Title: D & C 4: A Lifetime of Study in Discipleship
Editor: Nick Galieti
Publisher: Eborn Books
Genre: Scriptural Reference
Year Published: 2017
Number of Pages: 277
Reviewed by Kevin Folkman for the Association for Mormon Letters
According to Nick Galieti, a contributor and the editor of this volume, the book came about in response to President Monson’s call in 2013 “to help maintain this missionary force [brought about by the lowering of ages for missionary service for young men to age 18, and young women to age 19], we invite you, as you are able, to contribute generously to the General Missionary Fund of the Church.” Galieti and his cohort of contributors banded together to write “D&C 4: A Lifetime of Study in Discipleship,” and agreed that all royalties would go to the Church General Missionary Fund. That seems appropriate, in that D&C 4 is probably the most readily referenced section in the Doctrine and Covenants regarding missionary work.
In addition, they have also quoted Joseph Fielding Smith, who said: “While only seven verses long, [D&C 4] contains sufficient counsel and instruction for a lifetime of study…It is as broad, as high and deep as eternity.” Certainly, the contributors have all looked at this section far beyond just its current identification with missionary service, to include service in Relief Society, parenting, how it applies to the church’s 12 step addiction recovery program, and other topics. It represents a noble effort for a noble cause.
The volume starts off with an essay by Russell Stevenson, reviewing the historical context of Section 4, and what it meant first for Joseph Smith, Sr, to whom it is addressed, and to other church members in the early days of the restoration. Accordingly, “the revelation not only called people to serve as translators or missionaries but also established the strength and scope of what Mormonism could mean to the human family.” [p8] The “marvelous work” appears to come from Isaiah chapter 29, and refers to the entire redemptive work of Jesus Christ. The appropriation of D&C 4 as a meme for missionary service is a 20th century development. Stevenson notes that in 1829, when this revelation was received, Joseph Smith, Jr., was “painfully aware of his own linguistic limitations [and] he subjected his myriad revelations to revision after revision.” [p9] D&C 4 was no exception. Joseph understood that scripture is not “in the reading, but the understanding.” [p9] Thus, several minor changes were made in wording before it appeared in its final form in the 1835 version of the Doctrine & Covenants. Perhaps the most significant change is in verse 5, where “constitutes him for the work” is replaced with “qualifies him for the work.” Stevenson interprets the change in light of priesthood authority, with “qualifies” implying a formal ordination or calling.
Stevenson goes on to discuss how each verse, some of which echo King James Version language, might have been understood in the context of 19th century American Christianity, and how that would differ in light of the restoration represented by the new, young church. There are hints of the future concept of having your calling and election made sure, and shortening the divide between humanity and the Divine by coming to God through knowledge, a “knowledge that could only be gained experientially.” [p23] It is interesting, then, to examine this section and what it might mean if taken out of the context of missionary work alone. This turns out to be the great promise of the book. Stevenson’s essay is a strong entry, and well worth reading and comprehending. I found it to be the best and most helpful of the entries.
The rest of the entries, however, did not live up to that promise. There is good content, and much to think about, but nothing that rises to the same level as the historical context given in the first chapter. Subsequent chapters draw parallels from Section 4 to service in the church, including Relief Society, how these verses play out in comparison to the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount, parenting, and addiction recovery. All are worthwhile efforts, but the best came first, and nothing after that seemed to rise to the same level of scholarship.
Particularly disappointing is the longer chapter on deconstructing the text in a line by line doctrinal commentary, authored by editor Nick Galieti. A lot of attention is given to the detail of each verse, and many quotations given from the talks and publication of the Church’s General Authorities, but there is little you haven’t heard or read before. It’s almost like every sacrament meeting talk ever given based on a general conference address, all rolled into one chapter. There is value in hearing the same instructions over and over again, as we all have our weaknesses. I was expecting something more, something new, and didn’t get it in this chapter.
Except, perhaps, in the discussion of Faith as a principle. Here, Galieti offers the idea that “faith as used in scriptural language can be viewed as a covenant term (a higher law), a trust agreement where man obediently acts according to the will of God; in turn, God rewards a faithful act. This act of trust demonstrates a partnership as opposed to servitude or slavery relationship in which only the master receives a benefit at the expense of the laborer.” [p129-130] The thought, here, it seems, is that true faith is not just an enhanced form of belief, but an act taken with the desire to align ourselves more closely with God’s will as we better understand our relationship to the Father. The statement “God rewards a faithful act” could be viewed as a reciprocal agreement, veering off into the concept of God as a supernatural vending machine, or a path to the “prosperity gospel.” I don’t perceive that this was the author’s intention. Certainly, some acts of faith hold within them their own beneficial consequences; other times, there are blessings that God bestows as a result of our faith and obedience. Often, though, an act of faith may only be rewarded in the short term with either more tests of faith, or just our own sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. Not every good act is immediately rewarded, else faith would soon become meaningless. Instead, it provides an additional characteristic to faith, beyond enhanced belief, based on submitting our will to that of our Divine parents. Exercising faith begets increased faith, eventually leading to knowledge (though not always in the time frame we would like), and the ability to exercise greater faith in the future.
One final item that I found frustrating was the lack of any biographical information on the contributors to this book. None were names familiar to me beyond Russell Stevenson, and it would have been helpful to know a bit more about each of them. As a church member outside the Utah-Idaho corridor, it may result from not living where the Church is the dominant culture, and perhaps they are better known there. In any case, I would have liked to have some information about each author.
In summary, this is a noble effort in a noble cause, but as is often the case, we are not always equal to our aspirations. This is a good, but not stirring read. I for one will contribute some additional funds to the Church General Missionary Fund, as my copy of the book, a reviewers copy, was free. I feel I could do no less, given the message of D&C 4.