Gospel Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the New PH/RS Manual

January 1, 2010    By: Matt W. @ 5:42 am   Category: Apologetics

The other day I receive a phone call from Peggy Stack up in Salt Lake asking me about the new PH/RS Manual and a post I did 6 months ago about it. We had a very nice chat and she did a write up for this Saturday’s Tribune. (She was extremely kind and classy. She made me a reader for life in just a few minutes.)

Anyway, she mentioned to me that she had previously talked to Steve Evans (see her article) who was dreading the new manual because, well, it’s the old manual and we’ve all read it a million times.

Here’s why I’m not worried:

1.- It’s been the same manual for the last 10 years, people. Brigham Young had chapters on all the same topics, then so did Joseph F. Smith, and all the others up to Joseph Smith. You could lie to yourself and say they expressed these ideas very differently, but let’s be honest, once the material is all correlated, it’s all pretty similar. So this is not going to degrade the lessons in any way. It’ll be more of the same.

2.- Lessons will improve. This one is easy. I know lessons will improve because there is nothing worse than lessons which include long recitations of GA quotes with no discussion, and that is really what the design of the previous manual called for from the average teacher. The new manual at least calls for some open discussion and doesn’t have any big long quotes to read. You can high-jack the lesson and take it anywhere you want with these questions.

3.- In PH, these lessons are generally less than 20 minutes long. I don’t know about what happened in RS, but I know we never got through all the material in PH for the old manuals. We mainly just read a big quote or two. So the new manual lends itself more to getting to the point of the lessons.

4.- I’ll be in Young Mens, so I’ll never see this manual.


  1. I agree with all 4 points (being the YM president of my ward) — the most salient being point 1. I haven’t seen any teachings in the Presidents of the Church series that was specific and unique to that prophet.

    Comment by A. Davis — January 1, 2010 @ 7:14 am

  2. Congratulations, business analyst.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — January 1, 2010 @ 8:37 am

  3. I appreciate the post Matt. I’m quite fascinated by the interest in the manual. I’m tempted to think this interest is more a projection of members hopes and desires for higher quality and better teaching. It’s easy to think that quality teaching rises or falls on a manual. However, my experience tells me that this simply isn’t the case. Teachers who simply read the manual in the past are probably not going to be transformed into a better teacher simply by a change of manuals, and teachers who nourished our souls with insightful teaching and careful preparation in the past will probably continue to do so.

    Comment by aquinas — January 1, 2010 @ 10:06 am

  4. I agree that the interest in the new manuals is surprisingly high. I have been astonished at the amount of traffic Matt’s post on the changes in the new manual has generated. It turns out a healthy portion on the ex-Mormon crowd thinks the changes are a super big deal for reasons that are not entirely clear to me. (I suspect they want to gain to debate points on the subject of changes in the teachings of the church over times…)

    I agree with Steve though — the problem with church being deathly boring too often will only be solved by non-boring teachers and class members, not by manuals. But then again, better base material won’t hurt.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 1, 2010 @ 10:20 am

  5. The similarity of the Teachings manuals was quite deliberate. A presentation on the John Taylor manual that I attended indicated that the manuals were created by deciding first what points should be made, and then looking through the teachings of that particular Church president to find a statement that matched. Really. The committee did not first read the President’s teaching to discern themes and matters important to him, but used current correlation outlines to fit the President’s teachings into a pre-existing rubric.

    Comment by DavidH — January 1, 2010 @ 10:25 am

  6. The teachers in our RS tend to come from the younger end of the ward, meaning that many of them have never taught, or even seen taught, a class where class members have the same manual as the teacher and are expected to have glanced through it ahead of time. The only mode of teaching they know is the read-a-long-quote-and-ask-what-does-that-mean style. I think they’ll still try to do that for a while — there are enough editorial paragraphs, if not quotations, among the questions to permit that — just because they have no idea what else to do.

    But while they’re still struggling to find a teaching style, before whatever style develops becomes set in stone, it might take only one good, imaginative teacher in a ward to set a style for the others. This would be a very good moment in time to resurrect the inservice program.

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — January 1, 2010 @ 10:44 am

  7. Oops. … have never taught [such a class] in any other style

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — January 1, 2010 @ 10:45 am

  8. Awesome post title, Matt.

    Re point #1: I made the same point on my blog in response to the suggestion that these manuals are somehow a “return to the basics.” The topics are neither old nor new.

    Comment by BrianJ — January 1, 2010 @ 11:29 am

  9. So, with the Snow manual in the can and coming in 2012, I wonder if we will get more of the same in terms of the previous Pres. of the CH. manuals. Snow was a rich personality who is under-appreciated in my opinion. There isn’t much material from his presidency for a manual. But there is a large selection of good stuff from his early life and apostleship. Very creative thinker.

    The Ph-RS manuals are written via a recipe generated by Harold B. Lee 40 odd years ago. Same topics are explored more or less for each manual. If you’re on the committee, you get a selection of topics to write up. Good luck if there isn’t much raw material.

    I like the GP manual. There is room for discussion and if you’ve got a good teacher/engaged students it could work out well. Based on experience of my own ward, this could be good, but it could be battery drain on the iphone time. I’ll be interested to hear about how it goes with others. Followup, Matt?

    And thanks Matt, for the differential diagnosis!

    Comment by WVS — January 1, 2010 @ 12:48 pm

  10. Matt I think you make a good argument in point number 2. I know the Presidents of the Church manuals are not supposed to be read word for word but they sometimes are. I really enjoy those manuals myself but it is good to have some variety. Periodically, it’s valuable to not rely so much on what Brigham Young, Spencer W. Kimball, etc says about a certain topic, valuable as their teachings are. It is also good to talk about how YOU understand the principles of the gospel. How do they effect your life and the life of the members of your ward. It’s not the only way to approach the gosel but it is a very valuable angle.

    Comment by Todd — January 1, 2010 @ 12:58 pm

  11. It is interesting to see how the bloggernacle is really driving a lot of the religion coverage in the SLTrib and the DesNews.

    Comment by Chris Henrichsen — January 1, 2010 @ 1:43 pm

  12. I am hoping this new manual will be instrumental in transforming our teaching in the church. It has me thinking about my favorite passage from Teaching, No Greater Call:

    A skilled teacher doesn’t think, ‘What shall I do in class today?’ but asks, ‘What will my students do in class today?’; not, ‘What will I teach today?’ but rather, ‘How will I help my students discover what they need to know?’

    By reducing the amount of material in each chapter, there is a good chance that teachers will talk less and instead spend more time encouraging participation from their students.

    I noticed that Julie M. Smith wished that “more penetrating, thought-provoking questions had been included.” I actually think we are being tested with the sparse lesson material: will our teachers rise to the challenge and, with the guidance of the Spirit, generate and ask good questions?

    The thing that probably excites me the most about these new manuals is the unparalleled opportunity they provide for us to study discrete gospel topics in a holistic manner. With each new lesson, we will no longer be limited to what just one prophet said about the particular principle. We will be able to dive into the scriptures and prophetic teachings and then pull together what has been said and revealed for each doctrine. Perhaps the big test will be to see whether we really have a theology or merely an assortment of loosely-connected statements and scriptural passages. And as we try to fit the pieces together, and probe the meanings and applicability of our sacred texts, I can’t wait to see what my students and I can learn from each other.

    Comment by Sterling Fluharty — January 1, 2010 @ 2:08 pm

  13. With the prophets manuals, I had to start preparing a week in advance. After reading the chapter, I’d complain about the manual for half a week and then prepare the lesson for half the week. Now I’ll need two weeks: one to complain and another to prepare.

    Comment by Sam B. — January 1, 2010 @ 2:52 pm

  14. Sterling, that quote is great, except for the “what do they need to know” part. Teaching in the Church is rarely, if ever, about information transfer.

    Comment by Steve Evans — January 1, 2010 @ 10:13 pm

  15. In defense of the old manuals often there were some interesting lessons. I loved the one with letters to Emma from Joseph.

    While I like the idea of the Gospel Principles manual the fact is you already get lessons from that in gospel essentials. Why not change things there.

    What I’d much rather see is a serious rethinking of how Gospel Doctrine class is taught. Now that is one peolecstruggle with – far more than the PH manuals of late.

    Comment by Clark — January 1, 2010 @ 11:39 pm

  16. Excellent points Matt, I agree completely.

    Comment by Jacob J — January 2, 2010 @ 12:01 am

  17. What will the investigators be taught from during Sunday School, or will they receive a double dose of GP?

    Comment by Ronan — January 2, 2010 @ 2:11 am

  18. There will some repetition for investigators and new members, but perhaps not of the kind you are imagining. RS & MP will study GP twice a month, taking two years to proceed through the manual. The second-hour GP class will study a lesson every week, completing the manual in the time it takes a new member to prepare for the temple.

    Comment by Sterling Fluharty — January 2, 2010 @ 6:18 am

  19. Matt, there’s always reason #5: Whether the lessons are slightly better or worse doesn’t really matter because 80% of the class is still just thinking about getting home to eat and watch some football.

    Comment by Eric Russell — January 2, 2010 @ 1:55 pm