After hearing several discussions of the very real challenges involved in teaching the Gospel Essentials manual to Relief Societies and quorums made up largely of established members, I wanted to share the approach to the lessons that Sam Brunson (law professor, jazz fanatic, occasional Prius driver, and father of the third- and fourth-best young kids that I know in the Chicago area) has been using — quite successfully. Please enjoy, below, his notes on the War in Heaven lesson.
A couple prefatory/introductory notes to the lessons: in preparing to teach Elders Quorum, I’ve decided to focus on figuring out how we know what we know about the topics covered by the Gospel Principles manual. Doing so, I’ve largely limited myself to canonized scripture, even where I know there’s something a prophet has said about the subject. Why? A couple reasons. One is that I don’t have access to everything every prophet has said, and I suspect that most of my quorum doesn’t, either. Another is that the half hour or so I have to teach is barely enough to cover some of the scriptures I want to look at–it’s not nearly enough time to hash out what prophetic statements are revelatory and what prophetic statements are the prophet’s personal thoughts, much less how to weigh a prophet’s personal thoughts. A third is, it takes me hours to do this anyway, and if I were trying to find every prophetic statement I had access to, and prepared to discuss the weighting of prophetic authority, I still don’t feel like spending even more time on it.
You’ll also see that I take big chunks of scripture. We often read 10 or 20 verses at a time, even where there’s a single verse that can get the idea out there. I’m uncomfortable, though, with single-verse explanations. I’m much happier reading in context, at least to the extent I have time.
Also, these are just my notes. They’re what I have in front of me as I teach, but I don’t pretend that they’re a lesson plan. They’re not undoubtedly not comprehensive, even as to what can be found in canonized scripture. And we haven’t yet addressed everything I’ve written down. Plus, some parentheticals are notes to myself that I don’t really see a good reason to bring up, but I think they’re kind of cool.
And if you think this introduction is long, you should see how long I take introducing in class.
Read Paradise Lost Book 1, lines 27-124
“Without a well-informed sense of Milton’s intellectual milieu, the reader may easily conflate Christian commonplaces with truly uncommon dogmas. In their first flush of enthusiasm for Paradise Lost, for example, my young LDS readers often urge parallels in the following areas: the nature of the Godhead, Satan’s rebellion and the War in Heaven, the Creation, the fortunate fall, free will, obedience and repentance, the Atonement of the Son, and the Apostasy. With the exception of his views on the Creation and the Apostasy, however, Milton’s ideas on none of these topics is peculiarly LDS in character. Many of Milton’s beliefs on these subjects, moreover, are distinctly unlike those espoused by the Church.
“Consider, for example, Milton’s conception of the War in Heaven. Milton’s primary sources for his description of Satan’s rebellion and the subsequent war are the Bible (especially Isaiah and Revelation), traditional Christian exegesis, and classical accounts of epic warfare (especially those by Hesiod, Homer, and Virgil). The result is a war quite unlike that envisioned by most Latter-day Saints. For Mormons, the War in Heaven is seen principally as a war of words and wills–like the debates between Abdiel and Satan; in Paradise Lost the war assumes the character of a pitched Homeric battle. Many Mormon readers gloss over this crucial difference. Similarly, they tend to see the fallen angels through Mormon lenses. Yet the rebel angels are not only not the unembodied spirits of mankind, but their war has nothing to do with human freedom, for man does not yet exist. Further, the revolt is provoked not by Satan’s plan to deny men free agency, but by his envy of the Son. True, as a figure of magnificent intellect, enormous persuasiveness, and insatiable ambition, Milton’s Satan resembles the fallen angel of light in the Pearl of Great Price; but his motives, as well as the issues and conudct of the war, are all conceived of quite differently.” –John S. Tanner, Making a Mormon of Milton, 24 BYU Studies 191, 195 (1984).
1. Biblical Accounts
Isaiah 14:3-20 (focus on 3-4: every other translation I looked at translates “proverb” as “taunt”; specifically, once they’re free, apparently, they were to taunt the kind of Babylon). (Focus on 12-15: look at Heb. for “Lucifer.” Potentially at least three levels of meaning here. Most literal: Babylonian tyrant attempted to displace God, fell to Hell instead. Probably an allusion to Canaanite mythology, where a minor god tried to take over the mountain of the gods, was cast down. Finally, many Christian traditions, including ours and Milton’s, saw this as a reference to Satan’s being cast out of God’s presence.)
Revelation 12:1-12 (focus on 3-4: dragon’s tail swept down 1/3 of the stars; indicates hubris, cosmic upheaval; traditionally, thought to represent the fallen angels. Cf. Dan. 8:9-11 [also an apocalyptic work].) (Focus on vss. 7-9: casting out of Satan.) (Focus on vss, 10-12: conquering Satan through Atonement.)
Cf. Luke 10:18 (Jesus saw Satan fall like lightening from Heaven).
2. Latter-day Scriptural Accounts
With modern scripture, we get a little bit more detail on this plan that existed before.
Divide into two groups. Give one Moses 4:1-4. Give the other Abraham 3:22-28. Read these, see what details from our Biblical accounts these provisions confirm, what additional information is provided. Have Abraham group respond first, then Moses. Be tight–have them read what they use to get their fleshed-out story. It’s not much. Especially Abraham doesn’t say why God asked for a volunteer, what Satan did to not be chosen. (Also, it makes the first [presumably Jesus] sound qualitatively different than us.) (Abraham does imply that the host of heaven were humans in a premortal state; doesn’t come out and say it expressly, because rulers could be godly rulers, but that fact that Abraham was one of those strongly implies that the host of heaven was us.)
D&C 76:22-30: not really explanatory, but discusses Satan’s being thrust down, rebelling, warring with the Saints
D&C 29:34-39: Makes concrete that 1/3 of the host of heaven were cast down with Satan
3. This Thing They Fought Over
By virtue of His being chosen, Jesus became our Redeemer (Moses 4:1).
What does that mean to us? 2 Cor. 5:11-6:2 (through Christ God reconciles Himself with us)
If time permits, ask class to discuss what this Atonement/Reconciliation means to them
[Note: a class member mentioned, after class, that Satan is cast out generally in the passive voice. So it’s not entirely clear who does the casting from canonized scripture]