Forgetting McConkie

The recent and perennially anticipated announcement that Deseret Book would finally let Bruce R. McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine go out of print was warmly received by many. After being stripped from the references in Church curricula, it was perhaps no surprise that the day had finally come (to the likely consternation of many in Seminary and Institutes). As much as I find sections of MoDoc deeply problematic and unhealthy for the Church, I also think it is important to remember that it is and always will be important.

We live in a time when the Journal of Discourses is avoided as a source in LDS Church publications—the Deseret News being the preferred citation for nineteenth century sermons—and people squint suspiciously at the words of Young, Kimball and Grant (as a side note, the Church’s shorthand expert LaJean Carruth recently told me that the JoD is much more accurate than the DNews). As much as I prefer living in the modern Church, and as much as I believe many nineteenth-century sermons to not be appropriate for modern devotion, I believe we should neither forget nor disparage the Journal of Discourses.

Fortunately, the JoD are too unwieldy and disorganized to effectively bring to gospel doctrine. MoDoc on the other hand can all too easily be anachronistically foisted upon unprepared audiences. Still, I believe that Elder McConkie should not be simply shoved off to the dust bin. But perhaps we are a bit too proximate for many to understand how his writings no longer belong in the Church.

Several years before publishing MoDoc, McConkie compiled the teachings of his father-in-law, Quorum of the Twelve President Joseph Fielding Smith. The three volume set, Doctrines of Salvation (1954-6) is a fun amalgam of old and (at the time) new Mormonism. Typically when including JFSII’s material, McConkie included a citation (including references to personal correspondence). However, there are frequently sections that include no source reference. For reasons I don’t have time to explain here, I tend to think that these sections were expansions made by McConkie.

In order to see how one of these sections plays out in contrast with the modern church, let’s look at a section from volume 3:

USE OF WORD “ORDAIN” IN EARLY DAYS. When the Prophet received the Presidency of the High Priesthood, the history says that he was ordained. Today we would say set apart. They used the term ordain in the early days of the Church for everything, even when sisters were set apart to preside in the Relief Society.

So far so good. This is generally the response when we see reference to Relief Society presidents, councilors, midwifes and nurses being “ordained” in the nineteenth century, and Church President John Taylor (who ordained the first RS presidency) said as much. To continue:

President Brigham Young and the other members of the Council of the Twelve had the fullness of the keys and priesthood conferred upon them by the Prophet before his death, so that any one of them could act, each in turn, should he come to the Presidency, and all he would then need would be the setting apart. All of the members of the Council of the Twelve today have had conferred upon them all the keys and authority necessary to be exercised by anyone who might reach the Presidency, and then he would be set apart.

This is an interesting section. I think it is the most historically defensible position; however, starting with President McKay, the twelve started “ordaining” the church president, a practice that is prominently referenced with each succession.

CLASS TEACHERS SHOULD NOT BE SET APART. Today we use the term setting apart when men are appointed to preside in stakes and wards and in auxiliary organizations. There is no reason to set apart teachers in classes or chairmen of groups. If we continue to do this, after awhile some may think these positions have become permanent offices in the priesthood. [1]

And now we have gone from a shift in succession practice, to a complete transformation of Church government. Think of how many less people the bishopric would have to set apart if this were still the dominant perspective. However, just like cracking open MoDoc or reading an Adam-God sermon in Gospel Doctrine is poor form, so too would pointing these excerpts out.


  1. Bruce R. McConkie, comp., Doctrines of Salvation: Sermons and Writings of Joseph Fielding Smith, 3 vols. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954-6), 106-7.


  1. Fascinating information, J. Thanks, as usual. I’m a little baffled by the no setting apart for teachers rule. Obviously, growing up this is absolutely common practice. I thought it was just a way to confer a special blessing on the person who’s accepted a calling. Is this wrong? Are bishops actually doing something they shouldn’t be doing just because of tradition?

  2. Actually, my experience is that Sunday School and Primary teachers are rarely set apart. I have been teaching SS for several years now and have never been set apart.

  3. Stapley, interesting analysis. While I am personally glad that Mormon Doctrine is finally out of print because of the more egregious problems there, I fear that we may demonize Bro. McConkie a bit too much. It is always the little negative things that are most easily remembered, such as his letter about Eugene England, or things of that nature.

    I believe that both McConkie and Joseph Fielding Smith before him viewed themselves as protectors of orthodoxy in our doctrine, and considered it a serious responsibility. For all that we now find quaint, and undeniably wrong in some cases, they both made huge contributions in their understanding of scriptures. Both also had occasions to exhibit humility when some of those errors became obvious to them.

    As always, your mileage may vary, and time has proved that the maze of doctrine, practice, and policy is indeed a complex and dynamic issue in the church. And we do, with justification, give more weight to living prophets and current leaders than dead ones.

    For all the damage done by MoDoc (sounds now almost like some OT pagan deity), Elder McConkie will always remain somewhat of a hero to me for no other reason as much as his last testimony in General Conference just days before his death. I suspect he would much rather be remembered for that than any other work he had done in his life.

  4. “Fortunately, the JoD are too unwieldy and disorganized to effectively bring to gospel doctrine”

    There’s an app for that… and if there isn’t, I’m sure there will be soon.

  5. The interesting thing about McConkie is that he wasn’t simply an orthodoxy-monger. For example, he wasn’t interested at all in stifling innovation when he was convinced that it was inspired or revealed; most notably, OD2 and the lifting of the priesthood ban.

    I’ve heard a lot of people object to McConkie because he advanced an orthodoxy that is no longer “appropriate for modern devotion” to use your term (love that wording of yours; great turn of phrase). Too often, this means that such critics simply trade one orthodoxy for another; i.e., they simply embrace the current orthodoxy instead of McConkie’s. In doing so, I believe that they are making the same mistake McConkie made.

    And what was McConkie’s mistake? His mistake was to have presumed that inspiration was the primary basisi of the status quo, and to have defended the status quo on that presumption. Without seeming to realize that the church had drifted gradually to it’s McConkie-era orthodoxy due to a legion of environmental influences (both spiritual and temporal), McConkie seemed to have thought that the gradual drift of the church away from status quo was movement away from inspired truth and toward apostasy.

    Indeed, McConkie’s theory of doctrinal development may be fairly (and ironically) characterized as one of “punctuated equilibrium,” wherein doctrine remained static for long stretches until some dramatic revelation or inspired instruction occured to shake things up.

  6. Great post, btw.

  7. Deborah says:

    I just finished flipping through the Ensign that arrived today and found this article, “Called and Set Apart to Serve,” with the subheading: “Formal callings in the Church are not complete until we have been set apart by proper priesthood authority.”

  8. Do we not take the church at face value when they say they are generally citing documents/sermons/etc which have been translated in a variety of languages? I’ve seen plenty of statements by contemporary leaders and in books, etc. that McConkie said. So we’re often using quotes by others who are paraphrasing him. Of course, note everything every prophet says gets repeated to every generation. And didn’t he do most of the bible dictionary? I wouldn’t be surprised to see that being updated actually. Not to scrub McConkisim out of it, but rather to include a handful of some great insights from some of our recent authorities.

    Generally I find the attitude a bit unsavory for anyone to have a “good riddance” attitude toward an Apostle or all of their teachings, merely because *some* might have been incorrect or too aggressively asserted.

  9. Aaron B says:

    I’ve always thought the problem with BRM and MoDoc was less the laundry list of doctrinal doozies that everyone loves to talk about (though they are often heinous, to be sure), and more the attitude toward “doctrine” that McConkie propagated. Specifically, McConkie seemed to think that (a) embracing correct answers on boatloads of relatively unimportant scriptural and doctrinal questions was of salvific importance; and (b) the way to determine the correct answers was to consult him and his self-assured writings. If dispensing with MoDoc helps us jettison those attitudes (though I don’t know that it will), this will be much more important than the question of whether churchmembers might occasionally come across his writings on race, or the Catholic Church, or what have you.

  10. Aaron 9, I don’t know if either of us can speak for him. Maybe you’re more familiar with his writings than I. But I don’t think McConkie would claim that, for instance, his entry on playing cards was of salvific importance.

    Rather I think he’d rightly argue (not necessarily about playing cards here, but there is a principle behind his point) that some things we commonly do, say, believe, has an impact on our ability to be in tune with the Lord and to allow the Holy Ghost to dwell within us. That can have major implications in how we live our every day lives, even for all of us active Mormons who at varying times in our lives “just don’t get it”.

    On the flip side, being such a hard liner if it is not held in proper check, can tend to make people uncharitable and that’s certainly worse than having two earrings or owning a deck of playing cards. But I haven’t seen anything that suggested Elder McConkie was uncharitable in his actions and deeds. Maybe his writing was uncharitable in that it was a bit harsh, and I’m not even prepared to talk about it as I really am not a McConkie-buff. I just respect the man for living a life dedicated to Christ and enduring to the end. If only we could all do that.

    Perhaps the worst thing I could say about him, is he supposed that the standards he chose to live by should be followed by everyone else. Certainly that would be true for many of his standards, but perhaps not all of them.

    Still, it’s not like he went off on earrings or flip flops or anything…

  11. Aaron, to use one of McConkie’s favorite words, I think he saw himself as an amanuensis who only took the time to record in one easily accessible volume the eternal truths that are available to anyone. So his writings come off as self assured not because he was the ultimate arbiter of truth but because they were eternal and true.

  12. DKL, # 5, I think that is what I was trying to get at in my comment. BRM and his father-in-law were what I would call classic conservatives, ie resistant to change, except when prompted by significant external events. The perfect example is OD2, and while his editing of MD lagged behind, his talk to church educators shortly after the revelation lifting the ban is a most gracious and sincere apology for defending something that in retrospect was clearly wrong.

    In a similar vein, Eugene England and some friends went to Joseph Fielding Smith about the priesthood ban sometime in the late 60’s, where Elder Smith said it must be so because it says so in the scriptures. When England, with some trepidation, asked Elder Smith to show him where those scriptures were, they entered into a back and forth discussion of the often referenced scriptures. After a while Joseph Fielding Smith finally said, “I guess you don’t have to believe that (meaning lineage curse or preexistence curse) because it isn’t there. That’s what I was taught, and that’s what I always thought.” (from England’s book of essays, paraphrased, Dialogues with Myself.

    We often don’t see how much things change until we have the perspective of time, but we can certainly now after 180 years, see just how much has changed.

  13. My timing of the Joseph Fielding Smith/Eugene England conversation is almost certainly wrong. I think it probably took place late in the 1950’s, not the 1960’s.

  14. Is it possible that many are reading way to much into this going out of print thing? Lots of books go out of print. ‘Words of Joseph Smith’ comes to mind.

  15. Not to mention that it’s been out of print for a while now (several months)–interesting that it went crazy all of the sudden.

  16. Eric, I don’t think it’s reading too much at all. Just to use your example of Words of Joseph Smith, if McConkie’s doctrines go the way of Joseph Smith’s, then we’ll never hear anything about them over the pulpit unless it’s the most candy-coated sort of reference.

  17. Eric, I don’t think Words of Joseph Smith is quite in the same category as Mormon Doctrine. Most every home I knew growing up had a copy of what I have for years referred to in church as “Mconkie’s Doctrine”, and its use as a common doctrinal reference was rampant for 20+ years. Probably the only other book by a general authority (or academics as well, for that matter) with the same kind of reach was A Marvelous Work and a Wonder.

  18. Antonio Parr says:

    My very good Catholic friend (who is brilliant) came across a copy of “Mormon Doctrine”, and contacted me to ask me if the book was reflective of my belief system. I spoke of my more nuanced faith, and he responded with his surprise at the starl literalism of Elder McConkie’s book.

    I will always be grateful for Elder McConkie for the beauty and power of his final General Conferenc address. But for Mormon Doctrine, I say good riddance, as I believe that it fails to capture the beauty of the Gospel.

  19. Usually the failings of Mormon Doctrine are retold over and over in the bloggernacle. But I’ve never seen any thought or analysis about what Kevin said, that almost every active LDS family seemed to have a copy and it was the doctrinal reference for more than a generation of church members.

    Is Mormon doctrine really so obscure to need an explanatory encyclopedia? What were the cultural and religious currents in post WWII LDS society that made MoDoc such a necessary addition to a church library?

  20. Thanks for the comments.

    Deborah (#7), thanks for that link. I love seeing the evolution of our ritual practice.

    DKL (#5), I think that is a helpful characterization.

  21. KLC, when MD was published, Pres. McKay had been an apostle since 1906, had grown up in the polygamy era, and reflected a church that had transformed from a troublesome regional sect to a truly global religion that embraced modern society and culture. There had already been a lot of both public and private differences in the general authorities over a number of doctrinal issues over those decades, that for many a seemingly sure, confident resource was probably a point of refuge in a world that had lost much of its certainty for most members. Many came to see it as a kind of quasi-scriptural touchstone, and therein lies the problem. I hadn’t thought of it in quite the terms that DKL has more clearly expressed, but for McConkie, and many others, there was that assumption that things weren’t just the way they were, that there must be a reason for it. Any change must also have an equally compelling reason. Mormon Doctrine seemed to lay out those reasons, by a man that many really considered to be one of those that knew all the answers. When it comes to religion, we like answers; we are less comfortable, generally, with questions. And when those questions don’t have ready answers, why here, I can just look it up. See?

    That’s my take on it.

  22. #8
    I believe the majority of the Bible Dictionary in the back of your scriptures is from Cambridge University. Talmage was the one who originally included it in a “missionary edition”. But that was like 100 years ago! How much has changed in 100 years?? It would be neat to compare the percentage of entries in the current BD that were left unchanged, and those that were expansions by McConkie.

  23. I can remember as a very green missionary, sitting in the SLC mission home and for that very intense week listening to a string of apostles and other GAs. Elder McConkie was a Seventy at the time, but he was truly the most intimidating and memorable of speakers. He did a question/answer session and I can still feel the tension in the room when one of the questioners asked about the Jaradites having elephants. BRM took about 5 minutes telling us to focus on the fundamentals (you know, FRB). He did this with such dramatic, pulse-pounding emphasis, that I thought, how do you even come up with a question to ask this guy? Something really funny happened then, but I’m not spilling the beans about it.

    But to the point, I was ignorant of MD, but after arriving in the field, it was the talk of the missionaries. Was it authoritative? Should we appeal to it to answer questions? in those days, members actually thought we knew something sometimes. The mission pres., without endorsing or otherwise, told us NOT to use it for anything in our business. It wasn’t banned or anything like that though. The mission pres.? BKP. I think that MD was a bit of a correlation nightmare for Lee and co. Lots of observations to be made there. Elder McConkie was nothing if not definite.

  24. Colin C says:

    “When it comes to religion, we like answers; we are less comfortable, generally, with questions. And when those questions don’t have ready answers, why here, I can just look it up. See?”(21)

    And when it came to questions of a 13 or 14 year old boy- the type you didn’t dare ask your parents, and weren’t mentioned in your set of scriptures- how “useful” it was to find a book called “Mormon Doctrine” on the parent’s bookshelf! “Oh… so that’s what we believe… oh… (major guilt-trip ensues)”!

    I remember being so excited buying my own copy when I was on my mission – not a nicely bound hardback, but a for-the-masses paperback. It wasn’t long, however, before I started developing an uneasy feeling about what “I” personally believed in versus what apparently “We” believed in, according to “Mormon Doctrine”. I don’t think I have ever come closer to dreaded book-burning, than on my mission!

    Bizarrely, I still have it, and it sits in much the same accessible position that my parent’s copy did. Totally accessible by my children.

    My question is (though I’m hoping this isn’t seen as a threadjack) “How many of you used to have a copy of “Mormon Doctrine” but no longer do? And, WHAT did you do with it?!?”

    And for my children, what is a suitable replacement? “True to the Faith”? “Encyclopaedia of Mormonism”? Sorry! Too many questions! Shutting up.

  25. His mistake was to have presumed that inspiration was the primary basisi of the status quo, and to have defended the status quo on that presumption.

    What DKL says here gets to the heart of the issue.

    I liked what kevinf says in comment #12 as well, in regards to the priesthood ban.

    I suspect all of us are often guilty of the same sort of thing – it boils down to thinking we know something – often because we’ve been taught it by people we trusted – and in fact the knowledge/facts we think we have are incorrect.

  26. My timing of the Joseph Fielding Smith/Eugene England conversation is almost certainly wrong. I think it probably took place late in the 1950′s, not the 1960′s.

    Actually, it was the early 1960s (1963).

  27. Excellent post J.

    I got my first copy of MD while in the Army. It was bound in black and its largeness was an expression of its spiritual weight. For those years in the Army, and while on my mission it was not just a reference for support of doctrine, it was canonical. It carried the authority of an apostle and therefore the writing could be held in the same legitimacy as the words of Paul from the New Testament.

    This was its power, and ultimately, I think its harm. Because it occupied shelf space in most LDS families home, and it was well organized, it became widely quoted in sacrament meetings talks and used for priesthood and Sunday School lessons, so it was influential not just from the level of manual writers, but at the level of the branches I attend as a missionary in Arkansas. As such it had influence up from the bottom and down from the top. As such its obvious inaccuracies on race, evolution, and other ‘deadly heresies’ became entrenched in the Church.

    So as DKL notes, it represented an orthodoxy, and it actually served to lock those particular orthodoxies in place in ways that have taken this long from which to escape.

    I am glad to see it fade away. No I feel much stronger actually. Better had it never been born, but I’m content now to see a millstone hanged about it and let it sink in the sea.

  28. Mark D. says:


    This is a claim to a procedural rule that goes to the very substance of who has presiding authority over the Church. A general authority or apostle has absolutely no business making such a claim about a fundamental aspect of the way Church business should be conducted without the prior authorization of those that actually have the authority to set what the procedures and practices of church administration actually are.

    If anything such an argument should be addressed to the presiding authorities, and once accepted published for general (as opposed to academic) consumption.

    On other matters, if Mormon Doctrine were titled instead “The Teachings of Bruce R. McConkie”, and the theological arguments for every point spelled out, it would be a reference work for the ages. As it is, no one can tell when the author is making a bare claim out of nowhere, or is expressing the consensus doctrine of the Church of the time.

  29. Mark D. says:

    kevinf: Mormon Doctrine seemed to lay out those reasons, by a man that many really considered to be one of those that knew all the answers.

    On the contrary, I believe the primary failing of Mormon Doctrine is that it rarely includes any reason for anything.

  30. Thomas Parkin says:

    I’m not sure BRM was a ‘classic conservative.’ He seemed quite flexible, actually, when he saw any need to at all. He constantly championed individual, personal revelation, with awareness of the messiness that entails. I think he was very interested in seeing changes in the way members of the church approached doctrine that would require some fluidity. Thing is this: is impossible to get around feeling that he was more conservative than he actually was because his style was so uniformly dogmatic and authoritarian. I see that style, far more than the substance of his writings, to be his great weakness. He could be promoting change but be doing it with such a voice a person might feel to cower down into their one talent.. ~

  31. Benjamin says:

    kevinf (#21), I also disagree that ‘reasons’ are very poorly laid out in MD. At times, it just felt too condensed to sufficiently justify/document the conclusions.

    But where MD really fell out of my favor was in how people used it. I simply grew tired of members telling me what we believed based on what they had read in MD. If you want to make statements on what we believe, it seems like those statements should be qualified on scripture, not on scriptural commentary. It was this general scriptural laziness that MD seemed to encourage that bothered me.

  32. DKL said it very well.

  33. kailiala says:

    Mormon Doctrine, warts and all, was a one stop reference for a myriad of serious and obtuse queries. While BRM may have been viewed as a ‘never in doubt’ personality, authoring/producing this volume of work must have required an extraordinary amount of work. By placing doctrinal and psuedo doctrinal topics on the table, these topics have received increased attention and followup scholarship. In addition, although McKay had strong reservations about MD, he allowed it to be published through multiple editions. Was he aware that censorship would hurt the church more than a somewhat flawed MD?

  34. I don’t think Bruce R. McConkie nor “Mormon Doctrine ” can be, nor should be forgotten. It is part of the fabric of Mormonism.
    It should not be seen as the work of one man, nor as a tail wagging the dog. It’s popularity comes/came from it’s ability to reflect the thinking of many (not all) of Church members. Yes__McConkie was often too bold and wrong in his speaking and writings, but in MHO, he was only a messenger of Mormon doctrine__not it’s creator.

  35. Hi, I’ve been lurking on BCC for too long, and decided to comment, finally. This is a very interesting discussion on Elder McConkie’s “Mormon Doctrine”. As a very young child, about 6 years old, I read Mormon Doctrine and Doctrines of Salvation. I grew up viewing them as authoritative. It wasn’t until my mission, and subsequent education and gospel study, that I became more fluid and less doctrinaire and ultra orthodox. I became aware of his other works, including, his BYU devotionals, and his other books. I grew to love those, and saw in him a dedicated, intelligent, and passionate disciple of Christ. I have since relegated those previous books to the back shelves of my bookcases, with the others playing a more central role. I don’t think we can ever forget BRM, especially because of his last GC talk.
    Anyway, this is my introduction to the Bloggernacle, and BCC. I hope to converse with you all more.

  36. The problem with MoDoc is that wayyy to many people used it as cliff notes. Rather than study the gospel for themselves, they let someone else study it for them.

  37. Kristine says:

    Bfbabbi, welcome–glad you made it out of lurkerdom!

  38. #36: Pedro,
    You are being a little hard on those of us who grew up in the 60s. The standards were different. Self study of the scriptures was not encouraged (that’s what Baptist did, and that’s why they were getting it wrong). We had leaders who gave us answers straight from God, like McConkie. Why would you not read him or use him for answers?

  39. Thanks Kristine, I am looking forward to it!
    That may have been true in some instances, but in my parents home they taught us to study on our own, this was the late 80s, but they also used Mormon Doctrine to teach us, and it was used regularly when there was a question or for preparing talks.

  40. I recognise that I am considerably younger than many of those in the bloggernacle. I was barely alive when Elder McConkie passed. However, I did grow up in a home that kept MoDoc on the shelf, along with many other books by McConkie. As a youth, it was an excellent resource for background when preparing talks. But I never read all of it. I really don’t know why anyone would. I see that as being akin to reading the encyclopedia.

    Thus, I never read the problematic articles. I only read (and occasionally still read) the most basic articles. But, as with the encyclopedia, MoDoc was a starting point, not the ending, in my house. Is there an objection to viewing it, and using it, as the thoughts of one man among many?

  41. Great post.

    It should not be seen as the work of one man, nor as a tail wagging the dog. It’s popularity comes/came from it’s ability to reflect the thinking of many (not all) of Church members.

    I think there’s something to that, Bob. If you’ll permit me the self-promotion, many of the ideas in the comments, especially that one and DKL’s #5, dovetail with this discussion. It will be interesting to see how the reception of McConkie, and Mormon Doctrine especially, by the body of the members continues to evolve.

    Hopefully we’ll have the sense to keep from sanitizing or vilifying him, but I’m not too optimistic about that — we do seem to love a good binary worldview.

  42. Rats, I messed up the link. Here’s another try.

  43. @ Alex,
    I guess we are about the same age, I was one when he passed. My experience is similar to yours, but I actually read all of it. The problematic parts were no problem to me because I asked my parent about it, and they explained it to my satisfaction.
    I would still use it as a starting point myself, but I am not likely to read it all again.

  44. Kevinf from #21, I was at the daddy daughter campout and couldn’t respond. I agree with you that people crave certainty, but isn’t that just as true for people today as it was for people in the era of MoDoc? Yet we don’t embrace an encyclopedic approach to our doctrine now as they did then. I think the almost canonical acceptance of McConkie’s book by those generations reveals more than just a yearning for answers.

  45. Look I spend most of my online time now debating with Evangelicals, atheists, etc.

    I get McConkie thrown in my face on a regular basis. If anyone is in a position to be thoroughly put out with him and his book, I am.

    But you know, I’m really not. In fact, I actually like “Mormon Doctrine” (oops – did I really say that?). That’s right – I LIKE “Mormon Doctrine.”

    McConkie was a masterful scriptorian and had a wonderful way of linking scriptures together from all over the Bible, Book of Mormon, and other parts of the canon. Whatever you think of the “Mark of Cain,” the “Great and Abominable Church,” his take on the Sons of Perdition, or the Seven Deadly Heresies, the guy knew the scriptures – inside and out.

    For this reason alone, I find him useful. In fact, I like referring to his book whenever I run across a concept I’m sketchy on, and I’d like an informed LDS opinion. Note I said “opinion.” I’m a big boy, and know enough to know how far to trust McConkie’s opinion. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to have it anyway.

    So, all in all, I’m glad I snagged a copy when it was still in print.

  46. Bruce R. McConkie and his Book were a ‘perfect storm’. His ‘Voice’ and ‘Book’ in the 60s was very loud, just when McKay’s was starting to weaken due to age and illness. The only other large “Voice’ (IMH-Memory ), was Hugh B. Brown. Brown is rememberd less today. But I am not sure he did not ‘win’ in the way he wanted the Church to go(??)

  47. McConkie had the fortune of being popular right at the very moment that the baby boomer generation were finding their theological legs. He essentially trained an entire generation of Mormons in doctrine. And not just any generation, but one of the most populous generations we’ve had in US history.

    And as usual, the baby boomer generation thinks it’s all about them. So McConkie simply “must” be the way things are meant to be – right?

  48. #47: Seth,
    As I have said McConkie and his book were looked up to. But (IMO), Talmage and his books, were even larger in the training my generation. His ‘Voice’ too is now less.

  49. I hate to burst all your bubbles. But I doubt Mormon Doctrine is really going anywhere, just because Deseret Book stopped printing it. Go look at any current Institute manual (the Book of Mormon one for instance, which was just updated), it has tons and tons of quotes from Mormon Doctrine in it. Just because DB stopped printing it doesn’t mean the Church will stop using it.

  50. Don’t count your eggs yet Logan.

    Those manuals are long overdue for an update.

  51. Seth,
    Like I said, the Book of Mormon manual was updated in 2009, and it has 17 quotes from Mormon Doctrine.

    The “Doctrines of the Gospel” manual, updated in 2004, has 40 unique quotes from Mormon Doctrine

  52. LoganM, Seminaries and Institutes is the last bastion of McConkieism.

  53. ClaudiaHen says:


    Shudder. I totally agree. I took a “Teachings of the Living Prophets” course last semester and it nearly made me go inactive, it was so horrible (I know that sounds dramatic, but I was struggling with some major doubts at the time). I cannot tell you the loathing I have for that manual. The tone was off-putting and not the least bit spiritually uplifting. I would really like to burn it someday. It was written in 1982. I was one year old at the time.

  54. LoganM, if CES updated the teachings of Jesus Himself (and I wouldn’t put it past them), then they’d have Jesus refer to Mormon doctrine about 28 times, maybe as many as 33 or 34 times. Keep in mind: These are the people who prepared a “response” to Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling. They don’t just teach false doctrine — they are false doctrine.

  55. Latter-day Guy says:

    “These are the people who prepared a “response” to Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling.”

    Really? I was unaware of that. Where can one find it?

  56. Steve Evans says:

    Well said, DKL.

  57. Latter-day Guy Says, I don’t know where you’d find it, but Bushman refers to it in his retrospective On the Road with Joseph Smith.

  58. Latter-day Guy says:

    Thanks, DKL. That’s a start.

  59. DKL is on fire in this thread. #5 and #54 are home runs.

  60. “Fortunately, the JoD are too unwieldy and disorganized to effectively bring to gospel doctrine”
    — Unless you use the index BYU prepared ~ 1958, a separate volume included with the 26-vol bound set.
    RE: setting apart, when in Young Adults (1970s), several of us were waiting to be set apart in our new callings. When the setter-apart arrived, he pointed to one of the women and said that she’d be last. I made some comment about saving the longest for last. Without missing a beat, she asked me, “Why, so I’ll be set farther apart.” This remains one of the few comebacks I’ve received for which I have no counter-response.
    I have a copy of bothe the 1st and 2nd editions of Mormon Doctrine. I recommend that those who read it, also read BRM’s preface. In both editions, he wrote, “For the work itself, I assume sole and full responsibility.” He also wrote in the second edition’s Preface, “In publishing this Second Edition, as is common with major encyclopedic-type works, experience has shown the wisdom of making some changes, clarifications, and additions.”
    This book was published by Bookcraft, an independent publisher then.
    1) The book states that it is solely the responsibility of the author: it is not offered as authoritative for LDS doctrine
    2) The author himself views the content as flexible, subject to changes.
    3) It was not published by the Church nor by an entity controlled by the Church
    The LDS Church’s website describes doctrine so:
    “With divine inspiration, the First Presidency (the prophet and his two counselors) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest governing body of the Church) counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith.”
    These being true, it never was appropriate to use “Mormon Doctrine” as an authoritative source about, well, Mormon doctrine.

  61. Antonio Parr says:

    45. Seth: “Mormon Doctrine” may very will (through dissection) link scripture together, but its effect is akin to slicing up an eagle to see how it flies. In the end, you may very well figure out a detail here or there, but you have also stripped the bird of its life.

    It ceases to soar.

  62. aloysiusmiller says:

    I have never owned a copy and never consulted it but when Mormon Doctrine is praised I tend to add a skeptical note and when it is denigrated I tend to be a bit defensive.

    I suspect I trust its detractors and proponents less the book itself. I prefer to leave it where it is.

  63. Does anyone have a “doctine” from MD, that was not a Church doctine at one time?
    I see maybe only one GA today that who be a McConkie (without a book). I will not give a name. I respect both men.

  64. Thanks for the concern Antonio. But I’m a big boy. And somehow I think I’ll survive it all.

    And I think my faith is “soaring” just fine, thanks.

  65. #60: But manaen, nothing the Newsroom writes is doctine either. It could be wrong too (?)

  66. There’s more MoDoc love here than I thought there would be. Who told CES about this site?

  67. When I was newly active in the church, I read it from cover to cover and used it as a reference. Anything I didn’t feel good about, I ignored. However, I did it with a cetain amount of guilt because I did think it was a official treatise of our doctrine.

  68. Latter-day Guy says:

    63, I think Antonio may have been speaking less about your personal faith, and more about a particular approach to scripture. Similar to Midgley’s criticism of J.F. McConkie and Millet’s Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon:

    …little or no attention is given to literary forms, narrative contexts, or to larger structures, patterns or distinctive language in the text. The statements of others are at times quoted either to advance or bolster the opinions of the authors. Doctrinal Commentary is thus an inventory of statements about what are thought to be Mormon doctrines or Mormon theology, cast in the form of glosses (or annotations) on the text.

    I agree that MD can be a useful resource, but it tends to use only one approach to scripture, and that approach is basically “proof-texting.”

  69. Starfoxy says:

    I once knew a guy who often proclaimed how much he loved Mormon Doctrine. As evidence for how awesome the book was he cited the entry on Dragons, (you know the one that reads “later-age concepts of them grew from memories of the pre-flood dinosaurs.”) and said “you wanna know what happened to the dinosaurs? Well there it is, no arguing with that!”

    Yeah. I dated him. *shakes head*

  70. Antonio Parr says:


    My comment had absolutely nothing to do with the faith/lack thereof of Seth. I was merely commenting on a systematic approach to religion that I feel neglects the beauty/nuance of a living faith.

  71. britt k says:

    I with those who really wish the book had another title…had it been called Mormon doctrine according to McConkine, or McConkie’s opinion of MD.

    I tire of having his opinions trotted out by anti mormon “friends” hoping to catch me unaware or surprise me with something.

  72. #71: I lived during the years of McConkie. I do not recall an argument that the book was only his ‘opinions’.
    That he took full responsiblity for what was in it, does not mean (IMO), that he felt it was only his opinion.

  73. J. Stapley, is it okay if I make a comment? And seriously, I’m not trying to amuse you. With all due respect to you and your discussion participants, there are some things about Bruce McConkie and his book that are true whether you like him or not.

    For example, he wrote the individual chapter headings and section summaries in the 1979 and 1981 editions of LDS scripture, which project could not have been done without him, according to Boyd K. Packer (Ensign, June 1985, p.16.) And according to Ezra Taft Benson, the First Presidency and Twelve “often” turned to Bruce McConkie on matters of doctrine (Ibid). The book Mormon Doctrine — in terms of years in print, sales volume, and how often it has been quoted in private and official talks and lessons — is one of the top privately published LDS books ever.

    Would anyone care to guess how long it will be before a current member of the First Presidency or the Twelve quotes Mormon Doctrine again in official LDS media? I’m thinking neither Bruce McConkie nor his book Mormon Doctrine will soon be forgotten — except, that is, by J. Stapley and Associates.

  74. R. Gary, I think you may have misread my post.

  75. … but not your comments.

  76. The book Mormon Doctrine — in terms of years in print, sales volume, and how often it has been quoted in private and official talks and lessons — is one of the top privately published LDS books ever.

    Well, since everyone’s doing it, I guess that makes it okay.

  77. R. Gary, I just reread my comments and I still think you are seeing things that aren’t there.

  78. … what things? Can you elaborate a little?

  79. R. Gary, my argument is precisely that we shouldn’t forget him nor his writings. Also you propose to make observations “whether [I] like him or not.” Now, I think it is a fairly easy reading of my comments that I find some of his writings to be deleterious to the modern Church if used devotionally; but I think you will be hard pressed to show that I dislike him.

  80. R. Gary, You point out that he wrote the chapter headings, he was a major source of doctrine, his book sold a lot of copies, and general authorities still quote him. Where is anyone disputing any of that? Seems like you came to pick a fight where there is none.

    I think McConkie will be like other major figures in Mormon thought (Young, Pratts, Roberts, Widstoe, Talmage, JFSII, etc.). His influence will live on forever but he will be looked to as an authority less and less until the average member no longer has any idea about his particular formulation of Mormonism.

  81. Jacob J. with the Bingo.

  82. J. Stapley, in the process of making your argument “that we shouldn’t forget him nor his writings” you said:

    1. His book contains things “deeply problematic and unhealthy for the Church.”

    2. His book continues to be “anachronistically foisted upon unprepared audiences” (including general conference audiences).

    3. His “writings no longer belong in the Church.”

    4. “Cracking open [Mormon Doctrine] in Gospel Doctrine is poor form” (even though two of the four current Gospel Doctrine manuals do just that).

    These assertions are your opinion, to be respected by all of course, but also better understood within the context of some things about Bruce McConkie and his book that are true whether you like him or not.

  83. I’m gratified that you consider my opinions so meritorious.

  84. I think DKL is right in that in some ways BRM was a traditional small c conservative who thought that the status quo had a level of inspiration to it. I also agree that several things, blacks and the priesthood being but one, demonstrate the error of this view. That said I confess I’m pretty sympathetic towards giving GAs the benefit of doubt even if this does lead to folk doctrine becoming status quo in places. That said I think that Pres. Kimball and others demonstrate that even these doctrines are prayed over and that God does inspire.

    I think what someone (Jacob?) said is right. McConkie is already becoming on par with Talmage – if anything slightly less read and respected. I suspect that were it not for his popularity among CES he’d be more on par with Orson Pratt’s theology.

    All that said, I think people discount him too much and focus on his mistakes rather than his wonderfully spiritual and insightful views. His Doctrinal New Testament Commentary may not unlock the texts themselves that well but they often are a fantastic jumping off place for deeply insightful teachings on rather deep stuff. McConkie knew a lot more than many suspect and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that the restarting of certain temple practices can be traced to him. (Hardly a reflexive status quo position)

    My problem, as others have said, lies less with McConkie than those devotees who seem to place his writings above the scriptures. (These folks would deny they are doing this, but in practice the scriptures are read through the lens of McConkie in a fashion I don’t think is in keeping with the spirit of McConkie) It’s hard fair to blame McConkie for how others abuse his writings though (although I do think Mormon Doctrine’s title contributes to this).

  85. I was just thinking how ironic it is that maybe McConkie’s most remembered quote is: “Forget everything I have ever said..”.

  86. I’m not old enough to know McConkie at all. I only got a copy of MD a little while ago. But I’ve have read several other books by prophets and apostles that aren’t necessary doctrine, including the JoD. I like Mormon Doctrine. I think it’s a shame that people try to discount it so much. I think some people like to use it as an excuse to accuse leaders of not knowing what they are talking about, and to use it as justification for disbelieving current teachings they don’t like.

    Obviously it’s not scripture, but it is helpful. And I’m sure that’s all McConkie was trying to do: be helpful. I can’t imagine how well any one else would have done with the same effort.

    I think people are blowing it’s short-comings out of proportion, and I think it mostly come from our own ranks. Here’s a hint: if it doesn’t come through the prophet, or if it doesn’t come from a General Authority through correlation, it’s not official. But don’t dismiss everything that is just written to be helpful.

    I think some people want the leaders to say nothing so that their own notions can be gospel to themselves (or they just want leaders to say what supports their own notions, nothing else). Be a little flexible and not so uptight.

  87. Mark Brown says:

    I think this question from comment # 73 deserves some scrutiny:

    Would anyone care to guess how long it will be before a current member of the First Presidency or the Twelve quotes Mormon Doctrine again in official LDS media?

    I don’t think Elder McConkie gets quoted more frequently than anybody else in conference talks. In fact, I think C.S. Lewis and Edgar A. Guest are more likely to be quoted there than Elder McConkie. But R. Gary has a point. In our correlated material (magazines, lesson manuals), Elder McConkie is ubiquitous. I think part of the reason is because Seminaries and Institute people do a lot of our correlating.

  88. Forgive me, as I am relatively new here, but I am sensing lots of displeasure with CES and correlation. From whence does this spring?

  89. Mark D. says:

    “For the work itself, I assume sole and full responsibility.”

    That is like assuming sole and full responsibility for a hijacking. It doesn’t legitimize what he has done. Once each and every point where he expressed an opinion that was not in accordance with the consensus of the presiding quorums of the Church, he was committing a fraud pure and simple.

    There are only three things he could do to avoid that fraud:
    1. Write a book that wasn’t an encyclopedia
    2. Change the title to something like “Teachings of Bruce R. McConkie”
    3. Get FP & Q12 approval for every paragraph.

  90. It’s a long story Bfabbi.

    Hang around here long enough and you’ll probably get a lot of reasons.

    Mainly the reason seems to be that the kind of free spirits who are attracted to religious blogging don’t like being told what to think about scriptures they can read for themselves. Years of being taught Gospel Doctrine classes at a 6th grade level doesn’t really help matters either.

    It’s put more than a couple folks around here in a generally grumpy frame of mind.

  91. @ Seth R.
    Thanks for the quick explanation. I understand many of those issues. I can’t stand Gospel Doctrine class, I prefer to think my own thoughts. Also, the level is quite low. I have an advanced degree, and rather enjoyed religion classes at BYU for their intellectual qualities. Than being said, I like to read McConkie and Maxwell. They give me a jumping off point for my scripture study.

  92. #88: #3 was done.

  93. Care to back that up Bob?

  94. Steve Evans says:

    Does anyone else have REM’s “Exhuming McCarthy” stuck in their head after this post?

  95. Bruce Rogers says:

    In my opinion, the publishers of McConkie’s book should have insisted on the title “McConkie on Doctrine”, similar to a title of a book published about 1900. Then the author could state in the Preface that this is his own interpretation, and not an official statement of chuch doctrine. He is entitled to write his own opinions, as are all of us, therefore, it is important for the author to label it as his own interpretation.

  96. Antonio Parr says:

    Lest we forget, the most egregious errors in MD are not trivial miscalculations of the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin, but include such crucial, fundamental issues as the nature of God’s relationship with Blacks. Latter-Day Saints in Utah or Idaho might view such errors to be of little import (since they don’t actually live with people of color), but for the rest of the world, such questions go to the very heart of moral and religious truth. To that end, people should not be surprised at the objections of many to MD.

  97. Mark D. says:

    Bob, #3 was not done, and there is extensive documentary evidence available to prove it.

    One of the problems with the title of the book is that anti-Mormon and not quite anti-Mormon authors cite many of the passages as if they were authoritative, which causes considerable harm to the Church. There are any number of speculative issues where the Church leadership has chosen not to take an official position on for very good reason.

  98. I am glad to see it fade away. No I feel much stronger actually. Better had it never been born, but I’m content now to see a millstone hanged about it and let it sink in the sea.


  99. Oops, I meant the above to be a block quote, not bolded text.

  100. #92,#96: My opinion is based on:
    “Silence is acceptance”
    50 years of estopple by continued printing of the book.
    McKay’s OK of a 2nd Ed. following the review of SWK of the Q12.
    Lee’s adding McConkie to the Q12 after the second Ed. was printed.
    McConkie’s free statement on his book’s errors on black doctines made in 1978 following the Ban lifting.
    The statements of McConkie’s son about BRM feeling his book was reviewed and OK’ed.

    Your mileage may vary.

  101. “50 years of estopple by continued printing of the book…”

    “…Your mileage may vary.”


  102. That Elder Johnson article in the Ensign has this footnote:

    In scripture, “ordain” and “set apart” are used
    interchangeably (see D&C 20:67; 25:7; see also
    Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation,
    comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954–56],

    Isn’t that the opposite of what McConkie said? I’m confused.

    PS: Wasn’t there a section in MoDoc that spoke of possession and sexual assault? I distinctly remember something of that nature when I skimmed it as a missionary.