What “Evidences” Really Matter in a Testimony?

August 30, 2004 | 9 comments
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A question: what “evidences” might actually matter in obtaining a testimony of the Book of Mormon or of the Restoration? Is the issue one that we (the Church, “on the average”) emphasize too much or not enough?

Background:
Latter-day Saints rightly emphasize the importance of revelation in gaining knowledge and faith about the things of God. This can exasperate some critics, who wish that we would collapse under the weight of their alleged “evidence” that the Church is false and abandon our testimonies. They may attribute our stubborn persistence in the faith as a sign of lemming-like ignorance and self-deception, thinking that our testimonies are little more than hypnotic delusions shrouded with warm fuzzy feelings. How foreign and frustrating the LDS testimony seems to be to some people, yet it so thoroughly biblical. Peter was a keen thinker, IMO, yet his testimony of the Savior was not based on a consensus of leading scholars, or on DNA studies showing that the DNA of Christ was of divine origin, or on an objective comparison of Christ’s actions with rabbi-approved interpretations of ancient prophecy. It wasn’t even based on the scientific improbability of the miracles Peter saw. When Christ praised Peter for having a testimony of the Savior, it’s source was clear to the Lord: “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 16:17). This rock of revelation is the firm basis on which true Latter-day Saint testimonies are based.

Peter had a testimony derived from revelation through the Spirit, but I believe he still demanded that Christians apply their intellect to their faith. He asks that we “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15). Likewise, I believe that Latter-day Saints should also be ready to discuss issues that are raised when others want to know why we believe. Intellectual information should never be used to convert or to prove, but can help people in getting past barriers. Sometimes only after certain objections are answered can others take the Gospel seriously enough to be open to the Spirit and pray.

I would like to know if there are particular “evidences” – especially “Book of Mormon evidences” – that actually made a difference in your testimony or the testimony of others, and why? A little hobby of mine has been looking at various Book of Mormon evidences – things like the resilient testimonies of all the witnesses who saw the plates, or interesting findings in the Arabian Peninsula, the issues of cement and volcanism, relationships between Mesoamerican cultures and broad patterns of Book of Mormon civilizations, and so forth. Again, none of that should be taken as a “proof” or as a driving force for conversion, but can prove helpful when the time is right. I’ve been surprised at how important some of this information has been to people who were struggling with their testimonies. I’ve had numerous people tell me that they couldn’t get past the “consensus” that there seems to be in the world about the stupidity of the Book of Mormon, and then when they found out that there were some intellectually sound responses to some of the objections or that there were some findings in favor of Book of Mormon authenticity, it gave them hope to continue investigating and they ultimately joined the Church.

In using the term “evidence,” I’d like to focus more on external, intellectual issues rather than the subjective, personal evidences of the Gosepl that one obtains through prayer and living the Gospel. The latter form of evidence can be far more impressive than anything you will ever see published in a book, but is also far harder to convey to others as answer to a question or challenge.

My question to this community is, in your experience, what “evidences” or intellectual responses to attacks have proven to make a difference in your life or the lives of those you know, and why? I’ve been surprised at some of the things people have said were their big hang-up with the Gospel and what helped them get over it. It’s often not been the things I thought would help. A related question is whether we in general emphasize intellectual responses and evidences too much or not enough – I recognize this will vary wildly depending on your location and peer group, but “on the average,” do we make too much of such things, or not enough?

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9 Responses to What “Evidences” Really Matter in a Testimony?

  1. Marc D. on August 30, 2004 at 9:49 am

    Jeff, you said:
    ‘Peter had a testimony derived from revelation through the Spirit’
    That’s not what the scripture says. It says Father in heaven has revealed it to him.
    Members often talk about having spiritual experiences but I’ve seen a lot of people in Church following a so called spiritual prompting that turns out to be a catastrophe.
    I’ve read things in church history that I don’t like at all and when I ask a question about it the answer I get is most of the time: pray about it. Well I do and I still feel bad about it.
    So what can I do now?

  2. Kristine on August 30, 2004 at 11:48 am

    Marc, read more!

  3. Geoff B on August 30, 2004 at 11:54 am

    Jeff and Marc D,

    I will attempt to answer both of you in this post. I converted a little more than five years ago. The conversion process started about six years ago when I began to question my secular humanist philosophy and wonder if there was something more. I read the Bible for the first time and attended a few other churches. Nothing really inspired me. Out of the blue, I went to a baptism and was literally washed with the Spirit as I sat in the chapel hearing people talk about the importance of baptism. It was an undeniably new experience. I was filled with joy and happiness. I had to have more of this feeling.

    I read the Book of Mormon, met with the missionaries and felt the same Spirit from time to time. I knew I had to get baptized. But being a skeptical person I had to get answers to questions: what about polygamy? Why was the Word of Wisdom necessary? What about blacks and the priesthood? What about the Mt. Meadows Massacre? What about supposed changes in the Book of Mormon? Did I really believe Joseph Smith was a prophet of God (and what exactly was a prophet)? What about the Church’s role as a big business? Were they just interested in my money?

    So, I went on the internet and looked for myself. I discussed these issues with people and got some answers but not enough to satisfy my intellectual curiosity and skepticism. At the end of the day, I decided to separate out the things for which I had satisfactory answers (polygamy, money) from the things I didn’t have a satisfactory answer (the rest of my questions). I concentrated on the undeniable feeling of the Spirit and the joy I had felt. Had I been deceiving myself? No, because I had felt it again after praying and reading the BofM. So, there must have been something true going on, and the Truth must have been directly associated with the Church. I decided to get baptized.

    Since then, I have gotten answers to all of my questions, but it took about a year of constantly reading and studying and pondering to get good answers. I relied on the Jeff Lindsay web site. I read several hundred books, articles, the complete works of Hugh Nibley. As far as evidences, I found the Meridian work on Nahum and the possible route of Lehi’s journey especially convincing. I knew a lot about Mesoamerican history, so I read many books on Book of Mormon geography. I read about the history of the Book of Abraham.

    I found Church history to be especially convincing in terms of helping my testimony. The “Work and the Glory” fiction series by Gerald Lund really helped me put the timeline together. Orson Scott Card’s book “Saints” helped me understand polygamy and helped me get a mental picture of what type of person Joseph Smith was.

    The history of the Church is essential for understanding how we are tested by the adversary, who constantly tries to make us stray from the true path. I found the situation of Oliver Cowdery especially interesting. Here is a man who had seen Jesus Christ with Joseph Smith, had seen Peter, James and John and John the Baptist, had seen Elijah, had experienced the outpouring of the Spirt at the Kirtland temple, had seen the Book of Mormon flow from the prophet in a space of two months, yet still abandoned Joseph Smith when the going got rough. This made it very clear to me that we are all tested, and the only true path is to follow the prophet. That is what we must do no matter what. That also means following the Apostles and the General Authorities and respecting our local stake and ward authorities in a spirit of meekness and humility.

    Marc D, I would suggest you need to get on the internet and visit sites that will answer your questions about the Church’s past. There are probably not that many people who have done more searching on this subject in the last few years than I have (in all modesty, this is a full-time hobby for me). I guarantee you that all the questions you have have good answers. You just need to search in the right places. Jeff Lindsay’s web site is one of best. Avoid the anti-Mormon sites, because they will take one small “truth” such as “there are thousands of changes made in the Book of Mormon” and twist it into a horrible lie. (Almost all of the changes were for grammar or typos; remember the Book of Mormon was one big block with paragraphs or punctuation when it was written down by Oliver and the other scribes. This, by the way, is an evidence in favor of the Book of Mormon because all indications are that most ancient culture wrote without punctuations and paragraphs — there was no way for Joseph Smith to have known that).

    Marc D, people are telling you to pray because you are probably not satisfied with their answers. You need to ask yourself the following question: do you sincerely want to know the truth or do you want to simply have reasons for the Church not to be true? If you sincerely want to know, go on the internet and research for yourself, read the scriptures and beg and plead God for guidance every single day. I believe He will answer you. At the end of the day, if men cannot give you good answers, the only thing to do is turn to God. And He does have the answers.

  4. Glen Henshaw on August 30, 2004 at 3:10 pm

    Jeff wrote:

    “Peter had a testimony derived from revelation through the Spirit, but I believe he still demanded that Christians apply their intellect to their faith.”

    I’d add that it is just as important to apply your intellect to determine which evidences are *not* important for your testimony. I know many people who get hung up on points that are tangential to the gospel; a case in point is the creation. The church policy is that God created the earth and everything in it, including man; but _how_ He created them is not relevant to our salvation. Therefore, the church doesn’t make a stand on how old the earth is or whether evolution is true or false. But many people are held back from joining the church because they can’t reconcile scientific evidence, which they assume to be true, with the creation story as it’s told in the bible. And likewise many church members get upset when evolution is taught in schools because they assume it must be false. Neither stand is logically correct.

    Glen

  5. Noel on August 30, 2004 at 4:40 pm

    I was in the LDS church I can honestly say that i did not have a testimony, i have since had as a Pentecostal many spiritual experiences and I thank the efforts of the late Wes Walters who took the time to correspond with me , about issues like the revival and the First Vision, the Book of Abraham. All the LDS can come up with in the case of the revival in 1820 is some Camp Meeting and as the BOA now we have the “still missing ” BOA papyri theory which along with the cannot find jewish dna (they were all absorbed in the larger population) makes for interesting reading. Have FARMS and FAIR been really able to deal with these issues. I just spoke with Simon Southerton whose book on the BOM and DNA comes out. He deals with Woodward, Wilding and co.Should bring some interesting reaction from FARMS (Hopefully not the usual acid tongue of Peterson)

  6. Russell Arben Fox on August 30, 2004 at 5:22 pm

    Excellent point (as usual) Glen.

  7. Charles on August 30, 2004 at 5:48 pm

    As a skeptical convert I often wondered what it would take for me to join the church. In all honesty it did not take long. I had been studying the Tao and other eastern philosophies for years. I had already created a paradigm for me to view the world through. I often found it difficult to resolve some of these philosophies with my christian background. Could I believe something but have a personal philosophy that seemed to contradcit my spiritual beliefs at times?

    What I found when I began taking the discussions was a change in myself. I thought about what I would do if I were God and what would my doctrine be. I found the LDS church making a lot of sense to me. In short my head and my heart were actually begining to get into synch. My intellect and my spirit were agreeing. I felt that the church was right and I felt confident in the reasons I could apply to why it was correct.

    Most any argument that can be used against the BOM can also be used against the Bible itself. For people who spend their time trying to discredit the LDS church the same arguments can be used to discredit thier own.

    Faith is also a choice. You must excercise faith, especially religious faith, when there is a lack of evidence to support or in the face of evidence that is contradictory. After all faith is a belief in things not seen.

    For me some of the evidence that I do consider is the works that the church has involved itself in. Its missionary efforts and growth, its humanitarian aid, education, the faith of witnesses, that while they fell away never recanted. These are the things that help to build a testimony.

    Once I had a testimony of the doctrine, I considered the source. my testimony of the source grew because of my belief in the doctrine.

  8. Jack on August 30, 2004 at 6:14 pm

    I’m amazed at how we will swallow whole something like the (almost) ridiculous account of the Savior’s birth, and yet strain at the (rather large albeit) gnats of incongruencies in church history.

    Can you imagine what the account of the events surrounding the Savior’s birth must have sounded like the the average judean in those days?

    ————————————————

    Wait a minute, you said he was from Nazareth. No where does it say that the Messiah will come from Nazareth. As a matter of fact, if memory serves me correctly, the sriptures say that he will come out of the city of David – which is Bethlehem.

    Well, now that you mention it, He was born in Bethlehem but moved from there at a very early age.

    Uh huh. Well, thats awfully convenient. So he’s a nazarene who happened to be born in Bethlehem eh?

    Yes, his family had to go to the city of their origin to be counted for the Roman census. Surely you remember what a nightmare that whole thing was.

    Oh come on! you mean to tell that the census just happened to coincide with the day of his birth?!

    Well…

    Whats more, you expect me to believe that his mother made that journey knowing that she might give birth at any moment?

    Well, the Romans were never known for their…

    Listen. If the Messiah were to come from anywhere other than Bethlehem it would be Egypt, not Nazareth. No doubt, you’re familiar with that prophecy?

    Ahem. Well, now that you mention it…

    Oh, by the jewels of Solomon! You’re not going to tell me that he was born in Bethlehem and then went to live in Egypt just long enough to *conveniently* fullfill the prophecies, and then return to Nazareth?!

    Friend, what else can I say? Thats how the events occured. They went into the nearest egyptian province to get away from Herod, who was insanely jealous of any threat to his kingdom.

    Ha ha ha ha! You expect me to believe that Herod was intimidated by some nobody? And that some how this proves that your friend was a rightful heir to the throne of David? Ha ha ha! There’s always some quack out there claiming royal lineage. I’m almost of a mind to believe that your “king” was born out of wedlock and that those whole charade was invented to cover his shame! So, tell me, my gullable friend, who’s his *real* father. Maybe that would shed some light on what kind of scum this imposter really is!

    Well, now that you mention it…

  9. Kaimi on September 3, 2004 at 10:19 pm

    [Restored from Prior Thread]

    As to your last point, spirit and intellect do not exist in isolation from one another. Ultimately we must rely on spiritual evidence. However, I believe that often we need bridges to get to that spiritual evidence. For many people those bridges are the examples of others, family background, life crises, etc. For some those bridges are intellectual. I don’t know whether we make too much if them or too little, but I do think we should have them available.

    However, I find that the subject matters of those intellectual bridges vary widely from person to person. For myself, there was a point where reading Nibley, anything and everything by Nibley, was extremely helpful. For others it may be something quite different (the political wisdom of Ezra Taft Benson, the constancy of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon, the way the restored gospel resolves various theological problems in Christianity, etc.). So I think that the judgement as to which intellectual evidences may be important finally is quite subjective.

    Comment by JWL at August 30, 2004 06:30 PM

    ***

    I do not know if this is an answer to your question or not.

    As a sinoligist, one thing that amazes me is the preserving of America as a promised land. The Chinese had sailing technology capable of reaching California in the Early Ming (14th century) but never really took advantage of it. The Viking’s failure to colonize the New World is well known. THe land was preserved untill the Lord was ready for the Gentiles to come, just as the BoM says.

    Comment by Nathan Tolman at August 31, 2004 12:03 AM

    ***

    I can’t get over how solid the three witnesses were and the other witnesses of the Book of Mormon. They saw the plates – period.

    See the “tough questions for critics” page at http://www.jefflindsay.com/myturn.shtml. A lot of good points scored, IMHO.

    Comment by S at September 1, 2004 08:49 AM