The Fallacy of An Expectation of Perfection In the Church & Restored Gospel

brontosaurus US postage stamp 1989

I was just listening to the award-winning FAIR podcast the other day while I was working. Some of my design work I can do while listening to something, without slowing down. This particular episode was an interview with a Brother Kevin Christensen who’s an amateur scholar (meaning he doesn’t have advanced degrees in his subjects) been published in the FARMS Review, Sunstone, and other scholarly publications. He started talking about something that struck me so strongly, that I stopped working, and just sat there listening, trying to mentally keep up and process what he was saying.

It’s somewhat philosophical, but still very logical, and makes a very powerful point about why we should stop expecting perfection in the Church, and not be the least bit surprised to find out that something is different than what we’d always thought. He follows it with a powerful point and illustrative story, about how we should approach the history of the church, the truthfullness of the Book of Mormon, etc. Here’s my summary of what he said, that struck me so strongly, with my thoughts and ideas added in italics.

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Bro Christensen talks (at this particular part) a lot about the problem of people leaving the Church when they find out it’s flawed, or Joseph Smith was flawed, or perhaps even his revelations contain some mistakes or flaws. He says that many anti-Mormons prey upon this hugely, by only needing to point out a few supposed flaws or imperfections to get people to doubt the entire gospel.

He says that if Joseph, the BoM or any of it  were, in fact perfect, we (being imperfect) wouldn’t really know, because we can’t judge what perfection is. As long as we are flawed and have no experience with perfection, we can’t judge or know what it is. Therefore, to assume that it 1) exists in Joseph or the BoM or whatever, and 2) that we would know what it looks like, is totally flawed logic. Even if one, or all of it, were in-fact perfect, we wouldn’t be able to recognize it, because it wouldn’t fit our imperfect idea of what perfection looks like. Besides, no language on the Earth is perfect, so the mere fact that the Book of Mormon, D&C, etc are in English (or any other language) makes them inherently imperfect.

BUT, Kevin Christensen points out, we can know what is real. We can ask “were Joseph’s revelations real?” We can’t ask if it was perfect, because we wouldn’t know, but we can ask if it’s real. If it’s real, then that solves it. There’s no concern over whether it’s perfect, because that’s an unanswerable question anyway. We can’t ask if the BoM is perfect or the D&C or even the gospel as we understand it. But what we can ask is if they are real. If the answer is yes, then I’d argue, that’s all that matters. Not that we can’t explore it’s flaws, depths, etc, but we always come back to: it is real, it is from God, and it is what should guide our lives.

brontosaurus US postage stamp 1989

A Brontosaurus US Postage Stamp 1989

To drive home his point, Bro Christensen gave an excellent illustrative example: he said that when he was a child he got to go to a dinosaur dig site. He saw the paleontologists uncovering the bones, but more importantly he saw the bones. So he read up on dinosaurs a lot over the years. One thing he learned a lot about was the “Brontosaurus.” Everyone learned about them (I know I did). Turns out a paleontologist put the wrong skull on the wrong neck, or some such thing, and it was an accidental fabrication of a species (I’ve wondered why I’ve never heard more about them). So some of what he was taught about dinosaurs was imperfect. It was flat-out untrue. But that doesn’t mean dinosaurs aren’t real. It doesn’t disprove the fact that dinosaurs existed, or mean that the paleontologist who made the mistake, got everything wrong. It simply meant that human knowledge of dinosaurs is imperfect, and always will be in this life. We can still ask “are dinosaurs real?” And Kevin Christensen’s answer is “yes, I’ve seen the bones.”

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The FAIR podcasts are awesome. Through it I’ve been taught by great minds like Bro. Christensen’s, as well as those of Terryl Givens, Richard Bushman, Claudia Bushman, Brian Hauglid, and many others. You can find out more about the FAIR Podcast here, or subscribe to it via iTunes or other podcast service by putting in this URL:  http://www.fairblog.org/feed/podcast/. The “FAIR Conversations” is the podcast that interviews all these incredible minds.

5 thoughts on “The Fallacy of An Expectation of Perfection In the Church & Restored Gospel

  1. Kevin Christensen

    Thanks for the appreciation. It's nice when someone really gets something I've tried to communicate. Blair was very well prepared for the interview.

  2. Just found this site, like many others I am just finding. I am trying to get my family and myself back into church, the temple, etc. We have had familial circumstances take up most of our time. We just found out my husband is seriously ill. We have been inactive for about 7 years. We have never denied the truthfulness of the gospel. I am a returned missionary. During my inactivity we went to church when we were not at home (I was out of state taking care of family). We have always defended the gospel. We had some very unfortunate things happen to us in our ward. I am not exaggerating or making it up. What happened to us should never happen to anyone, but it does because we experienced it. I was told by members of my ward that I lost my testimony, that I was being punished, get over it, etc,; I got tired of hearing standard canned responses when I sought help for our horrible treatment. So we quit going because we just could not stomach the people anymore and our treatment was seen as being my fault; those that did us wrong saw no problem with it. We could not feel the Spirit. I was berated for watching the movie "The Passion of The Christ". We did go to church elsewhere when we could. We live in a small Arizona town. People are called to high positions because of family relation or close friendships. Happened when we lived in Phoenix too. This is my husband's hometown and he is related to everyone too but he had been gone for several years and didn't have the connections like those who never move away. My son is in Denver, renewed his testimony & went through the temple. I hate that we were not able to go through with him. My daughter faithfully attends another ward where she is welcomed. When she has visited her brother in Denver they do temple baptisms together. Unfortunately my husband and I have to go to our home ward in order to be seen as active and to get our recommends. I could tell you true stories about my ward and you would think I was lying. Believe me I don't have the imagination to make things up. Sites like this one, by members dedicated to sharing knowledge, give information, teach, uplift, try to make sure information is correct, etc. have helped us immensely. Like this info. about us being imperfect and can't judge what perfection is. A light bulb went off in my head! Wish I would have had info. like this at my fingertips when I was much younger. Due to losing my job 7years ago we don't have the money to buy church books and publications (I am keeping a list of everything we want). Sites like this one are a great help as we are a family of voracious readers. Thanks to all who do this selfless work for the benefit of those who are seeking truths. My testimony is strengthened when I read articles on these positive sites. And it helps me face my very, very dysfunctional, full of false teachings, ward. Thank you! sorry for the length

    • I'm sorry to hear. You've done the right thing in returning. I hope you're able to just ignore the what other's think of you. As Bro. Christensen taught, we simply cannot expect perfection in our Church. We're glad you can see that, past all that you've been through. Isn't it great that all the Church magazines and a lot of other official resources are now available for free online? Plus there's lots of great blogs and other resources. I wish you all the best in your return to Church. Don't let imperfection in the Church distract or detract from the Gospel.

  3. I really enjoyed your article. I guess some people think that in order to be a prophet you must be perfect…untrue. The prophets of the Old Testament were not perfect, thus, I don’t believe people should think Brother Joseph was perfect either. I think sometimes we tend to put people we adore on a pedestal and start thinking they are perfect when in fact they are not. Heavenly Father did not reveal the sacred plates to Joseph until he knew he was mature enough to do what he asked him to do. Anyway when I read about truths that come up in the church that I othewise did not know about, i.e. JS’ 34 wives I stop and think you know he probably had a really good reason for this and not everything you hear is as it appears to sound, we automatically think he had to sleep with all 34 or he did sleep with all 34…I don’t think anywhere that is written, only “assumed.” We weren’t there and we don’t know. The one thing that does bother me, though is that poligomy was against the law and the men went ahead and did it anyway, whereas the articles of faith said we abide by the law of the land…any comments? T.. in Missouri

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