As a companion piece to Dave’s post on missionaries, let’s talk about the approved missionary library.
I have concerns about what missionaries study, know, and teach. The typical missionary develops far more motivation to read and study “the literature of the Church” than before the mission, but is far more restricted, although mission presidents have leeway to relax this. Certainly the primary content of missionary study should be scripture and the doctrine, but I think by narrowing the library too much, we miss real opportunities both for the missionaries themselves and the people they teach.
My own mission studies greatly affected my life, and missionaries tend to be the front line for questions from non-LDS, often about topics they’ve never heard of. As expressed by a friend, “It is just ridiculous that investigators can investigate (research the Church) but missionaries cannot research or study to give answers to questions. It is appalling that on most issues, missionaries can learn more from Internet-informed investigators than the investigator can learn from the missionary.”
- Jesus the Christ
- Our Search for Happiness
- The Articles of Faith
- A Marvelous Work and a Wonder
- Truth Restored/Gospel Principles
- Jesus the Christ
- Our Search for Happiness
- True to the Faith
- Our Heritage
Out are A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, The Articles of Faith, and Truth Restored. Gospel Principles is still available to missionaries via LDS.org. In now are True to the Faith and Our Heritage.
Now, I have no objection to updating the library per se; some older titles may perpetuate doctrinal expressions or ideas that are inaccurate, ineffective, or just irrelevant. (Sometimes it’s useful to read older expressions for historical perspective.) But it’s an awfully basic and narrow library and I’m not sure any of these merit being reread or studied closely. (Some of Talmage’s NT interpretations are quite outdated. He wrote it based on then-current Protestant scholarship.)
So, if I/you were a mission president with a lot of leeway or a pilot project, what would I prescribe or allow my missionaries to read? Would I provide a structured reading program (i.e. “once you’ve read through the NT and Book of Mormon at least once, read these two books”)? I might stock certain books or article collections in every apartment. At minimum, I would provide a bibliography, with a few books/articles highlighted, then a broader bibliography, presumably with a caveat from the mission president about focus on scripture, the nature of these books (introductory, not perfect, not official, etc.)
Let’s set ourselves some limitations, and keep it to a library of 15 books to add to the list above.
Here are some of my initial suggestions of books (thought about it all of 5 minutes, so reserve my right to revise), which cover history, scripture, biography, and other things, meant to give “facts” but also to shape paradigms early on, with good grounding. Gently expanding and challenging, but also supporting. Nothing too radical.
- Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-day Saints, 1890-1930
- Many (most?) of the differences between the modern church and the church of Nauvoo or early Salt Lake take place in this period, many of which play a part in missionary teaching or common questions, e.g. the Word of Wisdom, the ending of plural marriage, etc. Reading it acquaints us with the actual history and context of these things, thereby undermining presentism and the idea that the status quo is inherently eternal or written in stone
- How Wide the Divide?: A Mormon & an Evangelical in Conversation
- While it has its flaws, HWD models calm and informed theological discussion, helps understand how Mormonism looks from the outside, and introduces the idea that some of what we take as “revealed doctrine” may be more of a strong tradition than revelation per se. The follow-up essays by the authors in BYU Studies, as well as the LDS and Evangelical essays in the FARMS Review were also highly educational.
- Encyclopedia of Mormonism (stock in each apartment)
- Though from a non-LDS publisher, it had Apostolic involvement and predominantly LDS writers. I’d like to see missionaries start turning to this to get background and references, instead of Mormon Doctrine. It’s all online now. Do BYU websites fall under the missionary iPad accessibility list?
- Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited
- By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion
- Glimpses of Lehi’s Jerusalem
- The Book of Mormon is central to LDS proselytizing, and the more missionaries know it and about it the better. The first volume gets into questions and theories of where it came from, the second deals with how its been read inside and outside the LDS community, and the third provides the bridge into the Biblical history and culture it emerges from. Perhaps too narrow for some, but again, this is a missionary list.
- Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling
- Yeah, I went there. Yes, RSR can be a challenge or boon to faith, or both. But if I’m recommending biographies and history, I can’t skip Joseph Smith, and can’t justify anything but this.
- David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism
- This isn’t just a biography, but a history, which generally picks up where Mormonism in Transition ends. The growth of the Church outside Utah, growing racial concerns, the introduction and growth of Correlation, all figure in here. It also shows in many ways the internal workings of the Church, and how Apostles handle disagreements.
- Lengthen Your Stride (Deseret Book, biography of President Kimball.)
- Actually, I’d want missionaries to read one of the PDFs included on the CD-rom. Again, recent history of import. In-depth looks at the priesthood ban, among other things.
- One of the reasons I like biographies (and those listed, in particular) is that they make history personal and relatable. Moreover, none of those listed fall into the infallabilist hagiographies. Spencer Kimball actually told his son he wanted a warts-and-all biography.
- Go Forward With Faith: The Biography of Gordon B. Hinckley
- Most missionaries are too young to remember anyone before Hinckley. This is the bio of the Prophet and President they grew up with, who also shaped much of the Church with his news and reporter-friendly ways.
- Mormons and the Bible: The Place of the Latter-day Saints in American Religion (Religion in America)
- If missionaries are familiar with Apostolic interpretation through Seminary/Institute manuals, this book will help them characterize and understand the nature of those interpretations. They will also come to understand that such interpretations are not necessarily revealed or shared by other Apostles, and that there has been a variety of perspectives.
- A study Bible, or at least a modern translation like the NRSV.
- This might be less necessary depending on the mission. Some missions are using modern foreign-language bibles, some are not. For some justification of this suggestion, see Grant Hardy’s article about how KJV usage has affected missionary work (in Dialogue, earlier version here) and my article on Bible translations, the JST, and study suggestions, in Religious Educator.
- Jehovah and the World of the Old Testament/Jesus Christ and the World of the New Testament: A Latter-Day Saint Perspective
- Scripture Study: Tools and Suggestions
- If we’re going to be so focused on scripture, we should offer some models on how to do it right, and Jim Faulconer does a bang-up job.
- A brief history of whatever country they’re in (assuming outside the US). For me, I would have greatly appreciated something like A Traveller’s History Of France If in the US, I’d add The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life which is doctrinal, practical, preaches well, and can be appreciated by non-LDS as well as LDS.
Perhaps I’ll do a follow-up about articles and bibliographies.
What does your list look like, and why? What major holes have I left out in my rushed thought?