One of my duties at church has been to teach a class on Sundays to the Priesthood Quorum (which means teaching a class to a room full of guys age 18 to 50sih). One week I was assigned to teach a topic that I thought was pretty interesting given that I end all my blog posts with “Keep seeking truth.”
The lesson comes from chapter 10 of the manual “Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith” and is called “Our Search for Truth”. I’m not going to talk about the whole lesson, but just something that I found interesting from it.
Seeking Truth Everywhere, but Especially in the Gospel
Joseph Fielding Smith said that the “pursuit of worldly learning should be tempered with a like pursuit of spiritual understanding.” I agree, but it got me thinking: what should be different between how go about seeking truth in gospel knowledge versus “worldly” knowledge? What should not be different?
Gospel vs. Worldly Knowledge Defined
First, I think we need to define the difference between gospel and worldly knowledge. Joseph Fielding Smith said about gospel knowledge that
So we can delineate between the two types of knowledge based on whether the knowledge will directly contribute to our salvation. Although God has commanded us to learn other things as well, failing to be diligent in those endeavors will be less likely to have a damning effect than knowledge about Jesus Christ, the Atonement, principles and ordinances of the Gospel, and other commandments that God has given us.
Obtaining Gospel vs. Worldly Knowledge
With this separation of gospel and worldly truth, I still wonder if we attach more significance to their separation than we should. Specifically, we tend to over-separate two things:
- Methods of obtaining truth
- Situations in which one should apply such truth
To be specific, I often get the impression that many ways of obtaining truth are only acceptable (or at least typically used) to obtain one type of truth or another. The chart below summarizes some methods of learning truth and on which type of truth it seems culturally acceptable to use each method.
My big question is whether such a delineation is good. Should we test ourselves more on our understanding of the gospel? Should we engage in more analysis, debate, and questioning? Should we leverage prayer in our pursuit of more “temporal” intelligence?
I think we should.
Gospel vs. Worldly Knowledge Applied
Beyond the way we obtain knowledge, we can have a tendency to only use one kind of knowledge in different situations. The chart below summarizes many of the situations we find ourselves in and which truth tends to be permissibly applied.
The big questions are the same. Should we leverage our own knowledge more frequently in faith-based situations and problems? Is there a greater place for the gospel in our careers and recreation?
Gospel vs. Worldly Knowledge in Progress
Recent trends have already pushed for a melding of how we seek and use truth. For instance, Elder Jeffry R. Holland gave a fiery talk (found here) in recent years involving his oft quoted line: “Never check your religion at the door. Not ever!” This quote was used in the specific instance of people not acting Christlike at sporting events, but the principle can and should apply universally (which you may have gathered from the “Not ever!” part.)
Will [our] religion show or will it be hidden? Are they tied back to God or to man?
I had such a test decades ago when one of my medical faculty colleagues chastised me for failing to separate my professional knowledge from my religious convictions. He demanded that I not combine the two. How could I do that? Truth is truth! It is not divisible, and any part of it cannot be set aside.
Whether truth emerges from a scientific laboratory or through revelation, all truth emanates from God.
Gospel vs. Worldly Knowledge in Practice
In spite of our progress, it’s clear that we still approach the two types of truths very differently. I suppose that a perfect union may be impossible in a hetero-theistic world, but I think we can be more internally consistent as we go about seeking truth. I don’t think we should fear to use analytical methods to understand our faith better, nor should we reject God’s help when it comes to receiving secular knowledge.
Overall, I guess I’m just saying the same thing I always do:
Keep seeking truth.