Monday, July 2, 2018

President Dallin H. Oaks on intellectual principles and the gospel of Christ

President Dallin H. Oaks (born August 12, 1932) served as president of BYU from 1971-1980.  He was then appointed as a justice of the Utah Supreme Court, and resigned when he was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1984. He became President of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles and also 1st Counselor in the First Presidency in January 2018.
"Those who govern their thoughts and actions solely by the principles of liberalism or conservatism or intellectualism cannot be expected to agree with all of the teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As for me, I find some wisdom in liberalism, some wisdom in conservatism, and much truth in intellectualism—but I find no salvation in any of them.
"The role of a preacher or a practitioner of righteousness is not to be popular with the world or to be esteemed by any particular group, but to be right with God. Isaiah affirmed that fact when he condemned the rebellious 'which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits.' (Isa. 30:10.) It is easy to preach freedom or truth. Praise for those subjects is usually safe and always popular. It is infinitely more difficult to preach how men and women should use freedom or truth. The preacher of that message may command respect, but he or she will not win popularity.
"I conclude with a message of hope. When Isaiah condemned the critics of his day, he concluded with a prophecy. He said that in time the children of God would sanctify his name and 'fear the God of Israel.' Continuing, he declared, 'They also that erred in spirit shall come to understanding, and they that murmured shall learn doctrine.' (Isa. 29:23–24.) In that spirit I pray for the day when all of us will know God and keep his commandments. In that day, as Isaiah foretold, the 'king shall reign in righteousness,' and 'the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever.' (Isa. 32:1, 17.)"
- Dallin H. Oaks, "Critisicm," talk to an LDSSA fireside on 4 May 1986; see Ensign, February 1987, p. 68-70
Click here to read the full talk

This thought-provoking talk was shared with a gathering of young adults early in President Oaks' service as an apostle. His views on learning and philosophy are very interesting in light of that new focus of his life. I appreciate his open-minded description of finding merit in a variety of approaches to life and politics: liberalism, conservatism, and intellectualism. But the critical distinction is between finding wisdom and insight, and finding salvation:

President Oaks makes a critical distinction between the teaching of intellectual principles and the insights of the gospel. While it's one thing for a man to talk about ideas like truth and freedom, it's quite another to discuss how to use those ideas in practical daily living.

The key for us is to learn doctrine and to obey commandments. With those two priorities, the rest of the intellectual endeavors will fall into their proper places.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2018)


  1. Or, you know, we could use the brains God gave us. What a terrible idea.

    1. Using our brains is a wonderful idea, and is exactly what President Oaks is encouraging us to do - while understanding how intellectual efforts interact with spiritual ones.


// Customization to close archive widget on first view - DK 3/15