I’m going to pick up a series that I tried last year: The presentation of lessons from past LDS Sunday School manuals corresponding with the topics presented in the current year’s manual. Although those posts understandably drew little comment, I found them valuable as a Gospel Doctrine teacher because the old lessons were often presented from a different point of view, or at least in a different style of language, that helped me better understand a principle, or at least be prepared for the comments offered by my class of generally much older members who grew up learning from a different style of lesson presentation.
I don’t offer these old lessons as being better but merely different, not a substitute or replacement for the manual but another way of approaching the same material.
The current Old Testament Sunday School course is a blend of two tracks previously followed in LDS Sunday instruction:
Old Testament. In earlier generations, the Sunday School class on the Old Testament followed the course of Old Testament history, introducing stories and prophets in their order and attempting to present a cohesive account of thousands of years of Hebrew history.
Gospel Principles. This course, entirely distinct from courses on the Old Testament or any other book of scripture, taught principles of the gospel and examined problems of everyday living, drawing on scripture from throughout the canon, as appropriate.
The current course, although labeled “Old Testament,” is much closer to the principle-based courses of the past than to previous Old Testament courses. That is, the manual presents isolated principles and practices important to daily living, drawing on Old Testament stories where applicable, but making no attempt whatsoever to present a coherent account of Hebrew history or to nurture an appreciation of the Old Testament as a work of sacred literature. Rather than text itself, the Old Testament here serves as a pool of proof texts from which to draw support for the principles being taught.
This hybrid approach to Old Testament teachings makes it difficult to find lessons from past LDS Sunday School manuals that correspond to the current lessons. Still, I’ll try to find something that matches, at least in part. Rather than looking for principle-based correspondences – that is easy; you can go back through this year’s manual and find the same lessons taught under the guise of church history, drawing their proof texts from the Doctrine and Covenants rather than the Old Testament – I will focus on older manuals that place the proof texts in context of Old Testament history.
Does anyone else remember when the chorus of “I Am a Child of God” was changed from “Teach me all that I must know” to “Teach me all that I must do”? This change in the Sunday School manuals reminds me of that – in the days of our parents and grandparents, the Sunday School most often instructed us in what we should know about ancient scripture and history, while the modern lessons focus on what we should do or be as disciples of Christ. That may be the most critical factor for Sunday lessons. Still, there is value in knowing as well as doing.