Spiritual scholars. Is this asking too much of our Mormon academics? Elder Dallin H. Oaks expresses “the confident expectation that BYU students who qualify for academic honors are also specially interested and qualified in the things of the Spirit” (91). However, it is precisely because academics do not always school their scholarship with spirituality that Paul Cox, dean of General Education and Honors at Brigham Young University, initiated a lecture series entitled “Discipline and Discipleship,” which explored the role of religious commitment to studies in various disciplines. What emerges from this lecture series is a multifaceted conversation that shapes a portrait of a spiritual scholar, one who has found ways to consecrate knowledge on the altar of faith (79).
The essence of this book is a timely warning to academics who love knowledge only for itself. But more importantly, this volume serves as a reassuring guidebook for those who wish to speak “with the bilingual voice of both the intellect and the Spirit” (91).
The conversation opens with Elder Neal A. Maxwell’s passionate, yet reasoned, reaffirmation of our power to attain discipleship. He presents the premise that faith and learning are “mutually facilitating” processes (3): “For a disciple of Jesus Christ, academic scholarship is a form of worship . . . another dimension of consecration” (7). Disciple-scholars understand their responsibility to build a community of Saints and know that there is room “for the full intellectual stretching of any serious disciple” as long as that stretching is done in meekness (14).
Describing his own rite of passage, Paul Cox illustrates the development of scholarship in young student-disciples, who “despite all odds . . . should seek learning” (24) in order to “increase [their] ability to serve the Church in many different ways” (37). The need to be open to truth from multiple sources and to evaluate assumptions is approached by Elder Cecil O. Samuelson Jr., who quotes Brigham Young: “It matters not what the subject be, if it tends to improve the mind, exalt the feelings, and enlarge the capacity. The truth that is in all the arts and sciences forms a part of our religion” (47).
“Faith in Jesus Christ, including what it requires in submission to authority held by His mortal servants, is not a burden to you as a scholar but is your strength,” according to Elder Henry B. Eyring (61). Faith and submission help to keep academic learning in balance. Elder Eyring learned from his father, Henry Eyring, the noted scientist, that the scholar’s latest finding is still always “an approximation in the Lord’s eyes” (70).
James S. Jardine uses a powerful central metaphor of the altar to encourage scholars to mentally visualize themselves consecrating their scholarly strengths on the altar to God. To avoid the lure of unrighteousness in academic life, Jardine gives six ways to consecrate learning as a “daily devotion” (78).
Elder Oaks stresses the balance between knowing and becoming: “Whereas the world teaches us to know something, the gospel teaches us to become something, and it is far more significant to become than it is to know” (92).
Mormon faith is not antithetical to academic learning. In fact, Church leaders past and present have encouraged and supported intellectual pursuit as long as it is tempered with meekness and consecration. By consecrating our learning, we then “invite the Spirit to . . . expand us and lift us as we gain pure knowledge and truth” (85). A great expectation? Yes, and according to this conversation, a realistic one.