True to the Faith was introduced to the Church in the April 2004 Ensign:
“The Church has issued a new doctrinal guidebook aimed at youth, young single adults, and new members. True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference is a collection of brief, simple statements on gospel doctrines and principles. Almost 200 pages in length, the book is intended to supplement the scriptures and the counsel of current Church leaders. Young men and young women may use it as a resource to assist them in achieving their Duty to God and Personal Progress awards. The book is designed to accompany the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet and explains the doctrine behind the standards it contains. Priesthood quorums and Relief Society groups may also offer the book to new members to better acquaint them with the doctrines of the restored gospel. True to the Faith is available at Church distribution centers for $1.50.”
I’ve skimmed it (it is available online) and here are my thoughts:
(1) I think this is the first time that a work of this type (official, with the topics in alphabetical format) has been available. I know that the Bible Dictionary and the Encyclopedia of Mormonism are similar, but not exactly the same thing. I wonder what prompted this book. A few thoughts:
(a) a desire to displace Mormon Doctrine as the easiest source for info on a specific topic. (True story: I had been a member of the Church for a few months when a teacher in a Young Women’s class said the following: “When you have a question about something, what do you do? You turn to Mormon Doctrine!” And then she proceeded to quote at length.)
(b) seriously, where do you go, as a young person or a new convert, with questions? I’m thinking that, especially in areas where the Church is less established, it’s probably a good idea for new converts to have another source besides the person who brought them into the Church, who maybe has only been a member for a few months or whatever.
©) a response to all the junk on the Internet. In other words, here’s the real doctrine, and what the antis are saying is our doctrine isn’t our doctrine. It could be especially useful in keeping people from taking flights of bizarre doctrine in church classes–hopefully someone could step up to the plate and note since whatever Faith Promoting Rumor is being spewed isn’t in True to the Faith, we might be better off moving on.
As mentioned, I have only skimmed it, but I think it is fair to say that:
(1) the long-term effects of this book will be huge, because of its unique position as an official source of simple, easy-to-access info.
(2) this book represents the liberal side of mainstream LDS doctrine. Just an example: the section on birth control. Quoting:
“with a testimony of these principles [that children are a blessing, etc.], you and your spouse will be prepared to prayerfully decide how many children to have and when to have them. Such decisions are between the two of you and the Lord.”
There is then a reminder that sex has purposes in addition to reproduction. For those of you wondering why this is noteworthy, consider this quotation from the recently revised (2001) CES Marriage and Family student book:
“We seriously regret that there should exist a sentiment or feeling among any members of the Church to curtail the birth of their children. . . . it is contrary to the teachings of the Church artificially to curtail or prevent the birth of children. ”
While there are other more moderate quotes, there are also several more along the same lines as the above. (Which brings us back to the recently discussed about the role/influence of CES in the shaping of doctrine, but that’s another topic.) I don’t think it is wrong to suggest that a new member reading True to the Faith would conclude that birth control is OK if you have prayed about it, but a new member reading the CES book would conclude that it is not.
I didn’t find any radical doctrine in here, but I will note that they mention eating meat sparingly in the WoW section, and you don’t hear that too often.
Another nice feature is that Church organization is explained. Good for them. I’d hate to be a new member trying to figure out what the heck an Area Authority Seventy is.
I have to say that I really like this little book. The tone reminds me of nothing so much as if Elder Nelson were my grandfather (wearing a sweater vest, no tie or jacket) and we were sitting over a plate of cookies, and he were giving me advice designed for nothing but ensuring my happiness and growth in the Gospel. Sorry if that sounds sappy, but this book gave me good vibes and I hope people use it.