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Willie Holdman
"Joseph Smith's First Vision" (stained glass) in the Palmyra Temple.

With the commencement of this 2017 curriculum year in the Sunday Schools of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we’ve been given a rich and unparalleled array of official resources for studying and learning.

I write this column fervently hoping that I can encourage widespread use of these resources, not only by Gospel Doctrine and other teachers but also by their students. Deeper knowledge of our history, scriptures and doctrines can equip faithful Latter-day Saints for their divinely ordained task of commending and defending the restored gospel.

“Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts,” says 1 Peter 3:15, “and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.”

More solid knowledge can fortify the Saints against false claims regarding the Restoration, and missionaries who are prepared with sound information as well as with testimonies and obedient hearts can be far more effective in teaching and explaining the truth.

I’ll survey a few of the new resource materials that I have in mind.

The “Church History Study Guide” (online at history.lds.org) that’s been prepared to accompany this year’s coursework on the Doctrine and Covenants and the history of the Restoration is little short of marvelous. For Lesson 3, for example, which was taught last week in most Gospel Doctrine classes worldwide, teachers and students are given not only a brief essay on the various accounts of the First Vision that we have from Joseph Smith and those who knew him but the fascinating actual texts of those accounts as well. Painlessly, at a click.

But that’s just the beginning. For that same lesson, a multimedia narrative titled “The First Vision: Journey to the Sacred Grove” uses images of the site of that incomparable vision and of the Smith family farm to explain how young Joseph Smith’s experiences brought him to one of the greatest theophanies in world history.

In a series of short videos on history.lds.org under the title of “Joseph Smith’s Accounts of the First Vision,” several faithful Latter-day Saint scholars address the differences between those accounts, which have sometimes been used to attack Joseph’s claims and character.

A two-minute video called “Preparation of Joseph Smith: The First Vision” visually depicts the story of this magnificent first revelation in our dispensation. And — a wonderful bonus — an online exhibit from the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City presents “Artistic Interpretations of the First Vision.”

But that’s merely the material for one lesson — out of the manual’s 46 lessons for the entire year. (How could I not be excited?) Accessible and well-presented as it is, though, there’s far more to offer here than can possibly be fully developed in any Gospel Doctrine class, and that is why I’m hoping class members and families will use these resources, as well.

But we’re still not done. “Revelations in Context” is an anthology of short essays written by committed Mormon historians that provides the stories behind virtually every section in the Doctrine and Covenants, as well as for the two “Official Declarations” with which it ends (and it's available on history.lds.org and through the Gospel Library app). In a departure from LDS Church manuals in the past — I served for nearly nine years on the church’s Gospel Doctrine Writing Committee, so I know something about this — these essays have been produced by specific, named scholars. They reflect some of the best current scholarship in Mormonism.

Finally, there are the Gospel Topics essays on lds.org , created under direct sponsorship of the LDS Church with contributions from some of its foremost academic authorities on their subjects. They deal frankly and faithfully with issues directly relevant to this year’s curriculum and beyond — issues that, in some cases, have created stress even for some believing members and furnished ammunition for enemies of the church. Their creation has been a watershed event for the church, and church leaders have openly expressed their wish that Latter-day Saints will become thoroughly familiar with them.

“Brethren,” wrote the apostle Paul in Romans 10:1-2, “my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.” However, he was concerned about Israel, he said, because “they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge." He was referring to a specific ancient issue, but his fundamental point, that zeal is best and most powerful when coupled with sound understanding, is well taken.

And these superb resources, more conveniently accessible than ever before, make deeper understanding available to us all.

Joseph Smith's Accounts of the First Vision

Video from the LDS Church History scholars on the different accounts of Joseph Smith's First Vision. It's available at https://history.lds.org/article/joseph-smiths-accounts-of-the-first-vision?lang=eng

Preparation of Joseph Smith: The First Vision

This two-minute video called “Preparation of Joseph Smith: The First Vision” visually depicts the story of this first revelation in our dispensation.

Daniel Peterson teaches Arabic studies, founded BYU’s Middle Eastern Texts Initiative, directs MormonScholarsTestify.org, chairs mormoninterpreter.com, blogs daily at patheos.com/blogs/danpeterson, and speaks only for himself.