Some examples of prophetic speculation are Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon when they received what is commonly referred to as "The Vision" (D&C 76); or Joseph F. Smith when he received his vision of the Spirit World (D&C 138). Another good example of scriptural speculation is Alma when he is speaking to his son Corianton about the resurrection (Alma 40:20.) Here Alma is teaching his son many principles on this all important doctrine. But then he gets to a question that in his day had not yet been revealed. He says "I give it as my opinion..."
However, in the Church we don't call what the prophets have done "speculation," but instead call it pondering. But the manner in which I think about things it is the same. I like the word speculation because it is helps the speculator really consider what is really taking place and reminds him or her that we only accept established doctrine as our foundation. In other words, personal speculation is not a foundation on which we should build our testimonies and there should be a noted difference between the two.
Speculation by an average member of the Church should never be considered the same as that done by the prophets. But in order for a member of the Church to conduct what I call healthy speculation, I firmly believe there are some rules that must be followed in order for it to be done safely. The worst thing that could happen to a faithful and active member of the Church when speculating on points of doctrine, is to allow it to take them into fields that are not ripe and certainly not prepared to harvest. In this entry, my plan is to share my thoughts and views on how doctrinal speculation can be conducted safely and wisely and hopefully in a healthy manner.
My primary principle of safe doctrinal speculation is that each of the Articles of Faith ought to be considered as questions (instead of statements) that the speculator can respond to in the affirmative. In other words the speculation cannot cause the speculator to deny any of the canonized Articles of Faith.
That bit of counsel ought to be enough, but in the interest of fleshing things out a bit, I will add a few more ideas that may help the reader. They have certainly been an aid to me.
1. The speculative idea cannot cause damage to the revealed knowledge of Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, or the Holy Ghost.
2. The speculative idea must do no harm to the revealed principles and doctrines of the restored gospel (ie. Plan of Salvation, canon, etc.)
3. The speculative idea must NOT harm or damage your own testimony.
4. Ask yourself: Will this speculation increase my faith in Jesus Christ and His appointed and authorized servants?
5. Rinse, repeat. (Then repeat again!)
There have been times when my speculative ideas have found themselves in contradiction with the principles above. When that has happened I immediately toss them out and go back to the drawing board (aka the scriptures). It is repulsive to my soul to believe anything that the Holy Spirit is not going to confirm as truth. He will only confirm as true that which is in alignment with already established and revealed knowledge. Indeed, a "house divided against itself shall stand" (Matthew 12:25).
Perhaps a good question to address is how do I speculate? I have found that when I ponder (aka speculate) on a principle of the restored gospel, I make a list of all my questions and proceed to answer them with brief answers. Sometimes I list a verse (or verses) of scripture next to the question in hopes that it will lead me to an answer. Once I have exhausted (in my own mind) my grasp on the relevant scriptures, I turn to my book collection and attempt to find books that may shed light on my question(s). As I study "out of the best books" (D&C 88:118) I continue to make my list. When I have read everything I can find on that given topic of speculation, I turn to my loved ones and trusted friends. Everyone needs a circle of men and women they can turn to and safely and freely discuss their ideas. This sharpens my thoughts and introduces new and insightful ways of thinking about this idea. Finally, I often will begin a kind of research paper in the form of a talk. I write down what I understand on the topic. Then an interesting thing takes place. As I type thoughts and ideas flow into my "heart and mind" (cf. D&C 8:2-3) and I realize that I am being taught from the Spirit. For me this is when things get exciting. I have found that writing my thoughts down in an organized fashion gives articulation to my ideas.
Sir Francis Bacon, an English author, courtier, & philosopher (1561-1626) once wrote, “Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man.” As I demonstrated above, I find some terrific principles in thinking about speculative ideas in Bacon's assessment. It was only after I had discovered my own way of approaching speculative ideas that I read Bacon's analysis. Certainly I agree.
When it comes to speculating about doctrinal ideas I found found no substitute for reading and studying and pondering the scriptures. Members of the Church used to approach Elder Bruce R. McConkie and ask him what his secret to scripture was and how they could do the same. His response usually disappointed members. He would reply by saying that the secret to scripture study is that there is no secret. He said the secret was not in a color coding system, reading chronologically or topically, or early in the morning or late at night. Instead he said that the secret lies solely in the intensity and consistency in which we engage in the scriptures. I believe people were disappointed because Elder McConkie's response indicated that scripture study involved paying a price.
I love the scriptures and enjoy their study. It is when I am studying most intently that my speculation is the most rewarding. Again, let me emphasize that when I say speculate I am doing so in consideration of the principles I outlined above. For the most part, the speculative things that I learn are just for me--the are personal. I don't preach them from the pulpit nor do I lobby them with members or allow them to become unhealthy and fanatical gospel hobbies. Instead when I learn something from the Spirit after much study, discussing, and writing, I allow that idea to percolate in my soul. It then becomes a part of me and my learning and studying and researching continues. Some of my most treasured spiritual knowledge has come to me as a result of healthy speculation and adhering to my personal principles above. As long as my personal ideas are in harmony with revealed doctrines and principles of the restored gospel I allow them to take root. I am always aware of what the approved doctrines are of the Church and do all I can to keep those separate and yet complimentary to my own thoughts. In doing this I am giving priority to the teachings of appointed and ordained prophets, seers, and revelators over my own.
There is much more I would like to say on this topic but I need to speculate some more. Perhaps I will have something to add later. Perhaps.
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