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Are we our own worst enemy when it comes to gospel learning?

It has been a while since I have written anything on my blog, but I woke up this morning and this idea came immediately to my head. I thought it would be a fun, quick, but edifying read.

How many of us have heard the familiar phrase before?

"That isn't necessary for my salvation..."


"The gospel is so simple. We don't need to complicate it."

I have long pondered these phrases and how they square with scripture and the words of the brethren. Admittedly, there is some truth to the ideas above. For example, Elder Maxwell warned of the following:

"For [some] individuals, exciting exploration is preferred to plodding implementation. Speculation and argumentation are more fun than consecration for these individuals." (1)

Elder Maxwell says in his clever way, essentially, that speculation can be detrimental when it is not combined with obedience to commandments. To drive the point home, if we compare that statement above with other quotations from Elder Maxwell we will get a more plain picture as to what is expected.

From the same talk as the quote above:

"I now hasten to add, having said these preliminary things, that the role of secular knowledge is very important. Latter-day Saints should have all the genuine excitement others have in the traditional adventure of learning, including learning secular truths, and we should have a little more. In fact, when we are so learning and so behaving, we are truly “about [our] Father’s business.” This should bring to us a special and genuine zest for learning. (Luke 2:49; see also 2 Ne. 9:29.)" (2)

President Nelson recently quoted Elder Maxwell in one of his General Conference talks that ought to drive the point home:

"Oh, there is so much more that your Father in Heaven wants you to know. As Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught, “To those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, it is clear that the Father and the Son are giving away the secrets of the universe!”" (3)

Joseph F. Smith also comments and puts things clearly:

"The sanctity of a true testimony should inspire a thoughtful care as to its use. That testimony is not to be forced upon everybody, nor is it to be proclaimed at large from the housetop. It is not to be voiced merely to “fill up the time” in a public meeting; far less to excuse or disguise the speaker’s poverty of thought or ignorance of the truth he is called to expound... the voicing of one’s testimony, however eloquently phrased or beautifully expressed, is no fit or acceptable substitute for the needed discourse of instruction and counsel expected” of those we have been commissioned to teach. “The man . . . who assumes that his testimony embraces all the knowledge he needs, and who therefore lives in indolence and ignorance shall surely discover his error to his own cost and loss. Of those who speak in his name, the Lord requires humility, not ignorance." - Joseph F. Smith (Gospel Doctrine (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1971), 205–6)

One last quote to grow on before we move onto an exercise in the scriptures. For those who cling to the simplicity of the gospel, rightfully so, Elder Uchtdorf invites us out onto the ledge a little bit so we can dig a little deeper:

"The restored gospel of Jesus Christ is given to us in a plain and simple way that a child can understand. Yet the gospel of Jesus Christ has the answers to the most complex questions in life and has such profound depth and complexity that even with a lifetime of study and pondering, we can scarcely comprehend even the smallest part.
If you hesitate in this adventure because you doubt your ability, remember that discipleship is not about doing things perfectly; it’s about doing things intentionally. It is your choices that show what you truly are, far more than your abilities." (4)

The child-like understanding is beautiful, but it is meant to be moved on from as Hebrews chapters 5 & 6 amply attest. If you feel you are not the 'digging deep' type, then making the choice and trying to improve your gospel learning is the most important thing. Our intentions to dig deeply into the pure doctrines and principles of the gospel is partly how we show our real intent in wanting to know the Savior, Jesus Christ.

As a quick exercise and what I feel will really drive the point home, I have provided questions below and you can ask yourself whether or not that truth is 'necessary for your salvation'.

QUESTIONNAIRE: Is the following necessary for my salvation?

1. Is understanding the physical nature of translated beings necessary for my salvation?

2. Is understanding the Book of Mormon Geography necessary for my salvation?

3. Are the processes by which creation occurred necessary to understand for my salvation?

4. Are understanding Isaiah and the hard writings of John necessary for my salvation?

5. Should we speculate or give our opinion outside the realm of doctrine when it comes to the resurrection and what happens after death?

ANSWERS (the numbers below correspond to the questions above)

1. See 3 Nephi 28:17 & 36-40

In verse 17 we get Mormon admitting he doesn't know much about the nature of translated beings. Notice how Mormon does not make the spiritually lethargic and unscriptural excuse of how such knowledge 'was not necessary for his salvation'. He comes back to the nature of translated beings in verse 36 and proceeds to explain what knowledge had been given to him.
Mormon inquired of the Lord to gain knowledge about the nature of translated beings (verse 37).

2. See Alma 22

The first 26 verses of this chapter are discussed often but rarely any light is put on the why of the last 8 verses. In Alma 22 we have a wonderful and light intensive story of the King of the Lamanites being converted, raised up by a handclasp, and bringing many of his people unto Christ.

In an odd transition (right in the middle of a very miraculous event), Mormon then goes on a 570 word tangent about the geography of the surrounding land. Even further, "John L. Sorenson, one of the foremost students on the subject [of Book of Mormon geography], identified over 600 passages relevant to geography. Cross-referencing Sorenson’s list with that of John E. Clark, Randall Spackman determined that there are upwards of 1000 passages of potential geographic significance."

In the last verse of Alma 22, Mormon transitions back into the story in a way that makes it obvious he knew what he is doing. To think otherwise is to suggest that Mormon somewhat often got lost on tangents during his writings (which was a painstaking and slow process to write on plates in the first place). This, obviously, was not the case.

This all begs the question, "If the Book of Mormon's purpose is to invite all to come unto Christ why 'waste' over 1,000 verses of the over 6,000 that exist in the book on the seemingly unrelated topic of geography?"

It should be self-evident that geography is not an unrelated topic and, therefore, our understanding of the Book of Mormon probably needs to be adjusted. It is a complex book that was calculated for us to plummet its depths. As a result, we will come unto Christ in matters of heart and MIND. It is possible that one can get too caught up in the geography and, therefore, miss the bigger picture of the book. But, I would also suggest the reverse is true, that one is probably not as familiar with the record as they should be to dismiss over 15% of the book as irrelevant details instead of using that information to further enrich their study of this book.

3. See D&C 101:32-34

The context of this knowledge being given is during the Millennium. When we compare that context to other statements from the brethren, it should not limit us to the knowledge the Lord is willing to give:

"When Satan is bound in a single home—when Satan is bound in a single life—the Millennium has already begun in that home, in that life." (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 172)

A real-life example where that happened in someone's life is found in Alma 48:17-19.

4. When it comes to Isaiah, we all have issues reading him. But we all well aware that he is the most quoted prophet by Jesus in the New Testament and the Book of Mormon. Jesus even commands us to search his words diligently (see 3 Nephi 23:1).

"Personally, I feel about Isaiah and his utterances the same way Nephi felt and think that if I expect to go where Nephi and Isaiah have gone, I had better speak their language, think their thoughts, know what they knew, believe and teach what they believed and taught, and live as they lived." (5)

5. Alma 40:3-20

Alma is speaking to his son Corianton who has been heavily enticed and influenced by Zoramite philosophy and theology. Alma teaches his son true doctrine to counteract the false things that have filled his mind. Apparently, Corianton needed his understanding of the resurrection adjusted.

The interesting thing about verse 3 is that Alma unfolds unto Corianton something that was not conventional theology in the Nephite Church. It was knowledge Alma had obtained by pure revelation and had kept it hidden for a time.

Why is this interesting? Could it be that believing that the Book of Mormon was tailored made for our day, much of the false precepts and confusion in our day will be partly overcome by the hidden knowledge people receive to their personal questions regarding theology and the deep things of God?

Could it be that the ideas surrounding women, sexual liberation, economics, and so forth will be overcome as individuals overcome by the spirit of revelation and the spirit of prophecy? Also, would it not be nice to receive our own hidden knowledge whereby we could help others, like how Alma helped Corianton when the occasion was appropriate?

Alma admits that the teachings in this chapter are his opinion (see verse 20). In other words, I would call it 'righteous speculation'.


In a Church that is now inviting us to increase our gospel learning, it would do us good to get out of our own way as much as possible. What do I mean by that?

Joseph Smith gets at the idea:

“It is the constitutional disposition of mankind to set up stakes and set bounds to the works and ways of the Almighty.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 320)

To assume that further light and knowledge about subjects are not necessary for our salvation suggests we need a paradigm change. While it is true that some information and doctrines are more important than others, we have a Father in Heaven who seeks for us to draw close to Him. That is accomplished by being like Mormon, Moroni, Nephi, and others who gloried in 'great knowledge'. 

Conversely, in several places in Nephi's writings he laments about the unwillingness of many to plummet the depths of the gospel:

"And now I, Nephi, cannot say more; the Spirit stoppeth mine utterance, and I am left to mourn because of the unbelief, and the wickedness, and the ignorance, and the stiffneckedness of men; for they will not search knowledge, nor understand great knowledge, when it is given unto them in plainness, even as plain as word can be." (see 2 Nephi 32:7)

Even further, the Lord commands us to learn by study and to learn by Faith (the spirit of revelation that allows those who are close to the Lord to ask and receive an answer):

"And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith."

When we get in our own way of gospel study, we are doing the same thing the Gentiles have done as explained in 2 Nephi 29. Instead of saying, A Bible! A Bible! We need no more Bible!, we are saying Knowledge! Knowledge! I have all I need to know and I do not need any more knowledge!

In a religion where we insist on believing in continuing revelation, it is ironic that we want to put limits on our own learning and what God wants to reveal to us. In closing, President Nelson recently quoted my favorite scripture in General Conference:

"I urge you to stretch beyond your current spiritual ability to receive personal revelation, for the Lord has promised that “if thou shalt [seek], thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things—that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal." (6)


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