of the Gospel Principles (and related history) far more than an exploration of scriptural facts, tidbits and information — with a focus on changing behaviors.

    While the Church is not in any way opposed to in-depth scholarly research by its members, I think that a Sunday School lesson that must be accessible to every attending member and that must meet the conditions of promoting faith in the Gospel so that it results in a change of behaviors, is not going to meet with approval by people who are looking for the fascinating details and tidbits and background in complex areas such as Isaiah.

    So, how do I square this circle when I teach?

    I pay attention to the OBJECTIVE of the lesson. I make sure that this is the focus of everything I say or ask, and then I use scholarly tidbits to wake up the drousy and create discussion of interest — NOT to inform people about these arcane details but always with an eye toward building conversation and interest in a path that leads to the OBJECTIVE of the lesson. If the tidbit does not serve that purpose (and I always plan it), it is entirely expendable.

    Before I came upon this formula, I had a hard time teaching lessons, particularly in the short time allowed. Since I came upon it, I find all of the lessons are easy to make both interesting and short enough to fit the time.

    If ye have not the Spirit ye shall not teach.

  • MormonDeadhead

    Charles,

    Thank you for your comment!! If I have misunderstood your comment, please forgive me (brand new to the blogging world). I agree one of the goals of the church is spiritual edification (although that goal could be described in other ways), but I have (perhaps a naive) hope that some sort of intellectual edification is also encouraged. I am by no means suggesting that Sunday School should be an academic exercise, but if as you say we should only teach the “objective” of the lesson, then why have a Bible at all? I think LDS would do well to incorporate a better understanding of the “arcane details” involved when studying ancient scripture. As g.wesley (still pondering your comments btw gwes) has touched on, we certainly don’t mind talking about ancient parallel upon parallel when talking about the BoM. I’m not sure how seeking to understand the biblical text in its context “adulterates the message”. I would hope knowledge is knowledge wherever it may be found.

    Thanks again for your post!!

  • http://thepierianspring.wordpress.com/ aquinas

    Chris (#7) and MD (#13) ~ It seems to me that there is another assumption on the nature of scripture that is relevant in this discussion; that is, that scripture is merely the vehicle or delivery mechanism for propositional truths. The corollary is that the narrative is not as important since the narrative is simply how that propositional truth is delivered. This has overwhelmingly been the foundational assumption for the Mormon genre of scriptural commentaries, where rather than a kind of linguistic, structural or historical commentary, the authors add modern-day quotations by Church leaders who provide the propositional truth behind the scriptural passage in mind.

    Taken to its logical extreme, if scriptural narrative is nothing more than the generic or arbitrary means we get at propositional truth, then really it can be substituted for other narratives or any other scripture that performs the same function. That is, if the objective of the lesson is to show the wonderful things the Savior has done, it isn’t exactly clear why we have to read the book of Isaiah, as opposed to the New Testament where we can clearly see the Savior in action.

    I think the point that others are trying to make, or at least I’ve felt like making, is that the narrative itself and the actual historical background contain valuable lessons for us if we take the time to learn about them, otherwise we overlook these things. In their place, certainly we will probably still be discussing Gospel principles in the abstract, but not those necessarily based on the actual scriptures under consideration.

  • http://www.visionsofthekingdom.com David T

    MormonDeadhead:

    Here’s my response from curriculum:

    “Thanks you for your recent comments regarding the Old Testament Gospel Doctrine Course. Your comments will be shared with those responsible for this manual. We very much appreciate this kind of feedback. Your comments and suggestions are always welcome.”

    I would highly suggest sending them something concerning the same. You know, in the mouth of two or three witnesses… ;)

    CUR-Development[@]ldschurch. org

  • Charles

    Hi there MDH.

    You asked “Why have the Bible at all”.

    I was going to quote from an incident in Church History, but it is late and I cannot find it. So I will paraphrase. Apparently there was a time when one of the Apostles was facing some apostates. He took the Book of Mormon and threw it and said, you can get rid of the Book of Mormon and the Bible and still be OK as long as we have a living prophet.

    Well, why have the Bible at all? As above, there is a way we do not need it. But then there is another way that we do. Individuals are encouraged to read the Bible and thereby learn the ways of God with man and to get into the Spirit of the Gospel.

    So the reason to have the Bible is to teach and learn of the Gospel.

    One way to adulterate that message would be to discuss how Matthew interpreted Isaiah 7:14 and to get into details of how different people view the hebrew word Almah. Because the core message is that Jesus, the Son of God was Born here as foretold by prophets of times past. Sure, there is an extensive body of intellectual knowledge on these other matters, and having them handy to be able to answer questions is extremely valuable, but the focus is that Jesus, Son of God, was Born of Mary in the Land of Jerusalem as long foretold, hallelujah!

    Now, there is a sort of a hunger among some people in the Church for greater intellectual content in Sunday School (and other) lessons. So these people are part of your audience. To keep them satisfied, you probably need to scratch that itch a bit. But ultimately, intellectual exercises will not get to the real purpose, so I suggest what you do is really build that intellectual depth in yourself, and then allow it to help you address concerns by such class members and to prepare and build the class lesson material toward the behavior change/ spiritual objective. Always remember, with all your learning, get wisdom. And a key bit of wisdom is that as a teacher you are not called to “teach history” or “teach literature” but to preach repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ — in a manner that will help and motivate your people. In that last bit, follow the advice of Paul and become “all things” to “all” people.

  • Charles

    I just thought of something. A bit of an outline to approach teaching lessons.

    First, after completely reviewing the lesson, ask yourself these questions in the following order. And when you teach, make sure that you prioritize your time and lesson material in this order also:

    1. What change in behavior is expected of the students?
    Try to make this answer as simple as possible. In my experience fewer than 1 lesson in 10 has no clear behavioral challenge implicit in it. These exceptions will typically have an attitude challenge, which is also behavior, but internalized.

    2. What facts and information do students NEED to know to be effective in administering that behavior change in their lives?

    3. What facts, information and examples, including testimonies and stories, will help encourage students to do what they are supposed to do. (I find Mormon Journal articles in old Ensigns to be great for this).

    4. What problems and temptations exist in modern life that prevent the proper development of this behavior? This may include doubts about the meaning of scriptures or false sectarian notions of the scriptures that need to be clarified.

    5. What interesting things can be added to get attention at key points of the lesson?

  • Charles

    One last thing…

    Maybe some of the things you are trying to get across in your lesson.. the intellectual, historical things… are intended to help people “liken the scriptures unto (themselves)”. That is a reasonable way to get people involved in understanding the content. But you have to remember the reason you are sharing the detailed intellectual detail: First to get them to put themselves into the scriptural context or situation and Second to get them to have a behavioral or attitudinal change. Informational curlie cues are vanity.

  • oudenos

    I think, Charles, that you might be misunderstanding the purpose of the blog as a whole and this post in particular. Most of the bloggers here are deeply invested in academic fields related to the Bible, or religious studies, or they are academically trained in other disciplines but bring their training to bear on their Mormon beliefs and texts, or they are intellectual autodictats who are searching for more than what is generally offered in sunday school or Institute lessons.

    Relegating the historical and the intellectual to the spice cabinet is more or less the status quo, wouldn’t you agree? What we are trying to do here, sometimes, is show that the status quo (which your posts faithfully reiterate) needs to be questioned, its questions, assumptions, and objects reframed, and that the status quo ultimately might not be helpful to members of the church (i.e. what this post does).

  • Charles

    Hi oudenos,

    Not sure how I managed to miscommunicate, but I am aware that the subject in this post was about changing the content of Sunday School Lessons to focus more fully on intellectual refinements and findings.

    These folk who are academically minded have a natural desire to apply their academic understanding to the lessons. And of course, bringing our personalities and insights to the lessons are part of magnifying the calling.

    But it has to be done with a recognition of the OBJECTIVE of the lesson.

    Let me give an example. Suppose a Legal Scholar and Jurist is called to be a Sunday School Teacher. The subject of the Law of Moses comes up. If he focuses on the nature of contract consideration in the Law of Moses vs the Statutes of California, he will be completely messing up the lesson, if its objective is teach that Christ is the Lawgiver then and now. I doubt the Spirit would attend that lesson.

    In the same way, If a lesson on Isaiah has the purpose of helping class members come unto Christ by recognizing the great things he has done, then spending a great deal of time on nuances of how the scriptures seem to allude to Christ as worshiped in the Temple == and then alternatively don’t seem to apply to Him at all == is a serious distraction from that purpose. Indeed, when put very starkly the issue becomes: “Help people come to Christ” vs “Confuse people about whether the Bible actually supports the Church Doctrines of Christ”, the issue is highlighted. (Also, a discussion on temple ordnances possibly alluded to in the OT may leave out people who have not been to the Temple, possibly alienating the tender hearted.)

    When I read the Conference talks by General Authorities, I feel sufficiently challenged both spiritually and intellectually and yet they do not seem to dwell on academic issues. I suspect this is a reasonable example for us as Sunday School Teachers — I am ok with that example as the status quo.

    To me, it appears that you are arguing that the Lessons are insufficient for the members of the Church. But to me that is exactly the kind of thing that happens when people try to look BEYOND the mark. (Jacob 4:14) The lessons are authorized by the First Presidency and the Twelve, to fulfill the mission of the Church. Sunday School teachers are called to support that effort. It is the teacher’s job to remember unto what purpose they were called. In particular, they were not called to “steady the ark” (D&C 85:8).

    I am reminded of a particular quote from a General Conference talk by Elder Cook: “Substituting the Philosophies of Men for Gospel Truths…Some people seem to be embarrassed by the simplicity of the Savior’s message. They want to add complexity and even obscurity to the truth to make it more intellectually challenging or more compatible with current academic trends.”

    Incidentally, despite the simplicity of our Sunday School Lessons, Mormons apparently are pretty well educated in religious matters according to a recent study done by Pew. http://pewforum.org/Other-Beliefs-and-Practices/U-S-Religious-Knowledge-Survey.aspx

    So while, like Uzziah, you sincerely and with a good heart, want to take care of problems you see, maybe the First Presidency and Apostles are kinda on to something.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com Chris H.

    Charles,

    “….but I am aware that the subject in this post was about changing the content of Sunday School Lessons to focus more fully on intellectual refinements and findings.”

    It is not about changing content but about how do we go about teaching the content.

    Using the Pew Study is like saying that since you passed 3rd grade history…we no longer need historians.

    You have made your self-righteous anti-intellectualism clear. Good bye.

  • Charles

    Chris,

    If you think I promoted self righteousness or anti-intellectualism, you did not read what I said.

    Why so unkind?

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com Chris H.

    That is my interpretation of what you said. It may have been unkind, but I also think that you have offered a rather uncharitable interpretation of our project here at FPR.

  • Charles

    What was uncharitable?

    And I did not discuss some project, I was just responding to the content of this post.

    Are you trying to tell me, in a brusque manner, that my comments are unwelcome == because they do not support your sense of what is right? Or that my comments are unwelcome because I am a bit slow and don’t understand something you think is foundational?

    What is the reason for this hostility?

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com TT

    Charles,
    I for one think you are doing a fair job of laying our your perspective about the correct relationship between “scholarly” scriptural knowledge and the goals of SS. I am not entirely convinced in either case that you are correct, but I hope that you will continue to make your case as you have done.
    Part of the reason that I am not sure that I accept your framework is that you seem to suggest that knowledge about the scriptures is actually antithetical to the goals of SS. You seem to see the manual as the upper limit of knowledge allowed about the scriptures, rather than the very most basic. And, you seem to see the content of knowledge about the scriptures as only being able to be taught in a way that distracts from, rather than suppliments, the kind of knowledge that will lead people to change their lives. Finally, you seem to think that the kind of knowledge that is being taught now actually does change peoples lives.
    In my experience, not one of these things can be said to be true in any absolute sense. I’ve seen amazing teachers who have deep, deep knowledge give some of the most moving lessons because of what they know, not in spite of it. My concern is that your view requires those who do know more to pretend as if they don’t in order to teach things which may or may not be true, as in the case of whether or not Isaiah actually foresaw the birth of Christ. You seem to say that those who don’t think so as a matter of conscience actually should lie because that is what the lesson requires. I am not sure that this accomplishes the goals of SS that you see.

  • oudenos

    For what its worth, President Monson mingled the philosophy of a man with scripture just this last conference.

    “We have all experienced times when our focus is on what we lack rather than on our blessings. Said the Greek philosopher Epictetus, ‘He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.’

    Gratitude is a divine principle. The Lord declared through a revelation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith:

    ‘Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things. . . .

    ‘And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things.’”

    Epictetus, D&C back to back. BOO YEAH!

    If that isn’t mingling, I don’t know what is.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com Chris H.

    Charles,

    While I view your comments to be passive aggressive, they did not warrant my hostility. I do not think you have reason to worry. Your view is found throughout the Church. This is also why you are unlikely to find my in Sunday School.

    oudenos,

    I am not sure if I can sustain him anymore.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.com Nitsav

    Heh. I’m now filling in for a sick teacher tomorrow, so this has become much less academic and hypothetical. I’m thinking we’ll talk through Isaiah 22, and peshat vs. derash, and perhaps begin with this statement by Fronk in the OP.

  • g.wesley

    wow. have i been missing out here.

  • Charles

    TT,

    I’m not sure how I miscommunicated things but you have drawn several conclusions about my intent that I did not say and in fact, I said the opposite.

    Look here at this statement you made about me and what i actually said:

    TT: you seem to suggest that knowledge about the scriptures is actually antithetical to the goals of SS.

    Charles: the Church is not in any way opposed to in-depth scholarly research by its members.
    Charles: there is an extensive body of intellectual knowledge on these other matters, and having them handy to be able to answer questions is extremely valuable

    So, notice that I did NOT say knowledge about the scriptures is antithetical to the goal of SS. What I said was trying to turn SS into a scholarly lesson that contains intellectual innuendo that do not support the objectives of the lesson are antithetical to the goal of SS. There is a difference.

    How am I being unclear? I don’t understand the confusion.

    Again

    TT: you seem to see the content of knowledge about the scriptures as only being able to be taught in a way that distracts from, rather than suppliments
    Charles: the intellectual, historical things… are intended to help people “liken the scriptures unto (themselves)”. That is a reasonable way to get people involved in understanding the content.

    And I absolutely object with my whole heart and soul to this statement: “your view requires those who do know more to pretend as if they don’t in order to teach things which may or may not be true”

    Nothing could be further from the truth of what I said.

    I am completely flummoxed. I said what I said as clearly as I know how to say it and it seems that no one is “getting” it. But it is very simple. Very very simple.

    But let me say it again in even simpler words.

    Sunday School has an objective that has been assigned by the First Presidency and the Twelve.

    We are not authorized to change their direction.

    The objectives in Sunday School are further refined in each Lesson, with an objective for that Lesson.

    We are supposed to teach the Lesson with a focus on the objective of that lesson.

    If we decide to change the objective by focusing and emphasizing various intellectual shadings and readings and opinions, we are doing a disservice and we are acting to “steady the ark”, contrary to what we are called to do.

    If we cannot accept the callings we are given, we should not take them. But if we take them, we should fill them as intended.

    Nothing in the above says “dumb down the lessons”. Nothing in the above says “Kill curiosity”. Nothing in the above says “avoid thinking”. But everything above does say “Follow the Prophet” and “Don’t Steady the Ark”.

    Is there a problem with humility here? Are people so caught up in education and learning that they absolutely must have it their way and can’t submit to the authority of the Church Leadership that called them to the position in of teacher?

    I am having a hard time understanding the complete misunderstanding of my words and/or utter rejection and hatred of what I am saying except that it comes by people feeling that their way is superior to that of the plan put in place by the First Presidency and the Twelve.

    How am I getting it wrong?

  • Charles

    ouedenos,

    I think if you would read the original talk that contains the quote I gave, you would see that President Monson’s talk does not fit the criteria in mind.

    Would you like a link to that original talk? I can find it for you.

  • Charles

    Chris,

    Passive Aggressive is a not a nice thing to be or say to someone if it is not true.

    I think I have been plain spoken, I tried to be helpful and though I have not agreed with people, I have been polite. I am not being obstructionist. I have a belief that I expressed in, what I hope, was a reasonable manner.

    I don’t think it is passive aggressive to be polite or reasonable while not agreeing with someone… but maybe I am wrong.

    I can see you just flat out do not like me, though for the life of me I can’t figure out why… but I accept it and hope that we can just get past one another.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com Chris H.

    Charles,

    “I can see you just flat out do not like me, though for the life of me I can’t figure out why… ”

    Let me refer you to a quote, by you, in comment #30:

    “Is there a problem with humility here? Are people so caught up in education and learning that they absolutely must have it their way and can’t submit to the authority of the Church Leadership that called them to the position in of teacher?”

    That is why I do not like you.

    My favorite part of dealing with passive aggressive-types is when they say “Who? Me?”

    Most of the folks at the blog have advanced education in biblical and religious studies. I have no doubt that when their bishopric called them to teach Sunday School or to be Sunday School President, that such learning was part of the reason that they received said callings.

  • Charles

    I would like to add something … and this is not a defense of anything I have said, but perhaps an amplification and an encouragement.

    If someone here has a lesson that they will teach say tomorrow, or more realistically next week, I challenge them to:

    1. Pray for the Spirit..

    2. find the purpose, intent and objective of the lesson in as simple and short a statement as possible but that conveys the idea to their minds completely.

    3. set aside the lesson manual materials, other than recommended talks by apostles and scriptural references.

    4. Now, WITHOUT using the lesson manual but using your best and deepest academic and personal spiritual insights prepare a lesson that accomplishes the objectives — the purpose — of the lesson in the manual. Try to focus on a spiritual testimony of the lesson topic and if you do not have one for yourself, borrow one from a Church Magazine.

    5. After having the lesson entirely prepared WITHOUT the Lesson manual, now go back to the Lesson Manual and see how your developed lesson that achieves the manuals objective — and the ideas in the lesson manual itself — can be used in harmony. You may find that some of the lesson manual materials do a better job of building a case or a position than you were able to do on your own. But in some cases, you may find you did a better job. Go with what works best.

    I promise you that the lesson you come up with will be far more compelling and spiritual and memorable than any lesson that dwells on and picks apart intellectual curly cues associated with the scriptures. It will also require MORE work and MORE intellectual resources than the recitation of academic theories.

    And it will be in harmony with the intent of the Lessons and the bretheren and thus you will have the Spirit. And if you have the Spirit then ye shall teach!

  • Charles

    OK Chris. You do not like me because of the questions I ask.

    You probably suspect them of being somehow agenda laden. They are not. I asked them directly and without irony or assumption. I am really asking the questions and they are not rhetorical. It is the only reason that I can imagine for the responses I am getting.

    But you do not like such questions and you do not like people who ask them.

    Can we agree to just avoid one another? I won’t talk to you and you won’t talk to me? Then at least there will not be a source of added friction and bad feeling.

  • oudenos

    Charles,

    I think that you are too quickly dismissing what academic training is and can bring to lessons on the OT or NT or even the BoM or D&C. You keep marginalizing such training as “curly cues” and “intellectual innuendo.” Perhaps you have in mind modern literary critical theory and perhaps your exposure to it has soured you. I don’t fault you in that because I find some critical theory to be distasteful too. But you simply cannot dismiss in the same way training in the languages that OT or NT were composed in.

    There are no curly cues or innuendo when it comes to spending one’s entire adult life in becoming proficient in Greek or Hebrew and other related languages. I don’t care how much you pray for the Spirit or how hard you study the manual, you will not be able to Holy Ghost your way into being able to read a Psalm in Hebrew or Hebrews in Greek (I made that a chiasm for you because Mormons seem to like chiasms these days). Not that these languages are necessary to teach SS or Institute lesson, far from it. But do please stop saying pfft to the academic training of those who have commented here.

  • http://www.keepapitchinin.org Ardis E. Parshall

    As someone without a single intellectual curly cue, but enough of both wisdom and humility to be keenly aware of the deficiency, I depend on the permas here every bit as much as on printed commentaries and reference works to help me find my way out of the prooftexting of the manuals.

    (Charles, you simply can’t walk into someone’s house and start telling your host what you think is wrong with him, and then tell that host not to talk to you anymore. If you tried that in the physical universe, you wouldn’t be treated with the courtesy you’ve received here. Stop while you’re behind, man. Chris H. is a perma here.)

  • MormonDeadhead

    g.wesley

    to your comment #9

    I have been thinking about this comment and wonder if our rashness to teach the OT with little regard for the historical background is (1) a familiarity issue, and (2) what is at stake theologically.

    The OT certainly comes in a distant last place if we rank how much each standard work is read by the average LDS (likewise, if we are looking at the larger Christian world, it seems most have become followers of Marcion :) since the NT texts are clearly preferred over the OT) . The BoM is obviously first and as such countless volumes have been written in an attempt to understand the (ancient?) historical setting of the BoM. Also, more and more studies are looking at the historical issues at play in the DC revelations (probably/maybe 2nd place in standard works familiarity among LDS). With the NT, LDS start to show a lack of interest (in historical questions that is, not in the NT itself), but nothing comparable to the OT. It sees that the further from familiarity one gets, the more LDS (or at least the manuals) move away from the historical questions about the text. Maybe familiarity plays a part??

    Another issue that might be at play is what is riding on these texts theologically. The BoM goes without saying: some feel that if they cannot prove that it is ancient, everything, including the church, falls to the ground. This seems to foster a spirit of inquiry into the historical details of the text. The NT is important as a theological document, but not as much as the BoM; therefore, the tendency to move towards a modern-application-proof text reading is more apparent though some of the historical background comes into play, particularly things that Jesus was reported to have done. Once we get to the OT however I think most bets are off. First, there is so little familiarity that no one really knows what theological viewS are present in the OT; even if one starts to recognize some of the different ways of dealing with a theological problem found in the OT, one has to try and square that with what they perceive the 21st century LDS church to teach. A tough job, therefore, since there is not as much riding on it (such as the BoM), it is easier to keep ignoring it.

    Your thoughts???

  • Charles

    Ok, Oudenos,

    Help me out. You have accused me of many things.

    Quote where I have dismissed academic training or where I said such training cannot be brought to bear on the lessons. Please find one instance of it.

    Quote where I ever even once referred to academic training as “Curly cues”.

    Quote where I have even slightly dismissed training in the original languages of the Bible.

    I assert you have accused me falsely in your post. I think you are not paying attention to what I wrote. Have you bothered to read #34? It is directly contradictory to everything you said.

  • SmallAxe

    I’m going to jump in here because I fear that we here at FPR come out looking like snobs who aren’t willing to condescend to some non-academic member of the church who just doesn’t “get it”. Not that Charles hasn’t said a few things that merit reprobation; but other than a couple of comments I don’t think the ideas he’s putting forth are really being engaged.

    Charles, let me make a point as a preliminary response.

    You are under the impression that the objectives of the SS lessons are assigned by the FP and the 12; but why is it only the objective and not the entire lesson?

    The reason I raise this question is because such a distinction seems rather arbitrary to me; although I agree that lessons should have some kind of objective (or objectives), and this objective out to relate to the goals of the church.

    More importantly, however, your theory of planning the lesson with the prescribed objective in mind often times trivializes the scriptures under discussion. Take for instance the objective of Lesson 32 on Job: “To help class members develop strength to face adversity by trusting the Lord, building their testimonies of him, and maintaining personal integrity.” Do we even need the book of Job to attain this objective? Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with this objective. The problem, however, is that the text is reduced to the objective–with anything that does not fit the objective cast aside.

    The attempt to articulate multiple levels of understanding is a means to navigate through this situation by recognizing the stated objective in the manual, and also by engaging the complexity of the text since it surely has more than one objective.

    To state it another way, a problem with much of our approach to scripture is that our focus is less on understanding it as a text and more on conforming it to our preconceived ideas of what it ought to say.

  • MormonDeadhead

    Charles,

    To your response back in #16

    “Apparently there was a time when one of the Apostles was facing some apostates. He took the Book of Mormon and threw it and said, you can get rid of the Book of Mormon and the Bible and still be OK as long as we have a living prophet.”

    You quote this BY story to show that we don’t need scriptures (I guess???), but then point out that “Individuals are encouraged to read the Bible and thereby learn the ways of God with man [and women] and to get into the Spirit of the Gospel.”

    As quoted, you have set up a contradiction in how things are “supposed” to be (I trust you can see this contradiction). I feel that contradictions are part of how life is, In fact, part of what I was trying to do was foster discussion about some of the contradictions that appear in teaching the scriptures to a LDS audience. Perhaps in somewhat the same way you would think through the implications of what BY said together with how the church operates today and have to deal with these different views is the similar to what I am trying to do: namely, take two (or more) pieces of information that I feel have some sort of worth/authority/value and look for ways to navigate contradictions between the two. I don’t feel that 1 has to be correct and 1 has to be wrong; it’s much more complex than that IMO.

    But, if as you seem to indicate by this thread, you already have all of life’s questions figured out, and feel that verses pulled completely out of context and historical setting provide eternal truths then more power to you. I can respect your approach (though I don’t agree with it), and understand that a worldview with no perceived contradictions can bring comfort to some, though I admit it is difficult for me to understand how someone could know of a certain piece of information, Matt interpretation of Is 7.14 is a good example, and knowingly turn from it because it doesn’t fit your particular world view). However, some notice, struggle, and even appreciate how complicated some of these issues are. In my worldview if there isn’t paradox, then you aren’t living, but that’s just me.

  • MormonDeadhead

    Smallaxe, I posted #41 without seeing your comment, thus I brought up several things that you mention in your comment. Thank you for your thoughts.

  • Charles

    Hello Ardis,

    I am not sure, but I think I have posted with you before. Maybe years ago on Compuserve? Or were you on AOL?

    I have not run in and told anyone what was wrong with them. If you think that I have been critical of any person in here, please find the words I typed where I criticized anyone in here.

    No, it is the other way around. I have been directly and personally criticized and even described as mentally ill.

    For nothing more than giving my opinion. (And please notice that the responses to what I have said have largely fallen into two classes – either they misread what I said, claiming I said things I did not say, or they simply insulted me personally).

    But I have never, knowingly responded in kind. All I did was say to Chris was that if we cannot get along (and I still don’t get why), then lets not talk.

    Is that really a a bad idea?

    As for Chris having power — well, if he wants to ban me from this place then so be it. But it will not be for good cause. I have not done anything the least bit wrong. I have not called names. I have not been rude. And I am not posting anything that is against the principles of this blog as far as I can tell. I have simply replied to the posts that I saw to my best ability. Maybe my abilities are not so good, but I am really doing my best.

    I have basically said “Focus on the objective of the lesson and do not let the wisdom of the world detract from that objective”. From the reaction, I feel like saying that is tantamount to declaring war. But why? Why is that so offensive? I am entirely at a loss on this. I do not understand why that idea is considered an insult.

    My personal experience is involved in my opinions. involve myself in a great deal of intellectual study, especially in ancient Christian literature outside of the Bible, but also ancient hebrew, archaeology, mathematics and science. I have taught Gospel Doctrine many times and in an effort to “grow the lessons up”, I would work very hard to try to find places to add knowledge and insights into the scripture lessons that are not found in the lesson manuals. I would discuss nuances of words in the text and historical contexts and so on.

    There were some interesting consequences to this. First and most notably — I never had enough time to finish a lesson! There was too much stuff. Secondly, and more perniciously, I was getting many compliments. The class was swelling and people wanted me to hold classes at night after Church. It was ego satisfying if not downright bloating. (Oh how I relished the spotlight of being the dispenser of my collected intellectual insight!) Worse though, I believe that while I got more attention, I do not believe that I was teaching with the Spirit and I do not know this for a fact, but I suspect I hurt some testimonies.

    I don’t know what led me to change my method of teaching. I think it was that I was always running out of time — and I began to look at ways to shorten the lesson. As I did so, I gradually came to realize that I could teach a far more EFFECTIVE lesson if I focused like a laser on the objective of the lesson and build everything else around that.

    Theres more to be said, but as saying these things seems to be offensive, I have probably said enough.

  • Charles

    Hi Deadhead,

    I completely agree about Christianity having been won by Marcion! I have no direct evidence on this, but I suspect that Marcion’s efforts to beatify Paul, led to a preservation of his writings at a far earlier than the writings of other Apostles. Only John survives very much because he apparently had a school of followers. But this Marcion victory led directly to Luther and Calvin and the beliefs that followed them. And although Catholicism, left unmolested would have been every bit as vicious an enemy to the restoration as the modern Marcionites were, it is an historical fact that it was not mostly Catholics who composed the mob at Carthage.

    I know that’s off topic but I wanted to just say that because its one of my own personal peeves and I feel happy to see someone else express it.

    The rest of your post had to do with how we focus on the OT. My own observation is that it is the largest book and because we devote a year to each one, it gets passed through pretty quickly. That is probably the main reason that it would be lowest on the list of scriptures that LDS pay attention to.

    But what I wondered about was this: Do you have some source that provides analysis of how much LDS pay attention to the different books? I have tended to believe that the order of interest is: NT, BOM, PoGP, D&C, OT, but is there any actual study of this?

  • Charles

    Smallaxe,

    Thanks for your comments. There is a much in there that I want to respond to, but only one thing pricked my heart, so first I want to focus on that:

    “Not that Charles hasn’t said a few things that merit reprobation”

    What did I say? What did you have in mind? If I have said something that was evil I would like to repent.

  • MormonDeadhead

    re 44

    1-my Marcion comment was intended more for comic relief than an informed historical analysis. Others are far more qualified than me to speak to Early Christianities and/or Marcion-like ideas in the reformation era, though I suspect there is quite a bit more nuance than your observations suggest

    2-”And although Catholicism, left unmolested would have been every bit as vicious an enemy to the restoration as the modern Marcionites were…” ???????? not sure at all what to do w/ this????

    3- As to what scriptures are read the most, I am not relying upon any statistics; just painting with large strokes off the top of my head. Could be an interesting discussion for another time.

  • SmallAxe

    What did I say? What did you have in mind?

    In a sense, you are striving to adulterate the message.

    Informational curlie cues are vanity.

    To me, it appears that you are arguing that the Lessons are insufficient for the members of the Church. But to me that is exactly the kind of thing that happens when people try to look BEYOND the mark. (Jacob 4:14) The lessons are authorized by the First Presidency and the Twelve, to fulfill the mission of the Church. Sunday School teachers are called to support that effort. It is the teacher’s job to remember unto what purpose they were called. In particular, they were not called to “steady the ark” (D&C 85:8).

    At the very least you imply that we are adulterating the lessons of the church, and that we are vain ark-steadiers who look beyond the mark.

  • Charles

    Deadhead.

    Do we need the scriptures or not? I am of the opinion that we do not need them if we have a living oracle of God. But since we have the scriptures and since they do contain wisdom and the words of God and Jesus, we should value them highly and make use of them as far as practical. And using the scriptures is the official doctrine of the Church as well.

    So, I believe this is only an apparent contradiction not a real contradiction. It’s a bit like this: The original languages spoken by people like Abraham and older patriarchs appear to be largely lost. Do we NEED to hear the words in those languages to understand the concepts the ideas necessary for our salvation? Granted it might be very helpful but is it NECESSARY? The more you believe in the Holy Ghost and in Modern Oracles the less you will believe that it is necessary.

    I hope I haven’t offended anyone by saying that.

    Your attempt to navigate contradictions that you find (or paradoxes if you like – I certainly prefer paradox) is reasonable, legitimate and I imagine, something that everyone does at their own levels. But it is not the sort of thing that teaching a Sunday School lesson is generally about.

    I note your comment about me figuring out all of life’s questions. I have not alluded to such a thing and have not implied it. Where do you think I have done so? I can’t even see the topic being approached much less discussed.

    And yes, while a world-view without contradictions probably would bring comfort to some people, I am not aware of any world views without contradictions. Also, I have not discussed world views without contradictions, nor did I propose one. For example, I did not propose that we ignore or turn from Matt’s interpretation of Isa 7:14. I just didn’t. And suggesting that I did, is not a valid response to what I said.

    What I said was this: “One way to adulterate that message would be to discuss how Matthew interpreted Isaiah 7:14 nd to get into details of how different people view the hebrew word Almah. Because the core message is that Jesus, the Son of God was Born here as foretold by prophets of times past.”

    If you remove the second sentence there from the first, I can understand how you might think I was saying that the issue should generally be ignored and that interested LDS people should just flip the page and move on. But when the second sentence is supplied, the meaning of what I said does not take on the flavor of “Ignore the problems” but rather “Teach the Lesson Objective”.

    if the Lesson objective is: “Understand that there are problems with some passages of Scripture”, then exploring the issue of Isa 7:14 makes sense. But if the Lesson objective is: “Understand that Jesus is the Son of God”, it does not make sense to explore that problem in scripture.

  • http://www.keepapitchinin.org Ardis E. Parshall

    Wow.

  • MormonDeadhead

    OK, Charles, well…don’t know where to go with this, but as Ron Burgandy says, “Agree to Disagree” :)

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com Chris H.

    Ron Burgandy is my kind of oracle.

  • SmallAxe

    “One way to adulterate that message would be to discuss how Matthew interpreted Isaiah 7:14 nd to get into details of how different people view the hebrew word Almah. Because the core message is that Jesus, the Son of God was Born here as foretold by prophets of times past.”

    This speaks to the very issue that I raised in my initial comment. The problem is that you presume to know what a passage means before even seeking to understand it.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com TT

    My sense is that Charles is a good guy who doesnt know that he is stepping on land mines for some of us here. Let’s see if we can work to make ourselves clear.

  • Secco

    Charles,
    I would like to thank you for your comments, and for your patience as we seek to reply to your concerns, variants of which many of us have heard so frequently that we can seem to have an allergic reaction to them. Couple of thoughts:

    - You’ve stated that, “the subject in this post was about changing the content of Sunday School Lessons to focus more fully on intellectual refinements and findings.” (comment 20) This is not how many of see the post. We seek not to focus on “intellectual refinements,” but to instead feast rather than nibble upon the word. Proof-texting can so often miss the point that the Lord really is making in a given passage of scripture.

    - We tend to see the approach that starts with the objective of the lesson as all important ending up being troublesome more often than not. This approach often, in my experience, can end up leading the teacher to cherry-pick quotes, verses, and interpretations of verses to support said objective. This is not seeking learning by study and by faith, and in fact is prone to make it harder for the instructor to teach by the Spirit. Rather, such approaches, in our experience, tend to allow teachers to feel like their pre-conceived interpretations are correct.

    - We agree completely that living prophets are invaluable. But Heavenly Father has provided the scriptures to us for a reason, and has repeatedly told us that we undervalue the written word and that further light and knowledge is dependent upon our treasuring and searching the current canon with all the energy we have. We know through experience that many academics have spent their lives trying to bring a more rigorous and substantive approach to studying the scriptural record, and frequently we as members of the Church could benefit from these insights.

    I tend to agree with Terryl Givens’ observation that Joseph Smith evidenced tremendous interest and value to academic learning: after Joseph had translated the Book of Mormon — a translational feat to be marveled at — he hired a teacher to teach him Hebrew. We at FPR are, however modestly, seeking to follow this example. Striving to deepen our understanding of the scriptures through the hard work of understanding what the original language might have meant, etc., is not a curlicue but taking seriously the command to seek learning by study and also by faith (notice which of these methods is listed first).

    Again, thanks for participating. In closing, you might be interested to learn that ark-steadying does not appear to be an accurate metaphor for correcting the Brethren, see http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com/2008/06/uzzah-killed-for-blind-obedience/
    for further details.

  • DavidH

    Charles,

    I think your ideas have merit, and that the method you currently use to prepare your lessons also has merit. If that is the best way for you to feel the spirit in preparing and presenting your lessons, then that is the method you should use.

    I took, though, as a message from your various posts that you believe your method is the only one that can bring the spirit. And that you were calling members and permas of FPR to repentance for looking at things differently or believing that a different preparation method work better for them.

  • g.wesley

    m-d-h (#38),

    i think that covers it and don’t have anything to add.

    sorry to see the marcionite thing spin out of control.

    thanks again for the lively post.

  • Scott

    All the scholarly knowledge of men will not save a man in the kingdom of Heaven.

    I know what I say is against the grain. I know the purpose of this blog, and though what I say will be incendiary, and I may be treated as Charles has, yet I will say it.

    The role of the Church is repentance (Romans 3:23), which involves leading a person through the inspiration of the Holy Ghost to the Atonement of Jesus Christ, to have their natures changed such to qualify for eternal life. The Holy Ghost will not in a Sunday School class testify of ancient Greek texts of the book of Acts, or literary analysis, or a discovery that some chapters of Isaiah may or may not have been written by the prophet. He will testify of eternal truths which will bring men closer to God.

    I believe the intentions of this blog are well-placed, and an aim for eternal truths which will lead people to eternal life will satisfy these intentions.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com John C.

    Scott,
    I don’t think anyone here is arguing that we shouldn’t repent or that we shouldn’t preach/teach repentance. But a reminder is always appreciated. Now, should we do our best to learn about sacred texts? Yes. And that is being argued, so I’m not sure what you (or Charles) find objectionable. Na ja.

  • SmallAxe

    I believe the intentions of this blog are well-placed, and an aim for eternal truths which will lead people to eternal life will satisfy these intentions.

    What makes you think this isn’t our aim?

  • MormonDeadhead

    Scott,

    Can’t speak for everyone, but I do what I do because I “aim for eternal truths which lead people to eternal life.” I don’t see academia and looking for eternal life as mutually exclusive. But as John C said, thank you for the reminder!

  • The Aphorist

    Charles (if you are still hanging in there, and if so, good for you), I think a useful summary of the point being made by many in relation to this post was certainly: “a problem with much of our approach to scripture is that our focus is less on understanding it as a text and more on conforming it to our preconceived ideas of what it ought to say.”

    You would do well (here) to see how your tone comes off as condescending and how you only reinforce the idea that SS is about using the scriptures as (nearly arbitrary) material to reinforce those “preconceived ideas,” when you describe details integral to understanding a text as “curlie cues,” “tid-bits” and “arcane.”

  • http://www.lifeongoldplates.com BHodges

    Popping in quite late, I noticed Charles making this observation:

    The goals that you seem to want to mix in there are all scholastic. They certainly are interesting and in some ways that can be “faith promoting”. But in the end, these things are not very important to the mission of the Church and I suspect they are not considered to be the purpose of Church lessons.

    What if we end up wresting the scriptures in a way that damages the mission of the Church? It seems to me we sell our members short when we discount their ability to read a text in context and still be uplifted in some way.

    Oh, and aquinas’s #14 was brilliantly stated. 3 cheers!

  • http://www.lifeongoldplates.com BHodges

    Charles, to be more clear, I don’t think the exploration of the scripture in question in this blog post would prevent the Spirit from being present, nor would it prevent learners from benefiting from the lesson as the manual dictates. I’m thinking particularly of the interesting question proposed in response #2 above regarding how Christ is different from the person depicted in the Isaiah verse. Or it’s a nice (and potentially quick) way to remind members of the Church to carefully read the scriptures. It certainly caught me by surprise in a good way.

  • Charles

    Aphorist,

    I travel a great deal and sometimes I can’t keep up with internet things. I will return. I can see many folk have written responses to me which I will be pleased to reply to at a later time.

    As for my tone being condescending, I can’t hear it myself. I don’t think that there is anything condescending about it. But if it comes across that way, there isn’t much I can do about it because I am entirely unaware and wouldn’t know how to change it.

    Perhaps its that I sound pretty sure of myself? But I think most people here sound sure of themselves.

    As for preconcieved notions, yes… but not my preconcieved notions. The preconcieved notions that the First Presidence and the Twelve have approved in the lesson manuals — the objectives of the lesson — those are the preconceived notions I was directly advocating.

    Again, the purpose of Sunday School is not about undersanding the “text” per se. It is about understanding the Gospel. There is a difference. The text is a vehicle to understanding the Gospel and obtaining a testimony. We are commanded to “seek to obtain my word” first before teaching it. And I suspect many folk believe that by intellectual study of textual passages in original tongues and so on they might “obtain the word”. Which is a good thing, if they can do it. But, the commandment continues with regard to “Seek first to obtain my word”, by revealing the purpose and intent of doing so — so that you may be able to convince others to believe.

    The focus of the lesson is the gospel… not the nuances of the text and the various things that men thing about them one way or the other. The lesson manual is far more restrictive than I have suggested and says “Be judicious in your use of commentaries and other nonscriptural sources of information. Class members should be taught to seek knowledge and inspiration from the scriptures and the words of the latter-day prophets. ” I have not been that restrictive in what I have said and yet what I said seems to be very upsetting.

  • http://www.lifeongoldplates.com/ BHodges

    Charles, I’m not upset at what you’ve said although I find your preaching somewhat condescending and narrow-minded. Several others in the discussion are not upset either, as is evident from their comments to you. Unfortunately you seem to have tuned out responses that don’t cast you into the martyrs role though. Too bad.

  • MormonDeadhead

    As the comments have died down may I just say that I appreciate *all* of the comments on this lively thread. My first blogging experience has been a good one. Thank you!

  • Greg R

    As I going through Isa 22 this morning with my family (I like to give my kids my take on the lessons) and talking about the symbolism one of my kids pointed out v25 and asked what it meant. We had discussed that the nail was the sealing power of the priesthood and it occurred to me that an Isaiah theme was that the temple was going to be destroyed and soon after Christ came it was also destroyed. In that case all of it was going to fall down for a time since the ordinance would be taken off the earth. Whether just quick thinking or inspiration I’m not going to claim but it is a thought that still makes this all work.

  • Enoch

    Very lively first post MormonDeadhead! Thanks for that.

    Even as someone trained in and deeply invested in academic study of the Bible, I think I will side with Charles here, at least to a point. There is a difficult balance to strike between giving students what they want/are prepared to receive, and telling them things that are true. This is where a bit of postmodernism helps, the idea that meaning is not in the text itself, but in the intersection of text and reader, which leads us back to the title of the post “Levels of understanding…”

    I think that SS teachers should have a firm grasp on multiple levels of meaning in the scriptures, historical context included. But is that what all students need? Is Sunday School a University Bible course? I would submit not. Do Sunday School students need to be told that actually, Jesus was just read into the Jewish scriptures by his earliest followers, who were desperate to convince themselves that Jesus’ unexpected death was according to God’s plan after all? Perhaps not.

    The goal of the gospel is to transform us into divine, loving beings. I think this should be the primary purpose of Church. I don’t think we need to idolize the Bible. Sure scripture is great, but there is some crazy stuff in there too. I am not going to say what the right thing to do in all cases is, but I am open to acknowledging that in a Sunday School setting, some eisegesis might be appropriate. We could say, “Yes, those verses are reminiscent of these Gospel principles. Now, the following verses don’t quite fit into that idea, but it does still bring those ideas to our attention.”

    I think a personal connection with God is worth more than all scripture. I have always liked that reading of 2 Nephi 32–the scriptures lead to the Holy Ghost; the Holy Ghost leads to Christ.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X