The core of an unassailable testimony of the restored gospel

September 20, 2009    By: Geoff J @ 7:48 pm   Category: Personal Revelation

I have been thinking about the core of a sure testimony of the restored gospel. It seems to me that a truly solid testimony of Mormonism must be based on personal revelation from God confirming a couple of things:

1. That God exists and is worthy of worship and emulation, and
2. That God inspired the founding of Mormonism and is currently guiding the church

That’s it. I submit that all the other stuff people focus on in publicly expressed testimonies is less core than these two.

I reckon that if one can personally communicate with God and have God convince them of those two things, one should be sufficiently anchored to handle anything that might otherwise shake their faith in the gospel. Further I think that if one can at any time turn to God and confirm 1 and 2 above one should be permanently inoculated against any surprises one comes across.

Of course if one cannot break through and receive any revelation from God at all then there are bigger problems to deal with than any other issues one has with Mormon culture/history/practices.


  1. My two prong testimony is (1) that God lives and loves me and all God’s creations and (2) that God wishes me to be an observant, believing Latter-day Saint.

    Comment by DavidH — September 20, 2009 @ 7:59 pm

  2. Your two match the two I listed pretty closely DavidH.

    The first is the Theism prong, the second is the Mormonism prong.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 20, 2009 @ 8:01 pm

  3. I have a pretty sure testimony that Mormonism is ‘true’; ie. if there is a God I believe He is the Mormon God. My doubts are always with regard to whether there really is a God or whether my ‘spiritual’ experiences can be explained away with naturalistic explanations. So I guess I would say I am more solid than 2 than on 1, which cannot really be because 1 is the foundation of 2. Essentially for me it is a choice between Mormonism or atheism. I choose Mormonism.

    Comment by gomez — September 21, 2009 @ 1:44 am

  4. That should be: more solid on 2 than on 1. The whole comment is a bit garbled – I hope you understand what I mean.

    I also don’t mean to suggest that God cannot be found through other faith traditions, just that the ‘Mormon’ God is the best approximation to the Reality.

    Comment by gomez — September 21, 2009 @ 1:47 am

  5. Gomez – Do you mean to say that the Mormon version of God is only an approximation, albeit the best one? Not that I necessarily disagree, I’d just like you to expand on it. :)

    Comment by jondh — September 21, 2009 @ 3:16 am

  6. jondh: Honestly, I don’t know. This blog is proof enough that even within Mormonism concepts about the nature of God can vary quite widely. I believe that the truth lies somewhere in the mess of Mormon ideas about the nature of God. But all of us to a greater or lesser extent are groping in the dark when it comes to working out what God is really like. Having said that, because I believe in Mormonism I do subscribe to the image of God as an embodied, glorified Man who I can approach in prayer and experience through the workings of the Holy Ghost.

    Comment by gomez — September 21, 2009 @ 4:11 am

  7. I think a significant third prong you missed is a belief in the Atonement. Perhaps you would consider it part of the first, but without a testimony that Christ knows you, and has atoned for you, you are missing the connection between the God worthy of worship, and you, personally.

    Comment by SilverRain — September 21, 2009 @ 5:41 am

  8. Personal revelation is what it is all about. Without it, there is not much reason to believe.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — September 21, 2009 @ 5:45 am

  9. I’m not sure (i.e., I don’t yet have a testimony of this post). There seems to be something lacking about personal experience that Mormonism actually “works”—the times God answered my prayers, or guided my actions, or healed me, etc. Maybe those are wrapped up somehow into your two points—if God answered my prayers then obviously God exists (point #1)—but then you say/imply that this sort of thing (prayer works) is just “stuff people focus on in publicly spoken testimonies [that] is less core.”

    Comment by BrianJ — September 21, 2009 @ 7:11 am

  10. Geoff, I think I am a minimalist as well on this, but I agree that there needs to be a little more staked out. A while ago I posted my 3 positions which I believe are core to Mormonism at Faith Promoting Rumor. They are:

    #1 The man Jesus Christ was resurrected and lives today as a potentially maximally powerful and knowledgeable being who loves humanity and seeks to serve them.

    #2 Joseph Smith received divine authorization from divine messengers to establish and administer Christ’s church (while not necessarily at the exclusion of other organizations or traditions).

    #3 That same authorization resides in Thomas Monson today.

    Comment by Kent (MC) — September 21, 2009 @ 8:12 am

  11. gomez — I agree with you that 2 should be built on the foundation of 1. In ideal circumstances both are supported by anytime, anywhere confirming revelation/inspiration. In the absence of ideal circumstances we all do the best we can I suppose.

    I agree with your “approximation about the nature of God” comment as well.

    Silverrain — I think that #1 covers becoming at one with God sufficiently. #2 moves us further down that at-one-ment path as well.

    BrianJ — The revelatory experiences you describe all fall under my category #1 in my opinion. Those are the things that convince us on an ongoing basis that God exists and is worthy of worship and emulation.

    Kent(MC) — I don’t think the focus on Jesus himself is as core as anchoring our theism and revelatory pipeline.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 21, 2009 @ 8:44 am

  12. Geoff J: fair enough, but I guess in order to understand you that I’m going to need some examples of “other stuff” that don’t fall in under #1. And not the obvious things like “I’d like to bear my testimony that the YM’s campout was totally awesome.”

    Comment by BrianJ — September 21, 2009 @ 9:13 am

  13. Geoff, I was just thinking about this yesterday and had much the same thought. I agree with the OP.

    Gomez (#3), I understand exactly what you mean and feel the same way.

    Comment by Jacob J — September 21, 2009 @ 9:33 am

  14. BrianJ,

    Most everything that isn’t real personal revelation/inspiration doesn’t fall under #1. So people’s assumptions about metaphysics or about history or about scriptures are all examples of things outside of #1.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 21, 2009 @ 10:14 am

  15. “Essentially for me it is a choice between Mormonism or atheism. I choose Mormonism.”

    For what it is worth, there was a time when I would have summarized my beliefs in a similar way. That is, I believed in God because I believed in the Church.

    But now the relative priority of the two prongs of my world view beliefs have switched. That is, I now believe in the Church because I believe in God.

    Comment by DavidH — September 21, 2009 @ 10:52 am

  16. The way in which we interpret whatever experience leads to 1., can color that experience. Thus, it may be difficult in the end to separate that experience from eschatology, protology, theology, theodicy, etc., etc. Personal revelation is mostly memory, unless it is happening right NOW. Some might argue that it always is – or *should* be, but for me, personal revelation corresponds mostly to certain defined experiences which I remember and whose meaning is defined by present interpretation — I think.

    Comment by WVS — September 21, 2009 @ 11:08 am

  17. I think you are right WVS. Hence the trouble with tying many metaphysical/historical assumptions to revelatory experiences that may in essence just be God saying “I’m real. I love you. Follow me.”

    One of the purposes of this post is to point to an anchor for folks as we go spelunking in the caves of Mormon theology. Those caves might include metaphysical possibilities that are not what folks initially assume. Indeed I suspect those cave must include some surprises if we are to ever come up with a truly coherent theology.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 21, 2009 @ 11:31 am

  18. Thanks for the reply (#14) Geoff.

    Comment by BrianJ — September 21, 2009 @ 2:58 pm

  19. I agree with this. I might put it a little differently, but I do agree. I’ve been going down the list on a lot of theological points lately, and putting them to the “and so?” test. Not much falls outside of your one and two. If I were to venture for something that might I might try something like “I have the freedom to choose, and how I exercise that freedom matters.” but I don’t know.

    Comment by Matt W. — September 21, 2009 @ 8:46 pm

  20. Geoff J, I think you are fundamentally right about those two factors.

    However, I think there are three other things that the lack of belief or faith in will cause significant problems:

    3. Belief that the Book of Mormon is a historical record of actual events.
    4. Belief that the Church and its leaders have divinely granted priesthood authority that is found nowhere else
    5. Belief that the ecclesiastical structure and manner of priesthood administration of the Church is inspired.

    Now somebody certainly doesn’t *have* to believe these three things to be a good member of the Church – but so much of the activities and daily operations of the Church (missionary work for example) is based on these three points in addition to the first two you mentioned, that I think a lack of faith or belief in them could cause serious difficulties.

    Difficulties paying a full tithing, accepting callings, being patient with strange directives that seem to make no sense, obnoxious leaders or church employees, the strict top down administration system, information non-disclosure policies, non-collaborative decision making, non operation of the principle of common consent, and so on.

    Most of these things can be tolerated of course, but they make little sense unless the priesthood has *special*, not just inspired authority. It is easy to believe that God guides and inspires anyone who will listen. Belief in special or unique authority and the correctness of the manner of its administration is a major step above that.

    Last of all, I don’t think a belief in *special* authority can easily withstand a serious lack of confidence in the historicity of the Book of Mormon, for obvious reasons.

    Comment by Mark D. — September 21, 2009 @ 10:09 pm

  21. I suppose it depends on what you mean by “significant problems” Mark. I have encountered faithful saints who don’t believe some or all of your 3-5. Perhaps remaining faithful is a significant problem for them — I don’t know for sure. But my point in this post is that while those things (3-5) certainly must help they are not the core of a securely anchored testimony.

    Also I think that lots of people who believe my 1-2 and your 3-5 still have significant “difficulties paying a full tithing, accepting callings, being patient with strange directives that seem to make no sense, obnoxious leaders or church employees, the strict top down administration system, information non-disclosure policies, non-collaborative decision making, non operation of the principle of common consent, and so on.”

    Comment by Geoff J — September 21, 2009 @ 10:41 pm

  22. Well, although it is a cute and oft-used way to define the Atonement, I think at-one-ment is only part of the Atonement. The core of the atonement is believing the divine potential in oneself through the Savior. Without that, what is the point of any brand of worship? You might believe God worthy of worship, but fail to see how that applies to you.

    Comment by SilverRain — September 22, 2009 @ 5:50 am

  23. “At-one-ment” is the original etymology of the word “atonement” in English. The original Hebrew term means something more like “reconciliation”.

    As far as divine potential is concerned I think at-one-ment is the sine qua non of divinity – without which it would be essentially impossible. Love God, love your neighbor, bear one another’s burdens, sacrifice, repent -> reconciliation with God and man -> Atonement. Would God *be* God if he didn’t work to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of everyone else?

    I agree though, one needs some sort of belief in the fundamentals of the atonement to have a healthy testimony. If you don’t believe in repentance, that is a more serious problem than anything I mentioned. I think it is part and parcel of any theism worthy of the name, however.

    Comment by Mark D. — September 22, 2009 @ 6:04 am

  24. Geoff, I think the difference is degree of moral obligation. If you believe that the leadership of the church has *special* authority, you are morally obligated to do all those things I mentioned.

    If you beleive, on the other hand, that the leadership of the church has more or less the same kind of natural authority that the pope has, that moral obligation is much diminished.

    In the first situation, when a leader says “jump”, you are practically morally obligated to say “how high?” In the second, it is more like – “this seems like a worthwhile program that helps lots of people, I think I should participate.”

    For many people the distinction may not cause any difficulties at all. For some it will – why would anyone ever go inactive if at some level they didn’t (1) fundamentally disagree with some directive or another and (2) not feel an obligation to comply despite that disagreement.

    It’s like “I don’t think this is inspired” and “no, I don’t feel an obligation to do it anyway (because of that fact)” vs. “I don’t think this is inspired” and “I have a moral obligation to do it anyway”.

    We obey laws of the land that we don’t agree with all the time. Obeying instructions from priesthood leaders that we don’t agree with is a bit more difficult if one doesn’t feel the same sort of obligation.

    Comment by Mark D. — September 22, 2009 @ 7:12 am

  25. Silverrain,

    I second what Mark said about atonement. At-one-ment is precisely what the word atonement means and what it has always meant. It is certainly not just some cute word play someone came up with after the fact.

    Also, I think you are underestimating the notions of worship and emulation. To worship and emulate God is the essence of becoming at one with God so atonement is built in to my #1.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 22, 2009 @ 8:56 am

  26. Mark,

    My #2 describes “special authority” but does so in a fairly general way.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 22, 2009 @ 10:03 am

  27. Good stuff, Geoff. I agree that when people’s testimonies are anchored in those two doctrines, nothing will shake their faith.

    For example, if evolutionists demonstrate that a salamander can evolve into a man, thus proving theistic evolution, my faith in the restored gospel will remain steady – a little shaken, but steady nonetheless.

    Anyway, something tells me that I don’t have to worry about this happening.

    Comment by Dave C. — September 23, 2009 @ 2:12 pm

  28. The two points are very well thought out, but as some others have suggested, the second point (That God inspired the founding of Mormonism and is currently guiding the church) doesn’t work for everyone. Many believe in “different paths leading to the same destination” and would simply take the position that Mormonism is what God intended for Geoff (along with others who have been so guided). It is not too hard to believe that God inspires clergy in other faiths-but only within the set of truths they are willing to accept.

    How about…

    2. That God inspired the founding of Mormonism as the only path that includes *all* of the essential truths and ordinances for the salvation of all, and is currently guiding the church.

    Comment by BrentW — September 24, 2009 @ 1:13 am

  29. BrentW,

    I intentionally left room for universalism because I don’t think a belief in exclusivism is absolutely essential to a firm testimony of the restored gospel. (Though a firm belief in exclusivism makes a big difference in missionary zeal I think)

    Comment by Geoff J — September 24, 2009 @ 8:02 am

  30. This blog ought to be called “It seems to me,” or maybe “It seemeth to me” I guess. Now I’ll read the rest of this post.

    Comment by BHodges — September 24, 2009 @ 1:49 pm

  31. I edited the post and replaced the second “it seems to me” with an “I reckon”. Does that work better for you BHodges?

    Comment by Geoff J — September 24, 2009 @ 1:59 pm