The Reliability of Divine Revelation

Lately I have been thinking a lot about the question of how we can know truth. I have had a few friends and acquaintances recently move away from the Church for a variety of reasons. But there has been a common thread.

Unsurprisingly, I am not persuaded by these arguments.

Each has come to believe that their past spiritual confirmations and experiences were too subjective or unreliable to form a continued foundation of belief. They have each described reliance on these experiences derisively as simply relying on emotion and feeling. Rather than relying on these experiences, they point to some other foundation that they see as more sturdy or immovable be that logic and reasoning, or the words of the Holy Bible.

I recognize that human emotion and feeling can be highly subjective and manipulated. But I reject the suggestion that is all that divine revelation is or can be. Rather divine revelation is a force that is beyond ourselves which pierces through the darkness and sheds true light.

In reaching this conclusion I rest on my own personal experiences with divine revelation and the experiences of others.

One of my favorite accounts of the reception of divine revelation comes from Oliver Cowdery.

In early sections of the Doctrine and Covenants, we learn about Oliver’s wrestle to know if the spiritual experiences he had were truly from God. He had been led by what he felt was a revelation to meet Joseph Smith and began to assist as a translator. But he was unsettled. He wondered whether he truly was following God’s will.

In a series of revelations through Joseph Smith, the Savior spoke to Oliver’s concerns.

In Section 6, the Lord blessed Oliver for seeking revelation and for following what he had felt. He reassured Oliver that the feelings of enlightenment that he had experienced had come from God.

Verily, verily, I say unto thee, blessed art thou for what thou hast done; for thou hast inquired of me, and behold, as often as thou hast inquired thou hast received instruction of my Spirit. If it had not been so, thou wouldst not have come to the place where thou art at this time. Behold, thou knowest that thou hast inquired of me and I did enlighten thy mind; and now I tell thee these things that thou mayest know that thou hast been enlightened by the Spirit of truth;”

The Lord further explained to Oliver that the feelings that he had felt were from him and that he could know that because God had spoken peace to him and had addressed his concerns.

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things. Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the        matter? What greater witness can you have than from God? And now, behold, you have received a witness; for if I have told you things which no man knoweth have you not received a witness?”

In Section 8 it is nevertheless clear that Oliver is still struggling with these same concerns.  The Lord assures him:

“[T]hat assuredly as the Lord liveth, who is your God and your Redeemer, even so surely shall you receive a knowledge of whatsoever things you shall ask in faith, with an honest heart, believing that you shall receive a knowledge concerning the engravings of old records, which are ancient, which contain those parts of my scripture of which has been spoken by the manifestation of my Spirit.Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.

God also warns Oliver that he will need to rely on his revelatory experiences because they will deliver him “out of the hands of [his] enemies, when if it were not so they would slay you and bring your soul to destruction.”

From these verses (and others in these sections), it is obvious that Oliver struggled with many of the same questions that my friends have struggled with. He wanted to know whether he could truly rely on past revelation or whether it was possible that he was being deceived. He had powerful experiences but was worried that he was being led astray by his emotions.

But soon afterwards in May 1829, Oliver Cowdery had an experience that changed his feelings towards the power of revelation. On May 15th Oliver and Joseph retreated to a spot near the Susquehanna river in Harmony Pennsylvania and prayed to know the Lord’s will concerning baptism. John the Baptist appeared to them and ordained them to the Aaronic Priesthood.

Writing after this experience Oliver Cowdery described the impact of this revelatory visitation on his doubts.

And as we heard we rejoiced, while His love enkindled upon our souls, and we were wrapped in the vision of the Almighty! Where was room for doubt? Nowhere; uncertainty had fled, doubt had sunk no more to rise, while fiction and deception had fled forever!

Oliver spoke of how this vision was an answer to his “anxiously looked for message” and contrasted his feelings with the world which “was racked and distracted” and where “millions were groping as the blind for the wall” and “resting upon uncertainty.”

Because of his experience, Oliver realized that the spirit of revelation was precisely the antidote that God had given to cut through that uncertainty. He understood that human reasoning, rhetoric, and eloquence could deceive and distract. But that God could cut through all of that noise with “the power of the Holy Spirit.”

“I shall not attempt to paint to you the feelings of this heart, nor the majestic beauty and glory which surrounded us on this occasion; but you will believe me when I say, that earth, nor men, with the eloquence of time, cannot begin to clothe language in as interesting and sublime a manner as this holy personage. No; nor has this earth power to give the joy, to bestow the peace, or comprehend the wisdom which was contained in each sentence as they were delivered by the power of the Holy Spirit! Man may deceive his fellow-men, deception may follow deception, and the children of the wicked one may have power to seduce the foolish and untaught, till naught but fiction feeds the many, and the fruit of falsehood carries in its current the giddy to the grave; but one touch with the finger of his love, yes, one ray of glory from the upper world, or one word from the mouth of the Savior, from the bosom of eternity, strikes it all into insignificance, and blots it forever from the mind.

I love these words so much. That has also been my experience with divine revelation. The joy peace and wisdom that I have received from the Holy Ghost is far beyond anything that the world offers. When one truly experiences divine revelation there is no room for doubt. Rather, revelation causes doubt to flee or to whither into insignificance.

It makes so much sense to me that God would primarily speak to his children through direct personal revelation. The scriptures are incredible treasures of divine wisdom. But they were received in a particular time and place and in response to the spiritual needs of their audience. And when we read them we bring our own preconceptions and experiences. Reasoning and logic are wonderful tools. But when we reason we do also do not do so objectively. Rather, we bring our own biases and world view. More often than not, we interpret facts in a way that satisfies our own desires or confirms our opinion.

Moreover, these tools are not universally accessible. For instance, so many people lack the training, education, and access to truly understand the scriptures. But God loves his children wherever they are in the world and whatever their education and background. If God really wants to speak to us we should expect him to do so through a universal language that cuts through educational barriers and cultures. That universal language is divine revelation.

But Oliver’s experience does show that perhaps we might be falling into a bit of a trap as well in how we talk about revelation especially with investigators or those looking into the Church. Oliver had many spiritual experiences before his May 1829 experience. But yet he had many doubts and wondered whether those experiences were really from God. He kept asking and seeking until God gave him a greater and more concrete answer to his prayers.

Sometimes we are content with encouraging people to rely on their initial feelings of peace and joy that they receive from going to Church or reading the Book of Mormon or meeting with the missionaries. Oliver’s experience shows us that these feelings are real, but that they are insufficient. The kind of revelatory experience that God wants each of us to have is the kind that Oliver had with John the Baptist in May 1829. That isn’t to say that we will experience a divine visitation like Oliver did. But we can all receive the kind of manifestation of the spirit that cuts away all doubt.

I have been the recipient of such divine revelation and I cannot doubt or deny it. You could sooner convince me that 2+2=5 or that the sky is purple than convince me that this was merely wishful thinking or my own emotions. Those moments of divine revelation swept away doubt and replaced them with confidence and hope. And I now that if God gave me those experiences that he also wishes to give them to everyone else. Because he is no respecter of persons but loves all of this children. 

If you feel that you have never had such an experience, I encourage you to never give up and continue to seek such an answer. Rely on the answers you have felt and keep seeking greater truth and light. If you have received a powerful answer that swept away your doubt, cherish that memory. Do not allow skepticism and doubt to wipe away what you felt. If it was true when you experienced it, it remains true today. 

You can have exactly what you want, forever.

There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it.

C.S. Lewis, the Great Divorce

The purpose of God’s plan of salvation is to show us — and God — what we really desire, so that God can give that to us. The caveat is that if we want any kind of life that is not God’s life, we will not feel comfortable in the presence of God, in the society that God inhabits.

Read more

Twenty reasons for the Restoration

           D&C 1 is the Lord’s inspired preface for his book of covenants and commandments. This section was received through revelation by the Prophet Joseph Smith and is an inspired introduction to the material inside the Doctrine and Covenants. Like any good introduction, this section begins by laying out the intended audience (the members of the Church and the whole world), explaining the need for the contents of the book (the spiritual state of the world), and describing the key reasons for the restoration.  Starting in verse 17, the Lord reveals at least twenty reasons why it was necessary to have a restoration:

  1. To save the world from calamity
  • “Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth”

The restoration emerges out of an urgent need. God warns that the world is spiraling into catastrophe. Because the teachings of Jesus Christ have been abandoned or forgotten, there is great wickedness. Everyone is seeking idols after their own image. There is strife and anger. And ultimately there will be destruction. The restoration of God’s Church and Kingdom on the earth is a critical counter measure to prevent this destruction and desolation.

2) To fulfil prophecy

  • “[A]ll this that it might be fulfilled, which was written by the prophets”

The restoration was foreseen long ago. Christ’s apostles knew that there would be a falling away from truth followed by a period of renewal and rebirth. They promised that the fullness would once again be restored. Their prophetic warnings and promises could not be left unfulfilled. The same is true for the Book of Mormon Prophets who saw our day with particular clarity.

(We sometimes assume that Peter or Paul knew precisely what would happen with the apostasy and the restoration. I rather suspect that they were given more general revelation concerning an apostasy and restoration. But regardless, their prophetic promises were inspired and were fulfilled by the restoration).

3) To empower everyone to speak with power and authority

  • “But that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world;”

           One of my favorite things about full-time missionary service when I served in Novosibirsk Russia was wearing a name tag which declared to the world that I was an Elder and a representative of Jesus Christ and his Church. It is remarkable that every male member of the Church can hold the priesthood of God, and every sister can similarly speak with power and authority in the name of Christ. This democratization of power and authority is one of the triumphs of the restoration. Revelatory power and spiritual gifts are not reserved for a select few. Instead, everyone is able to access that power and to speak in the name of God the Lord.

4) To teach about Jesus and Heavenly Father

  • “But that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world;”

Another way to read that same verse is that we are empowered to teach with power the nature God and of the Savior. The restoration was intended to bring greater understanding as to their nature and character. Through the restoration we know of the God who weeps with us and of the Savior who calls us his friends and fellow servants. We understand their perfect and infinite love so much better. And we are therefore able to teach and invite others to come to truly know them.  

5) To bypass the wisdom of the word and to work through the meek and humble

  • The weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones”

Just as Christ was born in a lowly stable in Bethlehem and recruited from the lowly and despised of society, so to was the Church restored through the meek and humble of the world. Joseph Smith was not learned but he had great wisdom that was far greater than the wisdom of the world. Eloquence is not a prerequisite to spiritual power. God wants to show us that the things that the world prioritized by way of power and prestige are not the same things that we ultimately prioritizes

6) To increase faith

  • “That faith also might increase in the earth;”

           Because Christ’s Church was restored to the earth, there has been an increase of faith in the earth. We live in a time of growing skepticism about religion and doubts about God. So it was vital that a restored Church be established on the earth to help us to have pure faith in God and Christ. One of the main ways that I see this manifest itself in my life is the Church’s focus on personal revelation and the need to seek spiritual conviction for myself. This kind of active faith is transformative and transformational.

7) To reveal the fullness of the gospel

  • That the fullness of my gospel might be proclaimed


One thing that has really struck me in the past few years as I have listened to our inspired Prophet President Nelson is that the restoration is still ongoing. There is so much more that will continue to be revealed as the restoration unfolds. That promise of greater light and knowledge is deeply empowering. But we also can have confidence that God has revealed everything that we need to know for our exaltation and our eternal happiness.


8) To help us gain understanding

  • “These commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.”

The restoration and the many revelations and commandments that come from God are ultimately intended to help us develop wisdom and understanding. This is different than mere knowledge. The restoration rather is a call to action to apply the principles of faith into our lives.

9) To allow for missionary work to the whole world including to kings and rulers

  • That the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world, and before kings and rulers.

It is remarkable that these words were received in 1831 when the Church of Jesus Christ was in its infancy and had less than 1,000 members all contained in a small portion of the United States. But from the start the restoration was a global project that was intended to reach the whole world. When reading Saints Vol 1 and 2 I have been amazed again and again at how quickly the Church sent missionaries out to all part of the world. It is a message that is direct to everyone who will hearken to the will of God.


10) To (re)establish God’s eternal covenant 

  • That mine everlasting covenant might be established;”

Covenants form a major part of the restoration project. Covenants provide divine promises and assurance which bind us to God and to our families and church community. At the time when this revelation was received, God was slowly restoring ordinances and covenants. Today we are blessed to be able to go to the temple and make sacred covenants and to enter into eternal relationships.



11) To establish the true and living church on the earth and to lay its foundations

  • “And also those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased”

The Church is true because it contains authoritative priesthood authority and keys, and it is living because it is led by continuing revelation through a prophet. There are many other great Churches and incredible believers in God and Christ (or wonderful people who believe in none of these things). There are many great institutions on the earth that perform benevolent works or edify and uplift. But there is only one Church that contains God’s priesthood power and that is led by him through continuing revelation. That makes all of the difference.



12) To bring forward the Book of Mormon

  • “And after having received the record of the Nephites, yea, even my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., might have power to translate through the mercy of God, by the power of God, the Book of Mormon.”

Restoring the Book of Mormon to the earth was a major goal of the restoration. The writers of the Book of Mormon knew that it would come forth in our day from the dust of the Earth. This book contains a pure and powerful witness of Christ and it is the keystone of our faith. God knew that we would need this powerful book for our day.

13) To empower people to have the companionship of the spirit

  • And he that repents not, from him shall be taken even the light which he has received; for my Spirit shall not always strive with man, saith the Lord of Hosts.”

This verse speak of individuals losing light and the presence of the spirit. But the necessary corollary is that we can gain light and enjoy the presence of the spirit when we are repentant. One of the remarkable fruits of the restoration is that every member is able to enjoy the presence and companionship of the Holy Ghost. This is a gift that is available to anyone who is repentant and humble.

14) To prepare the world for Christ to come and rule on the earth.

  • “And also the Lord shall have power over his saints, and shall reign in their midst, and shall come down in judgment upon Idumea, or the world.”

The ultimate goal of the restoration is to prepare the world for the second coming of Christ. I love how even though we do not know the exact date and time of Christ’s second coming, this concept places the agency on us to act. We are not to passively wait for Christ to come again. Instead, we are working hand in hand with God as co-laborers in this project of restoration and preparation.


15) To humble people and teach them to trust in God.

  • “[T]hat man should not counsel his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of flesh”

We must ultimately not rely on our own fleshly abilities and aptitudes but instead we must come to rely on God and trust in him. This is a humbling process and it is truly a challenge for each of us. We must learn to use our divine given skills and talents in the way that God would have us use them rather than in pursuit of our own selfish goals and desires. In the restored Church, we are pushed to learn to do this through our service in callings and also in our own personal family relationships. For me, nothing has taught me humility and pushed me to try to rely on God more than being a husband and a father. I daily encounter reminders of my own fallen and imperfect nature.


16) To inspire confidence that God speaks through Prophets and Apostles in our day

  • “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.”

           I have seen a lot of debate and discussion of the meaning of this verse lately. I read this verse as suggesting that God’s word will be fulfilled whether he speaks in his own voice or in the voice of his servants the Prophet and Apostles. This does not mean that every single thing that the Prophet says is exactly equal to the word of God. But the restoration of prophetic leadership is intended to give us confidence that God will speak to us through those that we sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators, and that the promises that they extend to us from God will ultimately be fulfilled.


17) To encourage repentance

  • And inasmuch as they sinned they might be chastened, that they might repent”

The restoration is a call to shake off the chains of complacency and sin and to repent. From my own experience, it is easy to put off making needed spiritual changes and to rationalize away the things we are doing wrong. The restoration provides both a sense of urgency and a call to action. This comes through the promptings of the Holy Ghost, through the teachings of the Prophet and Apostles, , through our church experiences and callings, and many other ways.

18) To prove that God is no respecter of persons

  • “For I am no respecter of persons, and will that all men shall know”

The restoration is universal and global. God wants us to know that he is no respecter of persons. While the Church began in North America, it is intended to be a global religious that does not know boundaries of race, ethnicity, or culture. We have a long way to go until we achieve that inclusive and diverse vision. But it is one that we are called to strive towards.

19) To warn that the second coming “speedily cometh”

  • For I am no respecter of persons, and will that all men shall know that the day speedily cometh; the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand, when peace shall be taken from the earth, and the devil shall have power over his own dominion.

Early church members were focused heavily on what they saw as an impending second coming. Several generations later, it can honestly be difficult to have that sense of purpose and focus. But the restoration is intended to point our attention towards that second coming. This is intended to further spur us to action and to urge us to avoid complacency.  

20) To prove that all of God’s words shall be fulfilled

  • “Search these commandments, for they are true and faithful, and the prophecies and promises which are in them shall all be fulfilled. What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled,”

Finally, the restoration of the Gospel of Christ is intended to show us that God’s prophecies and promises will in fact be fulfilled. What began as a tiny church has indeed spread to fill the earth. We can therefore have confidence that God’s promises and prophecies in our own day will also be fulfilled. God’s word is true and faithful. All will be fulfilled in time. Sometimes it may not come in way that we expect or anticipate. But we can have confidence in God.

Soul, the Great Before, and the Purpose of Life

Disney/Pixar’s new movie Soul was a perfect Christmas present to the world, debuting on Disney+ over the holiday. As is often the case with Pixar’s masterpieces, this movie was deeper and more poignant than those ostensibly made for adults only. Movies rarely consider the deepest questions of the “soul” such as where we come from, we why are in the world, and where we go after we die. But Pixar movies have never been afraid to ask these kinds of deep questions.

And what is even more remarkable is how many of the things that the movie showed were consistent with revealed truth.

Of course, not every aspect of the movie is consistent with what members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints know about the plan of salvation. Indeed, the movie doesn’t feature God or include anything about a Savior. But the movie nevertheless touches on many aspects of eternal truth, particularly regarding the premortal existence.

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, I would highly recommend that you go and watch it. What follows will have at least some spoilers (though I think you would probably know all of this from watching the trailer.)

At the center of the film is an exploration of the true purpose of life. Main character Joe Gardner is a middle school music teacher who is down on his luck and feels that he has wasted his shot at life. He gets the opportunity of a lifetime to perform with a jazz quartet. But he suddenly falls into a manhole and his spirit leaves his body and prepares to enter the Great Beyond. But Joe refuses and as he tries to escape death he ends up going back to the Great Before which is the film’s depiction of the premortal existence.

The key conceit of the Great Before is that souls develop their personalities there and prepare to come to earth. But before they can come to earth the souls must gain their “spark” which provides a purpose of motivation for life. 

Souls are assigned mentors who will help them find their spark. These mentors are ordinarily illustrious people like Mahatma Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln. The mentors help their mentees find their spark whether that spark is music or painting, politics or philanthropy. 

Joe pretends to be a mentor and is assigned to Soul 22, a very old soul who has either been unable or unwilling to find her spark. She enjoys her time in the Great Before and does not see a point in life on Earth. If you have ever seen another Pixar film, then you will not be surprised to hear that Joe and 22 end up inspiring and transforming each other.

There are so many parallels to the Plan of Salvation. In the premortal life we were tutored by God and developed our personality and prepared to come to earth. God designed our mortal experience to help us to develop traits and attributes that we could not develop in God’s presence. 

We knew that earth life would be difficult. We knew that we would face trials and challenges. We knew that at times we would feel disappointment, sorrow or pain. Maybe we were afraid of failing.

Indeed, many souls never came down to earth at all. They rebelled against God and refused to come. But we courageously embraced God’s plan and even shouted for joy at the opportunity.

One of my favorite things about the Plan of Salvation is that it properly contextualizes the purpose and significance of life. This life is just a part of our eternal journey. But it is the most important part. It is where we can develop ourselves and make critical choices that shape eternity. It is also where we develop eternally binding and lasting relationships.

The movie was such a beautiful exploration of that purpose of life. The movie shows that the purpose in life is not necessarily to do some great task, but rather to take advantage of all of our many opportunities to bless and enrich the lives of others. Our relationships matter a lot more than our worldly triumphs. At the end of this life we will not be measured by whether we played in one great gig, but whether we made a difference for those we care about. That vision is fully consistent with the plan of salvation

It is so easy to coast through life without fully thinking about these questions of eternity such as where we come from and where we are going. I love how this movie looks at these deep questions of the soul and offers a hopeful and optimistic vision, just as the Plan of Salvation does.

The doctrine of our pre-mortal existence is one of the first things that really drew me to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. More than 12 years ago I read about it in the book Mormonism for Dummies and I felt something stir within me. When I read about it I felt like I was rediscovering truth that I had always known about even though I had never learned about it before. That feeling led me to go to Church for the first time and to try to learn more.

Hopefully, this movie will help stir its viewers to explore these questions further and perhaps help them find the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Although it is not intended to be a missionary tool, I suspect that there will be many who will feel the light of Christ when they learn about the preexistence.

Faith Crisis and Choices

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross is the source of this wonderful quote:

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

Borrowing her line of reasoning, I firmly believe it is also true that beautiful faith does not “just happen.” There are decisions that people make. There are responses that are chosen. Some time ago, I was thinking through hundreds of conversations I’ve had among people who have either lost or regained their faith in the face of challenges. I tried to write out the choices I have observed, and here is what I came up with.

Read more

An Inexhaustible Orthodoxy

When I was getting ready to leave on my mission, I asked the people who were participating in the Maxwell Institute Summer Scholars program with me for advice on books that I might consider taking with me to the mission field. I was worried that I would get bored with the approved missionary reading library and so I wanted some devotional material that I might find intellectually and spiritually stimulating. One of the books that were recommended to me was The Inexhaustible Gospel a collection of devotionals and speeches by Neal A. Maxwell. Most of those talks are available here

That book served me well so well as a missionary. I found Elder Maxwell’s teachings on discipleship so inspiring. In Elder Maxwell I saw a fellow traveler, someone who was committed to the life of the mind and also to diligently following the Savior. Reading Elder Maxwell provided me the reassurance that I needed as a still recent convert that it was possible to be intellectually curious, academically engaged, and fully invested in Church service.

When I read and decided to sign the Radical Orthodoxy Manifesto a few weeks ago, Elder Maxwell’s words were what came to my mind. More than anyone else, Elder Maxwell defined for me what it means to be radically orthodox. 

In a BYU Education Week talk entitled “The Inexhaustible Gospel,” Elder Maxwell spoke of “the vastness and preciousness of that enormous body of knowledge we call the gospel” as well as his “ever-growing excitement over it.” Elder Maxwell described the close relationship between “gaining knowledge and becoming more christlike.” These concepts were two sides of the same coin. “Thus, while we are saved no faster than we gain a certain type of knowledge, it is also the case, as Richard Bushman has observed, that we will gain knowledge no faster than we are saved.” The gospel was not only a course of knowledge but a pathway towards becoming like Christ. “So defined, the gospel is inexhaustible because there is not only so much to know, but also so much to become!”

Elder Maxwell explained that “Ultimate orthodoxy—and orthodoxy isn’t a popular word nowadays—is expressed in the Christlike life that involves both mind and behavior.” This type of orthodoxy involves both “perception and implementation” as “part of the same spiritual process.” Elder Maxwell put forward the example of the Savior. Even though the Savior had “the keenest of all intellects,” he nevertheless “leads by example and love” rather than “arrogance,” “vanity,” or “hypocrisy.”

We get into spiritual danger when we think we can “outgrow Christ’s example of knowing, behaving, and doing.” But “[b]rilliance, by itself, is not wholeness, nor happiness. Knowledge, if possessed for its own sake and unapplied, leaves one’s life unadorned.”

Elder Maxwell urged his listeners not to approach the Gospel narrowly or with a closed mind. Instead, members should seek learning both by study and by faith. And members should recognize that as we explore “this comprehensiveness and everlastingness, there will be some surprises. Our understanding of some things will be restructured and expanded, especially in the world to come[.]”

But Elder Maxwell nevertheless warned against study unmooored from Orthodox truth:

“How intellectually amazing the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is! The gospel is truly inexhaustible! It is marvelous! It is a wonder!

Yet orthodoxy is required to keep all these truths in essential balance. In orthodoxy lies real safety and real felicity! Flowing from orthodoxy is not only correctness but happiness. Orthodoxy is especially vital in a time of raging relativism and belching sensualism. The world’s morality is constantly being improvised. Some views are politically correct one day, but not another.” 

The Gospel of Jesus Christ gives our intellect grounding by focusing and channeling it on Jesus of Nazareth the Savior. “Ultimate wisdom enables us to see Jesus as the Light of the World, but, further, we also come to realize that it is by his light that we are to see everything else! The gospel’s bright and illuminating light thereby helps us see God, ourselves, others, the world, and the universe more correctly and more deeply. Indeed, as Paul declared, ‘in [Christ] all things hold together’” (RSV, Colossians 1:17).”

On other occasions, Elder Maxwell further defined his conception of orthodxy. In a talk urging members to avoid intellectual extremes, Elder Maxwell explained that “Orthodoxy ensures balance between the gospel’s powerful and correct principles. In the body of gospel doctrine, not only are justice and mercy ‘fitly joined together [for] effectual working,’ but so is everything else! (Eph. 4:16.) But the gospel’s principles do require synchronization. When pulled apart from each other or isolated, men’s interpretations and implementations of these doctrines may be wild.”

Elder Maxwll also linked the concept of orthodoxy closely to the need to be “settled” in the Gospel. In this respect he described orthodoxy as “emancipating and discovering.” 

For me that is what the concept of “radical orthodoxy” ultimately stands for. It means being “settled” and firmly rooted in the Savior and in his eternal doctrines. Being firmly settled in the things that are not negotiable frees one up to engage in further intellectual exploration with confidence and conviction. It means that one is not tossed to and fro by trends and popular opinion. It is a firm foundation. 

This kind of orthodoxy is not intellectually self-absorbed. It is not primarily concerned with boundary maintenance or seeking to tell others they are wrong. It is not defensive. Rather, it is humble and meek. It is focused on becoming more Christlike and in engaging others with charity, patience, temperance, and other Christlike virtues. These are the things that Elder Maxwell taught me through his sermons with such clarity and conviction while I served a mission. And those lessons are what led me to sign the Radical Orthodoxy Manifesto. 

Old Promises, Made new

The last few times I’ve read the traditional nativity account in Luke 2, I’ve been struck by the stories of Simeon and Anna the Prophetess. It’s an interesting juxtaposition between these two extremely elderly individuals and the 8 day old newborn Jesus. We don’t know how old Simeon was, but he was expecting to die anytime (“now let thy servant depart in peace”). Anna was at least a hundred years old.

It strikes me because I turned fifty earlier this year, and as this half century mark, my admiration for people who can remain faithful for a very long time impress me more and more. These two individuals exemplify “waiting upon the Lord.” I don’t know if they had moments of doubt, questioning if these promises would really be fulfilled after so much time had passed. This resonates as well, because here we are nearly two thousand years after Christ’s death, it seems like we can be forgiven for questioning just how soon Christ’s promised return really is. I love these stories because they suggest our patience will be rewarded, just as their was, if we stay faithful to our promises.

I also love these stories because of what they were hoping for, because of what hope kept them going, day after day. Simeon was “waiting for the consolation of Israel,” and Anna associated herself with those who “looked for redemption in Jerusalem”.

Have you been waiting for consolation? I have. Simeon’s joy when he finally gets to lay his eyes upon the Source of that consolation fills me with joy and comfort.

Have you looked for redemption from oppression and the reestablishment of holiness in what should be a holy city? I have. Anna’s gratitude fills me with gratitude and hope, and also the desire to serve the Lord faithfully night and day.

This is the darkest time of year, but in that manager lays the source of brightest light. I want my heart to have the newness and life that Jesus can bring (as He has before), and also the faithfulness to the promises that have been made to me, even if they seem far off and impossibly distant.

#LightTheWorld