Revelation and Reason:
A Productive Harmony
There are times in one’s life that may seem trivial or only marginally important at the moment they happen, but as the years roll on, they prove to have been like the switch points on a railway line. In a fast-moving train, one is hardly aware of passing over those points where two lines are joined, separated by no more than an inch or two of space. Yet, depending on how the switch is thrown, one can end in destinations as divergent as New York and Los Angeles.
As I have reflected on the factors that have shaped my testimony of the gospel, several such switch points stand out as having been of particularly profound importance to me. Describing three of those influences may well be the best way to express my personal testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
A House of Learning, A House of Faith
I grew up in a home that was fairly typical of mid–twentieth century America. My father was a pipe fitter at the Garfield Smelter at the southern tip of the Great Salt Lake. We lived in a small house on three and a half acres in the western part of Murray, Utah, which was at that time a mostly rural part of Salt Lake County. We lived simply but comfortably, though I suppose by today’s standards we would have been below the poverty level and would have qualified for all sorts of benevolent help from the government. Despite our poverty, my mother believed strongly that her occupation was the care and nurturing of her children, and throughout my growing-up years she never worked outside the home.
My father always said he was an “uneducated” man. He did well in high school, but unfortunately, three weeks after he was accepted into the engineering program at the University of Utah, Black Thursday—October 24, 1929—struck and the nation was plunged into the Great Depression. That dashed any hopes for “higher education,” and my father became a laborer for the rest of his life. Only much later did I come to realize that his self-imposed title of “uneducated” could not have been more undeserved.
Just a year ago, while visiting with an ailing uncle—the brother that was closest to my father in both age and temperament—I learned something about my father I had not known before. My uncle told me that while my father was in high school, the math teacher in an adjoining town found a trigonometry problem in the textbook that he was unable to solve. Perplexed, he asked other math teachers in the area for help. They were stumped as well. He asked the math teacher at my father’s school for help, but he could not solve it either. “Let me give it to Jewell Lund,” he said. “He’s the best math student I’ve got.” Within a day or two, Dad had solved the problem on his own. It was such an event in that rural community that it made the front page of the weekly newspaper.
It was that analytical tenacity coupled with an abiding curiosity and inquisitiveness that characterized my father’s whole life of “informal” education. And he bequeathed that gift to us. Books were always a part of our lives. He loved to learn and to know and encouraged us to feel the same way. He constantly pushed us to think critically and logically. He demanded not negativism, but an examination of the rationale behind what was being postulated. What were the assumptions? Were those assumptions logical? Was the thinking consistent? Did it square with known truth?
In most homes, the dinner hour is a time for quiet talk and relaxed visiting. In our home the “amen” of the blessing signaled the opening of the debate. One of us would raise this topic or that, and away we went. It was always vigorous, frequently intense, and occasionally downright heated. (I only realized that this was not normal for all families when I brought my wife-to-be to our home for dinner for the first time, and she threatened my life if I left her alone in that forensic fray for one moment.) We never had to agree with Dad in these discussions, but we quickly learned that we had better be prepared to defend our positions properly or else abandon them.
The thing that kept this demanding scrutiny from becoming mere intellectual gymnastics was my father’s deep love for the gospel and the scriptures. He often stressed the fact that the scriptures were called “the standard works” because they are “the measure by which you judge all things.” And we learned to do so. Everything we read and learned about was couched in terms of and laid up against the gospel plan. He would note simple things in nature that bore silent witness to the hand of God. We would compare the principles and doctrines of men to the principles and doctrines of God.
I mention my upbringing because occasionally I have had people say to me, “Well, you were raised a Mormon. It’s only natural that you would accept your theology without question.” I just smile. That may be true in some homes, but it was not in mine. The gospel was put to the same intense scrutiny and debate as any other topic. But here again, this scrutiny came from a foundation of faith, not skepticism. “Whatever God says is right,” Dad would often say. “If something God says or does doesn’t make sense to you, it’s because of your limitations, not God’s.”
My mother’s contribution in shaping this wonderful gift of inquiry was as enormous as my father’s, though in a much less dramatic way. My mother has always been a gentle, patient woman. Her temperament is such that she raised her voice in anger only when her children, particularly three teenaged sons, drove her to it, and that was rarely. Not that we did not try, but her capacity for patience were prodigious.
Mom has always been a peacemaker in the fullest sense of the word. Her nature was not to plunge into those verbal duels that were so much a part of our life. She would mostly sit and listen. Occasionally, when we would begin to defend our intellectual turf too vigorously, she would quietly note that we had stopped listening. That always pulled us up short. Or she might make us all feel a little sheepish by noting some core principle we had totally overlooked, or by making a simple declaration of faith that brought the discussion back to its proper moorings.
Only now do I fully understand how important her gentle balance was for us in that climate of inquiry, which could easily have become only strident. She was always there to remind us that one could disagree without being disagreeable. My father taught us to combine reason with revelation, and that was a superlative gift. But my mother did something equally important. She showed us how to keep our balance so that rationalism did not become radicalism.
Teaching—A Lifelong Love
A second influence began with a simple question at the end of a religion class at BYU. “Jerry,” the professor asked, “have you ever considered teaching seminary?” I had not, but the idea had instant appeal to me. I enrolled in the training classes and within the year was teaching seminary for the Church Educational System. To that point I had been working toward a career in social work, with an eye toward working with juvenile delinquents. Talk about a switch point!
I have now completed my thirtieth year with CES, serving as a teacher in both the seminaries and the institutes of religion, as a curriculum writer, and as an administrator. For the last three decades I have been privileged to devote my full occupational time to studying, teaching, and writing about the gospel of Jesus Christ. Day in and day out, it has been a requirement of my employment to immerse myself in the scriptures. For thirty years I have pored over them, studied them, drawn lessons from them, answered questions about them and from them. I have examined them with telescope, microscope, calipers, and slide rule. Whether taking the macro or the micro view of the scriptures, I have found in them an incredible, wonderful, miraculous depth and consistency that cannot be fully plumbed. Over and over I have been asked to teach or to write about a particularly dismaying block of scripture—blocks like Leviticus, Chronicles, or Philemon. “There is nothing much of importance in that particular block,” I would say to myself. But, given little choice, I would dive in. And there is where my father’s training would begin to pay off. “The problem is not with God,” I would remember. “It is your own limitations that make his word difficult.” Again and again I would be stunned at the richness of the ore to be mined from that ground I had assumed was barren.
A “Non-Christian” among Christians, a Gentile among Jews
As I neared the completion of a master’s degree in sociology at BYU, I began looking in earnest at various graduate programs around the country. I had enjoyed my studies in sociology and was committed to a doctorate in that same field. My wife and I took an opportunity to visit several major Midwestern universities with strong doctoral programs in sociology. When we returned home some ten days and three thousand miles later, we were sure of two things. First, we discovered we were quite naive about the world out there, and particularly about the world of higher education. Second, we knew a doctorate in sociology was not for us.
Still desirous of pursuing a doctoral degree, I began to look at programs in either biblical studies or Near Eastern studies. After considerable examination, I applied for and was accepted at the Claremont Graduate School in southern California. At that time, Claremont was considered one of the preeminent schools in this field in America. Though my wife and I had always facetiously stated that there were two places we did not want to go—hell and Los Angeles, and we weren’t sure in which order to list them—life has a way of working its will on you. We volunteered to go to California for CES to teach in the institutes of religion. One year later, in September 1969, I was standing in the registration line at Claremont with my tuition check in hand.
The program at Claremont was impressive. For the doctorate, in addition to the base languages for a Ph.D., it was required that a person have a working knowledge of Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, Akkadian, and Ugaritic. Unfortunately, I had also learned that while they had an impeccable academic reputation, the program in biblical studies was in the mainstream of liberal theological thought. For example, some of the faculty there had been prominent in the development of the “death-of-god” movement that had swept theological circles during the sixties. I felt some misgivings about this kind of program, but I had my acceptance in hand and I wanted an advanced degree.
As I stood there in the California sunshine, waiting for my turn at the cashier’s window, the misgivings went from a disquieting whisper to a deafening roar. Three places away from the cashier’s window I suddenly asked myself, “What are you doing here? This is not what you want.” I gulped a little, turned on my heel and left, tearing up my tuition check as I walked away. And with that, in what very much seemed at the time like a frivolous, if not a downright foolish, decision, the switch was thrown and I started down a different track entirely.
Still wanting to do something in biblical studies, I began to look around southern California to see what else was available. I investigated everything that had anything close to my interests. I still smile when I think of the bewildered look on the face of the dean of admissions at a Baptist theological seminary when I tried to explain why a Mormon was interested in studying the Bible with the Baptists. Finally, I learned of a small private school in Los Angeles called Pepperdine College. It offered a master’s degree in the New Testament. The Church of Christ, which owned and operated Pepperdine and several other schools of higher education, had a fine reputation for conservative biblical scholarship. I applied, was accepted, and, one year after walking away from Claremont, began my studies at Pepperdine.
The Church of Christ and Mormonism go back a long way together. Thomas Campbell and his son, Alexander, began the movement that eventually founded the Churches of Christ throughout America. One of their centers of influence was in the Kirtland, Ohio, area. When Parley Pratt and other missionaries came through Kirtland, they met with Sidney Rigdon, who was a Campbellite minister. The message of the Restoration struck a responsive chord among the Campbellites, and hundreds joined the Church. Not surprisingly, a strong feeling of antipathy on the part of the Campbellites resulted, which has continued to this day. The Church of Christ still believes that the LDS Church is a source of serious error and deception. It was common during my stay at Pepperdine to see notices on the bulletin boards announcing anti-Mormon seminars or classes for the religion faculty and students. Along with other denominations, they label us “non-Christian.” With almost all the religion faculty at Pepperdine drawn from the ranks of Church of Christ ministers and virtually every student in the graduate religion program preparing for the Church of Christ ministry, I was the only “non-Christian” in a devoutly Christian graduate program.
After a couple of semesters of studying the New Testament, I wanted to do some studies in the Hebrew language as well. There were a few community education classes close to home, but these were conversational Hebrew and moved at a very slow pace. Finally, I found a little college in Hollywood called the University of Judaism, which was run by the conservative branch of Judaism. Like Pepperdine’s graduate program, the University of Judaism catered primarily to students who wanted to prepare themselves for the religious life. But I applied, was accepted, and, along with my studies at Pepperdine, attended Hebrew classes in Hollywood. Once again I found myself a minority of one. Not only was I a “non-Christian” in a Christian school; but now I was also a Gentile among the Jews.
But I am happy to say that while my enrollment in both schools caused numerous raised eyebrows, I was accepted graciously and treated with courtesy and respect in every case. By the time I had finished the equivalent of a master’s degree in New Testament studies and three semesters of Hebrew, I knew that my choice to walk away from Claremont was a wise one. As the years have gone on and life has unfolded, I can see so clearly that my decision that day was another one of those profoundly important “switching” moments in my life. What a grand thing my experience at both of those universities proved to be. I could write a whole treatise on how those years at Pepperdine and the University of Judaism affected my testimony, but I will briefly note only a few examples.
First, I learned very quickly that Latter-day Saints do not have a corner on sincere devotion and service to God. I think of a black student at Pepperdine with whom I came to be friends. He ran a neighborhood ministry in the heart of Watts and was hated by some of his own people for being a “black honkey.” I stood in awe of his love for the Savior and his courage in serving him. I think of my biblical Hebrew teacher who invited us to attend a conservative synagogue service one Saturday. One of the students offered him a ride. The young instructor quietly indicated that he honored the restriction of his faith that forbade lighting fires on the Sabbath. Since an automobile engine ignites the gasoline in order to run, he could not ride in an automobile without violating that commandment. Instead, he and his wife and two little boys walked the four miles back and forth. It was not done in boastful or self-righteous manner. It was just a quiet willingness to sacrifice comfort to principle.
Second, I learned how to study the Bible. I learned the full meaning of taking an exegetical approach to scripture study. (Exegesis comes from the same root as exodus and means “to draw out,” suggesting that through exegesis one draws out the meaning of a scriptural passage.) The Churches of Christ accept the Old Testament but believe that it was fulfilled when Christ came. The New Testament is the basis for their belief and they study it with an intense passion. In my studies at Pepperdine, I learned how to study the linguistic, historical, cultural, and contextual settings of scripture. We analyzed and criticized and dissected and debated. I wrote fifteen- and twenty-page papers on two or three verses of scripture. Over and over I was filled with wonder at the power of the scriptures, at their incredible consistency, and at the marvelous inspiration of Peter and Paul and John and the other early writers.
Third, with all of that academic emphasis, I also came to more fully appreciate two statements I had heard repeatedly in our church. I learned just how strongly the world feels that one cannot preach the gospel unless one has been trained for the ministry. That was the primary qualification for service in the minds of these sincere and wonderful young ministerial students and their teachers. Academic expertise was the prime qualifier, not priesthood authority or revelatory experience. I also saw just how successful the adversary has been over the centuries in teaching the philosophies of men mingled with scripture. It always intrigued me that it was stated that way, and not the other way around—that is, scripture mingled with the philosophies of men. By the time I was through with my studies there, I understood that the first was the better description of what had happened: The philosophies of men took first priority.
Fourth, and most important, I came to learn just how much we owe to Joseph Smith and the Restoration. I learned what a rich treasure-house of doctrine we have in the Book of Mormon and other latter-day scriptures. Over and over I saw examples of the simplicity of the doctrine restored under the hand of the Prophet. I came to know firsthand how the Book of Mormon restored many of the “plain and precious truths” that had been stripped out of the Bible by careless transcribers and designing priests.
One day in a class on the book of Revelation, we ended up in a major discussion about the “natural paradox,” as the professor called it, found in Revelation 2:26–27. As part of the promise to the faithful who endure to the end, the Lord said they would receive “power over the nations,” “rule them with a rod of iron,” and break the nations to “shivers.” “Do you see the paradox?” the professor asked. “The image is that of a tyrant, smashing nations to pieces like clay pots, but the promise is given to the faithful. How do you reconcile faith and tyranny in the same breath?” I wanted to tell him that the Book of Mormon makes it clear that the rod of iron is a symbol for the word of God, and that the faithful were leading with God’s word, not some tyrannical weapon. But since references to the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith were not warmly received at Pepperdine, I bit my tongue.
On another occasion, I wrote a long exegetical treatise on Peter’s references to Christ’s visit to the spirit world (1 Peter 3:18–20; 4:6). I dug into the writings of the early patristic fathers (those who wrote within a few years of Christ’s death) and found that they clearly taught the idea of doing work for the dead. I cited Paul’s writings. I explained the theological logic behind the position. When my professor (a fine man and a wonderful teacher who was the Church of Christ minister over a large congregation in Glendale, California) handed me back the paper, he said something like this: “Jerry, I know what you Mormons believe about vicarious work for the dead. I know about your work in the temples. And frankly, I will have to admit that it makes sense. The scriptures are with you. The patristic fathers are with you. Logic is with you.” Then he shook his head. “But I can’t accept it. I just can’t accept it.” To say such experiences came every day would be a bit of an exaggeration, but they came nearly every week. It was a wonderful academic experience that constantly reaffirmed testimony rather than calling it into question. Time after time during the three years that I studied at Pepperdine and the University of Judaism I saw evidence of the truthfulness of the Church and of God’s work.
A Witness of the Truth
There they are—three influences that have had a profound effect on me and on my feelings about the gospel of Jesus Christ. I was raised in a home of faith, but one in which inquiry and reason were championed. I have spent thirty years studying and teaching the scriptures and the gospel. And I was privileged to examine the Bible under the tutelage of some very fine scholars and teachers. There were, of course, other important influences, but those three have proven to be the most important. Together they have combined, in what one person called a great “confluence of influence,” to build my testimony. Because of those three factors, I now can boldly declare my witness:
I know that God the Father lives and that Jesus Christ is our Redeemer and Savior. I know that God is a loving, caring Father. He not only hears and answers prayers and shows an almost incomprehensible degree of long-suffering for my stumblings, but he also nurtures us and guides our steps, helping to pull those “switches” that send us down tracks we did not even know were out there. I know that he so loved the world that he sent his Only Begotten Son, a being of such perfection that even a lifetime of study only begins to lift the curtain enough that we catch the slightest glimpse of his majesty and power. The foundations for this testimony of the Father and the Son were laid during my early childhood years by wonderful parents. But a lifetime of searching, studying, questioning, teaching, trusting, and learning have only shown me all the more how truly God and Christ live and how profoundly they are involved in my life.
The scriptures are a repository of miraculous truth and power. The words of God have withstood every scrutiny, shone brightly through every challenge, brought power and wisdom and peace through every examination I have given them. The hand of God is evident throughout the standard works. They are like a great, interwoven tapestry of truth. The principles and practical guidelines weave through the whole fabric with an absolutely incredible complexity, consistency, and genius of design. The scriptures are simply a miracle. There is no other adequate word to describe them. No human hand could have produced their power and their wisdom.
Joseph Smith was called of God, labored under his direction, and surely stands high among the list of noble and great ones God chose to do his work. The work of the Restoration in this dispensation is of such magnitude, such majesty, and such scope that it can be described as “a marvelous work and wonder.” I have studied the writings of some of the world’s most learned men and women, people with enough letters behind their names to provide a serious game of Scrabble. They are brilliant, erudite, scholarly, and articulate—but compared to Joseph Smith, they are like children beginning a study of the alphabet. I have learned that God’s prophets are not only his servants, but truly become his spokesmen. What a statement of confidence that God should say of them, “whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (D&C 1:38).
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only “true and living” church on the face of the earth. I have come to admire and respect other faiths and the people who sincerely hold to those faiths, but oh how keenly has it been made manifest to me that this is His church! It is filled with struggling, quick-to-falter Saints, but the organization reflects the divine hand of God and it is led by his Son. It moves forward in the face of swirling change and intense opposition. Again and again I have had carried into my heart the witness that the Brethren who lead it are doing God’s work and are his servants. The Church is indeed the stone cut out of the mountains without hands, and I know that it will continue to roll forth until it fills the whole earth. I am humbly grateful that my Father saw fit to send me to a home where the Church would become part of my daily life.
Finally, and perhaps most important because it is the validation of all of the above, I bear witness of the reality of the Spirit’s whispered guidance. In my earlier years as a teacher I used to say that I believed the Holy Ghost spoke to us daily. I am sure now that hourly would be a much more likely description. I know that he comforts, testifies, enlightens, guides, verifies, prompts, warns, directs, compels, restrains, leads, and witnesses to me. I know that it was his voice during all those years with my parents, and during all those years of teaching, and during all those months of study and learning in California, that over and over whispered to me, “This is true! This is true!”
What an unthinkable gift, to be given the presence of a member of the Godhead as a personal guide and companion. And I thank my God for it and the testimony that is the result of that influence.