A number of years ago a particular book was sweeping the country and eliciting special interest among Latter-day Saints. Though it was written by a Latter-day Saint, it was released by a national publishing house, and thus its popularity and its sales swelled. Within about a year after its release, it was not uncommon to hear the book discussed in priesthood and Relief Society meetings, sacrament meetings, and youth firesides.
While I am a real sucker for new books, for some reason I was a bit slow in purchasing a copy of this book and even slower about reading it. I was not very far into the work before I began to be troubled with what I found. Though the story line was fascinating and the details made for interesting consideration, the doctrinal messages, shallow and disguised as they were for those of other faiths, were off target; I began, in fact, to make notes of problematic parts of the book. I took my rather unofficial review and filed it away.
Early one Saturday morning a few weeks later, I received a phone call from one of the General Authorities of the Church. After I recovered a bit from the call itself and after we had spent a few moments in light chatter, the Church leader asked, “Bob, have you read the book by __________?” I indicated that I had recently done so. He asked me what I thought of it.
“Well, it’s a fascinating story. I can see why people around the country, including Latter-day Saints, are quite taken by the book. It’s intriguing.”
“Any other impressions?” he asked.
I was hesitant to say anything too negative, and so I added the quip “I just wish my books sold like this book!”
“Anything further?” he persisted.
I finally responded, “There are some things about the book that make me very nervous.”
“Well, I hope so,” he followed up. “What are they?” I then began to recite what I considered to be the doctrinal flaws of the book, expressing with each item where I felt the book was at odds with the principles of truth that have been set forth in the standard works or revealed through modern apostles and prophets. The words that followed are indelibly impressed upon my soul. He said, “It never ceases to amaze me how gullible the Latter-day Saints can be when it comes to printed material like this. Our lack of doctrinal depth and gospel understanding in general makes many of us an easy prey to every passing craze.”
We need to be solid, void of sensationalism, and rooted in restored truth if we are to face squarely the challenges of our day and engage with courage and conviction the demands of discipleship in a future day. That is to say, our own gospel scholarship needs to be focused on the principles and doctrines that matter most and to be true to the teachings we have received in this dispensation from and through the Lord’s covenant spokesmen. President Joseph Fielding Smith pointed out that “it makes no difference what is written or what anyone has said, if what has been said is in conflict with what the Lord has revealed, we can set it aside.” President Smith was emphatic about our alignment with the scriptures: “Let us have this matter clear. We have accepted the four standard works as the measuring yardsticks, or balances, by which we measure every man’s doctrine.”
There is so much beauty and depth and certainty and applicability within the covers of the standard works and the sermons of living prophets and apostles. Why would we even concern ourselves with flimsy matters, with tangential reading, when the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven are so readily available? Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained that “we are obligated to understand the basic doctrines which lead to eternal life; beyond this, how much we know about the mysteries depends upon the degree of our spiritual enlightenment. It is unwise to swim too far in water over our heads (see Mosiah 4:27; D&C 10:4). My experience is that people who get themselves ensnared in fruitless contention over the meanings of deep and hidden passages of scripture are usually those who do not have a sound and basic understanding of the simple and basic truths of salvation.”
We are, to a large extent, a product of what we consume, whether that be in food or reading material. Thus, what we think about, how we perceive events in our own day, and to what degree we comprehend the scenes leading up to the Second Coming of the Son of Man will depend a great deal upon what we imbibe through serious study. There is a crying need for Latter-day Saints to be solid and secure in the faith, not just equipped with testimony and conviction but also fortified with a reason for the hope within them (see 1 Peter 3:15), with gospel understanding that is as satisfying to the mind as it is soothing to the heart. The Apostle Paul counseled the Saints in his day, “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving” (Colossians 2:6–7). Our task, like that delivered to the former-day Saints, is to “continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel” (Colossians 1:23). Spiritual stability comes from focusing on the fundamental verities of salvation and striving to align our hearts and minds with the word and will of God. Such a course leads to peace, to joy, to rest—to a settled conviction of the truth.
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