I just listened to the podcast of the Mormon Miscellaneous radio show by Van Hale from August 17th talking about Mormon apologetics and with guest Mike Ash about his new book Shaken Faith Syndrome. This post isn’t a critique of Hale’s show or of Ash’s book, but it is about one tenet expressed during this particular program that is false.
I consider myself an apologist in the Church, meaning that I have covenanted to sustain and defend it from error. I always bear my testimony that “I know” the Church is true, and that “I know” the Book of Mormon is true, and that “I know” Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, and that “I know” that President Monson is a prophet of God, and that “I know” that Jesus Christ is our only Savior and Redeemer. The reason why is that I have received an unmistakable witness from God, through His Spirit, that it is so. Come rain or come shine, I will always hold on to this sure witness. Should it be any different?
One of the initial comments that Van Hale made on the radio program, which was emphasized several times throughout the program, was that this kind of talk that “I know” is not good to have as a Mormon, and it seems that Mike Ash concurred (although at one point Ash said that we should “know,” and Hale corrected him). The sentiment was expressed that it is better to say that “I believe” something is right and from God, than to say that “I know” it is, for doing so would be setting oneself up for disillusionment, disaffection, and doubt in one’s gospel learning and development in the Church. This just isn’t right. It seems to me to be a concession of true principles. Indeed, it seems to be an oxymoronic position to take for a believing apologist, or a believing disciple of Christ, by promoting a more doubtful view over a sure knowledge of the gospel. Now, I know that the “I believe” position is taken to seemingly open oneself up to be able to better receive historical facts about the Church that one has not encountered before, and to not be “shaken” in one’s faith by them, but, on the other hand, where does it leave us? It leaves us without a firm testimony of the gospel.
Consider the talk given just recently in the last April 2008 General Conference by Elder Oaks entitled “Testimony.” I counted over 50 times that Elder Oaks used the word “know” in his talk, in one form of the word or another. His very first sentence was this:
A testimony of the gospel is a personal witness borne to our souls by the Holy Ghost that certain facts of eternal significance are true and that we know them to be true.
Elder Oaks goes on to explain how we come to “know” these truths. It would seem to me that a testimony that doesn’t “know” certain truths is not much of a testimony at all. In that case, it would be a belief, but not a firm conviction of truth. Elder Oaks seems to be teaching us that we need to “know” the doctrines of the gospel are true, not just “believe” in them. If we are new in the Church, and do not yet “know” truth but “believe” in it by the faith and words of others, then we should be striving diligently to gain such a testimony of the Spirit so we can say, each individually, that “I know.”
In closing his talk Elder Oaks said this:
I close with my testimony. I know that we have a Heavenly Father, whose plan brings us to earth and provides the conditions and destiny of our eternal journey. I know that we have a Savior, Jesus Christ, whose teachings define the plan and whose Atonement gives the assurance of immortality and the opportunity for eternal life. I know that the Father and the Son appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith to restore the fulness of the gospel in these latter days. And I know that we are led today by a prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, who holds the keys to authorize priesthood holders to perform the ordinances prescribed for our progress toward eternal life.
Of course this does not mean that we must believe that prophets are infallible, or that they can never speak opinion, or that they are never wrong. But the fundamental principles and doctrines of the gospel we can know with a surety that they are true, and we should not be shy in proclaiming it, over the pulpit, to our friends, online, over the airwaves, and in every medium we can. This is true missionary work. Should we not emulate the example of the prophets? Should we not have a goal to be like them (Num. 11:29, cf. Rev. 19:10)? Should we not strive to “know” with a surety, by a continual revealed witness of the Holy Ghost? I know what I believe. It seems to me that proclaiming otherwise is heading down the same path of doubt that we are trying to prevent against, as well as stating things contrary to the words of the prophets. “Doubt not, fear not” (D&C 6:36).
Christ once asked his apostles, “But whom say ye that I am?” And Simon answered and said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” He didn’t say “I believe that thou art the Christ…” And how did Christ respond? “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 16:15-17). Alma also agreed that we should “know,” by the Holy Ghost, and bear testimony of such (Alma 5:45-48). Moreover, the most often quoted scripture in the Church teaches us that we can “know the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:3-5).
(Bryce Haymond is the editor of TempleStudy.com, a blog dedicated to sustaining and defending the LDS temple by comparative studies of religious worship found around the world and throughout history.)