The seminary manual begins with Boyd K. Packer’s quote about the importance of teaching the plan of salvation. It correctly cites the source, although it is an appeal to authority, we’re going to have to accept that appeal to authority is going to be common here.
I’m tempted to doc points because this was a lecture to CES teachers, which makes it a circular reference. It would be better to find some source of a quote outside the CES system. Something like quoting the principle of one’s high school in one’s English paper.
The interesting bit, for me is that Boyd gives this reasoning for why to teach the plan of happiness:
“Young people wonder ‘why?’—Why are we commanded to do some things, and why are we commanded not to do other things? A knowledge of the plan of happiness, even in outline form, can give young minds a ‘why’”
Namely, controlling what people do or not do (or if you prefer the milder version, answer why individuals are permitted or not permitted to do things). It straight out states that the atonement and the plan of salvation answers that question.
It then has a student quote from the Book of Moses as to the purpose of God’s activity (See Moses 1:39). It has no description of where the book of Moses came from (there was no text translated from, it was simply Joseph Smith stating that this was scripture). It does not discuss alternate purposes God states for himself in the bible, or what other faiths might believe the purpose is. There is no alternative view.
Some of these scriptures:
The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. (Psalms 19:1 NASB)
The heavens declare His righteousness, And all the peoples have seen His glory. (Psalms 97:6 NASB)
this is what the LORD says– he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited– he says: “I am the LORD, and there is no other. (Isaiah 45:18)
Which is to say, that God did it to show off His glory.
Perhaps this refusal to discuss other views, or other scriptures is an oversight… or maybe they just need to focus. It’s the introduction after all.
Immortality vs. Eternal Life
But then the lesson focuses on this as the ONLY definition, and jump straight into a quote by Bruce R. McConkie:
“God’s life is eternal life; eternal life is God’s life —the expressions are synonymous” (Mormon Doctrine,2nd ed. , 237).
Right off the bat we have a contradiction. Are we supposed to believe in the book Mormon Doctrine, as it defines things? Was there never a time when a prophet, from the pulpit, stated the difference between immortality and eternal life that wouldn’t cause a doctrine vs. non doctrine issue in the first lesson? No wonder mormon doctrine is so difficult to define, when the church’s own education system uses non doctrine to define terms in the first lesson.
The plan as defined is given from a few verses in the Book of Abraham. Despite it being rejected by virtually every other Mormon sect, and being dis-proven to be a funerary text by scholars, who have even directly rebutted the remaining explanations by apologists in published form.
So why use such a disputed source? My answer is “Product differentiation”. This is one of the main doctrines that holds the LDS faith different from every other faith. The plan of salvation doesn’t really answer the question “Why did god make man”, it just pushes it back a generation (“Why did God’s father, grandfather, or the first God ever create creatures to become gods? In fact it opens up a theological can of worms that there are no answers to: How did that happen? Which came first, man or god? Could God be un-created by whatever made the first god?), but it does put forward one of the distinguishing characteristics of the religion.
So -2 points for claiming an answer that doesn’t answer the question, but I can accept that a sales pitch is a good way to start a teaching manual.
How were we different from our Heavenly Father in the pre-earth life? (He had a perfected body and character. We did not.)
I’ve always hated when a manual gives the teacher a single answer. From everything my education-trained relatives have told me, it’s a really poor teaching methodology because it encourages teachers to stop students from giving additional answers. -5 points for bad educational etiquette.
But further, this answer doesn’t even totally make sense (They worded it carefully to force the response). The Holy Ghost is a member of the Godhead without a body. He has all the powers of the Father. Somehow he/she/it became a god/part of the title “God” without having to go through an Earth life and obtain a body. So bad question formation -10 points
The diagrams… I’m not sure how those are supposed to help more or less than the standard “Plan of salvation” used for 30 years. Don’t get me wrong, I’m fine with them updating diagrams. I just don’t see that this is necessarily an improvement.
Why did we need to leave God’s presence in order to become more like Him? (Students’ answers may include the following: to gain a body; to learn and grow by using our agency.)
Again, the answers given to the question don’t really answer the question. The Holy Ghost has no body and is near God. And in the war and heaven, agency was used; despite it being prior to this earth. At least they said “Answers may include” to suggest there was more than one right answer. Still poor form as compared to guiding the students to the next principle regardless of what answers are given, or heaven forbid, discussing the student’s answers and learning with them.
“God has given us a plan. He has sent us all to earth to obtain bodies and to gain experience and growth” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball , 25).
Again, whether this is a source for doctrine or not is really very questionable. Why not find a quote from a prophet at conference? Or are they implying that anything printed by apostles (Bruce R. McConkie never became a prophet) is doctrine?
According to President Kimball, what are some reasons God has sent us to the earth? (As students respond, they should identify the following truth: God has sent us to the earth to obtain bodies and to gain experience and growth.)
Despite the fact that this answer doesn’t really match the question, does it need to be the 3rd question with the same answer in a row? I’m a big fan of “I’m going to tell you, I tell you, Here is what I told you” but this seems more like repetition for the purpose of almost chant-like responses. This borders on cultish behaviors. Imagine if you went to history class and you knew the answer to every question was “Because George Washington loves us”. It becomes less history, and more patriotic rhetoric.
What role do the challenges of temptation, sickness, sorrow, pain, discouragement, disability, and other mortal difficulties play in our efforts to receive eternal life?
Finally, a good question with a really deep answer. I mean, this is the kind of thing that people of all religions and faiths discuss for lifetimes. One can explain a lot of Mother Theresa’s activities by her answer to this question (In suffering we become nearer to God) + 5 points
(As students respond, help them identify the following truth: Sin prevents us from becoming like Heavenly Father and returning to live with Him. See also Moses 6:57, which teaches that through repentance, we can return to live with God.)
Here is another question but they use “Guide to the next principle” rather than one answer. +5 points
According to these verses, why does sin prevent us from becoming like Heavenly Father and receiving eternal life? (Students may give a variety of answers. Help them identify the following truth: No unclean thing can dwell in the presence of God.)
And -5 for having a single answer again although they at least say “Help them identify”. I mean some questions only have one answer; but if one takes the book of Job literally, then Satan and God speak together and even meet each other. If no unclean thing can be in the presence of God, how did Joseph Smith see God during the first vision (was he cleansed?). There is a host of theological material here, but we see a tendency to thought-stop.
Yes, I know the teacher has a limited time, but that does not excuse narrowing the discussion to thought stopping techniques rather than a broad teaching experience where all can be edified of all. In fact, the manual should have topics to cover, and the TEACHER should control the discussion. What we have here is a manual that attempts to control the teacher.
According to Doctrine and Covenants 76:40–42, what makes it possible for us to overcome sin? (Students may respond with different words, but make sure they identify the following truth: Jesus Christ suffered and was crucified for the sins of all people.)
Theological differences between myself and the manual writers aside, this matches their thesis, and plays into their stated goals without dictating or controlling the teacher. +10 points
if we are obedient to the principles and ordinances of the gospel, we can overcome sin through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
This is an interesting conclusion given the discussion so far. It isn’t a conclusion that God loves us so much He redeems us. It isn’t a discussion of the redemptive power of Jesus’s actions. It isn’t even a decrying of Satan’s behavior.
No, the point of the lesson is obedience to the church. And this is where we have another cult like moment. This same lesson could have been taught a dozen different ways. Each one could glorify god, discuss how He is a great planner, or point out some other characteristic of God. Instead we teach teenagers that salvation comes only through their actions (which they are probably going to screw up) as the main point of all of God’s plans.
The physical death section that follows is immediately cleaned up. It isn’t an issue and that could be another moment of glorifying God, or discussing the physics of heaven, or how it could possibly be just for one god to die and clean up all the sins of the world… but it is used as a counter point to illustrate that the teenagers themselves really are all that stands between them and God.
To conclude the lesson, explain to students that in their study of the Doctrine and Covenants, they will learn many more truths related to the plan of happiness.
I wonder how many other lessons will end in obedience.
The commentary and background information is just quotes from apostles and prophets, at least all of them are from Church approved magazines. So that’s something.
Supplemental Teaching idea: This is very cultish in its nature. Have students take five minutes and get each other to say that they now know the topic. Again, imagine if in History Class you were asked to find students who believe in Bill Clinton’s NAFTA bill, the names of every student in the class, and who can explain why NAFTA was good for the US. A little less like history and a little more like learning by propaganda.