I want to do a quick comparison between LDS Sunday school lessons, one from 1955 (pre-correlation), the other from our current — correlation — times. The topic is Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians in the New Testament.
In a concise but detailed 7-page chapter in “The New Testament: The Acts and the Epistles, by Russel B. Swenson, Deseret Sunday School Union Board, 1955, here is one paragraph, not unlike the others in its attention to details. It reads:
“Paul’s answers to the above charges were swift and vigorous. Nowhere does he appear more in anger, not even in Galatians. He does not take time to answer them with a reasoned detailed argument. With sharp biting retorts, ironical sarcasm, bold assertions, which he admits border on extravagant boasting, and an extremely fervent faith in his authority as an apostle, he takes a decisive and resolute stand. Though he admits he does not have a polished rhetoric in speech, he claims he has knowledge. And finally, he is so angered and hurt by the many false charges and attacks against his record and authority that he is led to state specifically what he has suffered for the sake of the gospel. He had been inclined to be too modest and had been ignored and insulted as an insignificant person. Therefore, he felt constrained to enumerate his sacrifices for the gospel, not on account of any personal vanity, but in order to validate his authority and preaching as divinely commissioned. What he tells about himself is of priceless value as history because most of it had been neglected by Luke in his writings of Acts.”
Now, let’s move 58 years years into the future and get an LDS Gospel Doctrine Sunday School summary — for teachers — of Second Corinthians today. At LDS.org, it reads:
“Explain that the book of 2 Corinthians contains prophetic counsel that applies in our day. Paul’s teachings in this letter are similar to the teachings we often hear in general conference. Elder Eyring observed, “When the words of prophets seem repetitive, that should rivet our attention [on them]” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1997, 32; or Ensign, May 1997, 25). Encourage class members to receive the counsel in this lesson and ‘hold it close.‘”
That’s correlation folks, and it’s more or less repeated every four years.
The 1955 Gospel Doctrine book is fascinating. In pithy yet detailed chapters, it offers church-approved lessons that must have sparked interesting discussions. What’s best is you learn things in this lesson, and other manuals of the pre-correlation age.
Look, I have no theological argument with today’s post-correlation LDS lessons. The doctrines taught are in accordance with my faith, and a talented teacher and enthusiastic class can bring the spirit. But these lessons are bland. They are the equivalent of taking an easy path rather than traversing a rough path that requires more thought. To the rejoinder that we are encouraged to study more out of class, I concur. But is that a reason for Sunday School to be bland?
When I entered the LDS Missionary Training Center 31 years ago, we were urged as missionaries to keep the Gospel “simple stupid” when we taught it to investigators. There was a rough logic to that. We were 19 years old and most of us were still pretty “simple stupid” in our knowledge of the Gospel. But the Gospel Doctrine class lessons today seem as basic as the discussions I presented to investigators 30 years ago in Peru.