A deeper look into the scriptures

By: Stephen Marsh
August 24, 2011

The Sunday School curriculum is a success in one way — it does return us to the scriptures instead of commentaries or instead of the time when entire years could go by with minimal scriptural references (Ardis could give you links to those days). But …

So, what would you do with the curriculum?

I’d like to see the same focus on a book of scripture every year, but with deeper focus on parts.  So, extracts from the Old Testament, for example.  Maybe the story of Zipporah (ok, maybe not).  In the New Testament, maybe two or three months on the complex midrash that is Hebrews.  Next time the New Testament comes around, focus on other parts.  But study with more depth.  I think we’ve already done almost twenty or thirty years of touching things lightly, pretty much the same every year.  When we cover the D&C, how about a discussion about how rejecting polygamy (both polygany and polyandry) affects those who have had spouses die and who have then remarried and been sealed to the new spouse.  Telling a man or a woman that being married twice is downright evil and diseased (or so the conversation seems to go) and unholy and that their love is doomed and rejected of God and (modern, enlightened) man.

Or how about a month spent on D&C 121 and the core lessons from that chapter? Another month spent on how the saints were warned against speculating in land, warned against squatting on land and not buying it and how the Kirkland Anti-Banking Society was brought under by embezzlement by a small core of men who were determined to speculate on land values?

For the Book of Mormon, how about discussing the feminist portions of it?  For at least a month?

You could do amazing things if the Church as a whole engaged in deeper study of the scriptures each year.

The same is true for Relief Society and Priesthood.  Deeper focus, studying entire essays and speeches, sometimes for more than one lesson.  One year on deep history for the Relief Society. Perhaps another year with selected talks from the BYU Womens Conferences (think about it, if we want to reach President Hinkley’s goal of more leadership from the women in the Church, deep study and reflection is a way to do it).

So, what would you do if you had a chance to change the curriculum?  Why?  Why not?

24 Responses to A deeper look into the scriptures

  1. Whitney on August 24, 2011 at 10:16 PM

    What’s wrong with Zipporah? I heart her so much.

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  2. shenpa warrior on August 24, 2011 at 11:25 PM

    An improvement on pedagogy would be nice. This is not content, but more on process. More training in HOW to teach. Call 3-4 gospel doctrine teachers, have them all attend trainings during SS (they DO do these occasionally) on teaching. A guy subbed a few months ago and had about 10 minutes to prepare the lesson. Did a fantastic job with what he had because he mixed it up, put us in groups (which don’t always work but this did) and got the class engaged.

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  3. Stephen Marsh on August 25, 2011 at 4:40 AM

    Whitney — I thought that Zipporah was the person zippers were named after when I was a kid.

    But I knew a Baptist lady who thought she was reading the Bible once a year in her Sunday School class who encountered Zipporah in her 60s and was suddenly going — I never heard of that before …

    [Zipporah is not the namesake for zippers, btw.]

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  4. Stephen Marsh on August 25, 2011 at 5:47 AM

    Shenpa — that is a ward by ward thing, though you do make a good point.

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  5. Sharon LDS in Tennessee on August 25, 2011 at 6:38 AM

    I would make the time in Sunday School totally devoted to learning about the person of Christ. His personality, his character, mirracles, his manner of teaching, virtually every detail about our Savior would be meticulously covered with an emphasis on obtaining a living testimony of his Messiahship. Highlighting his presence or references thereto in Old Test. New and our revealed scriptures included…crossing them – connecting them – showing awesome ways ALL He taught is how connected to daily life today, how to apply lessons, how to see the connection to him in the Temple (in the temple prep classes) how Priesthood can EMULATE him better, etc. in their classes, …but only lessons directly yoked TO, focused upon ONLY THE Christ. Should be good for about 10-20 years worth of lessons. Leave church govt. and genealogy, homemaking, scouting to other classes and activities. Lets get SOLID on Jesus Christ in a VERY concentrated way !!
    Love to All

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  6. Sharon LDS in Tennessee on August 25, 2011 at 6:58 AM

    Add on to my comment about making Christ the
    only subject in Sunday school…..a primary “HOW TO DO IT IN TODAY”S WORLD”….
    being a living Disciple (follower of Christ)
    especially in a marriage…raising children..not handy hints, but solid, rock hard examples, nothing “hidden” in an hours rambling story….

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  7. Paul on August 25, 2011 at 7:15 AM

    I’d do what I’ve seen in some of the wards we’ve attended: call different teachers who have different styles and areas of emphasis (maybe even by assignment) so that members who prefer the deeper dive can find it, and those who don’t don’t need to stress over it.

    I also favor as some wards (though not mine) do having multiple teachers in one class. I know this gorps up the continuity from one week to the next, but if there are different classes available, at least class members get more than one person’s perspective.

    As for curriculum, I’d consider longer and deeper study — maybe two years instead of one. And I like your idea of changing empphasis from cycle to cycle.

    Teacher training is critical, too, and at least where I’ve lived in the last two decades, it seems to have taken a back seat; no old fashioned Teacher Development, no inservice for teachers. We have that great resource Teaching, No Greater Call, and no one seems to use it (or if they do, I don’t see it).

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  8. Jeff Spector on August 25, 2011 at 8:20 AM

    I like the longer cycle idea. If we can do it for Gospel Principles, we have plenty of topics for the scriptures!

    As I’ve said before, I’d like the OT study to be doctrinal, historical and not try to shove modern gospel principles into every lesson. I’d like to show (which I tried to do) how the Jews were being prepared for the Christ and how they got somewhat off track.

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  9. CatherineWO on August 25, 2011 at 8:53 AM

    I like your idea of studying the scriptures in more depth. I would like to see them put into context, historical and literary. To me they are meaningless without the context of when, how and by whom they were written (and later translated).

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  10. KLC on August 25, 2011 at 9:02 AM

    I think the big problem is that in the modern church RS and Priesthood are really no different than SS.

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  11. JackUK on August 25, 2011 at 5:41 PM

    Some great ideas so far…Here’s my ‘two penneth’ as we say in England… Stop all proof texting of modern LDS concepts from the ancient texts and let the texts speak for themselves, particularly the BoM. Establish new writing commitees and have new manuals written by people who understand the languages and cultures of the OT & NT and the historical/doctrinal richness of the D&C and BoM. Spend at least a year on the teachings of the Saviour in the Four Gospels and 3rd Nephi and ways of living those teachings today. Spend a year looking at the BoM/D&C texts and 19th/20th Century religious issues…

    I agree with KLC’s comment #10 RS/PH/SS are no different from each other. Don’t know how we could change that though right now…

    I agree with comments on Teacher Development; bring that emphasis back with a vengeance and really develop teaching skills for newer, less experienced members and support the great teachers the wards and branches already have, there are many of them!

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  12. CS Eric on August 25, 2011 at 6:46 PM

    As long as the class is called “Gospel Doctrine,” the materials will be devoted to proof-texting the correlated and approved “doctrinal” topics. If the class were called “Bible Study” or “Scripture Study,” then I think the Church would feel compelled to make the materials match the title. We get what is advertised.

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  13. Stephen Marsh on August 25, 2011 at 8:28 PM

    Sharon LDS — I like the heart of what you suggest, the problem is that it would mean in practice a series of lessons like the snippets that make up the various volumes of the Teachings of the Prophet X.

    “solid, rock hard examples” aren’t going to come from quoting scripture. Though there is a complete set of lessons on marriage and family relations (and a separate class for that which is an option on a ward by ward basis — you can check the Church website for the manual).

    Paul — you make some good points. Inservice for teachers is really hard to pull off because of the time it takes.

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  14. Stephen Marsh on August 25, 2011 at 8:32 PM

    CatherineWO — context would make a great part of longer and deeper study.

    CS Eric — perhaps it should be Gospel Study instead of Gospel Doctrine? Used to be that it was deeper (think of the McKay/Nibley era of lessons that challenged the members to reach).

    “let the texts speak for themselves, particularly the BoM” — there is a lot to be learned from reading the actual words of the texts.

    “KLC’s comment #10 RS/PH/SS are no different from each other” … except in the course of study. I’d like to see a unified course of study that approaches things such as a deeper history of women in the Church for a three or four year period, while Sunday School goes into greater depth on the scriptures.

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  15. Sally on August 25, 2011 at 8:34 PM

    These are great suggestions – I would love an in-depth study, but I think the biggest obstacle in most wards in finding a teacher that is able to teach these things. Alot of us are pretty good gospel teachers because we are familiar with the material, but if I were asked to teach many of the items in the OP, I would be at a loss. I could do a lot of reading to prepare and parrot what I read, but it would be hard to feel adequate to answer questions on the material. Maybe each stake could come up with one really knowledgeable teach and those interested in in-depth study could meet together.

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  16. Kevin Barney on August 25, 2011 at 8:58 PM

    Those of us who are older remember when the curriculum was two years per volume of scripture, for an 8-year rotation. We studied more in depth back in those days.

    When I taught Institute, I once taught a BoM class and just kept the thing going for two whole years. You can get a lot more depth in when you spread a text out over two years instead of one.

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  17. hawkgrrrl on August 26, 2011 at 1:10 AM

    more snacks

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  18. Stephen Marsh on August 26, 2011 at 6:36 AM

    Sally, the approach I would suggest would be to have the material in the manual be adequate. Then the “teacher” need only be a discussion leader.

    Kevin, I’ve got the transcripts for Hugh Nibley’s four semester Book of Mormon class. I agree.

    Hawk, I bring snacks to our high priests group regularly — two to three times a month. If it is good for high priests, it is good for the rest of us.

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  19. BrotherQ on August 26, 2011 at 9:29 AM

    It seems that the needs for a Gospel Doctrine Sunday School class will vary based on the “maturity” of the Church in the subject area. I have attended Sunday School in Kenya, for example, where most of the members are fairly new to the Gospel, and our typical manuals and course of study seem to be appropriate and well-received.

    That being said, I am bored with the way things are now in Gospel Doctrine class, and some ineffective or ignorant teachers make it a disagreeable experience sometimes.

    Why not have more classes offered? Have a more in-depth class, or different areas of studies, in order to meet the needs and wants of the variety of people in each ward? Sometimes it is even hard forcing different “types” of Latter-Day Saints in the same class, and it breeds contention rather than honest exploration of the Gospel. (I often get more spiritual nourishment from 30 minutes of reading “Wheat and Tares” (especially the comments) than I do in a typical Sunday School class). Why not have 3-4 different offerings (including the traditional offering that we now have)?

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  20. Recently Released on August 27, 2011 at 9:41 PM

    The manuals are very, very good and filled with food for thought questions that often are extremely cutting edge. The problem as I see it is when teachers and students attempt to pigeon hole and conform the material to their own, oftimes lazy version, of what they think the material should say. Add that to a universal lack of preparation by class members, for which there is no excuse in our day of internet technology, and what you get is a boring rehash of the easiest 5-10% of the lesson material and an absence of higher level thinking. That said, I also would like to see some topics or scriptures covered in much greater detail.

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  21. Stephen M (Ethesis) on August 28, 2011 at 8:43 AM

    Recently Released — maybe what is needed is a different approach to the manuals and the materials.

    My suggestion, earlier, about just reading the NT in different translations and talking about it was an effort at such an approach.

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  22. Mormon Heretic on August 28, 2011 at 4:08 PM

    I’ve been following this discussion, but haven’t had time to comment. Sally beat me to the punch. While I would absolutely love a more in-depth study of the gospel, there is a problem with finding teachers to teach. I have the inclination to study this stuff, but many people (such as my wife) are intimidated to teach Gospel Doctrine as it is now.

    I too would love to have multiple offerings for Sunday School. I’d love to participate in an “advanced” Sunday School class; I think others (such as those in Kenya) can learn from the current manuals. However, one of the problems we have in my ward is the fact that my stake president loves huge wards. When he splits a ward, he likes for there to be at least 550 members AFTER the split. We use every room in the building just for the primary classes, so finding space for an additional class is near impossible.

    That’s why I blog. As BrotherQ said, I find spiritual nourishment in reading W&T–often much more than I find at church. I think this is the advanced class we all wish were in-person.

    Kevin (and others). I have a post going up tomorrow about proof-texting. There’s a new book by Charles Harrell that I’ll be highlighting. It’s a great book, and it ties in well with this conversation.

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  23. Mormon Heretic » Ancient Proof-Texting on August 28, 2011 at 4:16 PM

    [...] A recent comment on Stephen Marsh’s Sunday School post decried the use of “proof texting of modern LDS concepts from the ancient texts”.  However, it seems that the LDS, like ancient and modern Jews and Christians, are all guilty of proof-texting. [...]

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  24. The Bulwark Review on September 25, 2011 at 11:11 PM

    [...] At Wheat and Tares, meanwhile, some yearn for more theology in Sunday School class. But this yearning, in my experience, too often derives from the need of would-be intellectuals to demonstrate their superiority to the common run of saints. A good rule for self-regulation in official Church meetings might be simply to consider prayerfully what best contributes to the spiritual growth of others present in the meeting. Those of us who cannot repress our “theological” yearnings ought to be able to find suitable friends with whom to pursue such interests, without distracting our fellow saints from more urgent spiritual concerns. [...]

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