As I’ve stopped hyperventilating over the leak of this forthcoming change, I’ve had some thoughts. I have a general rule when I’m in Gospel Doctrine that I try not to say anything unless it’s constructive (or the teacher says something really flagrantly crazy/wrong, which is rare in my experience.)
Teaching in Religious Education is to be substantive and inspirational. Students should become familiar with the text studied in each course taken and learn the implications of the text for daily living. They should feel free to raise honest questions, with confidence that they will be treated with respect and dignity and that their questions will be discussed intelligently in the context of faith. Where answers have not been clearly revealed, forthright acknowledgment of that fact should attend, and teachers should not present their own interpretations of such matters as the positions of the Church. Students should see exemplified in their instructors an open, appropriately tentative, tolerant approach to “gray” areas of the gospel. At the same time they should see in their instructors certitude and unwavering commitment to those things that have been clearly revealed and do represent the position of the Church. Teachers should be models of the fact that one can be well trained in a discipline, intellectually vigorous, honest, critical, and articulate, and at the same time be knowledgeable and fully committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ, His Church and Kingdom, and His appointed servants.
In the past, a too exclusive adherence to merely “text methods” of work has been followed. That is to say, there has been a selection of separate and disconnected texts marshalled together in support of a given subject without sufficient care being taken to know the context and historical association of the scriptural utterances, often attended with great danger of forming misconceptions of such texts, resulting in wrong deductions and conclusions.”- Seventy’s Course in Theology (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1907–1912), 1:i.)
- Generally, more emphasis on analyzing and thinking, less on factual intake (though some of this is always necessary.) More acknowledgement of different strains of LDS thought, even at the highest levels. Students need to be challenged and exposed to other thoughts, not just dogmatized.
- Incorporate the text and references from the new Gospel Topics statements. Particularly in the Foundations of the Restoration, these would be great to read and discuss, because they acknowledge what we do and don’t know, as well as sources. They would help get at the many productive tensions inherent in the Restoration around revelation, authority, canon, interpretation, etc. A diachronic, historical perspective is invaluable. This is a class I’d actually enjoy teaching. The opportunity to spend several days on the First Vision, for example, would provide a great opportunity to engage differing accounts, the nature of history and historiography, the importance of context and the cultural embeddedness of revelation (e.g. try Bushman’s “Visionary World of Joseph Smith”), and how time changes perspective (i.e. address the rampant presentism in the Church. Try James Allen’s article on the First Vision here)
- In the family class, one could explore how revelation and tradition intermingle by talking about what we do and don’t know about Mother in Heaven. There’s been plenty published on this by respectable names that could be used in a BYU class, like Paulsen, Kevin Barney (maybe), Dan Peterson, etc. How will it deal both with historical challenges to the conception of the family (polygamy) and current/future (gay marriage)?
- The thematic Book of Mormon class could engage in careful literary readings of what I called Power Chapters on my mission, those that seem to have minimal narrative and maximal doctrine, the dense ones. Grant Hardy’s recent book could be useful. Oh wait, this is actually what the Advanced Book of Mormon class is doing right now.