Home / Testimonies / John L. Fowles

C.S. Lewis said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”1 This powerful quote represents my feelings about the restoration of the gospel through the instrumentality of the prophet Joseph Smith. I believe in the restoration because of many personal spiritual confirmations throughout my life. I also know through the lens or window of the restoration one can correctly view the gospel of Jesus Christ. Faithful scholarship is pursuing academic studies from a standpoint of belief. During my life I have had and still entertain questions about certain details of the gospel, historical quandaries, puzzlement about applications, etc. However, from a very young age I have had the gift of faith or the easiness to believe. This knowledge and testimony was so strong at times, that my witness of the authenticity of the prophet even superseded my feelings concerning Jesus Christ. I have always had a testimony of Jesus Christ and His Father. However, my testimony of Joseph Smith’s role seemed to be even greater than my witness of Jesus Christ. Mentally, I knew this priority of Joseph Smith was incorrect. Years later, I remember reading Truman Madsen’s book regarding Joseph Smith and being thrilled with the idea of the restoration being the window through which many have come to a surer knowledge of Jesus Christ. Truman Madsen said, “Joseph Smith is for me a window to Christ, the clearest one I’ve ever found.”2

I came to realize that I share Bro. Madsen’s view. My witness of the truth of the prophet’s role in the restoration came first. It is the foundation of my faith. Joseph Smith’s life and thought, and, more importantly, the Lord’s revelations through him, have been my window to the Savior.

Therefore, as Peter taught, I have a reason for the hope that is in me when he said, “. . . sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and 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.”3 As a youthful missionary, I remember violating part of Peter’s declaration by always wanting to intellectually defend the church and the doctrines of the restoration from its detractors by proof texting, using the Bible. During those efforts to defend the church and my faith, I did not always do it in a spirit of meekness and fear. In addition, many times I did not first sanctify the Lord God in my heart before entering into gospel discussions with those who were antagonistic toward the restoration. At the time, I felt the Bible would at least be a good starting point and common ground among other Christian faiths. However, after life’s experiences and a long teaching career I have “learned for myself” that the Bible is at times the battleground, not the common ground among denominations. During those early missionary days, I was not inviting my investigators into their own sacred grove. Joseph Smith spoke of his religious quest for truth in this profound way: “the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.”4 Religious truth ultimately comes by personal revelation augmented by rational argument. Austin Farrer said, “Though argument does not create conviction, lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish.”5

For me, developing a firm testimony and faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ is primarily a spiritual endeavor. As I read the scriptures, study languages, or study modern scholars, I constantly see rational evidences or reasons to believe in the restoration through the instrumentality of Joseph Smith. In my mind, for example, Joseph did not simply write the Book of Mormon in approximately sixty-five working days. He did not know or understand Hebrew chiastic structure as we find throughout the work. He did not manufacture the names of Mahijah and Mahujah in the Pearl of Great Price associated with the Book of Enoch as found much later with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.6 However, my ultimate witness of the gospel and the restoration comes from the spiritual confirmation of the Holy Ghost. Jacob teaches, “the spirit speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be.”7

Similarly, experiences with the spiritual realm were the source of Jacob’s faith during his encounter with Sherem the anti-Christ. Jacob said he could not be shaken from the faith because of “the many revelations and the many things which I had seen concerning these things for I truly had seen angels, and they had ministered unto me. And also, I had heard the voice of the Lord speaking unto me in very word, from time to time; wherefore, I could not be shaken.”8 Recently, as I was reading the Book of Mormon, it appeared to me that the book treats the word “mysteries” very consistently, albeit with a little different meaning than the New Testament word musterion.9 The Book of Mormon references to “mystery” or “mysteries of God” are always associated with the notion that certain gospel principles can only be learned by revelation. For instance, the sacred record teaches, “for he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost.”10

While discussing these matters recently, a brilliant professor friend of mine reminded me that, when emphasizing this spiritual approach to gaining gospel knowledge, I should not in anyway disparage the life of the mind. Man himself is “an intelligence,” or, in other words, light and truth. Hugh Nibley suggests that the LDS temple experience is a model for learning the gospel. “Why do we call the temple a school? The initiatory ordinances make that clear . . . bring your brain with you and prepare to stay awake, to be alert and pay attention; also come often for frequent reviews repeating the lessons to refresh our memory, for you cannot leave without an examination—you have to show you have earned some things.”11

The Lord expects us to “bring our brain and intellect” to the temple and to life’s journey. The theme of pursuing knowledge through study and faith is clear in the Doctrine and Covenants and the teachings of Joseph Smith:

D&C 4:6 “Remember faith, virtue, knowledge
D&C 42:61 “If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge
D&C 93:24 “And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come”
D&C 93:36 “The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and Truth”
D&C 130:18,19 “Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life . . . he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.
D&C 131:6 “It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance
Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 217 “A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge
Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 287-88 “In knowledge there is power. God has more power than all other beings, because he has greater knowledge; and hence he knows how to subject all other beings to Him. He has power over all.”

Therefore, there is no doubt the Lord wants us to advance in knowledge and truth. We should, as Peter says, be able to give a reason for the hope that is in us, spiritually as well as rationally. We need to seek learning by study as well as by faith.12 Elder Hugh B. Brown taught, “I’m impressed with the testimony of the man, who can stand and say he knows the gospel is true, but what I would like to ask is, ‘But, sir, do you know the gospel?’ I say it is one thing to know the gospel is true and another to know what the gospel is. Mere testimony may be gained with but perfunctory knowledge of the Church and its teachings, as evidenced by the hundreds now coming into the Church with but bare acquaintanceship. But to retain testimony and to be of service in building up the Lord’s kingdom requires serious study of the gospel and a knowing of what it is.”13

So in order to retain testimony and to be of greater service to the kingdom we should seriously study the gospel and truth wherever we can find it. I honestly believe that Mormonism has the answers, at least as well as we can have them in this life, to mortality’s basic questions regarding God and the life beyond. However, the problem at times is that we as Latter-day Saints do not fully understand the questions. One cannot appreciate the answers until you know the history behind the question being asked. This is what higher learning has done for me. When I attended the University of Missouri, I studied with students of different faiths, including Judaism and all forms of Christianity. This helped me to truly appreciate other approaches to biblical hermeneutics. As stated above, this was a totally different experience than I had in my youthful missionary days. I came away with a much better tolerance for differing interpretations of the scriptures according to one’s theological biases. In the process, I deepened my own faith and the LDS approach to religious quandaries and interpretation of the Bible. Education will always dissipate arrogance and misunderstanding, and create mutual tolerance. As Joseph Smith once said, “truth is Mormonism.”14 Truth is what we always seek for from wherever the source may be.

In our personal quests for truth through faith and study, we should remember that doubt at times serves its purpose. As Terryl Givens explains, “It would seem that among those who vigorously pursue the life of the mind in particular, who are committed to the scholarly pursuit of knowledge and rational inquiry, faith is as often a casualty as it is a product. The call to faith is a summons to engage the heart, to attune it to resonate in sympathy with principles and values and ideals that we devoutly hope are true, and to have reasonable but not certain grounds for believing them to be true. I am convinced that there must be grounds for doubt as well as belief in order to render the choice more truly a choice—and, therefore, the more deliberate and laden with personal vulnerability and investment.”15

I testify that faith and religion is a matter of the heart. Faith is a choice. It is not always to have a perfect knowledge of things. I, along with many others, hope for things which are not always physically seen but are true because of the revelations of the Holy Ghost to our souls. I trust that anyone who becomes a student of the scriptures of the restoration will begin to “see God’s own handwriting in the sacred volume, and he who reads it oftenest will like it best. . . and once discovered will bring an obedience to its heavenly precepts.”16

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Notes:
1 C.S. Lewis 1947.
2 Truman G. Madsen (Jan. 29, 2005) at BYU-Idaho’s Religious Lecture Series commemorating the life of Joseph Smith.
3 1 Peter 3:15.
4 Joseph Smith History 1:12.
5 Austin Farrer, “The Christian Apologist,” in Light on C.S. Lewis, ed. Jocelyn Gibb (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1965), 26.
6 See Moses 6:40 and Moses 7:2.
7 Jacob 4:13.
8 Jacob 7:5.
9 “Secret, secret rite, secret teaching, mystery associated with strange customs and ceremonies.” A Greek- English Lexicon of the New Testament, by Arndt and Gingrich, page 530. In the 1828 Webster’s dictionary the definition of the word mystery is “A profound secret; something wholly unknown or something kept cautiously concealed, . . . In religion, any thing in the character or attributes of god, or in the economy of divine providence, which is not revealed to man . . . beyond human comprehension until explained.”
10 1 Nephi 10:19; see also Alma 12:1- 11.
11 Hugh Nibley, “Abraham’s Creation Drama,” in The Temple in Time and Eternity, edited by Donald W. Parry and Stephen D. Ricks, page 16.
12 D&C 88:118; 109:7, 14.
13 Personal correspondence, dated 28 January 1969, as quoted by Robert J. Matthews, “Using the Scriptures” (Brigham Young University 14 July 1981).
14 Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, page 139.
15 Terryl L. Givens, “‘Lightning Out of Heaven’: Joseph Smith and the Forging of Community,” BYU Speeches of the Year (29 November 2005).
16 Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, page 58

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John L. Fowles received his BS and MA degrees from Brigham Young University and a PhD from the University of Missouri-Columbia in Social Foundations of Education, with an emphasis in Religious Studies. He has taught in the LDS Church Educational System for thirty-five years—previously in Scottsdale, Arizona; Provo, Utah; and Columbia, Missouri where he directed the LDS Institute)—and is currently an instructor at the Logan LDS Institute of Religion adjacent to Utah State University.

He is the author of “Zenos’ Prophetic Allegory of Israel,” in A Symposium on the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, CES, 1986); “The Decline of the Nephites: Rejection of the Covenant and Word of God,” in The Book of Mormon: Helaman through 3 Nephi 8, According to Thy Word, edited by Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate Jr. (Provo: Brigham Young University Religious Studies Center, 1992), 81-92; “The Jewish Lectionary and Book of Mormon Prophecy,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 3 (Fall 1994): 118–122; “Missouri and the Redemption of Zion: A Setting for Conflict,” in Regional Studies in Latter-day Saint Church History: Missouri, edited by Arnold K. Garr and Clark V. Johnson (Provo: Department of Church History and Doctrine, Brigham Young University, 1994), 155-171; “John’s Prophetic Vision of God and the Lamb,” SBSS 1998, 74– 82; and, with Newell K. Kitchen, “Finding the Haun’s Mill Face Wheel,” Mormon Historical Studies (Fall 2003).

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Dr. Fowles has served in elder’s quorum and high priest group leadership, on a high council, as a bishop, and as a counselor in two stake presidencies. He currently serves as a Gospel Doctrine teacher in his ward.

Posted December 2011