Notes for my writing

This blog is made up of notes on the gospel as found in the only true and living church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This includes notes that are either excerpts from or ideas for books I either have in draft or may yet write.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Joseph Fielding McConkie

Those who know me well know how I like Joseph Fielding McConkie. I want to explain why.

When I was a BYU student I took a religion class every semester. All told, that is a very large number of individual days spent learning about the gospel. Of course, the teacher had some insight to offer every day.

I only took a single Book of Mormon class from Joseph Fielding McConkie, who had returned from being a mission president in Scotland about the time I returned from my own mission in Virginia.

However, I noticed something. There were a very small handful of things I learned from other BYU religion classes which stayed with me for up to five or even ten years as interesting insights. But over time, I found that all of them were supplanted. Some that I had clung to for years were eventually rejected as downright wrong. To be completely fair to my other BYU instructors, there were some interesting historical facts that I still remember. Also I remember a class taught by one man for his marvelous example of personal effort on behalf of the poor.

However, while things learned in other classes never really went anywhere I found the opposite with Joseph Fielding McConkie's class. Almost everything in his class seemed to grow into something that was much greater than what I originally thought was being presented. In the years when I was forgetting and discarding insights learned from other teachers, I was finally beginning to understand what he had wanted to convey in some of the days of class 10, 15 or even 20 years later. Just recently I think I realized what he was trying to get at with a comment he made that I had wondered about for many years. His classes seemed to constitute well planted seeds that grew into major aspects of gospel understanding, whereas the other ones all really came to nothing but an "insight of the day" that were what I call postcard doctrine. They were a nice thought. Enough to teach a lesson with. But not something that endured and grew and developed into more. Sadly, too frequently they were not even correct.

Its not that the other teachers were teaching apostate doctrine. But they offered nothing more than a single days worth of spiritual sustenance either. Something to think about, but ultimately not something that will grow into anything more.

That one semester of Book of Mormon from Joseph Fielding McConkie has had an immense influence in my understanding of the gospel. It has so thoroughly grown into parts of it that I could not sort out where his influence begins and ends anymore.

If anything, I have severely understated the influence he has had.

Sadly, while his books are great, they seem to go into much less depth than he did in person. Given the criticism he got, I cannot say I am surprised.

He was criticized by colleagues for reading beyond the period that ends the sentence when teaching the scriptures. Put differently, he didn't worry about whether what he said was "official" church doctrine any more than his grandfather seemed to think in terms of giving only "official" answers when writing answers to gospel questions or doctrines of salvation, or his father thought in terms of "official" church doctrine when writing his books. (Christ didn't seem to think in those terms either as I have pointed out elsewhere). They just tried to teach the truth from the scriptures as clearly as they could see it. Teaching for him wasn't a matter of looking up an answer in a quotation, it was a matter of discerning truth through the Holy Ghost so that when he stated it, you would recognize and be able to taste that it was right. For that he got a lot of criticism. Joseph Fielding McConkie wrote:

I asked my father [Bruce R McConkie] once how he could be so confident in teaching a particular matter when others to whom we look for clear instruction were reluctant to say much. I noted that some with whom I taught would jump on me for saying the same thing, suggesting that I was going beyond the period that ended the sentence. His response was, “If you cannot go beyond the period that ends the sentence, you do not have the Spirit, and if you do not have the Spirit, you have no business teaching in the first place.”
Some are uneasy with such an expression, immediately fearing that if we actually give people the license to use the gift of the Holy Ghost, someone will abuse it or error in judgment. Occasionally they will. On the other hand, if we have taught people how to properly use that gift, those they are teaching will easily be able to discern the matter. Dad felt that the greater danger lies in the idea that unless we hold a particular office or position, we are without the ability to use the gifts that God has given us. Such a conclusion does not represent the gospel as Bruce McConkie understood and taught it.
Given my experience, with his class as opposed to others, I think he understood the matter rightly.


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