The Teachings and Doctrine of the Book of Mormon, Take Two

Our next entry comes from Matt W. (see the first post and explanation here).

The Teachings and Doctrine of the Book of Mormon

–The Book of Mormon
–By the Hand of Mormon (Terryl Givens)
–The Book of Mormon (Skousen)
–Understanding the Book of Mormon (Hardy)

There is a limited reason for having these books be required, but I just like the idea of more people having them in their personal libraries.


1.Doctrine we have because the Book exists
a.There is a God; He loves us; He is involved in our lives today and can give us wisdom through the Holy Ghost (Joseph receives the Book)
b.He has a Son Jesus Christ who is very important (the Title Page)
c.He has a Church with Priesthood Authority to lead it (the Book infers the primacy of the Church)
d.We are meant to walk by faith (the debate of authenticity)

2.What the Book Says: Jesus is the Christ (Doxa)
a.The Affirming Teachings (Teachings that affirm the Biblical Record)
i.Jesus is the Messiah (An Affirmation of his Divinity and Sonship)
ii.Christ’s life purpose was to bring forth the Atonement (The Infinite Atonement, its universal nature for male, female, bond or free, etc.)
iii.the Resurrection (The Reality and Realness of the Resurrection)
iv. the Miraculous Birth (Mary, Lehi/Nephi’s Vision)
v. the Sermon on the Mount (The Affirmation of the Beatitudes and Commandments here)

b.The Shocking Teachings (Teachings that go beyond the Biblical Record)
i.Christ known pre-mortally (The Delta between prophecies of Christ in the Bible and the Old Testament, the difference between prophecies being fulfilled and filled full of meaning)
ii.The Theology of the Fall and It’s Relationship to the Atonement (Opposition in all things, the fortunate fall, Sin and Death)
iii.The Gethsemane Event & the Compassionate Atonement (The Bleeding from Every Pore, the Taking on of all afflictions to enable succoring of the people)
iv.Christ in America (The Visit and how this locks up any debate of Christ’s divinity)
v.Christ as founder of the Church, Ordinances, and Priesthood Authority (Revisiting the Sermon at the Temple in the Book of Mormon and examining Deltas)

3.The Way (Praxis)
a.Non-Doctrines- The Gospel of Prosperity, Racial Division, The hopelessness of sexual sin, the evil of socialism, anything about feminism or sexual orientation (A review of commonly held misconceptions from the book of Mormon)
b.Faith = Power unto Deliverance (How Faith calls us to live a certain way examples from Nephi to Mormon of how people were given divine aid as they exercised faith in the Lord)
c.Repentance and Forgiveness and the Mormon teaching of Charity (A review of Moroni 7 with a discussion of how Paul could be quoted in the Book of Mormon and differences to Paul’s teachings)
d.God and the Problem of Evil (A revisit of 2nd Nephi 2 and the Alma/Amulek witness of the burning faithful)
e.Dialogic Revelation (Moroni 10, Moroni 7, A discussion on Terryl Givens concept of Dialogic Revelation)
f.Our Duty of Service to the Poor and Needy (The Book of Mormon’s explicit call to people of Faith to care to those in need, even going so far as to say their own answers to prayer are dependent on their care of others. Tie into blessed are the merciful…)
g.Children, Accountability and Parenting (The Doctrine of the Small Children not needing Baptism, the importance of Mothers and Fathers in the Book of Mormon. )
h.Being Zion and Covenant Living (The Attributes of Zion in the Book of Mormon, particularly 4th Nephi, The theme of Covenant making in the Book of Mormon)
i.Conversion and Missionary Work (The Multiple stories of Personal Conversion in the Book of Mormon as a pattern/archetype for us.)


My thoughts: If you are going to go topically, this is an interesting way to do it. I like it. But as much as I like Matt’s approach here, it also points to why I don’t like a topical approach: Matt’s highlighted the doctrines and ideas that he thinks are important and showcased them. The students don’t approach the text de novo, but rather with Matt already telling them what it is supposed to mean. Again, we can’t fault Matt (or anyone else) who writes a topical approach; the problem has been baked in to the class at a higher pay grade.

10 comments for “The Teachings and Doctrine of the Book of Mormon, Take Two

  1. Amy T
    November 17, 2014 at 8:24 am

    My questions from looking at this: do college-level teachers assume the students have already read the Book of Mormon one or more times? Do they find that they actually have?

    How familiar are the students with scripture as they come into these classes? Does seminary/early morning seminary or mission have a noticeable effect?

    And how are the few non-members handled now? Do they still have different sections as they did years ago?

  2. November 17, 2014 at 8:42 am

    The usual (at least during my lifetime) way of studying the gospel topically is that whoever designs curriculum starts with a predetermined list of doctrines, and then takes one of two approaches: (1) Goes rapidly through one volume of scripture and picks out texts that [seem to] teach the list of doctrines; or (2) Takes a “topical guide” approach, teaching one doctrine per week with texts picked from anywhere — any book of scripture, any commentary from past or present leaders.

    Matt’s approach is a bit different, in a way I really like: approaching topics to highlight the uniqueness of the Book of Mormon. That is, sections 1 and 2b explicitly identify teachings that come from the Book of Mormon but are not found, or are found in garbled form, in the Bible. (I once asked my Sunday School class in whatever lesson included the claim that the Book of Mormon restored pure doctrine that had been lost from the Bible, to name some doctrine that was not found in the Bible but which we had through the Book of Mormon. Nobody could come up with a thing.) If the uniqueness of the Book of Mormon is so heavily stressed, I’m not sure it’s that much of a loss to lose the more contextual approach, which too often has been little more than quizzing students in a shallow way on the storyline.

    With a teacher who has Matt’s frame of reference — what does the Book of Mormon teach that we wouldn’t have without it — that emphasis is likely to carry over into teaching sections of the outline that don’t explicitly state this as a focus.

    And finally, while highlighting the uniqueness of the Book of Mormon, Matt doesn’t denigrate the Bible as some LDS teachers do — he allows it to be the first witness of Christ, and acknowledges that it forms a base which the Book of Mormon builds on.

    Students would be apt to finish this course with a newfound appreciation for the Book of Mormon.

  3. Terry H
    November 17, 2014 at 11:38 am

    I had a class on Tolkien and C.S. Lewis from Steven Walker umpty million years ago and we had a major test on Lord of the Rings. It was graded in part by how many times we’d read it. Those who were reading it for the first time were graded in accordance with their experience versus those who had read it more often.

    This would probably help with Amy T’s question.

    As to an addition to the reading list above, the new book from Greg Kofford, Beholding the Tree of Life: A Rabbinic Approach to the Book of Mormon by Bradley Kramer (kind of a stepchild to Richard D. Rustl) would be a possible extra credit read.

  4. Jared vdH
    November 17, 2014 at 5:00 pm

    “The students don’t approach the text de novo, but rather with Matt already telling them what it is supposed to mean.”

    Even if it’s a sequential reading, I don’t see how a professor avoids this while still having a syllabus. No professor in a general education level class can really just throw up a listing of the text being covered and expect the class to just show up ready to discuss whatever they feel like. Any decent teaching professor has to have an agenda when walking into class each day (and I mean this in the neutral, non-political sense).

  5. November 17, 2014 at 9:37 pm

    Amy T: Interesting Critique. I was approaching the class as an undergraduate course that would be taken primarily freshman and sophomores at BYU, meaning they had a 70-80% probability of having done 4 years of seminary and a 30% probability of having already served a mission (This based on an anecdote from local sister missionaries that 1/3 of their female friends is now serving a mission and my own skepticism that the boys are not doing much more than that.) So I am assuming the students are already very familiar with the text and the doctrine and teaching of the church. I am hoping to add depth and roots to those teachings where the Book of Mormon can do that.

    Julie: While I think understand your critique, I think a class which is meant to teach the teachings and doctrine of the Book of Mormon needs to have a firm opinion of what those teachings and doctrines are. I think a de novo methodology works more effectively for a “Book of Mormon as Literature” type Course.

    Ardis: Thank you.

  6. Julie M. Smith
    November 17, 2014 at 10:09 pm

    Re #4 and #5–I don’t entirely disagree, but here’s the difference: in a sequential class, the instructor comes in ready to cover the plot line of that day’s chapter(s), but there is room for the students to discuss and even dispute what the key theological themes are. The instructor certainly has some idea of possible key themes, but doesn’t pre-announce them or pre-program them for the students. A student may very well come up with a theme that the instructor never considered before. With Matt’s (or anyone else’s topical) approach, the instructor can’t say, after discussing the text itself, “OK, so what do you see as the key theological themes emerging from this text?” because the syllabus is a “cheat sheet” to that question and it is obvious what the instructor had in mind.

  7. November 17, 2014 at 10:32 pm

    Perhaps as a compromise, you merely mark out as a guidepost a general set up, and invite the class to come prepared to fill that framework with the findings.

    As an example, for the class “Christ’s life purpose was to bring forth the Atonement”- You explain you want them to bring to the class scriptures they have found in the book of Mormon which supports the bible’s position on the above statement. If taught in this way, you could couple this with the class on scriptures that go beyond the bible regarding the atonement, so as students brought those scriptures, you’d have a place to safely put them. You could then examine via close reading all the texts that were brought to bear on the topic, setting them in their contextual setting, exploring their meaning, looking for their biblical counterparts, looking for their doctrinal meaning, etc. The challenge would be to get the students to go beyond the familiar go to scriptures they’ve already learned by heart and to find new ones.

    The con of this is that you miss some cool themes, the pro is you avoid wresting the scriptures in an effort to invent theology in the tactical battle patterns of shiz.

    A risk of course is that for some the class becomes a class of merely attending, like Sunday School, rather than a class that requires actual engagement to pass. After all, if you widen the channel to allow for any emergent theological themes, it becomes more difficult to grade which are correct and which are wrong. I’d love your thoughts on grading such a course.

  8. November 17, 2014 at 10:41 pm

    Julie, I’m confused by your dogmatic rejection of topical approaches. If there’s more to say about a complex text than can be said in one semester, then giving students some particular things to look for can provide structure and contribute to much better discussion and better student learning. It’s really not difficult at all to say, “I know we’re mostly thinking about X right now, but what do you think about verse 23? What do you think it’s trying to say?” With the Book of Mormon, it’s not the instructor whose pre-programming you have to worry about, but the student’s seminary, Sunday School, and primary teachers going back to Sunbeams. If your goal is to get students to grapple with the text and consider different interpretations, getting students to focus on particular topics (which might include looking at secondary literature or unfamiliar interpretive traditions) may work better than simply throwing the text at them one more time in sequence, and hoping they won’t just spit out whatever they remember from seminary.

  9. Jared vdH
    November 17, 2014 at 10:50 pm


    I appreciate your distinction, but I think it a bit too idealized. As I’ve said in previous threads on the topic of the change, I took both halves of the New Testament from a Classicist, both halves of the Old Testament from an Egyptologist, and both halves of the D&C from an editor of the JSPP while I was at BYU. All of these classes were ostensibly “sequential”. I even still have all of the syllabuses (I’m a digital pack rat and still have all of my files from college). None of them approached their syllabuses or lectures in the manner you describe. We always knew what topics were going to be discussed, especially since any additional readings in addition to the scriptural content assigned were typically academic or historical sources of a topical nature.

    Even before the change the classes were more topical than sequential anyway. They just happened to be topical in a sequential order. I think your expectations more in line with a literature class rather than a BYU Religious Education class.

  10. November 18, 2014 at 11:58 am

    I’m “for” any thoughtful study of the Book of Mormon! I agree with Jonathan in #8 that there is a real need for students in any LDS setting to receive an invitation to look at scriptures with a fresh pair of eyes. Many moons ago (’60’s and ’70’s when I was in seminary and BYU religion classes, there were texts that “told” us what most of the scriptures “meant.” While there are a few basics that can be affirmed as “official”–like Christ being Divine, like all people being resurrected, and so on—-after reading the Book of Mormon more than 20 times myself, I was invited to go back and consider what came to mind for ME when I prayerfully reviewed the text.
    Many new things emerged—-some that were clearly meant for me personally, yet others that showed a different angle on some old interpretations. I learned to be sensitive to individual interpretations of scripture, even by General Authorities, when I learned of my African ancestry prior to 1978 and studied through all the things that were written & interpreted from scripture and supposed “official” comments. I’m not bitter about this—just saying that even if a General Authority or LDS scholar interprets a scripture a certain way, that doesn’t mean it’s the Cat’s Meow.
    Only the First Presidency as a unit, I am told, has the stewardship to officially interpret scripture or binding doctrine—and that still does not remove the possibility of individual insights into other aspects of the same scriptures which are still harmonious. So, YES encourage students to think, feel, and sense on their own, honoring their own intuition and insights—-I have been a teacher and it was not hard for me to do that and still ask students to reflect back on basic doctrines if a Center was needed for the class–that’s the way I was taught in my South Bay Area high school, and it’s very much like how
    Elder (President) Eyring taught us in my lst early morning seminary class in 1963. He was a thinking, educated young man then–a new professor at Stanford—and he asked us a lot of questions and really invited us to think about what we were studying in the Old Testament: did it really apply to us? How did it apply? What should we ignore after Christ came? Is it really irrelevant now? Can we use these Old Covenant scriptures as Authority even though Christ came and fulfilled the law?

    I believe that we would do better as a church allowing our youth and new members to “be where they are at” in their honest observations and questions, instead of jumping on them with an official line. Kind of like—“I just don’t buy that polygamy stuff”—ZAP!: “Well, it was inspired.” why not “Oh, I can appreciate that–you’re not alone.” They also need to be encouraged to read for their own Answers on matters personal to them, and to feel that their insights can be valid and their feelings OK before other steps are taken to determine a Belief or a Doctrine. Thanks again for this discussion!

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