Saturday, February 2, 2008

Stephen E. Robinson & "Believing Christ"

Stephen E. Robinson was a very influential mentor to me. He wouldn’t remember me, but I can never forget him.

While on my mission in Ecuador (1999-2001) I was able to borrow my mission presidents’ copies of “Believing Christ” and “Following Christ”, and I’ve never been the same since. I had always had a testimony, but after reading those books my understanding of the gospel just “clicked”, and everything in the scriptures suddenly made so much more sense. My faith in and relationship to our Savior was deepened, and it was also a liberating and enlightening experience to understand my covenant relationship to Him. I became not only a better missionary, but also a better person. It has made me a better disciple, friend, husband, father—you name it. I have since given away many more copies of those books. If you haven’t already done so, I invite you to read or re-read “Believing Christ” and the sequel “Following Christ.” Or if you want to read or listen to the talk that led to the book, it’s on the BYU speeches website. Here’s the link to the text version: “Believing Christ: A Practical Approach to the Atonement.” You can also download and listen to it as an mp3 file. To not just believe in Christ, but to believe Christ, turns on the power that faith in Christ can have on one's life. This concept is explained much more eloquently by him in the book "Believing Christ".

I feel great satisfaction in knowing that I was able to come back from my mission and take classes from him at BYU. That was an added bonus and more enjoyable than I would have ever expected. I was never one to miss classes, but I especially made sure never to miss one of his. I still have the class notes. I took New Testament and then The Doctrine and Covenants from him. Those were my favorite days as a student at BYU.

He was always very kind to let me visit with him one on one in his office and never made me feel rushed as I thirsted for more and asked questions and received insightful answers. His personality is one of a kind. I miss that time and hope life is treating him well.

When I took those classes, it was shortly after he was coming out of his own personal experience with depression, and the sun was just beginning to rise back up over the horizon of what was a very dark experience. He was so open and personal with us about that awful experience that chemical depression must be. He told us that they struggled to find the right meds to get his chemical balance right, and he had to go into drug detox to get off the meds he’d become addicted to. He found humor in the fact that he was probably the only BYU religious professor to have been a drug addict. He said that was the most humbling/humiliating experience of his life. I have been so much more understanding and sensitive with friends and family affected by depression ever since.

His gift, talent, skill, knowledge, frankness, and humor as a teacher has meant so much to me and always will. And his teaching opened up the scriptures to me in a way no other has—in a way that has made me think back so very often to the things I learned from him when I study the scriptures, teach, or participate in any gospel discussion. I can’t say that about any other religion class I ever took at BYU, or any other teacher. Then again, he wasn't our typical BYU professor. I remember him bringing in his 32 ounce soda pop to class (obviously from some mini-mart off campus). One day some student finally asked him what he was drinking. (Remember, BYU doesn't sell caffeinated drinks on campus.) He looked up with a sly look and said "Root Beer, and unless you taste it you wouldn't know any different." He taught without any pretense—he was the only BYU professor that would occasionally swear in class (mildly), and I even loved him more for it. He was a breath of fresh air. He got us to think about the gospel in a way very few can. Whether it was “stomping like an elephant” or “walking as if on egg shells”, the doctrines he taught have sunk deep into my soul and enriched my personal testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ-- the greatest source of peace, hope, comfort, assurance, and joy.


Sally said...

So...he wasn't dropping the F-bomb right? J/K. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I enjoyed Believing Christ, haven't read the other one.

H-less E-less said...

I love how much you love these books and how you want everyone in the world to read them. I too love them, although I must say it seems like I didn't appreciate them as much as you did...I should probably read them again.

So happy you have learned from such great, human, humble, people in your life. You are really good at learning from others.

NM said...

Mental health is something that interests me. For the person who desires to follow Christ, depression (in this case) can be a 'good way' to understand 'grace'. =)

Good blog by the way. I'll be recommending this site to others =)

Clean Cut said...

Thanks for the compliment, NM. And thanks for the thought about better understanding grace. I agree.

Lower Light said...

I’m reading the Book of Mormon very quickly right now for a general overview. This is a very interesting exercise, because when you take a step back to look at the forest instead of focusing so hard on each of the trees, you can see things you didn’t see before.

Stephen E. Robinson wrote what I believe is the best book on the subject of the Gospel outside of the canon of scripture: "Believing Christ". In it, he shows how the LDS church and the restored gospel actual teach that we are saved by grace, not works; that we can experience salvation immediately, not just at the day of judgment; that perfection in Christ is something completely different than absolute personal perfection, and that we can be saved even if we are imperfect in keeping all of the commandments of God all of the time.

To sum up Brother Robinson’s point in a sentence or two, basically the gospel is all about Jesus, not about the commandments. Jesus saves us; keeping the commandments is our goal, but when we inevitably fail to be 100% righteous 100% of the time, Christ still saves us. If we look to our commandments, our image of the perfect Molly Mormon, our idealistic dreams of “perfection,” whatever that is–if we look to all of this to save us, we will not be saved:

5 And men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil. And the law is given unto men. And by the law no flesh is justified; or, by the law men are cut off. Yea, by the temporal law they were cut off; and also, by the spiritual law they perish from that which is good, and become miserable forever.
6 Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth.

2 Nephi 2:5-6

Reading over this chapter quickly, without taking time to delve into the hundreds of rich nuances and implications of the doctrines contained in this marvelous chapter, it is abundantly clear to me that only Christ–only Christ–saves us. Our own righteousness does not save us. The intents of our heart do not save us. The commandments do not save us. Those hundred things different things we should be doing, but aren’t, and feel guilty about not doing them–even if we were doing them all, it wouldn’t save us.

Only Christ saves us. If we are true disciples of Jesus, nothing in this world–not even our own sins, our own mistakes, or our own guilt–can keep us from being saved.

It just doesn’t get old. This is the message of the gospel, and it’s everywhere. It’s certainly in the book of second Nephi.

Vince Warde said...

As an Evangelical minister, I greatly enjoyed Stephen E. Robinson's work in "How Wide the Divide?". His exposure to evangelical doctrine and thought is quite evident there and in "Believing Christ". I spent 9 months in dialogue with three sets of missionaries and a more experienced elder who became a very good friend.

It has also become clear, in my dialog with other LDS members that many, if not a majority, simply do not agree with him on the matter of Grace and its' place in LDS doctrine. From my perspective this is sad, because he definitely is moving the church in the right direction :)