Feast upon the Word Blog

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Opening a can of worms (at least for me): “how do we apply this to our everyday lives?”

Posted by joespencer on January 27, 2007

Robert recently mentioned two opposite extremes into which LDS classrooms too often tend to fall. On one extreme is the “merely” academic classroom: the materials (scriptures) are studied for studying’s sake (study pour l’study). In this classroom, the scriptures become just one among so many academic disciplines, and while the students are undeniably engaged, they are generally so because of the “intellectual rigor” of the class, not because of the Spirit, etc. At the other extreme one enters the classroom where the materials (scriptures) are reduced over and over again to “what we all know already.” In this classroom, the scriptures become a forced witness to our collective wisdom and our obvious piety, something we read to recognize how much we know (if only other poor souls were so wise, so righteous, so faithful). I think we’ve all seen both of these extremes (in their extreme forms and in their not-quite-so-extreme forms where they still fail to serve anything like God’s purposes). If I’m following Robert’s comments well, he suggests that our ally in banishing these two extremes is “application.” I think I agree with him, but only if I can make some radical revisions to our thinking about “application.”

So let me first set up a strawman: “application” as “how do we apply this to our everyday lives?” (Now, you have all heard that question asked in Church a thousand times, so this is ultimately a strawman only of what Robert himself probably has in mind when he says “application,” and I hope he’ll offer a rejoinder in the comments.) I think this question is grounded on two connected presuppositions. First, it introduces into the life of the Latter-day Saint an untraversable gulf. That is, it assumes that there is a distance between the “reality” of “our everyday lives” and the “unreality” of whatever it is we’re doing at Church (the talk, the lesson, etc.). When the question is self-directed, say, during a few minutes of scripture study, it works on the same sort of a gulf, now between the scriptures and the “reality” of day one has to live through. Second, and only after the first presupposition, the question assumes that the gap it has introduced can be traversed. That is, after making a radical separation between “Church” or “scriptures” and “reality” or “our everyday lives,” the question proposes the possibility of bringing the two back together. And in fact, the question can only propose this possibility in a determinate manner: because it has effected the separation, it can only propose to bring the two back together in a way that the separation is maintained.

The result of these two presuppositions, then, is that “application” is all too often understood as a joining together of the separated in such a way that they remain separated. How can this be done? CES has systematized it (in taking a teaching course from CES, I was taught this systematically): first you study the text (or subject or whatever); second you draw from it universal principles; and third you reapply those principles in the present. The scriptures (or whatever) remain entirely separate from “reality,” and the two are only mediated by a more universal “principle” or “doctrine” that applied to, say, David of old, and applies to, say, David in the front row of your class. “The doctrines and principles never change,” so we can strip away the contingent material in the text (or whatever) and arrive at the universally true doctrines and principles, which we then have to go about applying. That’s the program. (I would equate or at least parallel this sort of a program with “demythologization,” a way of reading the scriptures that assumes some sort of “deep structures” up behind the historical contingencies of a narrative text so that these historical contingencies can be stripped away–demythologization–and our own historical contingencies can be used to re-narrativize the text–remythologization. That is far too simplistic an explanation of what Rudolf Bultmann was doing, but perhaps it is a helpful comparison.)

Now, how comfortable ought we to feel with these two presuppositions? In the end, I think, the separation they imply is inescapable: that study, lessons, meetings, etc., begin and end with prayer essentially effects the separation whether or not we choose to admit the separation. That is, there is an undeniable demarkation of the boundary between the sacred and the profane at work here, and so the first presupposition seems justified. And it seems to me that the very work of atonement suggests that the reunification of these separated terms is a divine purpose. That is, the boundary between the sacred and the profane (the veil itself) must eventually be overcome so that the earth can appear as the Garden of Eden, etc.), and so the second presupposition seems justified. Hence, I don’t think the basic structure of the split (we’ll call it the Fall) and the reunification (we’ll call it the Atonement) is to be questioned. But the way the question is usually asked, “how do we apply this to our everyday lives?” assumes more than this simple structure: it implies something about the relative values of the two separated terms and thus about how they must be brought together again. As mentioned above, the question assumes that “our everyday lives” has some sort of ascendency over the scriptures, the lessons and talks, etc. That is, the question itself appears–at least to me–to assume a sort of primacy for the profane over the sacred. And that, in and of itself, makes me uncomfortable.

In fact, in the end, it seems to me that this sort of application is a “salvation by works” sort of approach (and, to be honest, I imagine that it is through the all-too-widespread belief in “salvation by works” among Latter-day Saints that this question has found its riveted role): it assumes that the divine can be summarized, demythologized, grasped theoretically or even systematically so that it can be turned into actions we have to do in order to effect the work of atonement. I’m very uncomfortable with this kind of an approach. This is a very “temporal” form of application.

So what would a “spiritual” or “grace-oriented” form of application look like? I think I have at least the beginnings of an answer. Can’t we simply ask, instead of “how do we apply this to our everday lives?,” “how do we apply our everyday lives to this?” This is probably too subtle, so let me explain at least a little bit (I’m sure I’m going to be clarifying this over and over in the comments). Rather than a lesson arriving at so many goals or productive “things” that can be done, shouldn’t a lesson function–as a whole–as a petition to the Most High that He take up our lives (even in our pathetic attempts to be good and holy) into His holy work? Rather than reducing a lesson to so many works we ought to be doing (a list of things to change), shouldn’t it aim only at faith and repentance (two things: a stronger belief in a saving Lord and a willful handing of oneself over to Him, perhaps in hopes that He will renew the covenant He has made with us and that we have never deserved)? I think this is ultimately a “grace-oriented” approach because in the end, every word of the lesson, talk, study, etc., aims at petitioning the throne of grace, but it is His will to extend that grace or not. It is ultimately a “spiritual” approach because it petitions the Spirit, prays for the Spirit, hopes for the Spirit, and waits to see if our God will not send that Spirit. But if not, we will be content with what grace we have received.

Now, two concluding thoughts.

In the other thread, I called this a typological form of application. That is very difficult to explain without getting overly theological (though I think it is worth thinking at length, and I hope we get more into this in the comments). The point, at the very least, is something like this: we apply our everyday lives to the scriptures by praying for the Lord to take us up typologically into the narratives we read in the text.

This makes the whole teaching experience (speaking, studying, etc.) an act of worship, an act of prayer. I think that it is precisely for this reason that this approach escapes the two extremes Robert was concerned about as I cited him above. The lesson might be intellectual, but it is so in that it is an intellectual’s prayer; the lesson might cover things we already know, but it does so in a prayer for more and greater understanding. On the other hand, I think the “works-based” approach to application too easy falls into one of these two extremes. It assumes perhaps that the application is a one-minute point that can be made simply at the end, which offers an excuse for a “merely” academic study, or the application time at the end of the lesson just becomes another way of patting oneself on one’s back, since we are so clever and so pious even in our application.

Reactions? Opinions to the contrary?

22 Responses to “Opening a can of worms (at least for me): “how do we apply this to our everyday lives?””

  1. Laura D. said

    Joe, I like your grace/worship comparison. I’ve been struggling with this for a long time. Frankly, I’ve always hated it when a teacher asks how do we apply this to our everyday lives, mostly because the question itself asks for the obvious and encourages Sunday School answers like prayer, reading the scriptures, FHE, service, attending the temple, etc., stuff we all know we’re supposed to be doing. So, I have generally avoided the question in my own lessons. But I think your point that it suggests a salvation by works is part of what has bothered me because over the past few years I’ve become a “grace” woman, myself.

    Plus, many of the scriptures we teach in gospel doctrine don’t have a readily applicable message, at least not in the sense of applying them in our everyday lives. For example, the last two lessons in gospel doctrine have been on the birth of Jesus and John the Baptist. And while you can extract a few modern pratical applications from those scripture (like being less doubting than Zacharias, and more submissive like Mary), it seems to me the part that makes me feel the Spirit the most is the wonder I feel at the grace of God when I read and contemplate those stories and what they mean, not only to the people back then, but us now. That wonder instills a sense of reverence and worship that makes me want to know Him better and reflect His love more to those around me.

    Of course, the problem with the “pure” academic approach is that it tends to downplay the sense of wonder and grace we should be feeling when we read the scriptures. But searching for the true spiritual meaning of the scriptures that we teach and read in class is in a sense a way to worship. So, I think you’re on to something here.

    But this isn’t to say that how do we apply this to our lives isn’t an effective and appropriate question. Last year, when teaching Jeremiah, I found myself having difficulty pulling together the assigned scriptures in a meaningful way. Until I lit on the supplemental scriptures in the manual, which referred to the story of the potter’s clay. It was a perfect setting for discussing how we can become clay in the Lord’s hands and how it can be painful, but ultimately joyous, and how our own view is so often limited. It turned out to be one of the most spiritual, best lessons I’ve taught and several people commented afterwards, even in testimony meeting, how much it had meant to them because of several disappointments they had recently experienced. Although, I don’t think I ever asked how does this apply to our everyday lives. I asked other questions, like how do we become clay in the Lord’s hands and why should we. And I refused to be satisfied with the usual Sunday School list of answers. So you’re probably right that there are other ways to ask the question that allows us to apply the message of the scriptures to us that doesn’t necessarily leave us with usual humdrum Sunday School discussion.

  2. nhilton said

    Laura, thanks for your comments. When I was teaching the BofM a few years ago I began each lesson by writing a short list of “Themes For Living” on the board (direct application to how we applied scripture to our own lives). As I prepared my lessons, knowing I’d have to come up with a few of these potently focused themes helped me have real content to my lesson. I learned that every time I taught the same lesson I could have a different “Themes For Living” list. This year I’ve decided to have the CLASS develop this list as the lesson progresses, hopefully focusing their minds on personal application. I.E. with the lesson Laura referenced possible themes might be: 1. We have a personal mission on earth; 2. God tenderly ministers to us one on one; 3. The Gospel is Universal. There are a multitude of other options.

    I am told by my students that personal application of the scriptures is the only way they find them relevant. As this occurs they are blessed with personal revelation. I have to force myself to do this in class or I can become caught up in the shear joy of exegesis and loose some students along the way.

  3. Robert C. said

    Joe, great post. This really helps me think about many things in a different light. I’m going to have a lot of follow-up questions, but am too busy this evening.

    I really like your “apply yourselves to the scriptures rather than applying the scriptures to yourselves” way of expressing this. I think this way of viewing the issue leads nicely to a discussion about what it means to wrest the scriptures, and our discussion before about the dangers of bringing our own presuppositions to the text instead of the text speaking to us and changing us and our presuppostions. I also really like the grace-works tie in: we should let the Word work on/in us instead of trying to work the Word….

  4. Kevin Barney said

    My lessons definitely trend to the academic, but I don’t feel too badly about that, since I view it as a counterbalance to most lessons that completely ignore that side.

    I sometimes think about these kinds of pedagogical issues and usually don’t come up with anything solid that will work for every lesson. But I do try to soften my intellectual approach by (a) beginning the lesson with a synopsis of the reading (realistically acknowledging that virtually no one has actually read the assignment) and (b) after some focused attention to the text in its historical context, having what I think of as pesher time, which is my version of application.

    So while my lessons tend to the academic, they are balanced with some “likening” discussion.

  5. Rebecca L said

    Thanks for a great post.

    Academic approaches can reek too much of “certainty” too. The point of exegesis in my mind is a humility and devotional attitude, such as you mention, that opens our minds to learning something new, but especially to learning how we can love, follow, and obey Christ better. Other aspects of an academic approach are probably better left for other contexts. By using an intellectual approach to shake up the adults’ complacency (as has been discussed previously re: teens) I find they suddenly become open to, and anxious for, and huge contributors to new insights too.

  6. John said

    I remember the first time I used the phrase “help us to apply this lesson in our daily lives” in a closing prayer. It seemed to me (I must have been 12 or 13 years old) that I had been inspired to say something important; I don’t remember having heard the phrase before that time (although it is impossible now to imagine otherwise). For me in that moment, it was a deeply moving sentiment and I vowed privately as I said ‘amen’ to remember and apply that day’s lesson to myself.

    From that time forward I started to hear those words everywhere, and over the years the phrase became trite to me because it invariably reminded me of the prayer of my youth. The phrase itself became an indication of the spiritual maturity of the speaker.

    For some though, those words still holds their original intent, that is “to help us find a way to bridge the gap between what we have learned today and the reality of our own conduct.” In a sense, because this prayer implicitly recognizes a shortcoming, it acts as a weak (and therefore ineffectual) form of repentance. Such a prayer permits the one who offers it to continue to act as he or she has always acted because it is now God’s responsibility to bridge the gap.

    And so the gap remains. I learn of charity, and act out of self-interest. I learn of obedience, and permit myself to choose when and where I obey. I learn of the power of prayer, and habituate myself to a morning and evening ritual that often fails to serve its intended purpose. I am a fallen man–is there any better means of determining it than to observe my behavior?

    I realize that I am straying from the original subject of this thread somewhat. But (at least for me) the scriptures have no meaning if I cannot re-contextualize them to find the doctrine and principles that I can then use as a pattern to improve my life. The books are of little use to me as literal history.

    The gap exists, and it will probably always exist. If I bridge the gap, it is only temporary at best, and at worst it is only a fault of my point-of-view, a trick of my limited perception. However, in attempting to apply the principles in my daily life, the work of salvation takes place.

    The branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing (John 15:4-5).

  7. Robert C. said

    John #6: “the scriptures have no meaning if I cannot re-contextualize them to find the doctrine and principles that I can then use as a pattern to improve my life.”

    As I read Joe, he’s pointing to the process of opening ourselves to the scriptures and reading closely and honestly, yielding our own presuppositions to God’s word as it is given to us, as precisely the means of bridging this gap. By submitting ourselves to the Word in studying the scriptures this way, we are de facto humbling ourselves before the Lord–and in so doing, we will have opened our hearts to God and therefore be receptive to the promptings of the Spirit as they occur to us and when they occur to us in our lives. That is, in the very process of studying the scriptures, we can humble ourselves, and humbling ourselves is what is needed b/c this is what allows Christ to abide in us (and us in him)–everything else in our life will follow naturally if this process truly occurs so that we are one with God.

    The wrong approach is to read the scriptures and then, on our own, try to deduce from the scriptures what the principles are, and then appropriate those principles into our lives. Metaphorically, that would be like trying to chop off a branch of Christ’s tree and trying to paste or graft it into our own life tree. Instead, we need to prune away everthing in us that does not stem from Christ, and let Christ–as the Word–grow in us.

    I realize I’m sounding a bit cryptic here–that’s evidence that I’m having a bit of an epiphany, for what is being overwhelmed and dumbfounded if it is not being inarticulate?

    Another thought: I think the same process occurs when I fold my arms and pray. Sometimes I pray by thinking about things in my life and then sort of think about those things and try to pray for strength to do what I think I need to be doing to improve those areas of my life. This is applying the scriptures to myself. But my prayers seem much more effective when I try to really open myself to what I should be praying about. In terms of the “we thank thee / we ask thee” prayer formula I was taught to teach as a missionary, I focus more on the thanking part. And I as I force myself to think more carefully about thanking God for what I recognize as his hand in my life, I begin to truly praise and worship God in the process of expressing my thanks. Then, because I am recognizing God’s hand, humbling myself, seeing God with new eyes in that moment of prayer, I become more humble, I yearn to know what God wants for me to be doing–I become more at one with God. And as I start to pray about “my life”–which doesn’t feel like my life b/c I’m more at-one with God in that moment–it is more like I am being inspired to pray for certain things. It is as though I am looking at my own life through God’s eyes and I begin to recognize how I can apply my life to God, and the words that I say in my prayer begin to merge with God’s Word, what He would have me do, and so I am praying God’s words instead of my own….

    (Joe, I know you have a lot of thoughts on prayer and that many French thinkers have recently addressed this (Jean-Louis Chretien and Michael Henry I think). I’d like to request a future post sometime where you discuss/summarize for the layreader some of their insights, mingled with your own thoughts on prayer.)

  8. Matthew said

    Joe, I like your thoughts and comments. I agree that the way application is done it often focuses on the works side of things. The question amounts to what will I do/change based on what I have read. It is easy to fall into the trap of believing that the only value which comes from reading the scripture (or attending a lesson) is what one does to change based on that scripture reading or lesson. I think this same sort of thinking often leads people to the wrong assumptions about what we should get out of going to the temple.

    I think the most helpful way of combating this attitude is to think about singing a hymn. I rarely learn something new when singing a hymn, but that doesn’t mean that hymn singing is generally a waste of time.

    Now just to balance things out, I assume we would also all agree that if a teacher has a lesson where students walk away with a renewed commitment to doing better works (either some specific thing or just in general) that is a good thing. And one way that can happen is through this “discover the principle, then apply” style. So though we don’t want to reduce teaching to this one style–or think that teaching is no more than that–we also don’t want to deny that this is one good way to teach (even sometimes when the scriptures are not taken seriously–not every lesson needs to). In other words, I suspect Joe that you are reacting to the fact that there is too much of this style–or that it is looked on as the only good style–but you aren’t saying no one should ever employ this strawman style you propose. Anyway, that’s my guess. Tell me if I’m wrong.

  9. John said

    Robert (#7) you are actually making a good deal of sense to me… I think I use the scriptures as you describe, without realizing it.

    For example, I know the Holy Ghost (excuse me, Light of Christ) operates in the lives of anyone who is willing to listen and obey those quiet promptings. This is the basis of my experience. As I read the scriptures, I recognize my own epiphanies in the lives of the prophets. I know what they experienced is factual and possible, because I have had similar profound experiences. I read the words they use to describe their encounter with God, and I use them to validate my own encounter.

    The type of “application” you describe (pruning one’s life to alleviate everything that isn’t Christ) accurately describes the way I view scripture study, as a means of recognizing the operation of God in my life. I already know the basics (the principles), but I need help to recognize how I can become a better follower of Christ. As I read, the passages that make the most sense to me are the ones that I understand the most intimately, because of some personal experience or understanding. These serve as gentle (and sometimes not so gentle) reminders of the type of person I am trying to become. If I change my life, I do so because of the conviction I feel that it is the right thing to do–or because of a strong impression that I must do something differently.

    I have more to say about prayer that follows this same pattern, but I will save it for another thread.

  10. brianj said

    Joe, this is a great post. I think switching the question around is clever and helpful. I may, in fact, try that in my class. (Now there’s irony: I’m asking “How can I apply this blog to my weekly class?”)

    John, #6: “Such a prayer permits the one who offers it to continue to act as he or she has always acted because it is now God’s responsibility to bridge the gap.” Interesting point. I agree with it on some levels, but I’m not sure how to reconcile it in some ways. For example, we are all dependent on God for the simple virtues that make us want to be godly: faith, hope, patience, etc. If he does not extend them, then we cannot bridge the gap. But as I read your point, you are not denying this, but rather pointing out the hypocrisy that is so often present in the question.

    Robert, #7: I like the metaphor you suggest. I just finished reading Jacob 5, so the imagery is still fresh in mind.

    Matthew, #8: Good point about singing a hymn.

  11. Robert C. said

    Matthew #8: I think Joe is (radically) suggesting the strawman style is always bad. Let’s see if I’m right….

    Laura’s potter example (in comment #1) is interesting to me b/c I think it could be taken either way. That is, on the one hand, it seems the discussion could be viewed as a step away from reading the text carefully and more of a step back to just thinking about what presuppositions the class members bring to that metaphor from their own experiences. On the other hand, perhaps the potter’s clay discussion could be viewed as (in Joe-like terms) a deconstruction of what the meaning of the scriptural metaphor is. I think this is a great example to hear Joe respond to.

    My take is that the Spirit was present in that discussion largely b/c the metaphor itself is so humility-focused, and my belief is that humility is the most important thing for inviting the Spirit. (Maybe I’ll write something up on this when we study the Sermon on the Mount b/c I think the Beatitutes esp. are, essentially, all about humility.) The problem I’ve had, a problem that makes Joe’s post so intriguing to me, is that I’ve had such mixed and unpredictable results in trying this “strawman approach” (what’s the principle here and how does it apply to our lives).

    Brian #9: “Now there’s irony: I’m asking ‘How can I apply this blog to my weekly class?'”

    Ah, but you should be asking “How can I apply my class to this blog,” no?!

  12. Matthew said

    Robert #10. #11 [changed b/c of spam-filter problem]. If so, then Joe and I disagree.
    I have empirical evidence for my belief: I have sat through some great lessons which fit Joe’s strawman style. And, given how many lessons are taught using Joe’s strawman style, wouldn’t it be surprising if none of them were any good?

  13. Bob said

    OK. Help me out here. I think I understand the whole reframing of the question thing (and I like it) but I’m not able to conceptualize how this works in this reverse direction.

    First, looking at the traditional application model (using a very simple model, because that’s how my mind works), I would read 1 Ne. 3:7 and say, “How can I apply this in my life regarding not smoking?” Simple, I will go and not smoke because I know that the Lord provides a way…

    So how do I flip this? How does the situation look the other way? I assume the question becomes, “How do I apply my smoking to the scriptures?” (I’m not a smoker by the way.) How does the answer to this question look? Or maybe I’m not framing it correctly.

  14. Let me step carefully.

    I so much enjoyed Robert’s tree analogy that I want to repeat it: the standard application approach is like trying to cut a branch from the tree of life (remember that scene in The Great Divorce where one of the spirits tries to take the piece of fruit back to hell?), especially when the Lord Himself is calling you to come into the Garden to stay. I suppose that means that Robert is right in reading me as attempting not so much to emphasize the one approach over the other, but to replace the other entirely with the one.

    But that means that I have some explaining/defending to do. Matthew is very right that something “good” has been done when people leave class with more commitment to do better works. That’s clear, I imagine. But I suppose I’m questioning whether that ever happens because of application as described in the “strawman” model. If someone leaves class with more commitment to do better works after the teacher/class applies the material to “our everyday lives,” I imagine that it is seldom (if ever) a consequence of the fact of application. At least I personally never leave class with more commitment to do better works because of an application exercise.

    But I have been through lessons that use the “strawman” application method from which I have walked with more commitment to do better works. So how does this work? In thinking about my own experience, it seems to me that when I do walk away from an applied lesson with more commitment to do better works, it is because something drawn out of the text in the process of application opened the scriptures to me in a way I hadn’t seen before. In other words, it is not that the material is applied that builds my level of commitment, but just that–as happened in this particular case–the application drew something out of the text I’d not seen. (I’d like to cite an example, but I’m terrible at generating them. I’ll see one over the next week or two, and then I’ll have something to come back and say.) But my increased commitment derives from the Spirit of the opened/revealed meaning of the text, not the application of it to my (or anyone else’s) life: the success of the applied lesson is accidental to the application method that underlies it.

    I hope the above paragraph underscores the word “strawman” in my original post.

    But all of this leads me to Bob’s last comment here. And I’m not sure exactly how to respond to it yet. Let me think about this some more, and I will have a better response soon, I think.

    P.S., I would very much like to take up the theme of prayer. Let me see if I can’t work out a thread today on the subject.

  15. Sally said

    This post has really made me think. I have taught RS for several years and really try to have the sisters think about the material in a way they maybe hadn’t before. I think that the “saved by works” idea was really prevalent in the church while I was going up – saved by grace was too Protestant.
    But I have gradually been shifting my focus to the Savior and his grace in our lives and relying on Him.
    But I still struggle in figuring out how to truly access His grace. I teach about the atonement and the healing power when we are hurting or burdened by weakness, but just what do we do to access this power?
    I was struck by the scripture in Ether that if we go to the Lord in humility, that He (not us) will make that weakness strong. But I know that I and other that I know have gone to the Lord in prayer, but I have trouble bridging that gap between what I feel and promised peace of the Savior.
    I hope I am making sense. I want to understand better how to rely more on the Savior and bring the saving grace into my own life and teach others the same.

  16. brianj said

    Sally: beautiful thoughts. I think your question is more important than any “answer” I can give.

  17. nhilton said

    The scriptures aren’t a code to break. They’re fluid. Inviting–allowing–class members to take a pause to reflect on how the lesson’s scriptural basis impacts them personally so that they can leave the classroom empowered, or at least a little lighter, is essential. Nephi commands us to liken the scriptures to ourselves. Christ’s invitation to come unto him is personal and He ministers to us one on one. The scriptural application will be personal. However you make that invitation is dependent on you & your students. I would like to hear HOW that invitation is issued. With so many teaching styles represented in this blog, I could learn from your approach.

  18. I’ve got to think about that, nhilton. “How?”

    As for “likening,” I have some very specific thoughts on that verse. The word “liken” means, etymologically, “to embody,” and I think what Nephi describes is closer to typological experience than it is to comparison/application. But I’ll be thinking about some specific “hows.”

  19. […] by Robert C. on March 29th, 2007 We’ve discussed before the virtues and vices of reading scripture primarily with the purpose of applying the scriptures to […]

  20. […] I come to the really sticky one. Years ago, when we launched this blog, I wrote a post on application that generated a bit of discussion, and that has been referred to now and again since. I stand […]

  21. Jenny said

    I realize this is an old post, so please forgive me an indulgence…

    Thank you for a post that is helping me feel a little better about something I’ve been struggling with in my seminary class. Like you, I’ve been taught that the summation of a great lesson is the Application Question or challenge. I confess: I almost never do it. It feels hokey and formulaic, and sometimes there isn’t something I can get out of a list of the characteristics of a bishop that is going to flow naturally into a “How can I change my life as a result of this teaching?”

    I’ve tried to teach my students to listen to the Holy Ghost irrespective of my material. When I can tell the holy ghost is getting thick, I remind them to listen to him. He may tell them that what we’re talking about is true. He may tell them that they should be nicer to their little sisters. He may tell them to stop looking at porn or cussing. He may tell them any of a million things totally customized to their needs at the time. I have 16 students, and each of them could learn something both profound and yet profoundly different than the person seated next to them. Those promptings may have exactly zero correlation with the material I’ve taught. I feel that the application question model as taught takes away from that individualized inspiration.

    For me, scripture study has value not only because of the comforting/admonishing/beautiful/redemptive messages in the text, but also because reading truth opens a conduit through which we may tap in to the Source of that truth and hear His message for us. For me, over use of application questions makes messages about “them” instead of “me” by causing a trite summarization that might distract me or my students from that individualized inspiration. That’s why I do rarely use the application questions. I want God to tell them what the application is. I will try to help them recognize that voice when it comes.

    It’s a relief to read the words of someone who had come to the same conclusions, and can articulate it so well. I will try to ease up on my self-imposed guilt for so rarely pushing students to “apply”. Thank you.

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