Author: James E. Faulconer
Paperback: 285 pages
Publisher: Salt Press LLC (February 1, 2013)
From the back cover: This is a book of questions. Just questions, no answers, though occasionally I will throw in some answer-like material to help make the question easier to understand. It is a book of questions because in my experience-in both personal scripture study and in teaching Sunday School and other lessons-questions are of more help for reflective, deep study. We learn new things when we respond to new questions, and the person who says “I no longer get anything out of my scripture study” no longer runs up against questions to think about as he or she reads. This book is intended to make reading harder-and therefore fresher-by giving such readers questions for study.
James E. Faulconer, Richard L. Evans Chair for Religious Understanding and professor of Philosophy at BYU, has recently published what is essentially a study aid for this years’ Sunday School course in the Doctrine and Covenants. The book can be considered a supplement and companion to his earlier, Scripture Study: Tools and Suggestions (the full text is available at the link). Like Scripture Study, Doctrine and Covenants Made Harder is more properly a tool or a guide than a book (a similar volume on the Book of Mormon is forthcoming). Consisting almost entirely of questions about key passages in the scriptural text (though with occasional commentary in order to clarify a particular question), the book is designed to stimulate discussion about the scriptures. Consequently, the book is probably of most value in a collaborative setting. Indeed, the chapters are written to correspond to the Sunday School lessons for this year’s course of study. While this is valuable for Sunday School preparation and participation, it might seem a bit stilted, by way of comparison, for personal study, inasmuch as both the pros and the cons of what the Sunday School manual dictates be studied each week will apply to the individual chapters of Doctrine and Covenants Made Harder. Nevertheless, Faulconer emphasizes that his questions are not the only questions that can or should be asked of the text, and in fact, the book is ultimately nothing more than a model for how studying the scriptures through questions might be accomplished. The reader should be able to get a feel for how scripture suggests questions about itself, and what can be revealed by such interrogations of the text. As Faulconer writes,
Were I to write this book again, I would revise the questions I have already asked and add new ones. I would almost certainly focus on different chapters, and I would surely expand or contract some of my previous questions. My questions change each time I go through the scriptures anew.
This is why Faulconer wants to make scripture harder, not easier–background information, historical context, study aids, and even common interpretations are good tools for a basic understanding of scripture and its current reception, but informational understanding doesn’t entirely do the work of inviting a reciprocal relationship in which the text really gives something back to us. Faulconer’s wager is that asking questions of the text invites the formation of a relationship with the text, in which scripture also engages us, call to us, and not merely the other way around. In other words, to read scripture through questioning is to make ourselves available for scripture to question us in return. To paraphrase something Kierkegaard once wrote (quoted by Faulconer on the first page of the volume), much of life consists in making living easier and more convenient, from public and private transportation to microwaves and instant communication. But we make a mistake when we think the spiritual life can and should be made easier, that the life of the spirit is merely another aspect of life among other aspects. On the contrary, being authentically Christian (or Mormon) is no easy task, certainly not one that can be modeled merely by assenting to particular religious or spiritual propositions or identifying with a particular group. The life of the spirit is work and work is hard. Genuine reflection and meditation, authentic relations with others, loving another consistently, taking the scriptures seriously, etc. are all work, and in the end no scholarly resource or quick reference guide or any other modern convenience can do that kind of work for us. There is not nor could there ever really be anything like Spirituality for Dummies.
This book is an excellent scriptural resource, not so much for understanding the Doctrine and Covenants (its history, textual reception, etc) but for working in and discussing the Doctrine and Covenants.