There are so many great, faithful resources out there for studying and understanding the Book of Mormon and other Church topics. Some a officially sponsored by the Church– most are independent organizations doing their best to fulfill Elder Bednar's invitation to sweep the earth and "Share Goodness." Some are scholarly, and some are down to earth. Some, like my blog, are focused on the Book of Mormon, while others are not. All are great. Here are my favorites:
What better place to start than the official Church website? There are so many more resources here than just the standard works. General Conference talks going back centuries, manuals, magazines, history, and so much more is available on the official Church website. In addition, you can find other great content on the Church's world-focused website, ComeUntoChrist.org.
On the BYU, BYU-Idaho, and BYU-Hawaii websites, you'll find scholarly works, devotionals from Church leaders through the years, Scripture classes, some great scripture visualization apps, and other fantastic resources for studying the scriptures.
Scripture Citation Index
This is a pretty neat project that BYU put together. It's basically reverse footnotes. For any verse of scripture you navigate to, you see a list of links to General Conference talks, Church manuals, magazines, Journal of Discourses, Lectures on Faith, and other Church references where that verse (or range of verses) is mentioned. It's a great way to find the words of the prophets and apostles about a subject. The Scripture Citation Index is available on the web at scriptures.byu.edu or by the name "Scripture Citation Index" on the Apple App Store or Google Play App Store.
Non-Church Study Resources
First, a note on non-Church resources. There are voices out there who try to narrow down the list of resources we should use in our study or teachings to only what is in the standard works, or what is published by the Church, or in the manual. But the Lord commands us to seek "the best books" wherever they may be found. As Moroni taught, all which edifies is of God. It's why the shelves of Deseret Book are filled with commentary and insights of Church leaders and other inspiring voices.
But can we use those resources in our teaching? Of course we can! Don't you notice how often CS Lewis and other authors make their way into Conference addresses? When asked this very question of whether we can use unofficial faith-promoting material in our lessons, Elder Pearson, speaking as an official representative of the Church had this to say:
You know what's heartbreaking? … When you hear about stake presidents [that] say, "I really don't know if I can use these resources." … Yes, you can use them. Yes, you should use them. We need to get more resources in the hands of our youth, our missionaries and others because there are faithful answers to critical questions… Leaders in the Church need to go to these resources and become facile with them so that they can be effective in pointing others toward them. [Some ask], "Or should I just stick to only official LDS resources?" You've got to use both. You've got to use both. There is great stuff out there that's not official correlated material, and it's necessary and we want more of it.
Elder Ballard expressed similar sentiments, encouraging us to also seek out "the best LDS scholarship available." Elder Craig C Christensen told researchers:
The stated mission is to defend the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Restoration, the gospel, and we need your voices. As recent as yesterday I was in a meeting with senior leadership of the Church, and we talked about the importance of faithful members engaging online and helping everyone understand the real foundation of faith that we have in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You can say what we can't say…
One of the blessings and one of the missions that you are able to take are issues the Church doesn't take. And so we work in tandem. If you look like an extension of the Church, you wouldn't have the power to do what you need to do. Quietly and behind the scenes we are doing a lot to support you…
We are trying to be much more engaged. I think if you would have sat in the meeting I was in yesterday where they said, "As we respond on the battle on the Internet, only about 10 or 15% can come from the Church. The rest has to come from partners (we can count you as partners) and other individual members to be engaged in the conversation."
So with that note out of the way, here are a ton of organizations and sites that are fantastic resources for study.
Book of Mormon Central
I can't speak highly enough of Book of Mormon Central. Their website contains a phenomenal wealth of resources related to Book of Mormon study, Come Follow Me lessons, scholarly research on the Book of Mormon, Book of Mormon artwork, and so much more. I'll address a few specific resources I rely on heavily below.
KnoWhy (by Book of Mormon Central)
Book of Mormon Central regularly publishes brief articles about certain aspects or sections in the Book of Mormon they call KnoWhy. They are available in article form, on YouTube, or in the Book of Mormon Central podcast. They often cover scholarly research, but they are very good at boiling it down to something any member of the Church can understand and find interest in. In addition, each KnoWhy doesn't just state the interesting scholarly aspect, but also ties it into our lives and the lessons we can learn from that part of the scriptures.
ScripturePlus app (by Book of Mormon Central)
ScripturePlus is a free Book of Mormon study app (for Android, iOS, and Kindle Fire) produced with permission and help from the Church. It includes some neat things like chapter artwork, a more readable format, section headings, red-lettering of God and His Word, and several editions of the Book of Mormon going all the way back to 1830. But for me, the best feature of the app is the section at the bottom that gives you a wealth of information related to that verse. KnowWhy articles, quotes from General Authorities, and some commentaries from Brant Gardner and John Welch. This app opens up the Book of Mormon unlike anything I've seen before.
John W Welch Notes (by Book of Mormon Central)
John W Welch is one of the leading Book of Mormon scholars. The Book of Mormon is this guy's life. He, in conjunction with Book of Mormon Central, has put together his Book of Mormon class transcriptions and made them available on Book of Mormon Central's website. It's a great source of commentary, providing both a scholarly and a spiritual view of each chapter of the Book of Mormon.
Come Follow Me Weekly Lessons (by Book of Mormon Central)
Taylor Halverson and Tyler Griffin are BYU instructors who put together a video for each Come Follow Me lesson every week. I really enjoy hearing their insights. They bring a lot more to the table than most Sunday School teachers do because they are professionals, obviously, but their lessons are always very interesting and easy to follow. Currently, these lessons are available as a YouTube playlist or in the Book of Mormon Central podcast. I love listening to them and getting an extra interesting Come Follow Me boost every week (especially while quarantined at home like we are right now).
Come Follow Me Resources (by Book of Mormon Central)
As if all that weren't enough, Book of Mormon Central also makes it easy to study for each Come Follow Me lesson weekly by putting together a lesson plan with links to all relevant resources by week. They break each day of the week up into bite-sized chunks with a wealth of interesting resources to keep you engaged and see the scriptures from a new light. Check that out here.
Come Follow Me Weekly Q&A (by Book of Mormon Central)
Neal Rappley, one of Book of Mormon Central's very talented researchers, answers questions relating to the current Come Follow Me lesson from the Come Follow Me Facebook Group every week on the Book of Mormon Central podcast.
From my experience, the Interpreter Foundation is more heavily focused on the scholarly aspect of the Scriptures than Book of Mormon Central, which may make it somewhat less interesting to many members, but I still think it is a great resource. It regularly publishes The Interpreter, a journal with some really interesting articles from prominent Church scholars. And, like Book of Mormon Central, it publishes resources for each Come Follow Me lesson, including links to Book of Mormon Central itself as well as many other great sites.
FairMormon is a really interesting organization. Its scholarly and faith-promoting a lot like Book of Mormon Central and the Interpreter Foundation mentioned earlier, and it works very closely in conjunction with them. However, they focus more on the apologetics aspect of Church scholarship. Their stated purpose is to "provide faithful answers to criticisms of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." So while they are a great resource overall, they are especially useful when answering questions about things in the scriptures or in history that don't make sense right away or maybe even draw some ire from those looking to criticize our faith.
However, one thing about Fair Mormon I do think is highly worth the time and attention of everyone is their annual Conference. Each year, speakers at their Conferences give great talks on very general interest topics that all members can appreciate. Generally, there is at least one General Authority speaker to represent the Church at each conference, and often a few speakers from the Church history department talking about work on Saints and other interesting aspects of Church history.
Use the power of Google to search
Each of these resources above is great. But it's tedious to search each of them when you want to study. And some websites (like the official Church sites) are not very easy to use to search for things. So people often will just fire up what they want on Google. Unfortunately, many search results will be from other sources, many of which are promoting an unfaithful view of these things, or are even irrelevant. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to search only the websites you wanted but all together? Thanks to the little-known magic of Google's search operators, you can! NOTE: these also work on Bing and many other search engines.
Constraining your searches to specific sites
Let's say you want to find out about what the Church has to say about the animal mentioned in the Book of Mormon called the "curelom." Just fire up Google and type the following into the text box:
That search constrains Google to searching for the word curelom (and related words and phrases) across the Church website. This is a lot easier to use than the Church's own search tool on the Church site. However, aside from some funny Friend articles and the reference in Ether itself, there's not a whole lot there. So let's see what we can find if we search all the sites I listed above at once:
site:(churchofjesuschrist.org OR byu.edu OR byui.edu OR byuh.edu OR fairmormon.org OR bookofmormoncentral.org OR interpreterfoundation.org) curelom
That search again searches Google for cureloms, but only shows hits from the list of websites I specified. Here we see articles published on byu.edu, fairmormon.org, etc speculating on the nature of these animals and possible Hebrew roots for their names.
Searching for phrases
In addition to constraining your search results to faithful sites using the
site: operator, you can also do some fancy work on the search term itself to change what results you want. The most useful, in my opinion, is surrounding your search term in double-quotes. Often, I will remember a snippet of a quote from a General Authority but not remember who said it or in which talk.
For example, while writing a blog post a while back, I remembered hearing a quote about how parents should continue to pray for straying children because eventually the "tentacles of divine providence" would reach out and bring the children back. It was a great quote could remember none of the specific wording except for the distinctive "tentacles of divine providence" part. Google to the rescue again:
site:churchofjesuschrist.org "tentacles of divine providence"
Surrounding in quotes means you want that specific phrase with no other words in between them. Search results show that it is quoted quite frequently in the Church and that it was from Elder Orson F. Whitney quoting Joseph Smith. Now I have the full quote I can use, as well as an article from Elder Bednar from March 2014 warning against misusing that specific quote in a way that would counter the doctrine of agency and accountability– something I never would have found without the double-quotes.