Unprofitable Servants

POSTED BY: Millet

10/11/10


For many years I wrestled with how to take a compliment. I don’t know how many hundreds of talks or lessons I’ve given over the last thirty years, but it’s been a lot. And more than once people have come to the front of the room to thank me afterward. Those compliments have been as varied as the personalities of the people themselves. Some simply say, “Good job” or “Great talk” or “I really enjoyed your message.” The more thoughtful compliments take the form of follow-up questions, requested clarifications, or an eagerness to get a reference or source of a thought or quotation. As a speaker or teacher, I appreciate the fact that they would make the effort to provide feedback.

For the longest time, however, I just didn’t handle such compliments properly. I would often say something like, “Well, not really; I thought it was sort of mediocre” or “Thanks, but I only got through half of my material.” My wife, Shauna, noticed my discomfort and suggested that I might take a different approach: I might try saying, “Thank you.” It actually works quite well.

In recent years, I have discovered another way to handle compliments, even gushy ones about how wonderful and inspiring I am. I find myself saying things like, “Thank you. It was a great evening, wasn’t it? The Lord was good to us” or “There was a sweet Spirit in our midst. I’m grateful I was here.” Those aren’t just handy homilies to me, nor are they insincere. The longer I live and the more I experience, the more clearly I perceive the workings of the Lord; if we have an inspiring experience together, all the glory and honor and thanks ought to go to God.

I can still remember very distinctly the words of President Joseph Fielding Smith at the April 1970 conference, in which he was sustained as the tenth President of the Church. “I desire to say that no man of himself can lead this church,” President Smith affirmed. “It is the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ; he is at the head. The Church bears his name, has his priesthood, administers his gospel, preaches his doctrine, and does his work.

“He chooses men and calls them to be instruments in his hands to accomplish his purposes, and he guides and directs them in their labors. But men are only instruments in the Lord’s hands, and the honor and glory for all his servants accomplish is and should be ascribed unto him forever” (in Conference Report, April 1970, 113).

Such words should create feelings of profound humility, feelings of gratitude, of reverence, of resounding praise to Him who holds all things in his power and is the Source of our strength and very being. Elder Gerald N. Lund pointed out that “focusing on the word profit will help us better understand the concept of unprofitable servants. The word implies personal gain or benefit. Profit means an increase in assets or status or benefits.

“That is the crux of the concept of man being an unprofitable servant. God is perfect—in knowledge, power, influence, and attributes. He is the Creator of all things! What could any person—or all people together for that matter—do to bring profit (that is, an increase in assets, status, or benefits) to God? . . .

“That we are his children and he loves us is undeniable, and that situation puts us in a status far above any of his other creations. But we must somehow disabuse ourselves of any notion that we can bring personal profit to God by our actions. That would make God indebted to men, which is unthinkable” (Jesus Christ, Key to the Plan of Salvation, 120–21; emphasis added).

To the extent that we realize who we are, Whose we are, what we can do, and what we can never do for ourselves, our Heavenly Father and his Beloved Son will do everything in their power to forgive us, equip us, empower us, transform us, and ultimately glorify us. We may not have “arrived” yet, but we’re well on the way when we begin to acknowledge our limitations, confess his goodness and mercy and strength, and learn to embody an attitude of gratitude. In the language of the revelation, we are to “thank the Lord [our] God in all things” (D&C 59:7; see also v. 21). In weakness there is strength (see 2 Corinthians 12:9–10; Ether 12:27). In submission and surrender, there is power and victory. Thanks be to God, who grants us that victory through the mediation of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (see 1 Corinthians 15:57).


Commandments and Revelations

POSTED BY: holzapfel

10/29/09


joseph-smith-papers-book-depth1Those who are interested in the Doctrine and Covenants need to roll up their sleeves and begin to mine the treasure in the latest volume of The Joseph Smith Papers, released a little over a month ago on September 22, 2009. This stunning oversized volume, Manuscript Revelation Books (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2009), reproduces the original revelation manuscripts in actual size and color. The binding and design are excellent. The book is a treasure in itself, but the content is pure gold.

Robin Scott Jensen, Robert J. Woodford, and Steven C. Harper, my Religious Education colleague, edited this particular volume. The introductory essays alone are worth the hundred-dollar price tag.

This week, BYU Studies released its latest issue (48, no. 3), containing excellent essays by the editors and by Grant Underwood (BYU History Department) highlighting the discovery of the manuscript for ”A Book of Commandments and Revelation” (pp. 7–17), a review of the history of the manuscript through publication of the 1833 Book of Commandments and the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants (18–52), a discussion of the significance the manuscripts (53–66), and a review of how the manuscript can help us understand the “process by which Joseph Smith received, recorded, and published” his revelations (67–84). Added to these four outstanding essays is a response by the former archivist of the Community of Christ, Ron Romig (85–91).

Sbyu-studies-coverteve Harper notes, “The Book of Commandments and Revelations (BCR) will have an immense influence on the scholarly study of early Mormon revelations” (53). That is definitely true. His work, along with that of his coeditors, will provide current and future historians an opportunity to examine these important primary sources without traveling to Salt Lake City, Independence, or Provo. The publication’s impact on our understanding of Joseph Smith’s prophetic career cannot be fully appreciated now. However, BYU Studies has begun providing the kind of thoughtful consideration of the Book of Commandments and Revelation manuscript that will appear during the next few years and decades. If you own Manuscript Revelation Books, you need to get a copy of the latest BYU Studies—an important and valuable contribution to our understanding of The Joseph Smith Papers.


Rosh Hashannah

POSTED BY: holzapfel

09/22/09


Guest blog by Jeffrey R. Chadwick, Jerusalem Center professor of Archaeology and Near Eastern studies, and associate professor of Church history and doctrine at BYU.

Rosh Hashannah is the annual festival holiday marking the Jewish New Year. The Hebrew term actually means “head of the year.” The festival falls on the first day of the first lunar month of the autumn season. In 2009, Rosh Hashannah will begin on Friday night, September 18, and will be celebrated all day Saturday, September 19. In many Jewish communities, a second day of Rosh Hashannah will be celebrated on Sunday, September 20.

One of the most festive of all Jewish holidays, Rosh Hashannah is one of the two High Holy Days in Judaism, the other being the solemn fasting day known as Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), which falls ten days afterward. The period between these two High Holy Days is known as “the Days of Awe,” a period when the Jewish faithful consider their trespasses, personal and national, reflect upon the need for repentance, and consider the future. It is significant that such a period is commenced with a festival as joyful and full of hope and anticipation for the future as Rosh Hashannah.

a-jewish-shofarOn Rosh Hashannah there are different ways to celebrate. Of course, many Jews will attend the special service for the new year held in their local synagogue. A significant act, stated as a command in Leviticus 23:24, is to blow the shofar (Hebrew for “ram’s horn,” translated “trumpet” in the King James Bible) on the festival day. Combinations of short, medium, and long blasts are blown on the shofar up to one hundred times apples-and-honeyduring the day of Rosh Hashannah. Another practice is to enjoy fall fruits, such as pomegranates, grapes, and apples slices dipped in honey, and to give gifts of apples and honey to family and friends. Apples and honey have become an iconic symbol of Rosh Hashannah, recognized by Jews everywhere as an emblem of the festival.

Jews greet their families and friends and wish them Shannah Tovah (“a good year”) and Ktivah Vehatimah Tovah (“may you be inscribed and sealed for good”), referring to being well inscribed in the metaphoric books of life. The Talmud teaches that “three books are opened (in heaven) on Rosh Hashannah: the book of life of the wicked, the book of life of the righteous, and the book of life of those in between” (Babylonian Talmud, Rosh Hashannah 16.b). This passage is interesting in light of New Testament references to the books from which we are judged (see Revelation 20:12) and resurrections to different glories (see John 5:28-29). The Talmud, in its own way, seems to be referring to three degrees of judgment and postmortal reward.

In the Jewish scripture called the Hebrew Bible (Christians call it the Old Testament), the day of this festival is noted as falling on the first day of “the seventh month” (Leviticus 23:24), and is not given a name. The commandment to observe the festival simply directs that day be regarded as a Sabbath and a holy convocation and instructs that the “blowing of trumpets” take place. In early Old Testament times before the Babylonian captivity, the festival was not regarded as the first day of the new year. So how did that designation come about?

While in Babylon, ancient Jews were exposed to an annual count that began with an autumnal new year, and it became expedient for them to adopt that cycle for their practical yearly reckoning. So counting the year from the first autumn month became something of a second, secular calendar for them. Though the biblical spring new year was not forgotten, over time the autumnal new year became more widely observed. And because that day fell on the same autumn day as the festival of trumpeting mentioned in Leviticus 23, the practice of calling it the “head of the year” (Rosh Hashannah) came into being—all before the time of Jesus. And one more interesting fact: it is quite likely that the “feast of the Jews” mentioned in John 5:1 was not Passover (as mentioned in some footnotes) but actually Rosh Hashannah!

 So Shannah Tova to all!


Seek Learning

POSTED BY: holzapfel

07/13/09


between-the-lines-mcconkie-depth_smallLatter-day Saints are fond of quoting a phrase from modern revelation, “Seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118). From the beginning of the Restoration in the 1820s, a common theme of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s religious quest was to seek knowledge, light, and understanding. When he went into a grove of trees near his home to pray in the spring of 1820, Joseph Smith was impelled by his trust in the biblical promise found in James 1:5 that he could find wisdom if he sought it. This prayer resulted in the First Vision, in which Joseph saw the Father and the Son—beginning a spiritual sunrise unexpected by men and women of Joseph’s own day, but anticipated by prophets and apostles of old (see Acts 3:20–21).

Gospel truths continued to roll forth through the young prophet as he personally sought wisdom from God. Interestingly, Joseph Smith not only prayed for such wisdom but also studied the word of God and the languages of the biblical world (for example, Hebrew and Egyptian), practicing the command to “seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” His example in this two-part effort set a pattern for Latter-day Saints that continues to challenge us today.

Recently, there has been an explosion of self-help books for “dummies” or books to make something easy. With less time in a busy world, we often look for a quick fix to our problems, even when it comes to scripture study. However, when applied to the scriptures these efforts, even though popular and well meaning, may not necessarily raise one’s understanding of the topic. My colleague Robert J. Millet opined sometime ago that we need the scriptures to be understandable, not easy. I do not believe that he was playing a semantic game but that he was identifying an important difference between the two approaches.

Fortunately, Joseph Fielding McConkie, professor emeritus of ancient scripture at BYU, helps us in making the scriptures more understandable with his latest book, Between the Lines: Unlocking Scripture with Timeless Principles (Honeoye Falls, NY: Digital Legend, 2009).

What I like most about this book is that it forced me to think about how we read and study the scriptures. Sometimes in order to focus our thoughts, it is important to consider how and why we do a routine thing such as studying the scriptures. McConkie is not interested in “procedures,” such as what color of pencils one use to mark the scriptures or whether one should mark the scriptures at all. His goal is to enhance our study by providing “timeless principles that facilitate sound scriptural understanding” (viii).

The book contains more than just ideas about scripture understanding. There are also concrete suggestions. For example, the author suggests that we take advantage of “various study Bibles” (29). He enjoys “the help of an Archaeological Study Bible, The Jewish Study Bible, The Catholic Study Bible, and a variety of Protestant study Bibles” (29) and even provides a brief list of such study Bibles in the section “Sources” (165–66).

There are some light-hearted moments scattered throughout the book as the author has some fun pointing out rather common practices that we have engaged in through the years that may in fact have diverted us from understanding the scriptures. It may be healthy to laugh at ourselves from time to time, especially when we consider that we all have likely endured our “fair share of scripture abuse” (viii). I recommend this book to all who want to improve the quality of their scripture study and teaching.


People of Paradox

POSTED BY: holzapfel

03/11/09


Recently the Department of Church history and doctrine at BYU hosted a guest lecture by Terryl L. Givens, professor of literature and religion and James A. Bostwick Chair of English, University of Richmond. Such opportunities allow BYU faculty to rub shoulders with well-known professors from around the world.

I was particularly interested in one lecture during his weeklong visit. It was a follow-up to his book People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007). I recommend the book for its thoughtful insights about Mormonism and Mormons. It is certainly a tour de force!

You may recall that a paradox is “a seemingly contradictory statement that may nonetheless be true” (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language). I have often been drawn to such tensions but have become very comfortable with the notion of paradoxes since I realized the greatest paradox is the truth that Jesus died that we might live.

Givens first discusses “the polarity of authoritarianism and individualism” (xiv), followed by the contrast in the Prophet’s teachings about what we already know and an ambitious “program of eternal learning” (xv).

Next he tackles the Prophet’s insight that “God [is] an exalted man, man a God in embryo.” Givens states, “The resulting paradox is manifest in the recurrent invasions of the banal into the realm of the holy and the infusion of the sacred into the realm of the quotidian” (xv). Then he discusses the “two related tensions in Mormonism: exile and integration, and a gospel viewed as both American and universal” (xv).

During his time with the faculty, Givens discussed yet another paradox—the Prophet’s “competing impulse of assimilation and innovation.” I believe he is correct on this point. Latter-day Saints tend to highlight the Prophet’s innovations (he restored doctrine that had been “kept hid from before the foundation of the world” (Doctrine and Covenants 124:41). Yet Joseph Smith also assimilated truth from the world around him, saying, “[If the] Presbyterians [have] a truth [we] embrace that. Baptist, Methodist etc. get all the good in the world [and] come out a pure Mormon” (The Words of Joseph Smith [Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1980], 234). It would not hurt us to identify those truths he found in other faith traditions, paying attention to how he adopted and adapted them as part of the message he proclaimed. This does not in any way diminish the flood of revelation that constantly flowed down from heaven upon him as the Lord’s anointed.


“Behold, There Shall Be a Record Kept”

POSTED BY: holzapfel

01/26/09


Joseph Smith received a revelation during the organizational meetings of the Church of Christ in Fayette, New York, on April 6, 1830, as depicted in William Whitaker’s painting The Prophet Joseph Smith Receives a Revelation. In this revelation, the Lord told Joseph Smith, “Behold, there shall be a record kept” (Doctrine and Covenants 21:1). The Prophet would spend the rest of his life attempting to fulfill the command, including providing historical narratives that recorded events associated with the rise of the Church of Jesus Christ in the last days.

Doctrine and Covenants section 20 offers one of the earliest attempts to record these events. Although much of the material in this inspired document was gathered over a twelve-month period, “the current version found in Doctrine and Covenants 20 was written April 10, 1830″ (Robert J. Woodford, “Discoveries from the Joseph Smith Papers,” in The Doctrine and Covenants: Revelations in Context [Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2008], 29).

Section 20 briefly mentions the First Vision in the spring of 1820: “It was truly manifested unto this first elder [Joseph Smith, see verse 2] that he had received a remission of his sins” (Doctrine and Covenants 20:5). Most are familiar with the 1838 account of the First Vision, one of ten accounts recorded during Joseph Smith’s lifetime, which emphasizes Joseph Smith’s search for the true Church. However, an earlier version is found in Joseph Smith’s 1832 autobiographical narrative, which highlights the young boy’s search for mercy and forgiveness. He recorded in his own hand, “I cried unto the Lord for mercy for there was none else to whom I could go and to obtain mercy and the Lord heard my cry in the wilderness and while in <the> attitude of calling upon the Lord <in the 16th year of my age> a piller of fire light above the brightness of the sun at noon day come down from above and rested upon me and I was filled with the spirit of god and the <Lord> opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord and he spake unto me saying Joseph <my son> thy sins are forgiven thee” (The Papers of Joseph Smith, Vol. 1, Autobiographical and Historical Writings, ed. Dean C. Jessee (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989), 6.

Next, section 20 mentions the period between 1820 and 1823: “He was entangled again in the vanities of the world” (Doctrine and Covenants 20:5). Joseph Smith’s published history provides more details: “I was left to all kinds of temptations; and, mingling with all kinds of society, I frequently fell into many foolish errors, and displayed the weakness of youth, and the foibles of human nature; which, I am sorry to say, led me into divers temptations, offensive in the sight of God. In making this confession, no one need suppose me guilty of any great or malignant sins. . . . I was guilty of levity, and sometimes associated with jovial company, etc., not consistent with that character which ought to be maintained by one who was called of God as I had been” (Joseph Smith—History 1:28).

The record then moves on to Joseph’s prayer for forgiveness in September 1823: “But after repenting, and humbling himself sincerely, through faith, God ministered unto him by an holy angel, whose countenance was as lighting, and whose garments were pure and white above all whiteness; and gave unto him commandments which inspired him” (Doctrine and Covenants 20:6). The angel was Moroni, who opened a new chapter in Joseph’s life.

The next historical allusion is to September 22, 1827, when Moroni delivered to Joseph the plates and the Nephite interpreters “and gave him power from on high, by the means which were before prepared to translate the Book of Mormon” (Doctrine and Covenants 20:8).

Next is the June 1829 experience when the Three Witnesses (Martin Harris, David Whitmer, and Oliver Cowdery) were shown the plates by a heavenly messenger and commanded to prepare a testimony which is now printed in the Book of Mormon, “which was given by inspiration and is confirmed to others by the ministering of angels, and is declared unto the world by them” (Doctrine and Covenants 20:10).

The most recent event mentioned in section 20 had occurred on April 6, 1830, with “the rise of the Church of Christ in these last days” (v. 1). Thus, section 20 offered those early members and missionaries a basic outline of major events leading up to the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ in the latter days.


The Joseph Smith Papers

POSTED BY: holzapfel

12/10/08


Joseph Smith received a revelation the day the Church was organized in Fayette, New York (USA), in April 1830, “Behold, there shall be a record kept among you” (Doctrine and Covenants 21:1). The Prophet’s efforts have provided Church members and interested historians a number of primary sources that allow us to reconstruct his remarkable life. Certainly, anyone interested in Joseph Smith would like to have more material—more letters, minutes, diaries, and other items from his pen, but given the historical realities of nineteenth-century life, we are fortunate to have a rather large body of material to draw from as we study his life and ministry.

 

These important documents are preserved in various repositories in the United States, including the Church History Library in Salt Lake City and the Community of Christ Library-Archive in Independence, Missouri. In the past, historians had to travel to these archives to study the documents in order to prepare interpretive essays and books. Because of space limitations, they could reproduce only extracts from these primary sources—an act of interpretation itself, leaving the reader only a taste of what the original sources reveal.

 

Beginning in the 1970s, Church leaders and scholars realized it would be helpful to provide accurate transcriptions of these primary sources to a larger audience and to help preserve these fragile documents from frequent handling. After a rather long road, the Church announced it would publish two thousand primary documents relating to Joseph Smith’s life and ministry in a thirty-volume set, The Joseph Smith Papers, organized by specific types of material, including journals, documents, histories, administrative papers, revelations and inspired translations, and legal and business items.

 

Drawing from a variety of public and private collections, including those in private possession, these important records will provide a window into the story of Joseph Smith and, as a result, the early world of Mormonism. Church historian and recorder Elder Marlin K. Jensen opined, “The study of these historical sources, particularly in their earliest forms, provides students of Joseph Smith with an enriched understanding of the Prophet’s life and the development of the restored Church” (forthcoming July 2009 Ensign article).

 

The Joseph Smith Papers, Journals, Volume 1: 1832–1839 (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2008) was recently released just in time to celebrate the Prophet’s remarkable life on the anniversary of his birth on 23 December. Next year an important volume in the Revelations and Translations series will appear as the second published volume. In this volume, the earliest known copies of Joseph Smith’s revelations will be carefully reproduced. Elder Jensen observed, “Joseph seemed to regard the manuscript revelations as his best efforts to capture the voice of the Lord condescending to communicate in what Joseph called the ‘crooked, broken, scattered, and imperfect language’ of men” (July 2009 Ensign article). The series will continue from there.

 

When I recently picked up the first volume at the BYU Bookstore, I plowed into the book—some five hundred pages. First, it is an attractive volume, well made—printed on high quality paper and designed to last a lifetime of repeated handling. It includes meticulous transcriptions of the original sources; a variety of visual images (maps, photographs of individuals, and examples of some of the documents); carefully prepared charts (including a detailed chronology, genealogical table, ecclesiastical organization); a remarkable glossary; well-written introductory essays to each document; thoughtful annotations of the texts; and well-researched geographical and biographical directories. It is truly a treasure and worth every penny it cost ($49.95). Although I was familiar with the documents published in this first volume, the annotations and introductions brought to life the meaning and importance of the documents. I found myself marking passages that caught my attention. For example, on 1 April 1834, Joseph Smith wrote, “My Soul delighteth in the Law of the Lord for he forgiveth my sins” (p. 37). Many such entries will surprise and delight readers.

 

Readers do not begin at page 1 and read straight through to the end in the same kind of way we do with a biography. This is a documentary project—the type of effort loved by academics and appreciated by those who love to have an original copy of their grandfather’s diary or their mother’s personal letters. There is something about such documents that allow us to touch the past in a way that an interpretive work cannot do.

 

The Joseph Smith Papers will provide a personal and intimate look at the life of Joseph Smith. Historians will carefully comb through the volumes in order to provide new, fresh perspectives on the Prophet. Already The Joseph Smith Papers offer new insights, correct past assumptions, and get us closer to the original world of Joseph Smith, the latter-day Prophet. It is truly a good time to be alive!

 

For an overview of the project, see http://josephsmithpapers.org/Default.htm.

 


“In His Own Language”

POSTED BY: holzapfel

11/12/08


In a remarkable revelation given through Joseph Smith in 1831, the Lord said, “The voice of warning shall be unto all people” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:4). This command may have seemed overwhelming for the fledgling Church of Jesus Christ. Two years later, in 1833, the Lord expanded the Church’s mission, saying, “Every man shall hear the fulness of the gospel in his own tongue, and in his own language” (Doctrine and Covenants 90:11).

Today, it is estimated that there are nearly 7,000 spoken languages in the world, of which some 2,600 have a writing system. However, linguists project that within a century more than 3,000 spoken languages will disappear. The world is indeed getting small, and some languages are expanding their reach, such as English and Chinese.

The Church’s effort to fulfill the Lord’s command to preach the gospel to the inhabitants of the earth has been remarkable and continues to be so. Our family simply mirrors what is happening across the planet with so many Latter-day Saints. My son Bailey serves in the Switzerland Zürich Mission, and my daughter Marin enters the Missionary Training Center in Provo on December 4, 2008, to begin her preparations to serve in the Hungary Budapest Mission. They follow in the footsteps of two older brothers—Nathan, who served in the Chile Osorno Mission, and Zac, who served in the Costa Rica San José Mission. I completed my own missionary service in the Italy Milan Mission. My son and daughter will join their cousins, Elders Josh Meacham and Ephraim Taylor, who are serving in the Poland Warsaw and Taiwan Taichung missions.

Equally impressive is the effort to provide translations of the Book of Mormon to the world. Today, the complete Book of Mormon has been translated into seventy-nine languages, and selections are available in another twenty-three languages. This represents 99 percent of the languages spoken by Latter-day Saints. Efforts continue to translate this book into more languages to fulfill the Lord’s command.

The Prophet Joseph Smith was on his first historic visit to Jackson County, Missouri, in August 1831 when he heard the voice of the Lord, “Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness” (Doctrine and Covenants 58:27). In this light, the Religious Studies Center has launched a new Web page to reach a wider audience. Finally, in response to the Lord’s command that each person hear the gospel in his own language, we have translated some of the best articles and books from the RSC’s printed library into Spanish and Portuguese, the two most common languages in the Church outside of English. Additionally, we have just added German and will be publishing a landmark book by Dr. Roger Minert, In Harm’s Way: German Latter-day Saints in World War II. We will expand our outreach by translating other books, providing Church members another way to “seek . . . out of the best books words of wisdom” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118). We invite others to join us in this adventure and spread the word that the RSC Web site is providing valuable articles in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and German.


New Context for Joseph Smith’s Revelations

POSTED BY: holzapfel

10/29/08


BYU hosted the Thirty-Seventh Annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium on campus, 

“The Doctrine and Covenants: Revelations in Context” this past weekend (24-25 October 2008). It was a beautiful fall weekend in Provo!

Named in honor of Sidney B. Sperry, a well-known and respected BYU Religious Education faculty member who taught from 1932 until 1969, the symposium focuses on the Gospel Doctrine topic for the upcoming year. As a result, this year’s symposium highlighted the Doctrine and Covenants, the “capstone” of the Church. This is one of the strongest volumes in the series and features new insights from the Joseph Smith Papers Project.

Elder C. Max Caldwell, released Seventy and former Doctrine and Covenants teacher at BYU, was the keynote speaker on Friday evening. The remaining sessions on Friday and Saturday were held in the Joseph Smith Building (JSB) and the Martin Building (MARB). For those who missed this opportunity this past weekend, we have printed selections from the conference in our newest RSC publication, The Doctrine and Covenants: Revelations in Context (Provo and Salt Lake City: Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book, 2008).

Andrew H. Hedges, J. Spencer Fluhman, and Alonzo L. Gaskill, the volume editors, provided thoughtful essays—fresh insights to the story behind the revelations and revealing analysis of the doctrinal content of several Joseph Smith revelations. You will not want to miss Robert J. Woodford’s essay, “Discoveries from the Joseph Smith Papers Project: The Early Manuscripts” or Steve Harper’s article, “All Things Are the Lord’s: The Law of Consecration in the Doctrine and Covenants.” Both contributions force us to rethink what we have thought about before on these subjects because the authors have moved the boundaries of knowledge with their meticulous efforts. Personally, I think J. B. Haws’ article, “Joseph Smith, Emanuel Swedenborg, and Section 76,” has provided a definitive response to our critics who have attempted to demonstrate the influence of the eighteenth-century Swedish visionary Emanuel Swedenborg on Joseph Smith. Finally, Grant Underwood’s contribution to the volume, “The Laws of the Church of Christ” is amazing—he gently gets us back to the original setting by providing a detailed analysis of the text, “offering insight into the revelatory process that produced the canonical texts” (p. 135). I will never teach my Doctrine and Covenants classes the same after this symposium.

The Sperry Symposium is always a marvelous opportunity to “teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118).