Harnessing Fresh RM Enthusiasm to Train Future Leadership

It’s a truism that lots of people read few books. And certainly as we get married, have jobs, kids, responsibilities, many of us find our leisure time is spent simply recovering from the day and picking cheerios out of the carpet.  Moreover, lots of people who DO read just don’t have  interest in history, doctrine, or scripture and choose to read other things.

But then, you have recently returned missionaries. Many of them have spent their missions wanting to read more and deeper material, so there’s definite enthusiasm and energy. They also tend to have fewer responsibilities, and have time to read. Within a few weeks of coming home, I had copies of Morton Smith’s Secret Gospel of Mark and Joachim Jeremias Eucharistic Words of Jesus. I wouldn’t recommend either of these, but I had kept track of interesting footnotes from my mission reading, and these were high on my list.

I just had this conversation today-

Her: My little brother just got home from his mission and is loving reading Mormon doctrine and other thick religious books. I was talking to him about all your Old Testament research and he was intrigued. Any good books you would recommend for a beginning Old Testament reader?

Me: Does he have any particular interests? Church history and doctrine vs scripture? Bible vs. Book of Mormon? Old Testament vs New Testament?

So assuming someone comes home and just wants to read anything and everything Gospel-related, where do you point them?

Before giving suggestions, let’s complicate this with an observation from President Packer.

Some time ago I interviewed a young bishop in Brazil. He was twenty-seven years old. I was impressed that he possessed every attribute of a successful Church leader—humility, testimony, appearance, intelligence, spirituality. Here, I thought, is a young man with a great future in the Church.

I asked myself, as I looked at him, “What will his future be? What will we do for him? What will we do to him?” In my mind I outlined the years ahead.

He will be a bishop for perhaps six years, then he will be thirty-three years old. He will then serve eight years on a stake high council and five years as a counselor in the stake presidency. At forty-six he will be called as a stake president. We will release him after six years to become a regional representative, and he will serve for five years. That means he will have spent thirty years as an ideal, the example to follow, the image, the leader.

However, in all that time, he will not have attended three Gospel Doctrine classes in a row, nor will he have attended three priesthood quorum lessons in a row.

Brethren, do you see yourselves in this illustration?

Unless he knew the fundamental principles of the gospel before his call, he will scarcely have time to learn them along the way. Agendas, meetings, and budgets and buildings will take up his time. These things are not usually overlooked.

But the principles are overlooked—the gospel is overlooked, the doctrine is overlooked. When that happens, we are in great danger! We see the evidence of it in the Church today…

It is so important that every member, particularly every leader, understand and know the gospel.
It is not easy to find time to study the gospel. It is harder for the stake president to do it and infinitely harder for the bishop to do it, but it is necessary and it is possible. Brethren must attend the classes as often as they can; bishops and stake presidents should find some way to attend at least a good share of the Gospel Doctrine classes and the appropriate priesthood quorum lessons.

In all that time, to add to his concerns, will s/he have done any reading of good Church-related books? Local leadership is tasked with being the doctrinal authority, but our church structure does little to make them so; There’s no doctrinal training, no book list, and consequently, doctrinal knowledge varies greatly and sometimes to the detriment of the ward or individuals. As with many members, the sum total of gospel knowledge is roughly equivalent to the tradition they’ve received in their own Primary, YW/YM, Seminary, etc.

Assuming, then, that Sister Recent RM will read 10 books before Organic Chemistry, engagements, and responsibilities smother enthusiasm and time availability, what should they read? Or, framed in E. Packer’s terms, what do you want your future Church leadership to have read in 30 years that you could give them now as an RM hungry for knowledge?

22 comments for “Harnessing Fresh RM Enthusiasm to Train Future Leadership

  1. Uh, I think I speak for the internet in general when I say we’d rather hear your answer to that question than anyone else’s!

    My favorites: Understanding the Book of Mormon by Grant Hardy, Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Bushman, and Jesus Christ and the World of the New Testament. And the books about temples by Matthew Brown.

  2. Ten books?

    How about:

    Rough Stone Rolling
    Mormonism in Transition
    David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism
    Mormon Feminism (she’ll have to wait until 11/15 for this one . . .)
    Re-Reading Job
    The God Who Weeps
    The Jewish Annotated Study Bible (or Oxford or HarperCollins Study Bible)
    Understanding the Book of Mormon
    one of Eric Huntsman’s three books on Jesus’ life
    Letters to a Young Mormon

    Obviously, it’s hard to narrow it down to ten. And I’m sure as soon as other people post titles, I’ll be kicking myself for forgetting certain ones. The goal was to give a sense of the kinds of things that are out there, so she’ll know what exists from which to choose future titles (history, theology, biblical studies, etc.)

  3. Amy J, haven’t thought of my own list yet. I’m finding it hard to strike a balance. But I’ve no shortage of book recommendations, certainly ;)

  4. “This is my Doctrine”: The Development of Mormon Theology

    Along with most of Julie’s list.

  5. My younger brother returned from his mission last year and, with some time on his hands this summer, recently asked me this same question. This is what I sent him (with instructions to make selections based on his interest):

    “Rough Stone Rolling” by Richard Bushman [hard to beat this definitive biography]

    “Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Readers’ Guide” by Grant Hardy [Hardy’s narrative analysis brings up fascinating details and new things to think about even for experienced Book of Mormon readers]

    “The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith” by Matthew Bowman [something to fulfill the niche of “Church history overview”]

    “The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life” by Terryl and Fiona Givens [beautifully-written exploration of fundamental doctrinal concepts]

    “The Crucible of Doubt: Reflections on the Quest for Faith” by Terryl and Fiona Givens [thought-provoking and insightful even for those who aren’t currently in a “crucible”]

    “By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion” by Terryl Givens [informative history of the Book of Mormon as a book, including the changes in how everyday Church members, detractors, and scholars have understood it over time]

    “Women at Church: Magnifying LDS Women’s Local Impact” by Neylan McBaine [McBaine’s original FAIR talk helped me as a male to better understand some of the challenges females face — e.g., ever since I read it I’ve been calling the Relief Society president “President X” instead of “Sister X”]

    “Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: Toward a Better Understanding” by Brian and Laura Hales [I know some people disagree about the details, but I think this is hands down the best book-length introduction for Latter-day Saints are beginning to study this topic and want something frank and detailed but that also seeks to make sense of those details through a lens of faith]

    “Jehovah and the World of the Old Testament” by Richard Holzapfel, Dana Pike, and David Seely [best LDS book for introducing people to OT history, literature, and culture]

    “Jesus Christ and the World of the New Testament” by Richard Holzapfel, Eric Huntsman, and Thomas Wayment [best LDS book for introducing people to NT history, literature, and culture]

    “Scripture Study: Tools and Suggestions” by James Faulconer [one of the best “teach a man to fish” scripture study books out there]

    As a bonus, I recommended some important articles:

    All of the Gospel Topics articles on LDS.org

    “Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on Priesthood” by Edward L. Kimball

    “‘A Mother There’: A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven” by David L. Paulsen and Martin Pulido

    “Revelations in the Summer of 1978: A Personal Essay on Race and the Priesthood, Parts 1-4” by Ahmad Corbitt [these terrific essays, available at history.lds.org, explore the topic of race/priesthood in a more personal way than was possible in the institutionally-voiced Gospel Topics essay]

    I’m pleased to report my brother read “Crucible” and “Spencer W. Kimball” and is in the middle of RSR. :o)

  6. Hard to choose just ten. Here’s mine:

    Jewish Study Bible
    The Kingdom New Testament
    Book of Mormon Reader’s Edition

    Books about Scripture:
    Mormons and the Bible by Philip Barlow
    Authoring the Old Testament by David Bokovoy
    New Testament History and Literature by Dale Martin
    Understanding the Book of Mormon by Grant Hardy

    RSR about Joseph Smith
    Lengthen Your Stride about Spencer Kimball

    Letters to a Young Mormon

  7. My list is a lot like Julie’s, though I’ve got tension between what I think a recent RM could slog through and what I think a mature LDS 30-something should have read. (I’ve seen several Bishops, SP counselors, HC members, and RS Presidents in their 30s.)

    So in no particular order,

    Rough Stone Rolling , THE biography of Joseph Smith, though it’s not perfect.

    Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-day Saints, 1890-1930. This is really the period where things change to become the Church as we know it, more or less.

    David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism , a history-cum-biography

    The uncut pdf draft of Lengthen Your Stride, The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball , which lives on a CD-rom that comes with the hardcover.

    Scripture– This is the most important category for me, because our understanding of scripture affects everything else in the Church.

    A good modern Bible ( Jewish Study Bible for OT, Harper-Collins for New Testament)

    The two Deseret book volumes on < NT and OT.

    By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion and anything else by the Givens ( Crucible of Doubt , Wrestling the Angel , the God Who Weeps, How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life

    Rereading Job – A great exploration of scripture, doctrine, history, and suffering, modeling how to read and study scripture.

    Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament– Assumptions are what often get us into trouble, and Enns examines three assumptions about scripture held by Evangelicals (as well as most Mormons.)

    Mormons and the Bible – Examines how LDS have read and used the Bible from Joseph Smith on down.

    Misreading Scripture Through Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible – a thought-provoking look at how cultural assumptions affect our understanding of scripture.

    Sacred Word, Broken Word: Biblical Authority and the Dark Side of Scripture – I keep meaning to write a review/LDS application of this, which I would subtitle “Apostolic Authority and the Dark Side of Church History” Sparks puts forth a theory of inspiration and revelation which accounts for (in the Bible) slavery, misogyny, genocide, etc. IOW, how do we accept inherited tradition as “inspired” when it clashes with clear ideals of how things should be? A very important book, imo.

    Women at Church: Magnifying LDS Women’s Local Impact

    How Wide the Divide: A Mormon & an Evangelical in Conversation
    as well as all the followups (the entire issue of FRB 11:2 here , the BYU Studies articles , etc. I don’t necessarily think Robinson (the LDS author) is right on every point, but he models a good way of reading scripture, analyzing, defending belief, in a respectful way.

    That’s my quick-and-dirty list. Obviously, given my posts here, I have lots of books to recommend.

  8. Am I the only one that worries about this? A missionary is essentially limited in what they are allowed to read. They really don’t have any way of knowing what many call the “tougher” parts of LDS history and theology. They tract and hear from evangelicals that Joseph Smith had 30 wives or that the BOM was translated with a stone in a hat, and they think to themselves “those are lies!” And, according to the materials they are allowed to read, they are.

    I think its dangerous to just say “okay, you’re home from your mission now, read away!”

    shouldn’t we have some sort of innoculation schedule? Like read this, before this.

    Ben S., if we just go with your list and immediately give someone David o Mckay’s biography, and the Teryl Givens book, I think it could be too much too soon.

  9. I think it depends heavily on the mission and the missionary (see here for my experience, here for thoughts on revisions to the missionary library, and here for the reports of many others about what they read on their missions.)

    “according to the materials they are allowed to read, they are.” Again, depends. If they’re reading the Gospel Topics pages off lds.org, they’re certainly more officially informed than in the past. That said, (anecdata) I knew several of these things, but certainly nowhere near all of them.

    I think it’s Joe Spencer with a blog post, talking about how he never blanket-recommends books without knowing the person, which is important. The recent conversation I quote in the post, it turns out the missionary in question “loved reading genesis with the student manual [and] listened to a lot of Bruce R Mcconkie talks on his mission so is that helps direct you at all.” So if the student manual and Elder McConkie are your baseline, then we need to move a bit slower, perhaps.

  10. Ian Barbour, Myths, Models, and Paradigms: A Comparative Study of Science and Religion
    Eugene England, Why the Church is as True as the Gospel
    Carol Zaleski, Otherworld Journeys
    Mircea Eliade, Cosmos and History: The Myth of Eternal Return
    John Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon
    Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative
    Margaret Barker, The Great Angel: A Study of Israel’s Second God
    Some Hugh Nibley
    Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth
    John W. Welch, Illuminating the Sermon at the Temple and the Sermon on the Mount

    Off the top of my head at the moment. Another day might be completely different. But all of these completely changed the way I thought and read about my faith.

  11. Isn’t this more or less the same question you asked in your “Hypothetical Missionary Library” post from a few months back? Good stuff to consider again.

    There is a major assumption being made here, I think, that reading these books once in one’s youth will be sufficient for a lifetime of church leadership. Yet I think we can all agree that very little is retained if all we do is read through a book once; even less if that read-through is not accompanied by annotating, discussing, rereading, analyzing, applying, etc. This is part of the argument for the necessity of reading and rereading scripture throughout one’s life.

    I’m curious if anyone has ideas for getting people to not only read books, but to retain what they read. I read a lot of books, but have yet to find a satisfactory system for retaining and applying what I learn. If I, as an avid reader, have trouble with this, what of the casual LDS reader, assuming you get them to read anything from this hypothetical book list? Are we assuming if they read these books in their early 20s, they’ll still be able to draw on the knowledge in their 30s, 40s, and beyond? I think this is why Elder Packer tries to make a case for continued attendance in gospel doctrine classes: he knows that getting it once isn’t good enough. (The cynical side of me would say going to gospel doctrine class isn’t going to help bolster one’s gospel knowledge in any meaningful way, but I digress…)

    As an aside, Elder Packer’s projected trajectory for this young bishop, which he identifies with years and years of “[a]gendas, meetings, and budgets and buildings [which] will take up his time,” sounds like a nightmare to me, and reinforces why I don’t think I could ever make it in high leadership callings.

  12. As others noted, a lot depends upon the type of person themselves. While I love Rough Stone Rolling I’d be careful who I gave it to. Here would be my list.

    Hugh Nibley, Approaching Zion — I think most of his apologetics are really dated but this is a timeless book that is more religion than apologetics. While I don’t ultimately agree with a lot, it’s the type of book that challenges and makes you think about what Mormonism is really all about.

    Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane also The Myth of the Eternal Return — Eliadei is problematic in some ways but this probably helps people understand Mormonism’s connection to the ancient world better than any other book. I think most Mormons misunderstand the temple and for whatever its problems this will situate them better than any other text. I’d put it far ahead of Campbell who is far more problematic I think. You might want to throw in Images and Symbols as well. All three are short and are readable even by people not as academic as probably many posting here are.

    Leonard Arrington, The Mormon Experience. The best broad history of the church there is. Yes it’s somewhat superficial but it makes up for it in its breadth. Further it’s precisely because it doesn’t get into the nitty gritty that its so readable for new people.

    Terryl Givens, Wrestling the Angel. Probably the best book on theology or Mormon intellectual speculation. Why I like it somewhat better than say Blake Ostler’s excellent series is it’s terse but also tends to give the spectrum of ideas rather than arguing for just one position.

    Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative and The Art of Biblical Poetry. Both excellent books that will open peoples eyes when they read scripture.

    Mixed on what Sorenson to give. An Ancient American Setting is the best intro but is also somewhat dated. Yet his Mormon’s Codex isn’t nearly as readable as an introduction. Maybe instead (although this might be too big)

    Brant Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon. It functions well just as a commentary but also brings in a lot of mesoAmerican theories.

    I kind of want to throw in some NT Wright as well. Maybe What Saint Paul Really Said.

  13. Clark:

    It’s too bad you would be afraid to give a book as benign as Rough Stone Rolling to certain individuals. I guess this highlights the trouble with a church that can be so easily be taken down with the words of a book or the nasty Internet. It seems to me that the truth should prevail as this site declares, despite whatever anyone says, but maybe that’s simply a mirage. Maybe that’s why true scholarship is not really encouraged by those in authority as some would like.

  14. It’s a little worrisome that we feel the need to protect return missionaries from learning too much about Joseph Smith, after they presumably have spent two years teaching other people about him.

    RSR is probably too tedious to require most missionaries to read it, but if I had my way, the controversial aspects of RSR would be required knowledge for all missionaries. It would be a risky practice, but also one with more integrity than the current custom. On the other hand, I feel little obligation to maintain a missionary force, so take what I say with a boulder of salt.

  15. I am going to cheat, and offer an either/or list.It will assume that the Missionaries have already read the standard works, and perhaps some of the classics (i.e. Teachings of the Prophet JS, Lectures on Faith, the Miracle of Forgiveness, etc.) Of course, my choices are books that have largely influenced my own worldview.

    1. Either Rough Stone Rolling (Bushman), or This is My Doctrine (Harrell)

    2. Either Approaching Zion (Nibley) or Brave New World/Brave New World Revisited (Huxley)

    3. Either Re-Reading Job (Austin) or Man’s Search for Meaning (Frankyl)

    4. Either Cosmos and History (Eliade) or How to Read the Bible (Kugel)

    5. Either Understanding the Book of Mormon (Hardy) or The First Five Books of Moses (Alter)

    6. Either The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri (Nibley) or The Shape of Ancient Thought (McEvilley)

    7. Either The Odyssey (Homer) or Moby Dick (Melville)

    8. Either The Bhagavad Gita (various translations) or The Analects of Confucius (various translations)

    9. Either Letters to a Young Mormon (Miller) or The God Who Weeps (Givens)

    10. Either The People of the Lie (Peck) or Common Sense 101 (Ahlquist)

  16. I’m certainly not nearly as well read as many of the commenters here, and I suspect that many of you will find my list simple, but here goes.
    Joseph Smith the Prophet by Truman G. Madsen
    Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith by Joseph Fielding Smith
    The Myth Makers by Hugh Nibley
    The Rocks Don’t Lie by David Montgomery (not LDS at all, but if someone reads it and doesn’t come away realizing that how they understood scriptural events when in primary are probably not the way they should understand them now, I don’t know what will fix that)
    Grace is not Gods Backup Plan

  17. Many excellent suggestions here. I would add Phil Barlow’s collection of essays entitled “A Thoughtful Faith”. It was published in 1985 but remains highly relevant. I understand it’s out of print but I hear through the grapevine it will soon be republished.

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