It’s a truism that lots of people read few books. And certainly as we get married, have jobs, kids, responsibilities, many of us find our leisure time is spent simply recovering from the day and picking cheerios out of the carpet. Moreover, lots of people who DO read just don’t have interest in history, doctrine, or scripture and choose to read other things.
But then, you have recently returned missionaries. Many of them have spent their missions wanting to read more and deeper material, so there’s definite enthusiasm and energy. They also tend to have fewer responsibilities, and have time to read. Within a few weeks of coming home, I had copies of Morton Smith’s Secret Gospel of Mark and Joachim Jeremias Eucharistic Words of Jesus. I wouldn’t recommend either of these, but I had kept track of interesting footnotes from my mission reading, and these were high on my list.
I just had this conversation today-
Her: My little brother just got home from his mission and is loving reading Mormon doctrine and other thick religious books. I was talking to him about all your Old Testament research and he was intrigued. Any good books you would recommend for a beginning Old Testament reader?
Me: Does he have any particular interests? Church history and doctrine vs scripture? Bible vs. Book of Mormon? Old Testament vs New Testament?
So assuming someone comes home and just wants to read anything and everything Gospel-related, where do you point them?
Before giving suggestions, let’s complicate this with an observation from President Packer.
Some time ago I interviewed a young bishop in Brazil. He was twenty-seven years old. I was impressed that he possessed every attribute of a successful Church leader—humility, testimony, appearance, intelligence, spirituality. Here, I thought, is a young man with a great future in the Church.
I asked myself, as I looked at him, “What will his future be? What will we do for him? What will we do to him?” In my mind I outlined the years ahead.
He will be a bishop for perhaps six years, then he will be thirty-three years old. He will then serve eight years on a stake high council and five years as a counselor in the stake presidency. At forty-six he will be called as a stake president. We will release him after six years to become a regional representative, and he will serve for five years. That means he will have spent thirty years as an ideal, the example to follow, the image, the leader.
However, in all that time, he will not have attended three Gospel Doctrine classes in a row, nor will he have attended three priesthood quorum lessons in a row.
Brethren, do you see yourselves in this illustration?
Unless he knew the fundamental principles of the gospel before his call, he will scarcely have time to learn them along the way. Agendas, meetings, and budgets and buildings will take up his time. These things are not usually overlooked.
But the principles are overlooked—the gospel is overlooked, the doctrine is overlooked. When that happens, we are in great danger! We see the evidence of it in the Church today…It is so important that every member, particularly every leader, understand and know the gospel.It is not easy to find time to study the gospel. It is harder for the stake president to do it and infinitely harder for the bishop to do it, but it is necessary and it is possible. Brethren must attend the classes as often as they can; bishops and stake presidents should find some way to attend at least a good share of the Gospel Doctrine classes and the appropriate priesthood quorum lessons.
In all that time, to add to his concerns, will s/he have done any reading of good Church-related books? Local leadership is tasked with being the doctrinal authority, but our church structure does little to make them so; There’s no doctrinal training, no book list, and consequently, doctrinal knowledge varies greatly and sometimes to the detriment of the ward or individuals. As with many members, the sum total of gospel knowledge is roughly equivalent to the tradition they’ve received in their own Primary, YW/YM, Seminary, etc.
Assuming, then, that Sister Recent RM will read 10 books before Organic Chemistry, engagements, and responsibilities smother enthusiasm and time availability, what should they read? Or, framed in E. Packer’s terms, what do you want your future Church leadership to have read in 30 years that you could give them now as an RM hungry for knowledge?