Sunday, January 31, 2016

Intellectual Honesty in Gospel Study

“The things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity—thou must commune with God.” 
—Joseph Smith, HC, 3:295–96

A friend asked me a question about intellectual honesty in gospel study. I thought it was a good question and an important one. Here's how I replied:

In my opinion, the following are vital ingredients to being intellectually honest with the gospel:

1. No pre-conceived agenda when searching for truth. The search for truth is not the search for evidence to support the viewpoint already held. You must not have a hard heart.

And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full. 
And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell. (Alma 12:10-11)
2. A fair reading of scripture, taking it to mean what it says it does. If my view and the scriptural view collide, my view must change.
Search these commandments, for they are true and faithful, and the prophecies and promises which are in them shall all be fulfilled. (D&C 1:37)
3. Recognition that history is usually written to support the view of the author, and that some historical sources are very much compromised. Primary, contemporary sources are usually more reliable, regardless of what later authors claim. (Faulty historical sources and phony quotes in church manuals are what motivated me to start blogging.)

4. Recognition that my understanding is infantile. If I don’t understand or agree with something, it doesn’t mean I’m right, or that God doesn’t understand it. This really is kindergarten. Humility is mandatory. 

Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend. (Mosiah 4:9)
5. The search for truth is a lifetime pursuit. There is always more to learn.
The great thing for us to know is to comprehend what God did institute before the foundation of the world. Who knows it? It is the constitutional disposition of mankind to set up stakes and set bounds to the works and ways of the Almighty. … That which hath been hid from before the foundation of the world is revealed to babes and sucklings in the last days . (Joseph Smith, HC, 5:529–30)

And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things. 
—D&C 88:67

 The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth.
—D&C 93:36

 And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come.
—D&C 93:24


  1. It really seems to be true;
    18 Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection.

    19 And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.

  2. " If my view and the scriptural view collide, my view must change." This perhaps is the ultimate challenge, because cognitive dissonance makes recognizing the need for change quite uncomfortable.

  3. Adrian,

    This is my first time commenting on your blog. Quick question, don't you think it's important to have at least a few preconceived notions when reading the scriptures? We have to have the preconceived notion that the scriptures come from a reliable source and that the words contained therein haven't been altered prior to them getting into our hands. The Bible, Book of Mormon, and D&C/Book of Commandments have all had alterations made to them, so we must decide which editions/translations we consider the most correct (as they sometimes contradict each other). We also have to have the preconceived notion that Joseph Smith was a true prophet if we even want to rely on the B of M, D%C, or P of GP. Once we've established those preconceived notions we must also remember that one learns the gospel and eternal truths line upon line, precept upon precept; first the milk and then the meat. Once we've learned truth we don't set it aside when we study the scriptures. We have to apply the truth we already possess in order to understand the scriptures correctly.

    Having said that it is important to be willing to let go of false beliefs or traditions if we discover from the scriptures that they are false. The willingness to change our lives and bring them into greater conformity with the will of God is not the same thing as reading the scriptures with no preconceived notions. We also have to look at the scriptures as a collective body of work. If we pick and choose certain scriptures and take them completely literally, without keeping them in context with everything else the Lord has revealed to us, then we can very easily be deceived. Sometimes a scripture will say one thing, but really mean another when taken in it's proper context with other truths.



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