Faith, Scholarship, and Teaching at BYU Series

For the series announcement and the question to which I am replying, see here.

I believe that the dichotomy between the “intellectual” and the “spiritual” in religious education is a false one. Instead, I would prefer to appropriate for my approach to this important issue the German adjective geistlich (or Hebrew ruchi): a word that sees the spiritual and the intellectual as part of a synthetic whole that also includes an appreciation for the aesthetic. I believe that by adopting this perspective one may more fully comprehend, and so more successfully fulfill, the scriptural injunction to seek God with all one’s heart, soul, and mind (Mark 12:30). Moreover, this approach attempts to eliminate the dualistic impulse that tries to separate the spirit from the material, an impulse which I believe Mormonism confronts and rejects (D&C 88:15; 131:7).

Of course, one could easily recall numerous Mormon axioms for the importance of the life of the mind, including, “The glory of is intelligence” (D&C 93:36), and the divine command to obtain out of the “best books words of wisdom” and to “seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118; cf. D&C 90:15; 109:7, 14). But I believe that perhaps the best argument from a Mormon perspective for the organic integration of what is sometimes artificially conceptualized as a division between the “mind/intellect” and the “spirit/soul” is the Prophet Joseph Smith himself. Here Mormons have an authoritative religious example who valued and who aspired to combine truths of personal experience, divine revelation, and academic study. He was brave enough to question and to study things out in his mind (cf. D&C 9:8), while also being humble enough to seek out answers from both God and the collective wisdom and learning of other peoples, faiths, and traditions. He truly was an example of learning “by study and also by faith,” someone who fully believed that Mormonism could bravely accept all truth, whatever its source.

Although requiring methodological rigor and pedagogical sensitivity, I genuinely believe that Mormonism has nothing to fear in studying or honestly teaching the methods and results of modern academic disciplines. Indeed, I maintain that such geistliche Studien in fact are a divine obligation that will only enrich an already wealthy tradition that I deeply love and cherish. And, finally, I believe that such engagement is crucial if Mormonism wishes to retain and nourish its rising generations in this ever-increasingly globalized world, and also if it wishes to make an even greater contribution in the next century to that broader world it is called to serve.


  • RT

    I think it’s a nice statement and I’m in basic agreement. But do you really believe that “Mormonism has nothing to fear in studying or honestly teaching the methods and results of modern academic disciplines”? I think it depends on how you understand “Mormonism”. Should Mormons fear the “methods and results of modern academic disciplines”? I agree that they should not in principle. Mormonism has too great of a theological commitment to empirical truth. But does Mormonism as traditionally conceived have anything to fear from these academic approaches to understanding reality? I think the answer is obviously yes. Why do you think that Mormon intellectuals and scholars have until this day demurred from critically and honestly dealing with the results and methods associated with modern study of the Bible? Even Mormon scholars who have real training in the discipline seem to studiously avoid raising the difficult issues that are fundamental to what critical study of the Bible is all about. Whether consciously or subconsciously, they recognize that historical inquiry into the Bible ultimately poses insurmountable challenges to any semblance of Mormonism as practiced and understood today by both leaders and members of the church.

  • Pingback: my stab at proper balance between the intellectual and the spiritual, for now

  • Believe All Things

    RT – Which “academic approaches to understanding reality” and “methods associated with modern study of the Bible” do you refer?