On studying the Doctrine and Covenants

[ 25 ] Comments

by Paul

Many have observed that this year’s Gospel Doctrine curriculum is different from most years (see an item at By Common Consent here , and at Meridian Magazine here.)  Rather than a reading of section-by-section, our study of the Doctrine & Covenants is instead divided by topic in the Gospel Doctrine manual.  The student guide gives a few verses of reading each week, based on the lesson topics planned to be discussed.  And the whole is supplemented by the slim Our Heritage volume on church history.

If ever there was a year to recognize that attending Gospel Doctrine alone (and even reading the scripture selections for the class) is inadequate personal scripture study, this is the year.

I don’t mean to say anything disparaging about the curriculum.  Yes, it is basic, but it’s written (as we know) for a worldwide church with members of all different experiences.  The slim historical overview in Our Heritage is too brief to be anything but a reminder of common stories.  And for me, reading a few verses from four or five sections, while it prepares me for the Gospel Doctrine discussion, is not enough for me to study the revelations.

So I find myself looking for additional ways to study this volume of scripture.  I will, of course, read entire Doctrine & Covenants during the year.  (I plan to read the full section when we read selected verses from a section each week.)  I’ll also make an effort to put the sections into some historical context.

Of course the church is offering remarkable helps with personal study of the revelations now with more publications from the Joseph Smith Papers project.  Frankly there’s so much there, it’s hard for me to sort out how to incorporate it into my study, and I suspect it will take me much longer than one year to sift through it.  I’m also drawn to other biographical works – Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling is a favorite of mine, as is Lucy Mack Smith’s history of Joseph, and I received the new (last year) history of Brigham Young as a Christmas present.

I’m interested in others’ thoughts about how you’re studying the Doctrine & Covenants this year.

About Paul

Paul was a convert to the church with his parents and siblings when he was a child, and therefore has the great blessing of having some of his formative years in the church while still remembering his family’s conversion experience. He is the father of seven and husband to his lovely wife. He served an LDS mission in Germany and has lived in Latin America and twice in Asia for his employer; now he lives with his lovely wife and youngest two children in the Midwestern US. Prior to earning his MBA, Paul also earned degrees in English and Theatre History. He also blogs at A Latter-day Voice (see the link below -- in "Our Authors Elsewhere" section at the bottom of the page) where he writes, as he does here, of his own experience as a Latter-day Saint. He does not speak for the church but will speak in favor of it.

25 Responses to On studying the Doctrine and Covenants

  1. Sarah says:

    I’m studying it because I’m teaching it! I have six Primary boys, aged 11, in my class this year, and I while I am following the book lessons, I am using applicable sections in the new Youth curriculum to supplement. It’s going to be a fantastic year.

  2. Paul says:

    Sarah, that’s great. How will you do that practically speaking? Are you just sort of checking for applicable content each week? And how are you going about preparing your lessons for your 11-year olds? (I don’t know what their lesson book looks like.) How lucky they are to have a teacher who’s giving such careful thought to lesson preparation!

  3. Bonnie says:

    As a Gospel Doctrine teacher and a history buff, I’ve been really struggling with this. There’s the huge problem of prooftexting when reading narrow groups of verses, which is why we study the context of our scriptures, both in the text immediately surrounding our focus verses, in the historical context of the writing, and the context of its intended receipt, as well as the spiritual context of the plan of salvation. I can think of so many verses that, in the best of situations, taken out of context don’t provide the richness of the verse’s offering. In the worst, the reader walks away with the wrong ideas altogether. And in my own reading, I have found that I get the doctrines and principles much more deeply if I understand the context out of which they arise, which is ideally the purpose of this thematic course of study.

    If I were called to sit on the curriculum committee, this is how I would structure the Doctrine and Covenants course of study:
    1/3 of the year on history of the restoration studying pivotal revelations each week,
    1/3 of the year on thematic/doctrines study, and
    1/3 of the year on continuing revelation and unfolding history since the restoration.

  4. Paul says:

    Bonnie, you raise common concerns about the curriculum (the comments over at BCC are not all as charitably constructive as yours).

    But given where we are, how can an individual go about studying the D&C on his own, in addition to what is happening in Gospel Doctrine class?

  5. Bonnie says:

    That’s my conundrum this week. I’ve looked at the themes for the year for a month, and I think they can be handled with a historical tack as well. For instance, we studied the introduction, which gives scope, and we’ll study Jesus Christ as Savior and Mediator this week, so we can address the formative events of the restoration (first vision, where the family was, what the burned over district was like, what the translation process was like, publication of the Book of Mormon, etc.) in terms of what Joseph learned about Jesus Christ. I don’t think we have to spend a lot of time on history to give that context, and certainly we’ll have to write our own lesson plans on that part, but I think the history can support the themes. It does require a lot of planning, because certain parts of the history go best with certain themes, and in order to maintain historical continuity, we’ll have to be on our toes.

  6. MSKeller says:

    My husband and I determined that we’d read the text as it is written (Section 1, 2, 3 etc.) on M-W then on Th and F read the ‘Our Heritage’ suggestions and go through the scripture chains. For me personally, I’m reading Orson Pratt and ‘The Fate of the Persecutors’.

    There are so many more things that I WANT to do, but frankly, there isn’t enough time in a week to do all of that. I also expect I’ll return to a class I took at BYU online a few years back that was excellent. I’ve found that if you have an excellent instructor, you touch on some questions that can be held up for further study.

    This past Sunday my uncle actually taught the lesson, and he brought out (which of course I knew, but loved his take on it) how the Preface is straight from the Lord, and covers the things that HE wants us to learn from the revelations. I though I’d take *that* list, and go through it as well.

  7. Paul says:

    I like the idea of selecting certain days for “general” study and other days for preparing for classroom discussion.

  8. I like Bonnie’s 1/3 history for context, 1/3 doctrine, and 1/3 continuing revelation structure. I am teaching GD this year, and am trying to incorporate that same idea – not yearly, but in each lesson. Just takes a little more preparation – and it makes the lessons way more interesting.

  9. Jendoop says:

    My husband and I have been asked to attend the Gospel Essentials class to befriend new members so I’m not right in the thick of this but it seems like following some of the directions for the new youth lesson program could be helpful. You have an outline of sorts, but really the discussion is led by the class. If there are more questions about historical timelines and events, then focus on that. If there are more questions about doctrine then focus on doctrine, while using the historical facts as scaffolding.

    Learning the gospel isn’t an all at one time proposition, so I don’t think there’s a huge push to cover it all, and that’s impossible anyway. At the end of every lesson there’s got to be a feeling of ‘that’s just the beginning of what’s here.’ Which in my mind leads to studying the material AFTER the class discussion.

    There have been so many times that I’ve been disappointed by the classroom discussion when I’ve read ahead of time. Often I’m excited by the material, ready to discuss and the teacher has a set way of proceeding, where my questions/comments don’t fit, or the rest of the class isn’t prepared so we spend the majority of the time reading scriptures that I’ve already read in preparation. Not that I’m all that smart or more insightful than another person, but a lesson is hugely different with student preparation vs. without.

  10. Bonnie says:

    I agree completely, Jen. It’s because of the exciting way the youth curriculum is structured that I don’t feel at all uncomfortable pulling in historical background and spending longer on the context of one or another blocks of scripture. All of our curriculum will take longer to put together – I think the Lord and the brethren have a vested interest in teachers AND their students studying more! And I wish I knew the answer to your question about what to do with those who prepare. I have a very discussion-driven class already (most of the time) so that part is okay, but I’m not certain many of the class really prepare that much. I send out a weekly email and have moved to sending it BEFORE class with videos, talks, and readings in that. We’ll see if people use it. I really hope so. It will make the classes so much more meaningful for everyone.

  11. Emily says:

    I was kind of disappointed when I got my little manual again this year and I have probably still have the other 3? from the previous 3? times we studied it. As the manual is by topic, as mentioned, I suppose I figured every 4 years we’d get a new manual for the book, but covering different topics each time. But, I also suppose it would take a not of effort by the SS/Curric/Correl. Depts. to pull something like that off. So, thankfully, we at least have different teachers and classes to learn from. Sounds like your class will be great, Bonnie! I think my husband and I are planning on reading the entire D&C this year, then discussing hopefully beforehand the study materials.

    • Emily says:

      Oh dear. I obviously did not proof that. Sorry.

    • Marsha Keller says:

      For me, I don’t mind the ‘same topics’ because there is so much more than can adequately be taught, frankly I think it take about four times of going through the same lesson material to cover it all! Especially since every time you have a different instructor, and different class members, different ideas, feelings and insights come up.

  12. Ray DeGraw says:

    First, I think the Church is trying to say, very clearly, “Stop relying on the Church to teach you the scriptures and eternal truth. We can’t do that. We can focus on a few basic things, so we will do that. The rest is up to you.”

    I like that, so I’m OK with the new curriculum – and I absolutely love the new youth curriculum and hope the adult version is changed to reflect that approach. (I also like the the Church started with the youth.)

    I study scriptures on my own trying to understand the people who wrote them, what those people probably meant by using the words in them (and, in the case of the Bible, especially, that includes the translators and theologians who compiled it, in order to try to account for their biases), what kind of “evolution of perspective” appears to be happening over time, and what I feel is applicable to and important for me.

    It’s not an easy process, and I don’t get through an organized “book” each year, but I’d rather try to understand more by reading less than understand less by reading more.

    • Marsha Keller says:

      I suspect they COULD do that, but they understand that they ought not. I’ve watched the lessons change and evolve over the years to a very much more personal-responsibility rich format. I’ve also watched the people respond to it. When I was a kid, hardly anyone ever brought their scriptures to church, and now almost everyone does.

      I love that, “Evolution of Perspective” – Exactly so.

  13. Paul says:

    Ray, I like your thinking, and I think you’re on target with intent of church teaching — it is not meant as the be-all-end-all of our gospel scholarship.

    The reason for my question was to explore ways in which people are doing what you suggest — supplementing the “bare bones” discussion in Gospel Doctrine with their own study. I think Bonnie & MMM’s 1/3 – 1/3 – 1/3 approach may work well for personal study as well as for classroom discussion.

    Of course you implied suggestion to do personal study on a completely different cadence from the SS lesson plan is another completely reasonable approach.

    Personally I’m trying to balance prep for SS, Priesthood, keep up with family Book of Mormon reading and read the NT with my son’s seminary class. Getting some actual study in there, as well as all that reading, is my challenge.

  14. Brenda says:

    I’ve been thinking about this post since yesterday and I have to say I agree with Ray completely. The curriculum places the responsibility squarely on the head of the teacher as well as the student to rely on the Holy Ghost to direct their study. The basic framework is set up and then with the wealth of knowledge available at our fingertips we should move where we are directed. I’ve found that when I give myself a checklist of extensive study to complete I learn, but when I start with the basics the Church puts out and then allow myself to be led in the deeper study that is when I really get the most out of it.

    • Marsha Keller says:

      I think that is so with me too Brenda. When I make my initial ‘list’, usually when I get there, I’m either no longer that interested or it no longer really is one of those compelling questions at that point in my life. When I go with a basic outline, and then when I get there, listen for what my soul craves at the moment, I’m far more engaged and enriched.

  15. Becky L. Rose says:

    Just a few other references for you-as if you have time- but I love this one:

    ldsgospeldoctrine.net. This site has about 12 different person’s gospel doctrine lessons layout. My favorite’s are Kevin Hinckley’s power point presentation. His has great quotes, questions to make you think, graphic’s or mind maps as it were.

    My other favorite is Nancy Jensen’s I believe. Love her ideas!

  16. JessK says:

    I haven’t attended GD in several years due to Primary callings, so I have no idea what is actually going on in the class, but I think I am going to structure my personal study around people. That way I will get the history as a background, and perhaps by studying why a particular doctrine applied to a specific individual (as many of the revelations do), I can figure out how best to apply them in my life as well.

    Given all of the discussion lately about women’s roles in the church, I think I am going to start with Emma.

  17. Becky L. Rose says:

    In Our Heritage is a story from my family history! Only the church got it wrong! Here is the real story: http://becksome.blogspot.com/2009/09/my-heritage.html

    Or here it is in full:
    From Chapter 7 page 86:

    “For those who joined the Church outside the United States,
    this was a time for gathering to Zion, which meant traveling by
    boat to America. Elizabeth and Charles Wood sailed in 1860 from
    South Africa, where they had labored several years to acquire
    money for their travel. Elizabeth kept house for a wealthy man,
    and her husband made bricks until they obtained the needed
    funds. Elizabeth was carried aboard the ship on a bed 24 hours
    after delivering a son and was given the captain’s berth so she
    could be more comfortable. She was very ill during the journey,
    almost dying twice, but lived to settle in Fillmore, Utah”.

    This is the story of my great great grandparents! Only they have a name wrong. It’s not Elizabeth Wood, but Ann Day Wood. Elizabeth is her sister. Charles and Ann Wood met in London, married June 11, 1848, sailed to South Africa a year later and were among the first converts in 1853 from that part of the world. The second time she was thought to be dead on the ship to America, she was prepared for burial at sea. Her brother Richard stepped up and and said he did not think she was dead. He related a dream which he had before leaving Cape Town, South Africa in which he was the only one who did not get to Utah. The people stepped back while the elders administered to her, after which she began to breath and finally recover. They spent 73 days at sea on the ship “Alacrity” and because they came from Africa, a large crowd gathered at the pier in Boston curious to see colored people. They were disapointed. They arrived at Winter Quarters in the middle of July in 1860 and six months after making the trip from Africa they made it to Salt Lake City. True to the dream of Richard Day, all except him arrived in Utah. My great Grandma was born in zion in 1871, who is the mother of my grandfather, my mom’s dad.

    The church has the corrections, but I doubt they made it in the new printing.

  18. Byron LeFevre says:

    This year is the 4th time I have been a Gospel Doctrine Instructor when the Doctrine and Covenants was the curriculum. I also taught the seminary students of our two wards in 2006-2007. After all of this time it seems to me the best way to think about these revelations is in the context of what they truly are- inspired insights from Jesus Christ our Savior to Joseph Smith.

    An understanding of where Joseph was at the time of each revelation brings an amazing illumination to the sections. The Joseph of 1829 simply did not express himself with the same vocabulary, reasoning and format as the Joseph writing to Emma from Liberty Jail or by Epistle to the Church during the Nauvoo period.

    The Lord commands us to take these words seriously- they are the same as if given to us directly from the mouth of Christ (Sec 1: 38). However as with Mormon, he allows his prophet to express himself within the weakness and limitations of the language and circumstances of the time.

    At a minimum, the History of the Church should be consulted to give us perspective of what was happening in Joseph’s life to necessitate each revelation. We can only liken scripture once we truly understand the original context.

  19. templegoer says:

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that it’s possible to overstudy. That would not have been my position ten years ago.

    When individuals espouse a certain reading that they have earnestly sought out with the best of intentions, and backed up with a great deal of gospel scholarship, classes can become contentious. I love an approach where we are able to look at scripture and explore together it’s relevance for our lives at any given point. In my experience scripture refuses to be subject to one translation and is a movable feast. What is jumping out at me at one time hardly registers at another, as my own notes from previous readings attest.

    Having said this, gospel scholarship always intrigues me, but it often alienates those who’s experience is not academic and from whom I have learnt life’s sweetest lessons. Not a reason not to study, but my own process has become more deeply personal and sacred and less academic as time moves on.

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