What are the best Ensign articles?

We have four missionaries in our ward, with ipads. They have complete access to the LDS.org library, but (per their mission president’s wishes) little else in terms of reading/enrichment material. I keep mentioning different books, as is my wont (see here, here, and here), and telling them “all you need to do is read,” so they’ve been frustrated at the apparent lack of access to “the good stuff.” 

So I told them, “Go read the old Ensigns. There’s great stuff back then, and they’re all on LDS.org.” Those old Ensigns kept me intellectually alive until I was able to read other material.

For a starter list on history, doctrine, and things of interest, all of which I found on my mission, I offered the following, with appropriate caveats about this being introductory material, written for a certain audience, may have errors, potentially 20-30 years outdated, etc., but better than nothing, esp. for a missionary.

  • Bruce Hafen, “Dealing With Uncertainty” Ensign, August 1979. Really an excellent one, I’ve highlighted it before.
  • James Allen, “Line Upon Line.”  July 1979. Another really excellent one. I love that his examples are not common. He talks about Adoption and rebaptism, for example.
  • Hugh Nibley 4-part on Atonement, starting July of 1990. This was republished by FARMS as one piece.
  • John Sorenson “Digging Into the Book of Mormon: Our Changing Understanding of Ancient America and Its Scripture” Sept 1984, October 1984. Precursor to his book.
  • Stephen Robinson, “Believing Christ” April 1992. Precursor to his two books.
  • Gerald Lund, “Countering Korihor’s Philosophy” July 1992. Introduced me to “epistemology” and “axiom.”
  • Russel Rich “Nineteenth-Century Break-offs” Sept 1979. All about early conflict over who would follow Joseph Smith.
  • Elder Oaks “Recent Events Involving Church History and Forged Documents”  Oct 1987. This is how I learned about Mark Hoffman, forgeries, bombings, and the infamous Salamander Letter.
  • John Lundquist “The Value of New Textual Sources to the King James Bible” Aug 1983.
  •      – “Life in Ancient Biblical Lands” Dec 1981.
  • Kevin Barney “Understanding Old Testament Poetry” June 1990. Kevin won an award for this one, back when they used to hold contests and give awards.
  • Sidney Sperry “Hebrew Manners and Customs” May 1972.
  • Stephen Robinson “Background for the Testaments” Dec 1982.

Defining “best” more or less however you want, what are the best older (and therefore probably unknown) Ensign articles? Let’s limit it to the actual Ensign, instead of earlier Church magazines, and focus on the positive and best articles, not the evolution of the Ensign (on which see here and here) or articles that aren’t, well,  the best. What else can I point them to in the older Ensigns?

25 comments for “What are the best Ensign articles?

  1. In the May and November Ensigns is the General Conference reports and those are always a great read.

  2. There’s a great article by Richard L. Anderson on the First Vision.

    A trick to the old Ensigns is to check the September and January issues in the early years, because those issues marked the changed in curriculum in Seminary and Sunday School, so they would have substantive articles devoted to those curricula in those months.

  3. Hands down, Carlfred Broderick, The Brothers of Jesus: Loving the Unbelieving Relative, Ensign, March 1987.
    For the full story on this article, you have to read Carlfred’s book, My Parents Married on a Dare and his chapter about this Ensign article. Basically, The Ensign editors butchered his original article, so he published it in its complete form in his book. I love his subversive spirit. Meanwhile, the Ensign article will get the missionaries starting to think and they can study C. Broderick’s book when they get back home.

  4. “How the Bible Came to Be,” an 8-part series by By Lenet H. Read that began in January 1982.

    I also loved the “I Have A Question series, and that would be great for missionaries.

  5. That James Allen article really is great. Can the missionaries read all of the lds.org sites? I would send them to the new Gospel Topics section (in fact I printed out all the new ones for the missionaries in our ward). I’d also send them to history.lds.org. More goodness there than anywhere else they could possibly go, I’d think.

  6. Also, in 1971-72 the Ensign had BYU professors write a series of substantive articles about the origins and beliefs of several religions. The articles are more groundbreaking because of the educational effort to help members build a common cultural understanding and find positive insights into other faiths. For missionaries I think this kind of insight is always helpful as we generally don’t do a very good job of building such understanding.

    Faiths examined include:

    Hinduisim – Februrary 1971
    Judaism – March 1971
    Roman Catholicism – April 1971
    Eastern Orthodoxy – May 1971
    Lutheranism – October 1971
    Zoroastrianism – November 1971
    Islam and Mormonism – March 1972 (though Nibley’s approach is more critical than the other articles)
    Buddhism – June 1972

    A couple of Church History relevant articles that I enjoyed during my mission were:
    The King Follett Sermon (in two parts) – April / May 1971
    Joseph Smith’s Inspired Translation of the Bible – by Robert J. Matthews – December 1972

  7. Spencer W. Kimball, “The False Gods We Worship,” June 1976.
    Jeffrey R. Holland, “‘An High Priest of Good Things to Come,” November 1999.

  8. One that really made a difference for me was Dallin H. Oaks’ article on Adversity from the July 1998 Ensign. I was passing through the toughest time of my mission at the time and I’ve returned to it often in subsequent years to help remind me how to deal with adversity.


  9. Robert J. Woodford on the How the Revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants were Received and Compiled.


    Melvin Peterson, Preparing Early Revelations for Publication


    Also, Nibley’s series on Enoch the Prophet.

    Among others already mentioned.

  10. I agree, to, with your comment about being kept intellectually alive by the Ensign in my earlier years, especially during my mission in the early 80’s. Piles of Ensigns and New Era magazines in each of the branch missionary apartments were a great source of strength for a young searching mind. I think they, along with the discipline of being a missionary, the rigors of memorizing lesson plans (in those days) in a foreign language (Japanese), along with the missionary routine/schedule and associated accountability for time spent, prepared me to enter college after my mission and be successful. And the hunger is still there, but now I have additional sources of food.

  11. With the Ensign as now only a part of the significant and growing gospel knowledge base, where else do you go for relatively safe and reliable gospel scholarship? How are you keeping it all organized? Can you share what you’ve assembled with others? I’ve spent time over the last months assembling my digital resources in Google Drive and sharing them with LDS friends. Two main folder structures, one on the four standard works, with folders for each Gospel Doctrine lesson and associated scriptures (which leaves some holes, admittedly), another folder structure for gospel topics. Gospelink, BYU Studies, Maxwell Institute, and others contribute, as does LDSGospeldoctine.net and other GD commentary sites like this.

  12. Randy, I may be the wrong person to ask, as I’m somewhat of an outlier in terms of background.
    Other than regular journals which I’m aware of but no longer regularly read cover-to-cover (FARMS, BYU Studies, Journal of Mormon History, Dialogue, Religious Educator), for me it’s mostly either publications by people I know, and LDS blogs (here, bycommonconsent, keepapitchinin, juvenile instructor).

    But most of my gospel studies are independent at this point. I may produce more than I take in, between Times&Seasons and my Gospel Doctrine blog. Mostly a function of time.

  13. Thank you! I’m adding your lessons in pdf to my collection. Maybe someday I will get up the gumption to post my own comments and lesson plans to a similar blog. In the meantime thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!

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