Thursday, January 28, 2010

Hate the new Gospel Principles manual as much as I do?

Then let them know...

This is yet another blog post based on a comment I wrote for another blog. The Church has a blog asking for members' opinions on the new Gospel Principles manual. This is what I wrote:

This is easily the worst Church manual I have experienced. While it may have removed the references to McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine, the teachings itself are often just as non-reflective, unscriptural, simplistic, and speculative. As a missionary, I was uncomfortable with new converts having to be subjected to this material. Now I must admit that I am dreading having to attend elders’ quorum for the next two years and am hoping for a calling that will give me a reason to not attend.


Let me explain my comment above a little better. One of the problems I see with the book is that it repeatedly makes claims and teaches thing as matters-of-fact without providing any scriptural basis or giving any indication that for most of these teachings, there have been different views and interpretations from various Church leaders and prophets. Instead of showing that there are many ways to see things (and encouraging thoughtful discussion and reflection), it instead pretends that for these so-called basics, there is only one view and one answer.

For example, the very first chapter says that all things denote there is a God and implies that by merely looking at the world around us, we can come to the conclusion of God’s existence. The fact is that for many people, this simply isn’t the case. Many scientists will say quit the oppositely that the world (and what they see in it) is evidence that there is no God. By encompassing the existence of God in a cosmological argument that the manual does, it alienates those who do not succumb to the simplistic reasoning and, even more importantly, ignores the subjective and personal experiences that are usually the most important factor of a believer’s faith.

The chapter then evokes traditional Christian language of God (which while contained in the scriptures), are ultimately problematic when trying to discuss the beautiful and complex beliefs that we as Latter-day Saints have.

The first chapter finally ends with a step-by-step answer to teach us how we might come to know God, while ignoring the very and explicit means by which God and Jesus taught that we might come to know them–by serving others.

The second chapter has similar problems. For example, it teaches that: “[God] has chosen the time and place for each of us to be born so we can learn the lessons we personally need and do the most good with our individual talents and personalities.” What is the scriptural (or authoritative) basis for this? While this may be uplifting to some, it equally opens up the problematic views that a persons station in this life is a direct result of their previous life–leading to racialist folk beliefs about black and the priesthood, and other potentially oppressive and/or suppressive views. All of this, of course, ignores the huge problems that it creates with our belief in free agency.

The ultimate challenge that this manual creates though results from our essentially lay ministry and lack of trained teachers. This is further problematized when many Bishops (and quorum/group leaders) seem to want to specifically not call those who actually are trained to teach. While a skillful (and spiritually-guided) teacher may take cues from the manual while creating and offering a good lesson with productive and thoughtful discussion, this is often not the case with less skillful teachers. Without good teaching skills, this manual ultimately sets up the teacher to fail.

You thoughts on the new manual?


  1. I have decided to simply take the Gospel Principles manual not as dogma and instead as the combined viewpoints of a committee who might have been influenced by a more simplistic mindset of doctrine.

  2. I'm not a fan either. But I now teach Elder's quorum, and had to teach chapter 2. So, I decided to focus on the quotes that said "we can become like God", and compared the Godhead vs the Trinity. It made for an interesting discussion.

  3. I'm on the same page as you, Loyd. When our class was doing the chapter 1 lesson, I even pointed out the problem with using the world around us as "evidence" of God's existence, much like you said. I don't know what to do with the material in this manual. I hate feeling pessimistic about church, so I guess I'll just try not to think about it too hard. (That's a great habit to cultivate, don't you think?)

  4. My question: What are they teaching in the new member class this year? Isn't Gospel Principles the standard curriculum for that course? Are new members simply getting a double dose?

    If so, then that oughta work wonders for retention rates.

  5. You know...I'm not totally opposed to the new manual. There are some definite pros to it. I like that the chapters are really short (two ish pages). In past manuals the chapters have been long enough to just read the entire lesson. I HATED that. I like that these are very short and basic so that the teacher has to be creative in finding outside sources, quotes, and additional topics for discussion. I think the problem we're running into is a lack of qualified, thoughtful teachers. Putting this manual in the hands of a thoughtful member to lead discussion could be very beneficial...I don't mind going back to basics now and then...and I think it's good for bringing investigators.
    I, unfortunately, have to go listen to girls read the quotes and use the suggested questions and scriptures. So that's the problem I have. Ughh

  6. I find the criticism of the new manual interesting. I'm fairly certain that it is intended to be a starting point for each principle that is taught. It outlines our core belief as defined by the scriptures and the brethren. It's surely not a mistake that each chapter is a couple of pages long. We are CONSTANTLY encouraged to read and study for ourselves, if there are not enough scripture references for your taste, just look up the subject in the topical guide. It may have been a "committee" that assembled the book, but I believe it was a committee influenced and guided by the spirit to produce somthing that we need at this time.

    Brigham Young said “All I have to do is keep my spirit, feelings and conscience like a sheet of blank paper, and let the Spirit and power of God write upon it what He pleases. When He writes, I will read; but if I read before He writes, I am very likely to be wrong."


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