Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Abigail the Peacegiver: Scripture, Personal Application and “Self-Help”

Posted by Robert C. on March 29, 2007

We’ve discussed before the pros and cons of reading scripture primarily with an aim to apply the scriptures to ourselves. On the previous thread, Jim F. questioned this traditional interpretation of “likening the scriptures” to ourselves by noting that it is the first person plural that is used in these passages, not first-person singular as we typically think. I like how this points us to thinking more in terms of community than individuals.  But it re-raises all the unresolved (at least for me) questions about “personal application” that we’ve discussed before on this blog. 

I’ve just started listening to The Peacegiver on my commute to work (see here for a link to all chapters available at Meridian; thanks, by the way, whoever recommended this book—I thought it was a comment on this blog…). I’m only a few chapters into the book, but Chapter 4 in particular is a good one to read to get a sense of one way we might think about personal application. Before I summarize chapter 4 and comment on it, let me note that the book reminds me of a philosophy/religion class I had at BYU with Terry Warner (notice the links to his book at the link above—the author of The Peacegiver works at the Arbinger Institute with Warner) where we would talk a lot about sin, resentfulness, and forgiveness, esp. as it pertains to personal relationships. For our text in that class, we drew primarily from the scriptures, Kierkegaard, C. S. Lewis, and our own experiences. It was a very interesting—even transforming—class. There are explicit scriptural footnotes in The Peacegiver, though not given in the audiobook, and although I don’t think there are such footnotes in Warner’s books, I think the scriptural foundations are fairly obvious.

Abigail in The Peacegiver 

The Peacegiver starts by describing the thoughts of an LDS man in a marriage that is falling apart. If anyone knows Terry Warner’s writing, you’ll know what I mean in describing this man as “in the box” of self-deception and self-justication, trying to patiently endure all the hurtful things that his wife says and does. Then, in Chapter 3 the man has a dream or vision of some sort where he’s talking to his dead grandpa. Around Chapter 4 of the book, Grandpa takes the enduring husband on “A Christmas Carol” type tour of the plains of Carmel, where the events of 1 Sam 25 begin to unfold (the story of how Abigail deflates a potential conflict between David and his army and her husband, Nabal, by offering David and his men a gift, without her husband knowing). I haven’t seen how this all plays out in the book, but what is interesting is how Grandpa helps the struggling husband link his own feelings of hurt and resentment to those of David’s soldiers toward Nabal. 

Applying scripture to ourselves? 

Listening to these chapters of the book has been a very moving experience for me, for many reasons I think.  However, although I think it’d be very interesting to discuss the specific issues of grace, forgiveness, resentment, etc. at play in these chapters, I’d rather focus on the meta-issue of how we might think about applying the scriptures in our personal lives. I think The Peacegiver represents a very effective example of the kind of “personal application” that we so often (always?) strive for in Sunday school class, but, as has been discussed before on this blog, I think there are certain dangers in making this kind of personal application the (only) goal of our scripture study.

For example, notice that in describing what I wanted to focus on in this thread, I said I did not want to focus on certain “issues”—though I might’ve said “gospel principles.” This approach has been described before as a 3-step process: read the text, extract the gospel principles, then apply those principles to our personal lives. My concern (others have also expressed this concern, Joe Spencer in particular) is that the focus seems to be on the meta-principles more than the text of scripture itself. In fact, oftentimes the text becomes rather incidental, merely a means (and a somewhat awkward means, it seems at times) to an end, where the end is the underlying gospel principles. On this view, it seems we might improve the scriptures by writing them in a textbook format, where a gospel principle is explained, and then certain stories are given as illustrations of that principle.  I’m not comfortable with this view of scripture, but I think this is in fact how we typically think about scripture.

As a critique of this view, we might think of The Peacegiver‘s effectiveness being the way in which it collapses the middle step of the 3-step process described above. Rather than simply thinking in terms of gospel principles, The Peacegiver helps us identify more intimately with the characters and context in the scriptural story itself. I think this would be a step in the right direction, but I think this view still misses something important that we can and should be getting out of scripture study. I say this, but I can’t really justify this claim—it’s more of a vague hunch I have, not something I can justify or articulate clearly. I’m hoping some discussion here will help me figure out these these conflicting thoughts and intuitions better.

Similarly, we we might think about General Conference talks in this way: why read scripture at all when we can simply read more-relevant-for-us material in the Ensign?

Applying ourselves to scripture? 

I like how Joe (I think) put this before: rather than applying the scriptures to us we should apply ourselves to scripture. I think this subtle shift in emphasis can help us stay focused on the scriptural text itself. This way of thinking might also help us understand the benefit of digging into difficult scriptural texts: it is not so much the answers per se that we find in scripture which are so valuable, but the process itself (I tried to make this point somewhat in the comments of the previous post). We might think of an analogy in terms of assignments we receive in school: even if there are papers in existence that discuss the thesis we are writing about better than the way we write about it, the process of writing the paper (rather than plagiarizing an existing paper) makes us better.  (I tend to think of blogging in this way: I don’t think I’m writing anything particularly new or profound, but I think I benefit a lot in writing these posts, and hopefully others benefit because of the more interactive nature of a blog—that is, I think the community aspect of blogging offers something important that books do not…). It is not the sacrifice per se that God desires, but the change in us that the sacrifice causes.  Although I think these are valid and interesting ways to think about scripture, somehow this approach still does not seem completely satisfying to me (perhaps for the same reason my students don’t laugh to hard when, after I explain something poorly, I jokingly tell them they will learn the material better if they have to struggle through trying to understand an obtuse explanation rather than a very clear explanation which basically spoon-feeds them the concepts…).

Another way to think of this (Joe’s) notion of “applying ourselves to scripture” might be in terms of “creation theology” (I recently read an essay by Oswald Bayer who used this term which I’m appropriating, though he meant something loosely related; I’m also plagiarizing some of Adam Miller’s thoughts from the Reading Abraham Seminar, and a forthcoming FARMS paper by Jim F. on “Apocalyptic Theology,” and Joe’s many comments about typology…), where we let God’s Word (re-)create our lives. That is, as we apply ourselves to studying God’s word, our lives become recreated or reinterpreted as we begin to “absorb” the words of scripture into our way of thinking and experiencing the world. So, for example, as we study about Adam and Eve, we begin to think of our own lives in terms of what Adam and Eve go through (separation, obedience and disobedience, sacrifice, atonement, etc.) . The words, events, and types and scripture thus become the words, events, and types that we use to think about and experience the world.

Here’s another, perhaps simpler, way to illustrate what I have in mind: Oftentimes, the 12-13 year old boys in my Sunday school class will say “oh, yeah, that reminds me of a Simpsons episode where….” I once responded by telling them that if they would read the scriptures more, they would start saying more often, perhaps even while watching the Simpsons, “oh yeah, that reminds me of a scriptural episode when….” Again, the more we study the scriptures, the more our lives can become recreated/reinterpreted as we begin to view and interpret things in scriptural terms.

But I don’t think is a completely satisfacotry answer either, though I hope my thoughts are not just a waste of your time reading. What are your thoughts on these issues? What are your thoughts on my thoughts on these issues? In what ways is it helpful vs. harmful to think about the scriptures as the ultimate “self-help” book (scare quotes b/c I think the self part of self-help is a misnomer since I think anything truly useful will be closely tied to thinking in terms of grace that we can receive from God and others, at least this is what I like in Arbinger’s “self-help” books…)?  How do you apply scripture to yourself (or yourselves in a community), or yourself(/selves) to scripture? 

35 Responses to “Abigail the Peacegiver: Scripture, Personal Application and “Self-Help””

  1. Floyd the Wonderdog said

    While giving a talk about scripture study, I said that scripture study without application is like faith without works. Little did I know that a Baptist had come to church that day with his LDS sister. He came up after the talk and said that that was the clearest, most meaningful analogy between faith and works that he had ever heard. He left knowing that works is essential. Scriptural application is essential also.

    The scriptures can become a manual to help us become more Christlike, if we take the time to apply what we learn in our lives. Our goal is not to become scripture scholars able to argue nuances between esoteric verb forms, but to become like Father and Christ.

  2. Jessawhy said

    My husband and I just finished the Peacegiver. We substituted it for our typical scripture reading (a few verses w/ the other falling asleep) and had great conversations and interesting insights.
    My favorite part of the book is the story of Abigail. Warner describes her in detail as a type of Christ and explains how she takes Nabal’s sins upon herself and encourages David not to sin in his anger toward Nabal.
    Here in AZ, there have been several Stake presidents who have asked the adults in their stake to read this book. It is a very good story to describe the reality of the atonement and how we can be free from the bonds of change, even when we are “victims” of other’s injury.
    I highly recommend the book and find the scriptural accounts of Abigail and Jonah very applicable to my life in a way that I had not found before.

  3. I suppose that what concerns me the most about “application” (against which I have been, on this blog, somewhat vocal) is that it introduces into what we can broadly call the “gospel” a (perhaps several) distinction(s) that leads inevitably to some major difficulties. Another way to put this is perhaps that “application” seems to me to be driven by several unwarranted (ultimately unjustifiable, as far as I am concerned) presuppositions that, when brought together and thought rigorously, “require” us to accept some conclusions that are quite obviously at odds with the basic nature of our faith. Ultimately, this is what I tried to work out in the other post (to which Robert linked above).

    But I’d like to think about these issues afresh. And I’d like to do so when I’ve been refreshed by a good night’s sleep. :)

  4. m&m said

    Joe,
    I know you have issues with the application approach (I still can’t quite get my mind around why), but I have a hard time thinking it’s all that bad if our leaders are fine with it, talk about it, preach it and allow it in our manuals. :)

  5. John said

    I believe the sticking point is the word itself. From one perspective, “application” evokes distinctions, requirements, and conclusions that ultimately have nothing to do with faith. It seems to me that these difficulties arise primarily from a overly rigid interpretation of the process of applying principles, whereas on the other hand, the layman rarely applies such rigorous methodology to application as a goal in and of itself.

    In my mind, application is another way of saying “try it and see” akin to the instruction given in Alma 32:28.

    This interpretation leads me to think that Joe and (presumably) others are concerned about application that fails to “prove” the truthfulness of the gospel, not because the gospel is not true but because the “experiment” was insufficient, selfishly motivated, or badly executed. But to the layman, application is an inherent part of the process of “working out” (note: NOT working for) our salvation, learning through trial and error what works and what doesn’t. It is the inevitable fruit of a budding and active faith.

  6. m&m said

    To me, application also means what the Spirit has helped a scripture mean to me. The very fact that the Spirit can have the same scripture mean different things for me at different times strengthens my faith.

    John, I am still feeling rather thick about this, but I appreciate you trying to explain a bit. :)

  7. Robert C. said

    Thanks everyone for these comments. A couple more quick thoughts:

    I’m more and more inclined to think that it’s not personal application per se that is dangerous, but that the lurking danger is that oftentimes in focusing on application we only casually look at the scriptural text and then spend all of our effort trying to apply principles that we already knew (or thought we knew before looking at the text)–and so we end up not really learning anything from the scriptural text.

    I’ve listened to a few more chapters of The Peacegiver and I think it illustrates this quite well. Rick, the struggling husband, in his continued conversation with his grandpa, keeps jumping to conclusions about what the Abigail story means. But Rick’s not really reading (or “watching”) the story very carefully, and keeps skipping over the most important and applicable parts of the story, not really seeing their import or meaning. So Grandpa keeps stopping him, telling him to think more carefully about what’s going on in the story. It is this stopping and looking again, reconsidering the scriptural passage that I think is most important and is often skipped over when we race to talking about how we might apply the scripture without every really listening or looking at what the scripture has to say. For Rick, the part he keeps missing is how Abigail is asking David to accept her gift, not for her benefit, but for his (David’s) benefit (see 1 Sam 25:31). Rick’s problem in The Peacegiver is that he doesn’t realize that he is like David and that he needs to forgive his wife, like David needed to forgive Nabal—not that Nabal or Naomi needed the blessings of forgiveness, but David needed the blessings of forgiveness.

    So, in this sense, I think thoughtful and careful attention to scripture plays the role of Grandpa in the story. If we rush to trying to apply scripture without really spending some time to think long and hard about the text and meaning of the scriptural text itself, we are apt to stay stuck in our old ways of thinking and living.

  8. m&m said

    Robert,
    OK, I’m starting to get it. Thanks for bringing that into view for me using the book. I think I agree. :)

  9. I started to respond to this discussion last night, but was called off to daddy duties, so here we go again.

    Let me first of all be quite clear that I do not think that there is anything ultimately wrong (in a moral sense) or evil about “application.” Rather, I simply think that in the end it necessarily frustrates itself, and thus it leads to confusion or misunderstanding or pride or depression, etc. And let me be quite clear that these consequences are not to be taken as negative in a moral sense, but negative in a logical (Hegelian) sense: they function as aporetic moments in which the voice of the calling Christ can be heard most strongly. That is, the experience of failure opens a fissure (in our systematic program of self-perfection) through which issues forth the Word. That call–THE call–does not give us specific tasks, but calls us into a new life, and it is a new life that is entirely unapplicable to the world of everyday life: Paul calls the Christian life scandalous, a contradiction, foolishness, non-being, etc. In short, we cannot dwell in the world any longer (on earth, yes, and among others, yes, but not in the world! Never in the world!).

    But I haven’t yet touched on the scriptures. The above paragraph might be read to suggest that we are to study the scriptures and to apply them to ourselves precisely so that when our interpretations fail we can be caught up in grace to some kind of realm beyond them. But that is not my point at all. I think that the new life in Christ, to which we are called, is precisely a scriptural life: if there is any task we are called to take up in the new life we have in Christ, it is textual. That sounds logocentric to say the least, but let me see if I can’t make some sense of what I’m saying here.

    I understand the plan of salvation (if you will) to be quite simple: creation, fall, atonement, veil. (I’ve been teaching this little pattern for years, and only a few weeks ago I finally read Margaret Barker’s summary Temple Theology: An Introduction, and she divides “temple theology” into the same fourfold pattern, with almost identical titles: creation, covenant (by which she means the disruption of the covenant), atonement, wisdom (what is known beyond the veil). I have to admit that she caught me off my guard with that!) On such a model (and this model underlies almost every Book of Mormon discussion of the broader plan… especially as regards the temple), the plan revolves primarily around the veil as it divides the cosmos into two parts (heaven and earth). Joseph Smith seems almost exclusively to have understood the cosmos to be split in this manner, divided up between the heavens and the earth. (His incredibly rich theology of the veil needs still to be investigated… which I’m hoping to work out myself in a four-volume series of books.) In the heavens, Joseph places the council of the gods/angels (this follows, of course, the biblical precendents), and the whole family of Adam and Eve he places on earth. The plan amounts focuses primarily on the atonement: the creation and fall essentially set up the situation, while the crossing of the veil is brings the “plan” to an end. In the atonement part of the plan, then, Joseph’s rich angelology opens up: messengers are sent down to teach the children of Adam and Eve all they need to know to cross the veil back into the council of the heavens. As is clear in Alma 12-13, what those angels bring is a series of commandments and associated penalties (we could call these, then, covenants), which are given along with orders of the priesthood. And the priesthood, throughout Joseph’s writings, is a question of sealing heaven and earth up together (of parting the veil, that is).

    This delineation of the plan is absolutely vital, because it makes the priesthood (and if I am allowed to do so, let me think the priesthood in temple terms here, so that it need not be a question of the brethren only) a question of writing. D&C 128 is perhaps the primary source on this, but it is worth taking a careful look at a number of other texts (Moses 6; Malachi 3-4; Revelation 4-5, 20; D&C 85; 107; 127; 132; etc.). This is what Joseph calls “a bold doctrine we speak of,” the power to write something on earth in a way that it becomes a law on earth and in heaven. The model the first verses of D&C 128 give is fascinating: in interpreting Revelation 20, Joseph Smith suggests that the opening of a single book on the one hand and many “other books” on the other hand at the final judgment is to be understood as the correspondence between the books kept on earth and the book kept in heaven, which are to be set in order precisely in and through the judgment event. The event is placed, in Joseph’s “Before 8 August 1839″ discourse, at Adam-Ondi-Ahman, which beautifully works out the correspondence between D&C 85, 107, and 128, making this reconciling of texts a question of priesthood keys (and here we can bring in section 27 as well). In a word: the priesthood is, in the LDS scriptures at least, but according to a profound hermeneutic that takes up the traditional Bible, tied directly to questions of textuality, and most specifically to questions of binding texts on earth to texts in heaven. The richness of these ideas overwhelms me.

    But what has all of this to do with what we’re discussing here? Well, for one, it would be very difficult to come to anything like an understanding of these questions if all we do when we read the scriptures is “apply them to our everyday lives.” That is, if our concern in reading the scriptures is primarily ourselves, then we can hardly be called out of our lives and into the gospel we have receives (“What do we hear in the gospel we have received?”). But besides this basic point, this theme suggests to me that we have to think very carefully about texts, that we should be very hesitant to assume that they are simply helps for our daily troubles. The texts that are offered to us seem to me to outstrip my simplistic concerns, to overthrow my pathetic life, to call into question my desires for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (what right have I to these if the very Christ can shout “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” from the cross?). But the wonder of this is that they precisely thereby call me into something far more profound, something far more meaningful, and something much, much more eternal.

    I hope this makes sense. Now, let me finish weakly by connecting this up with a couple of specifics. As for the Peacegiver, I confess that I am not entirely sympathetic to the spirit of it, at least as I’m told of it. I have not read it, so I would rather withold judgment, but I must confess that it seems to me to be too focused on the concerns of this world (Robert’s words on it here have made me begin to think otherwise, but I need more convincing). As for m&m’s concern that because the Brethren have condoned personal application of the scriptures, let me say again that I don’t think application is at all evil, just that it is ultimately impossible. Every time I read something by the Brethren, I have to remind myself that they speak to 12 million, not to a few thousand. At the same time, I highly recommend Hugh Nibley’s article “Criticizing the Brethren” (don’t anyone judge that paper by its title, by the way: you must read it before you have anything to say about what I’m advocating here). While I’m listing cross-references, let me suggest three others that think about some of these questions I’ve raised, but only on the outskirts, really, of what I’m trying to think here: Hugh Nibley’s “Genesis of the Written Word” is interesting; more to the point, but seeing these questions as it were through a glass darkly, are Terryl Givens’ paper from the Worlds of Joseph Smith conference (I don’t remember its title right now) and Richard Bushman’s “The ‘Little Narrow Prison’ of Language.”

    Anyway, I do hope this clarifies things.

  10. John said

    My New Recipe

    I didn’t have potatoes,
    so I substituted rice.
    Didn’t have paprika,
    so I used another spice.
    I didn’t have tomato sauce,
    so I used tomato paste.
    A whole can not a half can –
    I don’t believe in waste.

    My friend gave me the recipe –
    she said you couldn’t beat it.
    There must be something wrong with her,
    I couldn’t even eat it.

  11. John said

    Michelle (m&m, #6) I have a confession to make. I wasn’t trying to explain anything. I was trying to defend myself.

    Robert knows what he’s talking about, because he’s experienced (I think, at least in part) the “anti-application” paradigm shift. Therefore, he is the teacher here, and I am your fellow student. I am uncomfortable with this viewpoint, and grossly unfamiliar with the source material upon which it is based.

    From what Joe writes, I believe I’m still in the “THE call” stage. God (or Jesus) is calling to me, and I’m trying to steer my course in the general direction of that call. I believe everything the scriptures have to tell me about living a pure life in constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. I firmly believe in prayer, and know that God has a purpose for my life. I believe in sacrifice, hard work, and strive for righteous motives in thought and in deed.

    I understand and interpret scripture through the “reading glasses” of my experience, which truthfully has been profound but is understandably incomplete.

    Conversely, I also understand and interpret my experience through scripture. I corroborate my experience with that of the prophets and apostles; the similarities are faith-promoting and enlightening. Because of this mutually held experience, I can extend my faith to the parts of their experience that I do not share or fully understand.

    Like foreign food, the “recipes” of behavior located in scripture are replete with ingredients that many of us do not readily have on hand. If we substitute what is available to us, the recipe fails to replicate the native dish and the product is often deplorable. I like to make bread and over the years I have learned to produce a highly edible loaf, but had I judged my ability on my first attempt, I would have quit a long time ago.

    It seems to me that we all apply the scriptures quite naturally to our individual pursuits of (eternal) life, liberty, and happiness; it’s impossible to avoid doing so, given the immediate and straightforward way in which the Biblical advice appears. I will be ever anxious to apply the words of Christ to my daily walk.

    I hesitate to agree with the idea that the written canon is anything more than revelation for a human audience. The “sealing” power of the written word, if any exists, cannot and will not paint God into a corner.

  12. m&m said

    OK, John. I think I feel more lost than ever. Conversations like this make my head spin. :)

  13. Let me be quite clear that where “application” means following a commandment that is issued in the scriptures in all clarity, I am completely fine with “application.” For instance, if a verse says that “all men, everywhere, must repent and be baptized,” then “application” of that verse is a wonderful thing. I’m not sure it’s appropriate to call this “application” in any real sense, but if that is what anyone means by “application,” I have no qualms about its being done.

    Over against this is the “application” I’m calling into question. This kind of “application” is how we take a scripture that does not immediately or obviously speak to us. I’m pretty convinced that this is what we mean almost always when we say “application” (“How do we apply this to our everyday lives?” usually implies that it is not obvious in any way how this scripture is supposed to mean anything to us). What I am calling into question is the process of taking something from the scriptures that is/was not written to us, is/was historically distant from us, is/was filled with foreign imagery, is/was located in the Old Testament, etc., and bringing it into “our everyday lives.”

    In short, responding to the scriptures is wonderful. Applying them, I’m not so sure about.

  14. m&m said

    And although I don’t think we should stop at application (clearly the texts themselves have meaning and value to teach, not simply just to apply), I am calling into question your calling into question something that the prophets encourage and practice themselves. :) [I know I probably am getting repetitious here, but the discomfort I feel is pretty intense.]

    So, either I really don’t understand what you are trying to say (very possible!) or I simply (and strongly) disagree with you. I have had too many experiences where the Spirit has brought ancient scripture to life for my life, and felt the goodness of that “application” to somehow change my viewpoint and say that doesn’t matter or shouldn’t be (or can’t be?). Again, I don’t argue against other meanings and value in the scriptures as well (!!!), but if you are truly trying to strip the application value of the scriptures, I think you are doing a great disservice to the scriptures and missing part of their value and purpose. To call something “impossible” that we are in fact, encouraged to do by our leaders and by our curriculum (which is overseen by our leaders) (again, not as the only way to treat the scriptures but as one way) makes it hard for me to consider what you have to say (and I’m sure there are things I can learn from what you have to say!)

    And maybe it’s just another case of me misunderstanding you completely. And I’m very sorry if that is what is happening. Perhaps I’m better off not commenting at all when I am not understanding? ;)

  15. m&m said

    A quote that I think is relevant:

    If we harden our hearts, reject continuing revelation, and limit our learning to what we can obtain by study and reason on the precise language of the present canon of scriptures, our understanding will be limited to what Alma called “the lesser portion of the word” (Alma 12:11). If we seek and accept revelation and inspiration to enlarge our understanding of the scriptures, we will realize a fulfillment of Nephi’s inspired promise that those who diligently seek will have “the mysteries of God … unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost” (1 Ne. 10:19)…. [I am sure no one disagrees with the need for the Spirit in understanding scripture.]

    The idea that scripture reading can lead to inspiration and revelation opens the door to the truth that a scripture is not limited to what it meant when it was written but may also include what that scripture means to a reader today. [Sounds like application to me. :) ] Even more, scripture reading may also lead to current revelation on whatever else the Lord wishes to communicate to the reader at that time. We do not overstate the point when we say that the scriptures can be a Urim and Thummim to assist each of us to receive personal revelation.

    Because we believe that scripture reading can help us receive revelation, we are encouraged to read the scriptures again and again. By this means, we obtain access to what our Heavenly Father would have us know and do in our personal lives today. That is one reason Latter-day Saints believe in daily scripture study. [Cleary there can be other reasons, but personal application/revelation is clearly one of them...and this is the kind of application that I am most passionate about...that which comes through the Spirit, not necessarily through simplistic logic or individualistic, Spirit-less extrapolation.]

    Similarly, what a scripture in the Book of Mormon meant to me when I first read it at age sixteen is not conclusive upon me as I read it at age sixty. With the benefit of my life’s experiences and with my greater familiarity with revelation, I can learn things that were not available to me yesterday by reading the scriptures today.

    Another reason for repeated reading of the scriptures is that many of the prophecies and doctrinal passages in the scriptures have multiple meanings.

    Dallin H. Oaks, “Scripture Reading and Revelation,” Ensign, Jan 1995, 7

    And maybe this is all agreed, and so we simply are approaching different definitions of application. :)

  16. m&m said

    p.s. Joe, let me say that in no way do I mean to diminish what scripture meaning means to YOU. It’s clear you have a deep love for the scriptures and they have come to mean something that perhaps is even difficult to describe. I just think that very often what feels right and good for one isn’t necessarily what will be right for others. God works with us where we are and how we best learn, and our personal experiences with the scriptures can’t always be generalized. I think the most important principle about reading the scriptures is that we do so with the Spirit. As such, I think the Spirit can impart various meanings to us, as well as give us meaning and insight and guidance that goes beyond the written word (as a Urim and Thummim). That can mean personal application as well as learning that is more general and transcendant as well. The Spirit is the key in any meaning, not necessarily the “method.”

  17. m&m said

    p.s.s. sorry if i’m being a pill.

  18. The more I look at this, Michelle, the more I’m convinced that the distance between our thinking here is primarily a question of presuppositions, rather than a question of conclusions. I tend to agree with all of you conclusions, but I’m uncomfortable, usually, with how you get to them. I imagine that something similar is the case as you read my thoughts (or maybe the opposite?).

    That said, let me put things this way: I agree that the Spirit can communicate to us through our reading of the scriptures things that are not “universally true” as regards that scripture (some kind of a personal meaning, I guess), but I think we ought to recognize, and in all rigor, that any such communication is ultimately not a question of the text, that the text was a help, but that the communication is not a textual interpretation. In short, what the Spirit communicates to us while reading the scripture does not ultimately amount to a “personal meaning of that particular scripture,” but to a direct communication from God, issued while we were obediently studying the scriptures (obedience disrupted?). Regardless of any personal spiritual experience or communication we have while reading the scriptures, I am (I believe) still bound to the text as it is (and not as it may be recast by the Spirit in a personal experience). The study of any particular text will still require me to bury myself in all study and all faith to arrive at the strict meaning (not the scholastic and not the anti-intellectualist meaning, but the “true” meaning) of the text.

    But again, a personal communication from the Spirit that picks up the language of a particular verse in order to speak through me is not what I would call “application.” Obeying the word of the Spirit to me is not application, but obedience. And I am obeying the Spirit, not applying the scriptures. What I am speaking of with regard to “application” is the movement that slights the meaning of the scriptures in order to turn a text into something we can do right here and right now. It amounts, I believe, to a disregard for the scriptures, not a careful attendance upon them. This is hardly a kind of scientific approach to the scriptures: not at all! I think real, rigorous, faithful, studious reading of the scriptures requires more of the Spirit than the scholar can call upon, and more inventiveness and creativity than any scientific approach would demand. To interpret is to take up the historical, but to go far beyond that. It is to employs linguistic tools, but to outstrip them by far. It is systematic, but more and less than that as well. In short, to study with all our heart, might, mind, and strength is far more than some kind of cold, calculated study: it is communion, it is the difficult work of the master artist, the careful, frustrating, exhilirating, exhausting work of sorting out the transcendant in a very real engagement with an Other who outstrips me.

    In a word, I am not calling for a less personal engagement, but a super-personal engagement of the scriptures, one that allows me as a person to have my very personhood called into question by the Person who speaks in the text. If I approach the scriptures by seeking to apply them to my life, I reject that Person in favor of my own person, which seems to me a very selfish act. Do the prophets promote this kind of study? At times I’ve heard things that might suggest such, but I’m not convinced they do; not at all. They seem to me to be pleading with the majority of the Church (which perhaps does not really ever read the scriptures in any engaging way, personal or otherwise) simply to take up the scriptures and to read them at all! The words of the Brethren to the whole Church function as a lower limit, not an upper one: they tell us what we must at least be doing, but they hardly tell us where we should stop, nor do they tell us that the lower limit is necessarily the desirable way to do things. I believe the Brethren are pleading with us to get started, but I’m not at all convinced that they want us to stay at that starting point.

    This is not to slight any experience you (Michelle) have had. The more I read of your comments, the more I think you do not do what I am here calling “application.” You are too thoughtful and too serious, and though someone might call what you do “application,” it is not the subject I’ve been trying to think about here. I can’t picture you slighting the meaning of the scriptures in order to get away from the radical message they preach (which is ultimately what I think is behind “application”).

    I hope this helps. Thanks for “being a pill.” We certainly need more pills (thinking, honest, dedicated souls) in the Church.

  19. m&m said

    Joe, thanks for taking the time to respond. I am starting to wonder if we might just be destined to talk past each other, but in an attempt to help you understand my responses a bit, here is a bit more pillage.

    but that the communication is not a textual interpretation.

    OK. Point #1 where I scratch my head. This seems potentially secondary to me. Communication from God is communication from God whether it comes through textual interpretation (Elder Oaks seems to suggest this may be secondary) or through the Spirit as a result of me engaging in the text, in the Spirit. I’m not necessarily arguing for holding to personal application as “textual interpretation” (what’s the point?) but the more I think about and study this, the less I think that matters. I could be wrong, but that is where I am right now. What seems to matter most is the experiences we have with the Spirit. I really don’t think there is “one right way” to read or understand or benefit from scriptures (and am becoming more convinced of that, although I’m still trying to understand). Do you think there is One Right/Best Way?

    If I approach the scriptures by seeking to apply them to my life, I reject that Person in favor of my own person, which seems to me a very selfish act.

    I think this is a key point on which we disagree, or where I may not understand you. If the Spirit teaches me something applicable to my life, then it is usually something that brings me closer to God, not causing me to reject Him. The Spirit connects me with God, doesn’t cause me to reject Him. It’s all intertwined in my mind. We come to know God by becoming like Him and we become like Him through that combination of faith/grace and works. I think a key reason why application is a focus is because the whole purpose of the gospel is to bring us to Christ, to help us become (channeling Elder Oaks again from his talk on becoming). You talk a lot of community, but I think that is the result of becoming, not necessarily a goal in an of itself (which is how I hear you framing it all). (If we become like Christ, we become His, part of His “community” and the Church of the Firstborn. We can’t just read or commune our way to that state…we have to become, in the midst of the mundane, and that is where I think “application” becomes so powerfully important.) So, IMO, reading/pondering/applying/communing can all help toward that end. I really don’t understand what you think is cold and calculating about that at all. I agree that communion is a goal, but I don’t see how getting “personal application” cannot be involved in that process.

    Do the prophets promote this kind of study?

    I saw “personal application” written all over Elder Oaks’ counsel in the quote I included. And I didn’t see his words as lower level, either. I saw lots of potential for amazing, transcendent experiences for those who are at a point of openness and spiritual connection with heaven. How to get personal revelation is fundamental to our spiritual growth, not just lower-level, checking-reading-off-a-list kind of counsel. I also see them taking this approach in their own teaching…using scriptures to illustrate personal-application kind of counsel. (And, again, I found at least four quotes from apostles on likening scriptures in the classic way, so I would argue that they do promote this kind of study…not as a be-all-end-all approach necessarily, but certainly as a significant purpose of scripture study).

    The words of the Brethren to the whole Church function as a lower limit, not an upper one: they tell us what we must at least be doing, but they hardly tell us where we should stop, nor do they tell us that the lower limit is necessarily the desirable way to do things.

    Another key point at which I think we might disagree and part of what spurs me to want to respond. I see the words of prophets as scripture in and of themselves. As such, they have multiple layers of meaning and effect. I have found that the more I cling to their words, the more the Spirit can teach me as I seek to “go and do” and as I try to internalize their words of counsel and testimony. Some of this effect is direct application “go and do” tied explicitly to their words; other effects aree more as the Spirit communicates and reinforces truth and guidance (even communion) in a more general way. Either way, I feel very strongly that their words can apply to all, not just as a lower limit. (Think of if we approached the BoM that way: ”
    “Well, they were writing for generations to come, so it’s all pretty general teaching.” You know as well as I do that there is much, much more than lower level teaching in the words of those prophets; why would it be any different with our leaders? [I’m not disputing that they can’t delve into details, but I still have had too many experiences of seeing the layers in their teachings and experiencing the power of their words to accept the idea that I could dismiss their words as “lower level”). In short, I think we may miss something if we simply look at what they say as “lower limit” that can be put aside for, say, (ahem) Hugh Nibley. :) I find deep richness and layers of truth in what they say and teach and direct us towards, and the Spirit can push us beyond what we think is “lower limit” as we engage in their words and counsel. That’s part of what you see me responding to. I experience their words like you talk about experiencing the scriptures. They are more to me than just bare minimum teachings to be left aside for more advanced stuff. They are, IMO, no different than the prophets who gave us the scriptures and their words deserve the same kind of engagement as the scriptures, IMO. In fact, some leaders (including Joseph and Brigham) would say their words are more important than the ancient scriptures! (I know I repeated myself, but I’m tired and headachy so I’m gonna move on…apologies).

    Let me make it clear, too, that I never meant to imply that leaders say we should stop anywhere short of seeking the Savior, and you and I both know what the scripture say about that and what that can mean. :) So, again, you are clearly finding deep significance in your journey and study, and that is fantastic. But to suggest (as I feel you are doing…correct me if I’m wrong, as well I could be) that your approach, your journey/method, is what we all should be striving for, just doesn’t seem quite right to me, as I think each person’s experience with the scriptures and the Spirit will vary greatly. It’s

    This is not to slight any experience you (Michelle) have had. The more I read of your comments, the more I think you do not do what I am here calling “application.”

    Thank you for those kind words. And as I said, I don’t want to slight any experiences you have had, either. Let me say, though, that my concern is not merely about my own experience (or yours). My concerns are more general. I think we ought to rejoice in wherever people are in their spiritual development, including if they are still trying to get a habit of reading the scriptures, or if “all they do” is application. I think we also may talk past each other because you may be addressing your thoughts to a narrow segment of people here (and I may not fit the mold of people who can understand what you are driving at — I’m trying to refrain from negative self-talk here given what I heard in Conference. :) ). My responses, however, are of a more general nature, thinking about teaching in the church and how it is done and encouraged. My own personal take on teaching in the Church is that if we try to prescribe “one right way” or “best way” to engage with the scriptures, we might not be respecting the fact that people are at various “levels” in their personal spiritual and scriptural development. It’s also hard to tell someone how to experience the Spirit. This isn’t a race between people, and sometimes I feel as I read your comments like it is a race, and I’m losing because I may not see things as you do. I don’t think it should be that way. And, so my concern regarding teaching is that I think the focus should be less on method per se and more on helping people feel the Spirit and excitement and power of the scriptures and letting the Spirit help each person “do a little better” wherever they may be (to channel Pres. Hinckley). It’s all a very personal process — and very much a process.

    And now I will get off my soapbox. Joe, you are a patient soul to even consider my thoughts. Thanks.

  20. John said

    Is it me, or did Conference elapse in great haste? It seemed to be over before it had fully begun. I took very few notes this time around. Instead I focused on how the scriptures were used. As you may know, I spent several weeks in February and March on a Wiki project–citing scriptural references in the October 2006 conference. As a result, the Wiki has a few more external references, and I listen to conference differently than I did 6 months ago.

    During the project, I was surprised at the number of scriptural references provided for talks in which the speaker doesn’t specifically refer to a scripture, but uses a scriptural phrase, such as “living water,” “come unto Christ,” or “charity never faileth.” Many of the general authorities quote scripture casually as a figure of speech, preferring to let the text stand on its own merit. There’s a name for this: psychologists refer to it as a schema, a mental structure that represents some aspect of the world. The danger is twofold: by disassociating it from the context, the text loses its original meaning, then through association from years of repetition, the original reading becomes imbued with additional or even an alternative meaning.

    Not surprisingly, the vast majority of speakers use scripture to support the thesis of their presentation. Unfortunately, like those who use scripture as figure of speech, very few do more than quote the text — no exposition, and little or no introduction or explanation.

    Very few conference speakers elaborate on scripture, even by adding their own interpretation or reading. Two examples stand out from the current conference. First, Jeffrey R. Holland (The Unbridled Tongue) — Sirach 28:17, “The stroke of the whip maketh marks in the flesh: but the stroke of the tongue breaketh the bones.” Second, Russell M. Nelson — an interpretation of the Greek word for repentance, metanoeo.

    Therefore, the work of bringing scripture to bear and using it for a specific purpose (according to one definition of “application”) is already done for us. Sadly, it is accomplished in such a way as to remove any need to search and understand for ourselves.

  21. John said

    Amen, m&m! (That’s quite a mouthful.)

  22. Robert C. said

    I really appreciate all of this discussion because I’ve indeed been thinking a lot about these issues in ways that are similar to Joe and m&m’s back and forth discussion. I think I’ll get a chance to meet Joe for lunch tomorrow and I’m going to see if I can’t understand what he’s getting at more, since I think I have many questions that m&m has expressed (I’m claiming many of her questions as my own b/c I like them and they represent generally where I’m coming from, not that I could’ve come up with these questions and points myself!).

    John #20: Don’t we see Christ doing the same thing over and over again in the New Testament (quotation of scripture without a lot of historical basis)? This is a question I’d like to think a lot more about. For now this makes me a bit more inclined toward the “personal application” side of the spectrum—although I think this bifurcation is outliving its usefulness. Actually, I’m inclined to see the difference between the viewpoints of Joe and m&m as mostly semantic following from this rather artificial bifurcation I’ve put forth, though I do think there is probably a substantive difference at base, I just don’t think it’s as dramatic as it is coming across (not to say it’s not important…). There’s a lot that I mean here, so I’d like to elaborate on this later (I hope to do a follow-up post, perhaps tying in other parts from The Peacegiver), but for now I think one helpful way to think about this is perhaps as follows:

    When we talk about applying the scriptures to our lives, we usually think and say—as I have just done—our lives. I’m not sure if Joe is getting at quite the same thing, but I’ve been thinking about scripture in terms of pulling us out or beyond our lives. I know this may seem like only a gimmicky way to think about this (similar to what I mentioned in the post itself), but I think the difference is indeed very important, and something I keep coming back to: the danger of applying the scripture to our lives is that in doing so we may miss the mightiness of the change of heart that we can and should undergo when we read scripture (and, perhaps, each time we read scripture). That is, we shouldn’t just think, “oh, I need to change such and such behavior,” rather, we need to study in such a way that we undergo a mighty transformation, our whole outlook on the world (our life and others’ lives) changes—we need to get so caught up in the text and the spirit of the text that our life and outlook on life is transformed. We might even say that our old life is forgotten and we begin a new life from our experience studying. This is one reason I don’t like the birfurcation I’ve set up, it’s not that application is bad for me, but that it is too limiting of a view.

    I’m not explaining myself very well (reflecting disorganized thinking, surely), and I need to run. I’ll try again another time….

  23. Michelle, let me respond in two comments. First, let me go back first to a concrete example of what I mean by “application,” since I’m convinced we are not thinking about the same thing when I “condemn” and you “support” application. In a second comment, I’ll respond to your response point by point.

    Let’s say I’m sitting in a seminary class that is studying D&C 101. We get to verse 20, “And, behold, there is none other place appointed than that which I have appointed; neither shall there be any other place appointed than that which I have appointed, for the work of the gathering of my saints,” and the teacher asks, “How can we apply this to our everyday lives?” Suddenly the kids around me come to life, thinking about how this verse could be applied to life. One rather thoughtful girl says, “If Zion is the pure in heart, then this verse says to me that the pure in heart will never be moved when Satan tempts them.” A young man preparing for a mission says, “God doesn’t change, which means that I can trust His word and be obedient to it without needing to question the rules/laws provided me.” Another youth says, “Only the celestial kingdom is the place we are headed for: the Celestial kingdom or bust!”

    This is what I am calling “application.” Everything these kids have said is probably true, and they are justified in taking it from this verse. I have no problem with any of these readings. But I am very concerned if all of these readings are taken as the more important, the more vital, or the more meaningful ways of taking the text… and especially as the most or only important or meaningful approach to the text. In the end, though I think all of these “applications” of the text to “everyday life” are helpful (and certainly true!) in some sense, I think they all fail to take the text quite seriously, precisely because they have sought to drag the text from the scriptures and into our “everyday lives.”

    Over against this, a literal, straightforward, perhaps “Best Way” of reading the text is to recognize that the Lord is saying something rather specific: Zion is and will always be located in Jackson County, Missouri. That will not change, as will not (apparently) the law of consecration that must be obeyed before anyone can safely go up to the land of Zion. But if Zion is not to be moved to some other place, then this text calls into question all of my comfort right now: I’m not fine, and all is not well in Zion, especially because we are not at all in Zion yet. Even more: if we are not there, then I have got to face the serious question why that is so. Are we outside of Zion because of our enemies, because of some Church policy, or because we are not yet worthy (and if this last, what do we need to change)?

    The distance between these two approaches to the scripture is vast. On the one hand, I’m drawing out principles that reinforce me where I am (I’ve applied the scriptures to my everyday life). On the other hand, I’m recognizing how the verse calls me out of my place (the scriptures call into question my everyday life). The former is what I’m calling “application” (and that question almost always introduces it: “How do we apply this to our everyday lives?”), the latter is something far more real. I have to confess that if we take the former approach, we will become better people (most likely), and that we will come closer to God. But I think we will miss the opportunity to hear God’s voice quite directly: He is calling us out of our lives in that very verse, inviting us to leave off the world we are comfortable in so as to come to Him now (not closer, but right into His presence). If there is a choice here between becoming closer to God and hearing God’s voice directly (to which I might respond), I would choose the latter in an instant.

    As I’ve expressed in another thread, I think the difficulty here is ultimately a question of grace and works. If I do the work of applying the scriptures to my everyday life, then I am trying to be saved by works. And I will get better, a little bit at a time. That is undeniable. But I don’t think we will ever get to God that way: eternal progression becomes eternally getting closer to God (which means we never get to Him). Over against this is salvation by grace, when God’s voice issues in the text (calling us to work, but working from an “already-saved” condition). The gift of His voice in the text calls me into His presence this very moment. Since this brings us right to God in this very moment, the eternities are recast: eternal progression becomes eternally progressing in the way God does, in glory and love, not in “perfection” or some other Greek category of virtue.

    Does this help? Like I say, Michelle, I’m not convinced that you do this kind of “application,” nor am I convinced that this is what you are condoning. The seriousness with which you approach the scriptures seems to me to suggest that you are listening for the voice of grace in the text (and in the words of the modern prophets).

    Now, this got a little longer than I expected, so I’ll have to respond point by point to your response a little later. But expect it.

  24. m&m said

    John,
    I have to say that I don’t agree with the lamentation you present. I actually find it thrilling that people can use the scriptures in their speech. I also don’t think that limits us as to our own personal searching and understanding. I don’t believe the scriptures are one-dimensional and we can engage them repeatedly (indeed, we are counseled to do so), so I’m not sure I get where you are coming from there.

    Robert,
    I have this bubbling urge to crash a lunch tomorrow. :)

    Joe,
    I think we may be getting to the point of agreeing to disagree, for a variety of reasons. One is that I don’t find the same transcendent meaning as you seem to in the textual meanings of things. Another is that I tend to think that engaging with the scriptures is a very personal thing, and I really don’t feel comfortable with anyone prescribing One Right Way to engage them. I fully respect what it means for you to engage and how it’s most meaningful for you, but just as personal revelation can’t be generalized, I think personal approach to scripture might very well also fall into that realm of non-generalizable methods.

    I also think the Spirit as a gift can call us into God’s presence, and that does not necessarily require a literal textual reading of the scriptures. In fact, as much as I like to understand the context, my own personal gifts and approaches make the historical/literal reading more difficult, and it’s usually in a different mode of reading and pondering that I feel my study can help me transcend a checklist of to-dos.

    I am not sure I agree with the whole grace vs. works thing either, just because I think it’s all necessary. And, again, I think perhaps the personal experiences with grace vs. works really are as varied as the people who experience the process. Again, this is not in any way meant to discount your own experiences, but I’m very hesitant to agree that you have hit on The Way. It’s just not gelling with me and even as I try to explain some of why, I am not sure I can fully explain it. It may also be that this medium is limited and I’m just not quite understanding what you are saying.

    One other thought: In a sense, I think both what you espouse and what you reject are necessary in our mortal journey. Since we can’t be reading the scriptures all of the time (being in that mode of “hearing God’s voice directly”) we also need guidance as to how to live in our mundane sphere of existence as close to God as we can. So again, I think there is room for both approaches. I think Elder Oaks probably supports your point of view in a way — a personal Urim and Thummim, personal revelation, etc. certainly gets beyond just a checklist of things to do better in life. But also, I think we need that day-to-day guidance as well. At least I do. It seems to me to be a sort of ongoing process that involves doing all that I can do. This of necessity involves more than just how to engage with scripture, since we can’t do that all day. I need also to know how to be more like the Savior and to benefit from His Atonement in all that I do, all day long. The scriptures can help us in all these aspects, and thus I think there should be room for all approaches that, in any way, bring us closer to Christ. I think it’s all necessary. At least it is for me. :)

  25. m&m said

    p.s. I also have to wonder if some of this can be about different spiritual gifts that people can have. I’ve seen some people connect strongly with the text itself and the history and context, and that is what brings rich meaning and Spirit to their lives and worship. For others, it’s more simple and personal and perhaps more distant from the texts (in a purist’s eyes). I really think (and/or want to believe) that God can bring us to Him according to our desires, efforts, gifts, abilities, experiences, etc — taking us wherever we are and helping us, accepting our hearts as we offer them in whatever way we are striving to do that.

  26. If we part ways on grace vs. works, we’ll have to agree to disagree: I am convinced, through and through, perhaps experientially but also scripturally, logically, spiritually, etc., that we are saved by grace and nothing else. Work is something we do only after (as a confirmation of or response to) grace/salvation.

    But anyway….

  27. Robert C. said

    Joe #26: I strongly agree that God’s grace comes “before” we are able to do any good works, and that our good works do not “earn” us salvation. However, I’m a bit more reluctant to say that salvation precedes works.

    I think this boils down to question about what is meant by “salvation.” If what is meant is a cleansing of sin through the Atonement, then I agree that this cleansing comes before any good works are possible. However, I’m not so convinced that this is what scripture always mean by salvation. (I cite a few scriptures connecting salvation and the “last day” here at our wiki discussion). I am sympathetic to a view that “last day” might be taken to be something that occurs when our sins are cleansed, or to a view that “salvation” when not modified by “last day” is typically referring to the saving that comes when our sins are being cleansed, but these are issues that make me hesitant to apply the Evangelical Christian use of the term “saved” to how we read LDS scripture (and I think our own scripture should dictate how we use these terms in our conversations, not the larger Christian understanding/usages of these terms, which is also why I’m typically a bit hesitant to adopt the term “trinity” in LDS-focused conversation rather than the term “Godhead” which has been used historically by Mormon church leaders—plus, “Godhead” is a term that is used in the KJV Bible whereas “trinity” is not…).

  28. Robert, I agree. I’m using “salvation” and “saved” here in Paul’s sense, not Nephi’s. Something of the theological history between Paul and Joseph Smith has, I imagine, something to do with the discontinuity at work there…?

  29. Well, my trip back to Washington from Utah was long, but just before we made the trip, I realized that my wife’s parents (who were driving) had a copy of The Peacegiver unabridged on CD, so I listened to the whole book on the way back to Washington. Without trying to stir up muddy waters again, let me say that in the end, I think the book fails precisely because it is too application-oriented. It may well help people improve their marriages, but it would be hard to convince me that it would help many to have eternal ones.

    Over against this, one line from Elder Holland: “Marriage is a joint quest for the true, the good, and the beautiful.” That will result in celestial marriages, and perhaps precisely because it is a call out of ourselves.

  30. m&m said

    I think the book fails

    Joe, why dismiss something as a failure that can help someone on their journey to get to where they need to be to accept whatever you see as the higher law and order of things. From personal experience in my own journey, I can say that different books, while incomplete, were exactly the stepping stone I needed to be able to get closer to more pure and celestial gospel principles (it’s a journey, not a destination for most people!) Is it a complete guide to celestial living? I don’t know that it ever pretended to be. I think that book has some really powerful insights about the Atonement and I think there was much that was “true, good and beautiful” in it. (I also saw it as showing how the Atonement can help us get out of ourselves.) I think it’s important to note, too, that the book ends where the true celestial marriage could begin because they had open, loving, forgiving, changed-through-the-Atonement hearts (which is a huge step in the right direction). For most people, that is a line-upon-line process, not an all-at-once momentous aha where they stay on a celestial plane from there on out. :) If application gets people to a point where they can then move to a more celestial way of living and thinking and being, we ought not to call it a failure. IMHO. :)

  31. Robert C. said

    I’m guessing, Joe, that you meant “failure” more in terms of “we can do better” than “this is worthless drivel.” At any rate, I’m glad you got to hear the book so we can refer to it in future discussions. Like I said before, I think the book represents a very good example of application of how most people think about it.

    Also, I’ve been thinking about how it seems there are many similarities in the approach of the book and most General Conference talks–would you agree? Inasmuch as you disagree, I think it’d be interesting to take up the General Conference talks that follow the approach you are advocating, and see where you think they are most successful. Inasmuch as I’m right, I think moving away from a personal-application mindset will be an uphill battle indeed (even though I’m largely in agreement with you; also, I think the difference is perhaps most obvious in how we deal with youth; perhaps it is because youth are “less tainted” by life experiences, so they are more open in digging into the text itself—that’s my sense anyway; also, I think there are interesting similiarities between this thought and the counsel “not sharing past transgressions,” somehow I think it’s generally better to turn completely from sin toward God rather than sitting around analyzing why it is we sin and what we can do to prevent sin and how it affects us etc. where the focus unwittingly ends up being on sin rather than God….)

  32. Robert reads me rightly here, m&m. I don’t mean “BAD, BAD, BAD!” but “I’m just not sure this really does the trick. I suppose that the distance between us on this point is precisely in this: “For most people, that is a line-upon-line process, not an all-at-once momentous aha where they stay on a celestial plane from there on out.” I am, I think, completely convinced that conversion is “an all-at-once momentous aha.”

    I recently put my finger on the difference between my teaching style and the teaching style of other teachers in the CES program in the area (and it is perhaps this difference that to some extent bothers some of them, fascinates others, and almost universally thrills the kids): the purpose of every lesson, every word of every lesson, is to bring about “an all-at-once momentous aha” kind of conversion. If the kids have left the classroom (or the adults, or anyone) today having made the decision to change some little thing, with a goal to alter this or that little thing, then I think I have failed. I feel strongly that my purpose in teaching is to teach such that everyone who participates seriously in the lesson will become a Paul that afternoon. And I am amazed at the Paul’s I’ve watched leave the classroom.

    But let me clarify that that does not at all mean that I think any application kind of lesson is ultimately bad or wrong or evil. Such lessons make better people and a better world. I’m just not convinced that they make gods and goddesses.

    Robert, I think you’ve got a good idea here. I think that both models can be found in conference talks. I tend to notice that the same speakers tend to use the same model. I think I’ll write up a post on this sometime over the weekend. I think I’ll cast it in terms of D&C 105:31-32:

    31 But first let my army become very great, and let it be sanctified before me, that it may become fair as the sun, and clear as the moon, and that her banners may be terrible unto all nations;
    32 That the kingdoms of this world may be constrained to acknowledge that the kingdom of Zion is in very deed the kingdom of our God and his Christ; therefore, let us become subject unto her laws.

    More soon.

  33. m&m said

    I am, I think, completely convinced that conversion is “an all-at-once momentous aha.”

    I think we might be talking past each other a bit (or maybe not?). I agree that we ought to have experiences with the Spirit that take us to another sphere, as it were, not just that make us want to set another goal. But first of all, IMO, the latter ought not be discounted, as it IS important for most/many people. (see quote below)

    Also, you know as well as I do that just because the kids in your Seminary class have an amazing experiene in classe doesn’t mean they will leave and necessarily stay on that same plane (which is what I call conversion). I still think what you describe ends up being a line upon line experience in the end. For some people, The Peacegiver DID bring about that “aha” sort of experience, so I think we ought to be careful about judging what might bring the Spirit in that kind of powerful way in someone’s life. Fair enough?

    Becoming Christlike is a lifetime pursuit and very often involves growth and change that is slow, almost imperceptible. The scriptures record remarkable accounts of men whose lives changed dramatically, in an instant, as it were: Alma the Younger, Paul on the road to Damascus, Enos praying far into the night, King Lamoni. Such astonishing examples of the power to change even those steeped in sin give confidence that the Atonement can reach even those deepest in despair.

    But we must be cautious as we discuss these remarkable examples. Though they are real and powerful, they are the exception more than the rule. For every Paul, for every Enos, and for every King Lamoni, there are hundreds and thousands of people who find the process of repentance much more subtle, much more imperceptible. Day by day they move closer to the Lord, little realizing they are building a godlike life. They live quiet lives of goodness, service, and commitment. They are like the Lamanites, who the Lord said “were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.” (3 Ne. 9:20; italics added.)

    We must not lose hope. Hope is an anchor to the souls of men. Satan would have us cast away that anchor. In this way he can bring discouragement and surrender. But we must not lose hope. The Lord is pleased with every effort, even the tiny, daily ones in which we strive to be more like Him. Though we may see that we have far to go on the road to perfection, we must not give up hope.
    (Ezra Taft Benson, “A Mighty Change of Heart,” Ensign, Oct 1989, 2)

  34. robf said

    When was that ETB quote originally given? By Oct 1989 Pres. Benson was pretty much incapacitated.

  35. m&m said

    My infobase said it was an address prepared (but not delivered) in 1986.

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