How do I defend spiritual truths in an intellectual setting?
Near the end of the course work for my doctorate at Brigham Young University I was enrolled with three others in a philosophy class. Two of us were completing our doctorates; the other two were just beginning their graduate work.
There arose an issue between myself and the other doctoral candidate. The professor deftly moderated the contest without taking either side. The debate became more intense, and the other two students took sides, one on each.
So there we were, two contestants, each with a "second." The issue grew more important, and each day I left the class feeling a greater failure. Why should this concern me? It concerned me because I was right and he was wrong, and I knew it and thought he knew it, and yet he was able to best me in every discussion. Each day I felt more inadequate, more foolish, and more tempted to capitulate.
Then one of the most important experiences of my entire education occurred. One day as we were leaving class, his "second" made the comment to me, "You're losing, aren't you?"
There was no pride left to prevent me from consenting to the obvious. "Yes, I'm losing."
"Do you know what's the matter with you?" he asked.
I became interested and answered, "I would like very much to know."
"The trouble with you," he said, "is that you are fighting out of context."
I asked him what he meant; I didn't know and he couldn't explain it. He just said, "You are fighting out of context."
That night I thought continuously about it. It wasn't the grade or the credit I was concerned about-it was bigger than that. I was being beaten and humiliated in my efforts to defend a principle that was true. The statement, "You are fighting out of context" stayed in my mind. Finally, in my humiliation I went before the Lord in prayer. Then I knew.
The next day we returned to class, this time to stay in context. When the debate was renewed, instead of mumbling some stilted, sophisticated, philosophical statement, calculated to show I was conversant with philosophical terminology and had read a book or two, instead of saying, "The a priori acquisition of intelligence as though from some external source of enlightenment," I stayed in context and said, "Revelation from God."
Suddenly the tables were turned. I was rescued from defeat, and I learned a lesson I would not forget. I stand in debt to the unassuming student from whose remark I learned so much.
All of us need to learn, seek, grow. If you are a student, go on for advanced degrees, rise to prominence in your chosen field. In any event, you needn't be unwise or immature by seeking to impose your religious convictions on others. But, when discussing the Church or the gospel, don't be drawn out of context.
Certainly you will not be able to persuade everyone to accept your views. Be wise enough to know when not to try. You can, however, inform people clearly enough that, accept them or not, they know what your convictions are. In this way, teach faith, repentance, baptism .
In any field of knowledge, there are prerequisites. At a university, for example, a number of courses there are required prerequisites. You cannot register for Chemistry 371 without first having taken Chemistry 106. To enroll in Education 657 you must first have completed either Education 460 or 550. And so on. If you take the advanced course first without the prerequisite or equivalent training, likely you will founder. Without knowledge of the basic principles of a discipline, you may misunderstand, even reject, elements that are positively true when related to foundation principles of the discipline.
In the gospel there are some prerequisite courses without which the deeper meaning of some principles of the gospel may not be understood, in fact which may be completely misunderstood. For instance, the conditions under which personal revelation can be received could hardly be accepted or understood by one who has not completed the prerequisite courses of faith, repentance, baptism, and the reception of the Holy Ghost.
The bottom line is that we must never allow ourselves to be ashamed of the gospel because someone doesn't agree with us, even if that person is apparently alert, intelligent, and well-intentioned. Don't falter because you can't explain it in his terminology, in his context.
Recognize, too, that there must needs be opposition, that you cannot be totally faithful to the gospel yet popular with everybody. In fact, you can't be anything and be fully accepted by everybody!
No other dispensation has had the gospel without any
challenge, without any opposition or resistance, without
persecution from the world, and to expect that we shall
be without such conditions is to expect that which will
never be. We do not hold membership in the Church
and its blessings without paying a price for it.
But a scoffing, cynical remark or a scornful glance
surely is a small price to pay for the whole gospel plan.
Get more insightful parables from President Packer in Memorable Stories and Parables.
This volume brings together 26 more of the most memorable stories and parables of Pres Boyd K Packer. Read and enjoy treasures such as The Mediator, Spiritual Crocodiles, Channeling Your Thoughts, Balm of Gilead, Of Cars and Dates, and more. Pres Packer follows the Lord's injunction to "Teach ye diligently" and does so in a manner that is clear and lasting. These short stories are great for daily inspiration and will be life lessons that are hard to forget.