Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

On the role of the student from a teacher’s perspective

Posted by joespencer on January 22, 2007

Somewhere on the blog, the question was raised about the role of the student in the classroom. Several comments were made about how to be a good student. But it got me thinking about how the teacher thinks about the student, and how that perception ultimately affects one’s teaching style. How does/can/ought a teacher think about the student’s role? Discuss.

22 Responses to “On the role of the student from a teacher’s perspective”

  1. Robert C. said

    I think there are two very different, albeit related, questions to be addressed: (1) how can I “manify my calling” as a student and (2) what should I as a teacher expect of my students.

    My comment on a previous thread was mostly about (1) not (2). What I think is all-to-easy to do is for us as students to sit back and critique a teacher without trying to actually help the teacher by assertively trying to understand the classroom dynamic and finding ways to help the classroom event. Ahead of time, we might: study the material carefully, discuss the material with others (ideally with those also in the class, but I think web discussion is also helpful), complimenting the teacher for things the teacher does well and, after a bit of rapport is developed, possibly even making subtle suggestions for improving the class, or volunteering to help with the lessons. I think a good measure of one’s spiritual maturity is how much one expects to get out of Church vs. how much one expects to give at Church.

    I don’t have much to say about what a teacher should expect from students, perhaps b/c I think it is likely very context dependant. But I do think there are things a teacher can do to get students to do the reading and come prepared to read and think carefully about the scriptures, and to participate and contribute to class discussion–I think Brian J. gave many good suggestions for this on his recent “Water Cooler” post.

  2. Matthew said

    On a slightly related note (or maybe not, you decide) what responsibility does the student have to judge the teacher? And should the teacher be judged on what they say only? Or does it matter what they do as well?

    See my related question on Mosiah 23:14 (at the wiki). Also, it is interesting that the priests Alma seems to be warning them against listening to blindly are not here the wicked priests of King Noah but rather those who Alma converted and ordained himself (cf. Mosiah 18:18 at the wiki).

  3. AWF said

    Your question is such an important one, because expectations about student behavior should completely change how one approaches the class. A class that proceeds on the expectation that many have read the lesson will look quite different from one in which one assumes that no one has read the lesson. It is obvious that the question of how students would ideally behave is distinct from a reasonable assessment of how students actually behave and what is possible or even desirable in terms of student behavior.

    When we seek to magnify our callings as Gospel teachers, it is easy to forget that some limitation on what we as teachers ask and expect of our students is appropriate. If one is the Gospel Doctrine teacher, it is natural to desire that more students will come to class having read the assignment and it is appropriate, within limits, to encourage them to do so. However, consider that most people perceive themselves as having limited time for Gospel study. If the prophet issues a challenge to finish the Book of Mormon before the end of the year and your student is faced with the choice of reading the New Testament assignment or the Book of Mormon–which should he choose? (It is helpful to remember that some of our students may not read as well or as easily or as quickly as we do). What if the student is a member of the Young Women’s Presidency and the YW Presidency feels inspired that the Young Women and their leaders should read the Book of Mormon together? What if a family is trying to finish the Book of Mormon by the date of a child’s baptism or a mission call?

    The New Testament vs. Book of Mormon conflict is the easiest one to imagine, but obviously other books of scripture may compete as well. The institute student may be reading the Pearl of Great Price or the JST or the Old Testament. Another student may be in the midst of a personal crisis and be drawn to the Doctrine & Covenants for guidance. Of course it is possible to reply that people don’t find time for Gospel study, they make time. If the student doesn’t have enough time for doing the reading, she should make more. Also, one could point out that there is no reason why one can’t choose to split one’s time between different books of scripture. These are important responses, but they only go so far. The question is, if someone feels inspired to immerse herself in the Book of Mormon and you are her New Testament Gospel Doctrine teacher, how much is it appropriate to interfere or to wish to interfere? So much for desirability–being a good teacher may mean recognizing that students have other gospel study commitments that properly take precedence over the demands of being the ideal student in your class.

    On to realism–even if it would be best for your students individually and for the class collectively and for you as the teacher if everyone prepared for class (both in terms of prior study and in terms of approach and attitude towards the class and participation in it) realistically, will that happen? No. Even those teachers who teach every week have limitations on how much they can hope to change behavior. Those who teach only once a month or who are one-time substitutes can expect less influence. If people don’t usually exhibit ideal student behavior this won’t change if a Neal Maxwell, Thomas Monson, or Jeffrey Holland type [insert your own favorite Gospel teacher here] shows up one week.

    This isn’t to say that it is hopeless or that efforts to change student preparation or attitude are vain or misplaced–they are not–but simply to recognize that realistically there are limits to what one should expect. This is true regardless of how learned or inspiring you are, how many chocolates you pass out for ideal student behavior, how much extra preparation you do, or how much better it would be if students behaved differently.

    First, there is agency. Laman and Lemuel may be attending your class.

    Second, as I mentioned, there are other gospel study commitments that may properly take precedence over the demands of your class.

    Third, there is individual variation. The less active member may show up that Sunday attending a family baptism. Next to him sits the recently released mission president. A nonmember may attend. Another student is earnestly fasting and praying for inspiration regarding a vexing problem. Your best participator attends, but has had a very busy week with family at home for Christmas and hasn’t read the lesson as she usually would. The “I attend because it is a commandment” and “this is a lovely social activity” members are there. The young parents soothing and comparing their squirmy young babies are there. Those who watched inappropriate movies the night before are there. The student who has done nothing to prepare for a spiritual experience but is that day blessed by God’s unfathomable grace is blinking back tears as you highlight a certain passage. The person who seems much more qualified for the calling than you are may well be there–perfectly prepared, informed, and enthusiastic as usual.

    What to do? I think the goal is to attempt to feed them all (even when one recognizes the reasons why that may not happen). Church is for everyone from the former mission president to the less active member attending by chance to the new convert to the bored lifer. That is why we are all commanded to attend. You are trying to reach he who has done all the reading and she who has skipped it. He who is enthusiastically trying to develop the discussion and she who wishes she had stayed chatting in the hall. While this is true, we have been counseled to focus on the new converts and the members who are struggling.

    Focusing on new converts and members who are struggling means that a) we must gear our lessons to those who have not prepared for the lesson as well as we might wish. b) We will not be able to assume as much background as might be nice and c) we are not necessarily speaking to the converted. These three points speak to what is lacking or to what we must not assume. Positively speaking, these assumptions suggest 1) we must teach by the Spirit and 2) we must focus on scripture and doctrine. I hesitate to give such Sunday school answers to such a thought provoking question (these last two points do sound right out of Teaching No Greater Call–but hey, I like that book), but what else could the answer possibly be?

    With so much individual variation and so many different contexts, teaching the Gospel is a task we cannot possibly successfully perform without the Spirit. How else can we hope to reach such a disparate audience with disparate needs and understandings effectively? No matter what our preparation or intentions, the greater share of any success we enjoy in Gospel teaching will always be by grace and the Spirit.

    A separate point: when we go to Church for the right reasons, what do we hope to find there? What do we want out of our worship? Surely this is what we should offer to others. This is Jeffrey Holland’s point when he says,

    That is what our members really want when they gather in a meeting or come into a classroom anyway. . . . They come seeking a spiritual experience. They want peace. They want their faith fortified and their hope renewed. They want, in short, to be nourished by the good word of God, to be strengthened by the powers of heaven. Those of us who are called upon to speak or teach or lead have an obligation to help provide that, as best we possibly can. (“A Teacher Come from God,” Ensign, May 1998, 25).

    We cannot spiritually feed our brothers and sisters unless we have the spirit with us. Successful teachers pray for the spirit, strive to be worthy of it, and explicitly invite it into their classrooms. They bear their testimonies, not just at the end of the lesson but at the beginning and in the middle and they work to create environments where others will feel comfortable doing the same.

    The second point, that we must focus on doctrine and scripture, is also Elder Holland’s:

    When crises come in our lives—and they will—the philosophies of men interlaced with a few scriptures and poems just won’t do. Are we really nurturing our youth and our new members in a way that will sustain them when the stresses of life appear? Or are we giving them a kind of theological Twinkie—spiritually empty calories?(ibid).

    This can be tricky when no one, or not the people we most hope to reach, is doing the reading or the preparation for what could be a theologically heavy-hitting lesson. To me, this difficulty suggests the need for a slow pace and a tight focus. If our lessons are scripturally based and we are teaching people who aren’t reading, it follows that there will need to be much reading of the scriptures aloud. Chicken Soup for the struggling member’s soul won’t cut it. Nor will high-level overviews or multi-chapter focused lessons. We have been counseled to use the lesson manuals, but this doesn’t mean that we need transmit every word or cover every part of the reading. Often we will look at just a few verses at a time, reminding ourselves that the goal is not coverage but conversion.
    So, how ought the teacher to think about the student’s role? The student needs the same thing the teacher does. She needs to be inspired, she needs to be fed. She may not (probably won’t?!) be very prepared, but she is present. Her role and what we must thus seek to offer her are clear: the seeker (whether this is conscious or not) and faith and hope in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

  4. Robert, I think we ought to do a sister-thread on the student’s role from the student’s perspective.

    Matthew, I think this is a good question. It stops me short, though, and I’m not sure I have a response yet.

    AWF, thank you. That was an astounding description of your average classroom (perhaps especially outside of Utah, Idaho, etc.). Teaching in my ward is supposed to engage at once our current temple president and the young part-member family of which the husband has finally begun to show interest and the wife has been inactive since being a teenager and the kids of which have to be brought to the parents twice during the Sunday School hour because of disruptions they are causing in Primary. The dynamics you traced are so absolutely the core of the teaching experience in the Church.

    And I think perhaps that is the question we are then trying to engage in this thread: how should a teacher understand the student’s role when there is this much diversity and such among the members of a classroom? I think AWF has made a strong case against taking the student’s role to be one of perfect preparation for a thorough theological discussion based on the particularities of the passages to be studied during class. So how should one consider the role of the student?

    A preliminary answer: as someone interested, for some reason, in being there. But how does this “minimal” reading of the student’s role translate into teaching method?

  5. Robert C. said

    I tend to think that students should come ready to engage in the lesson and the scriptures. This is why I tend to ask a lot of questions, b/c I think it facilitates engagement.

    However, although I feel relatively comfortable in my ability to engage students intellectually, I am much less confident in my ability to engage others spiritually and emotionally. My sense is that these latter two (vague…) aspects of engagement are very important b/c I’ve felt (or at least thought I’ve felt) the Spirit leave during classes and talks I’ve given b/c I get too intellectual and somehow neglect “the weightier matters.”

    Since I’m not willing to commit yet to a new post on the role of the student in the classroom, let me add here that the approach I’ve taken as a student during classes (and talks) that are more emotionally engaging and less intellectually engaging than I would prefer, the best response I’ve found is to try to understand better how others are being engaged. That is, I haven’t had much success trying to become more engaged on these levels myself, but I have felt my efforts as a student are productive during these kinds of lessons when I engage myself in trying to better understand the Spirit of the classroom–the sum of the individuals in the classroom, I suppose. The “renewed hope” for me in these classes has thus been about me being able to better to learn how to engage others in ways that are not merely intellectual.

  6. Laura D. said

    This is my first comment on this blog, or any blog for that matter. I hope I won’t ramble too much. While I agree with Robert that students should come prepared to class, the reality is that most do not. That reality makes me agree with AWF that the teacher should probably assume that people in the class have not read the material before hand, which is what I have done for the past 3 1/2 years as gospel docrine teacher in my ward. That approach, as AWF points out, results in alot of scripture reading and discussion of those scriptures in class.

    I’m not sure why, but I think the emphasis on reading the text and discussing what it means actually invites the Spirit into the classroom, even when the discussion is “intellectually” engaging — or maybe in some sense because of it. I think my journey as a gospel doctrine teacher illustrates this — or something, I’m not quite sure what.

    When I was first called, a colleague who had previously served as gospel doctrine teacher gave me some advice that he had received: (1) assume that no one had read the lesson beforehand (a safe bet, I figured, because, quite frankly, I never had before); (2) instead of just adopting the imposed theme found in the lesson manual, select some passages from the scripture readings and discuss what those scriptures meant. This colleague pointed out that his class members always seemed to like that.

    I’ve used that advice as a general guide to all my lessons and, frankly, have been surprised at how successful it seems to have been, particularly on a spiritual level. I tend to prepare my lessons much like Brian J. describes in his Water Cooler post. In class, I try to make sure the students understand the context in which these passages were written–both historically and textually within the chapter and surrounding chapters. We read the passages out loud in class and I try to ask questions that will help class members think about what the writer is trying to tell us as readers. Like Brian J. and the rest of you, I try to not ask “Sunday School” questions. In fact, I borrow quite liberally from Jim F.’s study questions as well as questions that I have. This does then to intelluctualize the gospel to an extent, but I don’t think that is necessary a bad thing. And I do try to keep the discussion focussed on spiritual themes. One theme that keeps cropping up, rather naturally, is that the scriptures testify of Christ and quite often our discussions are centered on some variation of that them.

    At first, some class members found my teaching style somewhat intimidating. (It doesn’t help that I teach in Utah ward and am a woman lawyer). But what I found was that most class members liked it because they were learning something — and as AWF puts it, they were being fed spiritually. Class members have since made comments like, your lessons make me want to go home and read the lesson. And, after assuming that no one reads the lesson, I have noticed that more and more class members are clearly coming to class prepared in some fashion or another. I’ve notice that more are beginning to ask their own non-Sunday School lessons about the text we read and many are automatically checking and pointing out insights picked up from cross-references.

    I think giving context, reading the text, and then discussing it works for a couple of reasons. First, context, even a little, gives tools to students for thinking about placing their own interpretation on the text. Second, reading the text itself(rather than summarizing it) brings the Spirit into the classroom. These are the words of Christ, after all, and I think the words themselves fill a hunger that most of us have, but don’t realize it until that hunger begins to be sated. Ironically, it only increases our hunger. Third, good discussion questions get students to realize that there is so much more to these precious words than they may have previously thought. I have been amazed at the insights that have come out in my classes that neither I nor my students had previously thought of. And, I usually do not overtly try to apply the scriptures to us today. I’ve found that most people pick up on that on their own as they begin to understand the text within its context.

    So, I guess my point is this: we should assume that our students know nothing and then teach them from the scriptures themselves. That way we are teaching to the lowest common demoninator. (I don’t mean this in a patronizing way—I think people are way too busy and just never get around to it). But those on a higher level get something out of it, too, because as you teach from the text and ask probing questions, they will probably come up with more advanced questions. In a way, I suppose I approach my class as the scripture study that most people don’t make time for on their own, with me as the teacher/faciliator. Hopefully, it becomes enjoyable enough that the students will want it more than once a week.

    Which brings me to Robert’s point about being too intellectually engaging. I understand that because I tend to have an intellectual approach myself, which is intimidating to some people. But I think that the emphasis on the scriptural text and how it relates to Christ or some other closely related theme has made the intellectual aspects more spiritually engaging. Maybe that doesn’t make much sense, but I believe that most people prefer intellectual engagement to fluff, which I find far more likely to drive the Spirit out. Maybe what I’m trying to say is that intellectual discussions can be very Spiritual if the emphasis is on understanding the Word of God.

    Sorry about the long, rambling post.

  7. Laura, thanks for your comments and for venturing out into the realm of this blog in particular. Your comments press me to make two points.

    First, I have sensed something of a distance between my own teaching style and the one Brian (and implicitly, Jim) advocates in his water cooler post, but some of what you say here makes me think that they are not all too different in the end. The distance I’ve felt before is a sort of gap between the teacher as facilitator and the teacher as teacher. But I recognize in the spirit of your words a sort of unified facilitator/teacher position. I’ve got to do some more thinking about this, but I think it clarifies for me what I’ve been doing, and how I might alter a few things about my teaching approach.

    Second, I really like what you had to say about the “intellectual approach.” If I can try to articulate your point another way, I think it might become a little clearer. An intellectual approach is spiritually satisfying ultimately because it takes the text–the very word of God–seriously. The danger of “intellectual approaches” to teaching is that they can very easily become a seriousness with this or that particular intellectual issue, rather than a seriousness with the text. As long as we can stay clear of that, an intellectual approach to the scriptures is very much a serious one (one that is willing to engage the scriptures with all the ability we have). To be honest, I’m not sure that there are too many Americans any more (and I’m convinced there will be almost none in another generation) that can read the scriptures seriously without SOME kind of intellectualism: we are far too educated a nation to engage the scriptures without an eye to that education. To do so would probably be, ironically, to study primarily the philosophies of men, and only then to mingle it with scripture.

    Thanks for your thoughts. I hope you continue to comment on the site (we need serious teachers to bring their knowledge and experience together for those with questions, etc.).

  8. Laura D. said

    Joe, I like your articulation of my “intellectual approach.” That is what I was trying to say. And I agree that intellectual approaches can be dangerous, particularly if the object is only to raise questions without answers and if the focus is not on the spiritual message of the scriptures. But I’m much more skeptical about Americans seriously studying the scriptures, even with their education. I have found it that American Latter-day Saints for the most part study their scriptures far too superficially. But I think you are right that intellectualism for the sake of intellectualism can lead away from, rather than to, spiritual truths.

  9. John said

    The “Teaching, No Greater Call” manual almost never uses the word “student” to describe the participants in the classroom. Instead, it uses the somewhat stilted and ungrammatical-sounding “learner.”

    I suppose it’s an attempt to diffuse the teacher’s expectation that students need study, because learners can be successful by simply engaging in the act of listening and responding to questions. Maybe this phraseology is intended to remind us that we are all learners, even while we are acting as teacher. In any case, it is clear that the manual intends for us to think about the church classroom differently than that of the school or university.

    The manual goes on to relay a story (see Lesson 6) about a couple that take it upon themselves to improve the effectiveness of the Gospel Doctrine class. They did this, so the story goes, without approaching the teacher after class with well-intentioned advice. Instead, these two inspired “learners” took responsibility for their own learning experience–by taking the necessary time to prepare themselves, engage the teacher, and participate fully in the lesson. Because of these “simple gestures of interest,” the teacher gained “strength and confidence” and became more “relaxed.” Lessons were learned and the Spirit was felt. The story ends happily (“since that day…”) with a majority of class members participating with renewed interest and enthusiasm.

    If this story is true (why wouldn’t it be?) then the teacher would do well to relax and speak confidently from the beginning, engaging the few students that are willing to participate fully until the classroom atmosphere loses its rigidity and formality and becomes a place of lively and focused gospel discussion. The teacher is not the teacher, the Spirit is. Focus on the scriptures, prepare to learn, engage each other with love and respect.

    Let not all be spokesmen at once, but let one speak at a time, and let all listen to his sayings, that when all have spoken that all may be edified of all (D&C 88:122).

  10. Robert C. said

    Laura, thank you for your thoughts, they are very helpful to me. I’ll have to think more about this issue of intellectualism. I agree with practically everything you and Joe have said about this, and yet I still think there’s something important here I can’t quite put my finger on….

    One issue that is closely related, I think, is regarding personal application. I guess I’ve had enough positive experiences in asking how we can apply a passage to our own lives that it’s hard for me to think that this isn’t an important part of a SS class. For example, talking about idolatry in the OT, I think a natural reaction from students (sorry: “learners”) is to wonder if there’s any application to our day and age b/c not many in our culture go around praying to little figurines. So I tried to focus on passages that discuss idolatry in terms of not having one’s heart focused on YHWH, and then made sure a couple of contemporary examples or experiences were shared of things that distract us from God. I think mentioning these examples of application adds something valuable to the class that can’t be accomplished by focusing only on the text. On the other hand, I think this personal-application bit is typically focused on too much (which is what I think leads to fluffy lessons, to use Laura’s term). But I do think it can be helpful in small doses.

    One experience I’m still trying to make sense of is a SS class I attended on my mission. I loved these classes b/c they focused on the scriptures and the teacher was very thoughtful and well-read and always seemed to share some historico-critical insight I wasn’t aware of. But the Branch Presidency thought the teacher was a bit over-the-heads of most of the very young members of the branch, and I have to admit that although I personally got much less out of the classes with the new teacher, I think most of the members got much more out of the lessons from the new teacher who was much better at bringing the scriptures to bear on members’ lives.

    But maybe it’s more about just making sure that the teacher connects with the students–engages the students in a sense that challenges them and involves them–and not so much about being too intellectual per se. (And I think there are important parallels with parenting on this front….) If I think back to the times that I felt I was too intellectual in a talk or lesson, I think it is b/c I was addressing something that was of keen interest to me (and directly relevant to a scriptural text), but not so interesting to those I was talking to.

  11. Laura D. said

    Robert, I probably de-emphasized practical application too much in my comment. The reality is I do use it in small doses and I have on occasion centered a lesson around it. I think my point was that as we try to understand what the writer, which in many ways includes the Spirit, is trying to tell us, the practical application often becomes apparent. And often, “learners” will make comments that bring that out. And as I’ve thought about it, I’m not sure that “intellectual” accurately describes what I try to do. Maybe “reason” is a better word. I think we should be thinking about what the scriptures mean when we read them. Of course, they have many layers of meaning and the meaning we take from them may vary at any given time, depending on the context we are focusing on and depending on what is going on in our lives. And, I should add, that my intellecualism in class is at best characterized as “lite.”

    Historico-critical insight can be helpful in deepening our understanding of the scriptures and enriching what it means to us. But clearly, it cannot be the overriding focus. I see it more as a tool for us to gain insights into what the text, or Spirit if you well, wants us to understand.

    But I am having a hard time, too, articulating exactly what it is that makes a Gospel Doctrine lesson a spiritual learning experience for all of us. All I know is that when I prayerful prepare and when I ask the right questions, the people in my class bring out insights that I had never considered before. But this is usually after I have already given a little historical or contextual background that places a little deeper meaning into what we are reading. Maybe, though, it is more that I am trying to get class members to come closer to the Savior through understanding His words, and I only use context to get there. I have found that my questions tend to lead to some conclusion or understanding concerning our Savior, His atonement, and His covenant with us. Now that I think of that, that has evolved quite naturally. So, perhaps it is not so much the “intellectualism” or “reason” but the focus of the discussion that makes the difference. This would be born out by the fact that I have thoroughly enjoyed lessons and teachers who do not use the approach I do, but who certainly carry the Spirit into their classrooms. I’m going to have to think about this a little more.

  12. Robert C. said

    I was listening to an mp3 of “The Worlds of Joseph Smith” conference on my drive to work (I won’t be able to read Margaret Barker the same after hearing her wonderful Queen’s English! the audio is free online through a simple web search) and was struck by the following statement by John Welch (responding to Terryl Givens’ address; I’m quoting from the published version of the conference, thanks HBLL!):

    [H]ow did the recovery of the past function in Joseph’s process of continuing reelation? He could, after all, have introduced the principle of continuing revelation only with respect to the present and the future; revelation need not have involved the past. . . . [Joseph] was captivated by the idea of past visions, lost scriptures, ancient covenants, vanished civilizations, and former dispensations of the gospel. And, more than captivated, he was liberated and expanded by what he saw n the past. He never explained how this all worked, but we should attempt to detect the dynamics that drove his process. Here are ten such dynamics . . . . 3. The past is pertinent to the present. . . . Not only had Isaiah seen the scholar who would say, “I cannot read a sealed book” (Isaiah 29:11), but Jesus foresaw the Saints purchasing land in Missouri when he spoke of the man who found “a treasure hid in a field” and sold all that he had to buy it (Matthew 13:44). For Joseph, these were more epistemologically compelling than just historical attractions or “mythic reverberations.” [p. 110, ISBN 0-8425-2636-6]

    Joe’s been writing a fair bit about this on the wiki (at 3 Ne 15 I think), but I’m just barely starting to grasp the scope of this idea about history, past, recurrence, typology, etc., esp. as it pertains to scripture and to the temple. I think this is fundamentally what personal application of the scriptures is–or should be–about. But when I read this about Joseph’s application of “a treasure hid in a field,” that seems a stretch to me (and I’ve been the one beating the personal-application drum; a stretch somehow in the sense of wresting the “original” historico-critical meaning of the passage to fit personal circumstances…).

    I sense I’m bumping against some pretty big ideas here, but am having a hard time making sense of it all. I’ll see if I can’t gather my thoughts and make a coherent post on this topic (or cajole Joe or someone else into doing so; by the way Joe, I think your view of Alma 36:17, 22 is key here: Alma’s conversion is intimately linked with his remembering his father’s words and seeing father Lehi sitting upon his throne–somehow Alma’s conversion was tantamount to his applying the scriptures to himself, no?)

  13. Typology first. Yes, that is exactly what I’m reading into Alma 36, Robert. And I would suggest, to get started on thinking about typology and its place in “personal application,” reading Jan Shipps _Mormonism_. It does an amazing job of weaving the historico-critical methodology of the New Mormon History with a typological reading of Mormonism. A very fascinating book (and a rather short read, under 200 pages and written in Shipps’ very engaging style).

    If Laura thinks she de-emphasized application too much, let me make her mistake doubly: outside of the “typological” way of thinking about application, I don’t think it has a place in teaching in the Church (or in the Church generally). I’ve long felt this way, and I’m very frustrated by application digressions in lessons. I read the scriptures as a collective call, a summons, not as something to be appropriated: they call us out of ourselves, out of our world, out of our circumstances. If we then take them and twist them (demythologize them, really) so that we can “do something” as a result of our reading, then we have rejected the call/summons, and we have forced God into our fallen world, rather than allowing Him to call us out of it (Here am I…) and then allowing Him to send us back to transform the world as a whole (…, send me). “Application,” I can’t help but feeling, is salvation by works, rather than salvation by grace. Work originates in heaven, and once we have, by grace, been taken there (by the Spirit or in body, it doesn’t matter), then we can begin to work on the world and “ourselves” (if there is such a thing). As you can tell, I’m very uncomfortable with “application.”

    A specific example, then. Robert mentions idolatry. But if you take up the historico-critical methodology, you will find very quickly that idolatry is EXACTLY what we do now. The most common idolatrous system the Israelites fell into was the cult of Baal and Asherah, a fertility cult. The rites to be performed in the cult were adoration of a carved nude woman, purchasing sexual favors from sacred prostitutes, and so on. They have dug up “personal asherahs,” small carved stone sheets that have the very shapely goddess carved nude and in relief so that she can be handled. The rites were accompanied by sexually driven “sacred” music and sexually driven “sacred” drama. Now, I don’t think that needs to be demythologized at all: it is the entire sex cult of today! Right down to the music and television programs. Men take their “personal asherahs” home to hide under their mattresses, just as the Israelites did (somewhere they are warned specifically about this in Deuteronomy, about hiding up their fertility idols). And the whole world bows down to the goddess of the nude woman as they ever did. Right down to the prostitutes, etc. We don’t need to “apply” this, we need to obey. The Israelites left the covenant because they were pornography addicts, just as happens today. Nothing has changed. No application (just obedience) necessary. We are living Israel’s history already. Now we just have to maintain the covenant, though they didn’t.

    I wasn’t sure if my point about Americans was misunderstood or not. What I meant was that because Americans are so well-educated, I don’t think that they CAN engage the scriptures seriously without engaging them “intellectually.” My experience is also that most Americans engage them superficially. But if they were to engage them, I think they would have to engage them “intellectually” because of their background, their upbringing. That was my point.

    Fantastic discussion here. Is it worth having a thread specifically on “application”? Or one on application versus typology?

  14. Robert C. said

    Joe, yes, I’d like more discussion of this application vs. typology distinction. You say:

    outside of the “typological” way of thinking about application, I don’t think it has a place in teaching in the Church (or in the Church generally).

    I’m not sure I understand the distinction you’re getting at. I would consider your discussion comparing the OT idolatrous sex cult to our sex-obsessed culture an application. Are you saying the discussion you articulated is not appropriate for a SS lesson or that such a discussion is typological?

    I like everything else you said. Let me try to articulate one view of application that I lean toward: I tend to think about this in terms of self-deception. Most members who attend SS consider themselves reasonably active, and therefore pretty disciples of Christ. And, as good members of the Church, they attend Sunday school and read the scriptures. A dangerous tendency is to either (1) read the scriptures in a detached manner, talking about the events in scripture as perhaps one would talk about a list of historical facts (this happened, then that happened, this is probably why, etc.), or (2) read the scriptures and find doctrines of the gospel illustrated in a way that confirms what members already believe, which effectively becomes a way of patting ourselves on the back for being at church, understanding these doctrines, seeing how these doctrines condemn other people, etc.

    In this sense, I see the role of “applicatoin” as breaking this detachment. What do these scriptures have to do with you? How will you respond to the call? I read esp. King Benjamin and Alma 5 as doing this, recounting scriptural stories, prophecies, and teachings, and then directing introspective-type questions to those listening. Again, I think personal application can be overdone, and I think it should follow directly from studying the scriptural text carefully (being overdone or getting too far from the text is what I think leads to fluffy lessons), but if class members occassionally share personal experiences in a way that adds (typological?) testimony to what is being read in the scripture, I see this as a very good way to break the detachment I described above–both for the one speaking, and for those listening to see a an example (a typological example?) of how this process works. In this sense, I think personal application, done right, is a new form of scripture/revelation–the very process of conversion, like Alma 36, occurring in real time in class.

    Oops, I guess I didn’t really explain this in terms of self-deception like I said I would: I see detachment as a form of self-deception. We convince ourselves that we are already responding to the call of the Word when we in fact aren’t. By asking personal, searching, application-type questions, my view is that such self-deceptions can be shattered. I think you are right to express the danger of works-focused applications b/c I agree that the state of one’s heart is most important, whether one is responding to a call or not. In Lacanian terms, I think the classroom can become a form of group therapy where passages are read and discussed and turned into a call to each member in the class–it is this last step of calling that I think is very important and can be accomplished through personal application.

  15. Robert, my apologies on the idolatry thing. I certainly wasn’t clear. My example was an attempt to overthrow application-ism, not to ground typology-ism. In other words, I was trying to suggest that one reason application lessons fail is because they look too quickly from the text to “everyday life.” In the example of idolatry, I think the point is simply that NOTHING has changed, and there is no “application” necessary, where “application” means a demythologization of the text (what are our idols?). Whenever idolatry is demythologized, the classmembers generally are still left with the same question: how on earth could the Israelites have left off the true worship for these others? But we do exactly the same thing today (as any bishop can tell you!).

    I realize here that I’m working with a quasi-technical meaning of “application,” one I picked up through my experience with CES. Application ALWAYS follows (for CES) the step called “find the principles” (or what I have here called “demytholgize, demythologize, demythologize!”). If one is working with a different definition of application, then there is all the reason in the world, perhaps, to apply.

    I would very much like to look closer at this question of typological application (I’m all about typology lately). Robert has certainly set up the question in a helpful way: how do we keep from being “merely” academic on the one hand, and from just repeating what we all already know on the other? And I think “application” is the key, but we’ve just got to think about application more carefully.

    I think I will work up a thread on this subject for this coming week (as well as a couple others I’ve got in mind).

  16. John said

    Excuse me while I indulge in a self-teaching exercise–to better understand the terminology.

    typology: The systematic classification of types. Typology in Christian theology interprets some characters and stories of the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) as allegories foreshadowing the New Testament. Adam was a type of Christ (Rom 5:14), as was Isaac (Heb 11:19). The Passover was a type of Christ (1 Cor 5:7). The story of Jonah represents the death and resurrection of the Savior, and so on.

    application: The act of bringing something to bear; using it for a particular purpose. The work of applying something. (Joe: please expound upon the CES definition.)

    Nephi taught that scripture written long ago could be applied equally to the people of his age, as it persuaded them to believe in Christ, the “Lord their Redeemer” (1 Ne 19:23-24). The value of all inspired scripture is that it is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction (2 Tim 3:16). The Lord grants us the scriptures for our instruction, with the aid of his Spirit (D&C 33:16). In some cases, the applicability of God’s word is not known until a later time(D&C 84:85).

    Based on these definitions, “typological application” involves not only the mere act of seeking guidance from scripture, but in finding ourselves personally mentioned therein by another name. Typical application engages in a disassociated secondhand discussion of principles, whereas typological application raises hard questions; it convicts us of our faults, tests the basis of our faith, and brings us closer to Christ as we truly “liken the scriptures” to ourselves.

  17. John said

    Read with self-application

    Whenever you have discovered any truth, ask what bearing it has upon present duty. If it relates to spiritual affections, compare with it the state of your own heart. If it relates to the spirit and temper of Christians, in their fellowship with one another, or with the world, compare it with your own conduct. If it relates to some positive duty, inquire whether you have done it. And, wherever you find yourself deficient, endeavor to exercise repentance, and seek for pardon through the blood of Christ with grace to enable you to correct what is wrong. — Harvey Newcomb

  18. John and others,

    I’m going to write up a thread right now on this. Go there for further thinking and please help think through things there.

  19. brianj said

    Thanks for this discussion; I’m sorry I’m coming in so late.

    Response to #6 and #7:

    Laura D: Thanks for contributing your comments. I think there is some kind of balance that must be struck between assuming your students have not read and teaching only to the most well-prepared. The problem I have with teachers that assume that I have not studied the lesson is that they often give me no incentive at all to study the lesson. In an extreme example, I had a Gospel Doctrine teacher who would read the lesson in class as a sort of punishment to those who had not come prepared. I attended his class only once.

    As I teacher, I want to reward those who put in preparation time. I ultimately accomplish that by asking what they want to talk about. The person who didn’t study sits quietly, while someone who studied and either had a profound learning experience or got stuck on something confusing will raise her hand. So there is an incentive to come prepared. In the discussion, I try to provide the context for those who did not read, but I and they know that they are not getting as much out of the lesson as those who studied.

    Joe: I’m wondering what is the difference you saw between our teaching styles (teacher/facilitator).

  20. Brian: the difference I saw…. I’d have to think about this a bit more. In the end, I think it is probably worth a thread (this distinction is related to some major changes at work in CES lately, and it might be worth thinking about these changes and how they might bear on the classroom over the next few years).

  21. tkm said


  22. kbm said

    * Study on the main sudject you have problems with in school!!!

    * Don’t watch to much television,spend your on praticing and have fun for about 10 minutes!!!!

    * Don’t feel ashame when you fail an assignment,it just means you need to bring that grade up and study more!!!!!

    *You should always get lots of SLEEP,eat BREAKFAST every morning,STUDY a lot,and really MOTIVATED!!!!!

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