New “Official” Church History Volumes Forthcoming

Ten years ago, I posted one of my very first pieces at T&S, “Missing Essentials,” noting the decline of familiarity with LDS history by the average member of the Church and suggesting this was due, in part, to the lack of a replacement volume for Essentials in Church History. In the intervening ten years, the problem has deepened. What was once simple historical ignorance has become, for some Latter-day Saints, a faith crisis, as they encounter online accounts of troubling LDS historical events. Local leaders are generally no more conversant in the details of LDS history than the membership and don’t have much to offer troubled members who share their concerns. The Gospel Topics essays are one response to this challenging development. Now we have official word that book-length treatments of LDS history will soon be published by the Church, finally filling the role once occupied by Essentials.

As reported by the Deseret News, Elder Steven Snow addressed the Mormon Historical Association last week and announced a four-volume history, to be titled Saints. While Elder Snow likened the new series to the massive B. H. Roberts history published almost a hundred years ago, I think it is better seen as a replacement for Essentials. The article notes: “Written at a 9- or 10-grade reading level, the volumes will be published in all 13 languages in which Church-published content is available on the internet.” So this is a publication intended to be read by the full membership of the Church, not just scholars and history types and not just English speakers. These volumes are intended to reach a much wider LDS audience than the volumes of the Joseph Smith Papers Project, for example.

Furthermore, pricing of the hard-copy volumes and free access to online versions will facilitate wide distribution. As quoted in the article, Elder Snow states, “They will be published in an inexpensive paperback format, as we are desirous that as many Church members as possible read them.” Finally, the article states that “Elder Snow said the volumes will be ‘transparent, honest and faithful,’ with controversial aspects of Church history covered in the context of the entire story.” So this is going to be a really big deal when the first volume comes out next year.

One the one hand, I think this should have happened ten or twenty years ago. On the other hand, better late than never.

Here is a final word by Elder Snow, as reported in the article:

“The history will not be a reference work, but a narrative based on well-researched facts,” he said. “We believe this will be valuable to church members to greatly enhance their knowledge of church history in an interesting way. In my view this will have an impact on members of the church for generations to come.”

61 comments for “New “Official” Church History Volumes Forthcoming

  1. Another interesting description given by Elder Snow was “[i]t will be written in a style similar to James Michener or David McCullough.” How would this be? I’m a big Michener fan.

  2. I foresee the “Saints” 4 Volume set becoming a best seller! Revelation from Heavenly Father is nothing to be embarrassed about no matter what form it takes. We are a church built on survival. Just look at its fruits shared with the world today. Every journey has bumps in the road cause by humanity trying to translate the best way to move forward. THIS move is now the best way for me personally. I am a recent convert to the Church because of the trials and errors of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Yes, Heavenly Father does work in mysterious ways!

  3. The four volumes will be based on the temples, Kirtland/Nauvoo era, Utah era, Outside Utah era, and Worldwide era. I’ve no idea what time periods those entail, but 200 years is a lot to stuff into 4 volumes. I hope despite the eras that it’s not Utah centric, giving some detail on what happened around the world when people didn’t just move to America.

  4. Frank, I think they are using a temple theme to impose periods on the four volumes. I like ending the first volume with the dedication of the Nauvoo temple rather than the death of Joseph Smith. Ending the third volume with the dedication of the Swiss temple and highlighting worldwide temples in the fourth volume should help move the focus away from Utah out into the wider world. At least that’s a possibility — we’ll have to wait for the volumes or for more informed commentary to get better info.

  5. So, will this be the curriculum for third hour meetings? That would give it much wider exposure.

  6. Rumor is that they’re moving from test in various Stakes to getting rid of a fixed manual for PH/RS. It’s supposed to be more like the ward council meetings where PH/RS are combined and a series of topics picked by the Bishop or Stake President are addressed. How true that is I don’t know, but apparently one Orem stake was one of the test areas by the church for the new program and it was very successful.

    The goal was supposedly to allow more customization to the local needs of the ward/stake and to address particular problems. I’ve noticed that in our stake at least they’ve had teacher in-service meetings every month or two where a member of the stake brings in teachers and discuss solving teaching problems. So it might be dealing with small classes, kids with special needs, dealing with sunbeams who aren’t interested, and so forth. Sounds like this is sort of a combination of that with ward council. From what I heard the Orem area went over some of the recent essays at

  7. I am anxious to see the new church history volumes; although, it seems odd to me the works were written as historical novels. On one hand it should make them highly accessible, but on the other I’m afraid it won’t read like good history. (I am hoping they don’t read like the Gerald Lund series–personal preference.) I am also VERY disappointed references will not be included. Most of what I learn about any subject I have ever pursued comes from starting with a good written work and then using the references to go to the sourced, often root knowledge.

  8. Narrative without references sounds to me like opinion. Who’s opinion’s are we expected to accept as the truth?

  9. From the Deseret News report:
    “Endnotes and references, especially in the online version, will take interested readers to additional information, videos, articles, etc., in which they may have additional interest, Elder Snow said.”

    So whilst it won’t be a reference work, apparently there will be some sort of references??? Do they mean at the end of the volume or chapter but without those little reference markers in the text? I’d certainly like to see references.

  10. Maybe it would look like the God Who Weeps? I enjoyed that book and if memory serves the Givens did not provide citations in the chapters because they didn’t want to break the narrative flow. (However, there were references at the end of the chapter and it wasn’t too difficult to match the substance with the reference at the end.)

  11. BigSky, can you elaborate on “historical novels?” I know nothing about this, but when you say that, I’m imagining “The Work and the Glory.” Or did you mean novel-like in the narration?

  12. Clark, my stake is the Orem stake doing the pilot program on the new third-hour curriculum for MP/RS. I attended the training meeting with reps from the Church to kick this off. The need for something new is obvious, since we’ve run out of dead prophets, and the quote books we’ve been using for lesson manuals never really worked very well. The pilot program began on June 4, so there’s no track record yet.

    The new program is structured as follows:
    1st Sunday: EQs, HP groups, and RS will meet separately as large “councils” (this is an unavoidable in today’s Church), where they are supposed to discuss needs of the ward and how to address them through action (actually living the gospel instead of just talking about it). Our high priests group meeting was pretty good. We identified several courses of action that would improve people’s lives and the ward overall. Now we’ll see how the follow-through is. Our RS president kind of misunderstood the intent of the 1st Sunday meeting, so their discussion wasn’t quite what the Church had in mind. That will likely be corrected over time.

    2nd and 3rd Sundays: Lessons taught by regular instructors with curriculum coming the most recent general conference, but chosen by EQ and RS presidents and HP group leaders. There can be some discussion in ward council to coordinate some, but this is supposed to come from the leaders of these classes and quorums. It is NOT to come from bishops or stake presidents.

    4th Sunday: This is the one where I see some problems maybe. To start, every 4th Sunday is supposed to be a lesson about Sabbath Day observance, until the “Brethren” see fit to change the topic. I am concerned that after a month or two, this may get prescriptive, because, well, where else do you go once you’ve covered the basic principles. This is, of course, the big focus lately. I’ve heard rumor that this topic will change every six months, but we’ll see.

    5th Sunday: As it is now.

  13. The previous comment apparently maxed out the space available, so here’s the rest:

    Our pilot runs from the first Sunday in June through the end of August. There are, I believe, 12 stakes doing the pilot. We are supposed to provide feedback so that they can fine-tune this program before it is rolled out in January for the whole Church. Maybe I’ll give an update after a couple of months. Obviously, the 1st Sunday format will work better for some stakes (and quorums and classes) than others, depending on lots of factors, including who the leader is. But hey, it’s worth a try. I wondered where the Church would go after we finished the GBH quote book. Well, this is it.

    I’m not sure if the instructions for this pilot are available for all Church members, but at least for our stake a document appears at the bottom of the Gospel Library app. Check it out to see if it’s there for everybody.

  14. Wally, over at the Mormon Dialog forum someone said that sunday school was also changed in at least one of the stakes in Orem testing things. There the lessons were taken from a different one of the new essays at that are so controversial including mother in heaven and polygamy. Were they doing that in your stake too? I’ve not heard if that is just for that stake or also planned for a general rollout if the tests are successful.

  15. Wally, thanks very much for the update. It’s surprising that the Fourth Sunday would repeatedly be about a single topic, especially one with so little meat to it. I’m also less than enthused about poorly prepared instructors simply having the class members take turns reading conference talks.

    While it would be (and has been) a blog post unto itself, I personally feel that curated lessons ala Gospel Doctrine aren’t a bad thing, especially when you have a weak instructor so long as there is no mandate to stick to it when you have a strong instructor (to make clear, I’m not talking about giving the green light to start preaching pet theories and doctrines specifically decried by Church leaders). Our fourth Sunday instructor is a wonderful man, but he struggles mightily with using conference talks to instruct, and I can’t help thinking it would be easier if he had a lesson manual to aid him.

  16. In regard to the question of whether there will be references: Elder Snow stated at the Mormon History Association event that there will be endnotes (meaning there will be markers in the text pointing to the end of the book for the sources). The on-line version will include links to some of the primary sources used. In addition, he said there would be additional discussion of sources and topics in on-line essays. So, while not a reference book, it will definitely contain references. And the idea is good narration of actual history, not fictional narration.

  17. For the pilot program, are men and women still separated during the third hour on all Sundays, except 5th Sundays? Did the church reps give a reason for this setup and structure other than that the old curriculum had come to an end chronologically? Is there any flexibility with 2nd and 3rd Sunday topics coming from the most recent general conference? Are the presidents of each organization responsible for reporting what was discussed on the 1st Sunday to the bishopric during ward council meetings?

  18. Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    A charitable reading of the “like Michener and McCullough” comment is that the format will be a readable narrative directed to a popular audience without much academic jargon and without too many footnotes or references. This could describe well done or poorly done historical narrative, but nothing in the chosen format compromises the project.

    A less charitable reading of the article suggests the leadership distrusts a more academic approach to the narrative (with lots of footnotes and sources, and technical terms where appropriate) as somehow detracting from the narrative, either by confusing some readers or even allowing curious readers to consult actual sources that might or might not be accurately quoting or representing the original source. The way LDS curriculum manuals selectively or misleadingly quote even friendly LDS sources does raise the issue. Honestly, I never trust an LDS manual’s representation of a cited quotation without checking the quotation. Just not much credibility there.

    For me, given that these publications are coming out of the Church Historical Department rather than Curriculum, I’m willing to grant them the benefit of the doubt as to the rationale for the chosen format and their use of sources, until proven otherwise.

  19. Virginia, my understanding is it’s supposed to be more like ward council where the Bishop assigns someone to teach that particular lesson rather than just the dedicated teacher teaching whatever that week. I could be wrong on that but hopefully they’d have someone qualified to teach the particular issue at hand.

    Edit: to clarify — not like ward council in that Wally says the Bishops and SP don’t pick but like it in that it’s not a regular teacher. I couldn’t tell from Wally’s comments if that was the case or not. That’s what I’ve heard elsewhere though.

  20. Dave, it sounds like it’s going to make liberal use of the Joseph Smith Papers and will have very competent historians writing it. However it’s supposed to also be approachable for the typical member. Think Arrington’s The Mormon Experience but more so.

    That’s going to be a very challenging project since people who are great historians aren’t necessarily going to be skilled writing to a 10th grade level. That’s a skill in and of itself.

  21. We might as well combine EQ and HP for 3rd hour since the young bucks are all teaching Primary and YM on a two-deep basis – ask your local EQP about this.

  22. Yup. Pretty rare there’s more than 5-6 people in EQ typically although we’ve had gusts of 10-11 before they all get callings. Throw in the guys usually watching the kids to give their wives a break and there’s not a lot there. I always take care of sick kids when I can too. I assume that’s typical of EQ across the church.

  23. The reason for asking about whether references are to be included is that I fear that we may be going away from what some call the “sanitised” version and be obligated to have the so called “New Mormon History” which seeks to disclose parts of our history which the “Hierarchy” have been covering up. Are we to be asked to accept “true” history revealed in notebooks, diaries and books written by apostates and excommunicated members of the Church. Is “true” history portrayed in Hurlbut’s affidavits recorded in Eber D Howe’s book “Mormonism Unveiled* by such people as Methodist Minister Willard Chase? If we are to be presented with such we need to be shown where this “history” cones from, and by who.

  24. I think we’re well past the New Mormon History era. Typically most things will be established by multiple sources and I’d imagine there would be references to secondary literature as well as primary sources. However you do raise and interesting question about sources. Given that so much is covered in a single volume though, I doubt there will be quite the detail where these things will come up. I have to imagine that in such cases where history depends upon antagonistic accounts that it’d be simpler to simply reference secondary literature.

    I’d also say I wouldn’t call what the church did covering up so much as simply not engaging with such controversial items. While I think it would have been healthier to engage them head on, there certainly are counter arguments. I don’t think it’s quite as obvious there was only one conclusion the way some think. There are various tradeoffs in what they do. Focusing on the core of the gospel actually should be our focus.

  25. @Northern Virginia: I think you could consider War and Peace to be a historical novel. Gerald Lund’s popular series written for a Mormon audience The Work and the Glory is probably more novel than historical novel. I suppose we see more examples of this in film. Movies like Lincoln might be an example.

    I am hopeful there will be endnotes and not just recommended readings. Personally, I think it is important for the church to produce its own history in a way that facilitates members learning from root sources and enables members to evaluate for themselves the quality of the history. I’ll choose to be optimistic and look forward to their release.

  26. I’m glad to hear that a new church history is on the way.

    I’d also like to see the new essays put into the curriculum for either Sunday School or the third hour.

    But speaking of the third hour and coming back to the rumoured new schedules, the thought of discussing “how to keep the Sabbath Day holy” (or any other topic) every fourth Sunday just makes my heart sink. I’m currently the teacher for the fourth Sunday in Relief Society, and I just don’t think I could discuss the same thing over and over again — not as a student and certainly not as a teacher.

    Please tell us more about the pilot program and how it’s going in your stake, Wally — perhaps in a different post?

  27. BigSky, I’m sorry I wasn’t clearer. Did you mean that “Saints” originally started out as a novel? Interesting origin story if so.

  28. There was a novel, Saints, by Orson Scott Card which was a kind of fictionalized account of someone like Eliza R. Snow merged with a few other figures. But without speaking for Big Sky, I suspect he just meant that novels can sometimes distort things more than actual histories do. The Lund books being a good example (or so I am told — I’ve not actually read them).

  29. Northern Virginia, I’m simply saying the central characters in The Work and the Glory, the Steeds, never existed, and events in those volumes are based on actual events and characters mixed with fictionalized events and characters. In that way, while inspiring and meaningful to some, the perspective through which the story is told is not history. (Clark, I think Saints by Orson Scott Card is a good example of this too.) I’m not saying these aren’t good books and not worth reading. I am trying to tease out the distinction between history and historical fiction. I think the distinction is an important one to contrast.

    Elder Snow mentioned it would be written in a style similar to James Michener or David McCullough. Michener was a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist. His booked were marked by deep research, but contained fictional characters, locations and events mixed with historical ones to draw out what he considered to be the story of his focus–but Michener was a novelist, not a historian. Snow also emphasizes the voluminous work the history department is doing, suggesting the scholarship underpinning the books will be rigorous. It’s hard to know how the books will read and how the history scholarship will inform the narrative.

    I’m anxious to read the books when they are released and am hopeful they will be based on outstanding historical scholarship. I do think it is unfortunate it is not a referenced history, however.

  30. Big Sky, I too am disappointed that no references be used. Surely we should be able to determine what is being portrayed as true history, not someone’s opinion of what is true. Whenever we stray from our early history as portrayed by the Lord’s anointed and scripture and quote from diaries and reminiscences many years after the events, even material from anti-Mormon sources as portrayed for instance in Elder Snow’s September 2015 Ensign article “Joseph in Harmony”. We really do need to know what is supposed to be the authentic History of our Lord’s Church, and how can we determine this if we do not know the sources.

  31. BigSky and Clark, thanks for the clarification. I really hope they don’t try to carve up the history to fit a convenient, novel-like narrative, even it does contain more warts than in past attempts at writing our history.

  32. My guess is that it’s much more about readability. From a basic practical stance people tend to get intimidated by books with lots of end notes. However the Church also knows if the history is too bad that people won’t trust it. Also if I heard things correctly they are going to put extensive end notes on the internet. So I suspect they’re simply trying to get people to read the book.

  33. Clark I could do without the endnotes as long as we have the sources; of where the history is coming from and who is giving it..

  34. “Elder Snow said the volumes will be ‘transparent, honest and faithful'”

    I remain to be convinced. For a good exposition of the problem, read “Leonard Arrington and the Writing of Mormon History” by Greg Prince. Leonard Arrington (never actually the “Church Historian” but filled the role–the only objective and professional historian ever to hold that role) got permission from the prophet at the time to produce an extensive history of the church, using professional historians and researchers. After a few years (and before it was finished) it was quashed by Packer and McConkie because the little that they read was not “faithful” history. We have lived so many years with the cursory, faithful, carefully curated history of the church that anything truly approaching objectivity will be refreshing. However, “honest AND faithful” is somewhat of an oxymoron.


  35. I don’t think honest and faithful need be an oxymoron. Indeed I’d argue that apologetic writing is a great example of that. People might disagree with the particular theories of individual papers as well as dislike the polemical nature of many articles. Yet I think they show that one can honestly engage with the evidence.

    It’s interesting that while Packer was an opponent of dealing with all the history, apparently towards the end of his life he changed his view and was pushing to make all the information available. (Going here by a recent post at BCC)

  36. As someone with an academic background in history, “written at a 9- or 10-grade reading level” is a frightening thought, especially if that estimate is calibrated to the modern American 9th-grader. However, as long as sources are there to check for those of us with an interest in doing so (and by “there,” I mean actual footnotes, not just a vague bibliography), I’m good. I share Dave’s lack of trust in the Church’s use of citations, based on past experience.

    If there were at least some reference to the issues that have been present in LDS history since the beginning, that have been amply answered decades ago, but that now seem to have been “newly discovered” by an Internet generation which never became acquainted with the public library system, it would help. In other words, if we begin to try to inoculate . . . more information is rarely a bad thing.

    Covering the entire history of the Church in four volumes is going to be a difficult task in any case. I look forward to seeing this material, and even more forward to no longer using the Dead Prophets Society in priesthood/RS. It’s been a long, dreary decade.

  37. Fifty two years ago I was blessed to receive a spiritual witness telling me that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is the Kingdom of God on the earth today, and that the Prophets who have been called and anointed by the Lord have led this Church under the direction of our Lord Jesus Christ As each succeeding Prophet has held this Office from President David O McKay to our present Prophet Thomas S Monson, I have been given a profound witness that they also are being so directed. So I would ask why do we need to have a further 4 volume set of Church History written by “New Mormon Historians”. If this “new history” is to include conclusions arrived at by raking through the archives of the Church by excommunicated men such as D Michael Quinn, and the Signature Book group of “historians”, then I think we need to be informed of the sources.

    As far as the last paragraph of the last contributor is concerned I would ask the question, How long does a prophet have to be dead before he is counted as a false prophet? I personally have enjoyed the past 15 years worth of Teachings from the Prophets. Are not these men the ones who we covenant to accept as “true messengers” sent from God to lead us into truth and salvation?

  38. Wally, if you’re still reading, can you tell us more about what went on in your ward on the various Sundays in June, especially the fourth Sunday? Or will you wait for a couple more months before reporting?

    Enquiring minds want to know!

  39. Last year I participated in a BYU faculty assessment retreat. Terryl Givens was one of our guests and in a Q&A session he briefly spoke about this multi-volume history. Initially, he was part of the editorial board but ended up leaving. Any way, he did mention a few key points that are germane to this discussion. He related an anecdote in which he and another editor approached one of the twelve (Holland, perhaps?) with a list of troubling aspects of church history. They asked which topics should NOT be discussed in the history. The apostle’s reply was, and I’m paraphrasing here, “We need to include all of them. And honestly.” My sense is that the church wants to include greater transparency in telling its story. When pressed as to why he left the editorial team, Givens chalked it up to “creative differences.” He also thought the timeline in releasing the volumes was too long. I recall him mentioning a ten-year preparation period. It seems, however, that that initial projection has been accelerated. One final comment he made that has really stuck with me, went something like this. In regards to recent issues of apostasy, faith crises, and low participation of millennials, he said something to the effect of, “These are first-world problems and the bretheren are running a third-world church.”

    Any way, you can take this all as hearsay and I realize that my memories of a few off-the-cuff remarks from over a year ago are probably fuzzy.

  40. It’s interesting that Jana Riess’ survey of Mormons found trust the biggest issue among those who left the church. Far more than the actual content of the troubling history. While I’m always a bit suspicious of self-reported attitudes or behavior in surveys, there’s probably something to this.

  41. Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    JimJiminy, very interesting commentary. It’s nice to know that at least one of the Twelve is in favor of an honest and candid approach to LDS history. But one apostle does not a quorum make. Heavy-handed editorial control by members of the Twelve with veto power over the content of LDS historical publications has compromised earlier efforts along these lines, and it may yet compromise this one. For now, let’s hope for the best and see what comes out of the historical meat grinder.

    If the Twelve see first-world Mormons as cash cows and the third world as the target for furutre missionary success — I can see why they like this as a short-term tactic, given how focused they are on tithing revenue and converts. But I don’t really see that as a blueprint for a long-term successful strategy. What a depressing idea. I’d rather they look for ways to make the message, the culture, and the practice of Mormonism more attractive to first-world types (acknowledge we lost the culture war, become more inclusive in line with true Christian values, and for heaven’s sake give us the two-hour block!!!) rather than seek a third-world audience that likes the conservative 1950s programme the Church is still pushing. As Anonymous notes, we can’t just write off Millennials.

  42. @Anonymous, When I read JimJiminy’s comment I didn’t see it as the leadership seeing US based members as cash cows; more like they see US based members as adults in the gospel who don’t need as much hand holding as members who don’t live in a core area. It makes sense to me. If I were in a leadership position, I know that I would want areas of the church where there have been families for generations to be able to be more or less self sufficient; and focus on the areas of the world that don’t have large numbers of faithful members.

  43. I have always understood Times and Seasons to be a place where faithful latter-day saints could discuss ideas of interest. After reading Dave Banack’s last comment I had to check that I hadn’t strayed into the Mormon Think blog

  44. Dave, again just going by that report by Kevin from the MHA session it appears even Elder Packer supported this “warts and all” approach. If Elder Packer was convinced when he was usually the strongest voice in the other direction it’s likely most of the 12 agree on this point.

    I’m not sure I’d agree with the way you present the 12’s concern with tithing and converts. But clearly if the west is secularizing the way much of Europe has (still an open question) growth will be in the rest of the world. Given the more limited resources in such places that means western saints will definitely be paying for new saints until those countries industrialize sufficiently. That said, I do think we have a problem with a one size fits all approach. That’s why I think we’re significantly underperforming in Asia compared to some other sects like Evangelicals or Seventh Day Adventists. My guess is that the Brethren know that and are trying to figure things out. I’ve been impressed with just how much innovation they’ve been trying in missionary work the past few years even if I suspect most of the innovations haven’t worked out. (I’m very skeptical of how they’re using social media for instance)

  45. That’s what we’re doing here, Jeff — discussing ideas of interest. We welcome a broad spectrum of opinion on these ideas, and your voice is as welcome as any other. Participation is voluntary. If you find the discussion offensive or unsettling, there are plenty of other forums out there to explore.

    Perhaps you would like to give your own response to JimJiminy’s report that at least one member of the Twelve favors a candid and historically accurate presentation of LDS history that does not avoid controversial topics that have been omitted in the past, and his additional report that LDS leaders might be pursuing a strategy of third-world growth, sort of putting us first-worlders in a holding pattern. These certainly seem like interesting ideas worth discussing.

  46. David, thanks for the invitation, before doing this let me ask a question. Which part of the History would you say is not candid and historically accurate? Do we discard Joseph Smith’s History in the standard works of the Church and rely on our new Mormon Historian’s portrayal as true and accurate. Are you advocating that we accept the rantings of such people as David Whitmer’s “Address to all Believers in Christ” and a lot of other anti-Mormon “revelations” which we have in the archives of the Church. Are we to accept that Michael Quinn;s portrayal of the history in his Heirarchy books as true and faithful? What about Howe’s book “Mormonism Unveiled” Is this the “warts and all” history we should be telling the Church and the world? Please enlighten me, which are the “controversial topics that have been omitted in the past”?

  47. Jeff, that seems a false dichotomy. However to recognize that the version in the PoGP is itself limited and shouldn’t be the only word on the subject seems important. That is we have to look at the data. Now how we treat the data will of course vary based upon what we privilege and how we balance accounts. But it almost sounds like you want a kind of scriptural inerrancy to these traditional accounts. Surely there’s a middle ground between critics with an axe to grind and limited accounts.

  48. Jeff, I second Anonymous on this one. Think about some of the information available in the Gospel Topics essays in regard to Church history. Lots of stuff there that you won’t find in Joseph Smith History, including information about the four known written accounts of the First Vision. I expect what the volumes to feel a bit like an expansion pack of the Church history-focused Gospel Topics

  49. Clark, Of course the Joseph Smith History in the PoGP is limited, but the basic understanding of the origins of the restoration is there. Joseph himself tells us in the first verse that he had been induced to write the history to disabuse the public mind which had been influenced by evil-disposed and designing persons. When we study the DHC and read the many sermons that Joseph gave I believe that we are given the true history and the direction that he was receiving from the Lord. When this new history is published we need to be given the sources from where the information comes from and who is giving it. Then we will be able to evaluate the truths of what is being portrayed.

    Northern Virginia for instance talks about the four written accounts of the First Vision, The implication from those opposed to the Church quote this and imply that if Joseph had experienced what he claims then he should have given the same story each time. Why do we need to examine these four accounts when the simple information is that he was visited by Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ and told that he was to be instrumental in the restoration of the gospel to the earth. By the way the apostle Paul gave three different versions of his vision, are we to apply the same questioning of the validity of his prophetic calling also ?

    As far as the Gospel Topics are concerned these, as I understand it, were composed by historians who give their opinions of the topics under discussion. Should they be taken as the official doctrine of the Church? I also question why there has to be so much comment again by historians in the Joseph Smith Papers Project. I thought we were to see everything Joseph Smith wrote or cause to be written why do we have to be influenced by other peoples opinions

  50. I think it nonsense to think Joseph should have given exactly the same account over that many years. The differences are well in keeping with first off having different intents in giving ones account but also just the effect of memory.

    Again though, I’m still not quite sure what your point is. It seems to me you want things to be fixed and official in a strong sense of ‘TRUE DOCTRINE’ whereas the scriptures and lessons we have don’t pretend to be that in every detail. The four gospels for instance are different, with different focuses, and some contradictions. We’re not inerrant with scripture. It’s good enough for communicating God’s message. So it’s not clear to me what exactly you’re really objecting to.

  51. Clark Gable, are you also Clark? Just to make things clear, TRUE DOCTRINE is contained in the Standard Works of the Church. What I am advocating is that in the proposed 4 volume history which is supposed to be replacing the DHC is really true history and not the opinions of some historians who have axes to grind. There are some who want to portray Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and other early leaders of the Church as weak flawed men who made mistakes and were guilty of leading the Church astray. Of course Joseph freely admits that in his youth he made foolish errors, but to assume that he continued in these weaknesses throughout his life is a travesty. A weak individual could not possibly have endured the persecutions and trials he went through. There are some who want to portray Joseph as an idle layabout who’s only occupation was as a glass looker pretending to discover hidden treasure. Having him translating the Book of Mormon by looking at a stone in his hat, and not using the Urim and Thummim which came with the Gold Plates. Are we to accept as true history recollections of men from second and third hand sources who were not there when the translation took place? Is Brigham Young to be accused of making a mistake in 1852 when he declared that the descendants of Cain could not hold the Priesthood, a mistake by the way the Lord allowed to continue for another 126 years!!!. Or was he declaring the Lord’s will?.

    As I have said on several posts if we are being asked to accept the new 4 volume history as true history we need to be able to check the sources of the information so that we can be assured we are not accepting the opinions of those who have ulterior motives. Have I now made my position clear enough.?

  52. Yes, Jeff, President Young was dead wrong about the priesthood ban as were thiae who perpetuated it. I still believe those men were called of God. I gather you disagree with me, and to the extent you believe the ban was of God, shame on you.

  53. Jeff Walsh,
    1. History is not doctrine. Neither is science, various political ideologies or your MD’s medical advice. Doctrine is doctrine.
    2. The essays on were approved by the First Presidency. Does not make them doctrine, but it does mean that they recognized the essays as a good-faith effort by some professional historians. They are worth a thoughtful read.
    3. The Church does not employ apostates. Okay, the church does not KNOWINGLY employ apostates. There is that weird janitor on the third floor of the Church Office Building…
    4. Even devout, highly-educated historians can disagree when it comes to interpretation.
    5. Educated Latter-day Saints are fully capable of reading the writings of various historians, drawing their own conclusions and discussing various historical ideas.
    6. Reading interpretations of Church history helps fulfill the command to read the best books and obtain a knowledge of history (D&C 88:118; 90:15, 53).
    7. I don’t think we should criticize a book until it has been written, published and we have read it.

  54. Jeff, not sure that helps. I don’t know what you mean by true history although I assume you mean something akin to true doctrine. However the scriptures aren’t just a book of Mormon doctrine with each doctrinal point listed with a definition. Things are complex and have to be interpreted. Much of the scriptures are narratives, poems, and images. Some of the scriptures, like Song of Solomon or arguably many parts of the Old Testament, are problematic and corrupted. Even the parts that are given are given line upon line. History, if anything, is even more complex.

    I’d second what Old Man said as well. To the point, while the First Presidency approval doesn’t guarantee it’s without error it does mean it carries a lot of weight. People are probably going over this very carefully.

  55. While it has been while, I do remember that I used to hear people in church, commenting on how one of the things that they like about Sunday School, Priesthood and Relief Society, is how the lessons were geared around how members can improve their lives; and not just lessons which felt like trivia; aka knowledge for the sake of knowledge. It’s possible these comments crept up when the current manuals came out. So obviously some people like them, more than what used to exist.
    I also remember two Sundays ago in Gospel Doctrine, the lesson was the three degrees of glory, and near the end of the lesson one faithful sister made the comment “I don’t think that we should be studying this. I have confidence that God will make everything okay in the end, so studying this doesn’t do any good.” I can only imagine how she’ll feel when attending lessons, which will feel like history class to her, and not a lesson going over which principles in her life she should be living. If she can feel that correlation approved scriptures aren’t worth studying; history which isn’t comprised of faith promoting anecdotes certainly isn’t going to feel worth while to her.
    I imagine that there will be some attempt in these new manuals to have certain lessons\chapters have gospel principle themes, because a lot of members like the fact that they made it out of high school; and don’t want to be attending a class which will feel like knowledge for the sake of knowledge. And there will obviously be teachers who will read the lessons and think “I don’t want to talk about this.” and will out and out not even reference the manual during the lesson.
    That being said, I do believe that the pendulum has swung too far, and a little bit of feeling like actual school during Sunday School will overall be a better thing.

  56. jader3rd, you bring up a very good point. That are lots of members who don’t really give a darn about Church history. Going to church makes them feel good, and it doesn’t really matter to them where all this stuff comes from. My gut reaction to that good sister would be ask her why the heck she then wastes her time sitting in church rather than being out doing good, if none of this doctrine actually really matters. Now, I wouldn’t actually say that to her, but when you proclaim to be the only true and living church and that the ordinances you provide will bring salvation and none else, then, in my mind, the truth claims really start to matter.

    As you mentioned, many teachers won’t feel very comfortable teaching this. My experience is that no one has brought up anything listed in the Gospel Topics essays in Gospel Doctrine. I would, but the conversation has never really allowed for me to bring it up in an organic way, and I feel like I would be lobbing hand grenades if I did. I’d love to hear the experiences of others in doing so.

  57. I think one can ask people that type of question but do so in a nice non-confrontational way. My sense is that there’s a lot of truth in her perspective. As much as I like discussing philosophy, theology, exegesis and history, during church I much prefer practical lessons. One reason why typically I like priesthood lessons best outside of the actual passing of the sacrament.

    That said I also think the main reason we have so little information about the next life or theology is precisely because it’s really not motivational. That is there’s little functional reason for God to give us that information. Much of our knowledge of the next life is, I think, to explain problematic issues like judgment in a fashion that is important for our behavior. So the degrees of glory, to the degree much is said about them, is primarily to explain that our works matter and God puts us in a place relative to our character as revealed by our behavior.

    With regards to history, I actually think most of it doesn’t matter too much. The parts that matter the most are things that people feel betrayal over if they don’t hear. Things like polygamy in Nauvoo, seer stones other than the Urim & Thummim brought by the angel, treasure seeking by Joseph, etc. So I think there are very functional reasons to discuss those in Sunday School but from a faithful perspective.

  58. Clark Goble, It is a little difficult living in the UK to keep up a conversation because of the time difference, especially as I have been attending the temple today. That said I need to try again to make clear why I felt it necessary to join the conversation. I really do care about how our actual history is being portrayed. Ever since I became a member of the Church some 52 years ago I have been engaged in studying the lives of the men who have been called and anointed as Prophets Seers and Revelators and Presidents of the Church. What I have always sought for is truth, backed up by common sense. This is the true Church of Jesus Christ and He is the one leading and conducting the affairs of His Kingdom here on the earth. We have been assured that He will not allow his anointed leader to lead the Church astray. It is not in the programme. Joseph Smith was told by Moroni that his name would be had for good and evil throughout the world. That prophecy is literally being enacted in our time today, and I am convinced that this also includes the men who have followed Joseph as the mouthpiece of the Lord. We as a Church have also to be aware that there has to be opposition in all things. We also need to be aware of the arch deceiver who teaches the philosophies of men mingled with scripture. It has become fashionable over the last decades for some to portray our leaders as fallible men who make mistakes, which mistakes the Lord sometimes allows to continue for many years.

    This is why I am anxious that the proposed volumes of Church history is really the true history and not mingled with the philosophies of well meaning historians giving their own opinions, and that this can only be detected if we have footnoted and sourced information.

    Northern Virginia, you say that I should be ashamed for believing that it was the Lord’s will that the descendants of Cain be barred from holding the priesthood, and imply that Brigham Young made a mistake because he was racist. Well let me ask you some questions, Did Abraham make a mistake when he recorded that the Pharaoh of Egypt who would fain claim the priesthood because of his lineage from Ham and that he was of the lineage to whom the priesthood was barred.. Did Moses make a mistake by saying that following the golden calf incident he declared that it was the Lord’s will that only the tribe of Levi could hold priesthood, and not the other 11 tribes. Again was Moses showing prejudice when he many times said that the house of Israel should not marry into the Canaanite race. Was the Lord wrong for saying that females could not be ordained to the priesthood. I see no evidence in scripture that the ban placed on Cain and his descendants was ever lifted, until the time came in 1978 when the One who imposed the ban revealed to His anointed leader President Spencer W Kimball that the time had finally arrived that the ban the He imposed was now lifted. Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and other leaders said that the time would come when the priesthood ban would be lifted but it was not in their time. Surely the priesthood that we hold today is the Lord’ priesthood and it is up to His will who and who should not hold it. Following the announcement that the priesthood ban was lifted Elder Bruce R McConkie advised that we should forget everything which had been said in the past should be disregarded concerning the ban. Some have taken his words quoted in the Priesthood topic as proof that the ban was a mistake. A careful reading of the topic makes clear that the Lord had never revealed the REASONS for the ban being imposed not that the ban itself was wrong. Sometime in the future we may have to stand before President Brigham Young and at that time I wonder who will be the one who is ashamed.

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