Can you teach the gospel in a way that appeals to all Mormons? I didn’t think this was possible and so my answer has always been a resounding: NO! However, my wife has begun attending an Institute class in our stake taught during the week at 9:30am. The class fills with mainly women for this reason, but a rather diverse group. From very conservative/traditional women to rather liberal women. All speak glowingly of the class.
My father is an Institute teacher and so I have thought about this question a lot. By and large it seems that gospel teachers appeal to certain, somewhat distinct groups. There are the "intellectual gospel" teachers who follow the pattern of Nibley and others and there are the "emotional gospel" teachers who follow the pattern of John Bytheway and others like him. These are gross exaggerations, obviously, but it does seem that most teachers fall somewhere along a continuum between these two stereotypical types.
However, the Institute teacher in our stake seems to break this mold. She received a theological degree from Duke and so has a lot of intellectual heft to her lessons. At the same time, she adds in a lot of emotional/inspirational-type elements. Thus, during the weeks leading up to Easter she spoke extensively on the Passion and the other Christian traditions surrounding Easter. She gave historical insights into the time of Christ and Jerusalem specifically. She also handed out a "last will and testament of Christ"–a rather "cutesy" document using a list of scriptures to show what Christ would impart to us from the Atonement. The effect: everyone seems to enjoy her classes and to get the spiritual enlightenment/motivation they want.
How does she do it? I don’t know. But I posit a couple elements (some already obvious from what I’ve written). She mixes elements of the intellectual and the emotional. I think this accomplishes several things: 1. it panders to both types of groups but very importantly it 2. pulls the emotionally tended people into an intellectual environment and the intellectually tended into an emotional environment. I think both groups enjoy feeling a bit of the other side (pulling them away from their natural predilections, their safety zones, etc.).
Next, she doesn’t seem to wander far from mainline sources. She doesn’t teach speculative theology and she steeps her teaching in the scriptures and correlated Church writings.
Whether this is a universal key, I don’t know. Obviously there are some in the stake that have self-selected out of the class, so my claim to its universal appeal is relative. However, I haven’t seen such broad appeal from any institute, seminary, Sunday School, or religion teachers that I have ever taken a class from (except of course my Dad’s, I love you Dad).
Are her methods a window into a universal key to good LDS teaching? Are the principles I have clumsily extrapolated the key or is it possibly something else?