Education and Faith, Scholarship and Discipleship

Education and faith have a complex relationship; the scriptures include warnings about the dangers of education that displaces faith, and Jesus received great opposition from the most educated of the Jews. We also see God purposely choosing from the weak, unlearned things of the earth for some of his great servants, as with Joseph Smith. On the other hand, we have latter-day commandments to seek learning, and knowledge that to be learned is good (as long as priorities are kept).

As I progress toward upper academia I see many people whose faith is strained and diminished as they grow in learning. In a recent article this issue was discussed with relation to Mormons, one of the few religious denominations that does not seem to show the typical trend in education at the expense of faith. The article is available here, published by the BYU Universe newspaper.

While the LDS church does not require particularly credentials for leadership, unlike faiths in which degrees in philosophy or theology are part of the training of professional clergy, we do believe that education helps us to grow in our capacity as servants to the Lord and to our fellows. The church lays this out plainly in an article, pointing out that pursuit of knowledge is one of the most worthwhile activities in which we can be involved and that education is a religious responsibility that goes hand-in-hand with our desires to serve and provide for our families. The church provides a good summarization of this concept (which is valid for members and non-members alike) in the article, “education is a commandment.” Significantly, the goal here is not education for its own sake, or scholarship ad nauseam, but to prepare for a career, whether men or women:

President Thomas S. Monson advises youth all over the world to study and prepare for their life’s work in a field they enjoy, because they will be spending a good part of their lives in their chosen field.

“[Your chosen field] should be one which will challenge your intellect and which will make maximum utilization of your talents and your capabilities. Finally, it should be a field that will supply sufficient remuneration to provide adequately for your companion and your children. Now that’s a big order. But I bear testimony that these criteria are very important in choosing your life’s work.”

Sometimes we think only of examples of mighty heroes of faith of low education like Simon Peter and Joseph Smith, forgetting that these are balanced by examples like Isaiah, Paul the apostle, and Mormon, men of top-notch intellectual attainment. A collection of keen essays on the subject, edited by Elder Eyring and including work from Elder Maxwell and other scholar-disciples, is available from the BYU Honors program: Learning in the Light of Faith. Curious about how this played out about the apostles and not finding any compilation available online, I did some footwork of my own to see the educational and career backgrounds of the current twelve apostles (May, 2015), ranked by seniority and the first presidency.

Apostle Education Career
[Boyd K. Packer]( BS, MS, Ed. Doctorate Teacher (CES)
[L. Tom Perry]( BS in finance Retail
[Russel M. Nelson]( BA, Doctorate of Medicine (MD) Cardiologist
[Dallin H. Oaks]( BS, Juris Doctorate (JD) Law, President of BYU, Utah Supreme Court
[M. Russell Ballard]( hands-on Auto, real estate, investment, salesman
[Richard G. Scott]( BS, equiv. Doctorate in Nuclear Engineering Nuclear Engineer
[Robert D. Hales]( [Masters of Business]( [major business executive](
[Jeffrey R. Holland]( BA, MA, MA, PhD Educator, President of BYU
[David A. Bednar]( BA, MA, PhD Professor, president of BYU-I
[Quentin L. Cook]( BS, Doctor of Jurisprudence (Stanford) Corporate attorney
[D. Todd Christofferson]( BS, JD Lawyer
[Neil L. Andersen]( BS, MBA VP of Morton Plant Health System
[Thomas S. Monson]( BA, 4 honorary doctorates Publishing, executive
[Henry B. Eyring]( BS, MA, PhD Academic, Professor, President of BYU-I
[Dieter F. Uchtdorf]( MBA, honorary doctorate Aviator

Total: 15 persons with 35 degrees, including 13 doctorates (5 of which are honorary). Those who are concerned about whether education necessarily limits capacity for discipleship (as, at times, I have been) should find this list heartening. Those who have believed nothing good is to be gained from anything in proximity to the philosophies of men, or that secular learning is necessarily opposed to spiritual progress (as, at times, I have been) should find here food for thought.

Image credit: Mural from the BYU Education in Zion gallery

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