What is Church Doctrine?

February 3, 2004 | 88 comments
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As Mormons we often like to speak as though we have a well settled body of doctrine that provides determinate answers to some set of questions, but is silent as to other questions. Thus, someone makes some comment in Sunday School with which we disagree, and we are able to say, “Well that is your opinion, but it is not church doctrine.” My question is how do I figure out if something is church doctrine or not.

Consider the Catholics. If I want to know what is the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church I can turn to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. There is no similar document within Mormonism.

We sometimes say that church doctrine is defined by the scriptures, but I doubt that this is going to do us all that much work. The interpretation of the scriptures tends to be the context in which people make claims about what is or is not “church doctrine.” In other words, we generally use “church doctrine” as a way of adjudicating between competing scriptural interpretations.

Being a lawyer, I approach this question — gasps of horror! — “legalistically.” It turns out that there is a real debate in the philosophy of law as to what we mean when we talk about “law.” Since we tend to conceptualize “church doctrine” as a set of authoritative statements, I actually think that the legal analogy is useful, since law is also generally conceptualized as a set of authoritative statements. One branch of the philosophy of law known as positivism follows a definition of law set out by an English guy named H.L.A. Hart. According to Hart, law consists of two sorts of rules. First, there are rules about human conduct — e.g. two witnesses are necessary to make a valid will, the taking of a human life with malice aforethought is murder, etc. Second, there are rules about rules. More properly speaking, there is a single rule about rules that Hart called “The Rule of Recognition.” This is the rule that specifies which rules are law and which rules are something else, like rules of manners, etc. Thus, the rule about murder is law because it has been enacted by the legislature of the state of Arkansas, while the rule that says I should answer the telephone by saying “Hello, this is the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals” is not law because it was not enacted by the state of Arkansas. The rule that rules enacted by the state of Arkansas are law is the rule of recognition.

In these terms, the problem with the concept of “church doctrine” is that we do not have a rule of recognition. The philosophy of law provides us with at least two other possible models for conceptualizing “church doctrine.” The natural law school of the philosophy of law posits a necessary connection between law and morality. There are, so the argument goes, objectively true moral statements. Law consists of rules that guiding official conduct that conform with this objective moral truth. Thus, the prohibition against murder is a law because murder is immoral. The Nuremburg Laws, which paved the road to the Holocaust, are not really law because they are manifestly unjust and immoral. Translated into the realm of “church doctrine,” natural law would specify what is or is not church doctrine by reference to some objective standard of truth. For example, Joseph Smith once said, “Mormonism is truth.” If we take this statement as defining “church doctrine,” then we are adopting some analogy to the natural law position. The problem with the natural law position, of course, is that determining the objective content of moral truth is notoriously difficult, and in order to specify whether something is law we will need some methodology that specifies what is morally true. Likewise, “Mormonism is truth” as a specification of “church doctrine” requires some methodology to discover what is truth, a methodology that cannot itself be given by “church doctrine.”

Another possible analogy from the philosophy of law is an approach known as interpretivism. The best known expositor of this approach is a painfully pompous philosopher by the name of Ronald Dworkin. According to Dworkin, we have certain things that we can uncontroversially specify as being “law.” For example, the Rule Against Perpetuities, a notoriously complicated rule dealing with future property interests in land, is clearly law, as is the definition of murder that I cited above and any number of other propositions that we could name. What we then do is take this bundle of uncontroversial cases and tell a story about it, a story that provides it with some unity and cohesion. However, we don’t tell just any story. We tell the story that places the body of law in the best possible light. Then, when we are confronted with a difficult legal question — Can a murderer inherit under the will of his victim? Is abortion protected by the constitution? Is a modification in a contract of sale enforceable without some new payment? — we look to the story we told about the law. Which answer provides the most natural continuation of that story and continues to place it in the best possible light? The answer to this question gives us the answer to what the law governing these hard cases is.

Whatever its limitations as a philosophy of law (and they are legion), I think that Dworkin’s approach provides us with a useful way of thinking about church doctrine. We have some propositions that are — at least provisionally — uncontroversially church doctrine. For example: “Joseph Smith was a prophet.” “Adultery is a sin.” “The Atonement of Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation.” etc. We then try to come up with some coherent account of these propositions that places them in the best possible light. We thus reject, for example, Brodie’s Joseph Smith was a psychotic con man thesis when specifying church doctrine. Given this story we then use it to resolve difficult questions like what is church doctrine on the question of drinking Diet Coke (which I am drinking now).

Not a great solution to the quandry of what is church doctrine, but though it be a little thing it is mine!

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88 Responses to What is Church Doctrine?

  1. lyle on February 3, 2004 at 12:03 pm

    Nate…Kool. Can I get CLE credits for participating here at T&S? Your post reminds me of the iron rod v. liahona debate, which seems possible to ‘recast’ as a bright-line v. balancing test type of discussion. so…when do we publish Catechism Mormon 101?

  2. Matt Evans on February 3, 2004 at 12:14 pm

    This is a great post, Nate. Your insight about the parallel nature of the questions “what is law” and “what is doctrine” are apt. (Yes, my opinion is unsurprising, given that I’m a lawyer.)

    But wouldn’t skeptics claim that the legal philosophy that best accords with our “church doctrine” is legal realism?

  3. Adam Greenwood on February 3, 2004 at 12:37 pm

    In other words, Matt, ‘church doctrine’ is just a prediction of what God and Christ will say ‘church doctrine’ is? :)
    I like it, but I think that boils down to pretty much the same thing. Just as looking at the law often turns out to be helpful in predicting what judges and lawyers will do, something like what Nate proposes is probably necessary to predicting what God and Christ will say, ne cest pa?

    Nate,
    I’m a guy who works best with examples. I think I’d understand your idea a lot better if you explained how ‘Joseph Smith is a Prophet,’ ‘Adultery is Bad,’ ‘the Atonement is Good,’ led you to conclude that Diet Coke was the drink for Nate. My already generous estimates of your subtle powers of reason were apparently not subtle enough.

  4. Bob Caswell on February 3, 2004 at 12:39 pm

    Nate, in answer to your question, “What is Church doctrine?” Haven’t you read Mormon Doctrine? Don’t you know what it says about Diet Cokes?

    No, I’m just kidding, but how would life be if Bruce’s book Mormon Doctrine was, indeed, Church doctrine? If the book was really what it says it is, then you’d think our quads would be quints. But alas, we Mormons have to think for ourselves until the day Mormon Doctrine is canonized (which will be never).

  5. Ben on February 3, 2004 at 1:02 pm

    Bob Millet at BYU gave a talk “What is our doctrine?” on the subject to BYU religion faculty recently. It touches on (in)errancy, apologetics, the nature of prophets and some other related things. There’s a copy at http://home.uchicago.edu/~spackman/millet.doc
    He’s no lawyer, but it’s an interesting perspective from within the CES/BYU semi-official realm.

  6. lyle on February 3, 2004 at 1:14 pm

    “the CES/BYU semi-official realm”

    is exactly what Nate is talking about Adam (IMO); so…what is the bushman v. brodie list of ‘official’ sources, that either have ‘binding’ or ‘persuasive’ precedential authority for the individual court of a Mormon’s conscience? Hm…

    1. Direct revelation from God to the individual; usually via the HG.
    2. Direct revelation from God to “THE” Prophet
    a. ditoo…to the 1st presidency
    b. ditoo…to the Q of the 12
    3. Direct revelation from Bishop to congregation member
    4. Same as #2, and 2a 2b, except Past statements from God to these offices.
    5. The Quad/Canonical scriptures…which are really just a subset of #4.
    6. The missionary reference library. If the Church lets the missionaries read it/preach from it…then it must be authoritative to some extent. Note, much of this is a subset of 2a/2b.
    7. ….
    x. ….

    The problem with the above is #1, as this creates an individually based dynamic rule or recognition.

    goode luck…lol

  7. Nate Oman on February 3, 2004 at 1:17 pm

    Matt: Legal realism is not a good candidate because it is not a coherent theory of law. For example, if law is simply a prediction of what the judges do, then what are judges talking about when they talk about law. (Which I can assure you they actually do talk about.) A prediction of their own behavior? Nonsense.

    If church doctrine really is just what our leaders say it is, then we are not realists but positivists. You have given us a rule of recognition. The problem is that much of the work that the concept “church doctrine” does is to allow us to disregard the statements of church leaders. Witness the way that Bob uses the term above in order to discount the statements of Elder McConkie.

  8. Nate Oman on February 3, 2004 at 1:23 pm

    Adam: Diet Coke is easy. It is uncontroversial that the Word of Wisdom is “church doctrine” and that it forbids drinking coffee, tea, and alcohol. What would be the best story that I can tell about this. One story would be to say that it is a health code designed to prohibit the ingestion of bad substances. Thus we look at alchohol and caffenine and we use them as touchstones for WofW compliance. Chocolate and Coke are out. The problem is that alchohol is not necessarily bad for you, and small quantities can be good. Furthermore, the list seems to be strangely random. Why include tea but exclude narcotics. (BTW, the they-didn’t-have-drugs-in-the-19th-century argument won’t work. They did have drugs. In any case the current interpretation of “hot drinks” didn’t gel until the 20th century anyway.) So I conclude that the bad-substances interpretation doesn’t provide the best account of the rule. I then conclude that a better account is that the prohibition is meant as a reminder or an instantiation of the covenant that I make with God. There is nothing inconsistent with this interpretation and Coke drinking, so away I guzzle…

  9. Taylor on February 3, 2004 at 1:46 pm

    Lyle,
    I am not sure that I agree that the Missionary Reference Library is “authoritative”, but is more accurately “the best thing we have out there”. I very rarely hear any of those books cited anymore.

  10. lyle on February 3, 2004 at 1:54 pm

    Taylor: Agreed…that is why I noted that they were largely written by past Apostles. Also note, the list is just a list of possibles. What is authoritative and persuasive is another matter…as some authoritative sources may ‘decay’ faster than others, while other prophetic statements (i.e. like the ones in the canonized scripture) have a much longer half-life. Also…the list is simply for discussion…and I just ran out of ideas. note…the above was also largely of ‘authoritative’ come to think of it.

    persuasive would be more like:
    1. GAs, current
    2. GAs, former
    3. CES-Religion Profs at Church schools, etc.
    x. ….
    ?

  11. Grasshopper on February 3, 2004 at 2:35 pm

    I think the best approach is to try to come up with a rule of recognition that establishes what Church doctrine is. That rule of recognition can include the venue by which revelation is disseminated, as well as the office of the one receiving it. In such a scenario, I think lyle’s #1: “Direct revelation from God to the individual; usually via the HG” is out as a rule of recognition, because individual revelation is not recognized as authoritative to the entire Church. I think #1 fits better with the “Mormonism is truth” approach.

    And this is precisely where we run into potential problems with the “rule of recognition” approach: fallibilism. I think most LDS want to say that while Church leaders may be fallible, Church doctrine cannot be. So the rule of recognition approach creates a problem if we insist on infallibility.

    For myself, I am comfortable with the idea that Church doctrine is fallible and is established by the leading authorities of the Church in authoritative venues (such as Official Declarations, Proclamations, General Conference, etc.).

  12. Matt J on February 3, 2004 at 2:50 pm

    Don’t mean to go off on a tangent (well, yes I do, sorry).

    Nate brought up the WoW. I’ve never figured out what was meant by verse 17 talking about grains being good for mild drinks. In my limited knowledge I assume that this refers to beer (or mead or ale or whatever). So was the Lord commanding us to have the occassional mild drink? This is certainly not doctrine today.

    Does anyone know more about the history of this line? It could be that ‘mild drink’ really meant a non-alcoholic drink, or the WoW was modified to simply mean ‘no alcohol’ at the same time ‘hot drinks’ came to mean ‘no coffee or tea’.

    I’ve actually had this used to show that mormons are inconsistent. I use continual revelation argument, but wondered if there was more to it.

    Anyway, I think the WoW is a good case study for figuring out what exactly is church doctrine and how it came to be.

  13. Matt Evans on February 3, 2004 at 3:00 pm

    Nate, I’m not a doctrinal realist (you didn’t say I was), and I don’t think Mormons are, either. We think something called “church doctrine” exists and that we can discover it or God can reveal it to us.

    But I think you’ve misrepresented the legal realist position. It’s not that they can’t talk about the law, it’s that they think the law is a purely social construction that exists only in the minds of people who discuss it. Law can’t be discovered, only created. There _no_ right answers, just assertions.

    The church’s skeptics think we’re not finding church doctrine, we’re inventing it as we go. That’s their explanation for the church’s seeming flip-flops on things that don’t seem like their could be flip-flops. To them we’re legal realists because the answers to whether Adam was God, whether there was death before the fall, or whether the final Book of Mormon battle was in New York, depend solely on who you ask.

    Going back to Interpretivism, by what Rule of Recognition can we determine which things are *really* law or church doctrine in the first instance? We could build a system of church doctrine based on that First Rule of Recognition, as well as the narative of substantive doctrines the First Rule recognizes.

  14. Eric James Stone on February 3, 2004 at 3:18 pm

    When I was at the MTC back in 1986, Elder Boyd K. Packer gave a talk about how to tell what official Church doctrine on a subject is.

    As I recall, the sources were (in order of priority):

    1. The most current public statement by a President of the Church from David O. McKay on. (Elder Packer said that prior to President McKay, presidents of the Church felt free to speculate about doctrinal matters in public, but that President McKay decided that it was unwise to continue that practice as the church became less insular.)

    2. What was most recently said on the subject by General Authorities during General Conference as published in the Ensign.

    3. The scriptures.

    Anything else, no matter how good the source, is not official Church doctrine.

    Of course, since Elder Packer was not speaking in General Conference at the time, by his own definition what he said is not official Church doctrine.

  15. Greg Call on February 3, 2004 at 3:20 pm

    I tend to think that a Fuller/Morality of Law approach will not work as a tool to understand doctrine in light of Nephi/Laban, Abraham/Isaac, polygamy/Jacob.

    As for the positivist approach, the best attempt at a rule of recognition is probably J. Reuben Clark’s “When Are The Writings or Sermons of Church Leaders Entitled to the Claim of Scripture.” Of course, this rule of recognition comes down to the question of whether the hearer has been moved by the Holy Ghost. Great rule for personal decisions; not a great tool for figuring out Church doctrine.

  16. Kristine on February 3, 2004 at 3:28 pm

    Nate,
    How does Dworkin’s framework deal with differing interpretations? I guess in the legal system there are clear jurisdictions, appeals processes, etc. but we don’t have any of that apparatus. A huge part of the problem with doctrine in Mormonism is that people feel free to create their own narrative explanation or their own rule of recognition and they do not regard this interpretation or creation of a rule as a morally neutral exercise; that is, people who think everything in the conference issue is doctrine regard that view as not only more correct, but also more “righteous” than a view that locates the rule of recognition at a different point, or subcribes to a different interpretive view.

    Does the legal analogy break down if there’s no judge whose interpretive opinion is binding?

  17. Nate on February 3, 2004 at 4:01 pm

    Kristine: Dworkin famously argued that there are uniquely correct interpretations. Once the legal materials multiply sufficiently, he argued, there is only a single interpretation that provides the best story accounting for them. A large part of this is linked to Dworkin’s moral realism, and it makes his position start morphing into that of the natural lawyers. (See Dworkin’s “Are There No Right Answers in Hard Cases” in A MATTER OF PRINCIPLE and his article “Aboslute Truth? You Better Believe It.” in PHIL. & PUB. AFFAIRS.)

    This where Dworkin may break down. His argument is that there is an theoretical rather than an institutional solution to the problem of multiple interpretations. Here is where I start getting skeptical of Dworkin.

    It strikes me that another interesting legal theorist for the “what is church doctrine” question would be Robert Cover. According to Cover law consists of the multitudinous interpretations that citizens offer of their public institutions, public life, and their laws. (I think that he is making a distinction similar to the one that Latin makes between “iuris” — think Law with a a capital L — and “lex” — think law as in individual cases or statutes.) Courts, according to Cover, are jurispathetic. There purpose is to cut back the luxuriance of legal interpretations. (See generally Robert Cover, “Nomos and Narrative,” 97 Harv. L. Rev. 4 (1984))

  18. Adam Greenwood on February 3, 2004 at 4:07 pm

    Other than on a personal level, are we sure we want some method for deciding what’s church doctrine and what isn’t?

    My 1st-year Con Law professor rode a hobby horse she called Fruitful Ambiguity, which I’m not sure we shouldn’t all ride from time to time.

    Leaving the sources vague forces individual members to do more thinking and praying in their quest for truth (if they’re questing about doctrine) and leaves room for people on this board to talk about stuff without the rest of us shutting them out, the way we might if, say, a poster started questioning the reality of the First Vision, the existence of God, etc.

  19. Kristine on February 3, 2004 at 4:11 pm

    So, apply either Dworkin or Cover to the church doctrine case.

    (Actually, I think I’m like Dworkin–I mostly just want you to tell me how to persuade everyone that *my* interpretation is uniquely correct ;) )

  20. Nate Oman on February 3, 2004 at 4:14 pm

    Kristine: See the Word of Wisdom discussion above for Dworkin. Cover would say something like we have lots of speculative theories about the identity of the Holy Ghost. The First Presidency issues a statement saying “Joseph Smith was not the Holy Ghost.” The purpose of the institution is to control the volitility of the interpretation. Note, this is not an answer to the question of “what is church doctrine.” Rather it is an explanation of the dynamic of adjudication.

  21. Bob Caswell on February 3, 2004 at 4:20 pm

    I think I like what Adam is saying here… What if we were to say that everything active members of the Church unanimously vote for in the affirmative is the “doctrine”, where the rest is that gray stuff that makes being a Mormon fun. I know, I know, I’m oversimplifying and I’m sure there are many holes.

    Nate-

    Would you rather put up with people like me who sometimes roll their eyes whenever someone uses a McConkie quote to backup “doctrine”, or would you rather put up with McConkie really being the ultimate source of “doctrine” and thus, ending this conversation? It’s a tough choice, I know.

  22. Kristine on February 3, 2004 at 4:25 pm

    Nate, the limiting volatility thing seems to be what most FP doctrinal statements do (the statement(s) on evolution). But what about the Proclamation on the Family? There it seems like doctrine is being promulgated, and that rather than limiting volatility it actually multiplies the possible interpretive frameworks for, say, Genesis 1. (obviously, I don’t think the FP has to consciously comply with Cover–I’m just trying to figure out where the Proc. on the Family fits into a/any doctrinal scheme)

  23. greenfrog on February 3, 2004 at 4:41 pm

    I think J. Holmes’ point in the Path of Law is being given short shrift here.

    While it does not tell us what SHOULD Be, it is unerringly accurate in identifying what IS church doctrine.

    Matt: “Legal realism is not a good candidate because it is not a coherent theory of law. For example, if law is simply a prediction of what the judges do, then what are judges talking about when they talk about law. (Which I can assure you they actually do talk about.) A prediction of their own behavior? Nonsense.”

    What the judges (on benches or in Israel) are doing when they try to figure out what to do is doing what they want to do. In this sense, “want” encompasses the judge’s particular belief structure, but it also encompasses the judge’s brain chemistry (believe me, this ain’t insignificant), her experience, and, ultimately, his particular desires. All of those elements are, from the outsider’s perspective, heavily subjective and variable from one judge to the next.

    Still, the commonalities of actions by judges tend to cohere to produce a relatively predictable result on easy cases. Close ones, of course, are as variable as the set of outcomes, so it is meaningful to say, from a bad man’s perspective, that there is no reliably determinate doctrine in such areas, and they are left to the discretion of the tribunal.

    “The church’s skeptics think we’re not finding church doctrine, we’re inventing it as we go. That’s their explanation for the church’s seeming flip-flops on things that don’t seem like their could be flip-flops. To them we’re legal realists because the answers to whether Adam was God, whether there was death before the fall, or whether the final Book of Mormon battle was in New York, depend solely on who you ask.”

    Or when.

    “We could build a system of church doctrine based on that First Rule of Recognition…”

    But if you did, I’d wager you’d discover that the Church doesn’t act in accordance with what you would conclude through such a process is “Church doctrine.” Where would that leave you?

    With a community composed of moderately like-minded (or at least like-desired) individuals, seeking one anothers’ welfare — Zion, from a realistic perspective.

    gf

  24. Nate on February 3, 2004 at 4:41 pm

    Bob: you are offering unanimity as a rule of recognition. The problem with this is that it would have absolutely no social or analytic power since it grants a hecklers veto. For example, I could never use “church doctrine” to answer a question that I had about what is “church doctrine” because the mere fact that I had the question would mean that there was no “church doctrine” on the point.

    We have another problem with the postivist approach that I haven’t mentioned. Hart and the other positivists thought that law was a social fact. This meant that we could identify the rule of recognition via observation of legal practices. It is not clear to me that “church doctrine” is a social fact. This is where the analogy to legal philosophy breaks down. We will need to be able to figure out how to justify any particular rule of recognition that we adopt.

    Note, I think that your appeal to unanimity is an implicit reference to this problem, since I take it that you feel that unanimity provides some justification for normative criteria and you take church doctrine to be normative. (Contra the positivist conception of law, making the appropriate caveats for Hart’s notion of the internal perspective.) The appeal to unanimity, however, rests on liberal political commitments that I am not convinced are proper when discussing the gospel.

  25. Nate Oman on February 3, 2004 at 5:07 pm

    GP: The problem with the realist critique is that it claims to be very hard-headed about understanding what judges are “really doing” but ends up with a theory that is simply not descriptively accurate. Sure some judges simply make it up. But the vast majority of them consistly try to apply the law. The fact that they reach nearly identical conclusions in the vast majority of cases can’t be explained merely in terms of idealogical homogeneaity. It must rest on the fact that there is some body of principles, rules etc. that they are apply to the cases. To call this “doing what they want” is simply not descriptively accurate.

    Interestingly, Jerome Frank — leading spokesman of the it-is-all-what-the-judge-had-for-breakfast wing of realism — was in the fullness of time appointed to the 2nd Circuit. If you read his opinions they are not simply expositions of Jerom Frank’s desires. They are expositions of the law. Indeed, Frank even wrote dissents in which he criticized his brethren for misapplying the law. Perhaps this was all a rhetorical flourish or some deepseated pyschological denial. However at this point, I think that the conspiracy theories and the psychology are getting pretty implausible.

    Holmes was brilliant. He was also just wrong.

  26. Bob Caswell on February 3, 2004 at 5:13 pm

    Nate-

    All I way saying, in an oversimplified scenario where there are no hecklers and about a billion other factors are constant, was that there are certain things all active members believe as being doctrine.

    Here are the two categories:

    1) Book of Mormon is true, Joseph Smith saw God, we don’t drink alcohol, etc.

    2) Multiple earrings, rated R movies, Coke, tattoos, etc.

    Now I’m not a law geek, so feel free to rip me to shreds again with my very limited knowledge on the subject.

    I’m just saying that category #1 is what our doctrine is while the rest is just interpretation/advice. I’m not trying to give anyone a hard time for living according to category #2. They’ve found those things to be avoided and I commend them. I just feel that there are many, many things that Iron Rodders and Liahonas agree on.

    I’m content with calling that the first place to start when examining what our doctrine is. Everyone who believes the Church is true, generally believes the same stuff (how’s that for a word? Stuff).

    I don’ t know what I’m saying. You can just disregard this post if I sound like an idiot.

  27. Kristine on February 3, 2004 at 5:30 pm

    Bob, that’s a good beginning for distinguishing–it’s useful to very quickly throw out stuff like caffeine, movie ratings, and other minute interpretations of principles. However, even in your category #1, you pretty quickly get to thorny things like the nature of God (is He progressing or not? how should we deal with trinitarian passages in the Book of Mormon?), what is the role of grace in the Atonement, does saying the Book of Mormon is “true” have to mean that it is an historically accurate record. It is true that there is a great deal of folk doctrine (“stuff”), which many people in the church accept without a great deal of thought, but it’s far from clear that this folk doctrine bears much resemblance to actual Mormon doctrine.

    (And just to forestall potential prickliness, let me say that I don’t necessarily mean anything pejorative by “folk”–I’m trying to use it in a broad and neutral way to describe widely-held beliefs.)

  28. Adam Greenwood on February 3, 2004 at 5:53 pm

    Kristine,
    Thanks for trying to forestall potential prickliness. Good model for us all.

  29. Adam Greenwood on February 3, 2004 at 5:55 pm

    I’m not sure why, but on this blog and in other places, we tend to use the temple recommend interview as our Catechism (hey, it’s even in a question and answer format). So, in a sense, we do have some official source for church doctrine, although it leaves lots of doors wide open.

  30. Kristine on February 3, 2004 at 6:32 pm

    The temple recommend interview seems unlikely as a check for orthodoxy. It has hardly any doctrinal questions; it’s all about orthopraxis.

  31. Bob Caswell on February 3, 2004 at 6:42 pm

    Wow, Kristine, have you ever been a Sunday School teacher? With the questions you have, in my ward you’d get released from your calling the next Sunday. But I would thoroughly enjoy that first lesson of yours.

  32. greenfrog on February 3, 2004 at 7:41 pm

    “The temple recommend interview seems unlikely as a check for orthodoxy. It has hardly any doctrinal questions; it’s all about orthopraxis.”

    At the risk of being perceived as a bone-headed realist, doesn’t that suggest that searching for some meaningfully mandatory set of doctrines is missing the point? If such a set of doctrines really isn’t an operationally determinate criterion, why should we conclude that it matters?

  33. Bob Caswell on February 3, 2004 at 8:36 pm

    Greenfrog, Amen! Kristine, your questions are intriguing and would be fun to discuss… But we could just wait until we get real answers after this life instead of speculating now.

    A slightly related question then, is Church doctrine finite or infinite?

  34. Logan on February 3, 2004 at 8:36 pm

    Speaking as someone who has thrown down the temple recommend interview card on this blog, I want to voice my opinion against it being anything more than a very limited guide to what church doctrine is. The temple recommend interview is, I think, helpful in answering questions like we’ve had here such as “Can a Mormon be a Democrat?”, or “Can a Mormon be pro-choice?”, but extending the utility of the interview out much further than that is asking it do more than it can.

  35. Bob Caswell on February 3, 2004 at 8:41 pm

    Hmm… Logan, if the temple recommend interview is a “very limited guide to what church doctrine is” then you still haven’t addressed the question Greenfrog posed, that of whether or not doctrine matters.

    I’m sure it does, but why then?

  36. Logan on February 3, 2004 at 8:53 pm

    Well, if it makes you feel better Bob, I wasn’t trying to answer greenfrog’s question. But I will.

    You say you’re sure church doctrine matters. Maybe it does. To tell the truth, I don’t feel any great sense of loss not knowing what “church doctrine” means. Questions that are answered by church doctrine are usually the boring ones anyway. So even if it does matter, it’s not something that I think much about.

  37. Clark Goble on February 3, 2004 at 9:41 pm

    I think to a degree a focus on “doctrine” (note the quotes) is a focus on separating out dogma from non-dogma, or even absolute knowledge for speculation. The problem is that in practice it is never that simple. We are a church who holds as a fundamental principle continuing revelation and that not everything has been revealed. This means a modern prophet can correct the understanding of past prophets and that most of our knowledge is fragmentary.

    To try and make a separation between policy and doctrine is, in my mind, artificial at best. There have been a lot of messages, but I’d say that some were trying to do this as if doctrine were matters of fact not dependent upon circumstance while policy was contextually determined. I’m not sure that is a helpful way of looking at things either.

    Consider famous events. Was the command to build the temple in Jackson doctrine or policy? What about the trip west?

    Rather than considering things in that way, I think we just ought to say what the brethren discuss or don’t discuss, how emphatically they discuss it, and our own spiritual and rational witnesses of the policy.

  38. Clark Goble on February 3, 2004 at 9:42 pm

    Just to add to the above, I think that the Lord intentionally makes some commands vague. This in turn means that the meaning of the command can be somewhat individual in nature. Let us not forget that our ultimate aim isn’t to be told all things from some central command, but to develop a personal relationship where we know all things. D&C 58 seems applicable here.

  39. Susan on February 3, 2004 at 10:36 pm

    Our challenges in coming up with a neat way of defining exactly what it is we believe goes back, I believe, to Joseph Smith. Doctrine–organized, logical, incremental–was not his strong suit. It is much easier to trace the curve of his belief along a narrative path than a discursive, theological one. His doctrine is generally propped on stories, characters–Moroni, Moses, John, Enoch, Abraham. . . . That is part of the reason that history, context is so crucial in making sense of Mormonism. You have to tell a story about the time, the place, before you can talk very sensibly about the doctrine. There’s a great deal of truth to be unpacked from that article of faith: we believe all things, we hope all things. . . . .

  40. Nate on February 4, 2004 at 11:15 am

    I certainly agree that propositional doctrine was not Joseph’s strongest subject. On the otherhand, there is a propositional tradition in Mormon theology that goes back to at least the time of Joseph Smith (The Lectures of Faith come to mind) and we have some quite nice little theological books: Articles of Faith, Seventies’ Course in Theology, The Mormon Doctrine of Diety, etc.

    Also, the idea of “church doctrine” does serve some important social functions. For example, it provides a way of dealing with plurality of theological opinion (which is rampant but generally unacknowledged in Mormonism) while maintaining a sense of unity. I think that this is important. I am just trying to grope toward a way of making sense of the topic.

    Also, for a variety of reasons that I have alluded to here before, I am uncomfortable with giving theology over to the historians. Of course, having literary theorists do it is an entirely different matter ;->….

  41. Nate on February 4, 2004 at 11:17 am

    I certainly agree that propositional doctrine was not Joseph’s strongest subject. On the otherhand, there is a propositional tradition in Mormon theology that goes back to at least the time of Joseph Smith (The Lectures of Faith come to mind) and we have some quite nice little theological books: Articles of Faith, Seventies’ Course in Theology, The Mormon Doctrine of Diety, etc.

    Also, the idea of “church doctrine” does serve some important social functions. For example, it provides a way of dealing with plurality of theological opinion (which is rampant but generally unacknowledged in Mormonism) while maintaining a sense of unity. I think that this is important. I am just trying to grope toward a way of making sense of the topic.

    Also, for a variety of reasons that I have alluded to here before, I am uncomfortable with giving theology over to the historians. Of course, having literary theorists do it is an entirely different matter ;->….

  42. Bob Caswell on February 4, 2004 at 11:27 am

    Nate-

    For doctrine being so important we’re sure having a heck of a time figuring out exactly what it is.

    “For example, it provides a way of dealing with plurality of theological opinion (which is rampant but generally unacknowledged in Mormonism) while maintaining a sense of unity.”

    I’m not sure if I’m alone here, but I already feel a sense of unity with my fellow church members. And “rampant plurality of theological opinion” doesn’t really bother me or I would have stopped Mormon blogging long ago. Are you suggesting that there’s an even greater sense of unity that we’re missing out on?

    As if, once we all agree what “doctrine” is, we’ll have a new message to take to all the members of the Church so as to unify us in a way we’ve never experienced before. I doubt it.

    I need more to understand why this is important. It’s interesting and fun to discuss but not really important.

  43. lyle on February 4, 2004 at 11:32 am

    So…what we are doing is just for kix and gigli’s? i happen to think this discussion is important…at least to my spiritual growth.

  44. Nate on February 4, 2004 at 11:40 am

    Bob,

    You miss my point. It is not that I am hoping that once I find a good theory of “church doctrine” we can finally enter the promise land of saintly unity. Rather, I already percieve unity, and I think that at least part of this comes from the sense that we are united in our faith. I take this to be a brute fact. I also think that the concept of “church doctrine.” Plays some role in this phenomena. It may be that there is no such thing and that it is a vacuous phrase that we invoke in more or less completely ad hoc ways. However, before I opt for the “realist” approach, I want to do the work of figuring out if there might be a coherent alternative.

    Also, I want a slam dunk argument to use against people who disagree with me when I teach Elders’ Quorum. I have always taken disagreement with me as a sign of apostacy and false doctrine. I just want to find a way of articulating the theory behind this eminently reasonable intuition on my part! ;->

  45. Bob Caswell on February 4, 2004 at 12:08 pm

    “I want to do the work of figuring out if there might be a coherent alternative.”

    Nate, thanks for taking the time to clarify. Of all the people I’ve known, you’re definitely the man for the job.

    Now I have a favor to ask… if you find the time, could you reiterate in non-lawyer language, what your “coherent alternative” is at this point? I think I like a lot of things you are saying, but I want to make sure I understand them.

    It’d be good practice for you because those in your Elders’ Quorum would need it this way too.

  46. Nate Oman on February 4, 2004 at 12:45 pm

    Bob:

    Take the propositions that we know are “church doctrine” and then come up with some unifying theory or story that places these propositions in the best possible light. Interpret uncertain cases in such a manner that they fit into this unifying theory or story.

    This approach assumes that we have some things that for whatever reason we know are church doctrine. I don’t really know how we know this, but for example I just know that the word of wisdom and the prohbition on adultery are church doctrine. My approach is — strictly speaking — indifferent as to how it is that I know this.

  47. Bob Caswell on February 4, 2004 at 1:33 pm

    Nate-

    Thanks. That makes perfect sense.

  48. Joseph Spencer on February 5, 2004 at 12:36 pm

    All:

    I think the whole discussion ought to return to Greenfrog’s point: Doesn’t the temple recommend example suggest that searching for some meaningfully mandatory set of doctrines is missing the point? It seems that the purpose of teaching in the Church is not to lay out a series of propositions that each member of the Church must submit to in order to come to full fruition of “Mormon-hood,” but perhaps something else entirely. What we are here loosely calling “doctrine” ultimately, I believe, has as its aim helping people to think a different way. Perhaps this is why “doctrine” literally means “teaching.”

    To make what I mean clear, take a couple of examples: Perhaps some in the Church are starting to roll their eyes at the constant obsession from Temple Square with families and family values. But the point is not that family is the ultimate doctrine and truth of “Mormonism.” Rather, the Church leaders are trying to help the members of the Church see the world through a different lens. And I think this is the ultimate purpose of all indoctrination. Mssr. McConkie’s _Mormon Doctrine_ is not (entirely) an attempt at laying out every single answer to every doctrinal question; it is trying to help the saints see the world and the other scriptures through the Doctrine and Covenants. Conversion (in even the widest sense of continual development of a Christ-like life) is really a constant refocusing, metanoia (Greek for “new mind,” or “changed mind,” and the word in the New Testament both for repentance and conversion).

    Perhaps a more homely example makes it abundantly clear: I don’t think that any of us would understand Hugh Nibley’s _Approaching Zion_ to be a systematic development of the official doctrines surrounding Zion, Zionism, or the Law of Consecration. Rather, it is a (sometimes excessively) repetitive plea to think the way the temple urges us to. It asks the saints to think a new way (or perhaps a very old way!).

    In sum, I think that “doctrine” is this teaching process. President Packer turns us to the statements of the brethren and to the scriptures because they teach us HOW to see the world, HOW to understand this reality. They are giving us a new set of goggles, and through them, we ought to be able to see this world in the best light.

  49. Tyler Pooley on February 9, 2004 at 2:00 am

    All:
    Maybe we all think of the church in the wrong way. Doctrine is not essentially involved in rules of right and wrong. I think that the most accurate language that we have to describe the purpose of life is the “plan of progress”. Reconciling the pre-knowledge of God with individual will has long been an issue in Christian theology/philosophy. If we think about this life as a progression in which we are given trials so that we may progress, the contradiction no longer exists. It is like going to the gym, we lift weights to get stronger.
    If we think about the church in this light, the doctrine is simple. We have set things that we “know” and beyond that we are only able to speculate. Thus the doctrine remains dynamic. This doctrinal dynamism is what necessitates a living Prophet who acts as a guide for the Lord’s people. Guide to progress. The Holy Ghost ultimately has the last word on all doctrine. Even the Prophet, when he doesn’t speak through the power of the Holy Ghost, is not speaking as the prophet. The gift of the Holy Ghost is a gift of a constant guide to doctrine. As far as I am aware, there is no tradition in law to explain this sort of methodology. Nevertheless, it is justified in reconciling the myriad of LDS beliefs.

  50. Matt Evans on February 9, 2004 at 10:06 am

    Joseph,

    Thank you for your insightful comments, I think you’re right that the apostles principle teaching objectives are to shape our world view and to encourage us to live according to it.

    I’m curious if you meant to define “doctrine” as the “process” rather than the substance the apostles are trying to teach. If so, please elaborate.

  51. Tyler Pooley on February 11, 2004 at 3:29 pm

    Is there a set of principles of right and wrong that ultimately lead to exhaltation or is it relative? Is it our acts that get us into heaven or our perspectives?

  52. Brent on February 11, 2004 at 3:40 pm

    Christ “gets us into heaven” if we accept His gospel, follow His teachings and accept certain ordinances. However, our perpectives are not irrelevant, especially in that they generally shape our actions.

    “But this much I can tell you, that if ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not.” Mosiah 4:30

  53. Rob on February 12, 2004 at 5:43 pm

    I think we have to look at church doctrine as something that we negotiate as members of a community–there is no GUT (grand unifying theology), merely culturally accepted (or challenged) norms of behavior and discussion. You’ve got Nephis going around chopping off the heads of people…but if that happened in your ward, the perpetrator would be hauled off to prison and excommunicated. We can’t date until we’re 16–unless, you can get a note from the first presidency saying its OK to go (at BYU Pres. Monson once told us about giving such a dispensation), and one GA once told us on my mission that if you were dying of thirst in the desert and came across a can of beer, the word of wisdom wouldn’t apply to you.

    Joseph Smith and the early brethren were against creeds (despite our placing the Articles of Faith in our triple combinations now). We have a wide range of statements and practices in our ever-widening community. We can look at larger cultural practices in our society from “a” Mormon perspective, but not from “the” Mormon perspective.

    As an ecologist, one of the principles that seems to apply to all systems is that they need to be able to adapt to change. The various and strange whims of doctrine and practice in our community may be daunting for those seeking a unified faith, but they also provide the possibility for long-term persistence and stability. We didn’t die out when we lost polygamy, or various interpretations of Jehovah, or the united order…we have a rich heritage, and tradition of continuing revelation (including unwritten orders of things–not to be confused with “traditions of our fathers that take away light and knowledge”) to draw upon as we try to follow the spirit and become more like Christ.

  54. Russell Arben Fox on February 12, 2004 at 6:53 pm

    “one GA once told us on my mission that if you were dying of thirst in the desert and came across a can of beer, the word of wisdom wouldn’t apply to you.”

    Man, I’ll say it again–you’ve met and heard stuff from ALL the cool GAs. Where were these guys during my mission, or at my regional youth conferences? I always like hearing from you Rob; you always make the gospel seem like some crazy fool thing Joe Smith just learned about from an angel upstairs in his attic, rather than something culled from the latest correlated Gospel Principles manual.

  55. Tyler Pooley on February 17, 2004 at 4:23 pm

    By perceptions I was referring to the World view created in a Christian Orthodoxy and Orthopraxis. Reading the scriptures, or hearing from a GA, or even meditating and pondering, ultimately lead to a changed world perception. This change is often described as “clarifying” in that it is different and more in line with how God sees the world. The fundamental problem with creating a GUT as put in another post is discovering how God views the world. It is ultimately God himself who is at the head of the church. The purpose of the church is to help guide God’s children to become like him. How is he? How did he become that way? There has to be a criterion for progress. There has to be a process through which we progress. But, how does that process reconcile itself with seeming contradictions in the commandments that the head of the church gives to his people?

  56. lyle on February 17, 2004 at 5:27 pm

    No GUT? Hm…What was Elder Ballard referring to when he said that some traditions need to fall in favor of doctrine? Sounds like unity to me.

    And frankly, I’ll take the coorrelated manuals. Jack Welch mentioned something about a correlarry to the Heisenberg Theorem; except it applied to doctrine/theology:

    you can either have consistency or completeness, but not both at the same time.

    Which do we want?

  57. Jim F. on February 17, 2004 at 5:40 pm

    Lyle, why does there have to be a GUT in order for there to be teachings (doctrine)? Why does there have to be a GUT in order for there to be unity? I don’t see the connection. A GUT would be one way to get doctrine and unity, but it isn’t the only way.

  58. Taylor on February 17, 2004 at 5:53 pm

    Lyle- Welch was arguing against a GUT in his statement. He argued that Mormon jurisprudence should seek to be complete, not consistenst as a GUT.

  59. lyle on February 17, 2004 at 6:13 pm

    Jim…um…I have no answer.
    Taylor…exactly. i couldn’t agree more. i’ve been searching for consistency for years…fruitlessly.

    yet, that seems to contradict my understanding of Elder Ballard bashing incorrect traditions because they are inconsistent. I’m just saying i see paradox here.

  60. clark on February 17, 2004 at 6:20 pm

    I’d be somewhat cautious with correlated manuals. Some are quite good. I think the Priesthood/RS manualsare for instance. They deal with the doctrine of the figures sermons while carefully avoiding more controversial issues inappropriate for church. I think it sad that few teachers actually engage the thoughts of these prophets.

    I think the Sunday School lesson manuals have improved as well compared to the 80′s. It’s harder to just “read” the lesson aloud. Of course it requires more teacher work but I think are great.

    The CES manuals on the other hand, especially the recent OT manual, are very, very weak. There are numerous errors in them and questionable selections of texts. I am rather disappointed that they are basically the same manual as from the early 80′s with only minor changes.

  61. Melissa on February 17, 2004 at 7:26 pm

    While I understand their utility (in rapidly growing areas of the Church, for example), as a teacher I dislike using the correlated manuals.

    The new EQ/RS manuals often take quotes out of context, and re-arrange them in a somewhat contrived fashion. The personal stories which are included are not always relevant or effective. I also wonder if Clark is right in saying that “they deal with the doctrine of figures’ sermons.” Last week we had a lesson on persistence. Is persistence a doctrine? Persistence certainly has affinities with the idea of enduring to the end but, I’m not sure it is a doctrine. If it is a doctrine, what makes it such?

    The CES manuals are abysmal. Someone already mentioned the OT manual, but in my opinion the NT manual is even worse. During the two years I taught Institute I never used either of them.

    Besides the problems with the manuals themselves, I suppose I am most adverse to the rigid schedule that correlation imposes on individual wards. I would have loved to spend two weeks discussing the Tree of Life instead of just one. Wouldn’t it have been fun if we could have spent more than one week discussing Romans last Fall? (How do you teach Romans in 40 minutes?) Based on the particular needs of a given ward, I think SS teachers should be allowed (even encouraged) to skip assigned chapters or teach texts that have been overlooked by the curriculum committee. The most effective lesson I taught last year in NT (someone mentioned it again to me just last week) was on the “meat sacrificed to idols” passages in Corinthians even though the relevant chapters had been entirely left out of the SS schedule.

    The next time I teach OT I am going to lobby hard to spend three full months on Genesis.

  62. Clark Goble on February 17, 2004 at 7:35 pm

    I think by “doctrine” they include rather pragmatic aspects of what it is to live a Christlike life. This means for Mormons, because of our view of God having a *work* and a *purpose* that our doctrines will be far more practical than I think in other faiths.

    So, yeah, I think this not only is doctrine but one of the more important ones.

    I agree the PH/RS manuals are divorced from context somewhat. But I don’t think it that bad. I can’t think of too many places where the divorce changes things much. So long as you don’t look at it as a *complete* analysis then there’s no problem. I’m sure that had we the full text of Jesus’ sermons or even Nephi’s we’d find a similar problem.

  63. Jim F. on February 17, 2004 at 8:16 pm

    Melissa, I’m quite sympathetic to your complaint. I took two lessons for Romans last year and have otherwise juggled the schedule slightly, with the consent of my Sunday School President and Bishop. They were sympathetic and it took little to get their permission.

    Nevertheless, having worked in a couple of wards with lots of new converts and few members with experience, I can also see why the manuals are as tightly controlled as they are. People with little background and experience need lots of help, and there is often no one to help them. They have only a manual.

    Even in “more mature” wards, perhaps especially in them, we sometimes need the control that a manual gives. I think that all of the worst lessons I’ve heard were given by people who decided to teach their own lesson rather than use the one dictated by the manual. I would rather hear a mediocre lesson taught from the manual than a lot of the things that we teach when we decide to go it alone talking of our favorite hobby horse.

    I’m not familiar with the CES manuals, but as Clark said I think the other manuals at least make it impossible merely to read the lesson from the manual. And they give a lot of guidance for those who need the help.

    Like you, I sometimes find the lessons in the Priesthood and Relief Society manuals a bit odd. Last week’s lesson on persistence is a good case in point. Not only is persistence not a doctrine, it is not necessarily a very good value–as I think some of the stories of President Grant showed. I don’t see learning to play ball only to win the championship and then never playing again to be a particularly praiseworthy behavior, and I found it stunning that we could discuss 2 Nephi 4 in Sunday School and, immediately afterward, read a quotation in Priesthood meeting that says Nephi was never discouraged. In addition, I live in a ward that has several middle-aged men who have spent their lives persistently pursuing inappropriate goals and, by doing so, ruining their lives and hurting their families. A little less persistence on their part would have been a good thing.

    President Grant was very important to the Church. He was as responsible as anyone for getting the Church on its feet financially and setting it in order temporally. As a prophet he had things to say that we ought to study. But I don’t think persistence is one of them.

  64. Clark Goble on February 17, 2004 at 8:41 pm

    I think the lesson was persistence towards a goal and not necessarily persistence after one has achieved the goal (which makes little sense to me.) But I’m in nursery so what do I know?

    I actually think persistence of effort is very important. It entails but is more expansive than the doctrine of enduring to the end. I also think that the parable of the persistent widow is applicable. (Although also very open to misreadings)

  65. ben on February 17, 2004 at 9:03 pm

    FWIW, the CES manuals are available online in .pdf form from http://www.ldsces.org/manual_index.asp
    The BoM manual recently disappeared. CES reported that a “new” manual was being prepared, though none of my spies have heard anyone (e.g. FARMS, BYU, CES people) being asked to contribute to it:) Maybe it will just be a cosmetic revision.

    I’ve been surprised this year by the OT Institute manual. Though the scholars and sources it uses are largely outdated, it frequently surprises me by frequently NOT taking a fundamentalist approach to the text. For example, it offers various explanations for the ludicrously high population numbers of Israel. On the other hand, it draws heavily on Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie who tended to see nearly everything literally.

    I think the PH/RS manuals are slowly improving (though I long for the days when Hugh Nibley books were the required course of study.)
    We can affect the quality of the manuals-
    If everyone would open their Heber J. Grant manual to the very first page, you will see a request for suggestions and comments, with an email address:)

  66. Clark Goble on February 17, 2004 at 9:47 pm

    One big problem with the current CES manual is it adopts fundamentalist readings of Genesis and argues against evolution fairly misleadingly. Contrast this with the statements in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. One would never know the official church’s position on evolution from the CES manual.

    I don’t think this as big a deal as some. But both the D&C and OT manuals have had egregious statements about physics and biology. (I can quote some of the silliness on relativity in the D&C CES manual from the early 90′s)

  67. Ben on February 17, 2004 at 10:10 pm

    Clark: Agreed. I don’t use the manual for class, but the few times that I’ve opened it to see what it has to say, it’s surprised me. The genesis section could certainly be reworked. When that will happen is anybody’s guess.
    I can think of many people who would probably be asked to contribute who would love to offer a differing opinion on such things. What would a new OT manual look like? Would it offer a newer more criticial (in the scholarly sense) perspective, or, like the shortened BOM manual, remove anything “controversial” to focus on “doctrine”?

  68. Clark Goble on February 17, 2004 at 11:07 pm

    I’m obviously a big proponent of pragmatism in the scriptures. i.e. sterile scholarly debates rob the text of its power. I rather like the “liken the scriptures to ourselves” approach. I’d love to have various stories of GAs on *applying* the scriptures. In addition I think a good structuralist presentation of the text and context would be helpful. I think the BoM CES manual does this with say Jacob 5. I’m not sure all the connotations and context that FARMS sees there would be helpful, beyond some basic context to olive horticulture. Same with the rest of the scriptures.

    I think that the focus on doctrine can lead unfortunately towards “proof texting.” (i.e. divorcing texts from their context) I’m actually not totally opposed to that movement, but I think the hermeneutic principles the Book of Mormon teachers are among the best ways to read scripture.

  69. lyle on February 17, 2004 at 11:13 pm

    Jim/Melissa:

    I’ve never had the calling, so wouldn’t know…but why would you even ask permission? The teacher is set apart and has stewardship over the class, right? So…why not just do it?

    Coorelation def. cuts into creativity for the sake of consistency.

  70. Logan on February 17, 2004 at 11:18 pm

    As I teach the Old Testament in Institute this year, I agree that the manuals can be amazingly unhelpful.

    But it’s hard to know what to put in. While I like Clark’s suggestion of having leaders *apply* some of the teachings, sometimes that can be misleading, too. I feel like the applications of scripture are more susceptible to change depending on context. The context sometimes gets confused for the principle.

  71. Clark Goble on February 17, 2004 at 11:46 pm

    That’s why, Logan, I think numerous *different* applications can help open the scriptures. I sometimes think we spend so much time trying to *narrow down* the meaning of the scriptures we forget that we are also to open it up.

    i.e. what was more relevant to Joseph Smith? The meaning James 1:5 had in its historic context or the impetus it had for him to pray? It is that pragmatic aspect that I think gets lost sometimes. Once again Nephi is fantastic here.

    (I know some might find it surprising that this is my favorite aspect of the scriptures given my own frequent focus on “scholarly debate.”)

  72. Logan on February 18, 2004 at 12:17 am

    Sounds good to me, Clark. Offering different scholarly and apostolic points of view on some scriptural topics would be great for lesson manuals. Sometimes I try to do find them on my own, but it can be pretty hard. If the Institute manual (and others) had it right there in front of us, it would be much easier.

  73. Kristine on February 18, 2004 at 10:26 am

    I disagree with Clark–I think that we already have plenty of stories about how people, including GAs, apply the scriptures (not in the manuals, perhaps, but pretty readily available). More stories about the GAs would tend to increase the already somewhat dangerous level of hero-worship among members of the church, and reinforce the notion that Sunday School/Institute is basically free-associating group therapy loosely based on a few proof-texts from the scriptures.

  74. Melissa on February 18, 2004 at 11:34 am

    Lyle asks,

    “Why would you even ask permission?”

    Here’s the narrative answer:

    When I was teaching the NT Institute class at Yale I didn’t ask permission. I created my own lesson plans and schedule. I loved it and most of my students loved it. After reading portions of the Pauline epistles from the NRSV as a clarifying supplement to the confusing and sometimes convoluted (and yes, also beautiful) language of the KJV, I was called in by my Bishop. He quoted the GHI and told me that I should only use the “officially approved” version of the NT. From that point on I brought in my Greek text instead of the NRSV.

    My point? The Sunday School teacher doesn’t really have “stewardship” over Gospel Doctrine (or Institute) class. If someone in class is disturbed by a teacher’s approach, her methods, her choice of texts, etc. than a “release” might be the result. (I personally think that this is especially true if the teacher is a woman)

    Having said that, I agree with Jim that some sort of structure is necessary to prevent a dangerous free for all. (Sadly, many RS lessons end up being a free for all anyway.)

  75. Jim F. on February 18, 2004 at 11:50 am

    Things are different from bishop to bishop, but I’ve been able to use other translations by putting them on a handout side-by-side with the KJV. Then they become aides to understanding rather than, in the perceptions of some, an attempt to replace the KJV with another translation. There are places in the KJV where the translation is so literal that it is almost impossible to undertand the plain sense of the text and other translations are the only way most of us are going to figure out what the text means.

    Though I love the KJV and I think it is important to use it so we don’t lose its linguistic connection to Book of Mormon language, I also wish we would loosen up a bit. Many of us have taken up a strange version of textual idolatry and the KJV has gone from being the version we use because it is most commonly used to the only version we should even look at. Its antiquity and beauty have rather than its accuracy have become our reasons for reading it.

  76. Brent on February 18, 2004 at 11:52 am

    President Hinckley touched on the Bishop’s role to ensure true doctrine is being taught by ward teacher’s during the Priesthood session of last General Conference. The lesson material are created so that there is correlation, but also so that true doctrine is taught, and so that as much of the materials can be covered in one year as possible. There are many things that simply can’t be touched on. That is why personal and family scripture study is so heavily emphasised. A teacher has to prayerfully consider the materials in a lesson to determine what his or her particular class most needs. There is no way all of what is in a lesson plan and in the scriptural source materials can be discussed in a single class session. Thus, through inspiration you hit the points most needed, encourage the class to go study the rest of the materials on their own, and then move on.

  77. Ben on February 18, 2004 at 12:42 pm

    I’ve used the NIV for much of my OT class, with a stake counselor’s wife attending and sometimes a branch president. (OF course, he attends a non-denominational Bible Study every week, so I wouldn’t expect him to have any problems with it.)Some have expressed surprise and even shock that I would recommend something instead of/along with the KJV. One girl wanted to know why I preferred it, since it disrespected God in not addressing him as “thou.” I explained that the language of the KJV is archaic, not holy and that such usage of “respectful” pronouns was not present in Hebrew or Greek, but an archaic english convention. (Hebrew does use respectful language, but in different ways- third person references and epithets.) “Can the KJ translation be more inspired than the ‘original’ language texts?” is a rhetorical question I’ve asked more than once.

    I recently learned that BYU has pre-approved the use of the NIV in OT and NT religion classes, which was a pleasant surprise.

  78. Nate Oman on February 18, 2004 at 12:58 pm

    My understanding is that “thou” is not a term of respect. It is an informal pronoun, the English equivalent of “tu,” while “you” in the English equivalent of “vous.” If you read Shakespeare, you will notice that the Motagues and the Capulets are always very careful to use “thee” and “thou” when throwing insults at each other.

  79. Ben on February 18, 2004 at 2:37 pm

    It is my understanding as well that “thou” is not a term of respect, hence my quotation marks around it. It’s folk understanding just based on archaic english.

  80. Ben on February 18, 2004 at 2:39 pm

    THat wasn’t clear. I put quotations around “respectful” in my first post.

  81. Tyler Pooley on March 1, 2004 at 1:14 am

    What is the purpose of the manuals in determining the “doctrine of the church”? Why do we read the bible at all if there are so many mistakes? Why isn’t the Joseph Smith translation the official bible of the Church that claims that he was an inspired prophet? Is the book of mormon without mistake? Maybe the doctrine of the church is not to be found in the writings themselves. What are the writings more than some dye and paper? Why are they special? That is what needs to be analyzed.
    The text of the scriptures is important because it is inspired. But, that inspiration is meaningless unless there is a way we can apply it to ourselves. There has to be a way in which the words and feelings given to the prophets have a transcendent value. The manuals are to help us find a personal meaning. Over and over we are admonished to read and pray. They are seldom stated apart. We pray to communicate with our father IN ORDER TO FIND A PERSONAL MEANING. That is the importance of the religious texts we use, as a guide.

  82. Richard B. on April 8, 2004 at 12:31 pm

    Were this question asked during Joseph Smith’s or Brigham Young’s lifetime, the answer would have been far easier to lay down given that both men felt their views on any point of either doctrine, law, policy, or prophecy to be the incontrovertible Word of God.

    Today, however, with so many of both men’s “prophetic” pronouncements on everything from the supposed inhabitants living on the moon and sun, Adam-God, Blood Atonement, “inspired” translation of the Bible, polygamy, etc., being officially disavowed, downplayed, or simply overlooked and quietly ignored, it does indeed become impossible for the Church to declare definitively what exactly constitutes Church Doctrine.

    This dilemma is one of increasing concern for the Church throughout the 20th Century in particular, which is precisely why McConkie was commissioned to carefully compile the doctrines of Mormonism for publication. And his book “Mormon Doctrine” was for many decades considered the Mormon equivalent to the Catholic Catechism. However… not so today. Yet again, eternal doctrine changed making the book obsolete and requiring McConkie to make retractions to his almost-regarded-as-canon publication and thereby discrediting this book and its pronouncements as the Church’s most closely considered “official” book of… well… “Mormon Doctrine.”

    And thus, today, the Church is left with the principle of “Progressive Revelation” as the only constant where doctrine is concerned. Or in other words, the concept of continuing change in doctrine being, ironically, the only unchanging doctrine. Even such a basic foundational principles as who God is has been watered down to the point that the prophet himself declared recently on national television that the Mormon doctrine of man’s progression to Godhood as given in JS’s King Follett discourse is “…more of a couplet” that he thinks “…isn’t even taught anymore.”

    How distressingly ironic that the only Church claiming to be led directly by Christ Himself through a living prophet should be the only major Christian religion that cannot definitively state what the doctrines of Christ’s Gospel are.

  83. Grasshopper on April 8, 2004 at 1:52 pm

    Richard B.,

    You assertion that McConkie was “commissioned” to publish his “Mormon Doctrine” is new to me. What documentation supports this assertion? All the historical documentation I am aware of states that McConkie did this on his own initiative, and that there were serious concerns among the highest levels of Church leadership about the book.

  84. Rex on November 14, 2004 at 12:52 am

    You aint seen nothin’ until you’ve read the Surfer’s Bible. You ought to see the eyebrows raise when I start reading out of it in priesthood.
    (HIGHLY recommended!!! A MUST)

    rex

  85. Clark Goble on April 25, 2005 at 3:58 pm

    My understanding is that not only wasn’t McConkie commissioned to do Mormon Doctrine but the First Presidency was far from happy about it.

  86. J. Stapley on April 25, 2005 at 4:56 pm

    My understanding was that upon review, the First presidency found over a thousand proposed corrections and asked that it not be reprinted…but this was from a symposium that I attended, so don’t have the references.

  87. Jim F on April 25, 2005 at 5:19 pm

    Richard B: How distressingly ironic that the only Church claiming to be led directly by Christ Himself through a living prophet should be the only major Christian religion that cannot definitively state what the doctrines of Christ’s Gospel are.

    Why isn’t this answer good enough?

    Behold I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you—that I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me. And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be ejudged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil—And for this cause have I been alifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works. And it shall come to pass, that whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled; and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world. And he that endureth not unto the end, the same is he that is also hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence they can no more return, because of the ajustice of the Father. And this is the word which he hath given unto the children of men. — 3 Nephi 27:13-18.

    That seems like a pretty straightforward description of “the teaching’s of Christ’s gospel.”

  88. will on April 25, 2005 at 5:53 pm

    Richard B., it’s one thing to say that the LDS worldview includes questionable ideas in addition to its well-established doctrine. It’s another thing to say that it contains no well-established doctrine. Which are you saying?