We had relatively little success among the intellectuals that we met, but I greatly value the opportunities we had to talk. They gave us plenty to think about, and we certainly tried to make it mutual, young and naive as we were.
I remember one intellectual being very upset with us. In nearly perfect English, he chastised us for thinking we had testimonies. He explained that he was familiar with our faith and had attended our meetings while he was in the US, and was amazed at how little children in fast and testimony meetings would go up and parrot words their parents gave them, as if that was a testimony. He became angry and said that we had been brainwashed and couldn't think for ourselves. His unkind critique stuck with me and influenced the way I instructed my ward about testimony meetings back when I was serving as a bishop. While some young children can have sincere testimonies about some aspects of the Gospel, I want people to express testimonies from their hearts and not to simply parrot the words of others. Personally, I had a genuine strong but fledgling testimony of God and the power of prayer at age 6, though I don't think I publicly expressed it until I was a teenager, and my testimony of the Book of Mormon did not really begin until I earnestly sought to determine its divinity or fraudulence at age 14.
There was some merit to his criticism, but much of it was a caricature of the LDS testimony, especially the testimonies of those who have sincerely sought to know for themselves of the reality of Jesus Christ as our Savior, the truthfulness of the message of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ, etc. In spite of the appearance of some children just parroting other people's words in some units, the typical faithful Latter-day Saint has done a lot of soul-searching, studying, and prayer, just as the Book of Mormon teaches us (e.g., the story of Enos and his quest for a testimony, the many references to long study, prayer, and fasting to obtain personal knowledge, and the promise of Moroni 10:3-4 to those who study, ponder, and pray to know of the truth of the Book of Mormon). The LDS testimony is based upon a combination of mental effort such as studying and pondering, coupled with spiritual effort through prayer and listening to the Spirit, in a quest to receive revelation from the Spirit of God to our own spirit to help us understand the things of God.
Unfortunately, the critics of our faith make a mockery of this thing that we call our testimony. This personal, private experience with revelation from God is ridiculed as a mindless reliance on "feelings" alone, perhaps mistaking a touch of heartburn or warm humid air for the revelation from God. In the anti-Mormon caricature of the LDS testimony, logic, evidence, and facts have no bearing on our belief, just warm feelings we get during meetings with suspiciously poor air conditioning (preferably just after partaking of the sacrament featuring Uncle Garcia's Jalapeño Bread - "producing spiritual experiences since 1965").
Some of our critics bemoan our benighted state of ignorance, insisting that our so-called testimonies represent mindless blindness, unlike the evidence-based belief system of Evangelical Christianity. Here at Mormanity a number of critics have told us how foolish it is to pray to know the truth, which is a sure path for deception. Instead, real Christians simply have to look at the clear evidence God has given us and accept the facts - no need to pray and seek subjective "revelation" since God has already revealed plain facts in black and white. It gets very interesting when you press for details and ask which facts, and how to interpret them, and why there are so many different teachings if all truth is so clearcut. The so-called evidence for things like the truthfulness of Genesis become an occasional ancient document mentioning some ancient city also mentioned in the Bible, or some find possibly affirming that there was a king named David. The evidence for things like the Atonement and Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the miracles he performed become little more than assertions of a much copied and edited document that is long removed from the time of those events, with absolutely no original New Testament manuscript known for any part of the New Testament. I believe in the Bible, but to say that no faith is needed to accept Jesus as the Christ because of the irrefutable evidence is ludicrous - and anti-Biblical.
There are witnesses for Christ, as there are witnesses for the Book of Mormon, which itself is a witness of Christ. God has not left us without witnesses and evidence, but the impact of these is greatest after faith is exerted.
There are evidences for the Bible and for the Book of Mormon, as there are for the role of Joseph Smith as prophet. Conversion involves the brain, but not the brain alone. The role of faith and revelation through the Spirit must not be overlooked. It is essential. I am offended by the anti-Mormon caricature of the LDS testimony as based upon feelings alone. It is heart and mind turning toward the Lord, studying, pondering, seeking, and then receiving revelation and enlightenment to the heart and to the mind. A testimony of Jesus Christ is not the result of intellectually overwhelming evidence based on tangible data - the witness of "flesh and blood" - but on the revelation from God through the Spirit to our spirits.
This may all sound like heresy to some who think that the LDS concept of personal revelation is an affront to the plain, evidence-based, logical truth that they think they have. But these concepts are purely biblical and purely Christian.
Consider Revelation 19:10, which teaches that "the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." A testimony of Christ requires revelation - the essence of prophecy. It's not just the logical result of looking at the hard data. Data rarely changes the heart of man and turns a sinner into a penitent Saint. The influence of the Spirit is needed to do this. Likewise, Christ explained to Peter that Peter's witness of Christ was not based on logic and data ("flesh and blood"), but had been revealed to Him by the Spirit:
He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?As for the basic concept of the LDS testimony, based on revelation from God to the spirit within us, I conclude with the witness of Paul in I Corinthians 2:4-11 (New KJV):
And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.
And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 16:15-17)
4 And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.Don't expect the evidence - as impressive as it can be to those who have the eye of faith - to convert the natural man, the man who insists on evidence and logic and proof. Faith is needed, and prayer is truly helpful, as James teaches (James 1:5). The goal, of course, is to receive personal revelation through the Spirit to help us know and understand the truth of God that is hidden from the wisdom of men. We call that a testimony. It's a valid biblical concept, in spite of the hostile caricatures of our our critics, and in spite of the weaknesses of some LDS testimonies and testimony sharing.
6 However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, 8 which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
9 But as it is written:
Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.
10 But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. 11 For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.
13 These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.