Some borrowed thoughts I’ve found provoking recently.
It continues to strike me how incurious many of our [LDS] people are, how they want to hear the same thing over and over again. Too much of our scripture ‘study’ is like a bedtime story where, if we get one syllable wrong, the child says, ‘Oh, that’s not the way it goes.’ I am convinced that we have a long way to go in uncovering the stone box of meaning where the scriptures lie passively for too many of us. The first thing we need is an opening up of curiosity, a willingness to accept that it is okay to be curious, it is okay to try to learn something new. If we merely accept the status quo in our studies, we find ourselves playing the tape over and over again instead of grasping the riches of light for ourselves. I am convinced that we have a long way to go in uncovering the stone box of meaning where the scriptures lie passively for too many of us. The first thing we need is an opening up of curiosity, a willingness to accept that it is okay to be curious, it is okay to try to learn something new. If we merely accept the status quo in our studies, we find our- selves playing the tape over and over again instead of grasping the riches of light for ourselves.
“An Interview with John L. Sorenson,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 11 (2002): 85.
One of the problems that we have in the Church is that we have the idea that unless you are with CES or the BYU Religious Education faculty, on the one hand, or a General Authority, on the other, you really do not have what it takes to talk about the scriptures. There are, at least in our unspoken assumptions, two groups of authorities who have the qualifications, and no one else. The rest of us just sit around and wait for them to say something. I think that is appropriate for the General Authorities, but I think that we put too much trust in the scholars of our culture, and we do not realize that each of us has the ability to be a scholar of the scriptures. It is important to remember that the word scholar means “a person of leisure”—someone who has the time. Given today’s society, most of us have the time, if we want to, to spend reading the scriptures carefully…. This is something that any member of the Church can do. You do not have to have a PhD to do it; you just have to take the time. If you have that time you can be a scholar, but it does mean reading a lot and think carefully about what you read. It means studying, but you do not have to have formal training. Of course, that is not to say that I do not appreciate what those with formal training can do. We need more people in the Church with formal training in Hebrew and Greek and in biblical scholarship, church history, and so on. I just don’t want to cede all thinking and discussion to them.
Knowledge is bought with time and study, that’s the harsh truth. Give it what you can. Make it a priority.
if anyone is looking for a quick fix in becoming a gospel scholar, think again. How does one become a great musician? How does one become a scratch golfer? Doing anything well in life requires lots of love, work, dedication, and consistent attention to the task. It helps to have some native talents, but more important is a love for the subject matter. It is always this way in life. No one will ever do really well at something that they do not love doing.
John Welch, “Towards Becoming a Gospel Scholar” This People Magazine (Summer 1998, 42-56) PDF.
Devotional reading and scripture study are two quite different things. In spite of its packaging or authorship, much of the material at Deseret Book is the first, and I cynically think much of their offerings are style over substance. (I grudgingly admit that this is changing slowly, DB prints what the market wants, and legit LDS scholars have few other places to engage lay folks and raise the level of conversation. Props to those making those steps.) We print leather-bound, shiny, decorative coffee-table scripture books we can show off, expensive Heirloom Editions that look great on the shelf and show our devotion, instead of poring over our scriptures closely and delving into them. We treat our scriptures like whited sepulchers, paying attention to the outside, but ignoring the actual contents on the inside. I cannot help but think of the Standard Works Made Easy series, which avoids hard questions and original context by steering people into thinking the scriptures say what exactly they already think the scriptures say, that all scripture is really just current Mormonism in a slightly different idiom.
Even if all we want is personal application, we still have to gain some grasp of original context, or our personal application will be somewhat skewed. (This is true, unless our inspired personal application is completely disconnected from the passage we’re reading, in which case, the particular passage doesn’t matter. It could be Matthew, it could be Numbers or Leviticus. It could be the phone book.) But most of the time, our personal application will be related in some way to the passage, and that should affect what questions we ask first.
I am all for applying the Bible. Don’t get me wrong. But a better understanding of the Bible will lead us in another direction. The first question we should ask about what we are reading is not “How does this apply to me?” Rather, it is “What is this passage saying in the context of the book I am reading, and how would it have been heard in the ancient world?”
Our own deep study of scripture should be our primary source, though of course this will have to be informed by historical/cultural/language sources at times.
It is far better for us to gain our answers from the scriptures than from something someone else says about them. It is true that we oftentimes need an inspired interpreter to help us understand what Apostles and prophets have written for us in the standard works. But….We are in a far better position if we are able to drink directly from the scriptural fountain without having the waters muddled by others whose insights are not as great as were those of the prophetic writers who first penned the passages found in the accepted canon of holy writ. I am not rejecting proper scriptural commentaries; I know and appreciate their value and have written volumes of them myself; I am simply saying that people with the ability to do it would be far better off to create their own commentaries. There is something sacred and solemn and saving about studying the scriptures themselves.
And when we do teach, (teaching being a complicated subject), we should teach those principals we’re passionate about and believe in, and not be so concerned about slavishly covering the manual. In my ward, at least, the majority of the class consists of adults who have been LDS for years. I’m not going to teach them like they are recently baptized 16-yr olds. Your class may be different. How it plays out should be different with every class, teacher, setting, SS President, and Bishopric, because you’re adapting to their needs.
It’s better to take just a few good ideas and get good discussion–and good learning–than to be frenzied, trying to teach every word in the manual. … An unrushed atmosphere is absolutely essential if you are to have the Spirit of the Lord present in your class
you must stand as an independent witness of the things you teach and not just be an echo of the words in a manual or the thoughts of others.
(If you *are* teaching, this is one good model of preparation.)