Teaching Sunday School – Conclusion
So, it's been over half a year since I followed up on my experience teaching Sunday School. Let me quickly re-cap the rest of the year.
First off, the gift of the Bibles went over really well. Most of the parents thought the modern Bibles were just as awesome as the King James bibles (one of them even took the time to come over and thank me for it: “Oh, it even highlights everything Jesus said!”). But over the next few weeks, if the kids ever brought a pocket Bible, they brought their little King James Versions. Oh well, it's rather hard to study the Bible in an LDS Sunday School class using a different version.
Covering the smaller Pauline letters was nice. We were able to avoid the misogynistic passages of the Corinthians. About the only real trouble I had when I wasn't the teacher is when I said, upon reading 1 Thessalonians, that we were reading what was probably the oldest piece of writing in the New Testament, written before anything else in the New Testament was written. Some smart-ass in the class (I say that out of love, honestly) asked what the second oldest thing in the New Testament was, and I said that if Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians (and there were very few scholars, even among LDS scholars, who think that he did) then that would be next, but it was probably one of the Pauline epistles we'd already read (probably parts of the Corinthians). My team teacher didn't appreciate throwing doubt upon the authorship of any of the New Testament, but I think it's important that these kids realize just how complex and ancient this collection is. It's not just a book of scripture that gives them simple answers to simple problems, it's an artifact of the ancient world and carries with it the dust and damage of time.
Of course, my team teacher thought it was really cool when I explained that many scholars feel that 2 Corinthians got shuffled up a bit in it's transition to biblical collections. He'd been struggling a bit preparing for a discussion of 2 Corinthians, and said that after reading it in the suggested order things made a lot more sense that way. So biblical criticism wasn't always viewed as threatening.
I tried to cover some of the New Perspectives covenantal theology again with Romans, but again we only had one week (!) to cover the entire thing, so in the end it was just a quick review and a hammering down of Paul's supremacy of grace and faith over the covenant of Sinai. And everyone seemed to be okay with that.
However, in the end I realized that the closer we got to the Revelation, the harder it was going to be. Jude is just a mean polemic against Jude's theological enemies with little theological interest beyond a quotation from 1 Enoch and the Apocalypse of Moses. The Peters are fun, except again where I indicated that while a few scholars (really just a handful), feel that 1 Peter might have been written by the historical Peter, nobody views the other Peter as anything other than pseudepigraphal. Which wouldn't really be a problem as there's not much particularly important to Mormons in the Peters. I didn't end up teaching Hebrews, which is just as well as I'd probably start throwing terms around like “heavenly temple”, “platonic forms”, or “Levi being present when Abram gives tithes to Melchizedek by virtue of Abraham's fathering of Isaac fathering Jacob fathering Levi.” Again, I got into a small authorship tussle, but was able to resolve it by pointing out that some general authorities have referred to the “author of Hebrews” to acknowledge this issue and that the authorship has been questioned for longer than the New Testament has been in existence as a unified whole.
Before we reached the train-wreck of Revelation, I had a bit of trouble with James. Besides spending a little bit of time on James 1:5 (a favorite of Mormons as it led Joseph Smith to his first vision, though it's usually discussed by them a bit out of its context of dealing with persecution and troubles), we talked about James's response to Pauline grace and antinomianism (the state of being without laws). I don't usually have strong language for this stuff, but the typical Mormon approach to James is almost 100% apologetic shit. Seriously, James is nothing more than a mallet that Mormons think they can use to beat back people who want to use Paul and Romans against them. “Faith is what saves; works bring death!” “Oh yeah? Well, faith without works is dead!” It's like Mormons think the rest of the Christian world has never read and had to deal with James over the past few hundred years. It took a lot of work, but I think in the end I was able to overcome some of the seminary braindump to tell them that James is still saying that faith saves, but is saying that such faith should be accompanied by good works. James is not speaking against Paul in Romans (where, let's be honest, 98% of the epistle has Paul talking about how faith saves and works of the Torah are death and only 2% has Paul talking about being judged by our works) but is rather speaking against the idea of antinomianism, or the idea that since grace as saved us we should live a life of sin. James is nowhere in the epistle saying that works save a person, but merely that if we are not showing forth good works, then we don't really have saving faith. Paul is speaking against a similar common argument against his theology in Romans 6, namely that if we are miraculously saved from our sins by grace then if we are saved from even more sins when we die then the miracle of grace will be even more miraculous (kind of a reductio ad absurdum). Paul doesn't actually give much of a theological argument as to the incorrectness of this idea, but merely responds to the idea that we should continue to sin after entering into the saving covenant of grace with a strenuous “Hell no!” James eventually approaches this idea of mere belief saving a person by pointing out that even the demons of hell believe that God exists, but nothing happens to them (leading to the class coming up with the interesting theological question of whether or not a demon could repent and “change sides”; kinda hard for an agnostic to answer that one well!).
But finally we got to the Revelation at the very end of the year. Thank God (or whoever) that I did not end up teaching this one, as we'd lost a week somewhere along the way. The team teacher tried to squish the two-week lesson into one week at the end of the year and it mostly worked. (As an aside, we only get to spend one week on Romans, but we spend three on the Corinthians and two on the Revelation?!) I mentioned at the beginning that I really didn't have much to add, as most Mormons (including the writers of the lesson manual) approach the Revelation far more literally than I was comfortable with. Again I also managed to bring up authorship again in mentioning that it was only tradition that the John of the Revelation was the same as the Apostle John (and again tradition that the Apostle John was the John mentioned as the author of chapter 26, and be extension of the entire gospel, of John, and that he was the author of the Epistles of John) and that we have no real clue who wrote it. At which point my team-teacher reminded me that the Book of Mormon said that the author was John the Apostle in 1 Nephi 14:18-27 (at which point I mentally face-palmed both that I'd forgotten that detail and that the author of the Book of Mormon felt the need to point out this sort of detail). So that was an awkward end to the year.
Well, the awkward end was that I had to take the time to let the Sunday School president know that I would not be able to teach Book of Mormon next year, but once that was out of the way I was released. I started attending the adult Sunday School class, complete with its face-palming comments and questions. I missed my class and the fun we'd had, but at this point I'm not sure I'll ever be back there again. It was a fun ride while it lasted.