Quotes of Note- Marion D. Hanks and Theological Illiterates

“No one knows anything about Christ’s work simply by being born a member of the Church, and often he knows little about it after years of unmotivated exposure in meetings or classes. He must learn. And learning involves self-investment and effort. The gospel should be studied ‘as carefully as any science.’ The ‘literature of the Church’ must be ‘acquired and read.’ Our learning should be increased in our spare time ‘day by day.’ Then as we put the gospel truth to work in daily life, we will never find it wanting. We will be literate in the most important field of knowledge in the universe, knowledge for lack of which men and nations perish, in the light of which men and nations may be saved”- Elder Marion D. Hanks, “Theological Illiterates”, Improvement Era (September 1968): 42 (Single quotes apparently in the original.)

Discuss amongst yourselves.

  • Erin

    I wonder what he is considering the “literature of the Church”. Would that be scriptures? General Conference talks? Books by General Authorities? I do like the idea that we read, study, and then take action.

  • http://loydo38.blogspot.com the narrator

    It’s been my experience that if we want to really educate ourselves and learn new things about Christ’s work, we need to extend ourselves outside of the “literature of the Church.” Otherwise, we are going to remain plateaued in a virtually endless rehash of McConkie speculations and interpretations of scripture.

  • Ben Spackman

    I suspect the “literature of the Church” in 1968 was different than today. Regardless, his point about the necessity of reading and self-directed studying beyond the normal routine is really applicable. It’s easy for LDS born and raised in the Church to assume they have a more solid knowledge of Church history and doctrine than they actually do.

    An anecdote- I taught a RM section of Book of Mormon at BYU back in 2004 or so. The first day, we spent some time talking about the coming forth, translation, publication, etc. I mentioned Joseph’s seerstone and got some funny looks, so I elaborated. After a minute or two, a hand was raised. His comment and manner of delivery clearly implied that I was making things up, because he was an RM and *he’d* never heard of this, so clearly, it wasn’t true.

    I asked for a show of hands of those who’d heard of Joseph’s seerstone. 2-3 tentative hands out of a class of 20+.

    “How many of you read back issues of the Ensign on your mission? It’s been in there, as recently as 1997 by Elder Maxwell.” None.
    “How many of you have read any biographies of Joseph Smith?” None
    “History of the Church?” None
    “By the Hand of Mormon?” None
    “Browsed the Encyclopedia of Mormonism? It’s mentioned in there.” No hands.

    I was, frankly, surprised and dismayed at both the lack of intellectual curiosity and the naive arrogance that somehow simply attending church for 21 years and being a missionary meant you’d learned all there was to know and seen all there was to see, and if you didn’t know it, it couldn’t be true. So Hanks’ statement really resonated with me -”No one knows anything about Christ’s work simply by being born a member of the Church, and often he knows little about it after years of unmotivated exposure in meetings or classes. He must learn.”

  • Ben Spackman

    After that, I prepped a handout to go along with the brief seerstone discussion. Copy of it here.
    http://db.tt/5e1uASG

  • Emily U

    I love the phrase “unmotivated exposure.” Also “naive arrogance.” There’s plenty of that out there.

    Hanks’ quote is well taken.

    However, I’m not certain I agree with his assertion that lack of gospel knowledge is the root of the demise of men and nations. I think having a “change of heart” rather than accumulating knowledge, even about the gospel, is what will save humanity. I suppose one could argue that learning about the gospel will result in a change of heart, but cogitating on a gospel principle is not the same as having it penetrate your heart.

  • Matt

    As a recently returned RM, I would have raised my hand to each of your questions in class. Today in my D&C class at BYU I had the same experience you described when I made the point that David Whitmer quite severely criticized Brigham Young in his famous deathbed testimony.

    (And Ben, I met you briefly on my mission but this blog hadn’t been started yet [not that I would have been able to read it anyway])

  • http://loydo38.blogspot.com the narrator

    Ben, some good points. Perhaps the GP manual has just completely destroyed my hope for something more. And while I recognize that some in the Church certainly produce more (and some even officially sanctioned–such as the JSP), when I disagree with something in the GP and get the response that “the Brethren” support the manual, then all hope seems to fade away again.

  • Ben Spackman

    Matt (Formerly Known As “Elder”)- It’s good to hear at least some missionaries are improving in this area. I suspect much of the Church operates with a trickle-down effect.

    Narrator- I have my own thoughts on the manuals which I’ll post soon. I think the content of the manuals is not so much as the issue as normativity of the manuals. I have low expectations for manuals given the vastly different kinds of people they have to go to; I can handle a very basic manual, provided we have the local autonomy to teach to our wards needs instead of simply recite it.


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