Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Walking the line: speculation in the teaching situation…

Posted by joespencer on February 5, 2007

Picking up from another thread, I feel to return to a subject that was under discussion on the talk pages of the wiki a month or two ago: what is speculation, and is it wrong? I’d like to write up a few thoughts here in the hopes of getting, by the end of this, to a further question: what of speculation specifically in the teaching situation? In order to get there, though, I’d like to think carefully about the nature of speculation.

Since we all “already know” what speculation is, let me suggest that we might rethink it according to a less common meaning of the word. Are we all familiar with “land speculation”? Someone engages in this form of “idle” speculation when one buys up land at a cheap price in the hopes of selling it later (when it is in high demand) at a higher price. It can be called “idle” because one does nothing to improve the land or ultimately to work in any other way than to arrange the contracts for purchase and selling: the speculator is idle because he/she does not earn her/his living by the sweat of the brow. But this is not to suggest that land speculation is without risk: one gives up one’s means of living (money, property) to purchase something one cannot live on (the land in excess) in hopes–but without security–that eventually that “something one cannot live on” can be changed back into a fuller means of living (money, property, again). Speculation is inherently risky: if the worthless-for-now never turns into something valuable, then one has gained nothing. These additional comments bring out an important facet of the speculative venture: one takes leave of the source of life in hopes to obtain more of that source later, but without any promise.

What might this tell us about speculation in terms of the gospel?

The last characterization of speculation above is very helpful. To speculate in the gospel is to take leave of the source of life–the text, the scriptures, the revealed word–ultimately in hopes of getting closer to the source of life (one thinks about the non-scriptural in hopes, I should think, of having a clearer understanding of the scriptural eventually). But, as in land speculation, this is ultimately risky: one might well spend so many minutes, hours, days, weeks, years out of the scriptures themselves without making any profit, and one might return to the scriptures impoverished spiritually. This risk perhaps points the way to the importance of the first characterization above: speculation outside of the text might well be called “idle” as it often is, because it neglects the work that needs to be done on the scriptures themselves. Idle speculation in gospel terms might be understood to be a willful departure from the grueling task of looking carefully at the language, the context, the poetic structures, the translation issues, the rhetorical effects, the intertextual allusions, the rigor, and the beauty of the text itself (I might add that I have personally found this to be the case: speculation usually begins when one is too lazy to do the hard work of interpreting a rather difficult text at the semantic and syntactic levels). Perhaps gospel speculation should, then, be condemned simply based on the traditional Mormon work ethic (or on a scriptural work ethic: Adam and the sweat of his brow).

But all of this follows my own position quite closely: speculation is something the other does, those terrible people in the Church who don’t study the way I do. But I recognize quite clearly that there may be other ways of thinking about speculation (this was a major question on the wiki when this discussion was underway). If I here condemned as speculators those who neglect questions of text, I have nonetheless heard often enough in the Church accusations of “speculation” made against those precisely who deal with questions of text. That is, a grammatical explanation of a verse is more likely to be called “speculative” in the Church than an unthinking guess about the nature of God (a guess based quite loosely on, say, the King Follett Discourse). Or again, a few comments on etymological roots and 19th century dictionary definitions of “intelligence” are more likely to be called “speculative” than an unthinking acceptance of the description of intelligence found in Mormon Doctrine.

Might we say, then, that “speculation” is only a meaningless term used by those who approve one kind of study to label those who approve another kind of study? It might, practically speaking, be just such. But we nonetheless have to deal with the specific instructions of the Brethren to avoid speculation. How should we understand the term?

And then, depending on what we understand speculation to be, what place does it have in the classroom? I would appreciate all wild speculation on the subject…

27 Responses to “Walking the line: speculation in the teaching situation…”

  1. Rob Osborn said

    I know exactly what you mean! It is sometimes very difficult in trying to determine what a speculative doctrine might be. I have always found it troubling to me that someone always seems to pipe up that the issue at hand is speculative and therfor out of harmony with teaching. The Lord commands us that we should teach each other in meetings to understand according to “theory” until we get it right- See D&C 88:77-78, 97:14. This to me states that we must actively work out the speculative doctrines in theory until we get it right.

    I agree with you that speculation in real terms is something that is completely idle and does not progress each other more perfectly in theory or principle.

  2. Robert C. said

    (Joe, notice I speculated that you meant “condemned” not “condemn” in the now-bracketed occurrence of the word above. Oh, and nice finance metaphor, though somehow I suspect several subtle layers of ironic tone buried here….)

    For reference, here are some quotes from Church leaders on speculation that I tracked down a while ago–additions are very welcome. I’ll past two quotes here, the first which I think supports Joe’s view, the second which I think challenges Joe’s view. From Elder Eyring’s 1999 Conference talk on “The Power of Teaching Doctrine”:

    We have more control over our own preparation [than over preparing those we teach]. We feast on the word of God in the scriptures and study the words of the living prophets. . . . Because we need the Holy Ghost, we must be cautious and careful not to go beyond teaching true doctrine. The Holy Ghost is the Spirit of Truth. His confirmation is invited by our avoiding speculation or personal interpretation. That can be hard to do. You love the person you are trying to influence. He or she may have ignored the doctrine they have been taught. It is tempting to try something new or sensational. But we invite the Holy Ghost as our companion when we are careful to teach only true doctrine. [Emphasis added.]

    Surely there’s a lot in this quote to discuss, but what strikes me is the apparently synonomous use of “personal interpretation” with “speculation.” It seems personal can be taken in at least two ways: (1) not in line with what Church leaders are saying, and (2) not in line with the public text. Of course I think there is a lot of overlap in these two meanings of “personal” (after all, I think the “public text” in a Church setting includes what Church leaders have said…), I think you can argue that “personal interpreation”–and hence “speculation”–is imposing your own views onto the text in way similar to what Joe is getting at here and BrianJ was getting at in his “making the Gospel truer than it is” post.

    Next, Elder Perry said (Oct. 1981 General Conference):

    Fundamental in this teaching is instruction in our duties as bearers of the priesthood. It is not a time for speculation regarding the mysteries of the world. It is a time of basic, practical, how-to instruction, for which we can find application in our lives. The lessons should teach us how we can become better husbands, fathers, and members of quorums and should teach us our responsibilities to our fellowmen. [Emphasis added.]

    This view of speculation seems a bit less consistent with what you’re proposing, Joe (there’s also a note in, I think Elder Eyring’s talk, about keeping things simple in our teaching, e.g. faith and repentance which I’d like to hear you comment on…). Is there a way to fit “basic, practical, how-to instruction” into your view of uber-text-focused studying and teaching?

  3. robf said

    I like the land speculation example, because it recognizes what I think many people see as the danger of speculation…it goes beyond what is safe or secure. In this sense, anything that goes beyond what has been clearly and boldly stated in a general conference talk or repeated numerous times in church settings (i.e. tradition) is considered to be speculative or unsafe. The problem here is how to determine the difference between new and unfounded speculation, and new and vital truth and revelation. Many seem to be happy to learn something a little bit new at Church, but don’t want to learn anything that might make them rethink things they’ve already learned. Others are constantly grappling with what they’ve already learned, and trying to rethink it in light of everything else that they are learning, in order to circumscribe all truth into one great whole.

    Another value to the land speculation analogy is that while most people use land to live by, speculators use it for another end. That can be literally “unsettling” to those who see the land as the source of their livlihood. In the Church, the charge of speculation is often leveled at those who would question those tenets that many members are comfortable with and that make up central aspects of their spiritual “livlihood”–whether or not those tenets deserve rethinking or sacrosanct stability.

    All this is saying, I suppose, is that those who engage in “speculation” should be mindful of those who may be otherwise engaging the principles or teachings…who may feel threatened by different ways of employing the scriptures or their teachings. Since D&C 93:39 warns us about losing truth due to overdependence on traditional ways of seeing things, those with conservative tendencies should also be mindful that clinging to their well-set ideas may be as dangerous as speculative leaps of faith.

  4. Matthew said

    Joe could you give an example of: “take leave of the source of life–the text, the scriptures, the revealed word–ultimately in hopes of getting closer to the source of life”? Something you think isn’t obviously bad but fits the definition?

    Is this activity wrong because it is risky? Are there ways of doing the same thing but with less risk? Is there some way of doing the same thing (taking leave…) which would have an acceptable level of risk?

    I know RobertC is the finance prof but I can’t help but be distracted by the example. It is all I can do to keep myself from moving from land speculation to the stock market to derivatives.

  5. A simple example we all did in the mission field is to think about what it means to be gods, right? We read the little phrase two or three times in the scriptures, and then we have these three hour conversations late on a preparation day, laying on the couches and looking at the ceiling with a dazzled look in our eyes as we discuss the wonders of eternity. And then when we read the King Follett discourse for the first time, we did it all over again. I think the hope of talking about those things at such length and without any real foundation is that when we go back to D&C 76 or D&C 132 or whatever is that suddenly we will read it and understand all the details. We return thinking (I’ve got it now). And I think sometimes we return and see things we wouldn’t otherwise have been able to see, and I think sometimes we return and realize that the text is still really difficult, and we haven’t learned a thing.

    I don’t know that the activity is “wrong.” Though it is risky. Some speculative ventures have proved helpful to me (namely, getting a degree in philosophy–helpful, that is, in terms of reading scripture, not in terms of earning a living). And others have been those three hour conversations after which I went to the text and found myself frustrated and confused.

    I’d like to think more carefully about the questions Matthew raises about risk. I’m not sure how to think about that. I am certainly convinced that textual work is the key to eating the bread of life by the sweat of our brow: I think the wiki is so attractive for just this reason, that it is not given to speculation (I’m not sure how one can really speculate on there, though I’ve certainly been accused of it… though see my tentative explanation of that in the original post). Perhaps the most important question about risk is whether any such risk is justified in the classroom. Taking the risk myself at home may not be very great, because a three hour conversation will do no more harm to me than three hours of most activities (that are not spiritual in nature). But in the classroom…. And in the end, even at home….

  6. seanmcox said

    This reminds me very much of D&C 9:7-9, where the lord tells Oliver Cowdery that in order to translate, he needed to study things out in his mind and then ask the Lord if it was right.

    Clearly an advocation of an activity that could properly be termed “speculation”. However, as we speculate about what we’re to understand when someone uses a particular term or phrase, I always think it a decent thing to find some sort of standard that would properly apply, so I recommend a dictionary and often etymology, but as we’re quoting modern speakers, a good current dictionary will probably do.

    “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”
    “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
    “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all.”

    I have often thought of this quote whenever discussing or reading about interpretation of the Constitution. (Liberal judges/lawyers/etc. remind me of Humpty Dumpty.) In any case, a dictionary definition…

    I prefer the American Heritage dictionary myself, but since the online version of Merriam-Webster is so much easier to cite I’ll link to that: speculate

    I would think that intransitive verb 1a (i1a) is good and I think that would be what the Lord was telling Oliver Cowdery to do. i1b seems risky, but not necessarily bad. i2 seems to be what Joe was talking about in his example and certainly seem analogous. (Note: there are some definite cautions from the brethren regarding financial speculation, and such activities have caused major problems in church history, so while not altogether bad, care should be taken.)

    t1 I would think to be the best candidate for something to avoid and generally, this is the kind of speculation that sometimes leads to church disciplinary action. i1b can be dangerous in that sometimes idle musings can sometimes be taken too seriously. (Possibly a good note for the teacher in a classroom.)

    t2 doesn’t seem so bad, though in a classroom setting, it is not always best to be expressing all of one’s doubts and uncertainties.

    So, I would say, that if you hear some doctrine/principle/idea stated dogmatically (or, perhaps, more certainly than seems warranted) and the evidence is shaky, then the foolish man has built his house upon the sand and it’s time to raise red flags. Along the same lines, our speculation, or musings should be kept in balance by heeding the council (sp?) of our living prophet. Often this is termed “staying with the mainstream”, but I think this is misleading. The mainstream of the church doesn’t seem to know the difference between a testimony and a thank-a-mony (I’ve heard tell of a smut-a-mony). There are some significant errors in certain details of the thinking of the mainstream and they will cry “speculation” if they hear anything different.

    Thus, for them, speculation is a meaningless term which simply suits the occasion. Or, perhaps more correctly, they discern poorly because of the beams in their eyes, and so perceive slivers in others where there are none. (So, who wants to step up and tell them about that thing stuck between their teeth.)

  7. Sean, I was wondering if (hoping that) we’d see you here when this discussion got underway. I like the careful parsing of the dictionary definition that you’ve done.

    However, I think there are textual complications with bringing D&C 9 into the discussion. What Oliver was being taught about specifically was translation, very much a duty of sticking with the text. Though I confess I’m not sure how to read what those verses suggest Oliver was to do, I don’t think “study it out” means that Oliver was to go think about what ancient Americans would have had to say about their own history without any reference to things. Translation is always a question of studying out the text. Was Oliver being told to begin working out an alphabet and grammar (as he later did, along with some others, when dealing with the Abraham papyri)? Even Joseph Smith himself might have been trying to do something like this with the Anthon transcript (Bushman is the most famous author who reads that this way, but a number of other historians concur). What exactly is Oliver being told to do there? In short, I think you are very right to point us to that verse, but I think we need to do some more thinking about what it says before we decide that it justifies speculation.

    Personally, I don’t think it has been speculation per se that has brought disciplinary action. It has been rebellion in every such case, as I understand it. So and so teaches a couple of really speculative things. The Brethren ask that person to stop doing this (for whatever reason, and it may not be precisely because it is speculative). That person continues to do, breaking fellowship with the Church. Then disciplinary action follows: their own self-imposed dis-fellowship is confirmed as an official disfellowshipment or as an excommunication. But I think you are right to bring it into the discussion (I’m clarifying, rather than disagreeing): speculation, because of the risk inherent in it, can lead to a break with the community.

    In fact, much of this discussion might be fruitfully thought about in terms of community: this is ultimately the point I draw at the conclusion of the post. What room within our community is there for speculation? What kinds of speculation are blameless within and according to our community? What dangers are there in speculation for our community, or for the individual who thereby breaks with the community? What sense can we make of the “name-calling” of “mainstream Mormons” who point fingers at other members of the community by saying that they are doing nothing but speculation? And on and on.

  8. seanmcox said

    Joe, I don’t think the definition I cited (i1a) implies anything about what Oliver Cowdery was to have done beyond what we know he was told to do. I certainly did not imply that he had to leave the text or specifically consider what “ancient americans would have said”, or any other specific thing beyond what the Lord stated. Definition 1la simply means to ponder, something we are certainly told we should do with the scriptures and something Oliver Cowdery was certainly told to do.

    Now, from this I would determine that there has to be some pondering (read “speculation”) that is allowed (and further, necessary). (I did/do not draw any kind of conclusion that this justifies all speculation.)

    When it comes to disciplinary action and the community, I think you bring up a good point. There is some complexity in determining whether or not an idea is “speculative”. I think that whether or not our doctrine is correct or not, that our leaders and especially our bishop, are called to, among other things, be judges of the speculativeness of a doctrine, or more correctly, the appropriateness of it. I think we have to admit, that as individuals, we do not have perfect discernment and that to some extent we all judge for ourselves what is or is not “too speculative”. But if this was all then we would then be a law unto ourselves, and this is not really the Lord’s way. As the Lord’s house is a house of order, there is one head and one judge, in a ward setting, of what is and is not “too speculative”, and he has the authority to tell us when we have stepped over that line for ward purposes.

    However, on an individual basis, we don’t have that control in place for our random ponderings and what is “too speculative” for Sunday School may be OK on an individual basis. How do we judge whether an idea is to speculative unless we have speculated (read “pondered”) a little regarding it. It would seem then that our apostles can’t be telling us “don’t examine potentially bad fish”, they’re saying “don’t eat potentially bad fish”. It is also worth keeping in mind that the mere exposure to an idea can have an influence on us for good or for evil. Therefore I also think they have in mind that there is plenty of good doctrine available for us to learn and that this should be our focus.

    I think the mysteries can be unfolded to us, but I think we have to prepare ourselves beforehand with a solid foundation. Do I understand poligamy perfectly, or why blacks couldn’t receive the priesthood, how to be translated, or where I might get a seer stone? I really don’t, but every once in a while I’ll think about something like that. Once in a while a light is shined partially, illuminating a mystery, making it interesting again. (If I did understand any of those things, I wonder, would it be appropriate for me to teach it in Sunday School? Would it be appropriate for me to post it on the wiki? Does my propensity towards opening my big mouth keep me from learning such things?) There is a danger in obsessing about such things, that sometimes we may force an answer in our obsession to find one. It would then become one of Satan’s wedges. There is a danger, in our zeal for discovery, that we may take a tentative connection too seriously. Therefore, our tendency to speculate must be tempered by reason and patience.

    Who knows, but one day you or I may have all of creation unfolded before our eyes (how’s that for speculation :-) ), but if so, it would not be because we saw Kolob in a telescope, or because we were able to deduce the date of the second coming. It would be for the Lords own reasons and would have more to do with our understanding and application of faith, hope, and charity than anything else.

    That is not, however, to say that the other things are worthless. Though we are to develop patience, the Lord certainly didn’t intend for life to be boring. The Lord has given us, I think, a few nuts to crack. If the world can find them out, then so be it.

    In any case, now I’m rambling. I’ll stop.

  9. seanmcox said

    It converted my smiley. How cute! :-)

  10. m&m said

    Alma 12:9 is a scripture that I think gives a lot of guidance on these things.

  11. Robert C. said

    OK, I think this is against my better judgment, so at least I’ll try hard to make this very brief, but let me elaborate a bit on Joe’s land speculation comparison:

    “What’s the difference between gambling and investing?” students at BYU will frequently ask, or we’ll ask this of students. I think it’s a good question, and one that seems to have interesting parallels to this discussion. I haven’t yet heard a definitive once-and-for-all answer to the above question, but one of the first principles of investing someone studying finance learns is how to avoid unnecessary risk. In short, gambling has a negative expected return whilst investing has a postive expected return, so gambling is unnecessarily risky. (I think another good answer involves the idea that gambling and speculation are [nearly] zero-sum games whereas responsible investing is not, but I think that’s harder to make applicable here….)

    I think the way to avoid unecessary risks when we study scripture is to continually go back to the text of the scriptures themselves (incl. any statements by modern-day prophets that should be considered authoritative, which is itself probably a can of worms…). This I think underscores Elder Eyring’s linking of speculation and personal interpretation: the more we are just thinking about things ourselves without letting the words of prophets (and the Spirt…?) speak for themselves, the more unnecessary risk I think we are taking on. But clearly, this has limited bite: I don’t think we should just read scripture or quote GA’s when teaching a lesson–discussion entails a step of interpretation this is somewhat “speculative”….

    And for me, this begs the question: what is the difference between personal interpretation (which we are to avoid) and personal revelation (which we are admonished to seek after)? Is the former “just” referring to what we do with the Spirit and the latter what we do without the Spirit? Can we say more than this? Is the distinction emphasizing what we can appropriately share with others a la Alma 12:9ff?

    Perhaps this is just a carry-over from my high school debate training, but my tendency when teaching is to try to back up any statement I make with a scriptural passage or some “authoritative” quote (from the manual or a General Authority etc.), and I always tend to make such claims tentatively, emphasizing my limited understanding and the infinite potential of the Word. The problem with this approach, I’ve found, is that it doesn’t lend itself to “bold preaching.” So I’m left feeling that I’m in a bit of a dilemma (one that seems very related to the humility-and-inadequacy issue that was brought up on the Beatitudes post): how can I be both bold (e.g. as in these passages) and humble at the same time when I have such imperfect knowledge (yes, Alma 32 is very near my thoughts here)? If someone can help me answer this question, I think it’ll help me understand this speculation issue much better (and many other things!)….

  12. m&m said


    These are fantastic thoughts. Thanks.

    Here’s my two cents’ worth with your last question: I personally think that I can be most bold when I have something clear, particularly from a prophet/apostle, to back up what the Spirit has taught me. My most meaningful personal experiences with the Spirit are when He teaches me and it’s all consistent with what has already been taught (like, golly-gee, had I been listening better with my heart and spirit the first time around when I heard that quote, I could have gotten that sooner!) My most meaningful teaching experiences are similar — when I teach something that the prophets boldly and clearly teach, then I find the Spirit most freely flows. My boldness is in bearing testimony of their boldness. :) I firmly believe this is why we are given the counsel that you quoted above (and which we have heard many other times as well, and which I suspect we might hear again this weekend). My experience is that the Spirit flows most readily and freely and powerfully when we boldly reinforce what the servants of God are called and authorized to teach. (What’s been so awesome is that I learn as I teach this way, too…from what the Spirit teaches and also what people feel impressed to share in such an environment. (Golly, I miss teaching!))

    And now may I speculate as to why I think that is the case? :) 1. Because they are the called and authorized ones, and they can help keep us from wandering into strange doctrinal roads, even if our intent in speculating might be pure. We also take advantage of the law of witnesses that is so often involved in what our prophets teach as we focus on those things that are clear and repeated. 2. Because all in the Church should be familiar with what they teach, so that puts us on a more equal plane. Keeping to that foundation keeps us unified…with the teacher no better than the learner in our classes…the teacher’s job isn’t to teach something new, it’s to allow the Spirit to teach. (This can help prevent priestcraft as well, IMO, for everyone’s sake!) 3. If we start at the foundation of our doctrine (that which is taught repeatedly in ancient and modern scripture), we invite the Spirit which can teach everyone at whatever level they may be spiritually. No one is ever “done” learning from the “basics” of the gospel if they receive with the Spirit. On the other hand, if we go off on our speculative efforts, or intellectual sidestreets, we will likely alienate some who don’t resonate with those types of things. (It’s not that I haven’t felt the Spirit in such classes, but I know that there are others who glaze over because it’s simply not their cup of tea, or is really and truly out of their league. When I was called as GD teacher years ago, I had such a person beg me to keep things simple for this reason.)

    Sorry for rambling…like I said, I have been thinking about this a lot. Hope you don’t mind me thinking “out loud” here.

  13. Wow, a lot to respond to.

    Sean #8. Sorry if it sounded like I suggested you were reading the dictionary into D&C 9. I didn’t mean to, and I should have mentioned the dictionary after D&C 9; I just thought I’d get the “hey that dictionary thing was cool” out of the way first. I like the sentiments you express, and I think the question you raise about personal speculation standards might be broadened to the unofficial LDS community that is forming online: if a bishop sets the standards for the ward, who sets the standards when conversation opens up here between members from all over the Church? That is an interesting question that might be engaged quite carefully. As to D&C 9, I didn’t think you were reading so much into that verse, but I was trying to point out that there is a long road from the verse itself to any kind of a claim like “the Lord approves of speculation” (a claim I don’t think you are making). My point was cautionary.

    But I do think it would be helpful for us all to think about D&C 9 in terms of speculation. What is going on there? And what does it tell us about speculation?

  14. Robert #11 and m&m #12. Robert, you have opened a can of worms. If I can get through this comment without inviting them all out of that can, I will have succeeded quite nicely.

    I think personally that it would be well for us all to forget everything we learned in high school debate classes! And high school English classes for that matter. At least everything we learned in those classes about citing authority. Perhaps one of the most important aspects of the post-modern condition is the crisis of authority: in the wake of Wittgenstein as much as in the wake of Foucault, it is difficult to say that there can be anything like an absolute appeal to authority. That is, whatever authority I cite, my citation ultimately betrays my presuppositions, my cultural standpoint, my community. That is true even if I cite scripture: if I quote a verse in 1 Corinthians, I do not so much make an appeal to an absolute truth as I make an appeal to my communion with Paul. In other words, citation of authority is ultimately a delineation of community, a choosing of “sides,” a declaration of loyalties (in a sense, we are going back to the apologetics thread from a month ago or so). Citing an authority does not strengthen my case; it only lays bare where and who I am.

    Thus when I cite a general authority or scripture, I am declaring the boundaries of the community from which I speak, even if everyone listening would trust every word that authority says. Essentially, my teaching is always going to function as an invitation to community, to the community the teacher lays out in doing two things: citing/quoting authorities, and interpreting those authorities. If I begin a class with 1 Nephi 1:1, I have already begun to extend an invitation to a community that takes the Book of Mormon as “the word of God” and hence Joseph Smith as a “prophet.” I explore and ultimately redefine the boundaries of that community through the interpretation I then go on to offer, or the interpretation we as a class collectively work out. In fact, there is a sense in which the interpretive work of the classroom–precisely in that it does redefining work on the boundaries of the community–displaces the listeners (and the teacher as well, often enough) so that they are no longer within the community (because they had never known the community to be the way it is now being interpreted/presented), and it is precisely for this reason that the invitation to the community is so powerful and urgent. On such a model, the point of the classroom is to work out the meaning of the community through a sort of creation, fall, atonement, and then veil structure: one begins with the announcement of the community’s boundaries; and then one calls those boundaries into question, displacing the class itself beyond those boundaries; after which one offers a way of returning across those boundaries; and then finally, through testimony, etc., the boundaries are crossed, and the Spirit confirms the communion of sorts that is effected.

    Now, I should probably state that I only just learned all of that as I wrote it. That is, I’ve just redefined the boundaries of the community of teaching, and I’ve invited myself and all of us across those boundaries….:)

    But all of this was to get to the question of boldness. Can we think about Matthew 7:28-29 here? Jesus’ recognizable “authority” was not a function of His citing that authority, but a function of His revision of the authorities. To be bold is to take up the boundaries of the authorized community and to think those so carefully (so faithfully, I might add) that one is taught through the Spirit how to rework those boundaries. Boldness is not in citing authorities, but in thinking authorities (and again, with all the seriousness and faithfulness one can muster, that is, by study and also by faith).

    And I might also point out that I don’t think this is a question of getting into speculative stuff, though it is, at the same time, entirely a question of the mysteries (I don’t at all equate the mysteries with the speculative).

    This should probably have been another post. But I didn’t know it was coming. I’ll have to do some more thinking about this and work up a post on the subject itself. Any responses now will help me to do that better.

  15. m&m said

    Joe, I’m not sure I understand what you just said, but what I think I did understand, I’m not sure I agree with. The difference between us and the Savior is that He WAS The Authority. He’s the one who told the prophets in the scriptures what to say. I also don’t think it’s a teacher’s job to redefine boundaries. I think our boundaries should already be defined for us: We are members of the true Church of Jesus Christ; Art. of Faith #8; we are led by living prophets, etc. The dynamic of the class to me seems less about redefining community and more about capitalizing on the community that should already exist and that can be reinforced by a focus on basic, true doctrines. This moves us beyond the need to define and redefine community and gets us to being unified in the community that already exists, which, IMO, is part of what Zion is or could/should be.

    But, all that said, I may simply be misunderstanding what you said.

  16. m&m, I do think there is some misunderstanding here, because I agree with everything you said in your response, at least in the way you said it. At the risk of making what I’ve said more confusing, let me see if I can’t explain how what I said and what you said are ultimately the same thing (in my thinking). The only way I can think to “capitalize on the community that should already exist” is to think very seriously about what it means to say that “We are members of the true Church of Jesus Christ,” what the scriptures (listed in “Art. of Faith #8”) say, what the words of our “living prophets” mean, etc. But in order to think those quite seriously, we have to ask questions of them, interrogate them,… ultimately, we have to question them. Now, let me point out that I do not at all mean by “question them” that we have to assume they are wrong or that we have to pretend they are wrong or that we have to open the possibility that they are misguided, etc. I mean that in thinking them quite seriously, we have to engage them (together) so seriously that they might well come to mean something different (for us) than they have ever meant before (for us). Ultimately what we are questioning, I suppose, is our own presuppositions about them, our own “philosophies of men” with which we have so constantly mingled them. To question those “boundaries… already… defined” is precisely to allow them to question our interpretations of them, and to allow them to change our thinking about them, to transform our thinking. But if these things come thereby to mean something different (for us) than they have ever meant before (for us), then our community has changed (its borders have been redefined): we realize, for the first time, that we had misunderstood where the boundaries actually lie, and we are in the process of locating them really. The more seriously we consider these things, the more we will have to rethink the location of these boundaries, etc. (So, an important aspect of what I was saying that I did not say well was this: I do not mean that we are to redefine the boundaries, but really to redefine our understandings of the boundaries. But, in the end, this amounts to the same thing as far as we are concerned: it will appear to us that the boundaries have changed, since we are only in the process of learning where they really lie.)

    It seems to me that the purpose of the classroom is to work on these boundaries, and under the amazing influence of the Spirit. That is, by the Spirit, we should be looking more and more closely at the texts themselves, at the words of the prophets, and so allowing them to change our thinking, to question our presuppositions, and to prepare us for perfect community. And I also think that this purpose of the classroom is fulfilled in the class itself whenever and wherever the Spirit really comes upon us in our collective interpretation: where we engage each other in perfect charity and under the influence of the Spirit, Zion is already at work. But we leave class, and Zion disappears until we do the same thing again (unless we can begin to do it all the time and in everything: consecration).

    A couple of thoughts. I hope this makes things clearer and not more obscure. Thanks for your charity in engaging my thoughts seriously. Whether or not they may end up being true (which doesn’t much matter to me: I am nothing, God is everything), we might enjoy a bit of Zion in thinking about these things here. Thanks.

  17. m&m said

    Ah, I understand more now, and I think I agree with what you said in your clarification…all under the Spirit, all learning to understand more what our religion, our doctrine, really mean. Yes?

  18. Yup… just in really obnoxious, post-modern, philosophical, purposefully turgid prose. :)

  19. Robert C. said

    Joe #16, this way of restating things is helpful to me also. First, I think it helps tie what you’re saying into what I think is a very common complaint about Church being boring, always talking about the same things over and over. What you are saying, I think, is that it is not at all the same thing over and over. It might be the same words on the page that we are reading, and in a certain sense it might be the same people we meet with each week, but we are not the same people every week (for better or for worse: we’ve had a week’s worth of life in between). Church indeed gets boring if we shut our eyes and close our ears and don’t consider new ways of seeing and hearing the words each week. But of course the words don’t change–the scriptures are emphatic that the Word/God does not change!–rather, we are what must change!

    (I should post what’s below on the wiki since it is a follow-up to some discussion of Alma 32 there, but the wiki is down so I’m posting it here instead:)

    Also, I think this is very related to the temporal bit I was try to get at here. My thinking on this is still muddled so I won’t try to elaborate on too much on this now, but I think there’s a deep connection between all these ideas: temporally continuing in faith and humility, retaining in remembrance, the high priest (representing us) recurrently entering the holy of holies (the temple and/or sacrament for us; cf. Hebrews), etc. Perhaps it is that we continue in time until we become like God who is Timeless/Eternal, so then we step out of time (past, present and future all before us: “truth” in D&C 93:30) and enter God’s presence.

    But now I’m hiding behind the phrase “become like God.” I think it might be better to think of this more in terms of election: we continue in faith, humility, etc. until we are called up by God. I think a dangerous way of reading Alma 32 is to see the process as very systematic instead of relational: if we do A, B, and C then God must do X–then, on this view, we are saved by works A, B, and C. But in Alma 32 only two steps are described: how to begin to have faith, and then how to continue in that faith. This is why it is important to realize we don’t have more and more faith, rather, our faith increases because we continue having faith in God, and we continue on until God chooses to give us perfect knowledge (hence the phrase calling and election: it is God that calls and elects us…).

  20. m&m said

    It might be the same words on the page that we are reading, and in a certain sense it might be the same people we meet with each week, but we are not the same people every week (for better or for worse: we’ve had a week’s worth of life in between). Church indeed gets boring if we shut our eyes and close our ears and don’t consider new ways of seeing and hearing the words each week. But of course the words don’t change–the scriptures are emphatic that the Word/God does not change!–rather, we are what must change!

    Love this. Thanks.

  21. John said

    Robert (#11) you are getting very close to the crux of the argument, the scriptures are not to be understood via private interpretation (2 Peter 1:20) but as revealed to us personally and by prophets as they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost. I realize this fundamental way of gaining spiritual knowledge comes in direct contact with speculation in a very tangible way.

    “Did I really feel the Spirit just then? What was I to learn by it? What does God want me to do now?” How many times have I experienced such a quandary? (I usually wait until I have a greater or repeated confirmation.)

    God speaks. We should listen without interrupting. The mysteries of God (Alma 12:9) that are impressed upon us in that moment should not be shared unless we are moved to do so in controlled and exact ways (D&C 68:3-4).

    I am excited by the definition of “speculation” shared by seanmcox (#6,8) because the synonyms are REFLECT, THEORIZE, WONDER, and THINK. I have examined and will continue to examine many “bad fish” as I grow in understanding of the theory behind the principle, the principle of the doctrine, and doctrines that make up the law of the gospel.

  22. m&m said

    Doesn’t this all make church so much more than a three hour block of meetings to check off the list of spiritual things to do? :) :) Ah, I love the gospel!

  23. Jeff Batt said

    Indeed, M&M. Indeed.

  24. Robert #19.

    As for your first paragraph: absolutely! In fact, I realized this morning why my remarks came across so obscurely for two posts. The point was to talk about what it means to cite authorities. What I started out to say but got sidetracked from is this: when you cite an authority (in order to think that authority’s words very carefully, scriptural or otherwise), you declare your faithful relation to that authority. To cite is not to provide evidence, but to declare fidelity: “Here is where I stand: with Nephi/Joseph/Pres. Hinckley.”

    As for your second and third: let me make one change to how you said that. Alma 32 teaches us, not how to begin to have faith, but how to respond to the word, how to respond, that is, to the call. Hence our call and election. Also, your reading sounds wonderfully Hegelian/Marxist (out of time: the end of history). I enjoy that greatly (I spend a lot of time with my good friend, Hegel). I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about whether dialectic is a model of salvation by works or of salvation by grace (I wrote a terrible paper for Jim years ago when this question was first becoming important to me). I’m still not sure which it is. Perhaps it is ambiguous.

  25. Rats, Jeff beat me to the perfect response, m&m.

  26. m&m said

    To cite is not to provide evidence, but to declare fidelity: “Here is where I stand: with Nephi/Joseph/Pres. Hinckley.”

    This is a great perspective, IMO.

  27. Jeff Batt said

    Ha, Joe, my evil plot to beat you to the punch line is working perfectly… Hahahaha

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