Tis the start of the New Year, and therefore the start of a new lesson cycle for those of us who serve as teachers in church. What to do, what to do, we think. A class participant who is 48 years old may have heard the lessons we are supposed to present some ten or so times! And this year the Sunday School lesson cycle is the Book of Mormon, which most people can actually read if they try, so it’s not like we’re going to surprise anyone with some new verses about the theological insights of the mothers of the stripling warriors or whatever…
Fortunately, I don’t have that problem. I’m teaching the oldest adolescents this year, so I seem to have four young gentlemen in their last two years of high school. They’ve had these lessons perhaps only three times! However, since they are teenagers it is quite possible that they do already know everything there is to know with that incorrigible certainty so characteristic of youth…
What to do, what to do? I think maybe I’ll read the BoM with them for entrance and insights into the foundational aspects of Christianity, in hopes that this will give them a bit of confidence as they head out on their missions in three or so years.
Take that quotation from Joseph Smith regarding the Book of Mormon as “the most correct book.” I was probably supposed to use it to inspire confidence in the accuracy of the Book of Mormon. But you know, for these guys who are going to have to talk about scripture with utter strangers I thought it best to open up a conversation about the nature and sources of error in scripture. Real confidence with scripture, I thought, comes not from some vague and self-serving assurance that there are few errors, or no errors of importance, but from having the knowledge and skills to approach error in scripture, regardless of where it is found, with poise.
I was interested to find that most of them could contribute types and sources of mistakes in scripture. One young man even allowed as how he had “heard that there were genres in the Bible that were not supposed to be read literally.” However, I was saddened (and unsurprised) to find that none of them had any ideas about how believers who think carefully about these things deal with the intersection of error and revelation. It is quite one thing to assert that scripture is correct only insofar as the processes of transmission allow, but another matter to take that next step and decide what to do about it!
So far, I’ve just introduced them to a discreet version of the Catholic approach, “that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation” (Dei verbum 11). The immediate consequences of this are twofold. First, “the things of salvation” must be carefully studied out because it does not follow that they are laying around like sea shells on the shore for casual beach walkers to pick and discard. The second is that information of a scientific and historical cast has no divine guarantee and so we may choose to investigate it or not, without prejudice to the presentation of matters of salvation. And for now, that will do.
More later, gotta go to the gym,