Church History/ Doctrine & Covenants Gospel Doctrine Resources

Church History/ Doctrine & Covenants Gospel Doctrine Resources November 26, 2016

Public domain,
Public domain,


Several things make next year extremely challenging for me. D&C is the book I have taught the least, read the least, know the least about, and have the most limited mental bibliography. The arrangement of the manual is not chronological nor section-by-section, but a hybrid topical/chronological mix. Some lessons draw on multiple D&C sections and others none at all, like this one.

So today, as I’ve done for Book of Mormon, New Testament, and Old Testament, I’m providing a list of resources for the next year, after consulting a number of friends who know these things better than I. My criteria are a little idiosyncratic: accessibility, utility, breadth, depth, centrality, approach. Resources that are too narrow will be slotted into mini-recommendations where they fit a lesson. I’ve left out all biographies and personalities except for Joseph Smith, because there are simply too many.

All of these recommendations have flaws and limitations, and a link is not endorsement of everything an author has said, etc. Nevertheless, I think reading these will help us better understand early LDS Church history, scripture, and the mindset of those early members, why they talked and acted the way they did.

In spite of my limited selection, there is a lot here, and it can be overwhelming, so I’ve divided this up into sections. If you don’t want to wade through it all, here’s my shortlist of 5 books I wish everyone would read pertaining to Church history, the D&C, etc.

History is largely about understanding change and difference, something we don’t always do well as Mormons and which causes us lots of problems. We talk about line-upon-line which implies change and difference, but then assume or teach that the past wasn’t really any different or that we can safely ignore those differences. This shortlist (which I found very difficult to put together) emphasizes understanding those differences.


  1. Thomas G. Alexander  Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-Day Saints, 1890-1930. 3rd ed. (Kofford, 2012). The first two editions were the University of Illinois Press.
    • This was originally commissioned by the Church as part of a 16-volume Church history series, which was then not brought to completion. This book covers the real transitionary years where the modern Church developed as LDS know it today. Polygamy (mostly) disappears, Mormons become stereotypical Americans instead of foreign outsiders, the Word of Wisdom is standardized and made a Temple Recommend requirement, doctrine is standardized and speculative theology tamped down, the temple ordinances and clothing are standardized, etc. If the early Church ever seems strange to you, this is where it becomes “normal.” Likewise, if you think this is how things have always been, you really need to read this.
  2. A one-volume history of the entire LDS Church, either Allen/Leonard The Story of the Latter-day Saints (which is out of print and stops in 1992) or Bowman’s The Mormon People: Making of an American Faith which is more recent and aimed at a popular audience.
  3. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling and/or Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism
    • You can’t get away from Joseph Smith in the early history of Mormonism, so both these works are important. I know several people who consider his Beginnings of Mormonism (below) better than Rough Stone. Although the latter is a revision and expansion of the former, they cover different topics with different scope. Depending on your background, it can be a challenge to read a biography of Joseph Smith that doesn’t put him on a pedestal, that tries to respect both his prophethood and his humanity. Bushman is a venerable professor of American history, and was Patriarch in the Manhattan Stake before moving to Claremont. (They are now back in NYC.)
  4. *Janiece Johnson and Jenny Reeder, The Witness of Women: Firsthand Experiences and Testimonies from the Restoration (Deseret Book, 2016)
    • Coming in December, but preorder. This is specifically a resource book designed to accompany the D&C lessons, with lots of insights and stories from and about LDS women. I haven’t seen it yet, but it comes highly recommended from friends who have.
  5.  Turley and Slaughter, How We Got the Doctrine & Covenants 

In the categories below, I’ve starred some things to call attention to, for various reasons.

Things not to readTeachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Why? In short, it’s just not accurate or what it appears to be. First compiled in 1934, TPJS is presented as direct 1st person teachings of Joseph Smith, as if written by Joseph himself. This is largely not the case, and it has been superseded. Read instead

Change and the Continuing restoration.

Joseph Smith’s day was different than ours. Different worldview (Millenarian World of Early Mormonism), different issues, different day-to-day problems. Development and change. Nature of revelation. He knew things in 1844 that he didn’t know in 1830.

  1. *Phillip Barlow, Mormons and the Bible (Oxford Press)
    • Barlow (now at Utah State) shows how Mormons from Joseph Smith to today have interpreted the Bible in very different ways.
  2. Alexander, Thomas G. Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-Day Saints, 1890-1930. 3rd ed. ( Kofford Press, 2012) The first two editions were the University of Illinois Press.
  3. Allen, James B. “Line Upon Line.” Ensign July (1979): 32-39.
    • Allen provides several historical examples of the principal of line-upon-line, showing how church doctrine and policy grow,  change and adapt to circumstance through revelation. For example, before 1880, LDS did not understand that children should be sealed to parents, and so on back. Instead, the father of a family would be sealed (“adopted”) to a Church leader. Then came revelation to Wilfred Woodruff that this wasn’t the right way to do things, and so genealogy began in the LDS Church. (See also here and here on “adoption.”) If that kind of thing interests you, the next book is right up your alley.
  4. Charles Harrell, This is My Doctrine: The Development of Mormon Theology
    • This is not a read-through book, but almost a short encyclopedic resource. Therein lies its strength and its weakness. It’s both really useful and also problematic. Harrell is a BYU engineering professor. See comments at Deseret Book, and reviews at reputable LDS blogs by Matt Bowman, Kevin Barney, and David T.
  5. *BYU history professor Craig Harline “What Happened to my Bellbottoms? How Things That Were Never Going to Change Have Sometimes Changed Anyway, and How Studying History Can Help Us Make Sense of It All,”
  6. Terryl Givens, Wrestling the Angel: The Foundations of Mormon Thought: Cosmos, God, Humanity

Approaching History, Church History, and its Potential Issues

Nature of the D&C text (duplicated in Lesson 1)

Scripture is the “word of God” but only rarely the dictated “words of God.” We need to recognize the humanity that is always entangled with revelation and scripture. (This is something I spend time on in my book.) As it pertains to D&C, we should understand that the text has been fluid and changeable, is sometimes composite, gets “updated” with new revelation, etc.

  1. Woodford, Robert J. “The Historical Development of the Doctrine and Covenants.” Ph.D. Diss. , Brigham Young University, 1974.
  2. Woodford, Robert J. “How the Revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants Were Received and Compiled.” Ensign (January 1985).
  3. Woodford, Robert J. “The Story of the Doctrine and Covenants.” Ensign (December 1984)
  4. Peterson, Melvin. “Preparing Early Revelations for Publication.” Ensign (February 1985)
  5. *Turley and Slaughter, How We Got the Doctrine & Covenants 
  6. *Grant Underwood lecture at BYU-H, “Relishing the Revisions:Joseph Smith and the Revelatory Process.”
    • In this lecture, Underwood addresses the nature of revelation and scripture, as evidenced by the D&C. He wrote the important book, The Millenarian World of Early Mormonism, which looks at how much early LDS lived in and shared a religious worldview anticipating the imminent second coming of Jesus.

D&C itself and Commentaries

The manual’s organization undercuts the utility of section-by-section, verse-by-verse commentaries, but these may be useful.


There is no shortage of good material about particular events, sections, etc. from lds-focused journals. I suspect the three that might be most accessible are

  • BYU Studies
    • BYU Studies is affiliated with BYU, and publishes articles about history, doctrine, literature, book reviews, atonement, etc. See their page with Gospel Doctrine resources.
  • Journal of Mormon History
    • This is more specialized than BYU Studies, obviously, but that has advantages. Their archives are searchable.
  • Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought
    • Originally started in 1966 by a number of thoughtful LDS like Eugene England and Dallin H. Oaks (who joined the editorial board in 1968), Dialogue recently had its 50th anniversary. If BYU Studies is sometimes constrained by its BYU affiliation, Dialogue has sometimes been too unconstrained in the opposite direction, depending on the editor. There is a lot of good stuff in it about history, and its worth being aware of. Archives are searchable.
  • Interpreter (essentially a FARMS/MI offshoot)

Last but not Least!

One important category in which both American culture and Mormon policy/doctrine have changed dramatically since the 1830s involves how we conceptualize people, relationships, and the categories we consciously and unconsciously put them into.

As I said at the beginning, this is a far from a complete list. Others have offered more academic lists of articles and books, and I’ll be offering more lesson-specific suggestions in each lesson. As always, you can help me pay my tuition here, or you can support my work through making your regular Amazon purchases through this Amazon link. You can also get updates by email whenever a post goes up (subscription box on the right). If you friend me on Facebook, please drop me a note telling me you’re a reader. I tend not to accept friend requests from people I’m not acquainted with.

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